Cole Barker is introduced as an MI-6 agent with some data on the Fulcrum Intersect in the middle episode of this season two arc. After the jump, we’ll look at Chuck vs The Beefcake.
I believe this is generally the least popular episode of season two. I know its my least favorite. Prior to this re-watch I sort of lumped it in with Ex, Sensei and Third Dimension as being generally weak; but after looking at all of them in the big picture, I think Beefcake stands out as very weak. Obviously I can start with my usual disclaimer of not ever liking love triangles, but really, the love triangle is the least of the issues here. For me things go wrong from the start with Ellie telling Chuck to dump Sarah, and Chuck actually doing so. Yes, I know Ellie is more like Chuck’s mom, but I wouldn’t respect Chuck’s process any more if she was his parent. I think this makes Chuck look weak-willed and foolish. Especially since Chuck knows all the reasons why he and Sarah have a complicated relationship and why breaking up with her is a bad idea. Even if the only reason is that it will make providing his security more difficult, that’s enough to make a bad idea. Add to that, knowing that Sarah helps keep him out of the bunker, and that he will continue to work with her whether they are cover dating or not, and it all just seems very ill-advised. Never mind it seems manipulative and contrived. This is a complaint I will make often in season three; and in a way this episode is the mini-S3. Its the prototype for everything that will be done wrong in a more epic fashion the following season. When Chuck gets things right it is a wonderful and beautiful show; but its failings are often cringe-worthy.
Believe it or not, I have other objections to this episode. I think Chuck looks whiny and weak in both the hotel bar scene and the later torture/interrogation scenes too. And really not even in a funny way, mostly just annoying. I also dislike that Chuck is given no respect by either Sarah or Casey when it comes to hacking the chip, they both should know better, this is what Chuck is actually good at and they know it (remember “The Bartowski Special” from Tom Sawyer? Chuck was confidently better than Atari’s best). And then finally, I intensely dislike this “B” plot. This is Jeff and Lester at their perverted creepy worst, it doesn’t amuse me at all. I know, I’m too stiff/formal/conservative/old-fashioned/whatever. But I really dislike this “B” plot.
So that’s a lot of dislike. Beefcake doesn’t ever rise above it either, this is not only my least favorite episode of S2, its my least favorite episode outside of S3. But there are a couple things here I do like. Of course Sarah getting a little excited over another man doesn’t appeal to me; but it doesn’t bother me a lot, especially since she behaves herself except for a single kiss she doesn’t initiate, and in the end she seems to find Cole lacking in comparison to Chuck, I’ll call that a win. Casey actually seems to be rooting for Charah in the latter part of this episode, perhaps he just prefers keeping it all within the team, but this strikes as a minor turning point in how Casey will relate to Chuck for the rest of the show. Sure the name calling will continue, but friendship and respect seem to only grow from this point forward.
And finally, I do like the ending. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I always think Sarah is quite pleased with the outcome herself. We know she already does love Chuck, and as aware of the complexity and difficulty of her situation as she is, I think Sarah herself sees this end as letting her have it all. But that discussion will be continued next week.
What Were You Thinking, Bro?
Everybody, maybe if we all get together, we can nicely ask Dave to tell us what he really thinks about Chuck vs. The Beefcake!
Sorry. I just couldn’t resist.
Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system, I can disagree very little with what Dave said, except that I don’t consider Beefcake to be the weakest episode of S2 – that honor goes to 3-D, mostly for gratuitous gimmickry. But, I’ll confess; it comes close.
There’s a simple reason for my judgment – nobody likes a whiny Chuck. Put that one on my tombstone, will-ya? We, the fans, tend to hate it a lot when Chuck complains, and we really hate it when he gets awkward, clumsy and incompetent around Sarah. Here in Beefcake it’s a trifecta. He does it all!
Of course, there’s good news. The surprise this time, for me, is that it’s all in what Sarah does. And it’s a surprise because at the first viewing – and maybe through the fifth as well – Sarah seems to be all over the map emotionally. It took me a long time to understand Agent Walker at all, and this episode didn’t help me with that particular problem. I should have been looking at it through her eyes. Instead, I was looking at it through Chuck’s.
