Episode of the Week: Chuck vs The American Hero (3.12)

NBC Synopsis: CHUCK IS DETERMINED TO GET HIS GIRL BACK-BRANDON ROUTH (“SUPERMAN RETURNS”) GUEST STARS-Chuck (Zachary Levi) has his pick of the best CIA agents for an undercover operation, but he has only one girl in mind for the job-Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski). Casey (Adam Baldwin), Morgan (Joshua Gomez) and Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) team up to help Chuck win her back.

Chuck This Ranking: 61
Dave’s Ranking: A little lower, not much

First Impressions: Post “Chuck vs The American Hero” Reaction Thread

Full Write Ups: Chuck vs The American Hero (3.12) by Ernie and Joe
Message in the Song, Part 2 by Faith
The Last American Hero by Joe
S3 Revisited: The All American Fraud by Joe

Alternatives: Season Three Alternatives: American Hero by Dave (and Joe)

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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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33 Responses to Episode of the Week: Chuck vs The American Hero (3.12)

  1. Greg says:

    I’m not a fan of S3 because of how Sarah’s character was eviscerated. However, this episode made me think that the budget challenges had way more of an impact than I realized up to that point.

    I refer you back to the dialog of Breakup in S2:
    Chuck: I brought you some gardenias
    Sarah: They’re my favorite. How did you know?
    Chuck: I’m not an entirely incompetent spy you know.

    At the beginning of this episode, when Chuck gets some things to win Sarah back, Chuck gets red roses. It’s a minor point (although they made a big deal of it in Breakup – to show how Chuck was different than Bryce), but it’s such a basic error (since there is no way Chuck would make that mistake) – that it was almost comical.

    Unfortunately OLI story lines are cheaper than fight scenes and that’s what the TPTB fell back too. So on rewatch, I just roll my eyes at the S3 OOC incidents and enjoy the good parts. Not many shows turn things around after jumping the shark. I was very glad that Chuck managed to do that starting with the last part of this episode.

    • atcDave says:

      Interesting observation Greg. I sure seems like a pretty basic continuity error.

      I agree completely the later part of this episode starts to feel a lot better, like a weight has been lifted!

  2. CaptMediocre says:

    What I remember the most about this episode was how everyone hinged the goodness or badness of the episode on a tiny, non-speaking, 4″ x 6″, irrelevant prop in the background of a scene.

    • atcDave says:

      I don’t know if it quite rose to being a deciding factor; but I sure did appreciate seeing that prop!

      • What?! I’m not aware of this prop. What are you talking about? In what scene?

      • duckman says:

        Glad I’m not the only one in the dark, Russ. I’ve been hazarding some guesses, but can’t bring myself to watch the ep to find out just yet. On a mildly related note, I learned today that Jack burton was a character in some 80’s movie, the name of which has already escaped me. Someone should write a book detailing all the dam pop culture references in this show!

      • atcDave says:

        The prop is the picture of Chuck and Sarah that was back on her nightstand as she was frantically packing. A small thing, but it sure meant a lot to me!

        Jack Burton was the hero in “Big Trouble in Little China”. An excellent, and VERY funny action comedy with Kurt Russell in the lead. This movie has a double Chuck connection; the villain was Lo Pan, played by a younger James Hong; who was also The villain Lo Pan in “Chuck vs The Sizzling Shrimp”.

      • joe says:

        Dave, I totally missed that interesting bit of movie trivia!
        Hum… I don’t think I’ve seen Big Trouble In Little China, which is dumb of me. I’ve certainly heard of it.

      • atcDave says:

        It’s one of those that now counts as a cult classic.

        Apparently the studio had no idea to promote it when it first came out, so it tanked at the box office. But it’s done well on video formats.
        I guess I was one of the lucky few who saw it in the theater, it’s always been a favorite.

