Tonight, we’re going to talk about Passover. We’re not going to talk about it for very long, because it’s 10:30 and I’m only returning from my Seder and I may or may not have had four cups of wine and I may or may not be feeling a bit sleepy already. I’m gonna ramble a bit and let y’all fill in the blanks with “Chuck vs. the American Hero” observations…
But the essence (an essence) of the Passover Seder lies in performativity, in role-playing. Central to the mitzvah of the Seder is recounting the story of the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt, but we aren’t supposed to tell the story as a detached third-person narrative. No. You’re supposed to recount the story of the Exodus as if every one of us were slaves in the Land of Egypt and that, with an outstretched hand, God led us each individually out of Egypt. For Jews, it’s about continuity through the generations, about the Seder recitations that tie us to our grandparents and to our ancestors all the way back to Moses. Their story is our story. We behave as they behaved. We play the roles they played.
Yes, that’s random. But I bring it up for a reason, a reason that goes beyond the Seder I just attended.
I’d like to direct you to the 33rd minute of your DVRed “Chuck.” Ellie, having just bailed Awesome, Morgan and Casey out of jail after a misfired plan that began as an attempt to give Chuck alone time with Sarah and ended in shattered glass and contact with The Ring, stares Chuck down. They’ve done a very silly thing, which might be interpreted as a very romantic thing. We expect Ellie to be mad at Chuck, but she’s not.
“You didn’t go far enough, Chuck. Sarah is special,” Ellie tells him. “I know it, you know it. If you love her, if she’s the one then you don’t stop. You don’t quit. You never go too far. You’re a Bartowski, Chuck. Start acting like one.”
Great scene for Sarah Lancaster.
Don’t stop your DVR. Keep playing.
Cut to The Castle. Agent Shaw is about to do a very silly thing, which might be interpreted as a very heroic thing. He’s about to sacrifice himself to expose the location of the Ring Hive and possibly to help eradicate the Ring director, probably at the expense of his own life.
“Shaw, please. You’re moving too fast. You’re not thinking this through,” Sarah tells him.
Shaw responds, without hesitation, “We’re spies, Walker, started acting like one.”
[More on “Chuck vs. the American Hero” after the break…]
The “Chuck” writers haven’t been especially subtle this season. Certain recurring themes have been explicitly stated over and over and over again. And this wasn’t a subtle moment either, but it wasn’t intended to be. Within 10 seconds, we had our two leads being instructed by their scene partners that they were insufficiently committed to the roles they’d chosen for themselves. Being a lover and being a spy require similar commitment, require similar willingness to go to extremes and neither Chuck nor Sarah was living up to their role. Like the Seder-goer who only listens to the story of the Exodus as a historical record, but doesn’t internalize it as a part of their own contemporary life, Chuck and Sarah were going through the motions, but not understanding the dedication.
Chuck, in love, failed to understand why he hadn’t met his objective and found happily ever after was instructed that his failure was in not acting up to the standards required of a Bartowski.
Sarah, hesitant but no closer to the season’s objective of toppling The Ring, was instructed that her failure was in not acting up to the standards required of a spy.
In both case, the word “acting” was notable. Being a spy, being a hero was always an issue of performance for Chuck. Like Morgan, he began by seeing the James Bond-style coolness of espionage and no matter how many lectures Casey gave him on devotion to his country, Chuck was doing what he was doing because he liked the play-acting of it all and then because he fell in love with Sarah. But being a spy was always about donning a tuxedo and becoming Charles Carmichael or even the adrenaline rush of disarming a bomb or saving the world. The moment he decided that being a spy meant something bigger was also the moment he left Sarah holding the bag in Prague, the moment at which she felt that he ceased to be the guy she fell for.
Tonight’s “Chuck” was about characters living up to their potential, whether it was Jeff & Lester finally becoming the stalkers they were meant to be, or Chuck leading a solo charge to rescue Shaw from the clutches of The Ring. In the latter instance, Chuck was acting the role of both a Bartowski and a spy. He was going to the ultimate possible extreme, as simultaneously both the man Sarah fell in love with before, the devoted team player willing to do anything for his friends and the people he loved, but also the New Chuck, Spy Chuck.
Shaw was the “American Hero” in the episode title, but Chuck also got to be an American Hero by the end. And how the heck did the “Chuck” team do an episode with this title and not find a way to give William Katt a guest role?
Anyway, it’s all about the people we truly are versus the roles we play, the parts we have to act. Trust me when I say that’s a tiny bit what the Seder is also about.
But really, we should probably look at all of the massive plot points we ticked off in “Chuck vs. the American Hero,” because Monday night’s episode felt like every bit the seasonal penultimate episode it was originally intended to be.
Now that Awesome and Morgan know about Chuck’s identity, they can help him… Get laid? I love that the first mission for Team Super-Chuck, featuring Captain Awesome, Morgan and Casey was to surveil Shaw and Sarah on a date and attempt to give Chuck time with Sarah.
