No one writes songs about the ones that come easy.
Since Veronica Mars is so much on my mind as I write this I thought I’d include a quote from the show. Context for Veronica Mars will come later, but just from the aspect of writing drama, easy is boring. We always knew Chuck and Sarah’s road to a real relationship would be a rocky one. We didn’t expect their to be detours (but that’s a few weeks away) but we did expect some additional angst once Chuck decided to take charge of his life. They are both still living with the consequences of that decision, and a reaffirmation of that decision in Prague. We’ll see one last time that Chuck is determined to stay on his path, even if it seems Sarah is on another.
Originally part 2 of a 2 part premier, and usually watched as such, this episode is a somewhat different beast viewed alone. Without the angst of the reset in Chuck Versus the Pink Slip hanging over it Chuck Versus the Three Words manages to be … good, really good. Maybe not happy, maybe not hopeful, though there is a lot of hope set up, but good. We’ve got Chuck in the doghouse, the return of Carina, and Sarah on the warpath. How bad could it be?
Join me for another look at Chuck Versus the Three Words, after the jump.
I re-watched this episode with something in mind. I wanted to separate it from Chuck Versus The Pink Slip. Pink Slip had a lot of work to do. It first had to explain how the team came to be scattered and broken, and then had to put it back together under a very new and different reality. Some of that work is still going on this episode, but mostly this episode is about that new reality. Where Pink slip showed us why and how those relationships and friendships were tested and broken, Three Words shows us how they stand and where they are headed.
When I watched this episode I made a conscious effort to think of it as days if not weeks after the events of Pink Slip. And it helped. We are introduced to a new reality, where Sarah takes nights off rather than spend them on missions and cover dates, and where Chuck and Morgan’s gaming nights are uninterrupted. Carina’s return gives us some perspective on the spy life at it’s least sentimental, giving Chuck a new perspective on just how far out there Sarah put herself, and on just how much he’d have to sacrifice.
In the end, it gives us something hopeful. A reason to believe these two are starting to understand each other.
As much as they love each other Chuck and Sarah don’t yet understand each other. Both Chuck and Sarah hold an image of each other that fundamentally conflicts with their own self-image. Chuck can’t see himself as the hero Sarah sees, because he desperately wants to be the man who can protect and save Sarah. Sarah will never admit, even to herself that she needs, or even wants that, but she does as we’ve seen and will continue to see. Sarah longs to be the girl who can love and is worth loving by a good, decent, moral and “normal” guy, even if normal isn’t her forte.
They sense, but don’t yet understand, that they form a complete whole together, because while each sees and longs for how the other “completes” them, neither yet sees or understands how they complete the other.
Aside from agent MacGuffin’s untimely demise at the hands of this weeks villain, Karl Stromburg, the beginning of this episode showed us something new. Sarah and Chuck are living very separate and very different lives now. With no cover dating Sarah is free for a night on the town with Carina (the mind boggles, but we’ll cover that come Cat Squad). Chuck and Morgan finally get a free game night, in a rather sparsely furnished bachelor pad. The fact that Chuck is without a woman in his life is also telling. Freed from both Sarah and Ellie’s immediate control one can’t help wonder if Chuck will go back to drifting aimlessly. The women in Chuck’s life have always sought to direct him toward a goal or give him a sense of self-worth and purpose. Agreed, Chuck is supposed to be taking that role on himself with his decision to be a spy, but still…
It’s amusing to watch Sarah’s attempt at nonchalance just dig her deeper and deeper with Carina’s questioning. You start to see how, despite their competitiveness, Carina makes the perfect friend for Sarah. She doesn’t have to say a word (practically) and Carina can figure out what it is that is bothering Sarah.
On the Chuck and Morgan side Morgan is encouraging Chuck to move on, or at least start to move on. Or maybe start to think about starting to move on. Unfortunately, perhaps from years of “dating” Chuck and Sarah wind up at the same night-spot, with Sarah none too pleased to be running into her ex.
“Are you spying on me?” pretty much tells us where Sarah’s head is at. She may still love him, but she’s plenty ticked off at the juvenile immature SOB who broke her heart to play spy. And now here he was thinking they could just pick right back up. Chuck for his part tried to let Sarah know why he did what he did at the end of Pink Slip, but for now Sarah is having none of it.
