Chuck Versus The Mask (3.07)


Say Something!

Chuck Versus The Mask is an odd beast for me.  The first time I watched it I liked it a lot, despite some slightly clunky aspects that had been showing up in season 3 episodes with regularity.  It was an amazing episode for Chuck’s growth, and in odd ways Sarah’s too.  With the Chuckpocolyps it became harder and harder to watch this episode.  We were marinated in Shaw hatred for weeks before there was any movement or resolution on a storyline started in this episode (with a few seeds sown a little earlier).  But as the years have passed I’ve come to notice something.  I like this part of Chuck and Sarah’s story.  I first noticed this a few summers ago when I purposefully took a month off the boards and discussion.  Then I re-watched season 3 in one block of about a week.  I loved it.  Without constantly hearing complaints or criticism of this or that I was free to lose myself in the story they were telling.  Yes “this and that” were still there, but they receded into the background, present, but not my focus, and what was left was a touching and heartbreaking story of how two wounded souls found each other, changed each other, and found their way back to each other.  After the jump.

If last week was about the costs of the spy life to both yourself and those around you this week is more about the feeling you get from the big win.  Last week had Chuck opening his eyes to some harsh truths about himself and Sarah and the choices he’s made, and dealing with it in a new way for him, with Sarah either unequipped emotionally or realizing she can’t fix this for Chuck, he has to find his way as she found hers.  This week has Chuck finding his footing in his new world, saving the day, and a few more hard truths hitting him.  It also features what is simultaneously touching and heartbreaking scenes of the season, and an extra dose of pathos thrown in at the end.

This episode isn’t without it’s share of season 3 problems.  Most notably the shoulder massage that started a war, but in hindsight those problems are not disasters, they’re of a piece with what we’ve already seen.  TPTB are rushing stories that need time and delaying ones that need motion in a season planned out for a series climax of a particular kind.

Let’s start at the beginning.  Chuck wants to be a spy but he also wants his real life, and in real-life-land the Buy More suddenly isn’t so bad when that cute, smart, funny and charming woman you met on the flight to Paris is there to help pass the time, wherein lies the problem when Sarah walks in with that look on her face.  The one that early on could turn your blood to ice and cut you off mid-sentance.  The super-hot blonde with the heart of ice is back to let Chuck know play-time is over.

Here is where things get problematic.  See your ex-girlfriend handler needs you to go on an impromptu mission to save her not-yet-boyfriend but budding confidante, but you just promised your cute new not-yet-girlfriend that she could come with you next computer emergency.  (I guess technically she said install and this is an emergency repair, but the details don’t seem to matter to her at this point.)  And so here you are, middle of a mission, and she shows up.

No problem, you’re a spy now, you can handle this seamlessly.  It’s a computer job, use Hannah’s help, perfect cover for the mission, though communicating with the team does get problematic at times.

Mission  accomplished, with a job (and cover) to be there for the grand opening.  Integrating spy-life and real-life?  It’s a cinch.

A lot of people are noticing things that seem off lately.  Shaw is noticing Sarah’s nervous tics and how she likes her coffee, Sarah is noticing, and resisting Shaw’s attraction to her, and Chuck and Casey both noticed the look that passed between those two when Shaw decided he and Sarah would play a couple at the opening.

Ellie and Morgan are noticing Chuck doesn’t seem to be himself.

I just noticed Sarah actually sort of joking with Shaw in the checklist scene, and at least a bit of tension on her part, but at this point it’s the “you aren’t as charming as you think buddy” sort.  And it doesn’t pass unnoticed that Shaw is a bit of a d-bag even if Sarah is a bit flustered by his attention.

So mission time means Hannah finally gets what she came to burbank for, some alone time with that hunky charming guy she met on that depressing flight to Paris.  At least something good came out of getting fired.

It seems both Chuck and Sarah are a bit starved for affection and companionship.  It’s been 6 months since either has had even the “cover” affection the could have with each other, and that wall between Chuck and Sarah doesn’t look to be coming down anytime soon.  So Chuck allows himself to succumb to Hannah’s advances.  It is charming that he seems surprised, but then he had to hear from others that Sarah loved him to believe it too.

Back to people noticing things that are off.  Hannah notices Chuck’s “ex” Sarah with a tremendously handsome date, leading Chuck to notice that there is a ring agent coming to the party.   Chuck ducks out to warn Sarah and Shaw which leads to Hannah noticing that Chuck might not be “totally 100%” over Sarah.

On the mission Chuck and Sarah can’t help noticing the other seems to have an amorous co-worker after them, noting (since they’re totally over each other no reason to be jealous, absolutely none) what a cute couple they make.  Punctuated by Sarah noticing that Chuck’s gotten close enough to Hannah to be wearing her perfume.

And then everything goes to hell.  Hannah tells off Chuck, Sarah tells off Shaw, the Ring captures Hannah and Shaw releases the nerve agent, exposing he and Sarah and locking down Castle with the mask inside.

Don’t worry, we’ve got Chuck Bartowski.