  3. Martin Traynor says:

    This episode, maybe more than any other, really defines Season 3 for me. Just like the season can be divided into halves, so can this episode. I really can’t stand anything about the first 25 minutes. I mean, Sarah and Shaw on a date?!?! Sarah’s heart-piercing “I don’t [trust you]”?!?! But once Chuck locks Sarah in Castle, the entire feel of the episode (and season, for that matter), changes and swings back to the Chuck of old.

    I enjoyed seeing Chuck take charge and commit to helping Sarah find happiness and give her want she wants, even if that’s not him. He risks it all to save Shaw, not only because he’s a good guy and a hero at heart, but because (as far as Chuck knows) Shaw is who Sarah wants, and he wants her to be happy. That is love. Selfless, unconditional, absolute love.

    But this is where I really like to enjoy fan fiction more than cannon, because this marks the point where the camel’s back is just about to break. How many times must Chuck chase after Sarah? Especially after she says pretty much the worst thing she could have said to him – that she doesn’t trust him. If I wanted to psycho-analyze her (and believe me, many, many others have done it far better than I EVER could), I might think it’s really herself she doesn’t trust, but I’m not sure how to make sense of that or explain it, so I shan’t try.

    But if you tell me you don’t trust me in that situation, I move on to the many other fish in the sea. I know she said she had baggage in the pilot, but man oh man, she’s a regular bell hop. At this point, I almost wish Chuck had forgotten Sarah and instead saved himself for Vivian (I always thought they could have made a nice couple if there was no Sarah in the picture). I do love Chuck and Sarah together, I really do, but like a lot of you say, I think you really must forget this arc to accept them as a couple.

    Anyway, at lest we all survived another re-watch of this painful arc. It really doesn’t get easier to stomach with time, at least for me…

  4. Martin Traynor says:

    As referenced above…I remember being very concerned at some point in watching/re-watching about whether Sarah had decided before or after Casey’s confession to leave with Chuck. But I can’t for the life of me remember why I thought it mattered so much? Maybe I wanted to think that she Chose Chuck, even believing that he could have killed someone. Like maybe that meant she really did love him in at least somewhat the same way he loved her – dark flaws and all?

    I could buy that…

    • Wilf says:

      I certainly wanted to believe that she was already intending to leave with Chuck, before Casey confirmed what had happened. To me, that did make a significant difference, in that she had sorted out her feelings for Chuck without the need for an external stimulus.

      • atcDave says:

        It mattered a lot to me too, I think that’s why we were talking above about how important that little detail of the picture at the bedside mattered so much.
        Sarah had already decided for Chuck, Casey just helped her feel better about the decision. And I’m glad I’m sure of that!

      • uplink2 says:

        Well for me it was such a strong Easter Egg I wrote a fill in scene for it lol. But I think the focus on that picture by the Director and editor is absolutely a clear indication that she had chosen to leave with Chuck. Plus the time on the clock is significant. It’s 6:10 and she is supposed to meet Chuck at 7pm. She is hurriedly packing and as far as she knew Shaw was still in the hospital and so there is no need for the rushed packing. If she was leaving with him she could have taken her time. I think all the evidence points towards ehr going to meet Chuck BEFORE Casey arrives. He just confirms its the right decision and clears her anxiety about him changing because of her. Plus I had heard once that someone from the writers confirmed she made her decision in Castle when Chuck left after kissing her.

      • I agree with that, Wilf et al. I always thought that the common interpretation was that she had already made up her mind to go with Chuck before Casey appeared, and that his words confirmed for her the rightness of the choice she had made. It also means that she did not have to bear the guilt of having helped Chuck to become a killer. I also really liked Casey’s quick look around followed by, “have a nice life, Walker” (or some such). He knew what she was doing and to whom she was going.

      • Wilf says:

        A very good point, Russ – Casey knew what Sarah was about to do.

  5. anthropocene says:

    “American Hero”—time for me to (yawn!) wake up and again enjoy the very late-Season-2-like second half of this episode. I’ve known a few real couples in love who—with only a tiny fraction of the life complications and relationship stressors that plague TV spies like Chuck and Sarah—have acted foolishly, poorly, and sometimes even hurtfully toward each other before coming to their senses and happily bonding. So I’m content to write off the “misery arc” as a brief lapse of reason by all parties and enjoy what comes next. Things are about to get much better. Not always perfect, but much better!

