The Grand Conspiracy is over, and we have a couple of stand alone episodes before moving on to the finale arc. As Shaw is hauled off to solitary he makes a parting threat to Sarah, that calls up her deepest fears. This leads to a last secret and a very personal mission.
After the jump, we’ll discuss Baby.
Baby is the last Sarah centered episode of the series. Our master poll has it at number 8. That makes it the top ranked Season Five episode by a wide margin, and the only one in the top ten. For myself I would rank it even higher, maybe even top three.
So funny thing, there are some obvious similarities here with Curse, in that Sarah runs off on an ill-advised solo mission even though she has a team that’s willing and eager to back her up. Just like Chuck did in Curse. And yet on that same poll, and I’m in complete agreement, this episode is the very best of S5, and the other is the very worst. So what’s the difference? I can think of a couple things. For starters there’s just the difference of demeaner, Chuck is whiney and annoying in Curse, while Sarah is calm and stoic in Baby. But I think an even bigger difference is just that we get to see Sarah learn from her mistake. Chuck maybe did, he said he did, but they didn’t show us. For Sarah they showed us. She realizes the error of her ways, apologizes, reads in her entire team, then takes them with her to finish things out right. And not to mention a vastly more appealing portrayal of Chuck himself; instead of whiny and neurotic, we see strong Chuck who will be there for his wife, both as back up on a mission and ready to offer good counsel. Was that enough? Well it was for me. It makes a difference of one of the very best Chuck episodes versus one that’s kind of hard to sit through.
The very good things about Baby start first thing. We get a flashback, to a time immediately before the start of the series in 2007, of Sarah in Budapest. This is truly one of the great Sarah action sequences of the entire series, right up there with Tic Tac or Phase Three. When Sarah is ordered to kill eleven armed men, she pauses for just a second. Is it fear? Is she worried if she can manage it? No. Her handler discerns correctly when he tells her “they’re all bad men”. She hesitates before attacking eleven armed men from doubt they all deserve her brand of justice. I just love that moment. And the following seconds of screen time are exciting and brutal. She is efficient and deadly right until she discovers the “package” she is to retrieve is an infant. Awesome opening sequence!
And there are several more excellent scenes ahead. The flashbacks are illuminating, both for her corrupt handler and her Mom. The Mom story answers so many long standing questions about that relationship. She may have a need for adventure and excitement from her Dad; but a need for stable, loving and normal from her Mom. And I think we get an interesting series long development here where Sarah has grown from being like her Dad, to becoming more like her Mom. The final flashback scene on her Mom’s porch is powerful and well done. We’re all impressed with Yvonne almost on a weekly basis, but I also saw more range from Cheryl Ladd than I expected. Well done all around.
I enjoy much of the current time story too; Chuck and Sarah at the dream house (or not. That’s negotiable), Casey and Chuck trying to interrogate a Hungarian suspect, Chuck talking honestly and bluntly with Sarah when they get home, Sarah coming completely clean about what’s going on, and an epic re-match between Sarah and Ryker (really epic. I love kicks to the head and smashing through walls!).
The last ten minutes are nearly perfect. Sarah’s reunion with her Mom, the whole gang together, Sarah and Chuck both getting to know Molly, and Sarah and Chuck both having time with Emma. “She always was a tough little thing” may be the most appropriate, and understated thing ever said about Sarah. It makes me smile every time to see these relationships mended.
And there’s more! Chuck and Sarah back at the dream house; Sarah wanting to turn down Beckman’s job offer is kind of a bombshell. I bring it up so often in discussions now its loosing much of its shock value. But I remember it took my breath away that first night this ran. How many times have we been told Sarah loves what she does? Enough where we knew it was of earthshaking importance when she told Chuck he was more important than the job back in Honeymooners (even if we all knew that was true all along anyway!). Now she doesn’t even want it back. She has come to fully embrace Chuck’s vision of normal. You all know I’ll bring this up again in a few weeks for the finale. Sarah will affirm this decision when, even with missing memories, she will know she wants this life with Chuck, back.
It ends with carving on a door frame. To me, this is how the show should have ended. I honestly would have preferred if this had been the last moment. Don’t get me wrong, we still have some great moments ahead. But I think this was the last truly great episode of the series, and it has the perfect end.
For all that, we had a nice “B” plot in Baby as well. The game night in Castle is funny, especially Devon and Ellie playing spy. And I like how they decide to help. Ellie telling Morgan that he is a catch. That is almost as significant a character moment as Sarah turning down the job offer.
