Episode of the Week: Chuck vs The Three Words (3.02)

NBC Synopsis: CHUCK MUST LEARN TO CONTROL HIS EMOTIONS SO HE CAN BE A SPY… EVEN IF HE’S STILL IN LOVE WITH SARAH—VINNIE JONES (“SNATCH”) GUEST STARS—Chuck (Zachary Levi) gets a new mission when Sarah’s (Yvonne Strahovski) best friend Carina comes through town with her fiancé Karl (guest star Vinnie Jones). Things get complicated when Chuck wants to hash out his and Sarah’s relationship problems while they’re on the mission. Meanwhile, Morgan (Joshua Gomez) finds himself in trouble when he lies to Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay).

Chuck This Ranking: 72
Dave’s Ranking: Much Lower

First Impressions: Open Reactions Thread
Final First Thoughts by Joe

Full Write Ups: Chuck vs The Three Words (3.02) by Ernie and Faith
How Chuck Slipped Up on Three Little Words by Ernie
S3 Revisited: Only Three Words by Joe

Alternatives: Season Three Alternatives: Three Words by Dave

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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38 Responses to Episode of the Week: Chuck vs The Three Words (3.02)

  1. uplink2 says:

    Ahhh, Three Words. I did like this episode when it first ran. I thought Carina was fantastic and I liked that Sarah had an actual friend. Though Vinnie Jones is a tool, he fit the role and added some comedic elements to the character. The whole age thing with Casey was a lot of fun too. I also enjoyed the laser thing which thankfully didn’t go on as long or it didn’t seem that way at least as the one in Push Mix. That one should have been cut in half. And overall this made me feel much better after how much I disliked Pink Slip that night.

    But now we get to the 2 big issues with this episode. First let’s start with the simpler one. The introduction of Shaw was flawed right from the beginning. He didn’t come off as the Super Man, I mean Super Spy they intended. He came off creepy and immediately I disliked the character and my first impression was I was going to hate him. Plus they made it look like Beckman was his subordinate and not his superior. She looked weak and almost intimidated by him. She didn’t give him orders but almost pleaded with him to tell Team B about his arrival. So from his first mention I already had strike 1 against Shaw. And not in a good way that I was looking forward to him for some drama and tension. I immediately saw him as the upcoming OLI that had been foreshadowed in Pink Slip. I hoped I was wrong but ultimately I wasn’t. And it only got worse.

    Second, the fantastic scene with Sarah and Carina at the end was ultimately dismissed as nothing but false hope. Seeing that sincere bond between them and then the realization on Sarah’s face when she saw Chuck’s confession. I will say that coming to this site later on, I was given a different interpretation of that scene that really opened up my eyes. I had viewed it as a positive reaction that her heart was broken but felt some joy that he loved her but things were just too screwed up right now. But the love was still there that she had felt all along. That Chuck’s betrayal of her in Prague and rejecting her in that contrived manner he did, may have had an honest more “Chucklike” element to it. But someone pointed out to me that there was also real anguish and fear in Sarah that she now knew he had uploaded the 2.0 for her. That she had manipulated him into doing what she didn’t want him to do and she was the cause of what might be the destruction of the Chuck she loved.

    And here is where Yvonne shows her brilliance once again. Both emotions are there. It’s multi-layered and multi-dimensional. Both interpretations are valid and I guess both are correct in many ways. But what disturbs me so much and in many ways lessens this episode a great deal is that none of it mattered one bit in the long run. It was false hope and intentionally misleading. Nothing lasting comes from it in any way and those of us that latched on to it as a way to get through the upcoming story with some hope that the misery would not last long were sadly wrong. It’s sad because other than that awful scene with Shaw the episode in itself was very good. It’s that fact that it was all meaningless that damages it. It was just the beginning of what would become far too many elements of false hope and deception. But if what we saw in that final scene and the “I hope we can clean it up,…. Maybe” dialog had actually been something that would be built on that season would have been far easier to take. But instead it was discarded and we were forced to live through even worse misery and ultimately an unearned resolution.

