Back when we reviewed The Ring several months ago, I described that episode as a step down into the abyss. It was good in its own right, but had acquired so much baggage because of where it was heading I actually thought less of it now in the greater context. Other Guy is the step back up. It still suffers some from the muck and mire of that abyss, but it is a strong episode and its heading great places. This is an episode that actually becomes greater because of its context.
After the jump, we’ll continue our season three re-watch with Chuck vs The Other Guy.
Is it really that simple to fix this show? Just put Chuck and Sarah together on screen as a couple and all the misery is forgotten? Well I think for many of us the answer is yes, or mostly, or something close to that. Almost from the beginning, Chuck and Sarah together, whether its working, cover dating, bonding as friends, or later, intimately, has always been a beautiful thing. Not only do Zach and Yvonne have great chemistry, but the characters are both appealing. It is easy to root for these two good people coming from radically different worlds, coming together and completing each other. For me, that was the main hook of the show from about Tango on. Even during the period when Chuck and Sarah are estranged I think its the episodes they interact together in more like Angel of Death and Tic Tac that work best for many of us.
There is still baggage associated with this episode. Any time we see Shaw on screen there will be baggage. But there really is surprisingly little. Maybe more of a tote bag. As many of you know, I did an S3 marathon with friends who had never seen the show a couple months back. Well my version of an S3 marathon is just 3.03, 3.04, 3.10, 3.13-3.19. I found it interesting they really gave no thought to a Sarah/Shaw relationship while watching any of it. To the extent I had to explain to them in 3.17 that Sarah had been with Shaw briefly, mostly in episodes we skipped. Of course my episode choices had plenty to do with it, but there was so little obvious draw between them that the thought had never crossed my friends’ minds. That’s a long way of getting back to my point; there is very little Sarah/Shaw interaction in Other Guy that hints at what has apparently happened. And I love that now that Sarah has made her choice for Chuck, she will simply give no further thought to Shaw at all. To be nice, she probably should formally break up with him, like maybe when he’s trying to kill her; but for obvious reasons its never really necessary.
And that makes it quite easy to enjoy the things this episode does so well. Chuck’s first attempt at rescuing Sarah is sweet and awkward in an almost typical Chuck way; he has more confidence and authority now than he used to, right up until it seems Sarah doesn’t need his help at all. Then we see Chuck’s insecurities roaring back. Now Sarah is awkward too. “I appreciated the tank” may fall short of all time great romantic declarations, but Sarah is still trying to figure out how to communicate with Chuck. Chuck and Sarah’s “Do you love me?” scene does a little better. Whether the journey getting here was genius or tedious, this scene is beautiful. Sarah may still not have a way with words, but in answering Chuck’s question she says enough to change the show forever.
Several secondary parts of Other Guy are also very well handled. The mission with the elevator may be largely unremarkable, except we finally know beyond a doubt which side Shaw is on. And there was much rejoicing. Which brings me to Morgan. I very much like Morgan the comic sidekick who is very good at a very few things. I think changing Morgan’s role is one of the great creative decisions made in this season. Sometimes he is maybe played as too sage, sometimes I think he gets too much screen time (all the way back to the Pilot), but often he is just perfect. I think that’s the case here. As Chuck’s Alfred, and as a cheesy fake martial arts expert he is perfectly used.
Casey’s role here is very well handled too. From melancholy to re-energized he adds a lot to the episode. I particularly enjoyed him in Paris; that he took down all the Ring agents single handed and then bargained his old job back was just plain fun. Even better, Casey counseling Chuck, and standing up for Morgan. The man has surprising depth.
So what of the climax? I find the set-up a bit awkward. Somehow Chuck should have been more respected, and Shaw less so at this point. Especially by Sarah. I know some viewers were greatly worried by Sarah and Shaw’s cover situation on the Paris trip; its never worried me too much, although I would have liked the conversation we never heard where Sarah tells Shaw she’s done with him. Obviously events supersede that, but it still would have been fun. I think the main points here, are Chuck battling Shaw, Shaw suggesting Chuck doesn’t need to worry himself because he won’t turn on Chuck, he just wants to kill Sarah, and Chuck having to use deadly force to end it. Very well done scene. I only wish Shaw had stayed dead; I think it diminished the event by bringing Shaw back. Especially as he was never more than a passable villain.