    • atcDave says:

      Well I completely agree things are looking up, starting with the terrific end to this episode.
      But sadly, the couples I’ve known who behave as foolishly as our heroes do here, never work out. I guess that’s part of why this sort of story always fails me, all I can see is a doomed couple. I have to believe better for these characters.

  6. oldresorter says:

    Two odd scenes in season 3, one in fake name, one in hero. When Sarah didn’t die in Fake Name, at least I think (been a long time since I watched Fake Name) the camera panned away b4 we saw Sarah react to Shaw or Chuck, as in hugging or dialouge, i.e. which one of the two did she seek comfort from, which one tried to comfort her, or did she just walk away? In this ep, same deal when Chuck emerged from the building with Shaw. What did Sarah do? Run to Shaw, ignore Chuck? Thank Chuck for saving her boyfriend, then leave with the ambulance? Both scenes had the potential for powerful, emotional writing and acting. Instead, much like the final on the beach, what happens next is a question mark.

    • atcDave says:

      I remember a few times even back in S2 there were scenes that just had to end with a hug (First Date, Best Friend, Broken Heart) where they cut the scene before anything happened. It was obviously part of how they were teasing things out, I don’t think it’s uncommon on television.
      But you’re right about those examples, and I would add the end of Beard. It just adds to what rings false about this period to me.

  7. uplink2 says:

    Ahh, American Hero. To me its an episode that is such a mishmash of things. Huge plot holes, great dramatic moments that are completely ignored like they never even happened, incredibly stupid behavior for spies, stealth bomber airstrikes in downtown Los Angeles, huge 180 degree flips for Sarah and the incredibly offensive, annoying and incessant beating of “Shaw is a true American Hero” drum. When to anyone with half a brain would know that his “sacrifice” was incredibly stupid and not in the least bit heroic even before Chuck shows that he truly is one. But they were still playing up that whole failed storyline that Shaw was the perfect spy. It is anything but a great conclusion and justification of the god awful journey they took us on.

    Again they had to make Sarah stupid and a terrible spy to sell this big reveal. She never once questions why she can’t get a signal all the way to the desert from downtown LA. She never notices that Shaw is wearing his wedding ring for the first time. I mean every single woman I know would absolutely notice if their one-time boyfriend who they haven’t officially broken up with yet was now wearing a wedding ring. But we have to ignore all of that pathetic spy work and basic human recognition because the big reveal is coming for Sarah. It just reaks of a messy resolution to a very messy story.

    There are a few good moments in the episode, Chuck carrying the block of wood out before he got “burned” and Sarah’s reaction to see him once again triumph against great odds. The scene in Castle and Chuck’s blunt and honest speech. Casey’s realization that Chuck is still standing up for him and keeping his secret. And his decision to tell Sarah the truth, “in case it changes anything”. The Easter egg that she was leaving to be with him. Plus wouldn’t you know it has the only scene where there was ever even a tiny drop of chemistry between Sarah and Shaw. But it is all wrapped up in such a messy resolution to a very messy and poorly executed storyline. Its ultimate saving grace is that the end is near and we are fairly certain that Sarah has finally wised up and chosen “a good one this time”.

    • noblz says:

      Pretty much agree with all of that. Pick up right after the scene where Sarah doesn’t believe/trust Chuck and this becomes a pretty good episode. I know Shaw kisses Sarah in there, but he’s not the first spy to do that.

      I’m writing this part as if I didn’t know what happens in episode 17. I was positive, at the time, that the whole Sarah-Shaw “romance” started at Sarah’s declaration that she no longer loves Chuck and ends when Chuck carries “the block of wood” out of the exploding building. What was on screen was Sarah trying an exploratory relationship with Shaw (the restaurant scene was their first date, after all) but she drops him as soon as Chuck tells her how he feels. I never credit the attempts at damage control by Schwedak et al, I go with what was on screen. Still needed an emotional showdown scene, maybe a sparring session in the dojo gets out of hand (that would have been a great scene), to settle it. It would have made what came afterwards much stronger.

