Going in I thought this could be a tough one for me to write. This episode fell a bit flat for me when it first aired, and hasn’t done particularly well upon re-watch. But despite many of my complaints, which I still stand by, this episode has aged far better than I expected. And it has me thinking a lot about the show, the direction it took, season 3 and the fan-base. I’ll explain more later. For now join me and Joe for another look at Chuck Versus The American Hero, after the jump. This time, we’ll start with Joe’s take.
For those of you keeping score, I’ve been quietly singing the praises of Season 3 to anyone willing to listen. I’ve pointed out the rough spots that others have screamed about (like Three Words and Fake Name) are actually pretty enjoyable, and noted that “The Misery Arc” really has some merit to it. I’ve stated that, although this season is much darker than the first two, that’s alright with me. It adds depth. I’ve been saying that some of the specific complaints may be valid, but not in the episodes often mentioned.
Never mind. I take it back. Dave, Uplink, Jason, all the others who speak out in the “alternate” threads, YOU WERE RIGHT! Above and beyond even 3-D, Chuck vs. The American Hero is the bottom of the heap. How bad is it? For my money, all those complaints leveled at “The Misery Arc” belong right here in this episode! It makes a liar out of me when I said in “Saving Agent Walker” (about Final Exam) that we’ve come out of the depths and that salvation was around the corner. It reached back into other episodes and turns they internal logic into ragù! It confirms the biggest complaints others have made – the characters we love, especially Sarah Walker, are destroyed. They’re left for dead right here. That’s how bad it is.
Way back when, ATCDave wrote this:
I do believe you are right about most of your points regarding Sarah, and things will play out well in the next couple episodes exactly for the reasons you outline. But to me, it will never justify the journey they have taken us on. As I said on another thread; I like redemption stories, we already got a redemption story for Chuck this year; and it seems we have one coming for Sarah. But the season can not be redeemed.
You were right, Dave.
I can’t say it’s the story line. There’s a Ring Agent running loose in NSA headquarters who seems to be after half-digested tracking devices. Oh, and he’s after Shaw. Does he want to kill Shaw? No, he just wants to introduce him to someone named “The Director.” Oooo-kaaayyyy. A bit forgettable, but okay.
I can’t say it’s Morgan. He’s very “Morgan”, like usual.
Morgan: What are we waiting for? Let’s help the guy get his girl back! Com’mon!
Devon: Yeah. So Ellie and I can go to Africa.
Casey: And I can get out of Burbank.
Morgan: And I can finally go see Rome. Meet a nice Italian girl. See the Vatican. Pay my respects to the Pope…
Actually, Morgan continues on his journey to adulthood rather nicely, as he rallies Casey to not accept his fate as the newest “made” Buy Moron.
Morgan: Really? Is that what they teach you in the Marine Corps?
Morgan: Roll over and die?
Casey: This isn’t exactly combat, Morgan.
Morgan: That’s where you’re wrong, Casey. Because love… Love is a battlefield.
It’s not the comedy, not at all. Even Casey joins in the fun this time.
Ellie: Hold on for a minute. You guys expect me to believe the three of you got my husband beat up and tossed in jail to save my brother’s love life?
Morgan and Devon: Yes, we did.
Casey: We’re as shocked as you are.
And it’s definitely not Ellie! This is one of my favorite Ellie speeches ev’a.
Chuck: Hey, um… Look. I can explain.
Ellie: Chuck, listen to me.
Chuck: I know exactly what you’re gonna say. And you’re absolutely right. It was completely immature of me to get everyone involved like this.
Ellie: Chuck – you’re not listening!
Chuck: “Stupid?” Maybe “stupid” is the word you’re looking for? I get it. I went too far.
Ellie: You didn’t go far enough, Chuck. Sarah is special. I know it, you know it. If you love her, if she’s the one then you don’t stop. You don’t quit. You never go too far. You are a Bartowski, Chuck. Start acting like one.
Nope. This time, it’s Chuck and it’s Sarah. That’s what I don’t like. How many times did he go to her to explain himself and fail? How many times did she start to forgive him, then come up with a weak reason for not doing that?
Sarah: That’s why I can’t be with you. Okay? You’re not… You’re not the same guy that I fell for.
In another mystifying exchange, Chuck starts begging and Sarah throws a new one at ’em.
Sarah: What do you want me to say?
Chuck: I want you to say that you’ll come with me to Rome.
Sarah: Well, you know that I can’t and you know why.
Chuck: Look, Sarah. I don’t wanna have to make a scene in front of all these people but I will literally do anything to change your mind.
Sarah: Well, then tell me what really happened. at the train tracks. If you didn’t kill the mole, then who did?
Ah, so now, it’s not because Chuck isn’t Chuck. It’s because he’s been keeping a secret. No, wait. She offers yet another reason for acting the way she’s been acting.
Sarah: Chuck, I’ve made a commitment, and not just to Shaw.
So now it’s about the job. Nothing personal.
