The final installment of this three episode arc. This is the last we’ll see of Cole Barker, and Lethal Weapon will prove to be an important jumping off point for the rest of this season. After the jump, we’ll discuss.
I think the obvious thing to say is that this seems to be the most popular episode of this arc. On re-watch I was surprised by a couple things. I’ll get the bad out of the way first. We saw far more whiny Chuck in this episode than I had remembered. We are really clobbered over the head with how different he is from the stoic and always cool Cole. Until the last ten minutes, Chuck does not seem to be a very appealing character. Ditto for Morgan. In fact, I’d say Morgan is the most pathetic we have seen him for a long time. But Morgan the loser proves important. Chuck scolding Morgan for being an idiot seems to be a major turning point as we enter the home stretch of this brilliant season. We will see Chuck take more control of his own destiny from here on out.
Which leads directly to what is great here. Obviously the list starts with Cole. Cole is absolutely my favorite of the guest star allies we’ll see this season. Sure he’s cool enough to distract Sarah briefly, but he also believes in Chuck. He doesn’t just offer lip service to Chuck’s awesomeness like Bryce either. He is actually helpful, encouraging, a good team player, and offers good advice. Even more shocking, he knows how to accept defeat graciously. While Bryce may have tried to undermine Chuck and Sarah’s romance before it ever started (three times!), Cole backs off once he gets it. I think if Cole had dropped in a couple years later he would have actually been happy for them, Bryce I’m not so sure about. But Cole also believes in Chuck as a potential agent. It’s almost hard to see why, Chuck was hardly at his best in Cole’s presence. But maybe Cole saw enough courage, intelligence, initiative and creativity to believe in Chuck anyway. Ironically, as much as I dislike Beefcake, I like Lethal Weapon, and Cole is a big part of what I like. Cole’s last scene with Sarah is both dynamite and a revelation; and I believe its the closest Sarah has come to admitting how she really feels about Chuck; from “I’m not the sort of girl to cheat on her cover boyfriend” to keeping silent as Cole recognizes her real feelings for Chuck. By my count, we’re within a week or two of Sarah admitting her feelings to her v-log, and she just practically admitted them to another person as well.
Chuck’s behavior changes in the last ten minutes of this episode too, and its a difference that saves the episode for me. He takes initiative on a couple fronts, starting with confronting Perseus and learning about Orion. It seems funny to watch that moment now, and realize how little about himself Chuck actually knows at this point. But this knowledge will change Chuck’s life and the show. Chuck also takes some initiative with Sarah.
In careful language he tells Sarah what she means to him, and implies that he loves her. Sarah, who I believe is fully aware they are being watched, tries to repress a smile; but for a fleeting moment it is clearly there. This is an epic, if understated moment.
And of course we can’t forget the Tron poster. This makes for a wonderful end scene. For the first time, we realize how closely Chuck really is paying attention the world around him. I remember well how excited we all were by this revelation the night it aired! It still feels like a big moment.
I want to end by briefly going back to the beginning.
When we first see Chuck and Sarah in bed at the start of the episode captures so much of the mood for late S2. Chuck is clearly tense and worried, and who wouldn’t be lying next to the woman of their dreams and not being allowed to do anything about it. But Sarah is relaxed and happy. The “cover” relationship means something completely different to her, and she is happy being here. We know she “doesn’t know what to do about it” yet. But she likes where she’s at.
I can live with God and the suicide,
The same thing holds if I close my eyes.
It’s a truth so pure, it can kill you dead,
A taste of heaven mixed with hell inside of my head.
– God & Suicide – Blitzen Trapper
I can barely write about this episode without getting personal. So, forgive me if this piece makes little sense. It’s one that I’m writing for me.
It’s hard to avoid putting it bluntly. Chuck vs. The Lethal Weapon is all about desire. Chuck finally gets to sleep with Sarah. Fantastic! Right? No, not at all. Obviously. He’s not “sleeping” in any sense of the word with anyone. Instead, he’s laying there, stiff as a board with his blankets huddled to his chin, scared out of his mind.
Scared of what? Scared of whom? Not Sarah, certainly. She wakes up almost cheerful. Sarah sounds almost like she’s singing-songing with a British accent Good morning, Mr. Leitch. Have you had a busy day? – a line some of you will recognize. It’s cheerful and carefree, almost springlike; exactly the opposite of what Chuck is feeling. Not coincidentally, that line is from a song called Fakin’ It. Chuck’s convinced that, despite the fact that Sarah’s just spent the night inches from his body, she was elsewhere. She’d have to be.
