“Unpacking Chuck” – A Review

Bound for 4 days at my in-laws after Christmas, with little access to the television or reliable internet, I sought to have a little Chuck fix in a manner unfamiliar to me….I downloaded “Unpacking Chuck” by G. Walter Bush from Amazon. I had been aware of the eBook for a while, but thought it would provide little new insight into the series. However, after reading many of Sean’s (Wireplay) posts before Christmas, I quickly understood that there were some people who possess a different level of analysis. These people I refer to as the ” Illuminati”, because they seem to be able to peel back all the layers of the series and shine a light on things that I was completely unaware of. This book falls into that category.

I have to confess…this book was an easy read for me. It was well written, with wonderfully descriptive prose and a beautiful flow to the narrative. The chapters were kept to a reasonable length, without any meandering thoughts. But what made it a real joy was that it DIDN’T introduce any ideas into the story that challenged how I interpreted the series. Thus, there is a certain confirmation bias to my review…. I saw the series pretty much the same way that Mr. Bush saw the series. Our recent discussion around The Other Guy has shown me that some may not see the characters and their complex issues in that light.

First, the book does not dissect the series as a whole. Instead it takes certain scenes and dialogue and fleshes out what they contribute to the overall story. The most enjoyable parts of the book deal with metaphors that are interspersed throughout the series, especially notable are the early episodes where we get a glimpse of the main protagonists through the lens of simple props added to a scene. For instance, Bush relates Chuck’s situation and subsequent journey (metaphorically) to the Water Lillies (sic) painting from Tango. Sarah’s present situation and future conflicts are linked to the solitary goldfish in her hotel room, which suffers an unfortunate occurrence when the bowl is knocked over during Sarah and Carina’s sparring session ( Wookie). The metaphor of a “Fish out of water” is then expertly woven into the fabric of Sarah’s life in Burbank as she struggles to understand the normal life that Chuck may offer, but that she has no experience with.

The author states in the preface that the book will be focused mainly on Chuck and Sarah (and, as usual, it ends up being very Sarah-centric), but other characters are explored as well. The minutia that Bush is able to detect in order to provide excellent insights to the characters is quite eye opening. Bryce is dealt with by an early covert operation “Sand Wall” …and the idea of a barrier that is shifting and not well structured is intriguing as it relates to Chuck and Sarah’s evolving relationship. Mama B is introduced through the code name “Isis”. The author even tries to relate early Season 3 to the biblical reference of being cast out into the desert and does a nice job of relating that story to the struggles of Chuck and Sarah. Morgan, Casey and Ellie are also dealt with in the book.

Another interesting chapter is on the ironies and inversions that the series brings us. While it didn’t mention my favourite irony ( Prague, when Sarah mentions that the spy world isn’t real, while what she was offering was…and at the same time giving Chuck his fake passport and name), it provides plenty more that are given some context within the story.

If you are open minded, this is a very good read. For many of us, it will not conflict with the story that we have watched ( many times) but gives some added incentive to pay close attention to the details of certain scenes. Reflections in mirrors or windows become a sign that there is conflict between the 2 worlds that Sarah and Chuck each find themselves in. Watches and clocks signify a time to make a decision or a deadline. The placement of the characters in the scenes, the placement of the objects in the scene are all given added significance.

A warning, however, based on the recent discussions on the site. One of the underlying themes that Bush deals with, (and I thought was so obvious that it went without saying), is the conflict Sarah goes through in the series, but especially in the first 2 seasons. This is the conflict of how does she reconcile her desire to be a spy with her desire to live a normal life with Chuck. It delves into her original thinking that she must chose one over the other, but also explores the many instances where she also toys with the idea that she can bring Chuck over to her world as well. It wasn’t until Sheena mentioned that such a revelation would change how she saw the series, that I decided to throw in that little caveat.

As a Chuckaholic, I think this is a great eBook to download and read, if, for no other reason, that we continue to support anyone who is as committed to Chuck as we are. Mr. Bush is currently working on “Unpacking Chuck 2”, and I, for one, will be looking forward to its publication.

“Unpacking Chuck” by G. Walter Bush is available at Amazon.com for digital download OR now in softcover version.

Get ’em while they’re hot !!

