I hesitate to post this after seeing the Chuckwin’s law thread that developed on the Chuck Versus The Beefcake re-watch post, but I think this episode is an important one to understand for the direction of the show. I think in this episode we see a whiny Chuck and Sarah falling for another version of Bryce for a reason. Everything is being set in motion for the finale and for Chuck’s decision to embrace his destiny for both his and Sarah’s sake rather than turn away from it.
This is my take, and my opinion of the direction TPTB chose and where this episode fits into that story. Themes set out in this episode and arc, while mostly resolved by late season 3 will continue to play out well into season 4 in episodes like Chuck Versus The Fear of Death and Chuck Versus Phase 3.
You aren’t required to like it or agree. There are clearly some people who read and occasionally comment who see some merit and enjoyment in season 3, or in the exploration of the characters unflattering aspects or the lows that lead to and provide a contrast for the highs, and I want to have a conversation with them and give a voice to their point of view. I’m hoping those who feel different will let me. It’s fine if you don’t like it but I’m putting this in a separate post for a simple reason. If the comments turn into one long rant on everything that is wrong with Chuck or TPTB, I’m deleting them. If it gets too bad I’m turning them off. I want a Chuckwin’s law free zone. That doesn’t mean no criticism, just that at some level accept the direction TPTB took as their story and a legitimate choice.
If you want to engage in discussion about the story I present your input is welcome. If you want to vent or tell me I’m wrong without presenting a civil discussion of why, this might not be the post for you. Those of you inclined can join me after the jump for my take on Chuck Versus The Beefcake.
My biggest surprise on re-watch was how much I liked this episode. Though full disclosure, I watched Chuck Versus The Lethal Weapon immediately after. I just can’t separate them. It’s the way I saw them when I first watched Chuck. So I find a lot of what Dave and Joe have to say interesting. Overall my view is closer to Joe, with some caveats, which I’ll get to. But there is one thing Dave said that rang so true, and informed so much of what this episode is about that I had to comment. My original intent was to include it in the body of the re-watch post, but sadly my #Chuckiversary funk and re-watch left me with no time to make the deadline. When this post reached the 2,000 word mark and tread into the angsty minefield of Charah meltdown, I decided it needed to be it’s own post. Fair warning, this might be long. 😉
Something struck me as I watched this episode. Season 5 Chuck might be able to take Cole in a fair fight. Season 5 Chuck did take a bullet for Sarah. Chuck was pretty badass by the time he beat up Shaw in Chuck Versus the Santa Suit sans intersect. And I liked that. So did Sarah apparently.
So Sarah Walker has a type. Hero. Cole is a hero, and Sarah responds. She finds him attractive and develops real feelings for him. That is shown on the screen and we need to accept that as a given. Chuck is also a hero, he’s just a different type of hero, but Sarah is attracted to both. We saw the effect on Sarah when Chuck saved her at the end of Chuck Versus the Seduction (in which she also seemed to respond to a rather bold Chuck kiss the same way she responded to Cole’s parting kiss). We also saw, in Chuck Versus The Cougars, that Sarah experiences a similar feeling when Chuck protects her in ways other than the physical. It is very clearly shown that Cole has an effect on Sarah when he saves her life. Sarah is a woman of action, and the life she leads and has lead not only deprives her of those things she longs for, home, family, but of the sense of security those things bring.
Sarah wants to feel safe.
The feeling of being protected the way Cole does is something she longs for and something Chuck can’t quite give her, at least yet. Sure he tries, and he has his moments, but as we see in the torture scene, he isn’t quite there yet. In fact his inability to make Sarah feel safe is baked into the very nature of their professional relationship. If Chuck takes a bullet for Sarah she’s failed.
I’ll rip off the scab quick for this part. Sarah has daddy issues, Chuck has mommy issues. Neither seems seem to deal with them. But they will need to if they ever want to have a shot at something real together.