Some quick thinking on a plan and it is a very confident Charles Carmichael who faces off with Vasillis in the museum.  One flash later and Chuck has the counter-agent and the Ring agents are scattered.  Only one problem.  No, not that Casey didn’t get to blow something up, they’re out of time.  Chuck needs to get Hannah out of the vault and Casey may not have time to get the antidote to Sarah and Shaw.  That’s the problem with being a spy.  You sacrifice yourself, your team, or the love of your life so that people like Hannah can continue to live safe and unaware of the ugliness, violence and evil that surrounds them.  Thanks to Shaw calling an audible and going to the antidote rather than waiting that eventuality is avoided.  But Chuck sees a very couple-y looking Sarah and Shaw.  The range of emotions that play over Zach’s face capture the moment perfectly.

Which leads us to that scene.  No not that scene.  The shoulder rub and the theater room make-out session are an afterthought, a parenthetical after the main point, and the main point is played out in a hallway between Chuck and Sarah.

I won’t write out the dialog, I’ll just link to .

The scene encapsulates the very nature of the CRM.  Neither Chuck not Sarah thinks themselves good enough for the other, and so they try to change or try to get the other to give up pieces of themselves to fit into their world when all they need to do is fight for each other.  Decide to be together, and then take on whatever challenges that entails, together.

But both are too insecure and afraid of that rejection that Sarah felt, for a time, at the beginning of the season before she understood that it was once again events – Chuck downloading the intersect before she could bring herself to tell him of her choice – rather than Chuck rejecting her as not enough for him.  But she still remembers that pain, and Chuck never lost it.  And Shaw’s presence is the closing parenthesis on Cole, telling him every day, you aren’t that guy, the guy who can be the man Sarah needs.  And once again, though Chuck did the heavy lifting, it’s someone else who saves Sarah.

They don’t fight for each other.  They step aside once again to let the other move on with that far more suitable mate.  Worse, they’ve endorsed those choices this time, Hannah is great, Shaw is a hero, you are perfect for each other.  This from the one person (in both cases) whose approval means more than anything else.

It’s heartbreaking to watch, once more the miss the point, miss-communicate and slip away from what could have been the moment they understood to a moment that separates them further.  But it is an honest portrayal of where they are.

I’ll end on this note.  In a weird way this is the episode that saved 3.0 for me.  With all the discussion and analysis and speculation about big retcons and head-fakes it forced me to look at the show honestly, absent my preferred narrative and letting go of my preconceptions of what they “should” be doing.  It made me understand that much of what was happening was that the show was not the same one we saw in season two, it was reinventing itself from a premise that had played out to one that had the potential to cary it forward, but on less budget and with less production time.  The production values decline became evident to me by First Class, and the scripting problems manifested themselves in this episode.  My favorite show was struggling and the magic I saw in season 2 wasn’t a standard I could fairly apply.  I needed to let go of those expectations and accept the show on the terms it was presenting itself to me NOW, not in seasons past.  It was a tough thing to admit, and to do, but it made all the difference in the world.

Season 3 was a transition, and a tough one, and this was the toughest part of it, but ultimately, for me, these are the episodes that saved Chuck, because they did the nasty unenviable work of moving Chuck from what it was to what it needed to become if it wasn’t to become a sterile procedural  using the same used up jokes and situations, going through the motions just to get another lame, but popular season.

I’ll quote the great Lloyd Dobbler:”I’m looking for a dare to be great situation.”  It didn’t work so well in the short term, but paid off in the long term.  One more tip o’ the hat to 80’s rom-com and Lloyd Dobbler.

Diane Court: Nobody thinks it will work, do they?

Lloyd Dobler: No. You just described every great success story.



The Whipsaw

But the mountains and the trees
Are they what you perceive?
Or are they less than what
You’d expect to see?

Feeling odd

Feeling odd

I’m in an odd state thinking about Chuck vs. The Mask, Ernie; all over the map about it. Even after three-and-a-quarter years there are too many questions. Worse, it’s possible that for each question, there are too many answers. When I saw it the first time March 8, 2010, I thoroughly enjoyed the episode. I rated it right in the middle of nearly all the episodes I had seen when I considered the humor, adventure, the music and even the romance (Not bad. Not bad at all) – right up until the last five minutes. Then my gut started hurting. Now, after seeing it for about the sixth time, I enjoy aspects even more, really. And my gut is wrenching even harder.

Before going any further, let me give the quick synopsis of the story:

Chuck is a full-fledged spy now and seemingly in control of his emotions and the Intersect. He owes that, not to Sarah, but to Shaw, who put him on his first solo mission. For her part,
Sarah’s come to realize that things are different with Chuck now. In her mind, it’s possible that Shaw was right; she was holding him back and Chuck is truly a spy now. That thought doesn’t make her happy.

Vasillis Nikos

Vasillis Nikos

The episode opens with a ninja attempting to steal a golden mask from what seems to be a museum. He fails, and the room where this happens is a deadly trap. The ninja is forced to reveal (to the audience) his identity in order to ask for help; It’s Shaw, and he needs the Intersect. He needs Chuck. Oh yeah; Chuck really is a spy.

Chuck saves Shaw (go Chuck!) but the mission is a bust. Why is the CIA interested? The mask and other artifacts are being used to smuggle items through Customs, items which are of interest to The Ring. Shaw and the CIA want to know what those items are, and they may be inside items like The Mask.

…Which means the CIA goes to plan B. In his not-so-secret identity as a nerd-herder, Chuck will man the computers and Casey will do surveillance while Shaw and Sarah pose as a couple to steal the mask from the museum and replace it with a fake. Complications ensue when one Vasillis Nikos appears, a Ring Agent with whom Shaw has had previous dealings. The whistle is blown; a substitute player must come into the game for the star player and that substitute is – Chuck.