Well, <shrug>why not?</shrug> He’s seen how Sarah looks at Cole Barker, hero. Worse, Chuck’s seen how she’s been looking at him (“On a scale from one to ten, I’d give him a one”). He gets it, and it’s a little death. Chuck can’t change that; he’s incapable of being the guy Sarah should be with. He’s not brave like Cole; in the face of danger Chuck screams like a girl. He’s not suave like Bryce, expertly dancing the Lambada to maintain the cover.
If a three-four chord can ignite a flame
and a girl like you can forget my name…
Chuck is not a fool. He’s decided to not even try to be “that guy,” the one he’s not, anymore. In that context, moving in with Morgan makes a whole lot of sense, but Chuck can’t even do that. Three words come to mind that describe his life right now – stymied, frozen, frustrated. That’s the truth he sees in his head.
Hum… I just counted the number of negatives in those paragraphs. It’s something like twenty-five, depending on how you count words like “scared” and “opposite”, which I count as negatives because I mean them that way. It’s all those nos, all that darkness and something else that Chuck fears when the alarm goes off. We’ll get to that “something else”, but for now, it’s enough to say that Chuck is frustrated enough to be angry about his life.
…then I’m that far gone in this crooked grave
with a pistol for my creature and a feather for my day
I Gotta Few Skills Of My Own…
I would be angry at Cole, and I would be angry at Sarah too. All that imagery we’re hearing – suicide, pistols, hell – it’s there for a reason. But this is Chuck we’re talking about. He turns that anger inward enough to want to fight back, at first, which why he tried, unsuccessfully, to hack Fulcrum’s chip.
But even that is dead now. Chuck buries his passion and becomes more and more resigned to his second-class, beta-male status as the episode progresses. You can almost see Kübler-Ross’s five stages in action. He’s become resigned to staying safe in Castle and safely in Cole’s shadow, doing the important stuff like making sure Casey is well fed during the party at the consulate.
… as opposed to Morgan, whose busy avoiding exactly the situation that Chuck wants desperately; a real life with the woman he loves.
Morgan: That’s ridiculous. What I was trying to do was simply test her, that’s all.
Chuck: Testing her why?
Morgan: Because, Chuck. Because she’s trying to get all serious with me, and I wanna make sure that she loves me for me and not other things.
Chuck: Excuse us. [Takes Morgan aside] Are you crazy? What other things could she possibly be loving you for? I mean, honestly, you know that I love ya, but you’re lucky to have a girl in your life who loves you – for you, ever though you are, in fact, you.
Chuck: If you don’t stop testing her, she’s gonna choose to be with someone else. And then you will have realized, and unfortunately too late, that you lost the catch of a lifetime.
The writers have Chuck speaking for us, the fans, this time. But it’s advice Chuck is not going to take for himself. You know something? He’s right not to.
Chuck is not in Morgan’s position; it’s much blacker than that. And Cole has to remind him, Chuck’s hand is forced.
Cole: I’ll tell you what we do next. We go to the consulate and we save them.
Chuck: No, no, no. Sarah and Casey specifically said for us to stay here.
Cole: Yeah, well sometimes things don’t go according to plan, Chuck. You have to improvise.
Chuck: Look, you can’t just go run off and be the hero all the time.
Cole: It’s not about wanting to be a hero, Chuck. It’s about needing to be.
Thank God for Cole. He’s set Chuck straight. Now Chuck has got his head on right and can go about the business of being everything we knew he could be.
And if you believe that, I’ve got this bridge I wanna show you…
Many years ago, a couple of years after my divorce (and a few of years before I met Mrs. Joe), I lived next door to a rather unusual, very attractive woman. For both of us, we were “convenient,” but very wrong. There was more. Yes, she actually said the words “It’s complicated!”
Understand that, for her, that didn’t mean travel, adventure and guns; the life of a spy. It meant (prescription) drugs and alcohol, perhaps too much of it. Frankly, they might have been the same thing in her world. (You were forwarded. This was personal.)
So yes, I knew exactly what Chuck was going through, spending the entire night next to someone desirable, but not sleeping and in fact, too afraid to breathe for fear that death from an overdose was around the corner. She wakes up in the morning like everything’s all right, but it’s not.