Sarah longs for a man who will protect her as opposed to have her taking dives in front of armored cars. Chuck isn’t that guy yet, and while Sarah loves Chuck we start to see both of our heroes realize that a future for them and the spy world don’t mix. With Sarah’s pulling back at the end of Chuck Versus The Suburbs, Chuck is left feeling as if there is no way for him to win her heart, so he attempts to move on, pushed a bit by Ellie (more on that later) by exerting some measure of control. Sarah, for her part pretty much tells the truth to Chuck with her cover suggestion. The fact that she can’t say more when Chuck pushes her to is what makes Chuck miss that Sarah is essentially trying to tell him that their present situation aside, she has hopes for something more someday too. As so often happens in Chuck, I’d just love to see what Sarah’s next line would have been had Casey not interrupted.
Sarah’s seduction mission seems to have everyone on edge. Sarah because of what she has to do with Chuck listening in, Chuck because of what Sarah has to do, and even Casey because of what Sarah has to do is doing to Chuck. OK, it takes Casey a bit longer to get there, but even he recognizes how tough this is for both of them. Sarah, still smarting from Chuck pushing her to go places she isn’t ready for and then withdrawing what security he is able to give her takes her shot at Chuck. “I’m sick of your whining” in effect. What about what I want and what I need? It’s not a very flattering aspect of Sarah, but it is a human one.
Chuck, for his part isn’t fairing much better. He is possessive without the standing to be and jealous without cause, yet. He’ll soon have a reason to be jealous, if not the right.
Nothing brings home to Chuck that he isn’t the guy Sarah needs in her life like Cole’s rooftop rescue of Sarah. And it must gnaw at him. He can’t watch Bryce dancing up a storm with Sarah or Cole coming to the rescue, guns blazing without wanting to be that guy, and realizing he’s not. And thinking he never will be. He’s a guy who is afraid of needles and blood and heights and guns, and he’s trying to be a spy.
As if things couldn’t get any worse Chuck’s little eavesdropping seems to indicate that something did happen between Sarah and Cole that night alone in castle. We know it was just another in a series of rather bold and blatant attempts to woo Sarah on Cole’s part, but watch it from Chuck’s point of view and there is the possibility that it is an odd bit of pillow talk about the previous night’s activities.
Chuck wants so desperately to be taken seriously by Sarah as a suitor and as a part of the team, and I’m going to disagree with a lot of people and say that while they should have taken Chuck’s hacking abilities more seriously the rest of the team was right to not want to try to hack an unknown device with vital intelligence. Chuck’s overcompensating does after all land himself and Sarah and Cole in a pretty precarious situation. The spy world is a nastier place than Chuck likes to admit, and intelligent as he is, he often doesn’t anticipate or think through every possible consequence.
Sarah’s assessment of Chuck’s ability to withstand pain is, at this point at least, an honest one. Ellie has mothered and babied Chuck and enabled his phobias and fears, likely out of her own fears for him and her own need to protect what family she has left (we see this play out again next episode). In addition when the show starts we see Chuck firmly tied to Ellie’s apron strings, having no direction of his own, nor ambition nor path nor purpose. Sarah changed all that, but there is a catch.
Sarah loves Chuck and Chuck loves Sarah, but they are unable to act on or express that love. In Chuck’s case it turns to seemingly unrequited longing. In Sarah’s there is another aspect present. She has an outlet to express part of what she feels for Chuck as his protector, but it takes on a distinctly maternal nature. Chuck has begun to free himself from Ellie’s apron strings only to become firmly entangled in Sarah’s
Sarah now runs Chuck’s life, and while he has goals and ambition and purpose now, Sarah decides how far they can go, when he stays in the car, and when and how much a part of the team he is. In addition Chuck realizes more and more how much Sarah runs the relationship. It goes as far as she allows, and asking for more gets him a below the belt hit like her opinion about nice guys. Sarah apparently considers Chuck “safe” in some sense because he isn’t like Cole. He doesn’t have Cole’s confidence or bravado. He can pluck at her heartstrings, but he isn’t going to force her to confront her feelings, or to some extent his for that matter. Sarah controls the relationship. It goes as far and deep as she decides, and no further or deeper.
