Chuck vs. the Balcony
Season 4, Episode 11, original air-date January 17, 2011
Chuck and Sarah try to combine a romantic French getaway with a mission to find a specialized microchip. Lester asks Big Mike for romantic advice.
I'm going to start a tradition here at CI, where I name the doomed agents that meet their peril before the credits after SO-5 officers from the Thursday Next universe. Seriously, it's like the second or third time this season alone that some poor soul has perished, and Team Bartowski doesn't seem to give a darn that a life was lost.
So Agent Kannon, ex-partner to the equally doomed Agent Phodder from Suitcase, this review is for you. Next up, will it be Agent Lamme or Agent Slorter? Guess we'll find out in coming weeks.
In the meantime, hit up the break for our review. Spoiler alert: it ain't pretty.
mxpw: Sometimes I feel like you and I are just too different from other Chuck fans.
Frea: I think the problem with us is that we're both fans of serial things.
Frea: Like Harry Dresden, WoT, that sort of thing.
Frea: We like forward momentum.
mxpw: That's true.
Frea: Unfortunately, the writers are...well, they're procedural writers, and that's their strength. They're good in, essentially, a closed ecosystem.
mxpw: Right. It's obvious they don't know how to be consistent.
Frea: From the beginning of one episode to the end of that episode, they're solid. It's driving forward with logic where they fail.
Frea: And they misinterpret their failures, too.
Frea: "Oh, the fans don't like it because Chuck and Sarah aren't together, not because it's a bad story."
Frea: Well, the former is true--most of the fans that saved the show would be happy with Chuck and Sarah working happily together, solving a spy crime of the week every week. The latter is definitely false. We hated it because it was a badly-written and devised, and illogical besides, storyline.
Frea: They really need to read the Dresden Files, I think.
Frea: Not to get tips on how to be mean to their characters, but to understand the drive for people to read a book series where the love interests aren't even together
mxpw: Far be it from me to defend these writers, but I do think that it's only about 80% their fault. The other 20% is the fans. And what I mean is, fans continually give them a pass on the crappy writing, plotholes, bad continuity, inconsistent characterization, because they think only entertainment is important. And it is, don't get me wrong, but you shouldn't be so willing to accept a pile of crap just because you occasionally find a fleck of gold in it.
mxpw: I see this phrase all the time, "Yeah, it doesn't really make sense and the spy stories are full of holes, but I try to just sit back and enjoy things and I don't care as long as I'm entertained."
Frea: Meanwhile, I just want to shake them and be like, "They can do better! Why are we letting them slide?"
Frea: For me, it's like paying to go see a professional orchestra.
Frea: And they're so lazy half the notes in the Hallelujah chorus are flat.
Frea: But at least they played the Hallelujah chorus!
mxpw: Heh, yeah, I get that. And I agree with you.
Frea: "I want to enjoy you without having to make excuses for you!"
mxpw: And you know, I admit that I probably am more critical than I need to be at times and I occasionally nitpick, but man, a lot of the stuff that goes on in the show is so blatantly bad you almost have to concede defeat if you want to enjoy it.
Frea: That's exactly how I feel about Balcony!
Frea: I just couldn't figure out how to say it
Frea: "I know I'm overly critical, but do you have to suck this much?"
mxpw: Exactly, that's how I feel too.
Frea: I want Chuck to be cool again
Frea: If being with Sarah is going to turn him into a doormat permanently, then I'd rather they break up
mxpw: I think the worst part is that people don't appear to care if Chuck doesn't have a backbone. Or that he doesn't get angry and lash out at people or stand up for himself. I see it all the time on other blogs and forums and I think it's true of a lot of Chuck fans in general. They think Chuck should always be that way because "That's just the kind of guy he is. He's forgiving and I like that."
Frea: I like that he's forgiving.
Frea: But dude's a doormat.
mxpw: I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I think they've overcompensated with Sarah.
