Chuck vs. The American Hero 3.12 ****
Once there was a guy and a girl at a dance. A special one. It was the occasion of the guy’s sister’s wedding. As the guy and girl were dancing came this exchange:
“You belong out there. Save the world. I’m just – I’m just not that guy,” he explained sadly.
With a proud knowing twinkle in her voice she responded, “How many times do you have to be a hero to realize that you *are* that guy?”
In the American Hero, Chuck finally becomes “that guy.”
It’s a qualified statement, of course. We’ve seen him be the reluctant hero before, the one who happens to be an egoless Jacques Clousseau and bumble his way toward triumph or fall back on his resourceful and stubbornly geeky experience. But here we get the formation of the true Team Bartowski in the same way Captain America had the Avengers, Buffy Summers had the Scoobies, and Angel had the Fang Gang. A band of misfits who combined become a surprisingly effective if unorthodox unit.
In tribute to various film commercials I’ve seen of other misfit black ops teams (looking forward to The Losers and The A-Team) here now is a dossier I’d like to see of Team Bartowski.
John Casey—Real Name: Alex Coburn. Former NSA agent. Expert in weapons, surveillance, hand-to-hand combat, reconnaissance and undercover work. Arguably the most dangerous member of the team next to Chuck Bartowski. CODE NAME: THE CASEY
Morgan Grimes–Strategist and morale officer. Electronics expert. Skilled in surveillance. The heart of Team Bartowski. CODE NAME: GRIMEY
Devon Woodcomb–Unit medic and triage specialist. Signature combat move: The Full-Body Tackle. CODE NAME: CAPTAIN AWESOME*
*Captain is not official designation of rank.
Jeff Barnes–Chemical expert and tracker. Recruited for missions involving stealth pursuit over long distances. Immobilizes opponents through chloroform to which he has developed immunity over long-term exposure. Partners with Lester Patel. Together they form a mini-unit code named: JEFFSTER.
Lester Patel–Expert in intimidation tactics and interrogation. Not above using unsanctioned methods to get pertinent information but held in check by Jeff. Second member of mini-unit code named JEFFSTER.
In The American Hero, the “unit” is (self)-recruited for a special mission: win back the heart of Sarah Walker.
Seems that you can take the Chuck out of the Buy More , but you can’t take the Buy More out of Chuck. Meaning that as soon as he sets foot in DC he is a Jerry Lewis in a Jack Ryan world. Poor guy doesn’t even know how to properly holster his gun.
When he meets with Beckman he admits that everything is moving too fast for him and Beckman is at her wit’s end with him. She suggest that he take a week off to get his head straight about the whole super spy thing. Chuck takes this opportunity to go back to Burbank to persuade Sarah to join him in DC.
But Sarah has other plans. In a viciously sad scene, Sarah curtly tells Chuck that he killed someone and that forever changes how she sees him. He’s no longer the geeky guy she fell for. Chuck can’t tell Sarah the truth. That it was actually Casey who pulled the trigger.
American Hero seems to be made up of two halves. We see our characters in a not-so-favorable light, both humorously and dramatically. We’d all like to believe that Chuck’s friends are there for him unconditionally, but, no, there are indeed conditions and it all involves leaving Burbank. Freedom from the Buy More for Morgan and Casey, and for Awesome freedom from Chuck’s marriage-threatening spy life. If it wasn’t for the fact that Chuck is the main protagonist and he is quite likable, his pining and following around Sarah seems very stalkerish. Big sister Ellie unintentionally enabling this questionable behavior doesn’t help matters much. And Sarah looks more than a little hypocritical here with her whole blowing Chuck off for popping his cap cherry.
On the dramatic side of the ball, we have Shaw being intercepted by Ring operatives while he’s on a date with Sarah. Seems the Ring Director requests a private meeting with Agent Shaw. And the dude got Morgan tasered. That’s just so wrong.
So now we get a glimpse at what motivates Shaw much to Sarah’s concern. Not a new relationship with Sarah once old business with the Ring has been taken care of, but vengeance for the taking away of an old relationship. It’s still about the past for Shaw and he’s perfectly willing to couch this into sacrificing himself to take away the Ring once and for all. Sarah’s upset because they didn’t discuss this in committee.
Chuck shows up to apologize to Sarah for interrupting her date with Shaw and doing his best imitation of a douche bag. When Sarah tells Chuck what Shaw plans to do, she immediately goes into rescue mode. Chuck surprises her, though, when he activates the security lockdown, shutting her inside Castle.
Interesting acting moment here. Sarah isn’t hysterically upset with Chuck here like I thought she would be. This is more of a distrustful simmering anger. And I think that says a lot about how she views Chuck right now. Like every other government agent who’s all about the mission, I think Sarah actually thought Chuck locked her in so Shaw would complete his mission and, worse, he’d take advantage of his death by trying to be with her again. All very cold-blooded secret agent type stuff that she thinks Chuck has become now. You really feel for Sarah when you learn more of her past and distrust and disillusionment with that past. Her entire career has taught her that everyone has an agenda. Even Chuck.
