Contra Sarah Walker’s assertion near the end of Chuck Versus The Angel de la Muerte, Devin Woodcomb would not make an awesome spy. Chuck Versus Operation Awesome drives that point home dramatically, hilariously and repeatedly. This episode is about stepping up to the next level, who is ready and who isn’t. This is also the second episode to show Chuck’s growth by contrasting him and how he handles his double life by immersing one of his family in that life, even if momentarily. When Chuck is with team B he’s still pretty much the old Chuck with the mishegas, the freak-outs and the hand wringing still prominent features of his spy-life. While we’re shown this episode that he still isn’t the spy Sarah and Casey are, it is only when we see him with Devon – who sees only the cool confident spy – that we see that Chuck is well on his way. Devon doesn’t see the screw-ups and the self-doubt and how much Chuck still depends on his team, he sees a real spy. Compared to the most awesome of civilians Chuck is a pretty awesome spy. We also touch on one of the season’s main themes, that Chuck can be a good spy because of his emotional investment in his team and the mission, not in spite of it. We’ll also see how Shaw’s arrival disrupts and ultimately breaks that dynamic, but that is still a few weeks away. For now join me for another look at Chuck Versus Operation Awesome, after the jump.
A lot of the people in Chuck’s life are freaking out. Including him. Captain Awesome is a bit freaked out because he’s been mistaken for a spy and is being dangled off a roof tied to a chair (flashing back to Chuck’s first mission when the same thing happened to him). Ellie is a bit freaked out because she hasn’t seen or heard from her husband, Chuck is freaked out because his sister’s husband has been kidnapped and he’s lying to her about it and Morgan is freaked out because Big Mike has called him into the office before he’s even had a chance to mess something up. Before this episode is over there will be more freak-outs, more lies, more fights and more spies in Chuck’s world.
Chuck sees Devon’s weaknesses, Devon sees Chuck’s strengths, team B sees life through filters that don’t let them see the future, and Shaw, he seems to offer a new perspective.
They are all flawed visions. Right down to the Family dinner where Chuck tries to recreate a “season 2” moment.
That moment has passed. As much as this episode recaptures that, it also tells us that it is over. Shaw’s arrival and the “setup” are clear indications that there is trouble coming, and things we took for granted, like Chuck’s classic team B lure the bad guys in, take them down won’t fly with the brass. They’re changing this world.
My normal mode would be to do a lengthy discourse on the theme I’ve identified, or chosen. Good spies, bad spies, bad lies and freak outs.
But it’s been a long week. I don’t have a lengthy discourse in me right now.
So I’ll leave you with this. Remember, we see everything, the characters see less, and what each of them sees can be critical.
I leave you in Joe’s capable hands, until we meet in comments.
The Greater Cause
Chuck vs. Operation Awesome is better than I remembered. Much better, in fact. (Oh yes, I’m detecting a pattern here.) It contains some of the funniest moments in the entire series – and I’m not speaking of Devon’s attempted explanation (read, lie) to Ellie about why he’s late. I’m talking about her reaction! Check it out – Sarah Lancaster is hilariously brilliant in Op. Awesome as she confronts Devon’s stories close up.
Even better, the Buy Moron Fight Club is one of the best uses of that troop since they decided to emulate Mad Max in the cage. It’s a riot in the best comedic sense of the word.
As for Chuck and Sarah, how are they doing? Well, we had been left at the end of Angel (seen just one week earlier) thinking that, for the moment, they were “just friends” but better things were coming. Where Sarah left us then she was doing more than just comforting Chuck. She was sharing in Chuck’s frantic desperation and intense concern for his brother-in-law’s well being, now that he had been captured by The Ring. It bode well.
Although we didn’t see that develop in the direction for which we were hoping just yet, Sarah’s determined professionalism and continued support of Chuck and his family in Op. Awesome would do for now. The season was only eight days old, after all, and there was no reason to think that things were getting worse. The episode is almost completely angst free, in fact.
It gets better. Chuck was actually acting like a spy. Every time he had to calm Devon he became more than competent – Chuck became expert at his spy craft. Well, maybe it’s still not second nature to him…
Sarah: Chuck, the important thing is Devon will be looking to you as his handler, and you need to remember what it felt like to be scared and new to this.
Casey: Yeah. Like he’ll ever forget that. Look at it this way. On this mission, Devon is you and you’re her. So be her, Chuck, huh?
… but wow, is he getting good at it. He’s acting the way Sarah’s taught him to act (cool under fire) while still retaining his often inspired ability to improvise. It’s pretty impressive. Devon is impressed.
Devon: You’re incredible! Was that your spy training?
Chuck: Duck Hunt. Nintendo.
See? I told you this was funny!