Frea: I've been thinking the same thing.
mxpw: They so thoroughly minimized her in S3 that they've completely missed the mark by trying to rehabilitate her character this season. They tried to make her cool again, which they succeeded at, but at the cost of making Chuck almost an afterthought a lot of the time.
mxpw: In a lot of ways, it reminds me of like old movies from the 40s and 50s where the man is so awesome and he does everything and the woman is there to swoon over him and occasionally she does something nice or shows some independence, but mostly she spends the whole movie being the damsel in distress.
mxpw: And that's Chuck, only with the genders reversed.
Frea: Again, completely agreed.
mxpw: I mean, the last episode was a great example. For the most part, I loved Sarah taking over the proposal (and for the record, I am a fan of Sarah proposing), but at the same time it was really kind of emasculating. Like Chuck is so incompetent or so neurotic he can't even propose to Sarah right and on his own. He has to have Sarah make sure it happens.
Frea: And Morgan.
Frea: And Casey.
mxpw: Right, and Chuck has always been emasculated in comparison to Casey (who is supposed to be a man's man) and well, Morgan has become more of a competent hero this season than Chuck.
Frea: I don't want Sarah to propose.
Frea: It's one of those things I'm weirdly traditional about. The guy proposes.
mxpw: Eh. After the last episode, I'm less of a fan of the idea as I was before.
mxpw: I can understand that.
Frea: This review will be subtitled, "God, you're just NEVER satisfied, are you?"
mxpw: No, probably not. I think that comes from our writing background, though. At least I know I that's often why I feel the way I do.
mxpw: Right, exactly. But even P3 had its problems, however few they might have been. It may have been one of my fave episodes of the series, but the issues in that episode, are largely the same we've been discussing so far.
Frea: Man, Chuck is trying to become Fringe.
Frea: Olivia and Sarah, parallels there. Now I'm starting to feel the same way about Chuck as I do Peter: I like him, but really only because Olivia does.
Frea: Broyles and Beckman are both pretty awesome, Casey's insane like Walter, and well, Astrid kicks Morgan's butt, but that's because she's Aspirin.
mxpw: And I think that is a shame. I am an unabashed Sarah fan, but I hate to see Chuck breakdown and be made so inconsequential at times. Like the entire Volkoff arc is winding down now and who is all the focus on? Sarah.
Frea: It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
mxpw: Who is saving his mom? Sarah. Who is doing what is necessary to secure their future as a couple? Sarah. Who has to be the hero because nobody seems to believe Chuck is capable of doing what needs to be done? Sarah.
Frea: Who will be dressed in a leather catsuit next week? Sarah, thank God.
mxpw: Yes, definitely thank God over that.
Frea: Chuck doesn't have the hips for it. But his shoulders are divine.
mxpw: Obviously they will find some way to pull Chuck into the main storyline, it just bothers me that he's not a part of it from the start.
Frea: That, once again, his choice in the matter is being taken away, this time by his partner? Seriously, what sort of leadership seminar did the writers attend where "patronizing" is a good quality for teamwork?
mxpw: Yeah. I mean, I realize Sarah didn't know exactly what Beckman had planned, but the whole thing is just so... It has an air of condescension about it at times.
Frea: Very much like Chuck lying to Ellie.
Frea: And Awesome lying to Ellie, by default.
mxpw: I don't know. The worst part of the whole end scene, I think, was that Sarah basically goes, "Okay, going on undercover mission with Volkoff now. I'll be back, I promise. Bye!" And then she left. Really, I have to wonder if she would have told Chuck before she left if Chuck hadn't come down that hallway when he did.
Frea: These people have strange definitions for "being in a relationship."
mxpw: I just don't buy the excuse that Beckman wouldn't have given her the time to talk things over with Chuck. That's a weak excuse, in my opinion.
Frea: I mean, if I were in a relationship and about to go undercover for who knows how long and risk my life, I would think my partner would get a say in this.
mxpw: At the very least, as soon as Sarah realized what Beckman was suggesting to her, she should have immediately put a halt to things and insisted Chuck was there during the debrief.
mxpw: That's what I would hope any wife would do for her husband.
mxpw: How could Beckman refuse? Why would Sarah even let her refuse? It's not like she's really a prisoner.