“What does Chuck see?” you ask? He sees Sarah smiling in the Suburbs, making him breakfast. He sees Sylvia telling him that it’s not real. He sees Sarah taking his hand as Jeffster does Africa, and he sees her take back the wedding ring as the mission comes to an end. What Chuck sees is that, no matter what he thinks Sarah is feeling about him, the mission always ends and he always goes back to the Buy More. What he doesn’t see is how hard all that is for her.
I know the first time I watched this episode I was confused as well. No, wait. That’s not right. Neither Chuck nor I are confused. We’re just plain wrong. Watch Sarah as Chuck breaks up with her – again. Besides the rather obvious joke of expertly slicing a banana like the yogurt-pro she is, Sarah’s also shifting her weight nervously, like she’s uncomfortable. His little “It’s not you, it’s me” speech is something she does not want to hear. It’s a moment that almost makes you wince, doesn’t it?
Trite and slightly juvenile, the scene starts off as one of those cheap sit-com moments that make me want to dump my TV. One line changes it all; Chuck asks what he should tell Ellie and Devon about their relationship.
Sarah: Look. Tell them we’re taking things slowly, and that, while we enjoy each others company, we don’t really feel the need to label it. And who knows what the future holds for us?
Chuck: But that’s – that’s just another lie, isn’t it?
Just another lie. If the fans don’t understand how much the cover and all the lies supporting it have been gnawing at Chuck’s heart, they should, now.
Does Sarah? The fact is, she’s known it for a while. But does she react with sympathy and understanding, the way she has for most of S2? No, not this time.
It takes a bit – the mission is introduced and the theme is played, but we finally see how Sarah reacts to Chuck’s speech when Team B sits in the hotel lobby and one Cole Barker (Jonathan Cake) appears. Sarah’s reaction to their second breakup – a very real one, this time – becomes clear. She stabs Chuck through the heart.
Sarah: Do you want some company?
Cole: Not really.
Sarah: Well, neither do I, but uh, the problem is, if I sit alone at the bar, then every guy in here is gonna think I’m lonely and desperate, and try and take a shot at a total stranger.
Cole: Isn’t that what you’re doing right now?
Sarah: Guilty as charged.
Cole: If we’re gonna continue this conversation, I think I should make one thing abundantly clear. I am not a very nice guy.
Sarah: Good. Because I’m not into nice guys.
Cole: Really? And why is that?
Sarah: Well, all they want to do is talk about their feelings and emotions. And sometimes what a woman really wants is a man who acts.
Ouch! Cruelty! Unnecessary roughness, 15 yard penalty, loss of down! As a reformed “nice guy” myself, my reaction was to scream bloody murder.
— which is a very Chuck-like reaction. You know. Whiny Chuck-like. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on the episode, especially when in the very next scene, Chuck does a bit of “manning-up” as he leads Cole out of the hotel. Even better, Sarah makes it perfectly clear that Cole was “just a mark.” She treats him with disdain, verging on contempt.
Nervousness, anger, interest, passion, disdain, contempt… yes, Sarah’s been showing a lot of emotions clear as day. She’s been showing them to Chuck. It’s just hard for him to know which are real and which are an act.
Do the fans know? The first time I saw Beefcake I thought Sarah had taken an interest in Cole and my take of the fans on the NBC message boards at the time was that they did too. Even when she discovers that Cole is really MI-6 and more than a bit of a hero, Sarah treats him with professional detachment, and it’s too bad Chuck doesn’t see that. I know I sort of missed the import. It almost looks like Chuck is holding his own in the comparison.
But no, Cole, the fans and even Sarah have to put up with more whiny and incompetent Chuck as he trips the signal in the chip that gets them all captured. He doesn’t exactly do himself proud when Fulcrum agent Alexis White (Katerina Law) captures them and demands to know who the Intersect is. Funny thing is, by the time it’s all over, Sarah doesn’t seem to mind so much.
Sarah: Keep the ice on that.
Chuck: Oh, I’m fine.
Sarah: I’m really proud of you, Chuck. It’s not easy to withstand torture.
Chuck: Well, they just didn’t know the right buttons to push. I have exceptionally ticklish toes, you know. As a child, Ellie was able to extract information from me at will.
