Now things really start picking up. We finally meet Stephen Bartowski, Orion, and Ted Roark. Plus the return of Vincent. This episode really scores for both comedy and drama, and we see Chuck taking even more ownership of his future. After the jump, Chuck vs The Dream Job!
I just know I’m going to get myself in trouble with this write up. There is no way I can express what I think of this episode without annoying some of you. The thing is, I loved this stretch of episodes when they first ran. From Predator to Ring, Season Two finished with a spectacular bang, and back in Spring of 2009 I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever seen on television. But part of the point of this re-watch is looking at things in the big picture. Do they feel different with the passing of time? Or just in the greater context of the full series? Well for me the answer is a resounding “YES” where Dream Job in particular is concerned. Make no mistake, there is a lot I like about this episode. But Dream Job managed to be my least favorite of the finale arc when it first ran, and if anything I like it even less with the passing of time.
This time I’ll start with the good, which the episode itself does too. I absolutely love Chuck and Sarah in Stephen’s trailer; including Stephen praising Chuck’s intelligence, Chuck standing up for his sister while scolding his dad, and Sarah being happily included in all of it. This is Chuck at its very best. And it continues through the return home to Ellie, dynamite Chuck/Ellie scene. I am also very happy with the job interview, Sarah’s encouragement both before and after the interview, and Chuck’s spectacularly, disastrously bad first day on the job; all while dad cheers him on from home. Just wonderful stuff.
But about the time Luisa’s Bones by Crooked Fingers (one of my favorite musical discoveries of the series) starts playing I’m a lot less happy with the rest of the episode. The reason is simple and its all on me; I don’t like internal dissent as a theme (that includes Chuck/Casey tension, but its mostly about Chuck/Sarah tension). I don’t want to take this too far. Its not disastrously bad for me watch, but it does dampen my enthusiasm for the ending A LOT. And it is likely a big part of why I haven’t re-watched this episode since Summer 2009. Sarah’s rebuff of Chuck as he becomes convinced that Roark has his own Intersect is just painful to watch. As always, this has nothing to do with “in character” or anything (I do buy that Sarah might be feeling very cautious after her close call with the 49B); it is purely a judgement of entertainment. And I don’t like it. Had the episode ended a little more upbeat I might have felt differently, but it won’t be until the end of First Kill that things will markedly improve.
But as it stands, Chuck’s solo mission holds little appeal to me. Some of the tranq gags are funny enough, both with Casey and the delayed effect on Roark’s thugs. And I like the Orion reveal, and pretty much everything about Chuck’s dialogue with his father. Oh and I really like Sarah and Casey coming to the rescue and pulling Chuck away. Great shot. But I don’t like some of what it stands for. Chuck going rogue because his team doesn’t believe him. Just not the sort of thing I like to watch. Now I do have to acknowledge some important and wonderful growth and story issues here. I actually do enjoy seeing Chuck act with more confidence and take some initiative to accomplish his own goals. This is clearly an improvement over “…just trying to choose the font”. It’s about time we saw Chuck man up, and I like how big of a role Sarah’s encouragement plays in Chuck’s self assurance. Too bad it will take another year yet before Chuck figures that out for himself. But for now, it is growth and it is an improvement. As I said at the start, I do not dislike this episode, it only fails to rise to the levels of some of Chuck’s very best.
I know I’m out of step with majority opinion on this. Dream Job scores quite well on polls we’ve done. And I know Joe has mentioned liking this episode several times, especially Chuck’s solo mission. For me, much of the darker mood and mistrust issues are almost proto-S3 in nature, and it just really isn’t the sort of thing I like or normally watch. My best guess is, had S3 gone with a lighter tone, this all would have been no big deal to me. Yes, this is already an S3 issue! Dream Job remains a pretty good episode, and the S2 finale arc is a fun ride. But my overall enthusiasm is dampened by where this heads next; and those sort of context issues make a huge difference to me. As Mary Bartowski once said (or is it Sarah Connor, I get confused) “there’s a storm coming…” and it’s hanging over things in a way it didn’t back in Spring 2009.
Gimme That Thing. Give It, My Friend!
Give me that thing
Give it my friend
Give me good, good times around the bend
I’ll stay forever
Give me that thing
Give it my friend
Give me hot, hot love around the bend
I’ll stay forever with you
Isn’t that a great feeling? [Play the video, if you haven’t! Do it! Oh, go on, DO IT!!!]