    • atcDave says:

      I agree almost exactly with all of that, although my context is slightly different. Of course I’d seen all the spoilers in the off season, but many of us were hoping talk of “PLIs” and what not would be played mostly for laughs and the actual drama of it all might be resolved fairly quickly. So although I intensely disliked “Pink Slip” I held out some hope that Three Words had fixed most of what was wrong. Certainly I liked Three Words on its own merits. It was a fun episode that ended (I thought) on a hopeful note. Looking back at the “First Reactions” comments you can see exactly where my mind was at that first night.
      But I’ve come to really hate this episode for exactly the reasons you mention. It was all false hope. Talk of “cleaning up messes” was purely misleading and a lie. Even the next couple episodes I held out more hope for things mending pretty quickly. As I mentioned back in the “Alternatives” post; I think if the “do you love me” moment had come quickly, like right after Operation Awesome I might have been fine with the minor reset and darker mood at the start of the season.
      But as it stands now, I find this episode and most of the season’s arc utterly contemptible. Just terrible story and character decisions were made. This is practically a case study in how to ruin a perfectly good show.

    • uplink2 says:

      Dave, that is what defines most of the complaints about the story telling. It simply doesn’t flow with each episode building upon the prior ones. As you say it did it in spurts as the contemptible, I like that word, Pink Slip through Operation Awesome does have some flow and the story is built upon the earlier one, as un-entertaining and contrived a story as it was. But all of that got thrown out the window with First Class and the real intent of Pink Slip comes into view, another round of pointless LI’s. Then they even have Sarah do a complete about face in one single episode to sell that disaster.

      We will talk about it next week, but they have this fantastic scene at the end of Angel with Chuck and Sarah declaring their first step back towards each other is as “friends”. Its a poignant and well acted scene. But again they never ever do anything about it. They never really acted as friends after that moment until maybe that one scene in TicTac. This all just goes to show how inconsistent the story telling throughout the season was. There are so many false hopes, deceptions and simply forgotten story points that you really have to wonder what the intent was. Was the false hope deliberate? Was it simply poor story telling? Or was it simply throw out whatever you want as long as you put them back together in 3.13. Make a scene so special in that last moment that folks will simply forget about how poorly a path chose and how poorly you executed that path to get them there.

      • atcDave says:

        I think it was mostly poor technique. At least to say, I don’t believe they set out to PO the fans. JS once said “we wouldn’t get wt/wt fatigue”. Apart from the fact many of us were already there, I believe he honestly thought we would all love his story.
        Again, although I never would have liked Pink Slip; if the reconciliation had been more meaningful in the early part of the season, and I mean things like cleaning up messes and the “friends” talk late in Operation Awesome, I could have easily seen a “do you love” me sort of scene the following week being just an incredible moment.
        I think I could have forgiven Pink Slip, and been all on board for an amazing story of Chuck becoming a real spy all while battling The Ring as Chuck and Sarah try to figure out what it means for two spies to really be together. It truly could have been a terrific story. What we saw instead was depressing and soul crushing. Worst thing I ever sat through.

      • CaptMediocre says:

        There was no reconciliation – ever.

      • Justin says:

        “I think I could have forgiven Pink Slip, and been all on board for an amazing story of Chuck becoming a real spy all while battling The Ring as Chuck and Sarah try to figure out what it means for two spies to really be together. It truly could have been a terrific story.”

        I would have enjoyed Season 3 more if that was the direction the show was going to take after Pink Slip. It would have produced some organic growth for Chuck, Sarah, and their relationship post-Prague.

      • noblz says:

        Uplink and atcDave

        Good thing 3W, Angel and Awesome were pretty good episodes…at the time or I might have quit. I say at the time because in retrospect I have to fully agree with Uplink about the false hope, but we didn’t know it was false at the time. It was only as each week passed with no improvement that we found we were being had.

