Chuck: Chuck versus the American Hero

“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.

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?

Bytes:

• 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?

And Pieces:

• 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.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

4 comments:

Daniel Halloran said...

Pat Benatars... LMAO!

Great review Josie, I'm in complete agreement that I have no idea what they were really trying to accomplish in this episode. I liked the reveal of Sarah being responsible for the murder of Shaw's wife. I also liked Chuck saving the day, and the soda machine elevator ride. But the rest seemed kinda like a retread.

Ok there were a couple of moments that I really liked beyond those two, but I think that was the problem. This felt like a series of fun moments with absolutely no cohesion. Maybe they were feeling the rush to get to the end of the season, but this was not the best episode. That being said I'm happy with Chuck finally defining his reasons for becoming a spy. Because of that I did like this one.

Billie Doux said...

I liked this one better than the last few. Maybe it was because Chuck finally told Sarah the truth, and Casey told Sarah about Chuck's red test. I also think Shaw becoming the enemy was a great move and could be terrific, if they handle it well. And the soda machine elevator was great. I think we should have one where I work.

Great review, Josie. You always make me think.

Mark Greig said...

Josie: “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?)”

Yeah, Josie, it probably was me. Mark Sheppard has become the ubiquitous man of all television, not just genre shows. It used to Alan Dale but recently he’s been somewhat quiet. Besides Lost I haven’t seen him on much else lately. There once was a time (think it was 2007) when he was all over the place.

Still not sure how I feel about this episode. There was maybe one contrivances too many for my taste (bit hard to buy that Daniel Shaw, super-agent and stallion, didn’t know he was being tailed by Jeff and Lester). Think I’ll save the rest of my comments for the semi-season finale next week after I’ve had the chance to disgust this mini-season as a whole.

Jess Lynde said...

Yeah, I'm a little unsure how to react to this one, too.

I really enjoyed the guys teaming up to try to help Chuck win Sarah back. Morgan just had so much fun with it, and it's always funny to see Awesome tackle the wrong guy. And over the last several week's I've loved seeing Casey embracing his affection for Chuck and doing what he can to help him (in his own Casey way, of course).

But I'm not digging the Chuck-Sarah-Shaw stuff. I never bought into Sarah's affection for Shaw, and was holding out hope that she was doing some sort of undercover sting operation on him. But this episode revealed that she really was just dithering over her conflicted feelings for Chuck by doing a crazy rebound thing. Erg. A very disappointing resolution to that story in my opinion. Not that I mind Sarah choosing Chuck --- I do enjoy their dynamic together. I just am really disappointed in what they did with Sarah this season and was hoping there was more to it all than met the eye.

Plus, the identity of Sarah's Red Test victim seemed painfully obvious to me when they went to the trouble to create a flashback for it. So Mark Sheppard revealing this bit to Shaw and him now gunning for Sarah left me rolling my eyes. Shouldn't he care more about whoever set this up? He knows Sarah was just doing her job. Why would the CIA put out a hit on one of their undercover agents in the first place? That's the real question.

And does it strike anyone else as odd that Sarah was just taking her Red Test two years before she met Chuck? It sure seemed like she'd been a full fledged spy for a lot longer than two years when the show started. But what do I know?

I'm starting to feel a bit discontented with "Chuck" this year. I was fine just rolling with it while it was in progress, but as the original 13-episode mini-season winds to a close, I find I'm not really enjoying how it is all coming together.

I hope they "get the band back together" soon, because I miss the old Chuck-Casey-Sarah dynamic. I'm all for change and growth, but they should at least try to preserve the things about the show that worked in the first place.