Maybe it’s cowardly to tell someone you have to leave – you can’t save them. It doesn’t ever feel heroic, especially if the only thing you end up doing is leaving. You just hope that it’s enough to make them change, reconsider and follow you as you go. But you’ll never know. All you see is a blank expression on the face that can tell you nothing about what’s really going on inside someone’s head.
That oblique reference was the first time I mentioned Sarah since the beginning. She’s been telling us very little, if anything, about her thoughts until Cole asks her directly. Then, for the first time in a long time, we get a hint of the way Sarah is starting to see herself. It’s not at all the way I thought she would up to now.
Sarah: I guess I’m not the type of girl who cheats on her cover boyfriend.
It may be a “guess”, but Sarah’s words certainly gave the fans reason to hope. Chuck doesn’t hear them. He is forced to face the hard truths about his life right now by himself. He’s got to decide who he is and what he wants from here on in. Dr. Busgang, Perseus and teammate of Orion has one word for it:
Chuck: Maybe for you. But you have to understand, for me – for me it’s a nightmare. Living with this thing in my head is ruining my life.
Like I said, I’ve been deliberately negative, and so has Chuck. This episode is darker than it appears at first.
But that doesn’t mean this episode isn’t amazing in every way I can imagine. It’s tremendously tight, the jokes are wonderful, the action, including Chuck’s slow-motion chase after Busgang and with the Fulcrum agent, Duncan, is absolutely top notch. But don’t kid yourself. It’s that very darkness that makes Chuck vs. The Lethal Weapon extraordinary TV.
For all the praise we give it, it’s still easy to underestimate the episode. Once you get past Lester telling Morgan “She’s not the catch of a lifetime. She’s a scheming tart who will harvest your organs and sell them to the highest bidder,” and Casey’s quips, Chuck is saying that life with the Intersect is a nightmare and death is always nearby. That carries through even to the closing song.
Chuck can choose that or choose a life with out The Intersect, which means leaving Sarah. He can have either. But Chuck is in a position where the decision – between life and death and even the desirability of one or the other – is a close call.
Like me, Chuck makes the decision to leave. That decision is the “something else” of which he was afraid. As far as he’s concerned, something dies, all right – the relationship.
At your funeral I was so upset
So, so upset
In your life you were larger than this
Chuck has just decided he can’t go on being that close to Sarah. Bloc Party’s song, Signs, is about a funeral. In this case, it speaks to us about the death of his future with Sarah. We’ve come full circle from God & Suicide, but Chuck’s done circling. He doesn’t want the kind of safety that Castle gives him and he’s busy looking for a way out.
Chuck: Please, let me just finish. Sarah, I’m not gonna move in with you. Because, I can’t. And you know why I can’t. I’m crazy about you, heh, and I’ve always been.
Having a fake relationship, that’s one thing. But living together is… I mean, every day, being around each other and, and… And that’s why I can’t do it. And I hope you understand.
Sarah: I do.
Sarah’s expression tells us nothing. It tells Chuck nothing. But Chuck’s found his way out. He’s decided on a different path, for now, at least. There’s a kind of determination and strength now on his face and in his voice that I hadn’t noticed before. It’s a determination that made me forget he was ever a whiny, bumbling, incompetent fool in love.
Chuck: Thank you. Oh, and, uh, just so you know, I am gonna get this thing out of my head one day. I will.
And when I do, I’m gonna live the life that I want with the girl I that I love. Because I’m not gonna let this thing rob me of that. I won’t.
If it’s only an impression at first, Chuck’s determination is confirmed moments later when he takes down the Tron poster to reveal that he’s on a mission. He’s going to find Orion and get the Intersect out of his head.
Sarah understands. Chuck is not saying that she’s the girl he loves. He’s saying he’s doing this without her.
He has to. Alone. Yet, if their relationship is over, then why did the fans start to smile here, with me wanting to be first among them? It’s because, if only ever so slightly, Sarah did. For the first time in weeks Sarah’s face was not blank, but introspective. She showed us that amazing half-smile that started to reveal her thoughts more than words ever could.
No, that’s wrong. It’s not her thoughts that are revealed, but her heart. We were looking for signs and saw them.
I see signs now all the time
That you’re not dead, you’re sleeping
I believe in anything
That brings you back home to me