Chuck: “Chuck vs. the Honeymooners”

Mr. and Mrs. Chuck

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Stegall

NBC, Mondays, 8/7 E/C
“Chuck vs. the Honeymooners”
Teleplay by Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc
Story by Allison Adler
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

“About damn time!” —General Beckman

Excuse me, but I just have to say this: I told you so. I always said that Chuck and Sarah would make a better team together than apart. This episode proves I was right. Allow me a moment to wallow in this fleeting moment of justification.

Watching successive episodes of Chuck lately, I feel like I did when my kids were born. You feel like you can’t possibly love another one as much as the ones you already have, and then find out how wrong you are. After the last episode, I thought Chuck was bound to fall. With cynicism honed by years of disappointment, I thought the series would hit the reset button once again, relegating Chuck and Sarah to square one, with more angst and conflict. Instead, the writers have taken a giant step forward into a brave new world.

It’s a cliché in Hollywood that, once you get characters together on a show, the tension is ruined. Well, sure it is—if that tension is the entire raison d’être for the show. But if the show is built around a guy with a spy database in his head fighting bad guys, then hooking him up with the love of his life cannot—should not—affect the main story. It will be a miracle if the writers realize this, or the studio does not force them to play the same games with Chuck and Sarah that Chris Carter played with Mulder and Scully, or Hart Hanson is playing with Booth and Bones. Chuck is not about Chuck and Sarah, so making them both romantic and spy partners is not likely to derail it. Chuck is about geek culture, the Intersect, and friendship. It’s about spies and terrorists and hilarious hijinks at the Buy More. None of that will be ruined if Chuck is boinking Sarah. Please God, someone at the studios has clued into this, and if this trend continues, we are in for a lovely last five episodes of Chuck in this season.

We open where “Chuck vs. The Other Guy” leaves off: with Chuck and Sarah in bed. This time they’re on a train bound for Zurich, running away together. A series of room service tray deliveries tell us that this is a very slow train, or they are ordering a lot of meals (it isn’t that far from Paris to Zurich!). Either way, they’re not leaving their bedroom. What are they doing? Why, finding out what each other’s likes and dislikes are. Now that the restraints are off, Sarah is telling all her secrets to Chuck. In a delightful callback to their first date in the pilot, Chuck queries her favorite music. Again, she tells him she’s not really into music, which in modern culture is like saying you’re not into reading. How can you escape being drowned in music everywhere you turn? This is a woman whose career takes her to concerts and nightclubs, but what the heck. I’ll buy it that she’s never made a personal study of the subject.

The real topic, however, is what now? Having promised one another to run away from the spy life, Chuck and Sarah suddenly find themselves embroiled in a case. They leave the bedroom for the dining car, where Chuck flashes on a Basque terrorist escorted by some heavy looking goons. Neither Sarah nor Chuck can ignore this, so they decide to capture him, tie him up, and leave him on a train platform for the authorities to pick up. Ensues then an absolutely hilarious sequence where they team up to spy on the ETA guy, retrieve a pair of handcuffs from a Goth rocker, steal some sedatives from a skier with a broken leg, and drug all three of their targets. It’s a jaw-dropping display of seamless teamwork and outstanding competence from both Sarah and Chuck. And that’s not even the best example.

Chuck: My God, you even make terrorist groups sound sexy.

As the story progresses, we see Chuck and Sarah reaching whole new levels of teamwork. They finish one another’s lines, read one another’s minds, act in perfect synchronization. The moment comes when they don’t even have to speak; Chuck looks at a motorcycle (well, a Vespa), Sarah understands, and the next moment they’re riding it. In a fight at a pastry shop, they show better coordination, even while handcuffed, than Bryce and Sarah did in “Chuck vs. The Nemesis”. What I most loved about this episode was the final rejection of the idea that these two can withhold secrets from one another any longer.

Sarah: “You know, Chuck, I can’t fake this. Not with you.”

Chuck: “What?! You’ve been faking it the whole time?”

Sarah Walker was a revelation in this episode. She has now dropped all the masks, all the walls, and is being honest with Chuck. Now we see that lovely smile again. Now we see affection in her expression. She’s a different woman, and we’re all the better for it. This is a Sarah Walker I want to see every week—away with the morose, depressed woman we saw all season. Of course, she’s also spending a lot of her time in this episode wearing only her underwear, but I’m sure the writers will give Chuck equal time very soon. These are two of the most appealing (on every level) characters on TV; I only hope the rest of the viewing audience starts to catch on.

Other elements in the show were top notch, as well. Morgan and Casey may be the best spy team since Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd in Spies Like Us. I loved it when Morgan, who knows Chuck like a marine biologist knows Marines, located him through an eczema cure and his love of comic books. It was the funniest version of Where’s Waldo? I’ve ever watched. Jeffster Unplugged once again fueled my love of this duo; Lester’s continued references to his Jewish background endear him to me more every week. I even loved Chuck and Sarah’s fake Texas accents—unlike most actors, they got them right.

The one story that didn’t do anything for me was the departure of the Awesomes. If Devon and Ellie really are being written off the show, I’m sad, but I can live without them. Ellie was Chuck’s main emotional support, and for that we love her, but Chuck has Sarah now. I only wish that Chuck’s sister could finally have been let in on the secret everybody but her knows now.

This episode was a treat. It was one of the best and most satisfying payoffs I’ve enjoyed on TV lately. AfterPushing DaisiesMoonlight, and other shows crashed without giving us a solid emotional payoff, it’s wonderful to finally breathe easy over Sarah and Chuck. Counter to the Hollywood received wisdom, concentrating directly on, and resolving the UST between these characters, releases a great deal of pent-up demand in the audience while creating more demand, this time for a new configuration. Now we don’t have to groan our way every week through yet another set of unrealistic circumstances designed solely as Love Obstacles. Now the show is free to do what I hope it will do: turn into Hart to Hart or Mr. and Mrs. Smith, with geek comedy. This could be dynamite.

Both Entertainment Weekly and Hollywood Reporter are now saying Chuck has good prospects for renewal. I hope so. After suffering through weeks of unnecessary angst to reach this version of Chuck, I want to see more. A lot more. Years more. If only to prove to the obstinate producers in Hollywood that they don’t need to perpetuate that outmoded will-they-won’t-they structure. Good writers can write a romantic comedy about a pair of happy lovers and make us love it. Give them a chance.

Chuck has been living on the edge all season, with ratings in the basement. These last six episodes were ordered unexpectedly, after the first thirteen were planned. I have no idea where the writers are going from here, but I’m in it all the way to the end. One thing is for sure: with renewal still up in the air, network execs are going to be scrutinizing ratings until the end of the season. Six million viewers tuned in to Chuck on Monday night, its largest audience in two months—more proof that hooking up the two leads is paying off. Chuck pulled in a 2.1 rating/6 share for adults in the 18-49 demographic. New premise, new situations for Sarah and Chuck, and more viewers; it’s time for the suits at NBC to renew this show.