A breath of fresh air. That is what this episode felt like after an angsty opening night. Pink Slip and Three Words had a lot of ground to cover, making the new situation Chuck finds himself in as a result of his choice to become a spy his new reality. Those two episodes were largely about the consequences of his decision for himself and those around him, and while that theme will continue here and throughout the season, this episode is more about living in that world. And examines that in an interesting way, by bringing in two outsiders, one aware of Chuck’s two lives, the other not, and seeing it and him through their eyes.
Chuck’s best episodes, or at least the ones I enjoy the most, are when his worlds collide. Think of episodes like Chuck Versus The Truth or Chuck Versus The Santa Clause where the spy-world is all to present in Chuck’s family life, endangering those he holds dearest, forcing him to walk a perilous tightrope between the two. Or episodes like Chuck Versus The Ring where that collision has hilarious consequences for Chuck and those unaware of the collision going on around them. While Chuck has stepped far deeper into the spy-life than ever before, he is still surrounded by friends and family, only one of whom knows about his double life. Join me for another look at Chuck Versus The Angel de la Muerte, after the jump.
The honeymoon is apparently over for Ellie and Awesome. The formerly over sexed couple has settled into a routine that consists of unpacking and work and, well, not a lot else. Their days of an impromptu trip to the broom closet are apparently behind them. Along with that now routine routine we see some of the impact of Chuck’s new life on Ellie. Sure the move across the courtyard was to get a little space for herself and Devon, but she didn’t think she’d never see Chuck anymore. And what is the deal with all the helicopters lately?
Devon understands what the helicopter means, time to get Chuck and try to defuse the Ellie situation. It’s fun to see spy Chuck and Awesome interact throughout this episode, but this scene is one of my favorite meta-moments where the show becomes self-aware. Chuck becoming blasé about the mission he’s just back from, Devon intrigued.
Devon: Where were you tonight? You told Ellie that you were gonna help us out with the TV. She’s a little pissed, bro.
Chuck: Oh, man, my bad. I had a, uh, CIA mission.
Devon: What exactly does that mean?
Chuck: Well, you know, same old, same old. Bad guy throws a fancy cocktail party. Another bad guy’s trying to sell him a weapon. We bust both bad guys, diffuse a bomb. Blah, blah, blah.
Devon: That sounds kind of kick-ass.
Kick-ass indeed. One TV installation, briefing and debriefing later Casey’s perfect record has been called into question and Devon tries to make his case for joining Team B. The adventure-sports cardiologist needs some excitement in his life, and Chuck’s spy-life sounds like just the ticket.
Chuck’s initial reluctance aside the Dr. Awesome’s do provide a convenient entry and cover for the gala affair on the soil of Costa Gravas where the mission is to protect Premier Alejandro Fulgencio Goya (played with marvelously scenery chewing intensity by Armande Assante), who troublingly, as the intended victim of an assassination plot, has taken an interest in Ellie.
Devon’s enthusiasm for the spy life is suddenly dampened a bit as it now involves Ellie’s safety, sort of a reversed Chuck and Sarah parallel. And speaking of parallels, the Chuck and Devon versus the Sarah and Ellie conversations are telling. Chuck is denying there was ever anything real between them, while Sarah can no longer deny she still feels the same about him, despite everything. Chuck and Sarah moved toward each other, or at least the idealized version of each other so quickly and completely for those few brief moments that to Chuck it seems a dream he woke from and to Sarah it was like waking up. They are at very different places in their lives. Chuck needs to throw himself into his new life to feel he didn’t throw it all away for nothing, and Sarah wants to take a step back from hers.
Speaking of missions, now is the time on Chuck that we dance! Ellie is dragged onto the dance floor with the Premier and the assassin is apparently closing in. A quick flash and Chuck has the means to cross the dance floor somewhat inconspicuously as he and Sarah start to rumba with the best of them. While the rumba may get them in place it is pure Chuck and his spy training that takes out the “assassin.” Except that he doesn’t, he just manages to get them kicked out just as the true assassin is identified, leaving only Casey to protect the premier from the dastardly Ring assassin.
One open field tackle by Devon later and the premier is saved, momentarily, Casey is captured, and the assassin is still at large, with Team B sidelined.
These next scenes are among my favorite of the season so far. Casey tied to the chair but still “on mission” and Sarah and Chuck’s new dynamic as more partners than handler/asset showing through both in Castle and on the mission. I’ll leave aside the obvious plot holes of the week. They aren’t any more egregious than we’ve seen before in Chuck, and this episode manages to cross the fun threshold so that they recede into the background as irrelevant to my enjoyment.
The final scenes, where Chuck and Sarah decide “friends” is enough for now, but the obvious longing both of them have trouble letting go of that handshake and Sarah’s fright at falling so easily as she pulls out almost as if burnt. Then the awkward conversation highlights something we may not have noticed during their cover dating years. What would these two have to base a friendship, or a relationship on? Common interests? Outside spying and cover-dates and missions, there really isn’t much there in common. Suddenly, Sarah and Chuck are having trouble seeing how they fit in each other’s lives minus a cover relationship. But if we’re having trouble seeing how they fit, the final scene previews for us exactly why they should. Beneath it all Sarah wants to be there for Chuck, and Chuck wants her there with him, whatever future they decide on.
It’s A Selfish Act
A breath of fresh air, indeed, Ernie. Like the first two episodes of season three, I’m amazed that Chuck vs. The Angel de la Muerta seems so fresh and new on this re-watch. Honestly, so did Pink Slip and Three Words to my biased eyes.
“Why is that?” you may ask. I’m not so sure I have an answer. But you know me. I’m going to try to find one.
