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Dreams Change: Fear and Consequences on "Chuck"

"What's dead is dead. It's too late now." - John Casey

The push and pull between personal desire and professional responsibility have been at the beating heart of Chuck since the very beginning of the series but never moreso than in this, its third season, which has seen its troika of spies have to make some rather tough choices in pursuit of maintaining a balance between the two.

In this week's episode ("Chuck Versus the Tic Tac"), written by Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc and directed by Patrick Norris, several characters had to come to terms with fully realizing and accepting the consequences of their decisions, past and present. Are our dreams constant? Can they change? What happens when we get what we think we've always wanted?

For Chuck, Casey, Sarah, Devon, and Ellie, each of them had to cross a personal Rubicon this week as they examined their own lives, their dreams, and their current realities. Ghosts have a nasty way at turning up at unexpected times, as do certain opportunities. But it's what we choose to do in those moments--the actions we take, the roads we choose not to go down--that will forever shape what happens next.

(If you need a reminder of what I originally thought of the episode, here's my advance review of the most recent batch of episodes of Chuck, which includes this week's episode.)

I'm glad to see that the writers are delving deeper into John Casey's backstory and giving the gruff Colonel an episode that revolves, really, around him most of all. Casey's been a complex and enigmatic character whose duty to his country has shaped most of his decisions; he's proven that he follows the chain of command to the letter, whether that means saving lives or killing Chuck Bartowski. He's a man who upholds his responsibilities to the letter of the law.

This week, however, we learned that John Casey wasn't always a tough-as-nails super-spy. Paying off a dangling plot thread from "Chuck Versus the Fake Name," the writers deepen the background of Colonel Casey, revealing in a few deft strokes that Casey was once a young soldier named Alex Coburn who was recruited by the mysterious Keller (guest star Robert Patrick) to a black-ops division of snipers and spies. (Casey, after all, is a first-rate sniper, as proven by his assassination of Rafe from half a mile away in "Fake Name.")

And he certainly wasn't a loner, either. Casey had a fiancee and, unknown to him, a daughter on the way when he opted to choose duty to his country over love. Faking his death, Casey buried Alex Coburn and his former life, remaking himself into Keller's ideal of a solider: tough, emotionless, and without any ties. A lone gunman, a nomad, a killer capable of picking up at a moment's notice without any personal responsibilities getting in the way.

But life has a funny way of dredging up the past. Not only does Keller come swooping into Casey's life again but he has a mission for him: steal a prototype drug (whose purpose is to remove fear from an operative's mind) from a CIA substation and turn it over to him. Which is where things could have gone very wrong. Yes, Casey may have had a misguided loyalty to Keller but he would never cross king and country (or, well, president and country) and betray his team. So I knew that there had to be something more to this scenario than just Casey going to the dark side and assisting The Ring.

Which is where that old fiancee Kathleen came in. Keller and The Ring threatened to kill Kathleen if Casey didn't comply with their instructions and, despite his line about what's dead staying dead, that's not true at all. You can't bury anything--least of all feelings--forever. Alex Coburn may have gone to an early grave but that doesn't mean that Casey stopped caring about Kathleen.

In fact, it's clear that Casey made the wrong decision. He chose his country over his love, putting his own personal feelings aside. Seeing Casey at the very end of the episode, unable to return to Kathleen or to get to know his daughter, Casey is alone. It's a fate that he doesn't want for Chuck. "Walker's a good woman," he tells him. It's time for Chuck to make a choice of his own, isn't it?

Earlier this season, Chuck got what he always wanted: to be special, to be more than a minimum wage slave jockey at Buy More, to make a difference. He also had the choice between choosing love (Sarah) and choosing what he thought was his dream (becoming spy) and he too made the wrong choice, sending Sarah out of his life and ending what chance he had of happiness with her. He never stopped loving Sarah--he's recently come to realize that himself--but he's let professional duty cloud his judgment and his emotions.

Those emotions have gotten Chuck into trouble in the past but they also define just who he is. He's never been an emotionless superspy, a killer, or the type of guy who carries a gun into a mission. That's at the heart of Chuck's core identity and it's Chuck who realizes that when Sarah offers him a gun. He is attempting to remain true to himself and not compromise his integrity, himself, or the very man that Sarah fell in love with in the first place.

His decision to take the Laudanol was motivated by saving both himself and Kathleen from The Ring and it made Chuck into someone else, removing his fear and his emotions, rendering him into something more like Casey: a stone-cold killer. Did the Laudanol wear off just in time for Sarah to stop him from killing that Ring operative? Or was Chuck responsible for coming down off the drug through sheer force of will, triggered by the sight of Sarah? More likely the latter, proving that Chuck might just be the strongest one of all, the most able to hold onto his true self, even in the face of chemical persuasion.

Chuck might be changing and growing into his new spy role but it's those emotions, that naivete and innocence, that make him so attractive to Sarah. Which is why she can't shake Chuck, even as she prepares to start a new life and a new assignment with Shaw in Washington. Will she be able to break away from her former asset and start over somewhere else? Does she want to? We'll have to wait to find out.

