by Josie Kafka
“Love is a battlefield.”
Here’s a couple of things you might need to know, or maybe just forgot: Chuck originally got at 13-episode order, and it wasn’t extended to 19 until all 13 of those episodes were in some stage of production. So tonight’s episode was originally the lead up to the Season Three finale, and next week’s was the original Season Three finale. The remaining six episodes (numbers 14-19) will be more like Season Three and a Half. There’s more info, with some minor spoilers, here.
This was really an episode in two parts: the first, the wacky buddy comedy; the second, the more serious layout of the threads that will be tied up and snipped away next week. The first half—Casey, Awesome, Morgan, and Chuck teaming up to get the girl, for a variety of self-interested motives—was almost hilarious, but seemed to be trying a bit to hard. Not least among the jokes was the way that very little effort was made to explain, for instance, Casey’s presence in Chuck’s apartment, or Morgan’s sudden desire to go to Rome, or how Ellie just got a sabbatical from her brand-new fellowship. Who needs reasons, when you’ve got a bromantic comedy to play with?
The humor of our boys playing heroes was undeniable, but the gravitas of the situations came crashing in at the moment when Shaw told Awesome about the gun. The Ring is hardcore—we saw them kill a harmless functionary, so we know they’re serious. Our second clue? The presence of Mark Sheppard. I know someone, somewhere, in our comments section mentioned this as a requirement for all genre shows (Mark Greig, was it you?). Chuck’s playing with the big boys now: Cylons and River Tam and the Winchester boys, to be specific.
After that, a lot of stuff happened, most of which is designed to lead up to next week’s episode. Shaw offers to sacrifice himself to be an American Hero (well, really to avenge his wife’s death: another instance of love trumping patriotism, which every character on this show seems to go through). Jeffster unwittingly saves the day. Chuck rides a soda machine into an underworld lair. Shaw finds out that Sarah killed his wife during her own Red Test, which we saw glimpses of last week. Chuck saves Shaw, who then tricks Sarah into coming with him to the desert, where only bad things can happen. Somewhere in there, Chuck and Sarah make plans to leave it all behind at Union Station, in a moment of poetic resonance with the train-station misadventure in Prague at the beginning of the season. And Chuck did a pretty decent job of acting like a real spy, even if he was forced to resort to some Jeffster-outsourcing. Being a good leader is all about delegation, though.
It’s hard to rate, or even assess, most of this stuff, because there’s no closure until next week. A few of the plots feel recycled: not just the Bubble of Handsomeness joke, or the underpass scene, or the "we can't show you a preview for next week" teaser, but the air-strike (remember Barstow, last year?), needing to save a team member in peril, Chuck and Sarah reaching a climatic moment but then being torn apart.
As this mini-season winds to a close, we’ve got a few questions: Will Casey be a spy again? Will Chuck and Sarah make it? Was Sarah set up by the Ring for her Red Test, or was Shaw's wife really a bad spy? Will Shaw die, or just be written out? Will Ellie and Awesome ever make it out of Burbank? Will Chuck quit his job at the BuyMore now that he’s a real spy? What does he want of the spy life, anyway?
• Chuck: “Burbank. Bob Hope Airport, to be exact.” This is even funnier if you’ve been to the Burbank airport, which is fabulously tiny and outdated. Some of the baggage claims are outside.
• Morgan: “I don’t think you’ll be able to buy her back, if that makes any sense.”
• Morgan: “Is that what they teach you in the Marine Corps? Roll over and die?”
• Jeff: “Guy knows how to fill out a pair of slacks, if you know what I mean.”
• Morgan: “That guy can fill out a pair of slacks. He’s a real stallion.”
• Morgan: “Take a look at yourself. It’s a freakish bubble of handsome-ness.” They stole this joke from the Jon Hamm episodes of 30 Rock, but it’s still funny.
• Casey: “Kid’s just not wired that way. Not like us.” They’ve been making quite a bit of Sarah’s killer instincts lately. Is it just to counterpoint Chuck’s own naiveté?
• I am not a fan of the return of the mini-dress, even on super-pretty women.
• Shaw and Awesome crashing through the window. They both wiped their lips, like they’d accidentally kissed. Slash fiction-writers, go wild!
• The soda-machine elevator. Very Get Smart, with more wind resistance.
• Mark Sheppard is so cool.
• That underpass reminded me of: The FlashForward premiere, a scene from The Italian Job (Marky Mark version), and something else. Can anyone help me?
• Casey told Sarah about Chuck’s Red test. Sweet Casey, you can be my spy any day.
• Chuck is willing to leave behind the spy life for Sarah. Quite a lot has changed since the season premiere, although I’m still not sure how.
• Shaw told Chuck to take care of Sarah. This lends a lot of credence to Dimitri’s theories about Sarah-as-trophy.
I don’t know how many Pat Benatars to give this episode, and I’m going to wait until next week to see what happens.
All of my Chuck reviews are archived here.
(Season Three, Episode Twelve)