Shaw’s team succeeds, but Vasillis identifies two of the people on the mission – Chuck and his persistent assistant, Hannah, who shouldn’t have been there in the first place. She’s Chuck’s weak link now, and by entrapping the newest nerd-herder, Vasillis forces Chuck to return to the vault to exchange the real mask for her life. As this is going on, Shaw and Sarah discover that the real mask contains a canister of deadly gas, which is released inadvertently into Castle. Sarah and Shaw have about an hour to live, which is about the time that it will take Chuck to get to the museum, find the antidote and return to save them. It leaves no time to save Hannah.

It seems time enough for Chuck to be clever (like he usually is) and do both (like he usually does). But it’s not.

That synopsis hardly tells the story, does it? It’s great to see Sarah easily resisting Shaw, and something that I didn’t see at first, but should have seen, is that Chuck is more than in control of the situation, in the Buy More, with the spy-stuff and with Sarah. It’s very clever in how Chuck is shown to be in control of his emotions now.

In control of the situation

In control of the situation

It’s a set up for suckers like me. By the end of the episode, Chuck and Hannah are kissing passionately (much to Ellie’s relief and delight) in the home theater room of the Buy More. Sarah willingly accepts Shaw rubbing her shoulders after a hard day and has told Chuck that she’s okay with his moving on with Hannah. Chuck’s told her he’s okay with Sarah being with Shaw. He is a hero, after all. They’re really saying they’re ready to move on, and the fans are upset.

Her type

Her type

They are upset by more than just the new romantic pairings. Shaw has been revealed to be less than a stellar spy – it’s his fault that the original mission failed and his fault that poison gas was released into Castle, so Shaw-as-hero gets no credence from the fans. Sarah spends 85% of the episode belittling, berating and putting off her would-be suitor, yet turns around seemingly on a dime. Her What can I say? I have a type! line is amazingly uninformative and shows a surprising lack of self-awareness. Chuck displays a despicable OOC lack of (romantic) loyalty to Sarah that seems to come out of nowhere. The idea that the Ring is after a canister of poison gas (even if it is one of many) is clearly a weak motive for any of this, and the whole “Sarah is dying but Shaw rescues her with his last breath, so he’s a hero” idea is nonsense on stilts.

At the same time, by the end of the episode all that seems almost trivial and unimportant compared to the real irritation; Sarah being attracted (at all!) to Shaw. At the end, that’s what is burned into our memory.

You’d almost think it was intentional. Wouldn’t you?

If the fans had not heard the terrible word “trapezoid” in the months preceding it’s airing, I’m starting to be convinced we would have thought Sarah’s “fling” with Shaw was going to be very temporary. We would have been happy after this.

Shaw: Morning, Walker. [Places a coffee down on Sarah’s desk]
Sarah: Okay. We need to talk.
Shaw: About last night?
Sarah: About everything. About professional boundaries. About you bringing me coffee to work every morning and noticing I like to chew on my swizzle sticks. You’re embarrassing us both. We are just colleagues and that is all we are ever going to be. So please keep your coffee and your cheesy come-ons to yourself. Okay? You got that? Good. Now let’s get back to work.

In fact, both Chuck and especially Sarah show signs of extreme, lime-green jealousy, signs that make any rational fan confident that they are only getting closer. Shippers like me had no reason to be unhappy with anything here until those last few minutes. But I confess. I was more than a little uneasy.

Maybe I was just misreading the story? That’s a question, not a statement. If that’s true, then someone did a bad job. What was I supposed to see? That too is a question. But if someone (the writers or the actors) did a bad job, then why was I so happy with the first 35 minutes (without commercials)? Why is it so clear that I was supposed to be whip-sawed by Sarah’s turn-around and by the change in Chuck? Was that the intent?

I’ll repeat my first words: I’m in an odd state about all of this and there are too many questions.

Penny To Leonard: “Don’t Overthink This”

Chuck vs. The Mask isn’t awful and it certainly isn’t genius. But oddly, it seems to go two-thirds of the way to both extremes. It’s unsettling. There’s always the option of resorting to looking at what’s obviously on the screen; Shaw the Hero, Sarah the leading lady, Chuck the lonely heart and Hannah, come to show Chuck where his heart truly lies. We can always believe that it’ll work out shortly, and we can always say that this episode was just executed poorly.

But there’s a small pearl to be found when hearing the lyrics from Astair. It’s sung just as Chuck and Sarah are trying so hard but failing to explain anything to each other – “Give me a reason that I let you down.” We long for explanations that are not being given.

That pearl is buried so deep that could barely see it. It’s hard for me to say it’s awful when the feelings I experience are this sincere and vivid, even after three years. It’s hard to say that wasn’t their intention, and success in conveying their intentions is one of the most important things. Always.

What was the intention?

First, there’s ominous “Ring music” playing when Shaw rubs Sarah’s shoulders. Did we hate Brandon Routh’s version of Shaw as a good guy? Be of cheer. Shaw is not a good guy. It’s obvious that a threat is coming from his direction and I know I missed it. I have an excuse – the threat doesn’t appear again for several episodes, and then, ambiguously. If that’s a problem with S3 (and I contend Shaw is), it’s not in this episode.

