Chuck is not the show one watches for its tight plot. There are always puzzling plot points that don’t really hold up to serious scrutiny. This is not a big deal, however, because Chuck is not a plot-based show but a character-based show. As long as the main characters behave in a way that does not contradict their fundamental nature or a major narrative arc, it is all good.
This is the reason 3.17 Chuck Versus the Living Dead is particularly damning as the quintessential retcon episode. It is not so much because the plot is absurd (see the first two points below) but because it fundamentally contradicts Sarah’s behavior from the first 13 episodes of season 3 and beyond, the very nature of the Sham relationship, basic human psychology, and commits Sarah’s character assassination (see the penultimate paragraph below).
- There is no penthouse. Shaw stays at a hotel in 3.08 Chuck Versus the Fake Name and, after that, he lies low in Castle due to the Ring wanting him dead or alive;
- If there is a penthouse, it is swept clean by government agents after Shaw is revealed to be a traitor at the end of 3.13 Chuck Versus the Other Guy, just like Casey’s apartment in 3.10 Chuck Versus the Tic Tac, particularly because the elusive penthouse has a CIA safe installed with contents of potential interest to the Ring, which, in fact, sends Justin Sullivan in this very episode to retrieve it; a government cleanup after 3.13 Other Guy voids the entire raison d’être of this episode.
- The D.C. waterfront restaurant receipt contradicts Shaw’s own words to Sarah during the 3.12 Chuck Versus the American Hero dinner, “I’m sorry we haven’t done this sooner,” which obviously refers to them going on a first public date together since the ensuing conversation is all about them and their new life together with “no baggage,” in an obvious reversal of Chuck and Sarah’s first date in 1.01 Chuck Versus the Intersect;
- Even if Shaw’s apology is about him not taking Sarah to that particular restaurant (!) as some say, there is no need to apologize for not doing so sooner, as they had no time to do so since they were busy with all the other dates mentioned by Sarah during the interrogation scene. No man needs to apologize for not taking a woman on a dinner date after taking her on a slew of other dates;
- Let’s not forget this alleged slew of dates takes place over the course of the roughly two weeks between the end of 3.09 Chuck Versus the Beard and the beginning 3.12 Chuck Versus the American Hero, during which, let’s remember, there are obstacles, such as Shaw being in D.C. (beginning of 3.10 Chuck Versus the Tic Tac), Sarah being ready to go back to Chuck (3.11 Chuck Versus the Final Exam stakeout), or mourning Chuck’s loss (end of 3.11 Chuck Versus the Final Exam), which are situations not really conducive to romantic dates between Shaw and Sarah;
- The earrings contradict basic human psychology, specifically the universally built-in mechanism of mental association, which we see in Sarah’s own behavior on several occasions:
- In 2.04 Chuck Versus the Cougars, she does not want to go to her high-school reunion because it is associated with painful memories;
- In 3.02 Chuck Versus the Three Words, she will not wear Chuck’s mother’s charm bracelet because it is associated with painful memories;
- in 3.13 Chuck Versus the Other Guy, she walks on the Parisian street where she killed Eve and is immediately reminded of the worst moment of her life.
- Similarly, the earrings would remind her of Shaw and his assassination attempt, as shown in her own reaction to seeing Shaw in the 3.18 Chuck Versus the Subway courtroom scene, and she would never wear them;
- In 3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models, when Chuck asks Sarah to move in with him, she replies they are not a normal couple and should not pretend to be one; so, why would she go with Shaw on romantic dates, which are precisely what normal couples do?
- At the beginning of season 4, after being in love with Chuck for three years and in a relationship with him for six months, Sarah freaks out when she sees the ring because she thinks Chuck is moving too fast with their relationship. But she does not freak out when Shaw, a virtual stranger, takes her on a slew of romantic dates and buys her 2-carat earrings at Tiffany’s in the span of two weeks. Shaw is moving just at the right pace, and she even keeps and wears the earrings she got from him. It is only Chuck’s alleged ring that freaks her out.
- There is also no need for Chuck and Sarah to suction-cup up the building because they could easily and quickly get a warrant to search the (non-existing) penthouse of a traitor who may potentially hide government secrets in a CIA-installed safe.
The greatest problem with the interrogation scene, however, is Sarah mentioning she spent March 22nd at Shaw’s elusive penthouse. March 22, 2010 was the date that 3.11 Chuck Versus the Final Exam aired. If Shaw’s elusive penthouse is in L.A., that seems to imply that Sarah is there between the end of 3.11 Final Exam and the beginning of 3.12 Chuck Versus the American Hero,1She can’t be there at the beginning of 3.11 Chuck Versus the Final Exam because Shaw and Sarah are driving straight back to Castle from the airport after their weekend in D.C., as mentioned by Shaw. having a good time with the man who ordered Chuck’s red test, when she is supposed to be mourning Chuck’s loss and atoning her guilt for her part in encouraging Chuck into the spy life since she specifically brings up her own guilt at the end of 3.11 after Chuck’s red test. What woman, let alone the heroine of a story, does something like that? This is morally appalling behavior that kills her character.
The only way to save her character is to conclude that the penthouse is not in LA, maybe in Washington, where she was between 3.10 and 3.11. But the penthouse cannot be in Washington, D.C. (or anywhere outside of L.A.) because Chuck and Sarah, Justin Sullivan, and Orion all get there faster than Ellie can get to her meeting place with Justin in L.A., even though Chuck and Sarah just had dinner with Ellie. To do that, they would all have to fly from L.A. to Washington at Mach 14 (or 10,000 mph). 2The world record for a jet is Mach 9.6, around 7,000 mph, but who is sweating the details?
Nothing makes sense in this episode’s A story. The writers want to make the very important point that lying is bad in a real and loving relationship (this is the point of both A and B stories in this episode), but they destroy the main couple in order to make a point that is unnecessary since Chuck promised Sarah in 3.12 Chuck Versus the American Hero that he would never lie to her again if she let him have the one secret and lie about the mole and since Sarah never lied to Chuck about her relationship with Shaw.3The stuff that she kept private was for her to keep private. No one is obligated to share details about their past relationships.