The main re-watch posts are now up to season three. Given how many of us had different ideas for what we wanted from that season, we’re going to try to have a discussion of what would have worked better for us, what are interesting alternatives (maybe not even better?), or maybe even, what themes started on the show would we have liked to see explored more? After the jump, let’s try something a little different.
This is sort of an experiment. For many of us, the idea of actually re-watching much of season three is pretty distasteful. But we’ve all complained until we’re blue in the face about it, and I’m pretty tired of it. So I’m hoping we’ll do something different that will be at least a little more positive than how this has gone before. Don’t get me wrong, if you feel compelled to complain about an episode once again, you will likely find a sympathetic ear here. But I find the main discussions right now to be utterly depressing, so I’m hoping for something a little more upbeat here.
I think the outline for these next twelve weeks will be to look briefly at the episode and give general impressions, then any ideas from the week’s episode that might be worthy of further exploration, and finally any fan fiction that may have come from that episode. Now I need to admit something that will be quickly obvious to many of you, I simply do not hold the canon story for season three in very high regard. I was drawn to this show by affection for the main characters, combined with a mixture of comedy and action. When I find the main characters unlikable it undermines my primary reason for watching. My strongest connection to this show has to do more with the idea of the main characters and the performances than it does with the actual story. And for me, that idea starts with a nerdy everyman I can completely relate to. He’s scared of the same sorts of things (including certain types of social interaction) I am, but he tries to do right and ultimately proves to be both imaginative and brave. At least that’s what I saw from the start of the series. Almost as important is the exciting and heroic spy who has an easier time with going in harm’s way, but a harder time opening up and connecting on a personal level. Add a supporting cast of likable, quirky and funny characters and the idea of Chuck is irresistible to me. But I do occasionally find specific story-telling in this show to be much lacking. In most cases, its not a terribly big deal. One week Chuck might be a little more whiny than I would prefer to see, maybe the next week Sarah won’t be as encouraging as I thought she should have been. But that’s mostly okay. Real people occasionally disappoint too. And as long as the problems are only occasional, and the characters mostly remain true to those ideals I was so drawn to, the show remained a completely enjoyable experience.
But what to do when the disappointment continues long term? For me, a big part of the answer involved divorcing myself from attachment to what was actually on screen. I have an idea of those characters that is actually more important to me than what the show runners might want to do. Add to to that a lifetime of cynicism about the way television is written; especially romance and the all too tired game of will they/won’t they. And the third season simply becomes one giant and painful roll of the eyes for me. I once had such high hopes for this show…
For the record, I do want to put up my own impressions of Pink Slip. Ewww. I don’t need to say much more than that. But I will go a little further. This was simply not the show I fought to save. Pink Slip in fact is unique as the only Chuck episode without a single funny moment. And I find myself not liking this version of Chuck and Sarah at all. Chuck starts as a broken loser, we learn he ran roughshod over Sarah’s plans and feelings in Prague (sure the plan needed work, that doesn’t excuse mistreatment of the woman he supposedly loved), and then he spends the rest of the episode trying to be a spy again. While Sarah is the cold hearted CIA whore. But at least Casey comes across well (you can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes again).
If Pink Slip had been a new show I would have been done there. This is not what I find entertaining, and I still consider changing the mood of the show significantly after a “save the show” campaign to be a betrayal by the show runners. Nothing can redeem it as a business decision. And as a creative decision I think it can best be called brain freeze. They took a sweet, fun and highly original show and tried very hard to make it very depressing while following every cliche in the book. Amazingly, this isn’t my least favorite episode (I think that’s Final Exam), but it does have a place on that list of seven episodes I’ll never watch again.
So what could have been done better? Apart from the obvious, anything, I do have a few thoughts I’ll put in a couple categories. First up, our friend Liz James posed the question last week; if we want to treat Colonel as the actual end of Season Two, what could have been a different direction form there? My first thought is just, well that could have been a nice place for the “happily ever after.” But if we assume the story goes on it gets a little trickier. And I think there was never a lot of fan speculating or fan fiction on this issue in part because we only had a week before Ring. To me, the most intriguing possibility would have been Stephen being awarded several of Roark’s patents leading to a new Orion Computer Company. Then let’s say Chuck becomes the liaison between OrionCC and the government, especially for all things Intersect related. I really like the idea here of making Chuck a real computer wiz. We never quite got there in canon, apart from his super hacking skills that were explained more in later seasons. But if Chuck is treated as a real genius (like his father said he was), with maybe less emotional baggage than Orion, maybe he’s even the real brains behind the company. Sarah might be assigned as the government contact into this situation; but I like even better the idea of Casey being the government agent. Sarah would quit to be Chuck’s bodyguard and head of security. That would leave Team B intact, while reflecting the new loyalties. And it could have been a lot of fun.