And when finally we hear Matt Costa’s Astair and take the time to look at the words, it’s impossible to not think something important is being said. They were telling us to be patient. No more, no less. A small pearl.

But the mountains and the trees
Are they what you perceive?
Or are they less than what
You’d expect to see?

And if you’re leaving well come.
Give me reason why I let you down.
Before you turn around now, now
Before you turn around.
Astair Matt Costa

– joe


About Ernie Davis

I was born in 1998, the illegitimate brain child and pen name of a surly and reclusive misanthrope with a penchant for anonymity. My offline alter ego is a convicted bibliophile and causes rampant pognophobia whenever he goes out in public. He wants to be James Lileks when he grows up or Dave Barry if he doesn’t.  His hobbies are mopery, curling and watching and writing about Chuck.  Obsessively.  Really, the dude needs serious help.
This entry was posted in Re-watch, Season 3. Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Chuck Versus The Mask (3.07)

  1. authorguy says:

    I’m not really happy with the Mask. The sheer stupidity of Shaw getting himself killed not once but twice (for stupid reasons both times), almost getting Sarah killed in the process, and then her entering into a relationship with him just doesn’t work for me. I could almost see her doing it mainly to make Chuck think she was happy with Shaw so he’d feel free to be happy with Hannah, perhaps even trying to drive him towards Hannah if only to keep him away from his Red Test.. I’d like to be able to say the symbolism saves this episode for me, and to some extent it does, but this is one of the two episodes I dislike most.

    • joe says:

      Yeah, that’s the way I feel too. I have to admit, this is the first time I’ve re-watched and not come out appreciating the episode more.

      But at the same time, I was surprised by a subtly. I subtitled this “The Whipsaw” because there was something I hadn’t noticed before, an abrupt shift to a much darker tone. It’s odd, because it’s there at the end of Nacho Platter too, but here it seems permanent. Perhaps it is. Here, it’s unexpected.

      I know how it was received and I’m more convinced than ever it was a deliberate artistic decision, so I have respect for that. Now, does it work? The unexpected is usually a good thing in entertainment, and certainly rare enough in TV.

      For me, it didn’t quite work in the short term. The shift was hard to accept. But my head is snapped because I also know it does work for me in the long term (which is about 4 weeks).

      And that too was unexpected. Lemmee tell ya, after decades of TV watching, getting me twice like that is rare.

  2. authorguy says:

    As I’ve said before, I think this season is more successful symbolically than actually. Shaw is not a convincing romantic hero, even at his most competent. He’s something Sarah is familiar with, a life she knows, and her accepting comfort from Shaw feels better to me on that level. Sure he (the spy life) screwed up and almost got her killed but that’s a risk spies take. She doesn’t hold that against him because that’s built-in. Forgiving the man for such imbecility is suicidal.
    Figuring out Hannah’s true meaning is harder.

    • joe says:

      I’m thinking in a similar vein, Marc. For me, it works better emotionally than technically. The caveat is always that I’m a bit odd this way. I don’t care so much that an episode makes me feel bad. I care that it makes me feel something.

      Far better than nothing.

      • authorguy says:

        Technically, I think they’re trying to do so much in this season Shakespeare would have a hard time making it all work seamlessly. No character is really a stock character anymore, they can’t just walk on stage and have everyone in the audience know what they are.
        Hannah is what Manoosh was not, a good person, a female version of Chuck. This episode has Hannah, the normal life, follow Chuck into his secret spy life and almost die. This is what Sarah doesn’t want for Chuck, to see this sweet guy follow her into her spy life and die. She isn’t Chuck and is pretty certain she doesn’t have it in her to save him, since she’s already failed that test.
        Or could it be that Hannah is worth saving and she is not? How far will he have to go into the spy life to save her, and what will it do to him?

      • joe says:

        I agree!
        But let me query you about one ambiguity:

        She isn’t Chuck and is pretty certain she doesn’t have it in her to save him, since she’s already failed that test.

        I gotta ask; save him from what?

        She doesn’t need to save the Intersect anymore, and I think Sarah knows that. He’s an effective spy. Save the sweet, innocent boy she met? He may have disappeared the moment he burned Manoosh, or maybe in Prague. That boy has grown up and may not need saving either, especially if there are Lous and Hannahs around.

        Maybe she wants to save him from the spy life? For Chuck, the spy life is adventure, excitement, the joy and satisfaction of doing something important and something that matters. For Sarah, it’s a place where everything is a lie, emotions are more than meaningless – they are a dangerous hindrance – and a place where everyone is compromised. She is compromised and it’s only a matter of time before Chuck is too.

        That’s got to be it. But if Chuck wants to be a spy because of her, she’s got to change his mind. Sarah must send Chuck gently away and that’s why Shaw is necessary.

        Technically, The Mask seems to have a lot of flaws. But I can’t see any way to change things without losing the story’s integrity.

      • authorguy says:

        Becoming a dark, burnt-out, passionless shell of a man, as she feels herself to have been prior to meeting Chuck. Not death of the body but death of the soul. Chuck doesn’t realize that he’s the hero, not Shaw, and it’s his heroism she’s trying to save.
        Which is why she’s trying to send Chuck away, hook him up with Hannah while she settles for Shaw, so he doesn’t feel like he has to stay to keep her from being alone.
        There may be ways to handle the storyline without the technical flaws, but that may require Shakespeare to do, with only 42 minutes. Shaw being stupid is simply a (bad) way to get the plot moving. The story reeks of having been plotted in reverse. How do we endanger Hannah with lots of time to come to the rescue? How about a vacuum chamber? and so on…
        Not the way to do it.

