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Pune/ India, Irvine/ CA, now Boulder/ CO
Welcome to my blog! I'm Hrishi from Pune, India. I am an earth system scientist currently working as a postdoctoral research associate at Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at CU-Boulder. These blogs are mostly about my travels, landscape photography, scientific computing, book and film reviews, fitness, cooking, and science communication. Feel free to navigate based on the labels below. My website: hrishikeshac.wix.com/hchandan


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tumbling down the rabbit hole: How I came to know, like, love, and got obsessed with 'Chuck': II

The first half of this post can be found here.

Spoiler alert: A couple of scenes in S1. They don't affect the ‘spy action' storyline, but provide insight on the characters. 

     I enjoyed watching the pilot, but didn’t think much of it. It was a really witty and funny episode, but that was it. I didn't find anything special about it. I recommended it to my friend Juhi who too watched and liked it, but had same reaction as me. Next day, I watched another episode and again it was nice and i enjoyed it and forgot about it. Same happened until the 4th episode. That one had Sarah Walker and her spy friend/enemy Carina fight each other. It was very obvious what the writers were trying to do by making two tall, slim, attractive babes in skimpy clothes fight each other. I found it pretty shallow. 
     It was also very obvious that there was a love story developing between Sarah and Chuck. It was sort of amusing to watch since they are anyway faking a relationship as their cover, and then we see the real thing is beginning to happen. I didn't mind it, but it felt so cheesy, and stereotyped. Lack of evident love story between Mulder and Scully (as of mid-S4) was one of the main reasons I liked X-Files. It was evident that Mulder/Scully loved each other and cared for each other. But their love seemed to be a unspoken, private matter, sort of sacred that it was none of audience’s business to know. This cleared up a lot of screen time for actual X-file plot. 

     So after finishing the 4th episode, likable as Chuck was, I lost interest. I still couldn't ignore the silliness of the missions, and the trying-to-be-funny Buy More employees. And as I still wanted some time away from X-Files, I started watching another of Netflix’s recommendation- Dr. House. Then one day Juhi, who had continued watching Chuck, said the show is getting interesting. Hence I decided to give Chuck another shot, though not expecting much redemption.

     After a few episodes, I started realizing that Chuck offers a lot more. Even though its storyline was still silly and funny, and cheesy and shallow, the characters (all played by brilliant never-heard-of actors) made it seem a lot deeper than perhaps the writers actually intended. Most notably, Sarah Walker. I hadn’t given her much thought as whatever little attention I had paid went to Chuck. That’s what the writers had intended too. After all, the show itself was named ‘Chuck'. Sarah is just a bad-ass babe shown in ever-changing clothes and hairstyles and serves as an eye-candy, right? Just a supporting character who is the quest/reward that motivates our hero to perform. A stereotypical male fantasy, right? 

     But Sarah's personality didn't add up to her supposed place in the show. Usually action babes are given a tom-boyish personality-flamboyant, outgoing, playful, and some what insensitive attitude towards emotions/feelings and romance. Instead, Sarah’s character is an introvert- a quiet, seemingly boring person who likes to keep things to herself, who doesn’t like to show off her killer looks nor her killing action. An antithesis of her spy-friend Carina. Despite being stunningly beautiful, she uses her beauty more as mission tool, like her knives, rather than to use it for casual pleasure in real life. Also, even if she’s kicking asses throughout the missions and saving Chuck’s life several times, she doesn’t appear to be very dominating, manly or ruthless like Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, nor does she has that smirk, or the subtle condescending attitude that Trinity is initially shown to have towards Neo. 

     The closest personality to Sarah that I can think of is also the one I liked- Clarice Starling, played brilliantly by Jodie Foster (who is the only other female actress/celebrity I ever came close to liking. Yvonne Strahovski is my first ever celebrity crush, and a big one!) in The Silence of the Lambs. Sarah never gives that be-grateful-I-just-saved-your-ass look to Chuck. In fact, she is vulnerable to Chuck, both on- and off-missions. She is sensitive to Chuck’s safety and well-being, not just for his own sake. During missions, she always respects him, and shows care and concern for him that goes beyond her job description of protecting him. To Casey’s disgust, she treats Chuck as if he were her child. And off missions, she is so convincing as a shy, quiet girl-next-door with a gorgeous smile and imperfect teeth, that its hard to believe she can use knives for purposes other than cooking. She is also very sensitive to what Chuck thinks of her, and gets genuinely hurt if he passes an offhand remark about their cover relationship.

