We’ve made it to the first of a couple stand alone episodes in season two, and the series’ first Sarah-centric episode. Although Chuck will still have a majority of the screen time, Cougars is clearly about Sarah, and we learn more about her and her back story here than we have in the entire show so far. Notably, we learn her dad was a con man; as a minor, she was his accomplice; and that Sarah has had many aliases and the Sarah Walker ID may be a sort of alpha alias or professional/legal name. I think this episode also sets the pattern that Sarah-centric episodes tend to be among the series’ very best. More, after the jump.
I think this is an episode that has held up very well on re-watch. Like all the best Chuck episodes we get a mix of comedy, action, drama and a very sweet finale.
That formula works for me every time. A few standouts; Sarah/Yvonne’s flashback scenes, especially to her father’s arrest, very emotional and very well played. Plus, its always fun to see a glamorous actress let herself be made up to be so, well, not glamorous. But several other scenes stand out too, like the initial Sarah/Heather confrontation at the Orange Orange, I love Chuck flirting with disaster as Sarah is seeing red. The pre-mission briefing is also a classic right up through Sarah impaling Chuck’s (photo) face with a pencil.
And the trend continues… I could pretty much just mention every scene of this episode for accolades. Its easier to make my only complaint; the second part of the “B” plot (the kegger) didn’t strike me as funny. That’s really my only complaint this time! I even loved the first part (“we’re basically giving away the merchandise…”), it makes me laugh every time! And I’ve seen this episode around 30 times!
The ending is spectacular.
Great friends moment for Chuck and Sarah; both for Sarah relaxing enough to offer something of herself to Chuck, and Chuck deciding he doesn’t need to know it. This ending was the moment when I knew Chuck was more than just an excellent show. It left a smile on my face that lasted a full day after. I still remember next morning remembering that scene, and thinking what a special and unique show Chuck was. It was deep in my system at that point, and hasn’t faded out yet.
This is easily a top ten episode for me, although as I’ve mentioned before, my top ten list seems to run to about 30 episodes!
Okay, so gushing aside, what is the whole series impact here? I guess the main thing is how much we learn about Sarah’s background. This is sort of a buddy episode for Chuck and Sarah, the “romance” is on hold for now, but the friendship is blossoming. Although even so, Chuck does still think he has a chance of getting the girl. I wish he could remember that and be more confident of it at times, but I guess he wouldn’t quite be Chuck if that was easy for him. We will learn a lot more about Sarah’s dysfunctional background in the near future, but I think Cougars is the biggest revelation of them all. We now know she wasn’t hatched an agent.
We also know her childhood is both a lot like, and very different from Chuck’s. Alike in the sense they both came from broken families and have major abandonment issues. But so different in that Sarah really has a lot more dark, sad and lonely about her, while Chuck always had Ellie.
A Moment to Reminisce
I thought about delaying this comment for a couple weeks (until we do Ex) for reasons that will be obvious in a minute, but I really wanted to put this up now. This week is the four year anniversary of me getting involved with Chuck’s on-line community. Many may remember, this time four years ago; after Tom Sawyer ran they took a week off for the presidential election (obviously misplaced priorities…). So during the break I spent time at Wikipedia reading about Chuck (and “Chuck Bartowski” and “Sarah Walker”), then I went off to IMDb and did the same. And I discovered, much to my horror, the NBC was quite disappointed in Chuck’s S2 ratings! So I went to the NBC website, found the forums, and started reading. It would be a few weeks yet before I started commenting, but my daily need for a Chuck fix moved into cyberspace four years ago this week.
Sarah Walker Wasn’t Hatched Either!
Nope. Casey might have been, though! 😉 Can’t you just hear the conversation around the writers table? I’m sure it went something like this:
Writer 1: We need to write a Sarah-centric story. How about we make her the daughter of a man who raises her as a con-artist and comes back to convince her to do one more con? It would be great fun to see Chuck helping a felon and meeting the dad at the same time.
Writer 2: Sounds good, but how do we have Sarah go from being a con-artist to CIA in 42 minutes? We only have 13 episodes, and that doesn’t leave us much time to explain everything. I know. How about having Sarah in a class reunion? That way, we can flash back to her con-man father being arrested by the CIA, and have Sarah recruited at the same time!
C. Fedak: [putting down the phone] Uh, the studio just called. We’ve been green-lighted for 22 episodes. Let’s do them both!
Well, I’m not sure if Cougars or Delorean was conceived first, but I’m sure glad they both made it into canon.
Like you said, Dave, there’s so much to enjoy here. As hard as it is to imagine Yvonne Strahovski in that “ugly-duckling”, braces-wearing, awkward teen stage, her performance is more than convincing. But after a season and almost a half of watching her, I don’t think many were surprised that she could pull it off. The real surprise was Nichole Richie as Heather Chandler, of course. High school queen bee. The anti-Sarah. Her nemesis, the same way Bryce Larkin was Chuck’s, but without the charm or good intentions. Who knew she had the acting chops for that?
But if there was one character I missed when Heather returned in Cubic-Z, it was her long-suffering nerd of a husband, Mark Ratner, played by Ben Savage. (And yes, that’s Fred’s real-life brother.) With a little help from Casey, Mark allows Chuck to express his inner James Bond. That’s always fun. But he also permits Chuck to say something that convinced us neither Chuck nor Sarah were prophets at the end of The Break-Up. “You know what, Mark? Sometimes the nerd gets the girl.”
Amazing, how they did that. It wasn’t that many weeks earlier that Chuck was about to be free of the Intersect and free to follow his dreams, including Sarah, of course. Every time she said words like “You could have anything you want, Chuck,” fans squeeed and swooned all over the country. It came crashing down so quickly, with promises to not forget each other. Chuck and Sarah were being “just friends” by Cougars.
But if you’re going to be “just friends,” this is how you do it. Oh, it’s not easy. Chuck still wants to pry into Sarah’s past, and she doesn’t like to talk about her past, to put it mildly (which she doesn’t).
Sarah: General, I apologize, but I’m afraid I must recuse myself from this mission. My cover has been compromised.
Beckman: Agent Walker, you have pre-existing social history with the target. Seems to me like you have the perfect cover.
Sarah: But, it’s not a cover, ma’am. It’s – me!
Yes, it’s her. And Chuck is curious-desperate to know anything about Sarah’s past. But that doesn’t mean he won’t support her, even if the government won’t. It’s what friends do. It’s what Chuck does. This may be a low point for Chuck and Sarah’s future together, at least up to now. But if this is a low, then the viewing audience could have nothing but hope for the future. Sarah agrees.
Heather: I mean, why would a girl like me ever fall in love with a dorky nerd like him?
Sarah: Uh, you’d be surprised.
Heh! Not us. Not after this.
Clues all over the place, if you were in the mood to look for them! Even Casey let us in on the future in his own inimitable fashion.
Chuck: I’m glad I’m not the one who has to tell Ratner about his wife’s involvement in all of this.
Casey: That’s why love is for suckers.
Chuck: Yeah. Hey, have you seen Sarah anywhere?
Casey: Hummph. Sucker.
But that’s the future. For now, Chuck and Sarah share cheeseburgers, and that’s fine because they’re closer than ever.
Chuck even remembers she likes extra pickles.