No doubt the final scene in the hotel is very satisfying. Very entertaining. A very Bond-like feel to it; but we know with Chuck and Sarah it means more than any Bond ending ever did.
For so many of us, this ending was way too slow in coming, and significant character damage was done in the proceeding arc. But that is over now. Next week, will see the second re-invention of the show for the season. And this time in a good way. I think Other Guy remains a good and satisfying episode in its own right. It is certainly a great step up out of that abyss. And so much better lies ahead.
Do-overs, Mulligans and Second Chances
I would love to get into a long discussion about how Chuck vs. The Other Guy saves Season 3. I would really like to write about how this episode made right all the things that we found wrong with the premise and the characters. But you know, I’m not going to do that. You see, I was surprised to find myself thinking that instead, this episode corrected all the things that were wrong with Season 2.
That’s blasphemy, especially coming from me. I love Season 2. But, um, you know, there was a lot that was wrong with the situation Chuck and Sarah found themselves in. Worse, they made a lot of mistakes themselves.
It’s like this. Chuck and Sarah got together in a dingy, rundown motel in Barstow. They were exhausted, on the run from the CIA, Casey and Vincent and were pretty much alone – I doubt they even had WiFi! I can’t help but think they were a little scared, too. Certainly Chuck was. And confused. When he asked Sarah “Why are you doing this?”, she replied that it was her job to protect him. Sarah was avoiding the real question, of course. So Chuck persisted.
Chuck: And what about when it’s not your job? What happens to us then?
Sarah: [softly] One mission at a time, Chuck.
Still avoiding. Chuck is avoiding taking action and Sarah is avoiding even thinking about the elephant in the room, their future together and their romance. It was an amazing thing when they woke up in each others arms, about to throw caution to the wind in the golden sunlight. But face it. The sunlight was the only thing golden that morning. The questions weren’t answered and everything else was wrong.
Chuck and Sarah let everything get in their way in that motel room. Morgan stopped them with his petty pilfering, Casey with his interruption, Vincent and even Roark with their villainy. Wrong moment, wrong situation, and they let it happen. It seems Chuck was still that boy hiding from his own birthday party, passive about his future and maybe even about Sarah. And Sarah was still in terse agent mode (you know, the one who was glad she shot the French assassins), and still trying to save Chuck, almost as if she was his mother. Indeed, even after their running was over, Sarah was scheduled to leave with Bryce, a “grown-up”, to head up the new Intersect project. They were still the wrong people.
There’s one conversation in The Ring that underscores the problem.
Chuck: Where’s Bryce?
Sarah: Gone. They’re uploading him with the new computer tonight.
Chuck: Off to save the world. I guess both of you are.
Sarah: You wanna dance?
Chuck: You know I do. You belong out there, saving the world. I’m just – I’m just not that guy.
Sarah: How many times to you have to be a hero to realize that you are ‘that guy?’
Chuck: I want more, Sarah. I want a life. I want a real life.
Sarah: Chuck, I don’t want to save the world. I want…
Stephen interrupted Sarah then, back in April of 2009 (always, the interruptions). Eight months later we saw how it all fell apart in Prague. How could it not? For thirteen episodes, Sarah has been watching Chuck become someone he wasn’t before – a spy. She’s known spies and doesn’t like the compromises that the life requires. Chuck has spent those episodes trying to prove that he doesn’t belong in the car anymore and that he doesn’t have to play second fiddle to a Bryce or a Shaw. Mostly, even as he’s succeeded, he’s failed. Failure tastes a little like death and both Chuck and Sarah realize that these are the stakes for which they’ve been playing.
You said you hated my tone, it made you feel so alone,
And so you told me I ought to be leaving.
But something kept me standing by that hospital bed,
I should have quit but instead I took care of you.
