Well, the long break is over. We finally have the long awaited follow-up to Santa Claus. There was much excitement over finding 3-D glasses and Super Bowl previews. So could the episode deliver on the excitement and hype? We’ll take a look after the jump.
I have to start by saying we really got unlucky with some timing here. This episode was heavily hyped and drew a large audience. But the following week was cancelled for a presidential speech. We lost a lot of momentum and viewers with the two week gap. And what’s worse, the sequence of episodes was jumbled. The following episode was supposed to be Best Friend. But with the pre-emption, the network chose to run Suburbs, with its more timely Valentine’s Day opening. Which put Best Friend on the air in between Suburbs and Beefcake. I think this was emotionally jarring, especially for those who weren’t aware of the switch. Never fear, we will watch Best Friend next here (the discs have the episode numbers in the order they aired, NOT the order they were meant to air. So just be aware our order will look wrong next week).
This seems to be one of the most broadly unpopular episodes of season two. I had thought to make a defense of it initially, but after re-watching it for the first time in a couple years, it really does look weak. But I think my judgement will be quite contrary to most. What I think goes wrong here largely relates to marketing and Zach’s performance. The marketing part is easy, they tried a gimmick (network? advertisers? I’m not sure who the guilty parties are) that didn’t completely work. Actually, that might not be fair. With Super Bowl advertising they did manage to bring in a large audience. And the 3-D itself was interesting. Definitely not the cinema quality we’ve grown used to in the last few years. But I thought it was effective in some of the large settings like the Buy More and concert scene. But it seemed to fail badly in some of the action sequences, in part because it was too dark. I’m not sure if it was a failure of the technology, or a more human component, but many scenes didn’t look very good. Even so, the 3-D was interesting and could have resulted in an excellent episode.
But I think the portrayal of Chuck in this episode was a big problem. We saw a nervous whiny Chuck for most of the hour. Whether you felt it was justified or not, for many viewers this was their first exposure to the show, and I think it was a pretty big turn off. For myself, only Curse bothers me more in this regard. I sympathized completely with Casey when he tranqued Chuck, and only wished he’d done it a few scenes earlier. Don’t get me wrong, this never rises to the level of dislike I hold for a certain arc that shall not be mentioned; but even as invested and enamored of the show as I was at this point, this can be a hard episode to watch.
However, what I meant to defend, is probably the very thing most people reading this disliked most. I felt this was a completely acceptable resolution to the Mauser shooting. After a year and a half in the (non) job as Intersect, Chuck both knows a lot about how things are, and is yet very naive. He has just received a brutal wake up seeing the extremes the woman he loves will go to for his protection. And make no mistake, Chuck knows perfectly well Sarah eliminated a very bad man. Mauser had just threatened to kill Ellie to extort co-operation from Chuck, and Chuck’s co-operation meant never seeing Ellie, Sarah, or his friends ever again. Whether he likes Sarah’s tactics or not, Chuck can be under no illusions about who she’s protecting. And I like that in the resolution here Sarah spells it out for him if he’s confused; Mauser knew who Chuck was, and neither Chuck nor his family would be safe if Mauser lived.
But what I really like about this episode is the revelation we get about what really is bothering Chuck. He recognizes that this world he’s been trapped in is dangerous, its built on lies and deception, and he doesn’t belong. I dislike that this apparently took several weeks for him to figure out and talk to Sarah about it, but I like the self discovery that occurs; first when he’s talking to Tyler about being a hero, serving the greater good, and trusting his handlers. And later when he does finally have an overdue talk with Sarah. I think the final scene plays well for both characters. Chuck finally confronts Sarah about what he saw and her lie. Sarah comes clean; while apologizing for lying to Chuck, but not for killing to protect him. It is sort of threading a needle. What seems the greater crime is actually defensible in the situation; while the smaller issue, is actually a betrayal of trust that needs to be addressed and apologized for.