Which is why it is so heartbreaking when Chuck tells her that he will be the one to rescue Shaw and Sarah looks genuinely puzzled and lost. Because that’s not the protocol thing to do. It’s not an advantage for Team Bartowski and it’s not to Chuck‘s advantage. So why do it? And the answer is the simplest, most humane one. Because he knows how much Sarah cares about Shaw. It has nothing to do with Chuck.
So we move into the second half of the episode which is a bit more serious, but also a bit positive with its characters. And it seems appropriate that the pivot point is Chuck and Sarah. One character desperately trying to maintain his decency and innocence while the other feels she compromised her decency and lost her innocence a long time ago. And only now has begun to mourn it.
It’s also interesting that we have two of the characters that have become the foils of Season Three become allies in Jeff and Lester as they tail Shaw and tell Chuck of his whereabouts. Chuck drives a Nerd Herd vehicle out there and meets with Jeff and Lester. Satisfied at a job well done (and reluctant for fisticuffs) the two return back to the Buy More. Meanwhile, Chuck unzips his Buy More jacket revealing a pretty impressive arsenal.
And it’s interesting to note that he dumps the Nerd Herder for Shaw’s sweet ride. Symbolism, people. This bears riper fruit as the story moves along.
As for Shaw, turns out the head of Ring wants to see him personally with some information. It’s big. It seems Sarah was the one who killed Shaw’s wife in her Red Test. Ramifications be coming down the pike, methinks.
Thanks to some timely intervention by the resourceful Sarah, Casey gets her out. She races to Shaw’s signal and to Chuck. Casey’s agonizing longing for Castle was priceless.
As for Chuck, one of those moments I was most looking forward finally happened as Chuck singlehandedly breached the Ring and took out a cell of Ring soldiers. Granted I was kind of hoping for more of a phalanx or platoon or a garrison, but eventually you have to allow for some budget restrictions. But seeing Chuck’s skills as a spy flourish is incredibly satisfying for me as a fan.
And while the intersect is certainly helpful it may also be no longer essential in the long term. Chuck takes out some guards with his trusty tranq gun and Duck Hunt training. Where Chuck’s self-confidence goes so goes the intersect.
And as Sarah arrives on the scene just as the stealth bomber drops its deadly payload, we see a lone figure retreating from the wrechage with an unconscious agent hoisted over suddenly broader shoulders. While a tearful Sarah begins to beam with pride in her happy eyes and perhaps something more.
Still while I appreciated this moment, I wish they could have played off it for the funny a bit more. Based off of Zachary Levi’s straining to carry Brandon Routh’s brawny frame it wouldn’t have been too hard.
Sarah: “Chuck! Thank–”
Chuck: (weakly) “Help…Intersect…no…super…strength….Help me…”
Back at Castle, Sarah reports to Beckham while Chuck lingers in the background. Sarah turns to look at him with the eyes of one who has fallen in love again. Chuck lays it all o the line one more time, but it seems to come from a stronger place now that he saved may-not-quite-be-her beau. And moreover, I think she knows it. There’s a great moment where Chuck tells Sarah that Shaw would have done the same in saving his life and Sarah just looks down with an enigmatic smile. She’d like to think he would.
But with Chuck, she knows he would. He did.
Chuck tells Sarah that she was right about Prague, and gives them a chance to redo that moment. This time with a train to Mexico and then anywhere they want. Preferably the Eiffel Tower. And with a last final heartrending kiss, Chuck Bartowski goes to the trian station packed with summer and winter wear and waits.
Casey later stops by Sarah’s apartment to tell her that he was the one who pulled the trigger, not Chuck. “He’s not like us,” he tells her, reminding her that like it or not she pulled the trigger. She took a life. Whatever innocence she had is gone. By her choice. So she’s just going to have to deal with it.
But maybe Chuck can keep his innocence enough for the both of them.
And for Sarah, it’s like the weight of the world has escaped her shoulders and she allows for a smile to break out on her lovely face.
There’s just that pesky phone call from Shaw.
Although, I would have given anything for an iconic nod to Veronica Mars with Chuck getting “stood up” by Sarah in much the same way Veronica got stood up at the ariport by her private eye father, it would have been a sure bet (maybe) that angry shippers would have set 30 Rock aflame. So perhaps it is good that Chuck knows that Shaw took Sarah off the grid.
Which actually was a perhaps more powerful callback to Sarah taking Chuck off the grid to keep him from being sent underground. Shaw and Sarah speed down a Califonia desert highway where Shaw enigmatically tells Sarah that he has “old scores to settle.” Perhaps being put underground threatens Sarah Walker Oooh!
It’s kind of nice that because this portion of the season is wrapping up, we get an entertainng summation of Chucks’ progress into spydom and a cementing of his place as a bona fide hero. Zachary Levi may not really sell the look of the action hero, but Chuck Bartowski has the most important factor that every great popular hero possesses and gives him the edge against the Shaws in the world. His heart.