It’s almost a year later. Are things any different? You bet they are. Once again Chuck has a chance to ask Sarah directly about her feelings for him. I don’t know about you, but I almost expected Morgan to interrupt again, or Beckman to call with some drastic plan that required Chuck and Sarah to save the world. Not this time.
Chuck: I thought I could save you. I thought Shaw was bad and I was gonna save you and we were gonna be together, but that didn’t happen.
Sarah: Shaw’s a good spy.
Chuck: I get it, okay? I think everybody gets that Shaw is amazing. And you two are gonna go run off together and save the world. And that’s great news for the world.
Sound familiar? It’s the same fears Chuck had when he thought Sarah was running off with Bryce. Will Chuck still be passive? No. Not this time.
Chuck: But earlier on in my… drunken haze… I realized that I hadn’t asked you a question. A really important question that I’d like to ask you now, if that’s okay. Just once, for the record, Sarah, do you love me?
Finally. Sarah’s spent an awful long time either avoiding this question this year, and once again, she pauses. Will she still be terse? Let your heart beat a couple of times, because a comet is about to appear.
Despite the cute little tease about Chuck’s pants and the possibility that he is making a complete fool of himself, Sarah finally speaks.
Sarah: No, Chuck. Yes.
Chuck: Wha- uh, what?
Sarah: Chuck, I fell for you a long, long time ago, after you fixed my phone and before you started diffusing bombs with computer viruses. So, yes. [chuckles] Yes.
Just in case you lost count (and just in case the audience and semi-drunk Chuck didn’t get it the first time), Sarah answers yes four times. She loves him, and to hear it stated repeatedly and so definitely is unprecedented for this show. There is just no ambiguity left. This is the answer Chuck didn’t get when they danced at Ellie’s reception and it’s the answer we didn’t get in Barstow (even if we thought we did).
To paraphrase Beckman in the next episode, Well, it’s about time! So, yes, those things that always seemed to be open ended and those questions that seemed to hang in the air back then, well, they’ve finally been addressed.
What happens next is a fabulous story – Morgan figures out that Shaw’s a fraud and Sarah is in danger. Chuck makes an amazing rescue that depends on his being a great spy, not on being The Intersect. Casey gets his job back and Morgan becomes a spy too.
Oh, and I agree completely with Dave that Casey is superb as he swaps lives with Morgan, if temporarily. Morgan saves him as much as he saves Chuck, which is really cool! But best of all is the many-layered joke delivered by Beckman, who complains that the bill generated by Chuck’s little rescue attempt is “thicker than my copy of Atlas Shrugged!” It’s hilarious because it’s true!
But there is one, last hurdle Chuck has to overcome – he must convince Sarah that despite all the changes, he’s still the same sweet, innocent and unspoiled guy he was before he wanted to be a spy. It looks like that’s not gonna happen when, to save Sarah, Chuck shoots (and kills) Shaw in front of her. Now that he’s killed someone Sarah will have no choice but to leave him. Right? After all, she was about to leave with Shaw because she thought he killed the mole…
Or so Chuck thinks. But no, like so many times this season with Shaw, Chuck and we have been led astray. There was more to Sarah’s decision to leave than just the “red test,” remember. Chuck wouldn’t tell her why things weren’t as they seemed – he was keeping secrets too and losing her trust. Sarah’s not so foolish as to leave Chuck because he saved her.
And for his part, Chuck is not so nerdy that he won’t pull the trigger out of fear that Sarah will leave him. He’s not passive any more, not about Sarah and not about his life. In a nutshell, after missing their chance in Barstow and in Prague, Chuck and Sarah finally figure it out and found their second chance.
Yes, Chuck and Sarah have come a long way to find themselves back in a motel room bathed in golden light. But what a difference! No interruptions; not even General Beckman is allowed to disturb them. Please don’t think that the journey has taken us nowhere, because there’s a world of difference between the girl who was “never good at the ‘saying her feelings’ part” and the girl who can say exactly when she fell in love. There’s a world of difference between the boy who let his college roommate steal his girlfriends and the guy who killed a man to save Sarah. They are as different as Barstow is from Paris.
Maybe fans are right to say it went on too long. But I can’t think of a single episode that I’d want to do without now.