So where to start? My first reaction to First Class is “I didn’t like it”. But I can add all sorts of nuance to it like “I really didn’t like it” or “wow I didn’t like that”. So obviously we’re dealing a very complex situation here. This is only the second episode (Pink Slip being the first) of the series that I really don’t like at all. And more significantly, we’re about to enter a lengthy run of episodes where rock bottom will be redefined several times.
But I think the good news here is for alternatives. There are just so many better ways this part of the story could have been handled, and many writers have taken up that challenge. So after the jump we’ll look at First Class and where else the story could have gone.
Like so much of the “misery arc” there is plenty that’s fun about First Class, and of course there is a point and purpose to this part of Chuck’s story. The biggest part here is just the idea that at some point Chuck needs a solo mission. Even if we consider he will normally function as part of a team, Chuck needs to show the confidence and initiative to work on his own. Now honestly, he already has. Episodes like First Date and Dream Job already showed us a Chuck who can improvise and take the lead when he needs to. But its not completely unreasonable to say he needs to accomplish an agency assigned objective with minimal support. Although just how far the idea of being isolated and without any back-up will be taken here is far fetched in a made-for-TV sort of way. Especially for a “first mission”. But to be fair, this is the sort of thing that would hardly be troubling if not for the other circumstances.
A lot of the mission could have been a lot of fun too. Hugo Panzer, intel being smuggled with a body in a coffin, in flight poisoning by an enemy stewardess, Sarah remote piloting the plane… this is all great stuff. And of course I’m a huge fan Sarah the over-protective lioness. That just never gets old. But that leads directly to what doesn’t work so well for me.
Let’s back-up a step. There are two fundamental things that don’t work right here and lower this episode to my bottom tier. And those two fundamental things are the same thing. Daniel Shaw and Hannah something-or-other. Its the dreaded PLI, or OLI, or just LI. At a time (anything post S2!) when watching Chuck and Sarah get to know each other, and learn to work together as partners is by far the most exciting part of the show to me, it is being being put on hold, for quite some time. That problem starts with Shaw. From his introduction back in Operation Awesome he is an arrogant, unlikable and stupid man. As I said last week, I could imagine this working as the difficult new boss character. But Shaw bonding with Sarah is a particularly repugnant story line. In most of First Class their interplay works well enough, as in they spend most of their time arguing and pointedly not getting along. And of course we’ve all seen that meme before, the arguing leads to respect and romantic attraction. But Sarah and Shaw aren’t Maddie and Dave. It is just too much to go from Shaw being the jerk who keeps secrets and takes foolish risks with Sarah’s former asset and current “friend”; to having them bond over loosing Eve and Bryce. It cannot, and will not ever produce a believable or wanted pairing. Sarah and Shaw making nice at the end can only be called disappointing. Especially after Casey so accurately identified Shaw as a moron earlier in the episode. This is the true start of zombie Sarah.
Chuck’s own fling gets underway here as well. Although admittedly most of Chuck’s interaction with Hannah in this episode is pretty low key, it still rubs me wrong (very wrong) coming so soon after professing his love to Sarah. Especially after a “friends” handshake, a consoling hug, and Sarah’s ferocious concern for Chuck’s well being at the start of this episode I just can’t see how Chuck could even be thinking about another woman. I know this sort of love triangle is pretty normal fare on television. But I don’t really consider that a defense. It’s a story type I never enjoy, and the more I like the show in question, the less I enjoy the cliche. So every Chuck/Hannah exchange here gets a big eye roll from me. And the end, with Chuck looking happily at his newest Nerd Herder, really turns my stomach. Especially paired with Sarah’s last scene.
Did I mention that I really don’t like this episode?
Okay, enough of that. What could have been different or better here? The most obvious thought I have is that Chuck and Sarah should be a team and a couple at this point. Chuck undercover with Sarah on board, observing, would have worked for me. I could have liked the idea of Shaw as a troublesome moron that Casey and Sarah have to work around to actually train Chuck and provide some measure of protection during the process is one possibility. The other thing that could have worked is Shaw as an actual villain already, perhaps he’s actively trying to destroy Team B. So maybe Casey becomes Chuck’s on board back-up, while Sarah stays behind to investigate Shaw. Bonus points if Shaw is flirting and thinks he has a chance. Although obviously Sarah should never be so clueless as to actually be involved with him. Hannah is a pretty pointless character, ideally she simply should have been cut. Perhaps she could have worked as either a crazy stalker who Chuck had to avoid while keeping a relationship with Sarah secret; or as an operative of Shaw’s. As I suggested above, the idea of Shaw trying to disrupt the team could have worked; and Hannah there to distract Chuck from Sarah could have been part of the grand scheme. Obviously though, Chuck is of too good a guy to actually be distracted by such a thing…
My point in all of that is just that the basic structure of the episode is completely functional. I can even imagine using it to tell the story of Chuck becoming an agent, learning to follow orders to accomplish a mission, and gaining some confidence in his own abilities when things don’t go according to plan. But it fails as an introduction to the love polygons of the misery arc. And that is its enduring legacy for me.
We are also now reaching the part of the season that fan fiction writers have played with more. Kate McK gives us another chapter of “Chuck vs the Fight” that covers First Class. She starts by reconstructing a couple of moments I particularly dislike, and both really highlight Shaw’s jerk factor. But this time Sarah will draw a more believable conclusion about who means what to her and resolve to make things right with Chuck. This works perfectly for me. The end of this chapter/episode makes me smile every time. The perfect fix. This could have made First Class one of my very favorites.
I previously recommended Crumby’s “Chuck vs The Rogue Spy” in one of these posts. This story starts on the plane. I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but I will say Sarah has snuck on board because she can’t believe Chuck wasn’t being provided any real back up. The story is dynamite. And it starts with this much more appealing mission for Chuck.
NinjaVanish also mentions this mission briefly in chapter two of “Chuck and Sarah vs Themselves“. He expects the mission went as seen, but Chuck is clearly unhappy about his new “stalker”. And Sarah ordering him to flirt back leads to a most amusing “told you so” sort of moment. More on that in a couple weeks!
Marc Vun Kannon (AKA authorguy) also tackles this episode in “Nine2five: Stand Up” with a very unique twist; Sarah is the one on that Paris flight. He apparently felt Sarah needed a friend more than Chuck needed a final fling! Very good way of dealing with Hannah.
So anyone else have any thoughts on how this episode or arc could have gone? Now’s your turn. Speak up, I love hearing from you all.