Chuck’s first full season. What sets season two apart from the others? What changed from the first season? And what impact does this season have on the whole?
After the jump, we’ll discuss Season Two.
Setting the stage for Season Two is still all about Season One. The first season had been given a full order, but a writer’s strike ended things abruptly at 1.13. That meant a break for us viewers from January of 2008 until late September of that year. For myself, the on-line aspect of my Chuck enthusiasm hadn’t really kicked off yet. At least apart from some research to discover that it had indeed been given a full season order. (Actually, 13 episodes ordered in January with 9 episode back order placed that summer).
We’ve heard in a few interviews that they did some reimagining in that longer off-season. We also know a few of the Season One ideas they never got around to did appear in Season Two. A few things; the Season One Jill arc was put off to Season Two and Chuck was supposed to see Sarah shoot a surrendering prisoner in the finale. We’ve heard it both ways on the 2.0, I’m not sure what to believe, but I would guess multiple possibilities had been discussed. Devon was supposed to be exposed as a spy and killed (maybe the prisoner Sarah shot? I’m glad this never happened! It would have been the end of me and Chuck).
The long lay off led to some definite changes. They decided Ryan was so perfect in his part and was connecting with fans, so they would leave Devon alone. They decided to make Morgan more relatable. And they decided to switch the Weinerlicious to Orange Orange (I’ve heard a couple explanations for this; one they felt the joke was played out, and two they’d had some problems staging action scenes with Yvonne in the Weiner-Girl costume). And apparently they lost Tony Todd (Graham); I don’t know the story there, but his filmography at IMDb from about this time shows a pretty packed schedule, so its hardly surprising. I think all of this points to some of the issues involving long term planning and continuity, really for any television show. Our show runners have referenced their long term plans for the show before, but obviously these plans are a very fluid thing. I think over time it is a reasonable, and completely typical thing for this sort of planning to impact story and continuity issues.
My overall impression of Season Two is dynamite. If I considered the first season to be the best thing on television at the time, the second lifted it to one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Above Season Three of Babylon 5 or Season Two of Rockford Files. I think the objective quality of the show was at its pinnacle too. I still call Season Four my favorite, but I think Season Two was actually better made.
The season had a particular rhythm that encourages strong impressions; it started amazingly strong, and ended amazingly strong, with a scattered number of very strong episodes in the middle too. A couple of arcs in the middle of the season sagged a little (Jill and Fulcrum Intersect) but we never had more than one weak episode at a time, or more than one weak episode in any arc.
I indicated last week that the government was less menacing after Season One, but only by a small degree. Season Two started with a kill order, got to a bunker order, life on the lam, Sarah being reassigned; wow. No doubt the government remained a threat. Maybe less continuously, but it remained an issue. And all those story elements are a huge part of quintessential Chuck. These are the things that define how we think about the early part of this show. I honestly wish every one of those stories had received more attention. But there’s only so much time in a season. (This is one of those things fan fiction excels at. There are a number of stories that spend more time on those various elements).
I also think Fulcrum was the most effective and dangerous enemy the team faced. Especially compared to The Ring which somehow seemed underwhelming by comparison, and later foes who all seemed more like personal enemies. Fulcrum felt global, threatening in an important sense, and pervasive. Yet Fulcrum was personal too. Especially in the person of Ted Roark, and how this tied back to Orion.
The development of Chuck himself was a little uneven. We saw the emergence of neurotic, buffoonish Chuck (Third Dimension, Beefcake). Its no coincidence that I always consider such episodes weak. This may have been the most unpleasant new development of the season, and it leaves me feeling like much of Chuck’s “growth” in Season Two was more retrograde. But it wasn’t all bad. Even though he often showed initiative, creativity and leadership from the beginning, by the end of this season he was ready to move ahead with his life. I’ll always feel like much of the best of Chuck’s growth was undone by the dreadful season that followed; but on its own merits, Season Two showed Chuck progress from “along for the ride” to “taking charge”. For Chuck personally the season was probably defined by reconnecting with his father and learning how the Intersect didn’t just happen to him, it was his legacy.
We learned a lot more about Sarah over the course of this season too. Especially about her con artist father and her childhood as a pariah. But even more than that, her growth was even easier to define than Chuck’s. She progressed from thinking she would just leave Chuck when this mission was over, to committing treason for him, to accepting that she could never leave. Like Chuck’s growth, so much of this was tragically and horribly undone by the dreadful story decisions that defined Season Three. But on its own, Season Two tells a beautiful story for Sarah.
Casey had a very good Season Two. Although right from the start we see how he has changed since Season One as he tries to avoid his kill order against Chuck. But by the mid-point of the season I think we see signs Casey would not seriously consider such an order again; certainly when we get to Colonel Casey is willing to go rogue to protect his team. Great moment from a great episode. And unlike the other main characters, Casey’s story will not be undermined in the future.
Morgan grows quite a lot as he comes to terms with adulthood, and even moving up the career ladder. His growth into a good employee will take place more in the next season, but it clearly was starting here. I know for many viewers he remained an annoyance, but I thought Morgan was used well in this season. Anna was closely tied to Morgan’s growth. I think she was a little less odd in this second season, which was a shame because that also meant a little less funny. Well, apart from clobbering Micheal Strahan (errr, Mitt the Mighty Jock!).
Ellie and Devon “grew” very little, but Devon’s discovery of Chuck’s secret life has to remain one of the many great moments of this season. And it was so refreshing to find something Devon was pointedly not good at. Ellie did have to come to terms with how she felt about her dad, which led to some great dramatic and comic moments.
And I can’t do this without mentioning how Jeffster became JEFFSTER. NOT Jester, like a couple of fools… The first performance was a lot of fun as something new and unexpected; “Mr. Roboto” has to be one of the finest moments in television history.
Much like Season One, there were no whole episodes in Season Two that I disliked. Every episode had fun moments, and a significant number of episodes are just prefect and brilliant all the way through. But I can still use my three categories.
- STRONG: First Date, Seduction, Break Up, Cougars, Tom Sawyer, Delorean, Santa Claus, Best Friend, Predator, Broken Heart, First Kill, Colonel, Ring. Several of these episodes have some less than favorite moments, but they all do something extraordinary to ensure they belong on this list. Maybe I could have added a strong/average category!
- AVERAGE: Fat Lady, Gravitron, Suburbs, Lethal Weapon, Dream Job. It surprises me how much I’ve come to like some of these episodes that include parts of a love triangle, especially Fat Lady.
- WEAK: Ex, Sensei, Third Dimension, Beefcake. I think its significant both Ex and Beefcake are on this list. Even if I can be won over by a good story with Jill or Cole; getting my favorite characters into a position where these characters can “move in” requires contortionism of a sort that really annoys me. I think Third Dimension plays a major role in the story of Chuck’s weak ratings in the latter part of Season Two.
One thing jumps right out at me; that’s a lot of strong episodes! More than half the season. Season two leads the pack on this count. This season will always be special, in some ways it is even my favorite. It still lags Season Four slightly if for no other reason than Season Four delivers the show I’d been waiting over three years to see. But this was brilliant television.
Next week things will get ugly, in a few senses of the word.