But this is really a Pink Slip/start of Season Three alternate post. So I think we should mostly assume Ring occurred as in canon. Most of my thinking here will be about a completely different season three. Pink Slip mostly heads in directions I have no interest in, but there was still much potential for a great story. My first thought is just that Chuck has re-entered the government service he just escaped from. I would structure the new season not completely unlike the previous ones, but with Chuck actually training to become a real agent now. Some Intersect problems could be a lot of fun, but I would have preferred more creative malfunctions like we saw in Operation Awesome (yelling at a Thai customer in Thai and kicking Lester in the head) and less of the “C’mon flash, flash” whining that we saw in canon. And making Sarah part of the problem just doesn’t fly for me. Way too depressing. Maybe when Chuck and Sarah are fighting he can’t focus on the Intersect; or just generally when his home life is messed up, so then Chuck gets a new balancing act of keeping friends and family he can’t be completely honest with, happy.
Obviously a big part of my alternate season three involves a completely different Chuck/Sarah story. Things don’t have to be perfect, I don’t think any of us ever expected Chuck and Sarah to be a completely mature couple at the start of the season. But if we’d seen some of the issues they dealt with early in Season Four used here; the sort of things that highlight their differences and insecurities without making either character a total flake, I think it would have been a lot of fun. And I’m sorry, I mean no disrespect, but let’s avoid this ridiculous idea they were in some way “not ready” for an actual relationship. No one is truly ready until they’re trying to make a relationship work. “Ready” is a decision anyone can make anytime. Especially for two fictional characters, this can be written any way it can be imagined. I reject any argument that some mystical level of “ready” or “had to be” has to be attained before the story can progress. So let’s not even try that.
No doubt, I think the Charah component should have looked more like early S4. But I can entertain a few variations that might have been fun. My favorite thought here is the fake, fake relationship. General Beckman wants to keep the team intact while she develops her new Intersect agent. But given how much more powerful, and dangerous the 2.0 is she heightens security all around. Sarah is ordered into 24 hour protection, surveillance is increased, and new agents are brought in. Of course Chuck and Sarah are both happy about being together this time, but as the professional agent, Sarah’s expected to maintain professional distance. She can’t actually do that, no repeats of season two here, but with increased surveillance they have real challenges selling their non-relationship to Beckman. They likely only have real privacy in the bathroom. It may make public and double dates more appealing because they can act affectionate and actually be themselves. Although Ellie, and maybe Morgan (?) might be flustered a time or two as Chuck and Sarah get carried away. Now might be a fun time for those PLIs. I guess they could only be agents as other civilians would only see a happy couple. But perhaps the new Ring specialist decides he really likes Sarah; now that could be awkward and funny. Especially since Sarah won’t have an easy time coming up with excuses when she and Chuck aren’t supposed to be a “real” item. Time for that Spastic Colon.
One of the important things that Season Three did accomplish, in the most miserable way possible, was introduce Chuck to some of the uglier aspects of the spy world. Things Sarah had shielded him from for two seasons. This could still have been a source of real drama in the new season. But I think we could have enjoyed a more edifying show with Sarah helping Chuck through those issues as his life partner instead of just abandoning him. Let’s see Sarah help Chuck avoid some of the same pitfalls she found herself in. This could still involve some serious concerns about how everything might change Chuck, but it shouldn’t be drawn out for twelve episodes!
As I’ve said many times, I can imagine scenarios where the wt/wt was drawn out longer, maybe all the way to 3.13, in ways that were less offensively horrible than canon. Especially if more of the barriers were external, without the feeling of giving up on each other. But I think Chuck and Sarah together at the start of season three will always be the most appealing to me, by far.
Most of what I just presented are things I’ve said before. And I’m sure variations on those themes will come up again. But I do look forward to other suggestions for season three variations. As we’re just getting started here, the most appropriate things apart from actual Pink Slip alternatives or are complete changes of direction for the season. We will continue this with (shorter) posts each week when we look at each episode in turn.
No doubt I’m a big fan fiction fan. And that started leading up to season three, especially when I wasn’t liking the spoilers I was hearing. Fan fiction was an outlet for me to enjoy the characters I loved, in more positive and satisfying stories than were actually being delivered by the “pros”. Of course, the written word has certain advantages over television. It can explore inner thoughts and motives. It can describe things that really can’t be done on television (get your mind out of the gutter! I’m thinking of lot’s of ‘splosions and heavy ordnance). And it isn’t bound by 43 minutes or broadcast schedules. Of course many amateur writers struggle to attain the level of polish a professional (with a professional editor) might achieve. But the Chuck fandom has truly been blessed with some very talented and dedicated writers. From graduate students to moonlighting journalists to technology writers to professional librarians we have a more than capable assortment of creative fans. And season three really inspired some incredible fan fiction. I think of this as a golden age of sorts. New stories were coming out fast, and much of the quality was very high.
