Chuck Versus The Beard (3.09)

Beard: (slang) A man or woman in a fake relationship used for cover.

VivaBuyMoriaAn iconic moment in Chuck history, captured for posterity. It’s hard to believe that an episode that had Chuck so down could be so much fun. But goodness this episode was fun. Chuck’s turning point in this season fittingly takes place where his journey started, in the Buy More. And what a contrast to when we started. Morgan is assistant manager, Chuck has his Stanford degree, Anna has (sadly) moved on and Jeffster fulfilled their dream of playing a wedding. But despite all his progress as a person, as a hero, and as a spy, Chuck is at a low-point. Not quite a Cheese-balls and bathrobe low-point, but a serious one nonetheless. His secret life has alienated his friends and family, cost him his best girl and left him with nothing but spying to fill the void, and now he can’t even do that. Join me to see if Chuck can get it together with a look back at Chuck Versus The Beard, after the jump.

After a tumultuous episode last week Chuck finds himself a bit out of sorts. He can’t flash and gets benched from his own team. He can’t come up with anything to tell Morgan and get’s fired as his best friend, and even the Buy More seems an iffy proposition. What’s a guy to do when you’r found lacking in the eyes of Morgan Grimes. Chuck needs a Lloyd Dobler dare to be great moment. But how to get one when your own team won’t let you go on a mission? How do you get your mojo back?

So the Buy More is the focus of this week’s episode, and it is a world Zach Levi understands very well. In his directional debut we see it as a place virtually beyond belief, but for our leading man’s utter disinterest born of many years residence in it’s antics. The shot that passes Jeff attempt to place an entire apple in his mouth on a bet, only to show his success as it passes back speaks to how utterly ordinary this all is to Chuck. It’s fun to see Chuck still in his element as the king of the Buy More. Sadly Buymoria finds itself under siege again. In another perfect scene from Zach, the blood oath to stick together unravels as soon as Lester get’s picked to be interviewed first.

It seems that the worst kept secret in the spy world, the “special” nature of the Burbank Buy More is once again the plot device for the week. The Ring, apparently tired of trying to kill Shaw and failing yet again has decided they need to find out what Shaw knows, and destroy it. Unfortunately one Agent Charles Carmichael has been left behind to protect the base.

It is a pretty straightforward episode, mostly played for the hijinks of the Buy More and Awesome’s growing unease at carrying and protecting Chuck’s secret, and the knowledge of what that secret means. For he and Ellie.

The fun of Morgan’s discovery and his subsequent reaction, much like Chuck’s nature, put away the loser, step up and be a hero, is a wonderful moment for the bearded troll. Arming himself with electric knives and mace is classic Morgan. Ever consider the bad guys have guns? Your Benihana’s skills may fall a bit short buddy.

Chuck and Morgan’s capture provides the dramatic pivot of the episode. I recall being genuinely horrified that Morgan would be tortured, or that Chuck would let him be. But the payoff is amazing. Chuck and Morgan get to re-bond as best friends, and Chuck gets to remember why he started all of this. Because he loves Sarah, and to protect those around him unaware of this world he’s chosen to enter. I like to think that Chuck’s big realization is that Sarah was never his beard, the relationship, as complicated as it got, was always real. It was the cover that was fake. Chuck was always a hero, and he and Sarah always loved each other. He just needed to find a way to make it work.

It’s always great fun to see Chuck get to be awesome, and this weeks fight, (and an even more awesome one next week) see’s Zach Levi reaching nearly Yvonne skill levels at selling an action sequence. And Morgan’s Ewok impersonation was the perfect coda. Aside from his very own smoke machine entrance and Chuck facing down Shaw (with an assist from Sarah).

In the end I guess I have so little to say about this episode because there is little to complain about, and too much fun to try to list all the moments I liked. I’ll just settle for quoting Morgan Guillermo Grimes.

Wow. WOW!

~ Ernie

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It Ain’t Me!

Call me foolish [“Sure. You’re foolish, Buckley!”] but I like Chuck vs. The Beard. I mean, I really, really like it [“And stop channeling Sally Field, will ya?”]. It’s not just because Zac directed the episode.

