The second Sarah-centric episode of this season, and the first appearance of Gary Cole as Jack Burton. Sarah’s dad gets entangled with a very dangerous villain, and that means both trouble and opportunity for everyone. After the jump, we’ll look at Chuck vs The DeLorean.
No doubt this episode continues the trend of Sarah-centric episodes being very strong. I didn’t care for the “stalker” bit Chuck pulls at the beginning, but that’s it. This is other-wise a very strong episode. We get several dynamite Sarah scenes (I particularly like the chocolate croissants scene), a very entertaining con/sting (love the Colonel Klink accent!), and an exciting climax. This is also another episode with a solid “B” plot, at least in the end it is how it ties back into the main plot. The 22 MPH DeLorean fails as a get-away car, but delivers reliable laughs.
But I think the real center piece here is Sarah’s relationship with her Dad. We get a real look at her loneliness and brokenness for the first time; her goodbye to him is beautiful and sad. At least Jack knows he was a lousy father, and I find it interesting that he apparently is a little proud that she’s found a career as “some sort of cop”. I also like that he is the first to tell Sarah plainly that Chuck loves her. Sure it may be one of the worst kept secrets in the CIA; but Chuck hasn’t confessed it yet. I guess I find the big picture knowledge here a little disheartening that it will be over a year, and a lot of heartache before they both come to grips with it. But at least we get some good character moments; and we have to believe that in the long run these events will matter for both of them.
Tell Us More, Sarah!
Sarah-centric episodes are always interesting. What they choose to reveal and when is often telling. In season 1, when they wanted to show Sarah’s growing desire to leave the spy-life and find a home they brought in an ex-partner – who hinted at a wilder past for both of them – to show how much Sarah had already changed from her past self. “I’m good here.” was such a multi-layered line for the time. With Cougars Chuck learns a bit about Sarah’s past, but not really. As far as Chuck knows Sarah Walker was the very normal Jenny Burton from San Diego. But we knew that there was more to it. We now saw why Chuck’s intended compliment in his breakup cut Sarah so deeply. She will never be normal, and Chuck deserves his old normal life back, even if she can never be a part of it. Suddenly we start to see just why Sarah needs someone like Chuck, but we don’t yet know if it is Chuck, or the idea of Chuck that she’s taken with. Certainly she has feelings, strong feelings for him, but is it love? Would it be enough for her to settle down, and would it last? In these next few episodes that doubt is chipped away.
We see that the life that Sarah lived, hinted at by Graham at the end of Cougars had been going on for a long time. A clearly pre-teen Sarah is already a part of her dad’s criminal enterprises, so that second chance Graham offered her, and where it led her (as Sarah will confirm in season 5) was probably the right choice for her then. It at least put her on the side of the good-guys, but that is the problem this episode as we learn more about her father and how he hasn’t changed.
Chuck learned to take a step back from his prying after Cougars, until this episode when Sarah does something unusual. Sarah takes a day off. Chuck seems surprised. They’ve been together for two years, well not together together, but fake together with undertones of real, and in all that time Sarah never took a day off. Sarah has a life outside being the worlds greatest spy? This Chuck has to see. What does “personal time” look like for Sarah Walker. It is a little cringe inducing, but in Chuck’s defense Sarah knows everything about him and is monitoring him 24/7, so turnabout is fair … right?
Incidentally trailing Sarah on a bike because all the Nerd Herders being re-upholstered due to the discovery of Jeff’s underwear in one was priceless. But Chuck still has a lot to learn about spying. Like take off the GPS tracking watch your handler gave you so she could always locate you before trying to covertly tail her on her personal time. So Chuck’s cover is blown. Apparently there’s an app for that.
Chuck’s flash on that much, much older gentleman who is a bad man total loser bottom feeding scum of the earth considerably older man (but a hell of a dancer) brings out his protective (and jealous) side.
It is interesting how Sarah reacts. She doesn’t dispute Chuck’s description, but she only lets slip as much as she has to, and Jack Burton (Jenny’s dad) enters the Chuck-verse.
Sarah’s dynamic with her dad the next morning is interesting. We can see there is a certain effort to keep him at a distance, but still a very real affection between them. It is this episode that we get our second glimpse of what makes Sarah Walker tick, emotionally. The men in her life let her down. At least now she won’t take his stolen money anymore, as opposed to “How much did we get?” and some Rocky Road. But now we get back to Sarah’s conflict. She loves her dad, but she’s under no illusions as to who he is, and her identity is now tied very closely with being “one of the good guys”. Still she couldn’t help being impressed with the size of the con, the con-man’s daughter is still in there somewhere. But knowing a crime has been committed, she has to do the right thing. She offers to turn her dad in. Now we see Sarah’s reason for that distance with her father was not just to protect herself, it was also to protect him. She’s not sure how he’d react to her being in the CIA, especially if it means arresting him. But remember, the last time Sarah’s dad left her in Cougars it was a similar situation. Arresting him might be the only way to protect him. Could we just say it’s complicated, and now she also has to con her con-man father on several levels. About her job. About Chuck. And she has to get him to give up the details of the con to see if they can get information on the very bad people her father has conned.