You know who else is impressive here? Jeff and Lester. Ouch! That almost hurt to type that! But yes, just look at them. Lester gets a wake up call when Chuck’s barely under control Intersect gives him an ax kick to get rid of the annoyance that Lester is. He uses that wake up call to experience something greater – life – and not shy away from things that might be painful, maybe for the first time. So, um, yeah, he starts the Buy More Fight Club and brings the others in. Who’d a thunk that Jeff would be the tough guy here?
Well, okay, maybe Jeff’s competition isn’t the strongest, but at least Fernando and Skip have found a bit of swagger to go with their black eyes. Maybe Lester’s shown them that they have a bit of testosterone too, and that’s not a bad thing.
I only have one question, though. Is that who they really are?
Anyway, I’ve just sung the praises of Chuck vs. Operation Awesome. There’s a lot of good to talk about. But when all was said and done, I’m putting it towards the back of the pack for this season. You see, we’re introduced to a character who’s a bit stiff, who’s purpose seems a bit contrary to the organization’s purpose, who’s likability is, shall we say, limited and whose presence serves only to manipulate the relationship between Chuck and Sarah.
I’m talking about Angie Harmon‘s Sydney Prince, of course. Nothing against the actress (I’ve never seen her show Rizzoli & Isles) but Sydney does no service to the season’s big baddies, The Ring, here. In fact, The Ring seems like less of a threat after the episode ends. No, her purpose is to give one character a chance to show that he can pull the trigger. That’s it.
Shaw: I don’t like guns much, but when necessary, I will use them.
Ack! There it is, the dreaded PLI of S3, he who shall not remain nameless today. Did The Powers That Be not know how badly anyone coming between Chuck & Sarah would be received? Did they have no clue about the excrement storm they were invoking?
I’m more than convinced TPTB was paying close attention to the fan reaction after news about potential love interests and triangles and trapezoids broke that summer as the episodes of S3 were taking shape. They knew what we were talking about and how much people were thinking ahead.
Devon: So, what do you think is up there? Something pretty gnarly, huh?
Chuck: It’s best not to speculate. Nine times out of 10… well, seven, you get yourself all worked up over nothing.
There is a time and a place to be critical of how the character is conceived and fits (or doesn’t) into the story, and even a time to be critical of the acting. But you know, today, in this episode, I don’t think the time has arrived. Daniel Shaw is, believe it or not, a determined man, even a heroic one, with a tough mission.
However, even this early in the season, the fans actually got it right. They understood exactly what they were supposed to.
Beckman: I’d like to introduce you all to special agent Daniel Shaw. For the last five years he’s worked on nothing but taking out The Ring. From this point on, Agent Shaw has total command authority on any mission having to do with The Ring.
Casey: Really? This guy? I have back issues of Guns & Ammo older than he is.
See? The fans either had done some close reading of the tea-leaves over the summer or were very prescient. Either way, Shaw’s appearance was clearly ominous. There was an immediate distrust that stemmed from more than his semi-nervous flipping of a cigarette lighter.
Still, we need to consider carefully what Shaw does in his introduction. He shoots himself. Yeah, a great spy, I can hear Casey chuckling sarcastically. Chuck may have been speaking for TPTB when he advised Devon/us not to speculate. But Casey is the voice of the fans here. He mocks Shaw and is generally resentful of the intrusion into “his” team (the team that is quickly becoming Chuck’s team). Shaw is rightly regarded with suspicion by the fans (and by the characters too!) and has been for months, even before the season began! How can he get past those suspicious?
Shaw has to be a hero. He must prove that he’s willing to do anything for his team, for the mission and for his cause, even if it is a little painful. And dangerous. So long as it works. Uh, don’t look now, but sacrifice for the greater cause is the definition of a hero, and it sure looks like he’s ready to sacrifice everything. If only we didn’t hate the character so much…
What’s Shaw’s mission, by the way? He’s the expert on The Ring, but more important, Shaw’s mission is to turn Chuck into a spy, someone who can pull the trigger. That’s what Beckman wants, that’s what Casey wants (or, at least, that’s what he’d say if you asked him) and that’s what Chuck wants.
Shaw: Families and friends make us vulnerable. Make us unable to pull the trigger. And that puts everyone in ever greater danger. Just ask your partner here.
Sarah: Sometimes it helps to know that you’ve got something to lose.
Sarah’s not so sure, but for now, she’s not going to stop him. In fact, just like Chuck is willing to help Devon get a glimpse of the life of a spy, Sarah’s willing to help Chuck reach his goal.
Like him or not, Shaw is precisely the guy to accomplish this. I’m pretty sure that Bryce, were he alive, would not even try. “Chuck has too much heart to be a spy!” he would say.