Here we are, at or near the depths of the dreaded Chuck Season 3 and at a point where many were thoroughly disgruntled with the changes that had come over Chuck and especially Sarah.

But now, this episode is a treat. In fact, it looks much more like one that belongs in Season 1 than in Season 3, and it makes me just that happy. Ernie, being prescient, nailed it in his review back in March of 2010, Chuck is Back.

Wasn’t that fun? It feels good to be back. There is a part of me that wants to grab Schwartz and/or Fedak by the lapels, shake them violently and scream in their face “WAS THAT SO HARD?!?!?” OK, all of me wants to do that. Mostly I’m just grateful to have Chuck back.

Heh! Sorry Ernie. I don’t mean to crib from your work, but I found that posts after I started writing. It fit my mood so well, I just couldn’t resist.

And that’s the tag line. If you haven’t re-watched Beard yet, do it! Worth every minute.

So what’s the deal here? What am I seeing now that I didn’t see the first time through? That may take a bit of explaining, so bear with me (again).

Right now in the story, Chuck’s lost a couple of things. He’s lost Hannah, he’s lost some self-respect (that’s what happens when a catch like Hannah tells you you’re a jerk and a liar), he’s lost the ability to flash, his job as a spy (at least temporarily) and he’s lost Sarah. That’s pretty ugly. In fact, it’s pretty much exactly where Chuck was in the pilot episode and why I think it has that feel.

Now in Beard Chuck’s situation actually gets worse. He’s loses Morgan. That’s a metaphor, of course. All those times that Chuck’s been flying around at ten-thousand feet, out there saving the world, and especially all those times he’s been doing that with Sarah, Chuck’s been losing sight of things back here on the ground. He’s been forgetting about the Buy More and saddest of all, forgetting that family and friends like Morgan are just as important as the world. When Buy More Corporate Big Wigs ™ Del (Diedrich Bader, a fantastic comedic actor from the Drew Carey Show) and Neil (Cedric Yarbrough, who’s been seen everywhere) threaten to take even the Buy More away from Chuck, he’s got nothing left. When Morgan fires him as his best friend, even Chuck realizes it.

Vive la révolution!

Vive la révolution!

The Buy Morons choose this moment to stage a revolution. It may look like they’re rebelling against “The Man”, but it’s really their way of showing Chuck that, yes, they’re still here and they still count. Vive la révolution! And as Lester would quickly add, “Right-on, brotha!” In one of the most hilarious scenes ever, Casey joins this uprising, unexpectedly!

Fight "the man!"

Fight “the man!”

Casey: What is going on here?
Big Mike: Store’s being bought. They’re canning everybody except Bartowski and Grimes.
Jeff: We’re staging a revolution, to take down the man.
Casey: I want in.
Lester: How do we know we can trust you, sir? – that you’re not some kind of spy for the man?
Casey: Because the only thing I hate more than hippie, neo-liberal fascists and anarchists are the hypocrite fat-cat suits they eventually grow up to become.
Lester: Yup. That works for me. Good point. Nice to chat.

When the Morons stage their uprising, Chuck starts to recognizes the hole he’s dug for himself. But why is he in that hole to begin with? Chuck has been not-Chuck for more than a few episodes now, because he’s been a good spy. He’s been in control of the Intersect, a great partner for Sarah on missions, able to hide the truth from Hannah, Ellie and Morgan and even able to burn an asset, all this by doing exactly what Sarah does and told him to do – control his emotions. That’s why he’s in that hole.

And that’s not him. All that control may have made Chuck an effective spy recently, but it’s left him unable to flash and unable to talk to his friends. In other words, he got what he said he wanted, and he’s got nothin’. It’s made him not-Chuck. It’s time to stop digging.

Once Chuck looks around to see that that Morgan and the Buy More are in serious trouble, he places his feet firmly on the ground. Cool. Chuck as we knew him is back, and not a moment too soon. Now what about Sarah?

