And bouncing around the schedule continues as we come back to the episode intended to follow Best Friend. After the jump, we’ll discuss Chuck vs the Suburbs, which starts the Suburbs/Beefcake/Lethal Weapon arc.
I have to start by admitting I wasn’t looking forward to this one. As I’ve stated on several occasions, I have a hard time enjoying any episode that doesn’t end well for Chuck and Sarah. And while this one hardly constitutes a major trauma, it does end on a down note (or maybe mixed?). Its down enough that can’t consider this a favorite of mine, and I only re-watch it when doing full watches like this one. But that said; after a couple years of not seeing this one, it was fun to be reminded of what is good here. Suburbs does feature a couple favorite, beautiful scenes; in addition to some good humor and a satisfying climax.
I know many viewers have mentioned an odd tension at the beginning of Suburbs too, to be honest I don’t see that at all. I love the beginning. It makes me smile and laugh. I see Chuck and Sarah, after Best Friend, know beyond a doubt they like each other. But “complex” truly is the operative word. Chuck may still fear feelings could get Sarah hurt, and he has been rebuffed when he’s tried to get more real with her anyway. Sarah is even more aware than Chuck of just how closely they are watched, and what the consequences could be showing her feelings. She is just weeks away from admitting to her v-log the she is in love with Chuck Bartowski, but doesn’t know what to do about it. So that is what we see here. Chuck and Sarah are desperately drawn to each other. And both are afraid to do anything about it. Chuck offers to give the covers a night off, likely thinking he wants to try something real with Sarah again; but Sarah takes it as a put off, she has a much harder time thinking outside the box than Chuck does! Then Morgan comes along and forces their hand. So we get a very awkward Valentine’s date; two people needing and wanting each other, but too scared to do or say anything about it.
A new mission comes as a relief. And even better, it’s a new mission where they will be required to work closely together, without having to deal with any messy realities. The mission itself strikes me as fairly unremarkable, boring even. And you all know me, the Cougar part does nothing for me; I’m no fan of sleaze or neurotic, whiny Chuck, so a big part of this fails me. But several parts are perfect. Chuck and Sarah’s morning breakfast is just a wonderful scene. We see our favorite twosome enjoying themselves with friendly banter, and seeming far more comfortable than they were a couple nights ago. Then jump forward to Chuck getting the Fulcrum Intersect. I love several parts of this climax. First of course is Sarah’s obvious, real concern for Chuck all while he’s being told her feelings for him aren’t real. Then as Sarah is set up for her own download, nice exchange leading up to Chuck shielding her from the onslaught. That is just a beautiful moment, and I love the brief focus on the wedding rings. What Chuck and Sarah have is real and permanent, even if it will be some time yet to come to fruition. It was both the breakfast scene and Chuck protecting Sarah that are the enduring memories of this episode to me.
The “B” plot doesn’t work well in this episode for me. Again, I’m no fan of the more overt sleaze. An effort is made to relate it to the “A” plot via truthfulness but the connection is too convoluted. Big Mike is lying. Chuck and Sarah are in a far more complicated situation that defies such simple labels. I don’t see a true parallel, even if Fulcrum tried to convince Chuck there was one. At least the side plot does pay off well; Big Mike’s mystery woman revealed as Morgan’s Mom is good for a wonderful big laugh.
The downbeat end does set up the next episode. Chuck takes Sarah’s rebuff fairly hard. Maybe he isn’t crushed, but he is assuming the worst. He took too much council from a lying Fulcrum Agent and Sarah’s inconsistent signals, and seems to have decided friends and colleagues is as much as he can hope for from her. We the audience, know far better. We are privy to Sarah’s pain as she watches a dream life dismantled. Chuck is giving up too easy, again.
Same As It Ever Was – NOT!
Dave, I kinda, sorta understand your slight trepidation about re-watching Chuck vs. The Suburbs. It’s different. It seems to have different colors than any other Chuck episode and it has a different feel, doesn’t it? It’s tenor is – unique. You may ask yourself “How did we get here?” I think that to understand, we have to look at this episode from two points of view; Chuck’s and Sarah’s.
At the end of Best Friends we thought they were moving forward, but we saw something odd. Chuck and Sarah were not exactly on the same wavelength. As they held hands she stood un-smiling, looking a bit concerned, perhaps over their new status or perhaps even wondering what it meant that they were caring for each other. Chuck, though, was smiling, if only slightly. He looked content, or at least satisfied, with the way things stood. It doesn’t seem he was wondering or concerned about the future and what it might bring.
Yet here at the start of Suburbs it’s Chuck looking concerned as he stares at the John Cusack film Must Love Dogs playing on every TV in the Buy More. Why? The movie is a standard Rom-Com about the longing for domestic life.
Then Sarah walks in and starts talking about celebrating Valentine’s Day – as a couple. I don’t think she means as a fake couple either, at least, not until Morgan interrupts and asks what their plans are. Then it’s all about the cover. Maybe Morgan is fooled by Sarah’s act, but the viewers sure weren’t.
Chuck, though, thinks he knows the real story. He believes that, as far as Sarah is concerned, there’s nothing but the cover, and there can’t be. Chuck can have all the dreams he wants about her and he can give her touching gifts, but he doesn’t – he can’t – expect anything in return.
