Chuck vs. Phase Three
Season 4, Episode 9, air-date November 22, 2010
While hiding out in Southeast Asia from an international agent determined to locate the Intersect, Sarah goes on a rogue mission. Ellie and Awesome work to uncover a family secret.
Warning: Prolonged exposure to Sarah Walker's badassery can cause brain melting. If you begin to feel nauseated, dizzy, light-headed, or forget where you are, please consult a doctor right away. But not Captain Awesome, he's done enough.
Frea: Fair readers, when the great mxpw and myself decided to start the illustrious column known as mxpw vs. Frea, it was because I, Frea, tend to have a more optimistic view of the episodes and the Grinch -- er, I mean, mxpw -- likes to be a Debbie Downer. So it was agreed we would debate each episode with me taking the optimistic approach and mxpw raining on my parade.
Frea: With one exception.
Frea: And my friends, dear readers of this blog, that exception has arrived.
Frea: Sarah Walker has officially broken mxpw's brain.
mxpw: Into a million pieces.
Frea: Which means that I will be your duly appointed pessimist this week. And I have to tell you, I think mxpw rigged the system over here because it will be rough to be the pessimist this week, but I'm going to do my best. So I'll outright say it: this episode was not perfect. I had a little bit of trouble with the pacing, some things were a little inexplicable, and the biggest travesty of all:
Frea: NO FREAKING CASTLE SLIDE.
mxpw: Huh? What? Not perfect? But...but...Sarah was in a wet tank top!
Frea: Why do I get the feeling that this is going to turn into a broken record?
mxpw: Because I'm predictable and Sarah Walker broke my brain? What do you want from me, deep thinking? Come on...
Frea: Excellent point, my friend.
Frea: Fine, we'll both admit it:
Frea: Sarah Walker kicked ASS this week in every possible way.
mxpw: Yes, yes she did. She scared even me, and as Frea likes to say, I write the scariest Sarah in the fandom. But that's why I loved this episode so much. Yes, there's a lot that the shallow side of my brain loved (wet tank top! Tiny shorts! Sarah in the pond! The beginning make-out! I could go on...) but that wasn't the only thing that this episode had. The fear, desperation, Sarah being completely unhinged, and as Beckman drily put it, Sarah being "on edge" (seriously, Beckman's statement was like the understatement of the century), was just really wonderful to see. I mean, as a shipper, I've always long suspected that Sarah would do everything she did in this episode if Chuck was in danger, but seeing it play out was amazing.
Frea: Yvonne earned her Emmy this week. Not like she doesn't every week, but this week? She had everything. Desperation, terror, loneliness, ecstasy, relief, happiness, sheer scariness. I mean, it's like every actor's dream script.
mxpw: It really was. I've long said that Yvonne is the best actor on the show. Hell, I think she's easily one of the best on TV period, and this episode showed why. I don't think any actress has her range. She's equally convincing as the terrifying fighter and the emotionally distraught girlfriend. Seriously, how many other actresses can pull off the kind of action and stunt scenes Yvonne did in this episode and still have the acting chops to be completely amazing in two of the best Sarah scenes ever: the scene in the bedroom she shares with Chuck and at the end when she's pleading with him. I told Frea after this episode that if I wasn't in love with Yvonne before this episode, I am now.
Frea: Actually, Sarah was one of the problems I had with the episode.
Frea: Now that you've all gotten that gasp of shock out of the way, I'll explain.
Frea: In WHAT universe would a woman who looks like Yvonne Strahovski EVER be considered a "shemale?"
mxpw: Well, first, obviously anybody who saw her in her pit fighting get-up would never think that, especially after she poured water on herself, wowza (by the way, if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm going to be mentioning that slo-mo scene A LOT, dear readers), but I saw some comments on TWoP that provided a convincing enough argument for me. It was a way for all these tough mercenary types to save face. Heh. Honestly, it amused me, despite its gross inaccuracy, so I was okay with it.