Frea: Well the problem therein is that I don't think the writers really realize there is a problem.
Frea: I'm sure to them Sarah's actions are perfectly understandable.
mxpw: It was just weak storytelling to set up the dramatic end of the episode, that's all. And I hate being manipulated like that by the writers. And I especially don't like questioning the Chuck and Sarah relationship.
mxpw: Honestly, you could have easily done most of the tearful goodbye at the end with Chuck fully in the know.
mxpw: Very little would have needed to be changed.
Frea: But then we wouldn't have the "twist" ending, Maximus.
mxpw: And if for some reason there wasn't enough time, shave 30 seconds off the dreadful Jeffster storyline. It's win/win!
Frea: 30 seconds? How about "trash the entire storyline except for Big Mike and the redecorated Home Media Room?"
mxpw: Heh, well, I was trying to strike a compromise with the writers and still let them have their stupid Jeffster while still making the end less wonky.
Frea: Oh, compromise. Hmm... Here's my compromise: Let Max Denby go work for a show like Bones. And then I'll complain less.
mxpw: Heh, did you know he's partly responsible for the atrocity that is American Hero as well?
Frea: ...Okay, Bones is too good for him. Do you think they're hiring writers for Outsourced still?
Frea: Seriously, Max Denby must GO.
Frea: NO MORE.
Frea: He wrote my least favorite episode of Season Three.
Frea: He contributed to my second least-favorite episode of Season Three.
Frea: And now he's given me this nightmarish mishmash of bad writing that even Yvonne Strahovski playing drunk and Zac Levi being charming couldn't completely save!
mxpw: I would even be willing to accept Klemmer over Denby, I think.
Frea: Agreed. At least Klemmer gave us Role Models and Sandworm.
mxpw: At least Klemmer wrote Tom Sawyer, an episode I know you're not that fond of, but I love it. Plus, you know, Sarah in the NH uniform.
|Just in case you forgot. Which I suspect you didn't, but you're welcome anyway.|
mxpw: At least TS was funny and had good teamwork. This episode wasn't that funny and the beginning was oddly slow. I didn't have much of a problem with the very beginning, even though I found the increasingly elaborate proposal elements absurd, but it was just really painful. And I don't mean painful in a sense where I'm supposed to think it's painfully awkward, but like that wasn't actually intended at all.
Frea: The beginning was where I had the most problems, actually.
Frea: It spun the entire episode off of the rails and I just couldn't...get...past...the...rest.
mxpw: Yeah, I found the aborted proposals increasingly annoying.
Frea: My problem with Denby's writing is that it's some of the most contrived writing of the series, and this episode is no exception. While on the one hand, it was great to hear that Sarah actually has a mother and didn't, well, I've seen the Athena references floating around here somewhere, and I found that amusing (though, seriously, she's Artemis if she's anything)...anyway, it was great to hear that Sarah does have a mother, but why on earth would she start telling that story about her parents unless she actually knew Chuck was planning to propose right then? I mean, dude's a spy, but he's not exactly hard to read. So her entire story, and the whole proposal setup, came across as really contrived and forced. I kept watching, hoping it was a nightmare, that Chuck was going to wake up in bed, gasping. And then...he didn't. It was awful.
mxpw: It was kind of bad how oblivious Sarah seemed.
Frea: And then when you think about it, the proposal itself was kind of horrible. Sarah likes the grand gestures, but...balloons? All of the attention in the room on her? I mean, why would Chuck ever have thought that was a good idea or at all suited to Sarah or her personality?
|Wait, that stuff in the script wasn't a joke? You mean, real women would|
really say this out of nowhere like that? I don't believe you.
mxpw: And honestly, it was another example of Chuck's insecurity and neuroses this season that have just made his character near unwatchable at times.
Frea: It just really annoyed me. You don't propose to the shy girl on the Gravitron. Not unless you want her to say no and flee in terror.
mxpw: You're absolutely right.
mxpw: For me, though, it was the third failed proposal that just made me facepalm and get annoyed.