Ah, Sarah is the master at hiding her emotions. If Chuck is emotionally constipated, she’s even worse, burying her emotions so deep that we’re starting to think she’s a zombie. Dead inside. Did you think Shaw was a love interest for Sarah? I thought love was something that makes you feel alive, not dead. The only difference between Shaw and a mark is that Sarah generally knows when she’s putting on a show for a mark. With Shaw she’s lying to herself. Or, at least, she’s playing the part she thinks she aught to play; half of the good looking couple.

With Shaw, Sarah is expertly going through the motions, acting like a girlfriend, feeling lost. She tells Chuck that she “has a type” without ever saying what that type might be and uses her boss as a therapist when she needs to talk to someone. BTW, Shaw is a lousy therapist.

Did I just say Sarah was using Shaw? Yes, I did. She’s using him to maintain an image, the image she has of herself as a spy, leading a life of glamour and adventure with that kind of guy. But that’s not Sarah; she doesn’t use people. But in this case, why not? She’s got an excuse – Sarah’s not communicating with Chuck, and Chuck’s not communicating with her. Well, it’s not like she didn’t try.

Chuck: I gave up everything for this.
Sarah: Maybe some time off will do you good, help you function again.
Chuck: I don’t need time off. Okay? Maybe I’m not flashing because I have emotions bottled up in me. Ever thought of that? I mean – I – I just broke up with Hannah. I can’t talk to my best friend or sister about anything in my life… I’m not a machine! Okay, I am a machine, but I’m also a person.
Sarah: Well, you can always talk to us.

You can always talk to - me.

You can always talk to – me.

… to which, Chuck says “No thanks.” Yeah, if Sarah is in a relationship with Shaw, she’s taking a bit more from him than she’s giving back, which is pretty much nothing. What’s interesting is that she’s not doing that with Chuck. Watch her eyes when she says “You can always talk to us.” For my money, that’s a look of helpless concern you see there. She’s begging him to open up and be part of the team again and it makes me realize she’s treating Shaw far differently.

Now, the controversy. Shaw has a situation on his hands. Del and Neil aren’t Buy More Corporate Big-Wigs. They’re Ring Agents, and not only do they have the Buy More hostage, they have Castle too. There are protocols for things like this; you know, those times when The Ring takes over your secret base with all it’s intel about everything. And Shaw is a “by-the-books” kinda guy. He’ll do exactly what “The Book” says to do.

Arguing with the boss

Arguing with the boss

Shaw: Castle has a self-destruct program in case of catastrophic events like this. Calling Langley to activate it now.
Sarah: You can’t destroy the Castle! Chuck is down there!
Shaw: So is every piece of intelligence we have, not just on the Ring, EVERYTHING!
Sarah: Please, just give Chuck five more minutes, okay? For me.
Shaw: I’m sorry, Sarah. You can’t think of Chuck. You have to think like a spy.
Sarah: I am thinking like a spy. Chuck is a member of my team. He has served this country well. And for all that he has done, the least we can do is just give him five more minutes.

When I re-visit it, I can’t say that Sarah’s being particularly passive. I guess she could have taken a gun to Shaw’s head here. After all, Sarah’s threatened to do that kind of thing before, to Longshore and to Casey (in the pilot and in Colonel). But she’s never really carried out that threat, did she. Shaw would never have backed down. Sarah would have had to carry out that threat and shoot him. That’s not her either. Not now.

Besides, everything in Sarah’s training says Shaw is right. He’s still the boss, after all, and he has been a bit heroic (if occasionally insane). He’s always right – it’s annoying but true.

There’s one more consideration, a big one. As far as Sarah is concerned, Chuck would not have done that – drawn a gun on Shaw. Over the last three years that’s exactly the way Sarah has changed; she understands that Chuck does not do things the way a spy would. Did I just pull a slight-of-hand and add something that’s not in the script? I’m not sure I did. Oops. Looks like a little bit of Chuck has rubbed off on Sarah too.

More proof that Sarah is not completely passive? After Chuck unburdens himself and can flash again, Shaw wants to bunker Morgan. Yet it’s not only Chuck but Sarah too who vouches for him.

Morgan - Not an Ewok

Morgan – Not an Ewok

She does it with good reason, too. I’ve glossed over it, but if Beard has an S1 feel to it, Morgan is the one character who is different from those days. He’s the one character who’s taken a major step forward. It starts here.