I normally save fan fiction links for the “Alternatives” posts, but I have a couple this week that are more canon related than alternative. Long time visitor here MyNameIsJeffNImLost was apparently quite motivated by this episode. He wrote two one-shot tie ins. The first is “Sarah vs the Phantom Retcon“. It addresses a number of minor inconsistencies from Baby that many viewers focused in on, and finds plausible explanations for all of them. I always think as viewers we have some responsibility to make sense of what is presented before we start complaining it’s broke; and Jeff gives us a virtual text book exercise in how to do that. The second story is just plain fun. It’s “Sarah’s Mom vs Sarah’s Family“. It fills the gap from when Emma and Molly first arrive at Casa Bartowski until Sarah returns home. This is a fun and beautiful piece, one of my all time favorite one-shots.
There will be a Season Five Alternatives post up on Tuesday. As always, I look forward to reading everyone’s input.
What We Needed To Know
All right. Everyone who didn’t like Chuck vs. The Baby, I want you to raise your hands. Nice and high. NOW GET OUT!!! (You uncouth, heathen, uncivilized…). Uh. Oops. My rant key was stuck there for a second.
Like all Sarah-centric episodes, Baby is a jewel, deserving of all the praise Dave heaps on it above. It goes beyond the fact that we just love the character – a true universal if there ever was one – there’s more to it than that. You see, one of the show’s greatest hooks is that we can never be completely certain what Sarah is thinking. There is always some degree of ambiguity and tension between Sarah’s words and actions. We can never, finally know… until now. That’s the hook.
But let me digress for just a moment; I don’t want to forget to laud Tim DeKay‘s efforts here as Sarah’s handler and early partner, Kieran Ryker. Most of us know him from his role as Peter Burke opposite Bryce Larkin uh, Matt Bomer, in White Collar. I should strike those strikes. Most of us will always associate Bomer with Chuck, so it’s very easy to accept DeKay as one of the family despite the character.
Of course, Peter Burke is one of the good-guys in that buddy show. But some of us may remember DeKay playing quite a different role in a Seinfeld episode. Actually, he played a bizarro Jerry, if you can imagine that. Some may even remember him as a senator (and friend of Gibbs) in an episode of NCIS. For all the disparate roles he’s had, this is the first time I remember him as “the bad guy,” and I’m impressed. DeKay has range. The despicable Kieran Ryker deserves all the loathing and beat-down Sarah gives him.
That brings up the next best thing about Baby – the two tremendous action scenes, one where a younger Agent Walker takes out eleven Hungarian assassins, and one at the penultimate finale where she battles Ryker one last time. For my money, they are together the best action scenes of the series, with the possible exception of Sarah’s battle with Smooth Lau in Best Friends. I rank them ahead of Sarah’s rooftop tango with Lizzy The Pita Girl in The Marlin, but of course, YMMV. Regardless, considering the hatchet job Chuck‘s budget had received at the hands of Comcast and NBC-U for S5, they did an amazing job.
But here I am, talking about fight scenes and budgets, when the best of Baby has nothing to do with those things. It has to do with reconciliations. Chuck has always featured adventure and action, relying on well-choreographed, well executed bits of martial artistry and daring-do against the foe-du-jour. But those are secondary to the emotional impact in nearly every episode.
The reconcilliation between (former Charlie’s Angel, Cheryl Ladd) Emma and her daughter is a case in point, as it is with Morgan and Alex. Morgan can be a clown and and irritant, but admit it – we want him to win Alex back because he’s been a friend. Alex is a secondary character, introduced late as part of Casey’s back-story and we still want her to find happiness with the bearded troll.
But even their stories (not to mention The Awesomes’ early history) are surpassed by something bigger. Here, even more than in Phase 3, Cougars and Delorean, we have substantial answers to the question we all asked; Who Is Sarah Walker?
Oh yeah, the flashback technique is so very effective at showing us origins; we got to see Chuck as a boy and in college, Casey joining special forces and Morgan becoming, well, Morgan. First loves, friends, tragedies, alpha versions of the Intersect; all very informative. We saw young Sarah differently, though. What we saw in S1 and S2 was something akin to the cosmological Big Bang; much was explained, but much more was obscured by the fireball and resulting debris. How do we get from daughter of Jack Burton to Agent Walker? And where was mom, anyway? As late as S5, it’s all a mystery.
The mystery is made more impenetrable because, except for very brief interludes, we see Sarah Walker after she meets Chuck Bartowski and by that time, it’s too late. She’s already changed.
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.
