Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Chuck III

OK, so, here's the deal (with myself): I am not reading the AV-Club discussion of Chuck versus the Honeymooners, nor watching Chuck versus the Role Models, until I write up my own (eagerly awaited) impressions on them. Why am I doing this? Because, you see, the world clamours for my, undiluted and unaffected, thoughts on this year-old episode, and will not be content if they hear only me parroting the Onion party line, or if they see me in the depths to which I am sure I will sink once I see that the Chuckwriters (it's one word, see? Because it looks sort of like chuckwagon, see? No, I don't get it either) cannot sustain for long the mood that they have created—for I am sure that they (indeed, anyone) cannot, for reasons that I will outline *. Why am I telling you about it? Because I really want to watch another episode—I skipped my usual Monday-evening viewing in pursuit of my austere goal, and do not want to have to skip Wednesday's, too—and so I want you to understand why if today's post seems a bit hurried.

Although you are by now clamouring to see these much-ballyhooed thoughts, I remind you that I feel no shame about spoilers; my post will be to no end if I pepper it only with vague clues to what I actually mean, and so I am just going to assume that those of you who want to preserve the surprise will do so now.

Now that the spoiler-avoiders are gone: Chuck and Sarah, huh? I will admit that I thought that we'd be consigned to glances-and-throwaway-SOs forever, because such is the model for will-they-or-won't-they shows; but, after plenty of close calls, in Chuck versus the Other Guy we got a very definite commitment from Sarah. I would have been on tenterhooks for the it's-all-part-of-the-spy-game come-uppance, where was revealed that this was just a gambit to get Chuck to perform (ahem) or some such disappointment, except that TVTropes had already revealed to me that the relationship was to be. (One of these days I will get under control my instinct to go out and read all about a TV show in which I am interested, especially if I am watching old episodes—really, one of these days—but, until then, I will be stuck in such positions as my current one, where I know full well, for example, how Season 6 of House will end, and am hoping that I will manage to forget.)

So, since I have declared my love for Chuck's treatment of love, and since Chuck versus the Other Guy was definitely focussed on the Chuck–Sarah relationship after a long near-abandonment, why not write about that one? Well, because it was unsatisfying, treating love only in a very clichéd fashion; the principals, after much longing, pull in for a passionate kiss, we fade to black, hurrah, hurrah. Sure, the show has successfully positioned us so that that kiss is very satisfying, but in so doing it seems only to be setting us up for a fall: screenwriters are very good at the passionate initial outbursts of love, but seem to have very little idea about what happens after. Well, OK, they seem to have some idea what happens immediately after, and, in fact, that's part of what bothers me—has no one ever experienced a kiss that does not lead directly (after a fade to black if necessary) to the bed? Apparently not, if one believes the tale of life told by television and the movies. Indeed, my first hint that Chuck might have something more to offer than the standard tale of unrequited love was Chuck versus the Imported Hard Salami, during which the now-couple's first kiss (which surprised me as much as it did Chuck!) was followed by a very dramatic sort of generalised interruptus with the return of Bryce Larkin. An original plot device?—hardly, but remember that my admiration for Chuck focusses on its character development, not on its subtle command of narrative. (Actually I have just realised that I may be lifting even this judgement from elsewhere; the TVTropes summary says

… the appeal of Chuck comes from … well-realized characters with surprisingly genuine emotional lives ….

Well, anyway. Chuck and Sarah's non-interrupted kiss on Chuck versus the Other Guy, particularly the look on Chuck's face as he realised his luck, was sweet, but it was hardly enough to re-kindle my enthusiasm for a relationship that I think Season 3 has badly mistreated over-all. (More on that shortly *.) COG did offer one particularly bright spot, though: when Sarah is expressing her relief over Casey's news, she says “you're still Chuck, you're still my Chuck”, and the ‘my’ is so tender that I'm choked up—choked up now, writing about an episode of a pop television show! Well, that tells me that the writers and actors are doing something deeply right, if I care so much about the relationship of fictional characters that one word between them can have that effect on me. Then … “shut up and kiss me”, really? There go my hopes for a new TV perspective on romance.

Thus it was that my hopes were low going into Chuck versus the Honeymooners. The beginning of the episode didn't do much to raise those hopes, but neither did it lower them; while I would appreciate some romance rather than an instant trip to the bedroom, there is no denying that Chuck and Sarah have waited a long time for this (including enduring what the AV Club calls “the saddest IOU of all time”), and so I cannot begrudge them their pleasure at the beginning—especially since, once their frolicking is done (or temporarily on hold), they … well, how do I put this delicately? They talk. This is another place where I think most movie accounts of love fall down; you can be quite confident when you sit down for a romantic movie that it won't be long until it's time for the get-to-know-one-another music montage, and, though it seems to be common to excuse this laziness, I am not so forgiving—to me, the writers who resort to this trope have effectively thrown up their hands and said “we have no idea what people in love talk about, and we would prefer not to have to figure out something”. The conversations that Chuck and Sarah have are relatively mundane—well, in some respects, they are not mundane at all, as, after all, they are talking about evoking the wrath of a government body with deadly global reach; but, if one ignores the subtext, much of the dining-car conversation is little more than “what shall we do for our summer vacation?”; but it is a fact of life that not all conversations in a relationship will be scintillating, and I appreciate the honesty of a show that acknowledges this.

Well, then the spy stuff starts, and Casey and Morgan show up, and, OK, this is a spy show and not a travel show, and I do not complain; but really I could have watched a whole episode of such conversations—indeed, I say that with complete confidence, because, in essence, I did, twice, in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, films that are in sharp competition for the top two spots in my pantheon. That is to say, sure, I enjoyed the hijinks of Chuck and Sarah's repeated exploits while cuffed together, and I appreciated that Chuck finally had his chance to fight back-to-back with Sarah as he wished he could have while watching her and Bryce (during Chuck versus the Nemesis, I think); but the quiet contentment on Sarah's face as she listens to Chuck's candidate for her favourite song, and, even better, the fact that that favourite song is another Nina Simone song, was what made this episode my favourite of Chuck so far by a long shot. I laughed, and I gasped, both aloud, while watching it, both in the middle of the Pizza Inn where I was having dinner—and I think that's about all that I can ask of a TV show.

* You know what? Now that it comes time, having finished my disquisition on what I liked, to elaborate on these my gripes and complaints, I find that recalling the episode in this detail has robbed me of the will to do it. You will have to wait for another day to hear my discontent; today I am content.


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