Piece of Cake
Chuck Versus The Nacho Sampler is one of those episodes that can seem like a mostly fun breezy ride, even as it touches on some of the darker aspects of the show’s world. Certainly it is not without its wonderful comedic moments, all of course interspersed with the A and B plots and their parallels. This was one of my favorite season 3 episodes for a number of reasons. The comedy of course. Casey at Weapcon could be its own episode as far as I’m concerned, and Chuck’s first attempt at “seducing” Manoosh is pure comedy gold. But in addition this episode has a lot to say about Chuck’s frame of mind, and Sarah’s. And I missed a lot of it the first time around, even while I recognized that this was a pivotal episode. Join me for a discussion of Chuck Versus The Nacho Sampler and some of Chuck’s and Chuck’s high’s and lows in this pivotal episode and season. After the Jump.
This episode remains a favorite, perhaps even more so on re-watch. This review however won’t be an extensive one on my part. I’ve written on this one before and I think my previous piece, Season 3 Revisited: Nachos Anyone? still covers most of what I wanted to say so go read it. I’ll wait…
There is one thing that I want to comment on, something I missed before this re-watch. I have often referred to Shaw as Poochie, the add-on character to a favorite cartoon on The Simpsons. Now Shaw was a more necessary character than that, though I still hold he was poorly served initially. One thing that stuck out to me early in this episode was a Shaw as Poochie moment. When Chuck asks where’s Shaw it made me think of this from the Poochie episode on The Simpsons:
HOMER: Uh, hi, Mr. Meyers. I’ve been doing some thinking, and I’ve got some ideas to improve the show. I got it right here. (pulls out a piece of paper) One, Poochie needs to be louder, angrier, and have access to a time machine. Two, whenever Poochie’s not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking “Where’s Poochie”? Three–
As I’ve been re-watching with the writer’s likely intent in mind this one finally made sense. It’s not that Chuck asked, it’s that Sarah answered that makes that scene significant. I wrote last week on how some deleted scenes add to the sense that Sarah feels and is forming a connection with Shaw. This is another part of that. It is simultaneously too subtle in some ways and to obvious in others, perhaps a symptom of season 3’s general problems with budget, staff and time. But this time, with the fact that Sarah has been keeping Shaw’s secrets and him hers in mind this works to inform us that things are happening off-screen that we will see eventually. In this case Sarah and Shaw are spending time with each other, strictly business at this point, without the others around or privy to what they discuss. Now I understand. That face-palm moment dealt with, on with the show.
If Chuck Versus The Beefcake and Chuck Versus The Lethal Weapon started the process of Chuck becoming what he considers Sarah’s perfect partner, Chuck Versus The Nacho Sampler and Chuck Versus The Mask will see its culmination. The question is, is he still someone Sarah can love.
Chuck has nearly become the guy Cole’s presence (and Sarah’s reaction to him) showed he wasn’t yet, but wanted to be. He is now the guy who can protect Sarah, but he is starting to live with the costs of his decision. Chuck is still between worlds, with his spy-life still just a job to him and his real life still real. But this episode, which is about entering a new world, will see Chuck starting to pull back from his friends and family leaving him with just the spy world. A simple thing like a luggage tag and Chuck has to spin another strand in his ever-growing web of lies. As much a he wants to be a spy he hasn’t ever seen what it costs Sarah and may cost him. Sarah has pulled back from Chuck’s life and family in this part of the season after briefly re-joining for a family dinner. It isn’t just because she no longer has the cover reason, it is, and will be for the same reason Chuck starts to pull away. It’s easier to close yourself off, to separate yourself from them than to keep lying and making excuses until the relationship is ruined. Spies aren’t friendly, unless it’s a tool to be used against you. Chuck is having a hard time learning that, as Devon said, it means giving up a part of your real life. By simply engaging in a friendly chat to pass the time on a long flight Chuck managed to pull someone he met in his spy life into his real life, and what she knows can be a problem for him.
Hanna’s entrance, for now though, is the perfect way to introduce this episode’s theme, entering a new world with the help of a mentor. As Chuck guides his new charges, one into the BuyMore and one into the spy world with varying degrees of success both he and Sarah will re-live Chuck’s entry into the spy world all those years ago. Chuck’s succinct appraisal, whatever it was between he and Sarah, it changed his life forever is merely the introduction of the whatever it was that both Chuck and Sarah will see in a new and perhaps disturbing perspective.
Whatever Chuck is to Sarah now he started as a mark. Someone who like Manoosh couldn’t believe this gorgeous woman was into him. And Chuck watching how easily Sarah seduces and manipulates Manoosh, can’t help but be reminded of that, and how Sarah must have seen him at first. And Sarah, reminded of that same fact can’t help but see a very different man before her now. He now lies with ease to his friends and family. He’s gotten good at the deception rather than leaving it to her. He is a much harder man than the one she initially fell for, and a far more focused and determined one. She can’t help but note that much of that, both good and bad, are due to her influence and presence in his life as she watches him swallow his empathy and condemn a man to a life in a bunker he so narrowly avoided. But now it seems he doesn’t need her. He’ll do the dirty work, and then go home and burn it out of his mind with whiskey, alone.
