Chuck – “Chuck vs the Honeymooners”
“Can’t. You see, in my head, the only way the plane remains aloft is if I’m rooting for it.”
Slight disparity in nighttime wear.
What a waste.
If you’ve been following my reviews of Chuck, you’ll notice an increased enthusiasm for the growing intensity and a demonstration of better story-telling in the last few weeks. Some might even say it was “overly optimistic.” Nay, I said, not overly optimistic. This is clearly where this show is going and finally (finally!) they know where they’re going. This is a mature show, a show with direction, a show with purpose, a show that knows who it is and that will take it over the bubble so it can anchor a soon-to-be fledgling NBC schedule. And then I get this.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see Chuck and Sarah’s turn of events. Happy to see them air out their opposite-of-differences (concordances?) and finally tell each other how they really feel. Sorry if I spoiled it for anyone but, yes, it finally happened. Chuck and Sarah have finally admitted it to each other (for the hundredth time) and they are together. So much opportunity to treat this burgeoning relationship with the same dark (for Chuck) touch that has haunted the season, I waited for them mull over what makes this thing hard, one the Cardinal Rule of Spying is “Never fall in love (especially with a spy).” They’re targets that make the other person vulnerable in hostage situations. They’re always in danger. They’re always pretending to be someone else. But it was not to be in this episode
Okay, maybe those themes are a little too much pressure on an event that has been three years in the making, one that has been doggedly desired by superfans everywhere. But I wanted them to maintain the darker tone of this season. It’s hard to demand something more realistic from a show about a guy that holds all the government’s secrets in his head because he saw a picture of a sunflower, but maybe I wanted something more grounded.
Instead I got something treacly, oversentimental, divergent from tone, and with not enough Jeffster.
The actual spy plot isn’t really worth discussing but, in case you wanted to know, Chuck and Sarah are on the lam (we’ll discuss) but notice a Basque spy and decide to take him in for one last mission. Turns out he’d already turned himself in to INTERPOL and Team Chucknsarah, armed with the worst Southern accents since Anna Paquin uttered the words “Vampire Bill,” thwart what should have been a simple transfer to Witness Protection. Luckily for them, some other bad guys are after the Basque spy and Chuck and Sarah get a chance to save the day they originally ruined. They take it.
But this episode really isn’t about spy stuff so we don’t have to spend a lot of time on it. We’ll discuss the disparity between their professional life and personal life. Despite their heroics, they are still babies. The entire episode they act like children. In a show (especially this season) steeped in the federal agent/spy-procedural genre’s tenet of “ethical gray area,” they see their relationship being on one side of a line or the other. Either they go back to their lives in Burbank and pretend they don’t love each other (so, you know, the usual) or they run away and never look back (except they always have to because they’ve gone AWOL). To them, it has to be one or the other. They essentially believe that no one will understand their love and the government will try to keep them apart.
EXCEPT THERE IS NO INDICATION OF THAT WHATSOEVER.
The only people keeping Chuck and Sarah apart are Chuck and Sarah. Sarah wanted to maintain a professional relationship. Chuck agreed that would be a good idea. Chuck always had doubts about whether Sarah actually liked him or if she was pretending. Sarah is closed-off from years of emotional turbulence and self-preservation as a secret agent. At no time did General Beckman say, “Hey, you two, stop it with the kissy faces or we’re done with Operation Bartowski.” The only time she ever threatened to break up the team was (a) when she thought their relationship was compromising their performance (which it was later determined it wasn’t) and (b) when it was decided it was best for Chuck to start his own missions (and, even then, Chuck was able to pick his own team). In fact, General Beckman earlier this season figured Sarah’s relationship with Chuck was exactly what he needed in order to hone his skills. The nature of their bond was helping the mission.
But somehow we get this binary portrayal of a relationship set in a world where there is very little room for a binary perspective. Good guys turn bad, bad guys are sometimes good but in a bad situation, Morgan is somehow able to be a spy. Speaking of which, this overwrought story of consummated love tramples all over some of the best parts of this series right now.
Casey and Morgan (along with Jeffster) might be the only things that save this episode from complete failure. The dynamic between Casey and Morgan might have the greatest potential of any relationship on the program. Just like Sarah became the de facto mentor for Chuck’s eventual growth as a spy, Casey looks like he will (reluctantly at first) have to mold some soft bearded dough into something more intense and cutthroat. But, of course, this episode was dedicated to the Chuck and Sarah thing so none of that was explored here. There were, however, some funny moments with them, including a couple of interesting scenes that were oddly familiar. Morgan mimics many of Chuck’s parts next to Casey such as Morgan asking Casey to step aside when they’re in front of the computer, Morgan on the plane riding coach with Casey (just like Chuck and Casey did in the last episode), and Casey helping out while bound to a chair with Morgan by lifting Morgan onto his back and using him to kick the bad guys (remember how Chuck and Casey got out of the hotel room in “vs The Undercover Lover”). Morgan in Chuck’s shoes is like a rite of passage. Casey treating him the same puts him on the same trajectory as Bartowski. Morgan won’t be an intersect but, under Casey’s active tutelage, he might becomes a superspy without supernatural ability, which may lead to some inner-team competition, maybe some rivalry, splintering, pitting lifelong friends against each other. That’s all speculation but you see the possibilities.