She changed that early. But it wasn’t too much before then that Sarah was an assassin. The words she used to describe Casey were much more than that; they comprised a self-description – “Burn out. Cold-school killer.” One of Chuck’s very first flashes shows exactly that side of Sarah. And be very clear – it was fear we saw in his eyes.
It’s shocking to see that Sarah emerge once more. I don’t know about you, but my head snapped when Sarah explains her plans to her husband.
Chuck: Okay, so, when you see Ryker, what then? What are you gonna do?
Sarah: [sighs, turns and pauses] I’m gonna kill him, Chuck.
Cold-school. That’s the Agent Walker Chuck saw killing the French assassins. That’s the Sarah Chuck could not accept shooting an un-armed Mauser. She told him that she would make the same decisions again, if she had to. So like I started to say before, we have to wonder if that’s the way Sarah is thinking now.
The man Sarah married would never do such a thing. To this day, he refuses to carry anything more than a tranq-gun, right? Well, you might ask Daniel Shaw about how Chuck refuses to kill. You remember him – the guy Chuck left for dead in an icy river in Paris? No, life is never so simple, straight forward or without compromise. It’s said that, once the decision is made, a great general doesn’t hesitate to send his solders out to do battle and die; Sorrow and sadness are not considered. However, his grief is genuine after the battle. Early on I found myself wondering if Agent Walker ever considered those she left in her wake. I always knew that Chuck did, even when he had to pull the trigger.
Sarah: But I’m different now. You know, things have changed. You’ve changed me. I don’t wanna go back.
Finally, we see that, even if Agent Walker would do it again, Sarah Bartowski can feel emotional about the things she’s had to do. It’s not possible for me to see Sarah deceiving Chuck even the slightest bit any longer; when she tells him that she wants every single part of the life he’s envisioned, he’s not being played like a mark, like a Lon Kirk or Manoosh. Chuck will never again be merely her asset, someone to be protected and shielded from the truth. Sarah’s simple statement is a higher truth and her self-reflection goes a long way to answering the questions we’ve always had about her – until now.
Sarah: When Ryker captured me in Budapest, I kept thinking: “Why am I doing it this way? Why do I feel like I have to do everything on my own?” But it’s what my dad taught me, the way the CIA taught me – that you can only ever trust yourself.
But the truth is that I trust you completely and I wanna tell you everything.
What ever she was before, she’s a Bartowski now, and that is all I ever wanted to know about Agent Walker. Fortunately, we are told just a little more about how she came to be so cold in the first place. It was her deliberate choice.
Graham: Where’s the package?
Sarah: If I had the package in my possession, then what?
Graham: The CIA would take it into custody, and then…
Sarah: Could you guarantee it’s protection?
Graham: You know I can’t make guarantees. The CIA keeps records on these kinds of things, records that a man like Ryker might be able to get his hands on. And who knows what he would do. He’s a wild card. Agent Walker? Sarah.
Sarah: I’m not in possession of the package, director. It must be somewhere else.
The enigmatic Langston Graham, played one last time by Tony Todd, may not be entirely evil. He’s merely placing his job above people and everything else, pretty much the same way Jack Burton always did. It’s a lesson Sarah learned well.
Sarah compromised. She became a block of ice, but she also lied to Graham and to the CIA and deliberately buried the lie as deep as she could for the sake of everyone else. That’s not the action of a cold-school killer but the act of a desperate person. By the time Sarah met Chuck, she was ready to be transformed.
Emma: This is your home too. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Sarah: Mom, I’ve thought a lot about this, and I can’t stay. Because for both of you to be safe, well, I can never see you again.
When the CIA recruited me, I was on the run with dad. We changed identities so much they never knew you existed. And we can’t let them find out about you now.
Emma: When you were a little girl, all I ever wanted for you was a normal life. But you went off with your father, and he was never one to… You just – you never got to go trick-or-treating or play on the soccer team or – Never got to go to prom or homecoming. I just wish I could have given you at least some of that.
It was two against one, Jack and Langston against Emma, and Emma simply couldn’t give her daughter a normal life. Thankfully, Chuck is going to try very hard to do just that.
By the time we get to the wonderful anthem for Millennials that ends the episode, the music is no longer about celebrating victory over adversity, because victory is never final. It’s a song about growth, growth in the direction of wisdom.
We are young
So let’s the set the world on fire
We can burn brighter
Than the sun
Finally, I’m going to end with a note about the episode’s biggest flaw. With the time-line we’re given, Sarah’s partnership with Bryce is missing conspicuously. That’s a shame – after learning so much about her past, we would still like to know more and that’s not a bad thing!