Oh, I’m not done yet. I have to ask why Shaw? Yes, that is, finally, the heart of the matter. Not “Why not Chuck.” Even if Sarah’s “confused” about Chuck (and boy, is she confused, uncharacteristically so), the question is much more, “How could she possibly be interested in this overbearing, self-aggrandizing Pinocchio of a spy who actually thinks he’s a self-effacing hero? Worse, why is Shaw such a lousy hero to begin with??? He’s going to sacrifice himself to bring down the ring? Really?? And Sarah buys that???
Frustratingly, just when Chuck actually has an opportunity to contrast himself from his newest nemesis and make the speech to win Sarah (again), he blows it.
Chuck: Don’t go. Don’t do it. Leave with me instead. Tonight at 7:00. Union Station. We go to Mexico, and after that, anywhere that you want. I would like to go and see the Eiffel Tower at some point if that’s at all possible – Don’t answer now. Don’t say a word. I don’t wanna have to convince you. I just want you to show up. I’m gonna kiss you now, if that’s okay.
No words, huh. This is Chuck? The destruction of the characters is complete.
I left Final Exam with a feeling that a miracle was about to happen. That, my friends, was great. In contrast, I finished American Hero feeling like a miracle needs to happen.
I’m presently on vacation and wasn’t sure I’d get to review this one, basically because I wasn’t sure I’d get to re-watch this one. Joe offered to cover the bulk of it, and I was ready to let him. Then late last night I started to watch. Then I stopped and started to write, and write, and write. I’d written about 500 words before I went back to watch some more, then I stopped and outlined a bit more I wanted to address. (All of this offline). Some time around midnight I admitted to myself that I had something I wanted to say, but it wasn’t going to be totally ready by Sunday, and it wasn’t confined to this episode even though a lot of it leads to this episode and it’s events, and it’s mood, which in some ways I now see as the bookend to Chuck Versus The Lethal Weapon and symbolic of season 3 in general. There are your standard Chuck parallels and metaphors, and there is quite a lot that some segment’s of the fan-base will never accept as even possible (much like season 3 in general). So in my head I decided that I’d do another post The alternative to Dave’s Alternatives post?) some time later this week, maybe as late as Saturday.
Then I read Joe’s post.
I may still do my longer more involved reflections on this as a view of the front 13, an alt-alt-post, or … something else, but I wanted to address what I’d read.
Short version, in my opinion Joe get’s every detail right, and comes to the exact wrong conclusion.
This is Chuck and Sarah at their core, not new or misunderstood characters. They are who they were in season 2, but a lot has changed. First of all there is a more mature Chuck and a Sarah who has regressed without the emotional connections to the Chuck she thought she wanted, you know, the one with a pain threshold of 1 who would never break her heart. The safe one. This is Sarah as we’ve seen hinted at and will see again in the future, the one who thinks she can travel light by leaving her baggage behind, what she’s done, who she’s hurt, who’s hurt her, run away from it one more time. This is the Sarah that as Joe points out, is constantly finding reasons she can’t be with Chuck, why she can’t take that chance, let her guard down and have her heart broken, again. But this isn’t like season 2 where she could always count on the job as the reason to push Chuck away, and he’d always accept it, even if there were hidden fears and reasons to not let him too close. She can’t hide behind the job anymore for several reasons, not the least of which Chuck won’t let her. And he’s not going to do what she usually would expect, defer to her and back off to keep from upsetting her. He’s going to push her to deal with her baggage, not just move on. This Chuck won’t back off to not risk losing or upsetting Sarah so that he can not have the relationship he wants with Sarah, which was the season 2 pattern. This is Chuck and Sarah stripped of their excuses, and granted Sarah comes off poorly, but then we’d seen a lot of hints of that before. This isn’t safe Chuck, this is the Chuck that challenges Sarah to be better.
This Chuck is not safe, emotionally, but he’s still there laying his heart on the line for her, and not taking “complications” as an excuse from Sarah. In addition, he’s not into macho brinksmanship like Shaw or Cole (though Cole was far more charming about it), but he will put his life on the line, even for a rival, if he thinks it is what Sarah wants. With Shaw it’s all about what he wants.
And then, in the end, a miracle happens. Sarah decides to trust Chuck. Despite the fact he’s become an accomplished liar as a spy, despite the fact that he doesn’t need her for the dirty work, and despite the fact that he, like her, wants a few secrets of his own. Sarah decides to trust Chuck and is packing to leave with him.
Then a second miracle, she finds out she’s right to do so.
The third miracle will happen next episode, and that one will probably be Dave’s post. I may still have more to say on this episode later, the alt-alt post could still happen, but this is my fallback, I didn’t want only negativity (not that Joe isn’t entitled) or the points I’ve made to go unsaid for so long, and while not the best or favorite episode, and suffering from some of the common season 3 maladies, this episode had a story to tell.
I’ve finally learned to ignore enough of the extraneous to let them tell it.