21 comments

  1. Good Article, Gary

    Yes, I agree as I just reached the halfway mark, I have grown to love this book. The way the author describes how camera angles and lighting can make the viewer see how the character was feeling. For example. His chapter about fish out of water. Where Sarah’s life was closely related to the fish she was feeding in Wookie was excellent.

    Not that you need a reason to return to the beginning did you find yourself going back to the beginning and follow with with the book?

    • I haven’t yet. I’m trying to watch White Collar and giving Chuck a bit of a break.

      Fish out of water was an excellent metaphor. The Water Lillies for Chuck was a little more esoteric, but apt nonetheless. While I mention the book being Sarah-centric, Mr. Bush assures me that it is out of necessity …. and I concur ( in a way). Sarah is the more complex of the characters. What I find interesting is that no one REALLY ever mentions Chuck’s complexity. We tend to focus a lot on Sarah’s inner struggle with her desire to attain a “normal” life, but we give short shrift to Chuck’s desire to actually become something. The decision to become a spy is heavily influenced by the fact that Sarah is a spy, but no one ever seems to mention that Chuck HIMSELF was tired of being the buffoon. With Sarah’s encouragement , he realized he NEEDED to make something of himself. He ended up hating the Chuck that was content with Nerd Herding. I thought that would have made an interesting analysis, but Chuck’s desires, if they are not directly related to Sarah, are never ever explored. Maybe in Unpacking Chuck 2 ……

      • Since the show is about Chuck, I bet it has something to do with that.

        We know Chuck’s story, but How about a Casey centric story or Jeffster. Chuck’s journey is well played out by CF and JS,

        i think watching the Jill episodes helps me understand the story more. Jill really is a factor a Character that gets lost IMO I just wish someone else played the role of Jill. Jordana will always be fast and the furious.

      • The second book will have Jeff, Lester AND Jeffster chapters !!

        I’m still not convinced the story of Chuck’s desire to become something was well told. He gets lambasted for Season 3 because he chooses to be a spy. That tells me people didn’t understand that Chuck was just trying to become something …something that would make his father proud, someone that Sarah could truly love. Remember, Sarah said “No, thanks” to regular Chuck ( in Chuck’s mind…) After that, he felt he would never be worthy of her if he didn’t make something of himself.

        But, I digress !!!

  2. Gary,

    I loved your review of this book! Thank you for sharing with us.

    I’ve only ever watched this series with the thought that Sarah’s character was in constant conflict between her spy life and Chuck’s “normal” life. I NEED to watch it and try to pick out the parts where she tries to get him to come over to her life, because I am pretty sure my thoughts and opinions on certain situations will indeed be altered.

    I know a lot of my comments have been Sarah based. I’d like to make note that this is only because I felt her character needed some female perspective. However, I agree with you that Chuck too had struggles and conflict that were just as big. I think we often over look Chuck’s struggles, because he is always comical about them, thus giving them less weight than the struggles surrounding “serious Sarah Walker”. I watch Chuck with my little cousin over text messaging, and we are constantly texting: “Poor Chuck”, so for sure, his characters struggles are just as prominent. I think that we often end up laughing off Chuck’s conflict with him, whereas Sarah’s conflict is usually presented in a more serious way and we end up feeling for her.

    In American Hero, Chuck is giving Sarah the “I love you” speech and her face is serious and full of emotion. So as a viewer I also felt that emotion. Chuck’s speech was beautiful, romantic and full of hope; but unless (like right now) I’m truly analyzing his body language and tone, all I hear is the comical “I’m going home now to pack both summer and winter wear” and then “I would like, however, at some point to see the Eiffel Tower..”. I just think his lines always lighten the mood, which makes me feel his struggles a lot less. I’m not sure if this is making sense, but hopefully it isn’t completely obscure:)

    My point is that Gary is right, in a way, when he said:

    ” That tells me people didn’t understand that Chuck was just trying to become something …something that would make his father proud, someone that Sarah could truly love. ”

    I don’t think that we are completely unaware of Chuck’s situation. I mean, the writers made it pretty obvious for us. But I do agree that we probably don’t acknowledge Chuck’s situation as much as Sarah’s, for no other reason than the writing. Chuck’s character was written to be a funny, easy going guy. Sarah’s character was written to be complicated and more serious.