Frea: I've blocked most of the episode from memory, which one are you talking about?
mxpw: That was actually a pretty damn good speech Chuck gave and it was a really good moment and it was heartfelt and it seemed right for them, and then the writers had to go and interrupt it right when Chuck was about to propose. Like what the hell? Was the CIA commander like some kind of sadistic bastard? Who even DOES that? It made no logical sense that they would choose that precise moment to make their move to arrest Sarah. I think that was the worst interrupted Chuck/Sarah moment of the whole series.
Frea: It felt like something the Cabal would write. Hopefully there are no Fibonacci sequences or tanks involved.
Frea: But I completely agree with you.
Frea: Also, my apologies to anybody who's tried to use brain bleach to wipe that story from their memories.
mxpw: And after that, that was when I realized that the writers intended to yank me around about the proposal and I stopped caring about it as much. Then to have Sarah interrupt Chuck for the fourth time when he was going to propose in Castle was like me just wanting to give up.
Frea: Well, you're doing better than me.
Frea: I have never cared about the proposal.
Frea: That probably makes me seem like a bad shipper, but I'm content with the fact that they're together. I'd rather them being together makes them both better people.
mxpw: I know. And it's not like I didn't expect them to interrupt it once or twice. Or even across multiple episodes. I could have probably handled that, but to do it FOUR times in one episode was too much. It was like kicking a guy when he's already down.
Frea: Well, it fits in with the theory: the writers don't actually like Chuck.
mxpw: I do wonder at times.
Frea: Who's been the most consistently awesome character this season?
mxpw: Sarah, of course.
Frea: Okay, let me rephrase.
Frea: Who do the writers think is the most consistently awesome character?
mxpw: Oh. Well, that would have to be Morgan, of course.
Frea: Who has the most crowning moments of win?
Frea: Who has time and again risen to the challenge above all odds?
mxpw: Again, Morgan.
Frea: Who has saved the day multiple times?
Frea: Who has provided support to every single character without fail?
Frea: I love Josh Grimes, I think he's awesome, but...
Frea: No, okay? It's gotta stop!
mxpw: You wanna know what I think is funny/ironic?
Frea: Dorothy Parker?
mxpw: Like we talked earlier with Sarah taking over the show, it's how clueless the writers seem at times. Schwedak did that interview, I think it was a podcast, and they were asked if they were surprised by the reception Phase Three received and they answered yes. They said they hadn't expected it to go over as well as it did. And when I read that, I could only wonder at how out of touch they are. Like they really don't get how popular a character Sarah is. And I think that was a good example of them having totally different views of the characters than the fans do.
Frea: You know, that sounds about right.
Frea: I do think LeJudkins get it, though.
Frea: Wasn't it Rafe's dream for Sarah to come out of the water with a knife in her teeth?
mxpw: That's what makes episodes like Balcony so perplexing. Honestly, what were all of the good scenes in the episode focused on, with one notable exception? Sarah. The awesome and funny drunk Sarah bit, where she was adorable, the amusing Sarah and Morgan convo where she decided to jump feet first into marriage (and also where she was wearing her inappropriate work attire again), Sarah being nervous, Sarah during the third proposal scene, the end? It was another showcase for Sarah/Yvonne, which I'm not complaining about, but then when they do stuff like this, you gotta wonder why they still don't seem to understand how many people love her.
|Can we get a scene with stoned Morgan and drunk Sarah? Is that too much to ask?|
Frea: In that case, everybody should talk to Rafe.
mxpw: Heh, well, I think you and I have gone on record before as saying LeJudkins should write most of the episodes.
Frea: I kind of agree with you, but I also don't.
Frea: Because yes, I agree that all of the good scenes seemed to revolve around Sarah, but I don't think the people that make Chuck see it that way. One of the problems I always have is that they "go for the funny" at the expense of everything up to and including plausibility, so I have a feeling that there were parts of this episode where they were just rolling in their chairs. Like, Chuck facing down the Walking Stereotypes to End All Stereotypes over the wineglass, the ten bajillion mentions of "Stable on the label and the stork on the cork," Morgan's scene with the "sub-mission" (please don't make me type that again, ever). All of those scenes they probably adored, while I was sitting there going, "If I want to watch a cartoon, I'll go watch Archer. Knock it off!"
mxpw: Hey, Archer is hilarious and a fantastic show.