        Back to this episode, I have to say the vault scene with Chuck’s “dying declaration” of love and the point where Beckman as much as orders Sarah to have a relationship, of some kind, with Chuck. In any sane universe, after the surveillance tape and the “we can clean this up” they should have reconciled regardless of the events in PS.

      • atcDave says:

        I agree exactly with that Noblz.

      • uplink2 says:

        Here’s where I wonder about the rumor that there was a writers meeting sometime around when they were working on First Class and something about they were unhappy with the direction and they changed the episodes around Mask/Fake Name. I often wonder about all of that. This is when 3.8 was changed from C vs The Nose to my personal most hated episode of the series. That is the time when we all really knew we had been dupped and all of those great moments from ep 3.2-3.4 were just lies and discarded along with a believable plot. What were those discussions about if true? Is that the point where the hope was made false and irrelevant? They just did another reset? Did it make it better or would it have been worse? It’s also about the time that Ali had that rather insulting video posted about “Loving Love” and trusting them that they “knew what they were doing”. Really? You could have fooled me Ali. If I could get one story from behind the scenes, that would be it. We heard stories from DR about how even the crew knew Sarah/Shaw in particular was a disaster and it didn’t work even to them. I would just love to know what actually happened back then. It would make for a great class in screenwriting.

      • atcDave says:

        I admit I’d be fascinated in some of that behind the scenes stuff. It is so hard for me to believe much of the staff was on board.

      • uplink2 says:

        I agree. It was all there onscreen. I’ve said many times I knew nothing about spoilers, “You won’t get WTWT fatigue”, “emotional and traumatic”, “But it will be great”. “Trust us , we know what we are doing”, OLI’s or anything when I sat down in front of my TV Jan 10th, 2010. I knew nothing later on of “We’re further along in the story”, or Chuckpocalypse. All I ever saw were the promos NBC ran. Yet once I did come online in April of 2010 to the Chuckverse I was amazed how many people saw exactly the same thing I did. How it had become a “thing” with fans being so pissed off that the showrunners had to try and do serious damage control within minutes of Mask airing. How could “trained professionals” many who had been with the show since the beginning not have seen there were problems, big problems with story choice, execution and casting. Hell during the 5 season wrap up Schwedak did they came as close to throwing Routh and Sarah/Shaw under the bus as they could or would. At CC 2010 they admitted it didn’t work and “we learned some things from season 3”. Gomez’s comments about not getting in between Chuck and Sarah were spot on so you know the cast talked about it. I would just love to read some inside baseball stuff on it someday. It would be fascinating but I doubt we will ever hear it. It could be career suicide if they talked about what happened in that writers room or on their closed set.

      • atcDave says:

        Ryan McPartlin also made some comments about lessen learned. I’m sure they all talked about it.

    • Wilf says:

      It sure was depressing. Although, at least there was a certain amount of humour throughout 3.0, even if many of us would not have been in the mood to recognise it, given the overall direction which was being taken. Compare that with the final arc of the entire series where, to my mind anyway, there was little or no humour, just darkness. However, at least the final arc was relatively short cf 3.0 … after all, the whole Quinn / memory thing could have been drawn out for 13 episodes and what a love letter that would have been for us 😉

      • atcDave says:

        I suppose. No doubt the last two episodes are pretty humorless. But I was completely not in a laughing mood with the S3 story. On balance, what humor there was in S3 fell flat for me.

  2. Wow I haven commented in forever; I confess I have wrote much either-not because I’m suffering from writers block but because, after writing 9 straight chapters I needed a mental hiatus…instead I decided to pick up the Harry Potter series again (for what is actually the 6th time) it always amazes me that I still find entertainment in a series I’ve read so many times… I’m on the final book now and will be returning to writing when I’m finished.