  3. Bill says:

    Thank you Ernie, Joe, and authorguy for continuing the discussion. I don’t really have anything to add to your commentary, but wanted you to know that I still look forward to Monday mornings to see what you have to say about S3.

  4. Joel says:

    Even if Shaw were super charming, it would be really hard to buy Sarah going from “get your hands off me!” to “The way you touched my neck was nice” in so little time.

    Anyway, I think this is a bad episode even if you ignore the character problems and love triangles. One of the few truly bad Chuck episodes, I think. There’s very little comedy (Morgan and Ellie are fun together and Casey says “When do I get to blow something up?”…and that’s about it), Casey may as well not be there, and the spy storyline feels like it was written on autopilot – it doesn’t try to do anything even slightly interesting.

    • authorguy says:

      None of which is necessarily ‘bad’ unless you require Casey action and comedy. My objections to the story are more about plot elements that are pretty stupid, such as Shaw being so reckless, or the Ring being so desperate about a single cannister of nerve gas.
      Sarah sudddenly accepting Shaw’s touch is understandable given that the previous 42 minutes of show just happened. She’s trying to go back to the spy life she knew (even if it’s far too late for that).

      • Joel says:

        Well, it doesn’t necessarily have be an action for Casey, I just don’t like how the third-main character basically has nothing to do the whole time.

        But yes, the comedy is extremely important to the show for me.

      • Joel says:

        Of course, that doesn’t mean every single episode has to be comedy-heavy. But Mask has less than a lot of the big dramatic episodes and definitely doesn’t pull its weight with the drama either.

      • authorguy says:

        Casey could have been used very well as a Greek Chorus. After the conversation where they don’t communicate, he could have simply said, “You almost sound like you meant that, Walker?” and she could have replied, “If it keeps him safe I’ll say whatever I have to say.” That would have cleared up everything. But the wt/wt-lust from Schwedak probably argued against such clarity. Or the writers were idiots.

  5. Vladimir says:

    This was my least favorite television episode of any show I’ve ever liked, if that makes any sense. I’ve quit shows (with not as much accumulated goodwill) for travesties less egregious than the juvenile, whiplash-inducing “I have a type” scene.

    I recall, upon first viewing, the impression that Yvonne Strahovski looked visibly embarrassed–the actress, not the character–to be portraying that scene. It brought to mind a hostage video where the guy is blinking out a message in Morse code while reading the bad guys’ propaganda.

    This episode vaporized the benefit of the doubt large portions of the audience afforded those responsible for its production, as much for the perceived incompetence of its execution as for the thematic and story choices it reflected. That’s a big deal because once lost, it can never be fully recovered.

  6. I agree,Vladimir .I always managed to interpret this episode that Sarah was trying to do the right thing for Chuck,and with Bryce Larkin or Cole Barker it might have worked or at least been acceptable,but with Brandon Routh as Shaw,no chance whatsoever.Sorry but even Yvonne cannot do chemistry with a plank of wood(ie devoid of charm),particularly with such a sudden change of direction.

  7. Arya's Prayers says:

    So this post got more than a little out of hand but here goes…

    Please don’t read this as a justification of what ended up in this episode. I agree it failed. But I do think there’s a perfectly understandable (although maddeningly frustrating) chain of events between C and S that could have led to the same result.

    The “I have a type” conversation is definitely a “whiplash” moment but there’s an element of it that I love that I’ll get to eventually.

    There’s been a lot of discussion already about Chuck and Hannah but they’ve gone from casual flirting in First Class (I still don’t have that big a problem with that other than what it is setting up – I thought it was mostly harmless except for two specific expressions on Chuck’s face – as a whole that’s pretty harmless) to Chuck being pretty dismissive and downright rude to her (when he keeps skipping out on her training and eventually ‘steals’ the sale from her with Manoosh).

    The fact that C&S have a jealous confrontation about Hannah and Shaw was actually briefly encouraging. If they’re jealous of a kiss ambush from stalker Hannah and an inappropriate level of on-mission flirting from Shaw then it’s clear that they aren’t over each other. If anything, the biggest push to Chuck toward Hannah is seeing Shaw comforting a barely conscious Sarah – and he definitely read way too much into Sarah’s feelings in that situation. This may have pushed him toward Hannah and nothing about it was Sarah’s doing.

    The harder part to follow is Sarah. She goes from “Enough with the coffee” to “Stop touching me” to “it was kinda nice” to “yeah, he is pretty dreamy” way too fast. All of the above are exaggerations but it started in First Class with another point of confusion.

    I felt like Sarah used the Bryce story in First Class to deflect attention from her presence near Chuck’s training facility (and, really, Lisbon isn’t close to Prague by any definition other than cosmic – not that we dumb Americans would realize that – we apparently think every city in Europe is practically next door to every other and just choose the ones with cool sounding names – FYI it’s roughly the same distance (within 50 miles) as NYC to Denver, CO!!). Shaw is pushing her on whether she was there for Chuck and his motives for asking are unclear.