Lester decided that taking a punch once in a while can make you feel alive, but he learned that he’s not really a fighter. He’d rather keep his job. Devon’s run in with The Ring was more excitement than the adrenaline junkie could take, but he learned he’s not really a spy. And Chuck? He’s following his chosen path a little while longer and Shaw is going to be his guide for the time being.
In the final scene, we have Lester begging Morgan, the new Ass. Man., for his job back, and getting it. We have a Bartowski clan dinner that, like usual, promises something like normalcy for Chuck and Sarah, if only someday. But there is something disquieting also.
The gathering is being watched by Shaw, who we see in subdued lighting placing a wedding band on his finger. There are things about him we do not know and agendas we don’t yet understand. There’s a loud, clear message here – We were right all along to not take Shaw’s apparent heroism at face value. We were right all along to not trust him.
You can’t say we weren’t warned, because we were.
Faith: Unlike Joe, I actually enjoyed Angie Harmon’s stunt casting appearance. I say stunt casting because her role on Chuck is not unlike the “cop” persona she’s known for and in this one she spoke largely for the audience.
How? Well, in her perception of Chuck vs. Devon as spies. There’s an interesting dynamic at play here in the episode between what is on the surface, and what is real. Of course they are building into that same question with Shaw: who is this guy? What does he want, what is his purpose (side note: I’m of mind that TPTB themselves didn’t know what to make of or do with Shaw and that was part of the inconsistency and in some ways effectivity of his character), who exactly is he? Who is Shaw, and what is real? But within the episode itself we have this question of what is and what should be between Chuck and Awesome.
On the surface, Devon makes the more logical choice for supersy. He’s athletic, he’s tall, intelligent, debonair. Chuck on the other hand fits best (on the surface) as an analyst. He’s lanky of build, nerdy to the core and he’s without deceit. And he’s not calm, so not calm. In fact, he’s a volcano of emotions. But as they say appearances can be deceiving (even the gay security guard proved this!). Chuck is a spy, and he’s the best kind of spy.
The best kind of spy, the best kind of guy that Sarah once fell for: unwilling to compromise between the safety of his loved ones while at the same time exhibiting that true heroism that is within. When it comes to the world and his family, Chuck always, always chooses his loved ones but he never gives up hope that he can save the world in the process. And while it would have been convenient to let Shaw die, Chuck also showed true heroism in his refusal to adhere to collateral damage. Against himself, Chuck’s true heroism shines through but first Chuck must find his way (as he does throughout season 3.0) between being a spy and controlling his emotions–a process that was started by Orion.
Going back to Angie Harmon, I liked that she was menacingly likable. Sydney was just among the latest that underestimated and looked at Chuck’s surface and saw what they wanted to see but she served a purpose. Sydney created an interesting dichotomy to Sarah who has always seen more in Chuck than even his sister, his family. She saw, loved and helped Chuck become who he is and worked to make him see that guy she sees and loves about him. But she too is beginning to have doubts…she too is becoming (in some ways) Sydney, fearful of being wrong as she starts to believe in the surface. Thinking that maybe she’s done too good of a job and she’s lost him. After all, there is still healing to commence and doubt to overcome (conflict as previously discussed).
Thankfully, in his devotion to Devon and his unwillingness to compromise with his loved ones’ lives, and his “Chuck-ness” (hacking the phone) he makes her believe.
Sarah: “sometimes it helps to know that you’ve got something to lose.”
But there’s still the job, it is still her job to be his carrot (spy-wise) and the job wars with her fear for his safety (Sarah ALWAYS, always reacts badly to a danger to him). It’s not that Sarah doesn’t believe he can handle things on his own, she just always thinks she has to be personally involved to ensure his safety (see Colonel and others). That’s where Chuck and Sarah still have to grow in this early season, that point where they can attempt to be equal, to trust each other to be there for each other and yet hold their own. Because it’s not just Sarah that believes it, Chuck does too. He doesn’t believe in himself and he won’t unless he’s given that opportunity. This is extremely hard to do without undoing the “team” in “Team Bartowski” and I don’t think they really found their way through this until late in season 4 when it was all settled but the conflict was present here.
In the end, the episode did what it was supposed to do: it made us laugh with the Bear, it showed us some healing between Chuck and Sarah and it gave us what may be a new beginning with Chuck and Sarah. A beginning that may not be all that new after all, with the look between them towards the end. Va-va-voom. And it introduced us to Shaw. Now the question becomes what to make of Shaw? And what of Chuck and Sarah’s future? Stay tuned for the “backwards walk.”
Final, final note: LOVE, love “Bears” which was playing at the end of the episode. All sorts of Bears made this episode possible and it was great. One of my favorites of season 3.0.