      • uplink2 says:

        True but that is the problem with this episode and this storytelling. The scene where Sarah doesn’t trust Chuck for the first time ever in the series, and tells him to his face should have been a HUGE scene. It should have been a critical moment in their story, a turning point, something. But as soon as its over, its like it never happened. They could have run color bars for that amount of screen time and it would have had the exact same impact on the story going forward. Even though I hate the ending of Final Exam it fits perfectly into what must comes next in Castle. But then its simply dropped because we need to get to Chuck’s hero moment and sell the illusion of Shaw the hero spy turning to the dark side because of the big reveal to come. How do you write a powerful scene like that and have it mean absolutely nothing? It boggles my mind but they had to because Chuck and Sarah were getting together in about 40 minutes of screen time no matter whether they deserved it or it was set up properly or not. That scene should have broken Chuck and Sarah for even longer than Prague did because it was organic to the story being told and not just a contrived reset like Prague was. But even though I like the outcome, I really don’t like the storytelling here.

  8. Martin Traynor says:

    I am so very glad they never showed it, but did Sarah actually break it off with Shaw, or did she just choose Chuck and move on? i know anything could have happened “off camera,” but I kind of get the impression that Shaw always knew she loved Chuck, even when she said “not anymore,” and that he somehow just know that they were no longer whatever it is they were.

    I’m not even sure she would have needed to “break up” with him, given how tenuous their “relationship” on screen (at least) seemed. They really came off to me as a matter of convenience more than anything.

    • atcDave says:

      As far as we know they never “broke up”. And in the elevator scene in Other Guy, Sarah sort of shushed Chuck when he asked about it. She could have broken the news during their flight to Paris. But I think it was just ignored.
      It strikes me as funny that in Paris, Shaw explains to Chuck that he just wants to kill Sarah, so Chuck needn’t worry. So IF Shaw was perceptive enough to know what Sarah felt, he totally missed how far Chuck reciprocated. Shaw was pretty dense!

    • My point of view on this is that if Shaw really had any enduring feelings for Sarah, he would not have chosen to make himself a target to bring down the Ring. He said explicitly that this was to get back at the people responsible for killing his wife. I see his wooden acting as a sign of such deep grief for his wife that he is an emotional zero with respect to anything or anyone else, including Sarah. I don’t think Sarah held any sort of deep passion for Shaw, either. She cared for him, as Chuck observed before he ran off to rescue him, but her relationship with Shaw was a regression to her skewed version of male-female relationships. Even when she was trying to reject Chuck’s efforts to win her back, she showed more emotional depth than when she was Shaw, except perhaps when she thought he was going to die.

  9. Martin Traynor says:

    That’s a great point, Dave, and funny at that! It does appear as though they (TPTB) just kind of moved on, never to address it. They did that a lot this season…except when they regrettably didn’t (see that oh-so-painful earring scene in “Living Dead” for a great example of when they SHOULD have ignored it!).

    Some of my favorite episodes of the series are coming up (Other Guy, Honeymooners and Role Models). This is the end of the worst and the start of (some of) the best.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah I agree with all of that Martin. It does though seem funny to me that Sarah just moved on from Shaw like he was nothing.

  10. Martin Traynor says:

    Yeah; I actually take a lot of comfort in that. To me it just confirms that he was a fly-by-night thing. I wouldn’t even call it a fling. Just a place filler. Of course, that what makes the earring scene in “Living Dead” that much harder to take, but that’s a discussion for another day…

  11. Beckman was given two EXTREMELY stupid lines in S3 this episode has one and the other was in PS and is so bad i’m not even repeating it.

    This episode is middle ground for me; everything with Sarah is bad but all of Chuck and the other characters-not Shaw -is superb; in particular this ep has Ellie’s best “i’m your big sis moment!”

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