It’s all happening now, but has it already happened once before?
Yesterday was the Chuck panel at the 2010 SDCC. As most anyone reading this knows, producers Fedak and Schwartz revealed that Linda Hamilton, of Terminator and Terminator 2 fame, had been cast as Mary Elizabeth Bartowski, mother of Charles Irving and Eleanor Faye Bartowski and wife of the late Stephen J. Bartowski. Or, as we’ve been calling her for years in the fandom, “Mama B”.
This is an interesting bit of casting, not only because Linda Hamilton probably isn’t the first person you’d think of when considering the physical characteristics of Chuck and Ellie (most bets were on Mary McDonnell, Sela Ward or Lynda Carter) but because apparently Hamilton approached the Chuck producers, not the other way around. I’m sure the story behind this strange reversal will be told repeatedly in the media blogs during premiere season so no need to explore it now.
But what’s really interesting about this casting is that it tells us a lot about how Schwartz and Fedak view the “Mama B” character. See, the M.O. on these guys is that they dig back through pop culture and cast actors that bring with them iconic roles and personas. They use the audience’s preconception of the actors as kind of meta-shortcut – a way to skip character development that would chew up script pages and air time.
When they cast Stephen Bartowski it wasn’t Scott Bakula they hired. It was Quantum Leap’s Sam Beckett. And when they went looking for an enigmatic super agent for the character of Shaw, they definitely did not hire Brandon Routh. They hired Superman. Whether it’s Dominic Monaghan (Lost’s rocker Charlie Pace) playing a rock star or Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy) channeling an unnaturally resilient agent, they’ve demonstrated time and time again that this pattern is no accident. Which leads us back to the present:
Schwedak didn’t hire Linda Hamilton to play Mama B. They hired frickin’ Sarah Connor. And no, I don’t mean the physically average but mentally spunky Sarah Connor from the original Terminator. They were after the hardened, guerrilla fighter that she’d become in Terminator 2. A woman who was as agile of mind as she was lethal in close-quarters combat. A woman that held off a liquid-metal T-1000 by pumping and firing a shotgun into it one-handed just to give her son John a few more precious seconds to escape and save humanity from the machines.
They want you to think of this woman when you see Linda Hamilton on Chuck as Mama B. They want you to believe, in the back of your mind, that somewhere in her past, she was once a deadly operative that even Lynda Carter (of Wonder Woman fame) wasn’t “kick-ass” enough to play. Because that’s the second big piece of news that came out of today. It was an official press release from Warner Bros, and it contained language that was not released at the Chuck panel or – as far as I know – at the press event afterward. Here’s the important part (emphasis mine):
Hamilton will appear throughout the season, leading Chuck to discover that her life was shrouded in secrets. She was a spy, a CIA agent … and that’s just the beginning. Who is she today? One thing is certain: She’s not the soccer mom who left her children so many years ago.
Let me repeat that. Mama B was a spy, a CIA agent.
Why is that a big deal? It has to do with a very old idea that fans have been ruminating over since the first and second seasons. One that gained momentum towards the end of season two when Stephen Bartowski was revealed to be Orion, the exceptional man behind the Intersect itself. A man who worked for the government to develop this critical technology for them. A man who would need protection from forces who would want that technology for themselves.
Protection in the form of, oh I don’t know, a CIA agent? Is any of this sounding familiar?
Was Mary Elizabeth a forerunner for Sarah Walker? Did she occupy a slot in Orion’s protective detail, a vantage point from which she could not help but notice Stephen’s nerdy but genuine charm in stark contrast to Ted Roark’s narcissistic megalomania? Was she part of a stone-age Chuck “love triangle” that saw her choose Stephen over Roark and her own career only to be pulled back in through Roark’s vengeful treachery?
We don’t know. Yet.
But if they do decide to go this route, it would be unthinkable not to have Chuck and Sarah recognize the signs that they are, in fact, going down the same road and will encounter the same issues. As they learned in ‘Role Models’, they aren’t the Turners, and they’ll discover in S4 that they aren’t Chuck’s parents, either.
Sarah Connor couldn’t have said it better: “The future is not set. There is no fate except the one we make for ourselves.”