    Anyway…S3…I’ll admit I was very fond of it prior to finding this site but then well…lets just say my blissful ignorance was shattered immediately and I have since maintained a very harsh few of it…I still loathe S3 more than the finale (at least I had something to root for with the latter) but I happen to think that Yvonne’s talent sadly made the misery arc worse to endure because I fully believed Sarah was suffering from a severe emotional upheaval…and had anybody else been in the role I would have abandoned the show completely…there really was no excuse for the contrived direction the show took.

    • atcDave says:

      Josh I’ll always feel a little bad that you liked it before we ruined it for you. That was certainly never my intent. And I do think a lot of the worst of it is easier to bear if you can power watch through the thing all at once.
      Ultimately I think the biggest issue is purely a matter of taste. Those who loved the season can find plenty to get excited about, while those of us who dislike it can get upset over many things too!

  3. Martin Traynor says:

    The ONLY good thing about the misery arc is that the fans were able to experience the ending of it, as well as the beginning and maturation of what came next – THE Chuck and Sarah relationship. Sadly, we got no such opportunity with the finale arc.

    • atcDave says:

      It is nice that so much good came after, and that is a deficiency of the actual finale arc. But at least the finale didn’t make the protagonists look like a couple of idiots.

  4. oldresorter says:

    Couple of current event tv observations.

    Sarah Lancaster has been in a few scenes on Revenge.

    Scorpion continues to be the show most like Chuck for me in tone, comedy, yet not.

    Madam Secretary is really entertaining to me, about equal thirds of west wing (political plots), 7th heaven (family plots) and even a third of a heavy spy laden overrideing arc (the stay at home, professor, husband is still an agent, the sec of state wife used to be, and they are trying to figure out who killed the past sec of state). The show seems to get the mix about right, and is pretty dramatic for a network show, and the drama feels earned.

    I like POI less and less, funny, I can’t think of any real reason. I really liked the orig concept, the new concept with two big brothers watching our every move, I’m not feelin the love, not sure why?

    I wonder when the networks will introduce too many shows like the arrow and the flash (two SHIELD ones too). Seems like several more are coming including one for Routh. I’m not too wild about any of them right now, let alone primed for more.

    Season 3 episode 2 of Chuck, all I can say is ‘Oh Boy!’ – the writers sure made me unhappy in this series of episodes. I wonder when (or if) I’ll be able to sit thru all 93 eps without being angry over s3 or the final two eps? I tried this fall and didn’t make it, but probably will try again in another couple of years. IMO I’ll be fine then. The sting is starting to go away.

    • atcDave says:

      We’ve also been watching Madam Secretary, very good show. And we also lost interest in POI this season; we actually dropped it a few weeks ago. It’s been too dark and no fun.
      I still think Scorpian is pretty cheesy; we’re still watching, but it’s the most brain dead thing we watch.
      We loved Agent Carter, SHIELD is just okay.
      Castle and Forever are my favorite shows for now.

      You’re a braver man than I if you think you can re-watch S3 someday! It gets me steaming mad just thinking about it.

      • thinkling says:

        That’s about where I am, but I like Madame Secretary as well as Castle and Forever, and I’m still watching POI, but with less enthusiasm.

      • uplink2 says:

        I’m with Dave on Agent Carter. I like AOS but Carter is a much better show I think. The characters are more engaging and what bothers me about the show is what is supposed to bother me, the fact that such an amazing and talented woman is treated with such disrespect by her peers. On AOS there are other issues. Does it make me look bad that I hate Simmons’ eyebrows? I know its a style now but they are really ugly lol. I’m tired of the Fitz brain damage storyline, and I’m worried that they are changing my favorite character, Skye, too much with the current storyline. Plus I don’t want to see Grant come back. I never liked him lol. But I do think Hayley Atwell is terrific in the Agent Carter role.