See? As of the moment Sarah caresses the back of Chuck’s neck just seconds before we open Chuck vs. The Dream Job, everything – but everything! – starts going right for Chuck. Now he knows how Sarah feels about him. Now he’s found his dad. In just a little bit, he’ll be free of the Buy More too and starting his dream job ™, and of course, Ellie is about to be married. There is nothing about Chuck’s life that is the same as it was the previous morning, and it’s just about what he had been hoping for.
Forget that. It is exactly the life he wanted! Our boy has come into his own. It’s a whole new world out there for Chuck and he owns it. Chuck even stands up to his father, which is something not to be underestimated as a coming of age – rite of passage, you know.
If you’re wondering how Chuck got here, that’s okay. So is he. The whole thing is not quite real yet; it hasn’t quite sunk in and he’s a bit unsteady on his feet. When Chuck inevitably starts to falter in his new found self-assurance, his new girlfriend steadies him.
Chuck: I’ve dreamt of working for Roark since college. Although, does it actually qualify as a dream come true if I go in as a janitor?
Sarah: You’re going in as Charles Bartowski. Your name, your résumé, your Stanford degree.
Sarah: You’re perfectly qualified to go in as yourself.
You bet he is. To get past the interview, Sarah just tells Chuck to be honest. It’s enough. Congrats, Chuck. You’ve made it and we all knew you had it in you, ball-chair notwithstanding. More importantly, there, starting in Stephen’s trailer, Chuck and Sarah are no longer playing cover-boyfriend and cover-girlfriend. They are the real thing.
You Promised Pancakes
Yes, it’s all good. Stephen J. Bartowski (Scott Bakula, of course!) is found and wants to come out of hiding for his daughter’s wedding. Huzzahs! But, uh, he seems just a bit – crazy.
Stephen: Let’s go get your sister married, huh? Maybe we should wait ’till dark. They’re tracking my every move. Rat bastards.
Dave, I understand what you’re saying about the downside of this episode. Everything (but everything!) is about to go sideways for Chuck and dad’s craziness is just the beginning. But isn’t it great for him while it lasts? 😉
As for Ellie, she’s being harder to convince than Stephen! It’s all about the pancakes and she isn’t quite ready to have him come waltzing back into her life like that. In fact, she may be having second thoughts about getting married to Devon too.
Stephen: Let her walk, Devon. Drink?
Devon: No. That’s what got me into trouble in the first place. What do I do.
Stephen: You’re asking the wrong guy.
Devon: But she’s your daughter.
Stephen: Well, I can’t take credit for her. The only thing Ellie owes me is a few well-deserved trust issues.
You really want my advice? Don’t walk out on your kids when you promised them pancakes for dinner. They tend to take it badly.
In the midst of all this, Morgan discovers that Chuck has gone corporate and is working at Roark Industries. He’s jealous and feeling jilted.
About that dream job, just like “crazy ol’ dad” said, Ted Roark (Chevy Chase) really has stolen nearly everything from Stephen. He’s a bit of a thief, a bit of a fraud and a bit of a monster. But boy, is he cool! “No ‘sirs’ here. Except for her. Call me Ted.”
So all is not completely fine in Chuck’s shiny new world. Of course, we have to remember that Chuck was leading a double life, and the CIA part hasn’t changed. His job at RI is only a mission. His real job is something else entirely.
Chuck: It’s weird. Even though I know it’s not real, I’m excited about this job.
Sarah: Chuck, you gotta remember – it’s just an assignment.
Chuck: No, I – I mean, I know. I know what it is. I just… If I had gotten this job at Roark right after college maybe I never become The Intersect. Then when my dad comes back after 10 years I can show him I’m not just another loser working at a Buy More.
Sarah: Chuck, he knows you’re not a loser.
Chuck: Well, I’m sure he hoped I’d be doing something bigger than Nerd Herding.
Sarah: You are.
Sarah, the girlfriend again. But if Chuck is doing reality checks about his new job, is he having the same doubts about Sarah, his new girlfriend? Hold that thought.
Into The Darkest Depths of Mordor
Beckman has a specific mission for them. Roark is working for Fulcrum, they suspect. And RI’s new operating system, cleverly called RIOS, may contain a virus, ready to infect the country’s computers. For this one, Casey and Sarah get to play geeks, go to Roark’s NextExpo’09 where the software is to be introduced and steal the source code. Talk about missions going sideways, this one fails spectacularly. And Chuck gets himself fired from his dream job. Chuck is miserable and despondent, mostly because his old life, back in the Buy More, is looming large.