What’s new is that Chuck is determined to be okay with the way things are and he’s not going to spend his life chasing hopelessly after Agent Walker. Chuck may be a nerd, but he is no fool.
So when Sarah brings up the question about having any plans, Chuck assumes it’s for the cover.
Sarah: Actually, I was referring to the whole Valentine’s Day thing.
Chuck: Oh, my gosh, right! I’m – I’m so sorry. Did you wanna do something?
Sarah: No, no, I was just curious. Unless you wanted to do something.
Chuck: Doesn’t it seem like we ought to do something? I mean, it’s up to you.
Sarah: Yeah, sure. Okay. I mean, we have been cover-dating for over a year now, right?
Chuck: Yeah. It’d be weird if we didn’t do something.
Sarah: Completely weird.
Sigh. It’s getting harder and harder for both of them to tell the fiction from the reality. That’s where we find ourselves in Suburbs, with Sarah wondering what normal life would be like and Chuck not thinking in terms of normal life with Sarah. That’s that “odd tension” you mentioned, Dave. It’s the complete opposite of what the viewers had been thinking about the characters for quite some time.
Fate, Fulcrum and General Beckman see to it that both get a chance to find out what normal is like, though. Ellie was right. Their mission in the suburbs is a dry run. I must say, what I discovered about Chuck and Sarah there in the land of manicured lawns and Labrador retrievers surprised me.
Break Your Thumbs, Chuck!
The suburbs are a new experience for Chuck, but it looks like he could get used to this life. There’s no way Sarah could. Right?
Wrong. After the Fulcrum bug is found, Agent Walker should be all business. Instead, Chuck finds her cheerfully making breakfast. There’s no more bugs and she can be herself. Herself? Domestic? Exactly whose world has Chuck stepped into?
Chuck: Are we gonna invite the neighbors over?
Sarah: No, Chuck. I’m cooking for you.
This is Chuck’s dream, verging on too good to be true. Chuck is appreciative and Sarah really is enjoying this whole Martha Stewart thing. Yes, she may one day turn into a real girl, just as Chuck teases. She even sends him off to work with a grocery list.
That grocery list is a clue – for us and for Chuck, who is, like I said, no fool. Sarah is Agent Walker after all, doing her spy-work even if she can enjoy being a housewife – it’s within her to do both. What Chuck sees, though, is just the spy at work. Maybe Chuck is thinking to himself “That ‘domestic goddess’ stuff I’m seeing is just a cover,” and maybe he should be. Maybe not, but maybe.
It’s a great adventure – the neighbors, Brad (Andy Richter) and “crazy cougar lady” Sylvia (Jenny McCarthey), are in charge of a secret Fulcrum project to recreate the Intersect. Their alpha-versions tend to wreck the brains of their test subjects, though, so when Chuck, Sarah and Casey are captured, it’s not certain at all that any of them will survive the tests to which they are subjected.
Chuck is special, of course, and we all knew the first time that he would survive. The question is, would he survive Sylvia’s words?
Chuck: Look, I’ll do whatever you want. Just let her go.
Sylvia: Don’t tell me you have feelings for your partner?
Brad: You really let her get into your head, huh.
Sylvia: What did she tell you? That someday you two would be together? Maybe settle down in a cute little cul-de-sac like this one?
Brad: Ha, ha. You’re funny.
Sylvia: This place isn’t real. Her feelings for you aren’t real.
Actually, Sarah never said any such thing. She never promised Chuck that they’d be together and certainly not that they’d have a normal life. I started by saying that we have to think about this episode from both Sarah’s and Chuck’s POV. And from his, Sylvia’s words inadvertently make Chuck understand that Sarah’s feelings are real. You see, despite everything, despite the cover romance and the lies that go with it, Chuck knows that Sarah’s always kept the promises she has made. Always.
The problem is that even if Sarah’s feelings for Chuck are real, the dangers always remain and can chase them into any refuge they find. Even the suburbs.
Chuck recovers his wits quickly enough to fool Sylvia – and Sarah – into thinking he’s been turned into an Intersect-zombie. When Sylvia asks Chuck if it’s okay to test “his wife”, he responds that he doesn’t have a wife. Now look at her face when he says that. From Sarah’s point of view, something important dies in that moment; that faint, newborn dream of a normal life with Chuck.
Sarah is despondent when she hears his words, but Chuck is recovered enough to save Sarah. Casey frees himself by taking his own advice to Chuck “Break your thumbs!” Hey, this episode is only the first time we hear about that technique!
This Is Not My Beautiful Wife
Chuck’s speech to Ellie confused me so much, then. But thinking of it in light of Chuck and Sarah’s new understanding of the position they’re in makes much more sense now. Chuck is resigned to what’s happening and he’ll be satisfied with that, if necessary. He’s turning into a great spy. From Chuck’s POV, it wasn’t so much his dreams that were derailed; Chuck is no fool – he knows the score and he’s going to face that square on. It’s Sarah’s dreams that must be deferred.
Ellie: But you guys seem so perfect.
Chuck: Yeah, I know. I guess. But being in that house with her, it was so close to being perfect, the way I had always pictured it would be… And I realized that what was wrong with that picture. And it was us. Sarah and I are never gonna be anything more than what we are right now. [Chuck sighs] And you know what? I’m okay with that.
Things are different for Chuck and Sarah now, but they have to keep it just the way it ever was.