Frea: Oh, I'll admit it, I laughed hysterically and am even now trying to figure out how I can use the description in Fates and get away with it. But the episode definitely confirmed a lot about Sarah Walker's character for me. Strange that it took four years, but what can you do? It appears a lot of the writers in the fandom were closer to the characterization of Sarah than even we suspected. I mean, I was getting quite a few whiffs of Double Agent last night, weren't you? Look how far we've come since Beard.
mxpw: Yes. You know, when I initially started DA, I remember a lot of people telling me they weren't sure Sarah would ever act the way I've had her act in Double Agent, but after last night, I feel like I can safely say that as a fanfic writer, there is little we can do now and have it be considered OOC with Sarah. Everybody has always said that if Chuck was threatened, Sarah would go to the ends of the Earth to save him, and this episode proved it. While I was a bit perplexed about Casey's description of Sarah pre-Chuck (felt like he was getting himself and Sarah mixed up) as Graham's wildcard, unpredictable enforcer, I think line of the night has to go to Sarah's "I'm different without Chuck and I don't like it." She really, really is. She's cold, hard, murderous, cruel, basically like she said to Chuck at the end, she's nothing more than a spy. Chuck makes her an actual person. I think that's beautiful. Now if you'll excuse me, there's something in my eye...
Frea: Probably some of that leftover mace I squirted you with yesterday. Sorry about that, minion.
Frea: Okay, you go watch the slo-mo shot of Sarah dumping a canteen over her head for a couple of times while I bring up one of the issues I had with the episode. Big shocker, I know, but it's Morgan.
mxpw: *watches that scene for the tenth time*
Frea: I need to preface this, though. I didn't really, really have a problem with Morgan. For instance, I didn't think they used him too much like I've thought this entire season. His best friend's missing, after all, it's big for him. But I felt he was acting a little too...perfect.
Frea: He had the perfect solution every time, so on and so forth, and I really felt like...no. I don't feel like that would have happened. I wanted to see him frazzled and upset because his best friend is missing and it's spy stuff, which is dangerous and scary and I don't want to see him keep his cool around that. I felt like the calm, yes slightly manic but still overall very put together facade that we saw...it was getting into Gary Stu (which is the male form of Mary Sue) territories for me. I mean, on the one hand, it was like, yay, it's great that he's being so awesome for his best friend's girlfriend, but...I don't know.
Frea: That being said, I enjoyed Morgan's "Stoner Gambit," as Chris coined it.
mxpw: Hmm...just give me a second to clear the glazed look from my eyes...
Frea: Just don't make me resort to electro-shock therapy again.
mxpw: Okay, okay, I kinda agree with you about Morgan, but I also don't.
mxpw: I will say that during my first watch, I was kinda annoyed with Morgan, but to be fair to the bearded one, I was annoyed with everything that interrupted my Sarah time, I mean, the stuff with Sarah in the episode. But on the second run-through, I appreciated his contribution a lot more. Yes, he's bordering on being too perfect, but I've made peace with that. I've decided to just judge him on what he does, irrespective of his potential Gary Stu-ness. So I have to say that his scene with Sarah in the bedroom...wow. That was maybe the first time I ever really thought Morgan clicked with Sarah. When he made her realize that her closed-offness and that she hadn't made it clear to Chuck that she would love him no matter what, that was like the best use of Morgan ever. And the Stoner Gambit was really fantastic (with the excellent payoff of Sarah bursting from the pond and all the bad guys just running away instead of fighting). Though I do wonder now if Morgan regularly carts around stoner gear in his backpack. You think that's how he and Chuck got out of jams in their jaunt around the world in the premiere?
Frea: Oh, completely.
Frea: And you're right, I should probably make my peace with that, too, but I'm the pessimist this week, and by golly I have to find SOMETHING wrong or I've failed!
mxpw: Okay, here's something I'll say that didn't quite work for me. I mean, it mostly did, and I honestly didn't care that much because, well, wet tank top, Sarah's total badassery, awesome pit fight, etc... But I was a bit underwhelmed by Chuck not doing much to save himself. It's just, I want to see Chuck being awesome. He doesn't have to kick ass. Sarah obviously does more than enough of that and I'd much rather watch her do it anyway. But I do think he needs more agency and more self-confidence, and doing something to free himself here would have gone a long way to achieving that. I will say, though, that now that Chuck has seen that Sarah will do anything for him and that she loves him with or without the Intersect, that he will start to believe in himself more and realize he doesn't need the Intersect to be a spy or hero. In fact, I was really pleased at the end when the Intersect was still suppressed. I want a return to the S1-2 dynamic.
Frea: To be fair, Chuck did spend most of the episode asleep and the last thing we saw last episode was him getting injected, so I'm willing to let that be handwaved a little bit.
mxpw: Eh, that could have easily been handwaved away.