While Chuck is brave, and his attempts to spare Cole torture on his behalf noble we see very clearly what Sarah fears about Chuck. He will overcompensate to try to be that guy because of his feelings for her, because he feels he has to be a Cole to win her over. Because he sees her respond to him. More so than she knows.
Chuck desperately wants to be the man Sarah sees, to be “that guy” and in many ways he already is. But each assessment of his abilities in the field, each time another spy like Cole or Bryce shows him up, each time he puts Sarah in danger or screws up the mission, and each time Sarah has to set limits, or push him away, or yell “Chuck! No!” it is like a stab in the heart. It is one thing to have your sister or mother constantly treating you like a child, but a very different thing to have it come from the woman you love. Sarah is finally starting to see that their cover relationship, the dating, the movie nights, the “fake” cuddling and “cover” kissing combined with her mother hen tendencies and her handler duties is its own brand of hell for Chuck. From Chuck’s point of view it is downright emasculating sometimes. That he wants to limit it or get away sometimes makes sense.
Whether handler or mother hen or woman who loves him (I think the last) it is nice to see Sarah recognize that and try to make it at least partially right by letting him know she is proud of him, and does understand that their cover is its own brand of torture for him.
Sarah’s sympathy and new understanding of Chuck’s feelings aside she is still using spy skills and her handler status to control him. Cole’s capture presents her with an opportunity. Hear me out. At the beginning of the show, after her initial briefing of the new danger, Sarah’s first move is to call Chuck. And he doesn’t answer. So of course her first instinct is to check the surveillance, where she sees Ellie pushing Chuck to break up with her. We will see that the real consequence of Cole’s capture is bunker-time for Chuck next episode, but what does Sarah use it for? At the end of the episode I think it is an excuse to remove Chuck from Ellie’s influence and get them back in the cover relationship Sarah wants, only into a place of their own where Ellie can’t put crazy ideas into Chuck’s head. This is a move that might take weeks, when clearly Cole’s capture will dictate bunker or freedom within hours. Sarah uses it to once again define the relationship, to pull Chuck back in. For Sarah, having Chuck around, enjoying his company, and holding out hope for some day is enough for now. For Chuck it never will be.
The tension is set up. Chuck will push back and test Sarah’s control, and loyalties like never before in this closing arc.
Chuck will never be comfortable in a relationship with Sarah until he feels he is her equal or they are both out of the spy world and she doesn’t need to protect or handle him. He not only wants to be the guy Sarah tells him he is, but the guy she responds to. He wants to be confident and competent and able to protect Sarah in every way, not because she asks for or needs that – though a part of her seems to want that – but because he needs to be to feel secure and comfortable and worthy of her. He needs to feel like the guy who can give Sarah everything she needs and deserves, and to him that means protection and that feeling of safety that a Cole can give her but he can’t yet.
These themes continue to be fleshed out in Lethal weapon, culminating in the marvelous reveal of Chuck’s ongoing investigation into the intersect. They also play out in the next arc and notably will form the basis of the central conflict next season. Chuck needs to free himself from Sarah’s hold on him if he ever wants a chance to make it real. He has to get the intersect out so she’s no longer his handler, or become her equal. The rest of season 2 is Chuck’s struggle to do the former, because he doesn’t yet believe the latter is possible and season 3 explores the later. But the basis for Prague is laid down here, starting this episode.
Sarah’s plan to run was never a realistic one, or fair. She’d once again tried to define Chuck’s life and it’s limits, and make no mistake, life on the run would have put the more worldly and experienced Sarah in the permanent role of handler, for as long as they lived. It was her telling Chuck to live his life with her on her terms, ignoring that Chuck, like her, doesn’t love himself, and never will be able to truly love another until he does. Sarah, for her part, needed to set Chuck free and let him come back to her a man who could not only save her but love her confidently and unconditionally. Possessing Chuck was never her path to redemption, loving him, the him he wanted and needed to be to love her and feel worthy of her love, A chuck who embodies both Cole and Chuck, was. There are those who say there is no way Chuck would have turned Sarah down and walked away in Prague. I’m starting to think that the story we’re being told is why he had to.