Sarah: Well, that’s good to know. Besides. You’ve had a lot of practice enduring torture, with our fake relationship.
Yeah, the Chuck in me just perked up. It looks like Sarah really does understand and has been sympathetic to his plight after all. Maybe it wasn’t Chuck’s whining that bothered me. Maybe Sarah’s understanding was the one ingredient that had really been missing from this episode all along.
And now that I see it, maybe Chuck vs. The Beefcake isn’t so bad. No, wait. Dave, you’re right. We still have that ending to consider, and you hit it exactly. Chuck is in a difficult position – he loves Sarah – everybody knows that – but “it’s complicated” in a way that makes those words from the pilot seem like Biblical prophecy. If you just uttered a big “Who cares? We’ve known it’s complicated for Chuck from the beginning!”, well, so did I. We did. It’s not news.
Now I admit; I didn’t know what Sarah was feeling. I thought she had decided, like Chuck, to move on, to avoid the complicated situation like she had with Bryce. That’s why she left Washington, after all.
I was slow to realize it, but after one kiss from Cole, Sarah knows that it’s Chuck she’s comparing him to. Now she knows she’s feeling a lot more for Chuck than for the MI-6, James Bond hero. And, oh yes, it’s complicated. Sarah knows the dangers far better than her charge. Worse, the best thing for Chuck is to not let on how much she cares; he’s already suffered enough.
“Just when I thought I was out…”
We’ve seen low points in their relationship before. We saw the vast gulf between them in Crown Vic and in 3-D. We saw how Chuck attempted to move on with Lou and with Jill and now we’ve just witnessed Sarah’s attempt to move on. One thing that always happened before is that Chuck and Sarah got together, often at the fountain in Echo Park, and talked. That’s when they told each other the truth and made each other understand. Not so this time.
This is different. They are not talking to each other in the way we’re used to. So what are the fans supposed to think? Despair. In all of S2 this is the lowest low point for Chuck and Sarah, and it’s no wonder Beefcake upset the fans. Chuck and Sarah are actively trying to get over each other.
At the start of this episode, Chuck really did dump Sarah. Oh yes, he did, and despite the banana, he meant it. As Ellie put it, why not? Maybe it’s just too hard. Maybe he didn’t think she was “the one.” Counterpoint:
Morgan: There are few precious things I know anything about in this world. Chuck’s one of them. Believe me, Sarah’s the one.
Funny how the writers, and I assume, Fedak, put those words into Morgan’s mouth. Even if he was the character we believed the least, the words were exactly what we wanted to hear.
Ellie: How do you know?
Morgan: It’s all over the kid’s face. When Chuck is around Sarah, he is the Chuck that we always dreamed of. Alright? – the Chuck that has the potential to do anything in the world.
Fate intervenes once more; Cole is captured, and because “everybody talks,” it’s only a matter of time before Fulcrum knows Chuck is the Intersect. He’s in extreme danger and must be put under ’round-the-clock surveillance, a job that falls to Sarah. This is not a “fountain scene,” where we can sit back and be satisfied that Chuck and Sarah are coming together. No, they will have to be in close proximity exactly at the time he needs to put her behind him.
I was thinking of Chuck’s position at first, his emotions and his feelings, and that makes sense; I’ve been there. A quote from The Godfather captures it at the end of this episode: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Chuck will have to be close to the one person he cannot touch, but desires. That’s as painful as it gets.
When Sarah kissed Cole longer than I thought she should have, I too thought that maybe I had been fooled all along, just like Chuck was thinking about himself.
If Chuck’s love seems unrequited, Sarah’s is frustrated. Moving on may be the best way to protect Chuck, if she can do that. And it’s clear the cover has been hurting Sarah too. Chuck will not be the only one who must soon lay near someone who can’t be touched – and that’s not trite or juvenile at all.
By the time Beefcake ended I couldn’t wait to see how they could get past that hurt. The episode made me wince at Chuck’s many embarrassments, and I really want to say I disliked it. But there’s real pathos in that ending, the kind caused by real emotion between two people, and I love that idea. It’s the kind of thing that tells me it’s not over and makes me want to come back.
Just when I thought I was out…