Ernie, you said that the best episodes of Chuck show Chuck’s worlds colliding. For me, the most enjoyable episodes show him not acting like the lovable nerdy Buy Moron he insists he is. In Angel we begin with Ellie and Devon’s passionate introduction (in which Sarah Lancaster reminds me that I really do have a thing for long-haired brunettes!) when they were in med. school, followed by Charles helicoptering in to Echo Park fresh from a mission – the spy we always knew he was meant to be.
From there, in his secret identity as Chuck Bartowski nerd-herder, he expertly saves the life of yet another small technological device in his sister’s living room before running off to his second mission of the night. No Buy Morons this time, no Jeffster, just Castle and one very exotic, imposing foreign dictator by the name of Alejandro Goya (played by the amazing Armand Assante). In fact, the dictator’s fate is bound up in the fate of Chuck’s Echo Park family; just as Chuck is called off to Castle, Devon is called to the hospital to save the his life.
But I don’t want to get off the track of Chuck’s new-found air of mastery and Bond-like elegance. He shows it in spades at the consulate ball, where Goya has seen fit to invite the doctor who saved his life, his lovely also-a-doctor wife and the brother-in-law with the delicate features.
Oh, wait. Forget the delicate features and lanky build. When you dance with Sarah, you look good. Period. And they certainly make a wonderful couple, the one we expected to see all along.
Seems to me Ellie expected to see that couple too. Yet, it’s not quite happening that way. The interleaved, simultaneous conversations between Ellie and Sarah, and between Devon and Chuck, tell us about the real dance that’s happening – the dance between Chuck and Sarah as they navigate their respective worlds.
Ellie: So, what did you want to talk to me about? [Realizes that Sarah is looking at Chuck] (Sigh) I’m sorry. Of course. Of course, this must be really hard for you guys.
Sarah: Yeah, it is.
Ellie: I mean, one minute, you’re broken up, and then the next minute, you’re on this incredibly sexy date…
Devon: So, what’s the deal with you guys? I mean, not to be crass or anything… but you and Sarah ever, like… you know?
Chuck: [instantly] Nope.
Devon: Huh. I always thought you guys were like a real couple.
Ellie: Do you still have feelings for my brother?
Sarah: No! No, we’re… Chuck and I are just friends.
Ellie: Sarah, please. Look at yourself right now. I mean, look at the dress. Look me in the eye and tell me you guys are just friends.
Chuck: Yeah, it’s our job to fool people like you.
Devon: Wow. That must be hard. Not just the “not having sex” part. That must be excruciating. But having to fake like you’re in love with someone for almost three years… especially someone like her… how do you do it, Chuck? How do you not fall for her?
Sarah: I don’t think that you understand our situation.
Ellie: I understand completely. I do. You know? You go through hot and cold patches. When Devon and I got married, we kind of put the passion on hold, but being here in a place like this, it just brings it all back, you know? It feels like it did in the beginning.
Did Sarah ever look Ellie in the eye? Not really. Not when she was answering. Sarah looks uncertain and very much like she’s playing a role. Chuck, though, talks and acts like he’s the one who knows the truth and is seeing reality. Sarah is chaffing against the constraints of her job, which is to be a spy, while the real person she is wants to be with Chuck.
So I have a question for Sarah Walker. Which part of her life is the cover now, hum?
I’m starting to understand why I like this episode so much. Besides the fact that Assante is an amazing actor, the issues are the same issues we saw in season 1, except that it’s Sarah who is questioning her life, if only briefly, in that conversation with Ellie exactly the way Chuck did in the pilot. Now it’s Chuck who has a job and a mission to fulfill, and he does it in front of Ellie, in front of Devon and he does it in front of Sarah, all with panache and style, just like Agent Walker in the pilot.
Funny that each of those people know increasingly more about Chuck’s second life.
Oh, I don’t mean to say that Sarah has been transmorgafied into the same kind of helpless character that Chuck was at first. Clearly, she’s not, which is to the writers’ credit. No, this is something a bit more subtle. It’s about Devon’s eagerness to be a spy.
Did you remember that? Devon’s desire to have more adventure than his present life affords him (uh – yeah) lasts about 25 minutes. Our adrenalin junky is hearing an echo of what Chuck’s been going through, especially now that Chuck has gotten good at being a spy.
It’s also the foreshadowing of Sarah’s journey, now that she’s feeling something deep inside that had been locked away (her phrase, from Three Words). We too can hear it, if barely, in the song that ends the episode, Daniel Zott’s Living A Lie. In the long run, the rush of adventure – the rush to make themselves happy – isn’t making anyone happy. Not at all. Ultimately, it’s only a selfish act.
If I give it all away,
I’d expect something back.
That’s universal; that’s powerful. That’s why Chuck still speaks to me, and always has.
There’s more, of course. In Angel The Ring retains its fearsome visage, earned after the shockingly violent assassinations of Roark and Emmett and maintained by the mysteries still surrounding the organization. It is, to this point in the story, a worthy successor to Fulcrum and that notion is reinforced by the very end of this episode (which is, as often is the case, the actual beginning of the next, Operation Awesome). Devon is taken prisoner. I am reminded of nothing so much as the mood and feel of the last minutes of Colonel when Sarah has to tell Chuck the awful news.
The message of Daniel Zott’s song might very well apply to that, too. It applies to Devon, to the show runners and to me as much as it does to Chuck, not just about his pretending to be a spy anymore. It’s a darker message about realizing that the things we chose to do, even when we do them well, may not make us happy, even if they are the right thing to do at the time. In this life there are few guarantees, we just don’t know how things will turn out.
And did I say that I like Armand Assante performance? 😉