    When they killed off Scott Bakula, we felt Chuck’s pain. When he said no to Sarah on the platform in Prague, I felt Chucks pain. So there are definitely times when I was able to feel for Chuck, it just didn’t happen as often as it did for Sarah. I actually think, that is why I watch Chuck vs Sarah and the Goodbye, because it is chalk full of emotional Chuck. In those two episodes Sarah’s character is emotionally shut off, and Chuck’s character is one giant emo bubble:)

    Speaking of digressing!

    • Bush puts Sarah’s struggles so much more eloquently than I, so I would just defer to his written word if you get the chance !!

      If you chose to do a rewatch, just remember that whenever Chuck and Sarah are talking about being a hero, they are talking about Chuck being in the spy world. Look at Tango, Seduction, Tom Sawyer….even The Ring. When Sarah says to Chuck, ” How many times do you have to be a hero to realize that you are that guy”, don’t take that statement out of context. Realize what Chuck and Sarah were talking about ( Bryce and her being heroes, out saving the world). And remember…Sarah made her decision at the beach. She waited an awfully long time to tell Chuck she was going to stay. If she didn’t want to take one last shot at Chuck coming with her to Washington, don’t you think she would have been quite eager to tell him she was staying ???

      Anyway, I totally understand your perspective. I always felt people connected to Sarah better than to Chuck. Chuck lightening the mood and having people to talk to helped us not to worry about him as much as we worried about Sarah.

  3. Just as an aside, Walter and I are having an interesting conversation about the “fish out of water” theme. He also added Sarah switching places with the Marlin in the freezer, Chuck mentioning in Season 2 that Sarah was a “big catch”, and then Morgan ( of course ) telling Sarah that she was a “big fish” in Phase 3.

    We are also having a bit of a discussion on the scenes where Sarah emerges from the water ( the ocean in Goodbye, the lagoon in Phase 3 ). Is it a reference to the final stages in the evolution of Sarah from a fish out of water, to finally finding her feet ? Mr. Bush feels the ocean is the last step of the evolution, but I’m tending to go more with the lagoon ….

    Yes….this is the esoteric stuff the book gets you thinking about !!!

    • Yes, its the perfect study guide if you will.

      It’s why I been saying cliffhanger was nice episode to watch, but I wouldn’t complain. Before I saw Phase Three, I was always wondering what life would be like for Sarah Walker without Chuck.

      I mean we saw her freak out when Chuck was presumed dead, but nothing like she experienced in Phase Three.

      Phase Three was the revelation for Sarah on deep her love was. Finding out Chuck was going to ask her to marry her. The Dream she always wanted was hers, it added fuel to her fire. It brought out rampage Sarah.

      Morgan making her realise she never told Chuck her feelings made Sarah feel worse about the situation. Great episode and even better was enough for me to see how much she loved him.

    • What about emerging from the water in Pink Slip?

      Really Sarah & Chuck were fish out of the other’s water, and that is what was cool about watching them “grow” together.

      The story they tried to tell about them supposedly growing without the other does not serve the characters well.

      • Yeah….they weren’t natural in each other’s worlds, but they certainly had an affinity to those worlds. Chuck had a family connection to the spy world, and Sarah had the same with her mother and her house.

        Chris, it’s funny why you mention haw Sarah reacted when she thought she lost Chuck or in Phase 3 …her dream ( IMHO ) was always to live a normal life married to Chuck….the house with the red door and picket fence, having kids, making sure they had a normal upbringing playing soccer and Halloween, family, friends etc. All the things she told Chuck and her mom. She even mentioned these things to both Casey and Carina. She says that Burbank was the only place that ever felt like home. She was traumatized seeing someone else sitting around the family dinner table. It’s why I’m just dumbfounded that people think the life she offered Chuck in Prague was her dream normal life !! How could a life on the run with fake ID and no real job ever be her dream life she talked about so often. It makes no sense to me at all. I guess that’s the beauty of the show…everyone sees it differently . I’ll always contend that people shouldn’t confuse normal with familiar.

  4. I never said it was her dream life, I have said it was how her life use to be. Her father taught her to run, when CIA missions fail they are taught to abort missions, so in essence she was abandoning ship.

    I think once away from Burbank and the stench of what was to come Sarah most likely would tell Chuck how she truly felt, but in between the three weeks Something happened to Chuck himself.