As for the Buy More, one Craig Rogers from corporate calls to inform Big Mike that because of the employee’s loyalty, the Buy More is no longer for sale. It’s Shaw, doing one last good deed before losing it entirely. I’m guessing that this wasn’t his idea, but Sarah’s – who else could have convinced him? Once again, just like in Season 1, Chuck points out that Shaw needs the Intersect, and the Intersect needs Morgan. Just like in the pilot, it’s Sarah who understands what Chuck is saying.

Smile!

Smile!

That made me smile. Maybe there’s one other thing that made fans smile too. You see, The Ring had shut down all communications from Castle, so word never got out and all the intel remained safe. That buys time for Team B to mount an offensive, but not much. Del and Neil had Shaw dead to rights. I know I missed it the first time, but it means Shaw’s doesn’t have much time left. Time is starting to become important.

Cause there’re so many days in a year.
And there’s so many years in my head.
So I think about when I’ll be dead,
And how those very last moments get spent.
And if I think about you is that something you think you’d accept?

The question is, do Chuck and Sarah have much time left? Maybe not. They need to start talking about the important things before it runs out.

– joe

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Couple of things you probably didn’t know (or didn’t want to know!) about me is that a. I have a medical background and b. I have a psychology background. I’m in process of pursuing a bachelor’s in psychology. So, forgive me for this digression. If you’re underage, probably best to avert your eyes until I tell you otherwise.

If I were to sum up Beard in a phrase, indelicate ones at that, it would be: Chuck’s impotent–he lost his manhood, his pride, whatever you want to call it. Now you may be thinking WTH? But bear with me. In a lot of ways, losing Sarah (or the perception of having lost her and losing that moment with the name in the previous episode) has taken his manhood from him. He’s suffering from very obvious psychological emasculation. He has come to associate being a spy and flashing to losing himself as a man. Flashing means losing his one true love, abandoning his family, isolating himself until he can no longer function. “Being a spy is everything that I have, I gave up everything for this.” Unfortunately for him there is no viagra for his ailment, only the truth.

See we’ve been told since the dawn of time (a bit of an exaggeration) that Chuck isn’t good with his emotions, that being too emotional is the one thing that holds him back from being a true spy. Well it turns out, they were wrong. For Chuck, the best way to be–the happiest, most free and definitely most capable he can be is to be emotional. To be true to himself, no deception, no lies. Obviously there is some deception involved but he can’t lie to himself. He can lie for the job, but he can’t lie to himself. That is his real kryptonite. Since Ring, he’s lied to himself and in the process lost everything. He made himself believe that being a spy is the end all be all of what he wanted, the glamour seduced, the lies piled up until he became a shell of himself. A jerk at that. To compound his raging emotions, Chuck is starting to believe that not being a spy (after having lost everything) is the end of the world.

While Sarah saved him from going down the rabbit hole, Morgan–by allowing him to be honest, to be truthful–saved him from his virtual emasculation. While being able to flash isn’t quite getting it up (again with the indelicate! What is with me tonight), it’s close enough. Chuck went from being powerless to being empowered and all he needed was to be honest with himself: he loves Sarah and that is all that really matters. Not the job, not the life, not even the world, just love. I’m not certain how often he has been able to actually express it but it hasn’t been a lot. Sarah knows, Chuck knows and we know but it wasn’t ever really this tangible thing where Chuck got to say, “I love Sarah and that’s okay.” The retail therapist has done it again!