Casey’s go-to bound-to-a-chair-with-a-wimp move
But no no. This is an episode about Chuck and Sarah. One of the most representative sections of how far this show is willing to go to allow weak, saccharine dialogue stomp on what makes this show good is when Chucknsarah are at a train station discussing their plans to run away together (even though they both want to continue being spies but aren’t telling each other), where Sarah utters the winning line, “I’ve lived all over the world but Burbank is the only place that felt like home,” they barf all over Jeffster Unplugged, singing John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Dressed in black, Lester and Jeff give a pretty awesome performance of the song, demonstrating the growth of Jeffster since conquering their stage fright with Toto’s “Africa.” They play at Ellie and Devon’s going away party (since they’re leaving the country for Doctors Without Borders), the one Chuck is not at because he is selfishly ditching everyone he’s ever loved so he can run away from the government forever (sound familiar?) and be with the girl. Ellie is completely justified in being furious. Even though she doesn’t know the real reason he’s not there, she has every right to be upset with him. Instead, what heals the wound? Freaking news of Chuck and Sarah getting “back” together. In the face of oversentimental romance, everyone else on the show has to take a step back in feeling their own feelings.
And that wouldn’t be so bad if they sold this relationship coming together as something more powerful than two people admitting they have the feelings and spending some time behind closed doors, presumably making whoopee*. The carefree-way they deal with the relationship in this episode is not only divergent from the tone of the season but also makes light of something that has weighed heavy on these characters for the entire series. It made this episode almost feel like filler, like a light-hearted break from the heavy episodes of late. Instead of being able to enjoy these two characters finally coming together, my eyes were too busy rolling back into my head every five minutes.
It can be argued that this show, at its core, is light-hearted. And I’m inclined to agree that there is certainly a comedic thread to this show will always make it different from Alias or Burn Notice or any other spy-themed show on TV in the last ten years. But the way they treated this relationship on this episode didn’t feel right.
They end the show with a bit of mythology-building. They revisit Sarah’s disinterest in music and position it against Chuck being a non-robot. He decides to find them the perfect song to mark their relationship. He chooses “Feeling Good,” a song with lyrics that represent their new life pretty well although the version they chose is possibly the better cover but seemed ill-fitted. In a relationship that has been marked by a soundtrack of mostly quiet indie or neo-folk music (Bon Iver has a repeated presence), Nina Simone’s version is used, even played on a record player, with its characteristic sudden swelling in the song that kind of breaks the mood (and motif of their history). Maybe I’ve been conditioned for the quieter singer/songwriter tracks every drama on television likes to use for their ending montages, but this version doesn’t seem to encapsulate the mood the show is trying to convey. Now, what I see from them choosing this song are the many varied covers of the track. As Chuck and Sarah suffer what should be inevitable obstacles here on out, tests of their love, eventual separation, danger of losing one another, I can already hear them using the various versions to represent the situations and call back to this scene, whether it is a quieter Eels version for more wan scenarios or a louder, guitar-driven Muse version to post against scenes of betrayal, or even a bluesier My Brightest Diamond version for the eventual disappointments along the way. They’re setting you up, people. It’s not a bad thing. But it’s going to happen.
In summation, let’s hope this episode’s tone was a one-off gift to the ‘shippers so they can get back to the story-telling. While watching Chuck and Sarah do things in synch (being cuffed to each other twice in this episode) was fun and all, their juvenile approach to their relationship was misplaced and just about frittered the credibility they’ve built up in the past four episodes. Don’t screw this up for me, Chuck.
Also: how do you have an episode called “The Honeymooners” and not have at least one line where Chuck threatens to knock Sarah “to the moon?”
* And what was that about? All of their scenes behind closed doors for a goofy room service gag? Remember the scene in “vs the Colonel” with them in the hotel room, “Creature Fear” by Bon Iver playing in the background. Some electricity there, when they “haven’t gotten together” and we get none of that strength here. I’m not saying there needed to be a sex scene but this is a couple that has expressed a lot of passion for not being an actual couple and, now that they are, they’re reduced to a punchline akin to the ending of 40 Days and 40 Nights.
- April 28, 2010