        I can rewatch a couple of season 3 episodes, Tic Tac, Three Words, Angel and maybe AH and certainly Other Guy. But I will never rewatch Pink Slip or anything on DVD 2 of season 3. In fact when I digitized all 5 seasons of DVD to put on a jump drive and my tablet, I never even took DVD 2 out of the box. So my series drive has 87 episodes not 91.

      • atcDave says:

        I think my biggest beef with AOS is just that I’m not a fan of the internal dissent type of story. Of course on occasion it can work; but I’m really tired of the whole “is Skye out of control” and “is Bobbi a traitor” sort of stories. I guess I would add Fitz’ brain damage as a similar sort. Internal tension just bores me to tears… get on with a story already!

        Obviously there’s a couple of S3 episodes I can re-watch. But they’re a minority. Its mostly “the season that never was” as far I’m concerned!

      • Justin says:

        atcDave, I wouldn’t give up on Person of Interest just yet. The remaining episodes of the season may turn things around. It’s usually during the final episodes of a POL season that things pick up in a BIG way.

      • atcDave says:

        The thing that ended POI for us was the whole “someone won’t survive” story arc. They did that last year. And its not a sort of “tension” I ever really enjoy; I watch television to have fun, to see people do great things or overcome great challenges. Waiting to see who’s turn it is to be offed isn’t my thing. So enough of that.

      • Justin says:

        Have you ever seen the show Parks and Recreation? It would be a right fit for you. A positive, fun piece of television involving people like the main character Leslie Knope doing great things against difficult odds.

      • atcDave says:

        I haven’t, but I have heard mostly good about it. I may have to give it a try.

      • Justin says:

        You should give it a try, atcDave. The series finale is way better than the Chuck finale. It filled me with so much joy I wanted to cry.

      • Garnet says:

        I have to admit my TV watching has been a bit limited since January 27 2012…Our family watches Castle, Sherlock, Dr. Who, and Downton Abbey. We have also started watching “X Company”, a suprisingly entertaing show, but I’m not sure it would be your cup of tea Dave. It is about a group of spies in the Second WW that is not afraid to show the dark side of spying and is occasionally sympathetic to the plight of the German footsoldier as well. There are lots of plot twists, and I could easily see Yvonne in the female lead role. It is an 8 part series with a second season planned. It comes from the people who brought you Flashpoint and Orphan Black. Currently it runs on CBC and I don’t know if they are showing it in the US. I don’t think CBC blocks access based on location, but I’m not sure.

      • atcDave says:

        WWII is certainly fertile ground for a lot of good stories, including spy stories!
        But it does sound like your taste may run darker than mine. I’m okay with the idea a lot of ugly things had to be done, I’m even completely okay with having sympathy for soldiers who wind up on the wrong side either through national loyalties or unfortunate circumstance.
        But I dislike not knowing where a main character’s loyalties actually lie or lame post-modern attempts at moral equivalency type arguments. So I often dislike modern treatments of things like WWII or the American Civil War.
        I may look into “X Company”, but I admit I’m often cautious about such stories.

      • garnetflint says:

        I would say that there is no question where the main characters’ loyalty lies, and there is one of the agents who is supposed to have synesthesia as well as a photographic memory…in fact he remembers so much he might as well have a computer in his head. The female lead’s boyfriend is killed off in the first episode, and there just might be something between the two….thinking about it, it sounds more than slightly familiar. Something like a FF AU version of Chuck.
        Where the similarity ends is that there is no one who whould call it anything like comedy! Most recent episode featured…no that would spoil it. The series was filmed in Canada and Hungary with a largely unknown (to me) cast.In spite of that the acting is not at all bad, and by the second episode they really have a good feel for things.

        It is partially set in Camp X, the Canadian secret base where British/Canadian/ U.S spies trained during the war. It is reported that Ian Flemming was a one time resident of the base and that he modeled his character on the man in charge of the project.

  5. Martin Traynor says:

    I wanted to cry at the end of Chuck, but for very, very different reasons…!