And I’m sure many of you just labeled me a monster for saying that. I’m no fan of the idea of killing anyone. But there are clear times when the use of deadly force is justified; in particular to protect human life. Ali Adler (the writer of Santa Claus) went to great pains to create as morally grey a situation as one could possibly imagine; with the mortal peril being more strategic than tactical. So the final judgment isn’t easy. But I’m fine with considering the big picture of what’s going on (protecting the most important Intelligence asset in the country) and who’s involved (an experienced and trusted field agent) and giving it a pass. That Sarah was anguished by the situation speaks well of her character. That she lies initially to protect her image in Chuck’s eyes is heartbreaking. And finally that Sarah respects Chuck enough to finally be open and honest with him was very satisfying to me. So while I feel this episode was deeply flawed, and definitely holds a place on my “weak” list; I like it as a resolution to the previous episode.
Oh. It was funny in places too.
Dave, maybe this will surprise you, but I’m going to agree with almost everything you just wrote. You know me – I generally make a point of highlighting the positives in every episode of Chuck. I don’t do it to be a fan-boi, but (1) because the good stuff has always easily outmatched the flaws, even when they’re obvious flaws, (B) because the flaws have generally been not-so-bad or easily attributable to extenuating circumstances and (iii) positive is a genuine expression of my reactions to most every scene in the entire series. Like you, I come away with less than glowing thoughts this time.
And like you, I thought that I’d re-watch and come back with a view that was more – let us say – generous. Well, I may still do that actually. But Chuck vs. The Third Dimension is still my least favorite episode. What’s different for me now is that I have a much clearer idea of why that is.
More on that in a bit, but first, yes, there certainly are some positives. Dominic Monaghan created a pretty good character in Tyler Martin. Because I love his sense of humor, of all the one-shot characters we’ve seen, Tyler is the one I would say comes closest to being worthy of a second adventure, maybe second only to Jonathan Sadowski‘s Lazslo Mahnovski.
Okay, mostly, I love his reaction to Casey’s tranqs; “Daisies” and “Daffodils”. And that brings me to the second good thing about 3-D; the humor. No, I’m not talking about Morgan’s little contest (between Jeff and the temporary hire, Butterman, for the golden ticket); that *is* funny, but not everyone’s cup of tea. I’m not even talking about Casey’s tranqs, even if I’d like to try them myself some days. 😉
I could be talking about the triumphant return of our elevator couple, last seen in Chuck vs. The Seduction. But I’m not!
I’m talking about the incredibly gratuitous, totally unprecedented and absolutely jaw-dropping moment, right smack dab in the middle of the episode. Yup, here we have our first major Subway Sandwich product placement/advertisement. It was to become a central rallying point for Chuck fans later, something beloved that we got behind like no set of fans have done before or since to tell the world that WE LOVED THE SHOW!!!
Ahem! Well, maybe that’s overstating it just a tad, but it really catalyzed a unique event and should not be minimized.
Dave, I too question the popular idea that Chuck’s reaction to The Mauser Incident was lacking. My take is that, for the reasons you mentioned, this episode wasn’t supposed to be about that. T.M.I. was important to us, certainly. But it was simply not the central concern or the point in 3-D.
Instead, we have an episode about a prisoner.
Morgan: Poor Butterman. Man’s been trapped in an 8-by-10 cell for years. He ate when they said, “Chow time”, and he slept when they shouted, “Lights out!” Now look at him. Broken. Man had a choice of five sodas, a choice we take for grated every day. A choice he’s been denied for far too long.
Oh, wait. Not Butterman. Tyler Martin is the prisoner, right? Because of circumstances, he has to face danger, do what Casey, Sarah and Chuck say and put himself deliberately in harm’s way just so others can be a little safer.
Tyler: That’s madness. People are trying to kill me!
Since Season One, people have been trying to kill Chuck, too. Only two people have been trying to help him, Casey and Sarah, but even Chuck has to ask himself why they do that. It’s hard, it’s dangerous, and sometimes they have to do things they don’t like. Chuck’s whining, something we never like, is now more than just a little annoyance. It’s deeper and more existential than that.
Sarah: Chuck? What is the matter with you? This is about more than just taking the night off.