Chuck is becoming Casey and it scares Sarah. Chuck is walking in Sarah’s shoes and finds it a lot harder than he imagined. Both are finding those worlds they introduced each other into a lot harder to inhabit than they thought.
Ernie, you hit it right. What is it about Chuck vs. The Nacho Sampler that makes it one of the best of S3.0, even after several viewings?
Yeah, Jeff and Lester are able to make you (me!) laugh, even when we know their shtick through and through. And the spy-adventure part? Not bad, even if the name of the episode’s big baddie, which happens to be Julius (Bob McCracken), is forgettably minor in this story. He’s the ring agent after Manoosh Depok (first time actor Fahim Anwar) and Manoosh happens to be far more important than The Ring.
Seeing Casey at Weap-Con, Chuck with a laser pen and Manoosh with a pair of Intersect glasses, well, that’s just cool and it all makes for a fun episode.
Sarah: Chuck, you can’t take this lightly. Developing an asset is very tricky business. You need to insinuate yourself into their life and have them trust you completely, knowing that one day you’re probably gonna have to burn them.
Casey: Trick is to find the hole in their life and fill it. This Manoosh loser, he’s a loner. Friendless. And the asset has entered the store. Showtime, Bartowski.
Chuck: Don’t worry, guys. Piece of cake.
Bigger than all of that, and the one thought that sticks with viewers and fans for a long time, is the unexpected change we see in Chuck. Good guy, always does the right thing Chuck does something totally OOC, something as abhorrent as Sarah shooting a surrendering and unarmed Mauser.
The unavoidable, 800 lb. gorilla of analogies is, of course, Manoosh and how Chuck treats him. Manoosh isn’t just another geek who stumbles onto something important. That would be Lester and Jeff. No, he’s Chuck redo and we’re beaten over and over again with that stick until it sinks in. But how badly does Chuck treat Manoosh? The answer may be “As badly as Sarah treated Chuck!”
Casey: I stand corrected. He’s not ready.
Sarah: Thank you!
Oh, let me explain. Everyone’s first reaction is to hope that Chuck treats Manoosh just like Sarah treated Chuck in the beginning. Am I being too universal in saying “everyone?” I don’t think so. Really, Chuck seems to treat Manoosh carefully, trying to keep him out of danger and from doing inadvertent harm himself. However, much like Sarah, Chuck also seems to get a bit too close with the guy who could easily have been him.
It doesn’t go well. Maybe Chuck, newbie spy that he is, is bungling his job of handling this asset. In fact, it’s going badly enough that we soon have to question if Sarah did the right thing with Chuck, back then, if only a little. Maybe the best thing for everyone would be for Chuck to lead his charge in a certain direction, push him gently out of danger and not let him know everything that’s going on, if only for his own good.
That’s also known as manipulation and deception. What stabs right at the heart, after seeing Chuck deceive and manipulate his asset and his family, is the merest seed of a fear that Chuck is doing exactly what Sarah would do. Reluctantly, Chuck and the viewers too realize she has done those things. After all, lies and manipulation are merely tools of the trade.
Sarah: You never want to seem like you’re making advances. You always want the other person to feel like they’re in control.
Chuck: So, uh, that first day you came into the Buy More, when we first met, what did they tell you about me?
Casey: What do you think? You hadn’t had a date in over a year. They don’t waste the blonds on just anyone.
Chuck: Uh, it hadn’t been a year, okay? Thanks.
Sarah: They thought you and I could connect.
Chuck: I remember you left me your card so I could call you so we could go out. I felt like I was having the luckiest day of my life. God, I was pathetic.
Sarah: No, you were sweet and – innocent. I liked you. It made it much harder.
The ends, at least, the ends that Chuck can see, may indeed justify the means, if only because the alternatives are worse. If Chuck was thinking this spy-stuff was a piece of cake when he got his stripes, he’s learning he was wrong.
Sarah: Just don’t think about it, Chuck. It makes being a spy a lot easier.
There’s no denying Sarah understands his remorse at the prospect of lying to Manoosh; she goes out of her way to demonstrate that, with Chuck, it was different. Still, we’re drawn to ask the same question time and again; “Exactly how was it different?” Chuck answers that question when he smoothly lies to Ellie about his trip to Paris. Sadly, it’s not the answer we want to hear, because Chuck feels that, despite everything, Sarah had to manipulate and even deceive him too, just like he did Ellie. At least, she did at first.
Myself, the first time I saw Nacho Sampler I wondered if situation wasn’t quite so bad, though. As much as we’re supposed to think he is, Manoosh is not Chuck. When he discovered the abilities given to him by the Intersect, Chuck told Sarah and Casey (in the parking lot) that a general was in danger. When the bomb was about to explode, Chuck used Irene Demova’s web site to defuse it. Manoosh was a little more self-serving when the Ring Agents circled around him and tried to sell the secret when they failed to take it. He ran when Chuck confronted him at Weap-Con. Chuck, as we know, went to the beach to think things over.
Chuck didn’t want to be bunkered because he would be without his family and friends. Manoosh just didn’t want to be bunkered.