But Sarah is still his girl friend, right? What’s left of Chuck’s new life collides with his life as the Intersect the moment he flashes on a binder that Stephen gives him; the grounds of RI fit Orion’s Intersect schematics exactly. Roark is building an Intersect for Fulcrum.
Chuck has to go to Casey and Sarah with this information, but that means he has to admit he has Orion’s schematics, the very ones he hid from Sarah behind his back. He didn’t even tell Sarah about them. And once again, when he asks Sarah to help him with his personal mission – to get the Intersect out of his head – she chooses the CIA over him.
Cue what I think is the best song I’ve heard in a dozen years, Luisa’s Bones.
You and Sarah Connor are right, Dave. A storm is coming quickly. It’s a monsoon. It seems like everything and everyone around him is trying to guide Chuck – to push him, gently only sometimes, in some direction. His father, Ellie, Ted Roark, General Beckman – they all want Chuck for their own purposes.
But the clap of Chuck’s two pistols is thunderous. It’s a marker noting Chuck’s decision to stand firm against everything forcing his hand – fate, the CIA, the Buy More and even Sarah. He’s not sure where he’s going, but the direction will be of his choosing.
And right now, Chuck is going after Ted Roark’s Intersect, because it’s the only way to get rid of the one in his head. He’s doing it on his own and his bright, shiny new world has fallen apart.
So Dave, when I said that I understood about the downside, I don’t mean to say that I didn’t like it. I love that monsoon. The sense of desperation highlighted by Crooked Finger’s song and the amazing pace of the action are perfect. Terse? Not a second and not a line of dialog is wasted.
I love retelling the story of how Chuck rushes to get to the Intersect, only to find that his father has been taken by Roark, the indestructible Vincent and his men. But we know the story. Suffice it to say, Chuck’s discovery that his father is Orion, and Stephen’s terse explanation of his survival is TV at it’s finest, alternating between humor and excitement.
They get to Roark’s – Fulcrum’s – Intersect, and are about to remove the one in Chuck’s head but…
It doesn’t work, and Chuck is trapped in his current life as surely as Stephen is trapped by Roark. I can’t say that I’ve been a real fan of Chevy Chase since his days on Saturday Night Live. But his Roark here is spectacular. He is a little bit of a monster.
One detail here is more than a little poignant. We need to recognize that the only way Stephen can save his son is to – once again – go away and leave Chuck (and Ellie) behind. This is a theme that we’ll see again, of course. With Stephen and in this episode, it’s credible.
For his part, Chuck can not save his father today; he’s not ready. Despite his deepest desires, Chuck is forced to back out the door to safety with Sarah and Casey.
Stephen: Remember when I told you not to trust your handlers? Maybe I was wrong.
You take the road I’ll take the river,
you bring the fire I’ll bring the jewels,
And in the evening underneath the roaring sky,
we will meet and wait and pray for the monsoon.
As for Sarah, she is torn between her desire to help her boyfriend and her need to keep him safe – Chuck’s just been torn from his father and from the life he thought he wanted, after all. She sides with General Beckman to keep Chuck away from Roark, Fulcrum and his father.
Sarah wants to help her boyfriend desperately, but explaining that to Chuck? The sad fact is, she doesn’t quite have the skills to communicate her fears. Sarah Walker is not one for words, we know. But even as she wants to save Stephen, she does not want Chuck to go into those dark depths where his father has been taken.
If the only thing left for Sarah are actions, she has no idea what actions are required now, except maybe to wait for further instructions. Beckman, however, has no doubts about her mission and Casey follows orders. When ordered, he will always shoot which ever way his gun is pointed, even if it’s pointed at Chuck’s family – or at Chuck.
Yes, it’s dark, and that is why I enjoy this episode so thoroughly. Despite our knowledge that the heroes always survive in TV-Comedy Land, the episode lets keep our uncertainty. It’s just not what your normal TV show is capable of doing.
After The Storm
I’ll finish by noting one thing that surprised me. After this, my umpteenth viewing of Chuck vs. The Dream Job, I finally have no doubt that the RIOS virus was the same as the Omen Virus released in S5 to create the Intersect 3.0 even though that was not explicitly stated.
The connection was left a bit tenuous and I can think of no good reason why it should have been that way. TPTB were deft in bringing in pancakes throughout all five seasons, after all, as well as keeping tiny things for the fans to find later. That the virus came back so late in the story may be explained by the extra-long seasons 4 and 5 (for which I’m grateful). But regardless of the reasons, RIOS got removed from my list of questions left unanswered.