Review: Chuck vs. The Three Words (Episode 3.2)

The last episode got Chuck back in good graces externally. This episode has Chuck and Sarah struggle to find emotional equilibrium. Having the return of an old Edwina Haskell in sexy spy Carina doesn’t help matters.

In other words, a pretty requisite episode of Chuck. There’s the mission, where Carina is posing as fiancé to a weapons dealer. There’s the requisite over-the top and colorful bad guy in said dealer. There’s the nerd fantasy in that all it takes for Morgan, Chuck’s nerdier Buy More buddy, to have unforgettable sex with Carina is for him to say “No” to her (no one’s ever had the balls to say no to her. Remember that kids. Play hard to get and poon tang will be your reward.)

But at its heart and soul, Chuck has been about transcending the physical for the emotional and the heart of the hour belonged to Chuck and Sarah. His lady is still hurting and it was painfully funny to see Chuck trying to make things right with her. Sometimes it was a bit overdone. I thought Chuck trying to clear the air with Sarah in the middle of a mission–like literally during their cover–was a bit much. But the sentiment behind it was real, and I’ve always admired shows where the emotion feels genuine.

The show also understands subversion in that it does not always have to be happy, jokey stuff. That’s a mistake a lot of programs make when they try to be edgy for the sake of cool. This show used the old gag where two characters feeling animosity toward each other, have it out physically and work themselves up into hormone bombs of unreleased sexual energy. Hell, I was one of ‘em. I couldn’t wait for Sarah and Chuck to get their freak on with their bos.

But instead we got a heartbreaking scene where Sarah attacked Chuck to get him to shut off his emotions and use the intersect as a weapon as intended. A cold, reactionary tool. And Chuck is too in love with Sarah to ever hurt her–even in training. We truly saw the depth of Sarah’s pain at Chuck’s choice in the scene. She doesn’t just want to ignore her feelings for him; she wants to kill them. But in that very act she’s proving to him and herself how much she still loves him. Because as hurt as she is the reason she’s doing it is for the only reason that it’s been since she’s met him. To keep him alive.

I really like how the creators seem to have a set piece or two devoted to Chuck’s surprising abilities with the intersect upgrade, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Chuck saves the day because of the upgrade. Here we get a glimpse as Chuck’s empathy and resourcefulness vanquishing the foe. While the gun runner’s first and foremost a badass ruthless bad guy, he’s also heartbroken by Carina’s betrayal and Chuck picks up on that, even directing some of his empathy to Sarah. But what it comes down to is Chuck throwing a torch in some alcoholic concoction that Lester makes which takes out most of the apartment courtyard.

But the ending really reminds me of why I’ve come to love Chuck. Carina takes off but not before giving Sarah something she needs to see. Not spy stuff she finds out, but what Chuck said when he thought he was going to die. About why he wanted to become a spy and break her heart. Because of her. Because of what she taught him about not thinking of himself but others. To use his abilities to help others and to make a real difference out in the world. To be the hero she believed he could be. He became a spy and broke up with her because he loves her. To paraphrase one of my favorite quotes from Veronica Mars, it’s hard to hate someone who breaks up with you because of wanting to become a better person.

After this I got the sense that Sarah finally forgives Chuck, but it’s gonna take longer to forgive herself. And Yvonne Strahovski reminds me yet again why she’s the secret weapon to the show. Seeing Sarah’s dawning realization and proud sadness of her nerdy Padawan spy broke my heart.

Three Words may not be the ultimate Chuck episode, but it is representative of what the show offers. As long as the balance between goofy and gallant is maintained then this season is off to a pretty nice start.

Rating: * * * ½

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