Frea: That's what I'm saying. That's what I'll turn to if I want to watch a cartoon. Chuck is not a cartoon.
mxpw: That's true.
Frea: Actually, let's be honest here.
Frea: I'll probably watch Powerpuff Girls or Scooby Doo.
Frea: The City of Townsville isn't going to save itself, you know.
mxpw: Though speaking of that beginning, it was really nice to see Chuck at least being proactive and completing a part of the mission all on his own, but that fight was ridiculous. And that's saying something for this show. It didn't even make sense. And I've yet to see anything new or interesting about the Intersect. It's like the whole Intersect-less arc never happened.
Frea: Oh! That was my other major beef with the episode!
Frea: I was holding back for Leftovers in hopes that the Intersect-lessness would lead somewhere, but nope!
mxpw: I suppose there is still hope that something might crop up in 4.12 or 4.13, but with so much supposed to be happening in both episodes, I'm not sure they will even have time.
Frea: I suppose.
mxpw: And that is disappointing. This show is just really bad about bringing stuff up and never resolving anything.
Frea: They like to introduce awesome ideas and there are so many great places you can go with them...but then it's just back to square one. Every. Single. Time.
Frea: I'm sorry, I'm just really disappointed with this episode.
mxpw: Yeah. I appreciate what Sarah is doing. In a lot of ways, it's really romantic. She wants to bring back Chuck's mom because she wants to make his family, and by extension her own, whole. She wants to remove a shadow that is supposedly hanging over their heads. But it just feels so sloppy. Is that worth Sarah dying? Is it worth her also getting stuck in an undercover mission for 20 years? Is that worth potentially breaking Chuck's heart? Is that worth her going back on all the hard work she's done to become a better person? Why would she even want to go back to being just a spy? Isn't she afraid of how Chuck might react to seeing that side of her? How does she plan to bring down not just Volkoff, but his whole organization, when Mary failed? Am I really supposed to believe it's as simple as adding Team B to the equation? If I thought I'd even get half of these questions answered by the end of 4.13, I'd consider this arc a success. But past history has told me that I shouldn't hold my breath.
Frea: You said it much better than I could.
Frea: It depresses me that it's come to this.
Frea: I love this show, I've loved this show since the Pilot, but I'm not holding my breath for anything.
Frea: The bad guys have never once been as sinister as the threat of losing Sarah/being bunkerized, and you make so many valid points. If it's just a simple matter of adding Team B to take down Volkoff, then he joins a long line of failed bad guys.
mxpw: I think ultimately, for me, what it all breaks down to is that they haven't convinced me yet that at any point, once Mary realized that her mission might never end, why she couldn't simply shoot Volkoff in the head and go back to her family. Because of some network that we know nothing about and they've not developed at all? They haven't convinced me that the threat of Volkoff extends any father beyond him. So I consider Mary a failure, and that means I consider this arc with Sarah largely a failure too, as I don't know why she, or more likely Casey, can't camp out on some roof with a sniper rifle and kill him. The arc just doesn't hold a lot of dramatic weight with me. It feels hollow, which is why I'm not expecting much of 4.12 besides Sarah looking hot in her catsuit, doing general acts of morally questionable badassery, and Chuck wondering what the hell is going on while everybody else does something proactive.
Frea: ...so, just like the rest of the season?
mxpw: Yeah, so basically like the rest of the season.
mxpw: I mean, unless the whole Mary storyline is a massive fakeout (which has its own problems) and she's really a bad guy, which I know will never happen, I just can't buy the idea that she was trapped in her mission. So it's hard for me to buy Sarah being trapped too, which robs the storyline of a lot of its power, I think.
Frea: For me, personally, I just hate that they went with the parallels between Sarah and Mary.
Frea: I knew they were going to before the season started.
mxpw: As did I.