Chuck: Maybe. Um, I… You know. I’m a little off my game right now. I’m not really sleeping. I don’t wanna get into it.
Sarah: Chuck, lives are on the line right now. And if Tyler doesn’t help us, then he will never be free of those people. And if you don’t help us, then Akmed Gambir gets away.
Casey: And the world becomes a more dangerous place.
Sarah: I don’t know what happened to you, but this is our job. Not only to protect Tyler, but the country and anybody else who needs protecting. We do whatever it takes, no matter what. Did you forget that?
It’s more than not sleeping. Chuck is having nightmares that invade his life. Weeks ago, perhaps as early as the beginning of the season, Chuck was liking being a spy and being Sarah’s personal hero. He started to be more than just Chuck Bartowski, nerd-herder. He did good things ™.
But now he has to do things he doesn’t want to do. He has to come when Beckman calls and go where Casey and Sarah – the mission – say to go. Orders. His life has become a little – constrained. It gets worse.
Chuck had to give up to Mauser to save Ellie and everyone else. For the moment, his life and his secrets were no longer his, but Mauser’s and Fulcrum’s. He had become a prisoner in the largest sense of the word, a true victim of circumstance. Chuck even had to rely on someone else, Sarah, to do something awful so that he wouldn’t have to.
That Sarah was able to do that – despite her second thoughts – was only part of the nightmare, the part that only occurred in his sleep. Indeed, Chuck tells us in 3-D that he heard Mauser’s threat. He understood why she did what she did. That he soon might have to do awful things himself was the waking nightmare.
Now, when Tyler complains to Chuck about how trapped he is, how out-of-options he feels, Chuck has an answer.
Tyler: That’s madness. People are trying to kill me!
Chuck: Yes. And you can help us catch them. You can help the world, the entire world, by doing this, for real. And you can go back to living your life again. One night of bravery for an entire life of normalcy. I can’t even tell you what I’d give for that.
Tyler: How do I know I can trust them, your people?
Chuck: Because I do. They’re the best. I stake my life on it every day.
Chuck is still a prisoner, but at least he can still do the right thing. That was the point of the episode.
So although I wanted to see Sarah and Chuck resolve the issues T.M.I. introduced, and although I definitely wanted to see more of the bracelet (not to mention less of whiny Chuck), that was not to be in 3-D. This was just not the episode I was hoping to see at that time, especially after the long wait.
Yes, the 3-D effects were gimmicky and it always sounds to me like Achmed Gambir, the Arabic bomber (Nicholas Guilak), has an Irish accent. 3-D has it’s flaws and they make it harder to see the good stuff that’s there.
What we actually did got wasn’t really bad, so much as it was jumbled in the scheduling and lost in the amazing story that was to come.
Joe you said something that got me thinking (never a good sign…) Much to my regret, I sort of touched on the blame game last week, and that is something that always bothered me about these two episodes. It seems clear to me that Chuck starts something when he confesses to Mauser that he is the Intersect. You’ve got me wondering if Chuck has far more awareness of his own role in following events than I initially gave him credit for. If we assume that Chuck has puzzled out during the break that Sarah killed Mauser because of what Chuck had told him, then Chuck may indeed be wrestling with the idea its his own failure in the spy world that lead to Sarah taking such extreme actions. That could be consistent with Chuck’s unease with, well, everything as this episode starts. And his revelation during his talk with Tyler could be the realization that Sarah truly does have his back. Even if he’d rather not face the full consequences of what that may mean. And perhaps that leads to Chuck taking his responsibilities with the Intersect a little more seriously.
You just solidified the thought in my mind, Dave. It’s easy to miss that, yes Chuck heard Mauser’s threat. We only discovered that fact six weeks later, so yes, he really did understand that Sarah had his back.
Chuck’s speech to Tyler can be seen as the resolution to T.M.I. after all. Well, part 1, at least; the rational, if not the emotional resolution we wanted to see. I must point out that Arthur’s comment, that the theme echos in Final Exam and that the final resolution occurs in Paris, is spot on – thank you for pointing that out, Arthur!