I have to say watching Chuck and Sarah play the happy couple for the cringe inducing betrothed is hilarious. Their reactions are priceless and Zach and Yvonne play it off each other so perfectly.
So on to the mission. Gotta say I love the team’s dysfunctional dynamic with Carina in the mix. Carina’s snappy and snarky dialog, Sarah’s sarcastic “don’t be so modest Mr. Super-Spy” and Casey’s innuendos that bounce off Carina harmlessly. Chuck is in for a bumpy ride on this one. And sadly Chuck isn’t making it very easy on himself. In addition to the other hurdles he faces Sarah is thinking of all she’s given up and all she lost, perhaps her one opportunity for something real and Chuck’s attempts at re-kindling a friendship are just making it worse. I believe Sarah is misinterpreting Chuck’s actions as something other than wanting to re-connect with the person whose support he could always count on. Chuck, for his part doesn’t seem to be doing much more than trying to re-establish a friendship.
Carina manages to toss some gasoline on that smoldering argument by letting on that Sarah is still in love with him. Chuck goes from annoying to downright infuriating in his need to talk it out with Sarah. But after being shut down last week I can see him as needing to force the issue, based on what he just heard and how Sarah must see his decision in Prague. I just wish he’d be less annoying about it.
Chuck’s need to unburden himself to Sarah doesn’t go quite as planned. He ends up talking to an empty hallway, then two of Karl’s thugs (who find the whole thing a bit pathetic). Sarah opens the door only to hear the very last part of Chuck’s confession. We’ll get to that later. For now it’s important to drop down to Chuck’s point of view and realize that after pouring out his heart to explain his decision to Sarah, he wakes to this.
Sarah: It’s about Chuck’s safety.
Beckman: I thought he just needed some sleep.
Sarah: Well, it’s about me managing Chuck and keeping his emotions in check so that the Intersect can work. I’m beginning to think I’m more a part of the problem than the solution. And I think a different agent might have more success in training him.
Beckman: Let me be clear, Agent Walker. I don’t know or want to know what happened between you two. But this is your job, and Chuck’s safety depends on you. So get over it and teach him how to be a real spy.
So Sarah’s reaction to Chuck’s heartfelt confession? She asks for a transfer, and when that isn’t forthcoming she beats him with a stick and tells him to get over it, because she is. We know she isn’t, not really. The pain and frustration that he’d made her drop her guard and put her heart out there to be broken is so evident in this marvelously played scene. Chuck’s confession, that he made the tough decision to be a spy not because he didn’t love her, but in spite of loving her because he knew he’d never be the man she loved if he didn’t do the right thing and use his gifts to make the world a better place. Chuck desperately wants to be that man.
And now Sarah is throwing it back in his face. You want to be a spy, there is no us, there is no love, there is no future. Heartbreaking indeed. Chuck gets one more chance to tell Sarah how he feels, and that he understands. As Karl holds Carina hostage he basically lays out Sarah’s story for her.
I get it, man. I get it, okay? You took a chance. You… you loved someone, maybe for the first time in your life. All you’ve ever done before is…is shut off your feelings. You… you bury them deep down inside because, in your profession…in your line of work…it’s a liability, right? It’s… it can… it can certainly be a liability. And I know…I know that you think that you messed up your life because you opened up your heart, but maybe you helped her open up her heart in the process. Maybe because you loved her…she’s learned how to love, too.
Spies don’t fall in love. Except they do, just like everyone else. It’s how they handle it that sets them apart. We see examples of spies in love throughout the series. Sarah and Bryce in season 1 and Sarah and Cole in season 2 are examples of the spy couple where the job comes first, and while maybe you can catch a week in Cabo now and then, when the order comes, you move on. In season 3 (and I’m broadening the definition of love to serious relationship) we see Sarah and Shaw, the spy couple for whom the job comes first, even at the expense of your partner’s feelings, then, retroactively, Shaw and Eve, and how the loss and heartbreak that comes naturally with such a dangerous profession can destroy you. It is a warning to Chuck and Sarah of the dangers they face if they are ever to be together. But for now, given Chuck’s speech, Sarah now has an inkling that Chuck understands her pain and is willing to try to clean up the mess they created. I see this as two people with a different understanding of what it is they are trying to do. I don’t see Chuck as trying to re-build a romantic relationship. He seems to acknowledge that it happened, but as the season progresses he seems to question the reality of it more and more, to the point where he questions the reality of his own feelings. He’ll eventually come around. But there is one final piece to the puzzle that Carina slips into place for Sarah.