Frea: But I was genuinely hoping we'd see something more original than that.
mxpw: For me, I just don't even think they've done a good job with the parallels. We complain a lot about how off the Chuck/Sarah relationship is, but I've never thought Sarah was anything like Mary. We are supposed to believe that Mary loved her family, that's what they tell us onscreen, but her actions are not the actions of a woman that loves her family. She never would have put the mission above them to begin with if she did. And if I'm supposed to believe there's a danger of Sarah doing that too, I'm not sure why I would even keep liking her then.
Frea: Well, she's doing it for Chuck, Maximus.
Frea: Whether he likes it or not.
|Those CIA agents had better be careful. They're still finding pieces of the last|
person the Adorable Psycho gave that look.
Frea: Wouldn't that be awesome if that was the moral of the story?
Frea: Like, "Don't lie to your sister, and consult your partner before you make decisions for the relationship?"
Frea: Wouldn't that be great if that were the lesson they were supposed to be learning here?
mxpw: Yeah, but it's not.
Frea: *sigh* I know, I know, I'm not getting my hopes up.
mxpw: Like I said, I admire Sarah for what she is doing, I just don't like how the whole storyline is playing out.
Frea: I don't admire Sarah for what she's doing.
Frea: But then, I don't like the Mary Bartowski storyline at all. I adore Linda Hamilton, I think she's doing a fantastic job, but I'm not gonna lie: I don't like this storyline.
mxpw: I admire the thought behind it, I guess I should say, even if I do think she's being misguided.
Frea: I just want it ooooooooooooover.
Frea: I suspect I am in the minority about that and am fine with it, though.
mxpw: Heh. You know, I think that this makes me the optimist.
Frea: I think you are.
Frea: And heck, this time Sarah didn't have to destroy Thailand to make it happen.
Frea: Would you consider that progress?
mxpw: I didn't think the episode was good, but it did have a lot of scenes that I thought were individually quite good. And I could watch Sarah being drunk for a whole episode and not get bored. Tousled hair is a really good look for her.
mxpw: Yeah, I think so. Minor progress.
Frea: It was nice to see her being a spy again.
mxpw: Yeah, that was definitely nice. And we had the return of SWLP as well!
Frea: Like, her first response wasn't to high-kick her way through the room.
Frea: Ah, yes, the SWLP.
Frea: "They're just legs."
mxpw: There's no such thing as "just legs" when talking about Sarah Walker.
Frea: There's no such thing as "just" when talking about Sarah Walker.
|See? We would not lie to you.|
Frea: I liked her scenes with Morgan. Sarah and Morgan together is always going to mean a fun conversation is to be had.
Frea: Not terribly shallow.
mxpw: Just male?
Frea: Oh, I can think of a few females that share you opinion.
Frea: How about we go with "human?"
mxpw: *cough* Tally *cough*
mxpw: Okay, I think we've rambled long enough. Do you have any final thoughts?
Frea: Calling a man a walking cliche does not excuse lazy writing.
Frea: Also, I liked Tony DiNozzo's Danny Kaye tribute better.
Frea: But I definitely won't be rewatching this episode any time soon, even though I loved Chuck's proposal speech.
mxpw: I might re-watch for drunk Sarah and I too loved Chuck's proposal speech. One of the best speeches he's given on the show. They really should have let them get engaged. Just think about how hard the end would be then. The drama and angst would have been delicious. Oh crap...what am I saying? I think they've indoctrinated me! Save me, Frea!
Frea: Hey, look, we made it through an entire review without mentioning that "Double Agent" was used twi--crap.
mxpw: I was trying really hard to avoid mentioning "Double Agent." I mean, it will be really interesting to see Sarah being a double agent. I wonder what this double agent storyline will be like? What will she have to do as a double agent to gain Volkoff's confidence?
mxpw: ...double agent.
Frea: We suck at this.
mxpw: Yeah. One could even say Sarah becoming a double agent was fated.
Frea: Really, really suck at this!
Frea: 2.8 Castle Slides out of 10, but only for the proposal, drunk Sarah, and mentor Casey
mxpw: 2.5 Drunk Sarahs out of 5