Well I have to start by admitting I have no strong feelings for this episode either way. I remember when it first ran thinking it should be an important episode, yet it left me pretty unmoved. Let’s see if we can find something fun to say about Nacho Sampler after the jump.
I think possibly more than any other episode of the entire series, Nacho Sampler suffers from guilt by association. This should clearly be an important episode as Chuck learns something about developing and betraying an asset. He should gain some insight into his and Sarah’s relationship from the early days. But the parallels really never click. Manoosh is just not a very sympathetic figure, he certainly isn’t very Chuck-like, at least not in any important ways. He’s really a pretty bad guy. So Chuck betraying his trust seems more like a shrug than a big moment. Honestly I’ve never even been motivated enough to watch the episode again since it first ran.
But the drama of Chuck learning and experience this part of the job is most diminished by big picture issues. The show is never better than when the two leads are sharing a scene together. In particular, the staple of past seasons, Chuck and Sarah talking through the issues related to the spy life is so conspicuously absent here the episode is wholly void of passion or even interest. This is the part of show formula that was completely undone for season three, and this is the first episode where its absence is overwhelming. I think Nacho Sampler stands out more for what’s missing than anything that’s in it. I really don’t want to spend much more time on the episode itself, I just don’t think its worth it.
So what would I have liked to see? Well a couple things stand out. The first is just that this should have been an important episode. Chuck learning the tougher, uglier parts of the spy world has much potential. But Chuck in the spy world just doesn’t work at all for me without Sarah. Even when she’s physically present, she’s not with Chuck in any meaningful way. Her absence is so overwhelmingly depressing it completely undoes anything good; so the obvious fix is Chuck and Sarah talking things through. That could include both the actual teaching stuff we did see a little, and the counseling part we completely did not see. The last scene in particular screamed for a visit from Sarah as Chuck wrestles with what he’s done.
In a bigger sense, this is the point when Chuck and Sarah’s estrangement simply had to be over. Of course I never bought into the S3 LIs, so much of what lies ahead is just a void to me. I can imagine Chuck’s “do you love me?” question flowing pretty easily from the end of this episode. If we assume he’s wondering what was ever real and how he can live with what he’s done, I think Sarah being there to support him, and affirm that she loves him for real could have been a dynamite moment.
This episode has been served in fan fiction, but not extensively. Manoosh is a regularly recurring character in many stories, especially in complete AUs he often appears as a government tech support guru. The ending has been re-written a few times too. KateMcK gives another installment of “Chuck vs The Fight” for this episode that does exactly that. We get what I think is the mandatory ending, Sarah stops by to comfort Chuck, they reconcile and talk.
NinjaVanish also visits this scene at the end of Chapter Two of “Chuck and Sarah vs Themselves“. The treatment here is very brief, Sarah recommends ice cream in addition to whiskey; but the situation is quite different from the show. They are already in a secret relationship, so no real healing is needed between them, and because of their cover, private contact is impossible anyhow.
I don’t have a whole lot more to say about this episode or alternatives. As I said at the start, it left little impression on me. Next week will be a very different story. Things may get very interesting.