Chuck: “Sarah I don’t want to regret not telling you everything I need to tell you. I’m not a normal spy, you know that, I know that. I’m a regular guy who works at a Buy More. And the decision that I made in Prague, I know what it looks like, I know that it looks like I chose being a spy over being with you but that’s not what happened. How I felt about you is real, it’s very very real. And I know that you know how I’ve felt about you for a long time. You know, but when Carina told me what you said, those three words that I’ve been waiting to hear for so long… Look, Sarah, I know that you’re probably very hurt that I didn’t run away with you in Prague. You have to know that you were everything I ever wanted, but how could I do that, how could I be with you, knowing that what I’d turned my back on. Knowing that what I had in my head could help a lot of people. And you’re the one that[sic] taught me that being a spy is about something bigger, it’s about putting aside your own personal feelings for the greater good and that’s what I chose. I chose to be a spy for my friends and my family and you. I chose to be a spy because [door opens] Sarah, I love you.
There is no misunderstanding now. Sarah now sees that while Chuck became a spy because of her, because of her example and her encouragement, and he accepts the consequences of that decision. Her example of sacrificing a personal life and romance, the way she did for 2 years has led Chuck to decide the best way to show his love for his friends and family, and Sarah, is to be willing to give up his dreams and possibly his life to defend them. Once again, she’s forced to swallow the sacrifice, even as she fears the worst for Chuck. We are left with an image of agent Walker, perhaps wondering how long she can keep it up, especially with someone she loves.
Doubts are removed this episode. We don’t doubt Sarah’s feelings for Chuck, the obvious pain and hurt in the Bo scene let us know she is suffering like never before. When Chuck says he doesn’t want to hurt Sarah it is the recognition that he has done so, like never before that informs his obsessive need to talk, to make things right. When Sarah says Chuck can’t hurt her we know it is really an admission that he is the only one who really could.
While it seems there is a new distance between Chuck and Sarah there really isn’t. But there is an emotional barrier that wasn’t there before. They now realize just how much they’ve changed each other, and how much they can hurt each other, and consequently how important they are to each other. In many ways they are closer emotionally than they have ever been, and one step closer to understanding each other.
Oh yeah, that Veronica Mars context. It comes from a scene between Veronica and smoldering bad-boy Logan. They’d had a bit of a fling, but Logan, reeling from everything from an abusive father to finding out that father first slept with then murdered his girlfriend has gone off the rails.
Logan: I thought our story was epic, you know, you and me.
Veronica: Epic how?
Logan: Spanning years and continents. Lives ruined, bloodshed. EPIC.
Logan: I’m sorry about last summer. You know, if I could do it over…
Veronica: Come on. Ruined lives? Bloodshed? You really think a relationship should be that hard?
Logan: No one writes songs about the ones that come easy.
Faith: Ernie did such a good job recapping I’m not even going to bother. Instead I’ll talk about my impressions and how with time they have changed/evolved.
You know what one of the best things about Chuck is? The fact that it gets better with time, like fine wine. Some that you left you feeling unsettled, off, or were objectionable at first glance (Pink Slip and Nemesis are two examples for me specifically) turn out to be that hidden gem that you never imagined coming. Most of the time this change in perspective comes with clarity–whether by continuing storylines or through discussion with all of you.
Well, Three Words is the exact opposite. Pink Slip was so jarring that I was drawn to Three Words as a saving grace, initially. I remember saying in this blog that I was thankful the Sunday premiere was a 2-hour premiere (fun fact: it aired on a Sunday! Brought Chuck one of its best ratings…NBC really should have tried to shuffle it on Sunday, a family day but I digress). I don’t think I could have survived with just Pink Slip and the weight of that episode. But again with time, and some introspection, Three Words changed for me. Why? It was a lie.
Where as Pink Slip was an open vein of complete and utter honesty, Three Words (not unlike the other three words) was a band-aid of a lie. More it was a lie within a lie, within a lie. I’ll explain.