(I guess this part is PG, kids you can come back now!) In the process we saw Shaw being Shaw, I’ll leave that off the discussion. Instead I’ll discuss Sarah’s actions when Chuck was about to get blown up. Last week, Ernie and I discussed Sarah’s heartbreaking line, “you can always talk to us.” Sarah couldn’t help but reach out, but yet she’s not the same person we’ve come to know. When once she would take him aside, encourage him and make him see what she sees in him, now she can only stand back and let him spiral. Part of it is because she’s gun-shy and she’s trying to move on. This is what she believes he wants (to be a spy) and she can no longer be actively involved in turning him into something she knows firsthand is unsavory. She can only go as far as the job requires, no further. That is why “you can always talk to us,” is heartbreaking. It’s like some part of the woman that loves Chuck earnestly wanted to reach out and heal, but yet the other part–the part that just got her heart broken, is presently anchorless and doesn’t know if she wants to be “Sam” or “Sarah” could only reach so far. “You can always talk to us,” is almost clinical in approach, and Chuck recognized that with “no thanks.” After Chuck’s “no thanks,” we get another glimpse inside the walls of Sarah Walker–I think she was genuinely taken aback for a moment. For once he wouldn’t and couldn’t talk to her; their relationship has changed drastically and it’s not a comfortable change for either of them. We get the last glimpse when Sarah begged for 5 more minutes. In the grand scheme of things (seriously are people upset she didn’t blow up Shaw’s brain for nearly blowing up Chuck?), Sarah’s pleas were her own emotions rising to the surface. When the world was about to end in Tom Sawyer, Sarah’s response then was, “I believe in Chuck.” In this one, even against all odds (he hasn’t flashed in a week!), even after he let her down (personally), she believed that he would find a way. Sarah wasn’t passive, so much as “Sarah” again, for the moment.

“So Sarah is your handler, does that make her your beard? Is your whole relationship fake? Coz if–that is awful…no I just feel like having to be…You didn’t never sex with that girl?! No it’s awful that you’re having to pretend to be in a relationship that you clearly love.”

Morgan hit it right on. It’s awful, been awful for both Chuck and Sarah. He’s also right that neither of them are that good a liar to truly hide what they feel for each other. “I wouldn’t, I couldn’t, but I do [love].” Sarah needed a similar talking to, and she needs the truth, she needs to be saved. The truth has been buried too long and it needed to be set free. Fortunately, we got the right man for the job in Chuck and he’s longer impotent.

The healing has begun.

~ Faith

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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.
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19 Responses to Chuck Versus The Beard (3.09)

  1. Joel says:

    Very good episode. I don’t really like the “diversion” B-plot, so I can’t quite put it as one of the all-time classics, but it’s still a lot of fun!

    • joe says:

      What… the Buy More Rebellion, Joel? Awwww – I really enjoyed that bit!

      • Joel says:

        No, I love that – I’m a big fan of the Buy More stuff in general! I mean Sarah, Casey, and Shaw’s little excursion at the beginning.

      • JoeBuckley says:

        Hum. I see. But I gotta say, seeing Ellie in a bikini was a treat. Then again, I do have a thing for long-haired brunettes… 😉

  2. I was reading this this morning and at some point the idea popped into my head that the Beard was a reference to Shaw who was acting as Sarah’s beard. I don’t remember what the specific line was that prompted the thought. When I have time I’ll go over the post again and see if I can recall it, but I just wanted to throw that out there.

    • joe says:

      Heh! I recall having that thought myself, Marc. In hindsight it seems a bit far fetched, but not that far fetched!

  3. lappers84 says:

    This was and possibly still is one of my favourite episodes of the series, and that review made me realise how good it really is. Kudos guys 🙂

  4. joe says:

    Oh gee. Here, I thought I was the ol’ wizened one, the BTDT guy in the group, and Faith shows me up with her savvy and understanding. Pretty cool. One of your best write-ups ever, Faith!

  5. Ernie Davis says:

    See we’ve been told since the dawn of time (a bit of an exaggeration) that Chuck isn’t good with his emotions, that being too emotional is the one thing that holds him back from being a true spy. Well it turns out, they were wrong. For Chuck, the best way to be–the happiest, most free and definitely most capable he can be is to be emotional. To be true to himself, no deception, no lies.

    I’ve thought for quite some time that it is Chuck’s alienation from his team and support system of family and friends that was his problem in Prague and remains his problem here. After closing himself off from family and friends, and then finally losing Sarah, his last link to something real, he has no skin in the game. He needs to see that greater good he serves personified and feel tied to it personally in the form of his friends, family and Sarah.

    Realizing that he loved Sarah and that it was OK was the first breakthrough to recovering himself and becoming a spy on his terms. Chuck never played the spy-game their way, which is what Sarah saw that made him great.

    Or to quote Jill, “Don’t let them change you Chuck.”