    Sarah isn’t ready to admit her feelings to herself much less to her new ‘superior’. So when she convinces him that it was about Bryce rather than Chuck and he pulls the “we both fell in love with spies” routine it shouldn’t be a bonding experience, she should be relieved that she threw him off the scent. Also, I can’t imagine anything less appealing than a man still obsessed over his dead wife. Although to be fair it did humanize him a bit just at the expense of some logical breakdowns in other areas.

    If anything, this should be a “the guy I AM in love with (Chuck) is becoming a spy and we’ll be just as doomed as Mr. and Mrs. Shaw” moment in Sarah’s mind – not the beginning of her ‘affection’ for Shaw (and I NEVER took it as a ‘beginning’ for them).

    I really think the show runners confused themselves here.
    Or it didn’t come across as intended.
    Or both.

    Then Shaw is absent from ‘Nacho’ but Sarah’s misgivings about Chuck and the spy life continue. Now, here, the whole “I liked the neck touching” moment was gag-worthy. A case could be made for “it’s just nice to have some affection” but that is so demeaning to Sarah. Anytime there’s a male character pulling a “you say ‘no’ but I know you like it” – even if its the male lead and I LIKE him – its hard to see it as anything but demeaning when the female character – much less one as strong as Sarah – reverses course and says “you’re right, I was just playing hard to get”. I have to chalk this piece of the chain up to Sarah’s delirium under the influence of the Chuck-drug-of-the-week.

    So by the time we reach the “I have a type” conversation the fact that they are giving each other explicit permission to pursue other relationships was a “wait, what?” moment for me.

    It may have been better if it was clear to the audience, but not to each other, that they didn’t want to pursue other relationships but each thought that was what the other wanted. I think that may be what they were going for but it ended up being played as driven by genuine interest in the OLIs but it feels more believable if it was jealous reactions to what they each THOUGHT the other wanted and settling for convenient relationships to ‘prove’ they were OK with what they thought to be the other person’s choice to move on.

    For me the only redeeming thing about the “I have a type” conversation was the line itself. When they somewhat-less-than-artfully have Chuck inject the word “hero” in reference to Shaw it sets up a parallel to some late season 2 conversations between Sarah and Chuck.

    And here’s the point of my entire essay:
    I always – from the first time I heard it – took the line “What can I say, I have a type.” to be intended by Sarah to be entirely about Chuck.

    It was Sarah’s last feeble attempt to tell him who she really wants just in typically cryptic Sarah fashion.

    She’s called him a hero before and she’s doing it again now. It has nothing to do with Shaw. But if Chuck sees it that way then he’s just seeing Bryce and Cole all over again and his inability to measure up. And that could push him to at least try something with Hannah. (It wouldn’t be the first time Chuck was a reactionary horn dog when things weren’t going well with Sarah.)

    But there’s no way she would have said “Please, don’t go.” Even if it was what she was thinking. She really does suck at this.

    As usual, he doesn’t get it. And goes off to see Hannah, make out with her at the Buy More and take her home with him. Of course this pushes Sarah away. Especially after – at least in her mind – she finally put aside her anger and tried to reach out to him.

    Is it possible the entire cycle of him thinking she wants something she doesn’t which makes him act a way that she interprets as wanting something he doesn’t, etc., etc. is what pushes each other toward the other love interests more than anything else? Is it all just because they’re ‘crap communicators’ and unwilling or afraid to say what they really want?

    Once Chuck realizes his mistake (and it was played as being all about the fact that he has to hide half his life but how much is that he’s still in love with Sarah?) we apparently need Sarah involved with someone else so it’s not too easy for Chuck to get her back.

    This show has always been ‘Chuck’s story’ and TPTB never said anything otherwise. The problem I had is that, as fun as the Chuck story was and is, I found the Sarah story up to this point far more interesting and compelling (though never nearly as fun). Even the fact that she was emotionally devastated by Chuck’s ‘rejection’ of her and her poorly conceived plan in Prague. The fact that she was capable of that degree of hurt shows how deeply she cares for him.

    At this point in her story she knows she ‘wants to be a real person again’ but isn’t nearly ready to leave the only life she knows behind. A life with Chuck was her plan A but now that’s imploding for multiple reasons. A dalliance with Shaw (urgh – sorry, threw up in my mouth a little there…) may be her plan B but it doesn’t get her any closer to a ‘real person’. But I have a major problem with the personification of the two ‘options’.

    I like Marc’s assessment of both Shaw and Hannah as symbols – Sarah’s regression back to the spy life and Chuck’s lingering belief that he can keep a foot in both worlds – but my major problem with Sarah’s portrayal during this period is that both ends of Sarah’s spectrum are personified by men. She shouldn’t NEED a man for anything – even Chuck.

    Seeing Chuck – her personification of ‘normal’ or life as a real person – crumbling under the weight of the spy world has to be difficult but shouldn’t mean that door is closed to her if she wants it. Likewise, regressing back to ‘just a spy’ doesn’t have to include a relationship with a Bryce clone who turns out to be moderately psychotic. We don’t have any indication – other than Casey’s barbs – that Bryce was part of a long established pattern. I prefer to think that Bryce was her first semblance of a relationship and she now realizes that type of ‘relationship’ is incomplete.

    So while Chuck’s actions or misguided reactions ‘pushed’ Sarah toward Shaw here and in ‘Fake Name’ I have to think that the S/S relationship was damaged in ‘Beard’ (another clunky handling to be generous) and destroyed in ‘Final Exam’ (how could she possibly stay with the man who ordered her to administer the red test explicitly because Chuck would do it for her). So by then she’s just going through the motions to get the hell out of Burbank. But the relationship itself was just another artificial obstacle in the Chuck story rather than a feasible part of the Sarah story.