Frea: But I too would like a return to the S1-2 dynamic. I'm kind of the opinion that the government is so afraid of Sarah Walker, though, that they've added her boyfriend onto the team to avoid the Thailand Mortal Kombat Smackdown happening to any of their senior officers. I don't think we're going to see a Sarah who will easily leave her boyfriend behind for six months or so while she chases an elusive Russian millionaire.
mxpw: Or he could have done some fighting in his brain, instead of waiting for Sarah to "save" him at the end.
mxpw: I hope we don't see any return of the Sarah who would leave her boyfriend for six months. Not after this.
Frea: You don't think it was enough for him to fight by just knowing it was a dream? My last dream had me complimenting Julia Stiles on her haircut and then going hang-gliding, and I didn't even think there was anything strange about that even after I woke up.
Frea: Also, I need to not eat chili and then watch The Bourne Ultimatum right before bed.
mxpw: I don't know...I think maybe if it hadn't been for FOD or this show's history of undervaluing Chuck's contributions (even if it's only Chuck who thinks that way), then Phase 3 wouldn't have even made me blink. I just think that it doesn't make sense, you know? I realize Chuck is neurotic as all hell, but when Sarah Walker, the hottest, most badass, woman in the world tells you that she loves you and wants to marry you, as a guy, well, you'd feel like pretty hot shit after something like that. The man should be more proud of himself and have more confidence, if for no other reason than Sarah believes in him.
Frea: Well, apparently she never told him she loved him, Intersect or not. Maybe the show is finally bringing Chuck around to being a -- ooh, Season Three drinking game, glasses ready! -- real spy now. He's got the girl, he's got a position with the government, he's got his best friend as a manager-spy, he's got Casey at his back, now it's time for him to step up and claim his destiny...for the fourth or so time?
mxpw: Haha. I'm sure he'll have the Intersect back once we learn what's the deal with Orion's secret computer. Speaking of which, I feel like we should talk about the B plot at least a little today.
mxpw: Let me just start by saying, best use of the Buy Morons, in particular Lester, since, well, Ring 1?
Frea: Ehhhhm, Couch Lock.
mxpw: Eh...I don't know. While I loved the dumpster stuff in Couch Lock and it was funnier, I think they served a better story purpose here.
Frea: It was nice to see Lester being competent. Oily, creepy, but competent. It reminds me of Season One when Jeff and Lester actually had a purpose at the Buy More. And we got shout-outs to the second season! A Roark 7 computer! Hey, remember that operating system that ultimately went nowhere even though it was supposedly stealing information from everybody and they were downloading it? Oh, those were the days of glaringly dropped plotholes, weren't they? Takes me back.
mxpw: But that's just me. Anyway, so not the point. Scariest words in the English language: "While Jeff takes off his pants."
Frea: Hey, wow, being the pessimist is fun!
Frea: Even two seasons too late!
mxpw: Again, was kinda annoyed by the B plot the first time through. But I appreciated it a lot more the second time through. First, there was the awesome sight gag of Devon inspecting the laptop with his stethoscope. Then the BM gang showed up. I loved the whole idea of Devon trading medical advice for computer services and how like the whole store showed up, even Fernando! And Lester being competent was such a huge shocker. I was oddly proud of the Indian lesbian.
Frea: Okay, Maximus, I have to bring up my biggest problem with the episode.
mxpw: I know, not enough Sarah in the episode.
mxpw: I had a big problem with that too.
mxpw: I'm also thinking it should be a rule that Sarah has to wear tank tops at all times.
Frea: They did not show us the magical Castle Slide. I know Sarah, Casey, and Morgan took the Castle Slide to Thailand, since that's the only possible way that they could get there, terrorize an entire village, and come back in time to return the Thai ambassador to the embassy. It solidifies my theory that the Castle Slide is actually something out of the wonderful book Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. In this book, the castle had a door that could go four different places, depending on which color the knob by the door was resting on. And that is the only explanation for the expedient travel without jetlag or any problems on this show.
mxpw: You know what I am going to say to this perfectly valid criticism?
Frea: Sarah in a tank top? Who cares!
mxpw: Sarah in a wet tank top. Who cares!
Frea: I guess I can't argue with that. I really wish the Belgian had been a more effective bad guy.
Frea: And I'm really hoping this isn't the last we've seen of Phase Three problems with Chuck's memory, though an amnesia subplot would suck. It was worth it to see Sarah's desperation, yeah, but otherwise: weak!
mxpw: I don't know, I know he didn't have much to do, but I kinda liked how he was this sophisticated bad guy that sat around drinking tea while his doctor henchman lobotomized Chuck.
mxpw: It was a nice contrast.
mxpw: And you know, objectively, I agree that the whole Phase 3 thing didn't really amount to much, but I am SO glad they didn't give Chuck amnesia. That would have been such a S3 plot. And after everything Sarah went through, if Chuck had forgotten her or been mentally damaged in some way, it probably would have permanently damaged her. And, well, I'll take a poor plot over hurting my precious Sarah. Heh.