Dinner with Chuck and her dad is interesting. Chuck of course instantly connects and loves hearing the stories about Sarah’s childhood, and she doesn’t seem too upset that he’s hearing them as opposed to her more (ahem) visceral reaction in Cougars. Is she (like the parallel Anna/Morgan story) ready to take it to the next level and let Chuck in a little? Or is it the fact that she’s reconciled with Chuck knowing all about her dad pretty much gives him a hint as to what her life was like. In any case it’s a very new take on them together and Chuck being made privy to what Sarah’s childhood was like. She’s allowing him to see a part of her, a bit of what in fact makes her fragile and in need of his understanding that she longs for the connection, but is afraid that like with her dad, once that connection is made she’ll be hurt when he inevitably leaves her for that normal life.
So, dinner turns into an emergency con when this episode’s generic villain, Sheik Rajiv Amad, shows up and wants his building. Sarah and Chuck both do some improvising and Dad is safe, but now there is an unbelievable opportunity, get the Sheik’s banking information, courtesy of her dad’s first con. So now Sarah has to trick him into pulling a con that is both a con and not a con. To say it’s con-fusing is an understatement. Still love everything about the con, from the phony exterminators to the veeerrst German accent you have ever heard to the double-cross. Some excellent comedy/spy stuff.
I said before that there was something new apparent in the way that Sarah seemed more at ease with Chuck hearing about her past. So too is the way that Sarah allows Chuck to help her through her dad’s apparent betrayal. She accepts without complaint the comfort she tacitly admits she needs. That and a little heavy-bag therapy.
Sarah has been hurt, but she still loves her dad, and will do anything to keep him safe. And it turns out Jack loves Sarah, he just has an odd way of showing it, skipping out of town after thinking he set up Chuck and Sarah for life.
The end of this episode, with every member of team B improvising their own take on the next level of the con is great, but I still like Lichtenstein better.
Sarah still loves her dad, and in the end daddy’s girl beats Agent Walker, and she lets him get away, and once again lets Chuck offer the comfort she seems willing to admit is a welcome change from dad’s version.
Protection And Warmth
Before I begin doing my usual riff (and my usual cock-eyed take!) on Chuck vs. The DeLorean, it’s incumbent to sing the praises of actors Gary Cole and Stefanie Scott. I must, I must!
Cole was a bit of a revelation. As is often the case, I recognized him instantly, but I couldn’t point specifically to any other role he’s played. And he’s played approximately a million. The trivia section of IMDB shows that he was barely edged out by Don Johnson for a staring role in Miami Vice, which I can’t help but think would have been our first introduction to a proto-Jack Burton by another name.
In the first two seasons of Chuck we saw many strong guest star performances. C.S. Lee (as Harry Tang) and Tony Hale come to mind instantly with characters that were hugely recognizable and memorable. But in every case, the characters were actually caricatures by intent, almost cartoonish. That’s okay – it serves a purpose.
In contrast was the way Cole absolutely commanded the scenes in which he played. He owned them; he owned the character and made us both understand and like the person we saw. It’s a quality I’d see again and recognize when Scott Bakula, Chevy Chase, Linda Hamilton and Tim Dalton make their appearances. Even in Chuck vs. The DeLorean, he’s not alone in this.
Are you wondering who Stefanie Scott is? Why, she’s 12 year old Sarah. When she looks at Cole’s Jack Burton and says (with just a touch of a scowl) “That really hurt!”, she reveals volumes of information about Sarah Walker and the relationship she had with her dad. Jack was supposed to protect her, after all. Instead, Sarah had to protect herself, at least a bit.
Well, maybe that info-drop really comes when she chooses Rocky Road over a trip to the emergency room for (at minimum) a sprained wrist. Either way, character pwned!
It’s in the little things they do; Stefanie Scott’s brief scowl, Gary Cole’s glib self-assurance when he tells Chuck that he is, indeed, a rogue, scoundrel, a very bad man “…and one hell of a dancer.” It’s Yvonne’s wrist-flip when Sarah plays executive secretary that sells the act to Sheik Rajiv Amad, you recall. Perfect. I’m not qualified to critique the technical aspects of acting, but if there’s one episode where everyone gets it right, it’s here; even I can tell.
And that brings me to something I suspect will come up in comments because it came up in the NBC boards back then. We’re informed here that Sarah is 12 in 1990, which doesn’t jibe comfortably with her still being in high school in 1998 (this is established as canon in Cougars), the same year Chuck is a freshman at Stanford. Is Sarah older than Chuck (his birthday being in September, we know from the pilot episode)? Were they both 19 year old college freshmen? Is this a careless slip-up and an example of the fans paying more attention than TPTB?