I think for this first “alternatives” post I’m going to focus on pre- and complete Season Three stories. With one single Pink Slip inspired piece. But these will be much faster “reviews” than what I normally do for a fan fiction post. So with no further ado; the first pre-season three story I have is “Chuck vs Knowing” by ne71. This is a simple one-shot that speculates on how the 2.0 might work and some interesting challenges it presents. A much longer work is “It’s Hard to Say Goodbye” by mia2009. This starts exactly at the end of Ring and goes into a speculative season three.
Several regular commenters at this site have also taken stabs at their own season threes. Fortunately, to avoid awkwardness, all three are very well done. The first is the epic “Chuck and Sarah” series by NinjaVanish. It is broken into three stories; “Chuck and Sarah vs The Bunker“, “Chuck and Sarah vs Themselves” and “Chuck and Sarah vs The Recruits“. They are listed in the order they first appeared, and the “correct” order to read them; but as pure season three alternates go, “Themselves” is the most relevant to this discussion. NV follows the early episodes of the season initially and gives us an almost canon (ish) retelling of Prague; but there is no mistake this will be a more fun story from the beginning. I will mention this again in weeks ahead for other episodes; but the short spoiler would be that Sarah quickly realizes her running away together plan is half-baked, so the Prague train station scene is staged for the benefit of Chuck’s other CIA minders and to give them the breathing room of an official “break up”. While the real escape plan is just getting started and will play out over a long and involved adventure.
Regular commenter here Marc Vun Kannon (AKA “authorguy”) has been writing a multi part season three re-write. I linked his author’s page because each episode gets its own title, but the series starts with “nine2five“. Marc has the team relocating to DC immediately after the 2.0 download, with new covers and a recently married Chuck and Sarah. This is obviously completely AU from the start of season three. Yet Marc will follow much of the episode structure, at least thematically, from canon. Its a unique and interesting way of both following, and completely dumping the show’s story.
And Uplink2 has been working on the epic length “Chuck vs Life, Love & Lies“. This starts with Chuck and Sarah talking things through the night of the 2.0 download. There will be no silly misunderstandings at the train station here. Even as Chuck heads off for his training program he and Sarah are on the same page, and they know they’re working to be together. Although this story is very different from canon, many “favorite” characters will appear. And for those who just can’t stand Daniel Shaw, this may be the most completely satisfying treatment of his character I’ve seen. There’s so much more I could say, but I hate to spoil anything. The story isn’t complete yet, but Uplink is writing this in three “Acts”. The first two acts are done, and are complete stories in their own right.
Finally, the one and only story on my favorites list that really is a Pink Slip AU. It’s a one-shot called “Life In Disguise” by Venillashiz. This is the story of if Chuck had run with Sarah in Prague. Yes, its the tale of Hector and Melissa Calderon. Quick, but entertaining read. This could have been so much longer!
There are others. In the weeks ahead we’ll look at some more complete re-writes of season three, and a few shorter spin offs. Look for tales by Crumby and Kate McK coming up.
Now let’s see how this goes. As always at this site, we will treat each other, plus cast and crew of the show with respect. Obviously we can express strong opinions, I’m never shy about that; and season three kind of invites it. Its a polarizing experience for many of us. I’m not sure if any readers who actually liked the season are even still with me at this point. Everyone is welcome to comment and argue and bicker; but let’s not get personal or disrespect each others taste. Of course part of that means you have may have to accept that I loathed the misery arc as much I have to accept someone else loved it. Remember the loving or loathing of it is not an intellectual or moral shortcoming. Explaining why something “had to be” a certain way is not helping me, or anyone else. At this point decisions have been made. All are always welcome to participate, but I fully expect these posts will most appeal to those who did not like, or had major problems with show canon at the start of season three.
A Chuck Marathon
One last thing. This is the follow up to a comment I posted last week. To prove the Law of Unintended Consequences, I hosted a Season Three marathon this last Sunday. It is an unintended consequence because, while I have faithfully purchased every Chuck season on Blu-Ray disc, I never bought a more “portable” DVD copy of season three. I wasn’t going to be watching it as much, so why buy it, right? Well I recently got a friend and his wife hooked on the show. They borrowed the season one discs and asked for season two three days later. They got to season three pretty quickly, but guess what, they don’t have a Blu-Ray player. So rather than cause massive continuity problems I decided to host them for a day long viewing of the season. Well, I’m not going to watch some episodes, and 19 is too many for a single day anyway! We (I) settled on 10, the Awesome Arc (3.03 & 3.04), Tic Tac (3.10) and 3.13 to the end.
What a blast! I narrated some of what we were skipping. No doubt some of you would have hated my narration. But we all had a great time. They were thrilled and ready for Other Guy and Honeymooners (nobody complained about how much more they should have grown first…). And that back arc is just so exciting. I had truly forgotten how much fun some of it is. I still don’t like Chuck’s lying late in the season (and my friend commented on what a lying weasel Chuck had become) and I cringed at the “interrogation” scene of Living Dead, but there is so much that is fun and wonderful about those episodes. I knew I had liked them all the first time around, but the re-watch just affirmed that.
Really a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon/evening.