Frea: I can't really complain about it because I don't think it's the last we've seen of it. I do think it has something to do with the PSP, and I love that I'm becoming a conspiracy theorist this season because it's nice to care again about the overall plot.
mxpw: I know, I'm with you there. After this last episode, I am loving this show again. I am loving Sarah Walker again, like I did in S2. I told Frea this last night, but I now forgive Fedak for what he did to Sarah in S3. We're square now. I still have issues with Shaw, but, well, Sarah was just so amazing in this episode.
mxpw: Kudos to the new writer, Kristin Newman. She did an amazing job.
Frea: Yes, as long as I can keep my animosity toward Shaw (I'm fond of it, it's like a comfy blanket), seeing Sarah Walker kick ass and take names in this episode? I've forgiven her for Beard.
Frea: Yeah, I was surprised to find out it was the same writer from Coup D'Etat!
Frea: And then not so surprised because even though I had problems with that episode, I did find that Sarah was actually pretty well written. I was just tired of the couple problems and that clouded my judgment.
mxpw: I can totally understand that. Retrospectively, I see that viewpoint better than first after the episode.
mxpw: But, Frea, I love this episode. I know you mock me for how much I've gushed over Phase 3 and Sarah, but... Yvonne, she is seriously why I watch this show and I feel justified now for feeling that way.
Frea: It was definitely Yvonne's episode, through and through. Even though I'm the pessimist this week, I also loved it. Favorite episode of the season? Hellz freaking yeah. Perfect? No. Do I care? No. Am I a little sad that Chuck's proposal plan involving a wild stallion and a Delorean is no longer in the works? Honestly, a little. But I'd take Yvonne as Sonya any day of the week over that. Oh, and Buy Morons on TV screens laughing maniacally. And Ellie's stories about her dad. And Awesome being awesome. And Casey! "Your usual, Mr. Casey?" And Morgan's Stoner Gambit! And....oh, crap, I'm really failing as the pessimist, aren't I? Dang it! It's just so hard when I can't seem to wipe this stupid smile off of my face.
Frea: Now, next week show me the magical Castle Slide, writers!
Frea: So, Maximus, even though I knew right away it was a dream (which I also knew when Chuck escaped on his own), that opening? Severely hot.
mxpw: It was very hot. I was pretty taken aback first time I saw it. Probably the closest we will ever come to seeing them have sex on this show. And even though it was a dream, it was really nice to see that these two really do have excellent physical/sexual chemistry and can pull off incredibly hot scenes when given the opportunity. Zac is a severely lucky man.
mxpw: Oh, and I have to say, they stole my Lester dream bit! I want royalties!
mxpw: Though I'd happily take a chance to meet Yvonne instead. Heh.
Frea: First Chucksicle, now in bed with Lester. Next thing we know, they'll be dangling Sarah naked from the ceiling.
mxpw: From your fingers to Fedak's eyes, God willing that day comes.
Frea: Better they're stealing from you than me. I put Chuck in a bunker for five years. Nobody wants to see that.
Frea: Although I would be willing to see what lengths Sarah would go to in order to get him back--oh, wait, we saw that! Awesome.
mxpw: Haha, yes. You do not want to be in between Sarah and Chuck when she's on the warpath.
mxpw: I'm not really sure I can sum up how I felt about this episode in actual words. I wanted to still raise my hand when Sarah said her awesomely badass "Anyone else wanna be my boyfriend?" I absolutely loved the end scene with the excellent editing between dream and reality and Sarah's emotional plea to Chuck (her voice killed me in that scene) and her telling him she wanted to marry him. That was easily one of my favorite shipper moments ever. I loved the scene in the bedroom with Sarah awkwardly smelling Chuck's shirt (made me go D'awww!) and then her whole conversation with Morgan. I loved Casey backing up Sarah all the way and not holding it against her for locking him up. I especially loved that he had an usual. I loved the Buy More stuff and how they played off Awesome. I loved the mental image of Ellie being this adorable little girl joking around with Papa B. There was so much to love in this episode.
mxpw: But ultimately, I loved this episode because of...Sarah in a wet tank top.
Frea: Nine Magical Castle Slides out of Ten!
mxpw: Five Sarahs in a Wet Tank Top out of Five