    Anyway – my biggest point here was that “I have a type” is all about Chuck in Sarah’s mind but all about Shaw in Chuck’s. And maybe that difference is what drove this whole downward spiral of misinterpreted intentions and bad choices.

    That may not be what ended up on screen but I think these two incredibly insecure characters could easily have assumed that they each were not what the other wanted anymore and that assumption – driven by their own insecurities – caused their own vicious cycle of hiding from their feelings, hiding their feelings from each other, misreading the others intensions and making really poor, reactionary decisions.

    Whew, I need some oxygen…

    • Ernie Davis says:

      First of all. excellent post with a lot of food for thought. I think you are saying what I tried to say as far as the “type” scene goes. Sarah was most definitely referring to Chuck as both a hero and her type.

      From the closing of my essay, stripped of some excess verbiage for clarity:

      The scene encapsulates the very nature of the CRM. Neither Chuck not Sarah thinks themselves good enough for the other … both are too insecure and afraid of that rejection. Shaw’s presence is the closing parenthesis on Cole, telling him every day, you aren’t that guy, the guy who can be the man Sarah needs. They don’t fight for each other. They step aside once again to let the other move on with that far more suitable mate. It’s heartbreaking to watch, once more the miss the point, miss-communicate and slip away from what could have been the moment they understood to a moment that separates them further. But it is an honest portrayal of where they are.

      Each of them is under the impression that the other has moved on, and to be sure they aren’t holding the other back each declines to clear up that misunderstanding and moves on themselves.

    • joe says:

      Breathe, Arya, breathe!

      I’ll echo Ernie’s “Excellent post” notion. Near genius, I’d say (which usually translates to “Now why didn’t I think of that???”, you understand… 😉 ).

      Because of something I saw for the first time in the upcoming Fake Name review (coming very soon to a blog near you) I’m going to say that I wasn’t convinced even last week that Sarah was talking about Chuck when she said that she has “a type.” This week, I am.

      Yeah, it’s in the next post, but I’d like everyone who sees these pixels to remember what you wrote and ask the same question when Sarah says “…I want to remember who I am, who I was before all of this.” I start to think we all misunderstood in the same way.

  8. JC says:

    I’ve softened my opinion on this episode. Its not as bad as I thought at the time. If this had been any other show the relationship changes would have occurred over a few episodes. Shaw and Hannah might have been given a chance to develop personalities. Instead all of this happens in about 45 minutes which made everyone involved look like idiots.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Good to see you stopping by JC. While not denying it’s problems I purposefully looked for the hints that Sarah and Shaw were building some romantic tension, and while they are a bit subtle they are there. They play it as “the lady doth protest too much” with Sarah this episode, and you can even see Chuck and Casey exchange a look over a look that Sarah and Shaw exchange. There are also hints in earlier episodes that Sarah and Shaw have become confidants, each keeping the other’s secrets. Again, too subtle, but there was an effort to build something in previous episodes. Given that Channah worked better than Sham they probably needed one more episode with Shaw and Sarah interacting on a more friendly basis.

      Having said that I am starting to feel that they intentionally are portraying Shaw as kind of a jerk. As cocky as Cole but lacking his sincerity. In addition I think they are telling us that he is insanely jealous of Chuck and the fact that Sarah will never feel the way about him she does about Chuck. Most of that is next week however.

    • authorguy says:

      This is often what I mean by symbolism. In crime shows, the police arresting the bad guy is a shorthand for the entire legal process to come, which the show has no time to present. The arrest = the trial and inevitable conviction. A lot of what happened on Chuck used to be shown in S1 and S2, which in S3 has to be presented in this sort of shorthand.

  9. Ernie & Joe,thank you once again for your wonderful comments on a most difficult episode to try to make sense of and enjoy to the full.I agree completely with all contributors that I always believed that Sarah’s “I have a type” referred to Chuck,whilst trying to let him go,against her own real desires.
    On a different tack in case you do not know,Yvonne has just received confirmation of a Theatre World Award for outstanding debut on Broadway,which in my view reflects not only on her but also on Chuck and hopefully may also increase the chances of some sort of a return for our favourite show one day.

    • joe says:

      Yes! Wasn’t that great news?

      Thanks for the compliment, Yoza. I havta say, I never really thought that Sarah was referring to anyone but Shaw/Bryce/Cole with that line about her “type”. But I’m reconsidering. Maybe she was thinking of Chuck, but just didn’t want to say so at that moment outright. It would be consistent with a lot of things we’ve already seen.

    • authorguy says:

      Only if it’s a labor of love on her part. Things like that allow her to charge more as an actress, and she’d have to take a pay cut to work on the project, and time out of something else.

  10. Noted,but I think it would be!!

  11. garnet says:

    I haven’t been commenting much recently as I have not had that much to add, And I have been reading authorguy’s stories (and enjoying them very much). I have to agree with the emotional whiplash comments. Although I’d agree with the idea that Sarah and Chuck were basically setting each other free for their own somewhat twisted reasons, that still doesn’t explain the need for Sarah to actually enter into a relationship with Shaw. The same effect could have been achieved without actually having her climb into Shaw’s …arms.It does “up the angst” when Chuck comes to his senses and discovers that Sarah is the one for him (duh!) only to discover Sarah has moved on, but it is fair to say that most of us were tired of the contrived separation but that point, and the fact that the Shaw/Sarah had no chemistry at all (not in the slightest, not even a little bit, not in TPTB’s worst dreams) doesn’t help.