     So it was Sarah’s personality that mainly got me interested in the show. Why would the writers write her this way? Is her complex personality even planned? Or is Yvonne trying to give her character more importance than the writers planned, by acting too well and beyond her expected supporting role to really bring out an extraordinary and original Sarah Walker.

     I didn't notice any exact turning point of my views on the series, but in retrospect, I think it might have been just one scene in Episode 1.8, when Chuck goes to Sarah after his ’near death’ experience to scratch off his bucket list. Sarah first thinks he will ask her out for real or may be kiss her. We see an upsurge of hope and excitement in her eyes. Her eyes waver, alternating between either of Chuck’s eyes. And then Chuck says he wants to breakup their fake relationship (so that he would start a real one with some other girl, Lou). Immediately, we see surprise, shock, hope-crashing disappointment, hurt, and finally her denial to all these feelings as she smiles and shows agreement that it doesn't matter to her as their relationship was fake anyway. And then she keeps staring into nothing even after he’s gone. 
     This entire scene is just a brilliant piece of subtle acting by Yvonne, and great music (‘Fresh Feeling’ by EELS). And then when she sees Chuck being happy with Lou, the look of pain and longing seen in Sarah’s face is again very well portrayed. To show you what I meant, here's the scene: Though I must warn you that watching the video without watching any episodes won't do Yvonne's acting enough justice. Revisit this video after watching the entire series and you'll know what I mean. 

     After this, things started getting exciting for me. In the next episode, a desperate Sarah disregards her denial of her true feelings as she thinks they both are going to die, and kisses Chuck. And then later her professionalism returns as she behaves as if nothing ever happened, and makes Chuck say something very painful; “You kissed because you knew you were dying and my lips were the most convenient ones around, or because it was about me” to which her reply is “what happened was a mistake which won’t repeat again”. Without getting into my past, all I'll say is that this dialog resonated with me, and made me pretty upset. Also, for a light and silly 'action-comedy', these scenes were surprisingly intense, and were totally unexpected. Chuck suddenly became an action-romance-drama-comedy. And I got very, very interested. 

     I felt for Chuck- he desperately loves Sarah, and he thinks she loves him. But then she’s supposed to love him as cover. Plus, as an underachieving genius, he’s not been very confident in life, and has identity crises after getting kicked out of Stanford. And now he gets inferiority complex as to why would someone as hot and attractive as Sarah really love him? May be just because he is the intersect, and all she’s doing is playing her part of cover girl friend, like a true professional. And plus, didn’t she had feelings for a guy who’s as smart as he is, but better looking, much better at kicking ass- the very guy who got him kicked out of Stanford and stole his girlfriend? Ops. Inferiority complex increases several fold. And so he gets confused, and she doesn’t make it easier for him at all. 
     And I felt for Sarah- she loves Chuck for what he is, despite (and not due to) the intersect, she sees how truly and innocently he loves her, but she can’t ‘compromise her cover’ (now what does that mean? hint: watch out for the term '49B' in Season 2). Yet, she can’t help being vulnerable towards him, and ends up giving mixed signals. 

     Suddenly, watching Chuck got interesting(*). Chuck/Sarah were so adorable as a couple, that in no time I became a 'shipper. Suddenly, those silly missions, Casey's grunts, and those Buy Morons, became not just bearable, but hilarious and enjoyable. Extremely enjoyable. 

And so began my obsession with Sarah Walker's and Chuck Bartowski's love story(**). 

* And things just keep getting ridiculously better in Season 2, which can be considered as the quintessential Chuck season. 

**I wanted to limit the spoilers in this post, hence I'll write separately about my thoughts on Chuck and Sarah's story through all five seasons. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this. Your love of Chuck mirrors my experience with it as well, although I did watch the show as it aired. Basically, I watched an episode or too, didn't think too much about it, but then watched an episode mid-season and was hooked. That made me catch up on that first season in its whole before Season 2 started. I find lots of things to enjoy about it, but wouldn't think it anything special except for the character of Sarah Walker and Strahovski's portrayal of her. In fact, I think of lots of things that I have to roll my eyes at or even story choices I get angry at - but I still enjoy this show so much more than any "perfectly constructed" series. To me the Chuck/Sarah relationship and Sarah in particular make it stand out.