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Chuck: Chuck versus the False Name

“Live the lie.”

I’ve attempted to write this review three or four times. I kept writing paragraphs that contradicted each other. (Chuck is a successful liar!) Re-watching the episode didn’t help. (Chuck is only a successful liar to those who don’t know him!) Thinking about past episodes didn’t help. (Chuck is a low-down dirty playa who sleeps with women and then abandons them!) So I’m just going to emote: I’m not buying it.

The Theme of the Week is lying, and—to start with—I’m incredibly unhappy that Chuck is being reduced to the Theme of the Week formula that irks me so much on Fringe. Why? Because we’re being asked to ignore a lot of salient facts in order to buy this vision of our hero. We’re supposed to believe that Chuck is a great liar: Awesome’s freak-out in the kitchen and Hannah’s freak-out at the restaurant both told us so, and they’re our entry points into the bizarre world of spying in Burbank, because they are nice, normal folks.

But the truth is, Chuck’s not a great liar. Hannah figured out something was weird in the past two episodes, but seems to have forgotten it. Ellie (and Morgan, sadly absent) have suspected that something was up for months, but they wrote off all the weirdness once they discovered Chuck’s new girl—even though she hasn’t been around for months, but just a couple weeks.

Chuck’s not even that successful of a liar when he’s on the job. He broke his Rafe-persona a few times in the tooth-pulling scene, and broke it entirely with the two wiseguys in the sniper scene. The only reason the wiseguys bought his lies is that it meshed with their own vision of how love works: the real Rafe wouldn’t care about killing someone from afar or up close, but Goodfellas-style justice calls for killing your lady’s lover in person. (This reminded me of a scene from the first episode of the Sopranos: “Why doesn’t he just whack him?” “It’s against his religion or something.”)

The show wants us to believe that Chuck is going dark, but it’s also trying to balance that incipient darkness with the good humor and peppy nature that we love. They’re not succeeding: Chuck’s moments of puppy-dog confusion amidst his dark-avenger playacting ruin the idea that Chuck is changing and “becoming a spy” as Shaw said. Or, as Chuck said, “I’m not me anymore.” Really? How is he different? (If you know the answer to that question, please leave it in the comments!)

All of this reminds me of the main problem I had with the first half of Buffy’s Season Six: other characters kept telling Buffy (and us) that she was cold, emotionless, and empty. But it was hard to actually see it. We were being told, but not shown. The coldest thing Chuck did was ditch Hannah at the restaurant with her parents—and that wasn’t about lying, it was about how he loved Sarah and wanted to figure out how to get her back from Shaw. And how honesty hurts. And also about moping in a cardigan. (Damn you, Perry Ellis, for trying to make cardigans cool again!)

Sarah’s journey this week was more interesting: Shaw still seems like cold comfort, and she’s connecting with him because she’s so very lonely. That seems like a real, believable problem to me, and I’m glad that Sarah finally got a chance to tell someone her real name. On the other hand, Sarah is worried that Chuck is going too dark, and she has the unenviable task of telling us just how dark he’s getting. A lot.

Shaw’s role is still murky, to me at least. He’s definitely pressuring Sarah, and playing the good friend to either get in her pants or earn her trust—maybe both. Are his motives pure? I’m not sure. He seems to genuinely care, but I think he might care about Ring-vengeance more than Sarah herself. The Shaw-factor is the real suspense point for me this season. What is he doing, and why?


• Sarah: “I need to stop mixing my personal life with my professional life.”

• Chuck as Rafe: “Because I like cupcakes, that’s why. Who doesn’t like a good cupcake?”

• Chuck as Rafe: “This is my co-worker. You may call him John… John doesn’t talk much.”

• Chuck as Rafe: “I want to kill him, not some secondary infection.”

• Casey: “Weird, huh? Walker helping you get laid.”

• Wiseguy Number One: “I hate those will-they-won’t-they things.”

...And Pieces:

• Superman is so… super-looking. But again with the creepy: he was obviously using the “oops, I’m naked!” seduction technique, which is just awkward. On the other hand, I’d love to have him trapped in my underground lair.

• I loved the wiseguys. The casting call for this episode actually asked for two men straight out of Goodfellas, and they nailed it.

• Rafe was over the top. Growling instead of talking? That’s like owning an expensive car because you have a tiny penis.