    • authorguy says:

      Thanks for the support, garnet. The so-called ‘romance’ between Shaw and Sarah makes more sense to me as Sarah attempting to go back to being a pure spy. The lack of chemistry is intentional, since she has become a real girl and no longer belongs in the spy world. At face value it simply doesn’t work, which leads me as a storyteller to wonder on what level it does, and search until I find it. Only when the story makes no sense in any interpretation would I write it off completely. (I’m good at spotting those, although I sometimes don’t understand why for a long time.) I support S3 for that reason. The images shown on the screen are at odds with the story being told. If there is anything that is dubious to me about the symbolism it is Hannah, who isn’t really needed as a link to the normal life, as Chuck has many of those. She is, however, expendable, which the others are not, so when Chuck commits to the spy life at last, she can take the hit instead of Morgan or Ellie.

    • joe says:

      Garnet, I’m running out, so honestly, I haven’t had time to think this through. Your words brought something to mind, though.

      Is it possible that Sarah is a character who is fixated on doing “what she aught” instead of what she should? Does she think that, regardless of her feelings (which are to be locked away where no one finds them), she thinks she aught to be in love with “her type” (meaning Shaw) so she must follow through?

      I’m not sure. But somehow, I see undertones of that.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I just look at it as a changed Sarah who needs to form an emotional connection. She’s lonely and the support system she had in Chuck and his family is no longer available to her, plus she’s experiencing a lot of stress emotionally. This boils over next week when she goes to talk to the only person she can, and what started as needing someone to talk to turns into a weird sort of seduction on Shaw’s part.

  12. ref51907 says:

    -I like this episode, mainly b/c Yvonne’s performance. She is a master at using body language. So many subtle clues here that give away, I think, what she was really thinking and feeling despite what we heard. Plus hindsight is always 20/20.
    – The video logs tell us she has already admitted to herself she loves him. Hence her choices at the end of season 2 and through the first half of season 3.
    -I believe she just wanted to push him away during Pink Slip. The pain was just to much. Then Carina shows up and leaves the video surveillance with her. That is where the dichotomy starts and Yvonne nails it.
    -It’s b/c of her love for him and the lessons he learned while Sarah was doing her job in season 1 and 2 that he becomes a spy. She probably felt like she opened him up to her world and gave him no choice but to become a spy. She heard him say I did it b/c I love you. She can’t reconcile that knowing where this road is going to eventually lead. She then begins to hate herself, not him, but herself. There is a big difference. She loves him and hates herself. You can not give someone something you don’t have. All she has inside is hatred of herself, jealousy of Hannah, and hundreds of other wrong emotions. She probably even distrusts herself now.
    -The seemingly multiple personalities now start to kick in. She went back to what was normal for her. A life with little concern of the consequences, though she really only cares about what Chuck wants. See dichotomy.
    Lots of other examples abound and I have no problem with it. I don’t like to see it b/c I see it all the time with the teenagers and adults I work with but it is real. And in a few episodes we will find out why his choice and red test almost brought her the breaking point of her relationship with him.


  13. All I can say in reply is………………Brilliant!!!!!

    • joe says:

      If you mean what Ref said above, I agree!

      I really like seeing it in terms of the tension inside Sarah because of that dichotomy, the split between her two worlds and the split between her head and her heart. It’s there only because she put it there, and Sarah’s beginning to realize it.

  14. Good afternoon Ernie,Joe,Liz,Faith,actdave,and Ref51907
    My respone on what Ref51907 said above is absolutly right when it comes to Sarah! When you are very conflicted like she is. Then add Confusion in the mix like you had in this episode equals “TURMOIL” and you see that in the next few epsides!

    JUST A REMINDER CHUCK FANS!!!! Read my blog on the eight episodes of CHUCK S3 WHAT ITS REALLY ABOUT PART ONE at

  15. resaw says:

    Throwing in my two cents here at the end of the week (I was on vacation). For the most part, I really appreciate this episode. I agree that the crucial point of the episode is the conversation between Chuck and Sarah, and Sarah’s observation about having a type. I hadn’t really thought about it, though, that Sarah was talking about Chuck, until now. But upon re-watching, I see that when Chuck concedes that if Sarah’s going to be with someone it might as well be a hero, and Sarah agrees by saying she has a type, she is including Chuck in that type, while Chuck is excluding himself. The other interesting thing to me is the expression on Sarah’s face when Chuck turns around. Her sad smile, when she says, “Bye, Chuck,” is followed by a sigh and a decidedly downcast countenance. The CRM (had to look that up in your lingo/acronym section) is absolutely front and centre here, and to me her expression suggests that she is indeed pining for the restoration of the relationship with Chuck but she doesn’t know how to get back to that place and can’t bear to put herself out there again. Shaw is safe, “the safest guy in the world,” as he massages her neck, which in itself portends for ill, as we all know.

    A great discussion, everyone. Thank you.

  16. Pingback: Episode of the Week: Chuck vs The Mask (3.07) | Chuck This

Comments are closed.