Sarah: He has to go underground. If the Ring finds him, he can build them another Intersect. It’s the only way. Do you want me to handle it?
Chuck: Yeah. Yeah, I would, but I have to do it.
Chuck knows better. Manoosh is not like Chuck, but that matters little to the newbie spy. Fact is, Chuck failed. For once, he couldn’t find a way to do “the right thing,” and it cost someone his freedom. Had Chuck or Sarah, for that matter, had messed up once early on the way Manoosh did, it could have been him (“There but for the grace of Sarah…” he must be thinking). I’ll have a Johnny Walker Black too – getting drunk seems appropriate.
This is dark, probably darker than we had seen up to now, and not the least bit frivolous. Neither Chuck nor Sarah have done anything wrong, but there is no denying that everything is different for them now. Nacho Sampler is eminently re-watchable because of that. But it gets darker.
When Sarah was faced with letting Chuck be taken to his own incarceration she started to draw a gun on the agent who had come to take him. Sarah was just seconds from blowing Longshore away and going rogue to save “her guy.” What is she to think now that Chuck seems to make a different decision?
Maybe she’s thinking Chuck is now a real spy. Maybe she’s thinking that she no longer wants to be one. Maybe Sarah is feeling a little trapped in her spy-world, and sees Chuck falling to that same trap.
I hear their future knocking on the door.
It’s the magical mystery kind
Must be a lie
Bye bye to the too good to be true kind of love
Oooooh I could die
So many times, episodes in season three are either fun or important to the story. To me, Chuck vs. The Nacho Sampler is both. That is what makes it one of the best.
Let me preface this by saying I’m on record having said I *hated* this episode at first, second and probably third watch. The reasons have all been documented–the short and long of it is that I hated the end where Sarah said, “piece of cake.” But remember that the point of these rewatches is to see if anything’s changed or if things can be changed. Well, presto: Nacho Sampler, while I wouldn’t call it a favorite, has certainly grown on me.
I’ll start off with what Ernie pointed out: it is a relatively dark episode (in Chuck themes). It involves Chuck burning an asset and putting the fear of “Carmichael” on Sarah. But it is also so much more. For starters, (I didn’t see it before but) they foreshadowed a lot of what the episode was going to be from the get go with Hannah:
Chuck: Me, safe. Everyone else very dangerous.
Hannah: I’m sure you’ll protect me.
See Chuck went through something very similar once before, except Sarah was the protector and the danger was the world. Sarah took her job very seriously (see: Colonel) and I think Chuck “pre-season 3” Bartowski had no idea the sacrifices and the danger she faced for him. See it turns out that Carina was correct: the spy-life is not for the meek. It involves manipulating people into trusting you in a very, very short amount of time and as soon as you get what you want from them, it involves burning them. Sometimes it involves isolating that person to the extent where they start to believe you’re the only one they can trust–and then you burn them. Chuck is very, very lucky that he ended up with Sarah because although she is capable of all of that–the lying, the manipulation, the abject seduction as we saw in the episode–she wasn’t and couldn’t be (just) that with him. Because from the get go there’s always been something more between them.
In the past I have focused on Sarah’s line at the end where she exclaims, “piece of cake.” Well Nacho Sampler–I didn’t even think about it before–heals that wound. It was never easy with Chuck, it was never simple, never just another mission she’s done 100x before because…well, it’s Chuck.
Sarah: No you were sweet, I liked you. It made it that much harder.
That line above is probably the biggest reason why the ending, “piece of cake,” softened for me and why I now like this episode.
For Chuck, the responsibilities of being a spy–the lack of emotion and deception–are his burden. For Sarah it’s those and what she feels Chuck. Her feelings for him are like quicksand and it’s not something she could ever get a handle on. For Sarah, being “Agent” Walker is essentially a double whammy. He was sweet–see ballerina–and she had to struggle from then on to do what she had to do and balance that with his safety and her responsibilities as his handler. With those in mind, is it any wonder why all the changes (in Chuck)–the ease in lying, burning an asset–became even more scary and even more gut-wrenching for her? Sarah wasn’t just fighting for his soul, she’s been fighting herself and her feelings too.
The other side of the coin in this episode is Manoosh. Although we all believe that Chuck is special, that he has that inner heroism–in different circumstances: his family in danger, a different handler, you name it–he could have been Manoosh. A man who lost all his charm, and good-heartedness and was seduced by money and power. It’s far too easy to do. Chuck in First Class got a taste of the good life. “Chuck,” the TV show, likes to do these parallels and I think Manoosh is an on-the-surface, hardened-version of Chuck (at least I think that’s what they were going for). Without Sarah, without Ellie (or Ellie in peril) this could have been him. So in some ways he really got lucky that he had Sarah (and Casey!) and that Sarah was who she was with him.
With all that going on, is it any wonder we could all use 1-2 fingers of Southern Comfort?
Last thought: what was an episode I disdained in the past, is redeemable after all. Chuck’s journey isn’t an easy one, and Nacho Sampler showed that to us (with nods to the past and the future), in a relatively entertaining fashion (laser!). And we even got to see Yvonne rock the “Frak Off.” Frak Off! What else can any of us ask for?