Anyone who watches chuck knows by now that we are lucky to have ever had a third season. Although season two was a great season, the show failed to get back the viewers it had in it’s first season and the fate of the show rested with the fans. To show their support, fans bought truckloads of Subway sandwiches and in doing so convinced NBC into renewing Chuck for another season. Maybe that’s why season three feels like a love letter to the fans. We gave everyone who works on the show another year of employment.
For those who may have forgotten, season two of Chuck ended with an Intersect-free Chuck deciding to upload Intersect 2.0 so he could be with Sarah. He found out that without the Intersect, she would be reassigned and leave. Now with the newly upgraded Intersect, the real surprise at the end was that Chuck could actually fight now. In a homage to The Matrix, where needed skills were immediately uploaded into your brain, Chuck’s new Intersect allows him to do pretty much the same thing. Need to know Kung-Fu? Suddenly your a killing machine capable of taking out a dozen guys all by yourself.
This Chuck is no longer a liability, but at the end of the season Sarah asked Chuck to run away with her to be together. So it’s a surprise when we see Chuck not with Sarah at the beginning of season 3, but washing out of CIA spy training in Europe. He may have new abilities, but Chuck is still not really a spy. Washing out sends Chuck back home where he seemingly spends months laying around the house while Ellie and Devon grow concerned. He attempts to call Sarah who appears to be with a new man. Is she reassigned? No, it turns out she’s on a mission and undercover, but her resentment towards Chuck is evident.
Eventually however, the team forms again and resumes CIA missions but with a new member to the team. Super agent Daniel Shaw(Brandon Routh) has been flown in to head the team to make it more efficient and to help turn Chuck into a real spy. To do that he needs to ween Chuck off of Sarah and Casey. Routh is excellent as a man of many talents and secrets, however his angle as a love interest for Sarah feels a bit forced at times. As Shaw is introduced, we simultaneously get a new love interest for Chuck in Hannah(Kristen Kruek). While Kruek and Levi have a nice chemistry together, Routh and Strahovsky don’t quite gel as nicely.
With only a 13 episode order for season 3, the producers and writers had little time to waste, so nearly all of the initial 13 episodes ranged from good to exceptional. Early episodes dealt with Devon who learned about Chuck’s spy life last season, getting sucked into a mission and found that while it might be fun to imagine yourself as a spy, actually being one was far different. We had Stone Cold Steve Austin guest star in a great episode titled “Chuck versus First Class” where he meets Hannah.
Throughout the season it’s obvious that there is more to the Shaw storyline than meets the eye. In one of the best reveals in the shows history, early on Sarah recalls her “Red Mission”. These are like the right of passage missions for agents in training because it’s the first mission in which they are assigned to kill someone. Sarah fears that killing someone for the first time will change Chuck forever and tells Shaw about the worst day of her life when she had to kill a woman despite not wanting to. The way the scene is presented, we assume it’s not meant to be anything more than a tie-in to Sarah’s fears for Chuck, despite knowing that Shaw’s wife was killed years ago on a mission. The setup works perfectly and it’s revealed that Sarah’s mark was Shaw’s wife. As you can imagine, when he eventually finds out, he takes it badly.
This big reveal illustrates that Shaw’s real purpose all season was in the creation of a bad guy. After NBC decided to renew Chuck, an additional 6 episodes were ordered and Shaw, who was killed off in the original season finale was brought back in the same way as Agent Bryce was in season 1. This time he was uploaded with the same Intersect as Chuck, and a true rival and villain was born. It mirrors in many ways Lex Luthor’s gradual fall from grace. The season long arc and storyline revolving around Shaw is very satisfying in it’s conclusion. The great thing about it is that the writers hid it so well that it wasn’t until he turned bad that you could see the thread throughout the season.
One of the best things they did in season 2 was revealing Chuck’s secrets to Devon. It began the blurring the line between Chuck’s spy life and normal life. That blurring continues this season when Chuck is forced to tell Morgan his secret. It’s been a long time coming and it is nice to see Chuck be completely open with his best friend. Other than the Buy More friends, that leaves Ellie as the only major person in Chuck’s life who is still in the dark.
Among the other new and returning characters in season 3 are Mekenna Melvin as Casey’s unknown teenage daughter and Scott Bakula as Chuck’s father Steve Bartowski.
A big part of my love for season 3 is the long-awaited union of Chuck and Sarah. When Shaw was first killed and the season was supposed to end, Chuck and Sarah finally came together. However, with the extended season we got a chance to see them as a fully functioning couple despite the spy stuff. That amazing chemistry that Levi and Strahovsky share really seems to bloom and shine even brighter somehow in the last third of the season. The “will they, or won’t they” setup for a couple is compelling if done right, but regardless of the quality in the writing, acting and chemistry departments, you can’t keep that train going forever. If you do, you risk losing audience members who get fed up with waiting. It’s something that the Fox tv show Bones has struggled with until recently.
Despite a particular formula that Chuck has, one of the reasons I feel the show is so strong each season is due to the fact that it’s been on the chopping block so often, that they have one reserved each year just for the show. The writers and producers have had to pull their best ideas and story lines and use them immediately instead of saving them for future seasons that may not have come.
While season 2 explored the deeper mythological aspects of Chuck, season 2’s aim is to delve deeper into the emotional core of it’s characters. However in another great twist, a revelation about Chuck’s childhood and his father’s work is used to great effect.
With Chuck and Sarah seemingly together now, Morgan actually starting to grow up and emotionally resonant twists and turns, season 3 of Chuck really takes the cake for me. It continues to be one of the wittiest and outright fun shows to watch on all of television.