• Casey is one of five people in the world who can make that half-mile shot. Way to go, Casey!

• Did you catch the TV Guide building next to the Roosevelt Hotel?

One out of four CrockPots. I think. I'm so confused.

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


  1. I enjoyed the episode, but you know, it did bother me. It felt off. And I didn't realize why it felt off until I read your review, Josie. (So as a reviewer, you definitely did a good job!)

    Chuck is not the spy who fakes being a wise guy killer.Chuck is the spy who goes to a museum undercover as a nerd herder and figures out how to save Shaw and his girlfriend from suffocating by using his natural smarts and the Intersect.

    And did they have to have Chuck pull Casey's tooth? Seriously?

    I was also sad that Sarah/Sam told Shaw her real name, not Chuck. Although I'm also enjoying Brandon Routh, and I don't want him to go. He's seriously gorgeous, he's ambiguous, he's creepy in such a subtle way. I can get Sarah falling for him, because it would be hard to imagine a hetero female who wouldn't under the circumstances.

  2. Thanks for the great review, Josie. You articulated a lot of what I've been feeling this season.
    I think I'm watching the series now just for Casey's few moments of screen time. Can we get a love interest for him? Even if it's just for an episode? Can we see Adam Baldwin without his shirt? He still looks great for his age. (Remember the shirtless scene from Firefly? Yum.)


  3. So... Josie K has an underground lair. Noted.

  4. Maybe I'm the weird one, but my appartment is lacking 1 lair. I should speak to my landlord.

    Say... an odd and disturbing question comes to mind, what would you keep in an underground lair (except man servants)?

  5. I've been trying to imagine something lascivious, but all I can think of is a cozy den with a comfy chair, a flat screen, a cat or two, and a huge library of books and DVDs. Pathetic.

  6. Add a fireplace/really really big air-conditioner, surround sound, a big bowl of salty nuts, some home-brew beer and a cage.


  7. Billie, except for the flatscreen, you've basically described my apartment.

    Why Me: do I want to know what the cage is for? And do I really need a cage to keep sexy men captive? Isn't my sparkling wit enough?

  8. The cage is for your manslave. I mean, you can't have him at your feet when you have guests over, now can you? Seems to me that the constant begging will be a drag.

  9. I think the idea is that Chuck is making grownup decisions at last, which Sarah is misinterpreting. A grownup decision means making hard choices because it's right, not to get people's approval, which Chuck hadn't really done before this season. Morgan's adventures at the BuyMore seem to echo this theme, though he seems to be doing considerably better. I'm hoping he ends up with Hannah now that Chuck has broken her heart.

    The problem the writers are trying to bring up, I think, is that part of Sarah really does see Chuck as a boy, not a man, as Shaw suggested, so instead of offering support and counsel in his adult decisions (ladies, take note, that's what men seek when they're being all broody), she's either being overprotective or, lately, flat-out judgemental.

    And because Chuck is still madly in love with Sarah, he still only sees himself through her eyes, so since she doesn't recognize him anymore, he feels like he doesn't recognize himself anymore.

    In short, he's not supposed to really be dark. He's only supposed to make hard enough choices that he'd be confused about his sense of self, especially with Sarah being very judgemental about it.

    I've always contended Chuck is essentially Buffy for men in the sense that it's using these fantastic/adventure elements as metaphors for what a man goes through in the early stages of his life. Trust me, the whole "girlfriend doesn't understand that just because my practical priorities have shifted doesn't mean I've lost my sense of values, and, hey, I'd be nice if she realized it's a difficult process for me too instead of pushing me away, thinking that the best way to protect herself during this transition is to completely push me out as if my trying to become a more responsible person was a personal betrayal" thing is an issue any guy past his mid twenties will instantly recognize.

    Also, I must unfortunately report that Josie’s lair, or at least its tiny cell, is pretty boring actually. Since I finished those Heroes reviews, there’s been nothing to do here but count flowers on the wall.

  10. Dimitri, you wouldn't be so bored if you would just get started on that list of chores I left you!

  11. Well, it would help if you turned on the lights once in a while! And I'm not sure how you expect me to write 1,600 pages of Brandon Routh fan fiction when I can barely reach the keyboard, what with these pesky chains.

    Also, I'm hungry.


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