    • I was talking more about JD and Sheena…. they feel Prague was Sarah’s vindication for saying no to Chuck at the wedding. They feel Prague was Sarah pursuing her NORMAL life with Chuck ( because it was “normal” for her ).

      The thing that happened to Chuck was what he told Sarah in the Three words. He couldn’t just turn his back on friends, family and the greater good. He realized that all these things are important…more important than just him and his wishes, because that’s what SHE taught him.

      She was right when she told him he can be anything he puts his mind to… he can have anything he wants. The problem is that she did her job too well !!!

    • “…but in between the three weeks something happened to Chuck himself.”

      And we needed to know that ASAP, before Prague. It’s required for the foundation of the story. To hang on to it until the end of the next episode is too late. The foundation is already crumbling because fans have already decided Chuck acted ooc and this explanation doesn’t change that.

      It’s the writers manipulating the characters into something they’re not to tell the story.

      Prague is a fabrication, a falsehood. Because no one knows who the characters are it can mean anything you want.

      • I agree, Shep not disputing anything your say.

        but don’t you think the series would of been saved with one main bad guy. i mean think of this they botched their own bad guy story by Bryce saying Fulcrum was just one part of the Ring, Does that mean there were more parts.

        We know the Ring was there own entity, We later find out through Decker there was a major conspiracy (which included Shaw BTW) Bryce was alluding the same thing it was all apart of something. I truly feel Quinn was the mastermind and should of been.

        Do you guys think they dropped the ball on that one?

      • I don’t think the intent of the series was ever a Good Vs Evil thing, so having a “bad guy” was secondary to the story. I believe the intent was always to showcase Chuck and how “ordinary” people can sometimes do extraordinary things when given the right motivation. The secondary story was probably supposed to be the love affair with Sarah, but that actually became one of the primary motivations for doing extraordinary things. ( Whether Fedak wanted it or not…).

        Capturing all the Ring Elders was probably meant to be the end of that particular enemy. Shaw became part of the continuing story because he had time, and the means to blackmail Decker. The huge conspiracy Decker talked about was probably Shaw’s doing … I don’t think Quinn had anything to do with that particular plot, but I could be wrong…I haven’t watched S5 as in depth as the other seasons.The big problem was that Yvonne was stealing ( or stole ) the show, so introducing a main antagonist that could possibly also steal the story from Chuck would have moved the story too far off course.

        Crap… it was bad enough that they kept bringing Shaw back !!

      • Fulcrum is the true baddie the show ever had. Any bad guy after S2 is a farce no worthy of being discussed.

        The Ring was pointless – and non-existent really.

        Volkoff Industries was OK – until Alexei showed up and then they fizzled out. Don’t even start about Vivian.

        They were on the right track with Decker and the conspiracy but they never should have exposed it, just left similar to Fulcrum with Decker as the face of the conspirators. But let’s face it, EVERYONE after S4 knew that with this show the conspiracy story would go nowhere, and it did.

        (Shaw as the head of the conspiracy is laughable and totally not believable in any way shape or form. Linking him to the conspiracy was the quickest way to kill a semi-decent storyline – which is what it did. The amount of people that have to look stupid for Shaw to return in order to Sarah about the baby – Chuck being the biggest blockhead – was not worth it to anyone except Fedak.)

      • I liked the Volkoff villainy…thought Timothy Dalton was priceless. Didn’t think the Mama B angle worked well at all…. probably some unfulfilled teenage angst thing with Fedak and Linda Hamilton when she was all buffed for Terminator. Oddly, Volkoff would probably work better in the present tense, with the Russians reassuming their roles as international villains present day. We have to keep our eyes on the prize here….Chuck was meant to be a comedy of sorts, so even the bad guys had to have a lighter side like Volkoff did. I think Shaw just was never able to connect to the viewers as a whole … he wasn’t funny, he wasn’t suave, he didn’t have the swagger of Bryce. Therefore, he made a lousy love interest, a lousy villain…and also a lousy good guy.

  5. I see Mr. Bush has been trying to drive people to this page from the Facebook page ( Chuck Vs. The Movie ). It might work out to be a very symbiotic relationship !! He gets to promote his book, and this site gets more hits !

    Hope it works out well for everybody !

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