Chuck tells Sarah he loves her, kisses her. This has been a rather long process, hasn’t it, “Chuck” fans? It’s been a rather long process of Sarah saying over and over again that New Chuck isn’t Old Chuck and New Chuck protesting that he’s still Old Chuck, even though we knew that he wasn’t. There was even delayed gratification in this episode when Chuck was about to express his feelings and then Awesome drove Shaw through a restaurant window.
Mark Sheppard runs The Ring, or something like that. Ubiquitously unctuous TV baddie Mark Sheppard is one of maybe five or six actors who could have believably popped up out of the dark to threaten Agent Shaw. I still don’t understand The Ring’s end game, since earlier in the season they very much wanted to kill Shaw, but tonight, Sheppard got Shaw in an underground Ring lair in East Los Angeles and announced, “I don’t want to kill you, Daniel. I want to educate you.” And what did he want to educate him on?
Sarah killed Shaw’s wife. This was just another example of over-rushed “Chuck” storytelling. There should have been at least an episode or two between the flashback to Sarah’s Red Test and the Ring Director’s not-entirely-stunning revelation that Sarah Walker’s first assassination was Eve Shaw. Now we’re gonna keep to do some heft explaining next week on how Shaw came to believe that The Ring killed his wife or why Sarah was tasked with killing Eve. There’s going to have to be a lot of finessing on this whole issue next week. I’m also gonna kinda wish that The Ring had ever developed a Master Plan this season.
Where does this leave us for next week, for the season’s not-finale-anymore? Well, instead of The Ring being the adversary of choice, it’s Chuck trying to save Sarah from Shaw, it looks like. And we’ll see where things go from there.
OK. I’m really about to pass out here…
Other thoughts on this week’s “Chuck”…
*** Great moments aplenty with Jeff & Lester, especially with Lester praising Jeff as “the Picasso of creepiness” and Jeff adding, “And this is my blue period.” If last week was more Vik Sahay-centric, this week focused more on Scott Krinsky, but as with any great comic duo, they can also share the load.
*** I realized as I wrote “Jeff & Lester” that that’s the same way I write “Amazing Race” team names. Then I realized how much I would like to see Jeff & Lester compete on “The Amazing Race.” Then I tried to think of any other pair of fictional TV characters I would rather see compete together on “The Amazing Race.” So yeah, I think a Jeff & Lester “Amazing Race” pairing (they’d be “Co-Workers/Stalkers” in their on-screen chyron) would top Walter White & Jesse (“Co-Dependents/Crystal Meth Kingpins”), House & Wilson (“Doctors/Roommates”), Sam & Dean (“Brothers/Monster-Hunters”), Dexter & Matsuka (“Spatter Analysts/Deviants”) and Jacob & Mock-Locke (“Eternal Adversaries/Island Buddies”). That’s a fun game. I may want to do a whole blog post on it. If I ever have time. Which I won’t.
*** Chuck has trouble paying attention. General Beckman mentioned his posting in Rome last week and then he seemed might confused this week when he heard about it. Also, when General Beckman tells Chuck he’s going to get to choose his own team, who does she think he’s going to select if not Sarah? He’s worked with an assortment of other spies, but not enough that he’s going to sit down and look in the CIA/NSA Joy Book and find somebody he likes better. Also, why are Chuck’s unique skills best utilized in Rome? Wouldn’t you want to post an Intersect in Washington or New York? I completely understand why they wouldn’t keep him in Burbank, though.
*** Talk about an anti-Burbank episode. Yes, the Morgan/Awesome/Casey alliance is working with Chuck to get him laid, but Morgan and Casey are hoping to get invites to join Chuck’s team in Europe, while Awesome wants to go to Africa with Ellie. Everybody’s root goal: Getting out of Burbank.
*** Gotta go back to General Beckman. How is it conceivable that General Beckman didn’t know that Sarah killed Shaw’s wife? That’s not a minor intelligence oversight. I guess the answer will be woven into the questions I asked earlier.
*** While I’m asking questions, did anybody else expect that the flashbang (or “stun grenade,” if you prefer) might dislodge the Intersect? Or is that still a possibility? Chuck got in one good punch after the flashbang, but he didn’t flash himself. Might he find himself powerless next week?
*** Good of Casey to confess to Sarah that he killed the mole last week. Not enough transition, though, between his refusal to implicate himself earlier in the episode and his choice to come clean later. And will he face some legal difficulties? Probably.
*** Other people will comment on Brandon Routh’s “Nooooooo!!!!” That’s the kinda moment that can’t really be played any other way, can it? Once he’s been directed to go down that path, he’s pretty much lost.
*** I’m gonna assume that like Mr. Pibb and Dr. Pepper, Dr. Jibb tastes like prune juice.
I have no idea how this got to be so long… And I apologize for what is probably a sea of typos and incoherence. What’d you think of “Chuck vs. the American Hero”?