My answer, in light of all the good stuff I had seen in Chuck already, was to firmly affix my thumb to my nose, waggle my fingers and say PPHHTTTHHHHWWWAAAPPPP! Can I spell that for you? It’s spelled “PPHHTTTHHHHWWWAAAPPPP!” WHO CARES? I chose to not strain my brain over that and enjoy the other little things. [Huff – puff – puff – calming down, now…]
And there were so many. This is Sarah’s story, where we learn more about her childhood running cons with her dad. That couldn’t have been easy, but no kid ever had as much fun. Jack taught her to protect herself and never be a chump. There’s more, though, something I often fail to recognize about DeLorean. It’s also a major story about The Romance ™.
S2 started with Chuck and Sarah being a couple, but that part of the relationship ended in The Break-up with tears barely held back. Chuck’s doing. He wanted a normal life, and life with Sarah would never be normal. Ever since, Chuck and Sarah have been the best of friends and the best of partners.
They’ve saved each other, saved the world together (or, at least, several thousand in the greater LA metro area), shared cheeseburgers (extra pickles) and tried desperately to not pry into each others’ past. In fact, it becomes difficult for us the viewers to remember that they are “just friends” – it seems like so much more. If you could plot a graph of their closeness, it would be a slow but steady climb from the low point that was The Break-up.
But like bookends, the tears and quivering chin are back. Sarah experiences the same sense of loss, this time when she sends her father away for Rocky Road ice creme to keep him away from the authorities. She barely holds it together. This is the assassin, the CIA operative who has to be prepared to leave everything (and everyone) behind at a moment’s notice, the savvy con-artist who would never be a mark, brought to tears – again. Over family.
You can wear your fur like a river on fire
But you better be sure if you’re makin’ God a liar
I’m a rattlesnake, Babe, I’m like fuel on fire
So if you’re gonna’ get made, Don’t be afraid
…of what you’ve learned
If her experiences with Chuck have taught her one thing, it’s been that family and friends matter. There’s no protection for that and nothing to keep you warm without them.
Chuck: Eleven years ago, my father left Ellie and me. He’s, uh, he was an unusual man. I guess that’s generous. An engineer. We used to get Christmas cards and birthday calls. And then one year, it just stopped. I don’t know why. What I do know is that it wasn’t my fault. Granted, it took a significant amount of time and an incredible amount of therapy to come to that realization, but… You need to know that your father’s sins are his and not yours.
Chuck is an articulate schnook and finds the words that help Sarah to deal with everything she’s feeling. He does it without prying or being obtrusive. Perfect. Better than beating up a punching bag, for sure.
I’ll elide over DeLorean’s excellent adventure, with Chuck pulling off a con of his own, great lines (like Jack informing Casey of his great gift – his “cop-face”), and Sarah shooting her own father to save him from the dangerous Sheik Amad. There’s perfect counterpoint with Morgan foolishly spending Devon’s money to buy a car that won’t do 22 mph without stalling instead of growing up. He’ll be coming around, but that’ll take a few more episodes.
Chuck accidentally bumps into Jack after Sarah has sent her father off and realizes almost instantly that Sarah has come to a crossroads. She had to choose between her duty and her family, and maybe for the first time in a long time, chooses family. Maybe for the first time, we can see Sarah asking herself “What would Chuck do?” and come up with an answer. Chuck knows something significant has happened; we can tell by his look back at Jack.
DeLorean is a “Sarah episode,” but here, Chuck is not a minor player. He’s not the whiny, insecure, bumbling nerd-herder we saw as recently as Sensei. He’s been suave, clever and even understanding of both the personal and political situations surrounding him. Chuck turns down $10 million with only a joke/token regret, convinces Jack (a powerful father figure), that he’s worthy of his daughter and does one other thing. He offers Sarah his jacket for warmth.
Like so much else in this episode, it’s a little thing. And it’s perfect. Sarah accepts the coat, and with that look back at the departing Jack – another tiny bit of acting worthy of the others I mentioned – Chuck knows he’s just taken on an awesome responsibility.
For her part, and reinforced by Jacks “one great talent”, Sarah trusts Chuck in a new way. She’s come to trust him with her heart. Without speaking of it, Chuck and Sarah have crossed a threshold and I have no doubt that he’s thinking of her differently. “Just friends” doesn’t come close to describing it any longer. “Cover boy/girlfriend” won’t cut it either. If we ever thought that they were going to remain at arms length forever like Ross and Rachel, Sam and Diane or Booth and Bones, we were wrong and knew it then.
So much from expressions, looks, body language and stage presence. I haven’t even gotten around to mentioning the real star of the episode, a 1981 muscle car that stalls at 22 mph (Oh yeah!). I’m certain that from this episode on I was unable to think of Chuck as just another television show, and I couldn’t think of a better way to highlight the Christmas season…
…except for what’s coming next.
From all of us at Chuck This!, Merry Christmas to you all!