    • resaw says:

      One of the great episodes of the series, in my opinion. As always, the comments from the three principals are much appreciated. In response to the above comment, the thing that I noticed this time (or again — I don’t remember my reaction the last time I watched 3.09) was when Chuck said early on, “Being a spy is all that I have. I gave up everything for this,” and then he looks pointedly at Sarah. In the telephone conversation with Awesome he says, “I broke up with Hannah and Sarah’s falling for another guy.” And when Chuck and Morgan are all tied up, and after Chuck confesses everything, Morgan observes, “It’s awful to pretend to be in a relationship with someone you clearly love. I always knew, you clearly loved that girl.” Chuck of course, confirms that, but it is interesting to me that Chuck says, “I’m flashing again because I have my best friend back.” So, the freedom to be truthful and emote with his best friend, is the key to psychological health (and the ability to flash) for Chuck, but that friendship allows him to recognize once again that he loves Sarah. I think there have been complaints about his confessions of love for Sarah occurring way too often, but I think I see this as a process for Chuck, working his way toward truly understanding who he is. Not sure, I’m really adding anything here, but these are the things that came to mind.

      Two other little nuggets: One, Morgan bumps into the hallway wall in Castle, he covers up the noise by meowing like a cat. Hilarious, and if it had been heard, bound to have caused even more suspicion. Two, as Morgan walks by after being released and is escorted up the stairs by Chuck, Sarah has a very nice smile for him (Morgan).

      It’s good to see a genuine smile on Sarah’s face, because I don’t think she has been more miserable than she has been with Shaw. Even when they kissed in an earlier episode, was there ever a moment of real joy and happiness while with Shaw, as there has been and will be once again with Chuck?

      • JoeBuckley says:

        I like it, Resaw.
        But if I can point to one small difference in my opinion, it’s not that Chuck has his best friend back that frees him up emotionally, so much as he can finally unburden himself to someone – anyone. He couldn’t, before, tell Morgan the truth, and he Awesome kept saying that he no longer wants to be involved. And Sarah, well, she already knew how he felt before, and he couldn’t tell her how he felt after Hannah because she was with Shaw (that’s why Chuck looks at both of them when Sarah offers “You can always talk to us.” No help there.

        Morgan’s friendship is uber important, yes. But it’s the unburdening that’s the kicker here, I think. Chuck is such a chatterbox.

      • Chuck is very much a work in progress in this season. Complaining, as the detractors so often do, that any particular scene has been seen before, is missing the point. Chuck has changed from then to now, and the repeats are there to prompt us to see how he’s changed.

  6. Chris says:

    Guys, excellent coments. I’d been doing a rewatch of my own. I just started season 4. However, I’ve been following all the season 3 rewatches and comments. I must say Faith, you knocked it out of the park! All of the reviews inspired me to get in sync with you folks and I just finished Chuck vs the Beard. I really caught some details I missed during my rewatch. Great stuff!

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Chris, thanks for stopping by and sharing. In addition to the re-watch I’m also re-watching random episodes as the mood strikes me, so you aren’t alone, but it has also been fun to methodically work through the entire series. Hope you’ll chime in when you see something you never saw before or want to talk about an episode that strikes you as very different on reflection.

    • Faith says:

      Appreciate the thoughts/compliments. Like Ernie said, hope you stick around!

  7. bigspud says:

    great episode, not in my top ten but great non the less, imo unburdening himself to anybody may have helped chuck, made him able to flash and be a spy again (maybe) but unburdening himself to morgan was something else altogether, yes he would flash, yes he would be a spy again, but telling morgan everything gave him back his confidence also.

    look what he was able to do in the next few episodes, (tic tac) help casey by going to help Kathleen even though he didn’t know if he could flash, but he was certain he could keep her safe. in FE he was ready to take his spy test, (done and done) at least until sarah told him he had to kill perry, after that he was shook up again but morgan did more then just let chuck unburden himself he told him that it was ok

    by the way I love this show, this blog, and the way you all opened my eyes to the much deeper meanings in my favorite show, I knew I loved chuck, but you all are helping me understand why. thanks!!!!!!

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