Ernie says above that spies do not fall in love–we certainly heard that enough in the previous 2 seasons, and yet again here. We see what Sarah could have been, in Carina. With a different destiny, a more game personality and without that little bit of longing, she could have been callous like Carina. We see some of her in Sarah in Nacho Sampler’s “piece of cake.” Well within that “spies do not fall in love” line, is lie number 1. Obviously we know that this spy, Agent Sarah Walker, did fall in love. She fell so deeply she would never be the same (I hate to stress it but it’s true!). But more, or in my perspective the more objectionable lie/discovered truth here is that Sarah Walker of the many faces and covers actually falls in love plenty. She fell for Bryce (see pilot for her reaction), she fell for Cole, she fell for Chuck and in time we will see that she has some sort of feelings for Shaw (vomit). You may be thinking, that’s insane! She didn’t love those guys, she loved Chuck. I agree completely. Her feelings for Chuck both before and after Prague were beyond what she’s ever felt before, and perhaps something she’s never even dared imagine. But it’s without a doubt in my mind that with those guys, she was always trying to fall in love (her type of love–the surface, companionable, spy-kind), always wanting to believe in some sort of connection that may or may not be there. It’s like she puts on a coat and becomes that person for a while because she wanted to; it’s not unlike Sarah playing house in Suburbs. This epiphany is perhaps one of the reasons why I no longer enjoy Three Words and why I have changed my tune about it (specifically). That said, yes Sarah Walker did break the cardinal rule of spying: she loves Chuck. “You idiot, the reason Sarah’s cold is because she loves you.”
Now for lie number 2. Chuck’s gas-induced ILY speech/Prague explanation–touching as it were, was also in its own way a lie. He wasn’t just accepting a destiny she ushered him into, he was doing it for himself too. They made his declaration sound like an altruistic, no-brainer when in fact it was anything but. Chuck wanted to be a spy, he wanted the Villa, he wanted danger, he wanted the rush. In time he admits this, but only after hitting rock bottom (past rock bottom really), and losing her. In time he learned: none of that is worth it without her. That lesson learned invalidated his altruistic and “you were the one who taught me…” speech. Yes she showed him how to be more; she showed him that he was a hero but what he didn’t know/wouldn’t acknowledge in Three Words was that he had always been that guy–he didn’t need to change, he didn’t need to break her heart and her certainly didn’t have to give up what it is that made her fall in love with him to begin with; he just needed to grow. So altruistic-fate-of-the-world ploy: not quite. Truth is he chose that life over Sarah and he acknowledges that (with a caveat) later.
Lie number 3 (the last lie), came during Pink Slip but is applicable here. I’ll say first that I liked Sarah’s line from the end of Pink Slip, “you’re a spy now Chuck. You have to keep your feelings to yourself.” That was a very powerful line that packed a hell of a punch–well delivered by Yvonne. But in that conversation, they vowed to be friends, to fix things that have been torn asunder. That was a major lie, they didn’t try to fix anything in Three Words and wouldn’t until after all hell has broken loose. At the end of Three Words, Sarah again with a well delivered, powerful line: “quite a mess we made.” And yet they wouldn’t be fixing it together anytime soon, either. If anything, that’s what hurts the most–but like most things there was a big picture to look to, and to draw from. In this case, not fixing it, not cleaning up the mess (in fact adding to it) is and was part of Chuck’s heroic downfall and eventual rise. I just wish it didn’t hurt so much on the way there. Sigh, patience is virtue.
The lie within the lie, well I probably don’t need to explain it. But just in case: they’re acting like a real couple who recently broke up and now have to act like a fake couple and do so with real feelings–feelings that Sarah is trying to act like no longer exists and Chuck can’t quite stop talking about. “Spies do not have feelings, feelings get you killed. You need to learn how to bury them deep inside.” Was Sarah talking about Chuck or herself? Lie within a lie, and yet she used those feelings to beat him with a stick, literally. “Keep your feelings to yourself,” indeed. And that’s just one of many duality speeches of the night.
Now this episode wasn’t without its redeemable qualities. Carina was a welcome returning guest–as she is fondly remembered for Wookie. Plus she has great chemistry with “Uncle” Casey. Who didn’t like Casey giving a “much younger” Uncle speech? And most of all, after all of this, we finally hear those magical three words. If I’m not mistaken it’s the first time we’ve heard it said aloud, ever.
In the end I come away with this thought: if Pink Slip was peeling off the band-aid, Three Words was letting the wound breathe and that brings its own type of pain. Never fear though, Angel de la Muerte and Operation Awesome are up next and they bring with them some healing. And Bears (both the imagined mammal variety and a fantastic tune)!