Meanwhile, Devon and Ellie have struggles of their own. Devon has engineered a plot to get Ellie out of the country--and therefore out of danger--by enrolling them in Doctors Without Borders, thus taking her away from Chuck and removing the bullseye from her back, now that The Ring is aware of Devon's identity. Devon is attempting to keep his wife safe and uphold his promise to Chuck but it's complicated when Ellie gets what she always wants: a neurology fellowship at USC, her dream job that she's wanted since she was a child. But Ellie is willing to put that aside to help Devon follow what she believes is his dream.

In a nice moment, Devon puts aside Doctors Without Borders to enable Ellie to pursue her dream; the two are so caring and supportive that they're each willing to sacrifice something for the other. It's a lesson that our trio of spies could take to heart, really. (And I'm glad that our two doctors will be sticking around and not jetting off to Africa any time soon.)

But the real kicker was that final scene between Chuck and Casey in Casey's now empty apartment. Casey has lost everything: both his career and his true love and he's left with nothing more than a sad bonsai tree and his thoughts. In a rare streak of solidarity, Casey tells Chuck that he must make the right decision when it comes to Sarah, that it's not too late for them to be together. (Sniffle.)

What else did I love about this week's episode? Morgan spying on Casey and his carrot-eating ways; Sarah secreting herself underneath the car and then taking out five Ring operatives single-handedly; Casey's fight with Keller (and Casey killing Keller with his bare hands); the CIA trace-cell mission (and Chuck and Sarah's later return to the substation); Chuck ratting Casey out because he thought he was being tested once more; the scene where Devon and Morgan realize that the other knows about Chuck's secret identity; Chuck's Laudanol-influenced battle at Kathleen's house.

All in all, another fantastic episode that paid off some of the plot threads established over the last few weeks and again shifted the dynamic of the series, rendering Casey as a civilian and removing him from the spy world just as Morgan entered it. Given Casey's past and his personality, it's safe to say that this is not going to be an easy adjustment and it comes at perhaps the worst possible time for the team.

What did you think of this week's episode? Surprised by the reveals about Casey's past? Feeling better about Chuck and Sarah's chances as a couple? Wondering if Sarah will take the job in Washington D.C.? Discuss.

Next week on Chuck ("Chuck Versus the Final Exam"), Chuck learns that his latest solo mission will be a final test to see if he is ready to be a spy and he must put everything he has learned into action to avoid going back to his old life while Sarah and Shaw observe his every move.


Newman said…
Poor Casey! I don't think he can survive civilian life for very long.

My favorite scenes were Chuck and Sarah breaking back into the CIA to free Casey and Sarah being rigged to the bottom of Casey's truck and then taking out Keller's henchmen. Nice!
tvjourney said…
First time poster here; just wanted to say that I love reading your insight on many of my favorite shows, Jace, especially Chuck.
I do, though, disagree about one of your points about this episode. You say that Casey made the wrong choice when he decided to sacrifice love for love of country. I suppose there's a chance this is true, but I definitely don't think it's 'clear'. In fact, even after having lost his position, Casey still says that it was the right choice for him. I don't think he would have been happy choosing love over his cause. And I'm not sure choosing the greater good and protecting your country is ever the wrong choice, it just may sometimes require sacrifices that you can't live with.
This is why I also love that Casey emphasizes with Chuck that while this was right for Casey, it might not be right for Chuck. Plus, one can hope (and Chuck tends to be optimistic!) that there's a way to have both.
Anyway, I've been loving this season, and this episode blew me away. It perfectly used the many beautiful interpersonal relationships on the show to explore its major themes of love, sacrifice, and the greater good (even with: how can Ellie and Awesome help the most people, Doctors Without Borders or neurology fellowship at USC?).
Jeff C. said…
I'm a day late watching this episode, but I thought it was brilliant, at least on its own--a great combination of action, humor, and drama, with a bit of romance thrown in. I'm not sure how well the Alex Coburn story fits in with what else we know about Casey (when he was the Angel de la Muerte, was that as Coburn?), but it underscores that Casey has devoted everything, every aspect of his life, to service to his country.

I'm very curious, and a bit concerned, about where the story arc is going. But there's no question I'm along for the ride.
Katelyn said…
I loved this episode, but I sure hope Casey is not gone for good. We totally need him. Besides, I think he doesn't know how to be just a civilian anymore.
Anonymous said…
Fantastic episode, wow, the show is on fire! This is my fave season easily. Adam Baldwin rocks. I also like the Shaw character. I like what Routh is doing with the character, he's cocky, commanding mysterious, and I really like his interactions with Sarah because we get to know other sides of her. But it's about time to know what his real agenda is regarding the Ring. I guess that's coming up soon in the following episodes. Can't wait to find out. Hope is worth it.

But most of all, I'm loving the darker tone and the emotional realism this season. Chuck's journey into becoming a spy really needed that. Thanks!


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