  6. garnetflint says:

    I had a bit of a double whammy in Season 3. Our family had just recently found Chuck and had gone through most of season 1 and 2 fairly quickly. We caught up to the aired episodes just in time for…the Olympic Break. If that isn’t enough to turn one off I don’t know what is.

    I think the whole series suffered from a certain rhythm that seemed to go ” Happy, Happy, Happy, BOOM…Hapy Happy BOOM.” Season 3 took that to the other extreme…Angst, Angst, Angst, Angst, Angst, Hap (the cut off happy is deliberate) and then back to the Happy Happy BOOM. The Booms were usually mid-season or finale episodes. I find that when I try to describe what Chuck was like the somewhat schizophrenic nature of some of the episodes makes it almost impossible.
    And yes I also wanted to cry at the end of Chuck, but I suspect that, to be fair, I would likely have felt that way even if they had ended on a clearly happy note.

    • atcDave says:

      There’s different sorts of crying…

      I do think the rhythm often chosen for Chuck was sort of bass ackwards. I’m never more likely to quit a show than at a tense cliffhanger. I suspect I’m not alone. I think it works better to have the cliffhangers more in the middle of the season, with only a weekly break. That way everyone can look forward to the speedy resolution. And then end for longer breaks (and seasons) on a more upbeat note.
      Now clearly SOME of where Chuck struggled was beyond their control. Mask was never meant to be a break episode. And Balcony-Gobbler-Push Mix was well constructed to move through the arc quickly and give us a really awesome resolution before a break. So I don’t mean to make too much of this.
      But I think Ring and Ring II were both pretty lousy season finales, and of course I think Goodbye was completely unacceptable as a series finale. That is a pretty big disconnect between my needs as a viewer and the show runners’ style of story telling.

      It will be very interesting to see what happens with a season (series?) finale of Forever.

    • uplink2 says:

      Shedding tears at Goodbyes is a good thing. It shows connection and loss and implies that something or someone meant something to you, possibly a great deal. But what’s different about those kind of tears and the ones that came from 5.13 was that I “cried” because I didn’t get to say goodbye to the couple that meant so much to me. I was deprived that moment of happiness, sadness, joy and loss. It was just sadness and loss because I felt it made the journey that led me there meaningless because their story wasn’t over. I don’t think I got the chance to say goodbye to Chuck and Sarah like I wanted to and that pains me greatly still to this day. I’m better with it now but that’s a moment of loss I can never get back or see resolved favorably.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah I feel the same way. The end feels like a far greater loss than it needed to. Instead of a final celebration or moment of joy, we were left with a vague hope. It doesn’t work for me.

      • Wilf says:

        I’m with you on that, uplink. Whilst I did become reconciled to what I saw, with much help from people in this forum and with the distance of time, it has never really amounted to more than a modicum of justification in my mind, rather than any notion of “hey, actually, that was a really lovely ending”. Fan fiction has helped too, but shouldn’t have been needed. If anyone ever sends me such a “love letter” again, I’ll know where to file it.

  7. Sorry that I’m a bit late to the party again. I really liked this episode a lot. I’d probably rank it in the top half, perhaps for the Bo practice session alone. Since I first heard it, I’ve loved the song playing in the background, “Model Homes,” by In-Flight Safety. The words and actions between Chuck and Sarah while they sparred were gut-wrenching to watch. You can see the pain in both of them. Chuck has hurt Sarah deeply; he knows it, but she denies it. “Don’t worry, Chuck. You can’t.” This certainly wasn’t a fun scene, but for me the emotional impact was tremendous.

    For all the objectionable detour into other relationships as the season wore on, in this episode we were reminded that Chuck and Sarah loved each other. The struggle to get from this tough place, through even tougher places, before they got back together, made me want to come back episode after episode.

    My name is Russ and I am a resolute defender of season 3.

    Russ / resaw

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