For so many of us, Fake Name is a focal point for what was wrong with Season Three. And we can find many layers of things that went wrong, there is no one thing. I expect even among we who hated this episode we can get into some heated arguments over why we dislike it so much! It is not an easy thing to define, and we can find offense in so many different things.
And yet, as is so often the case, that passionate dislike has inspired so much thought. Both musings of “what ifs” like we so often do here, and some very involved and well written fan fiction. So let’s collect our thoughts, and take a hard look at how characters and story might have managed in more appealing or intriguing ways.
I think its safe to call this episode the nadir of the entire series. It may not actually be my most hated episode (Final Exam gets that dubious honor), but its really a close run thing. And there’s just so much to dislike here. Starting with meta-humor that seems to rub me wrong in every way (so now Jeff and a pair of hoodlums are the voices of wisdom?). But Sarah’s deepening involvement with a contemptible and incompetent colleague, and the “likable” protagonist acting like one of the biggest slime-balls imaginable, make Fake Name look like a creative experiment on how to ruin a good show. This is the sort of thing that cannot be “fixed”, my later enjoyment of the series hinges on just ignoring this episode.
I’m not sure how specific to get on what all I don’t like. I would rather just move on, but I feel some obligation to be specific too. Even if Chuck were truly done with Sarah, he gets involved with Hannah far to quickly. This strikes me as grotesque excess and a depressing character failure at best. If we add in the idea that Chuck is in love with someone else, this just completely undermines the character. I cannot take him seriously as any sort of “good guy” if I accept his behavior here. This may just be an example of the massive disconnect of values between middle America and Hollywood. Did those responsible even think about how this would be received? And Chuck’s juvenile celebration in front of co-workers, including Sarah, the day after leaves me even more disappointed in both the character and those responsible. Chuck’s “revelation” about loving Sarah towards the end of the episode could have been important, but he’s already had this revelation, and apparently he will need to have a re-revelation the following week before it starts to stick. I have no doubt S3 apologists can explain to us why each moment matters and is different, but this is just horrible entertainment. Chuck is presented as a both a jerk, and kind of dense. We have completely lost the sweet guy who filmed the ballerina in the Pilot. This is part of the re-invention of the show that I loath; I can no longer relate to Chuck, and I really don’t want to. Only if I ignore this, can I enjoy 3.13 to the end of the series. If this were a more serious sort of show, I could imagine Chuck apologizing to several people in a way that might have helped me feel better about things. But that won’t happen, so ignoring is mandatory for me.
The next really big/bad moment involves Sarah’s near death experience. I simply can’t accept that she would return to Shaw in the aftermath of this episode. He is such a horribly unappealing character, and such experiences are supposed to make us think about what’s important, right? Well never fear, Zombie Sarah will do no such thinking, and back to Shaw she goes. Just Yuck. Sham is not cute or appealing on any level.
Now it seems I’m forgetting something…
Could it have something to do with Sarah revealing her “real” name to a character who doesn’t care and she doesn’t love? Could it be a massive story telling failure of a plot point that was teased in Helicopter (1.02), Wookiee (1.04), and Cougars (2.04) unexpectedly being wasted in a way that is offensive and hurtful to a major portion of the fan base? Naw. No one would do that. I really have little else to say about this. I guess we were just supposed to believe Chuck didn’t care anymore when he told Sarah he didn’t need to know. Obviously this was all our fault for thinking it was important.
Honestly I just wish I could forget this episode. Post series Sarah may actually be fortunate if she never remembers this chapter of her life.
So what could have made this episode more appealing? Oi. Last week I talked about long and short fixes. So let’s start with the long fix again. Most obviously, Chuck and Sarah need to be in a committed relationship by this point. The estrangement is killing the show for me. There is so much potential for a secret relationship at this point. Back when the episode first ran, this was sort of the last gasp for the hope that something in fact was going on behind the scenes and we just hadn’t seen it yet. The idea I always had for the name reveal was Chuck getting run down and depressed over the various lies and covers he was living with, and Sarah rewarding him with that one real thing to lift his spirits. Presumably once she spoke her real name, he would flash, and know it was true. Could have been fun.
I’ve got less for a short fix this week. There is just so much unappealing here, half the episode needs to be cut and replaced. In terms of quantity of unacceptable material, Fake Name is clearly tops. I mentioned up top, Final Exam is my most hated episode, and it is; but mainly for the horrific ending we will discuss more in a couple weeks. A few other episodes have truly horrible moments that need to be redone. But Fake Name is just jam packed with them.
Moving on to fan fiction, this episode is certainly well served. Let me start with good moments from a couple of longer stories. Many of you are likely familiar with Nervert and his late S3 alternatives “Chuck Vs The Pacific Northwest” and its sequel “The Revenge of the Bartowski“. The bad news is, the sequel remains unfinished and seems likely to stay that way now. And I must admit, I removed it from my favorites list some time ago. I don’t enjoy themes of mind control, Intersect zombies, or abandonment. (oddly,this isn’t the only high profile story I removed for exactly the same issues!) But that said, Nervert is an excellent writer. There are many fun and funny moments, great character development and well written action. But the relevant fact here is one of the very best takes on the name reveal. It went off as in canon, except Sarah reveals to Chuck that she lied to Shaw. They discuss it chapter six, and I won’t reveal it here, but this is easily the funniest “real name” for Sarah I’ve seen in any story. And its very well told.
I also need to mention NinjaVanish’s epic “Chuck and Sarah vs Themselves” again. Most of the Hannah story plays out in chapters three and four. The first highlight is Hannah trying to convince Chuck that Sarah has already moved on, with Casey. Very funny, poor Sarah. But it gets much better. Sarah has strongly suggested Chuck play along a little. Chuck thinks that might be a bad idea. This leads to “The Awkwardest Night Ever” in chapter four. Trust me, it is. And side splittingly funny. Oh do I wish the show had done something more like this! It is just infinitely better than what was done, its not even close. NV will stray much farther from canon in the following chapters, so I think we won’t revisit this story again in this series. But it is an excellent tale all the way through; and if explosive action, a Comic Con wedding, and Chuck and Sarah trying to pretend to just be friends while secretly dating, while undercover as married Russian arms dealers pretending to be newlyweds sounds amusing to you, give it a read!
The most direct treatment of the episode itself once again comes from KateMcK. Chapter seven of “Chuck vs the Fight” once again provides an appealing fix to the featured episode. Funny the difference a single honest conversation might have made. The initiative for making things right here comes mainly from Sarah. But canon has become such a burden to the story-teller at this point. Kate herself states the only real fix for the episode is brain bleach. Quite the testimonial!
A real special treat to come from this episode would be another very favorite of mine, “Parting Gifts” by Course Jester. This is powerfully bitter-sweet. Unlike the previous story, this time Chuck takes most of the initiative in making things right. I like how looking at this and the previous story we can imagine things being made better in a few different ways or coming from either party.
This was another long(ish) post for me. I feel like I could have gone into so much more detail on certain things still. But I really am trying to just leave the episode itself behind. Obviously, for all of you, you can take your own turns at griping and moaning. In the over three years since this first ran, griping and moaning have become a time honored tradition for Fake Name. Alternate suggestions are even better. I would love to hear from all of you with story ideas that would be interesting and fun twists on what the show actually did. Next week, we’ll look at an episode that wasn’t completely hopeless! I can hardly wait…