Chuck: Chuck versus the Leftovers

“You didn’t think I could have a relationship with your family?”

This isn’t an easy episode to review. Emotionally, it was quite satisfying and had many good moments. But the writing and direction were awful—I wonder if some of these scenes were “leftover” from earlier episodes and just piled onto the plate to provide a filling, nourishing meal without much taste or flair.

But let’s start off with the good: Chuck and Sarah seem to have reached a moment of peace, although Chuck is quite unwilling to just let sleeping relationships lie. I’ve always imagined the stereotypical straight woman as the one pushing for more definitions, more movement forward, more answers and relationship goals, and the straight man as the one who wants to just sit back and enjoy the relationship without worrying about the future. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this: are Chuck and Sarah subverting the dominant paradigm, or are my gendered expectations out of whack?

Anyway, I’m so happy that Ellie got a chance to spend some quality time with her mother and her mother’s Russian paramour. Ellie deserved that, even though—once again—her husband and her brother are conspiring to keep her safe and happy by keeping her in the dark. Haven’t they learned yet that openness and honesty are the only ways a relationship (whether filial, fraternal, or sexual) can succeed in this universe?

Emotional resolutions aside, nothing about this episode gelled for me. For instance: what’s the point of the mini-plot in which Jeff and Lester sell BuyMore stock on eBay? What, for the sake of all that is good and holy, was the point of Chuck and Morgan at a pole-dancing class? Was it to show how far Chuck has fallen, now that he’s “unplugged”? If so, it would have fit better in an earlier episode. If it was just for the gag…well, Morgan shouting “jump!” was sort of funny, but the overwhelming feeling of extraneousness outweighed the humor.

Mr. Fabulous (aka Timothy Dalton) was still fabulous, and his vacillations between deeply evil and deeply disturbing (and his unawareness of those vacillations) were hilarious. But the charades scene—while funny at first—was too long. How many shots of James Bond doing the chicken dance do we need? And why, oh why, did we get brief off-kilter shots of Chuck’s face? To show that it was surreal? Yeah, I got that already.

I realize that sounds incredibly harsh. A lot of my dismay comes from my frustration—this episode had the potential for greatness: a mid-season ender, Timothy Dalton, Sarah Connor (!), Ellie reuniting with her mom, Chuck and Sarah having a decent heart-to-heart, Casey and Morgan with their wacky shenanigans. Despite all those ingredients, I stopped and re-started the episode three different times. The jokes felt flat, the pacing all wrong, and the important stakes were undersold while the less-important stakes (are we just now figuring out that Volkoff has a thing for Frost) were over-emphasized.

A few reviewers out there in the review-o-sphere have taken each episode of Chuck as prophecy, foretelling the entire show’s inevitable doom or success. I don’t think one bad pumpkin spoils the pie, though. Sometimes, Chuck strikes out. This is just one of those times.

Bytes

• Mama B: “Come with me if you want to live.” Finally!

• Morgan: “Not that I’m not flattered, but who has two thumbs and is taken? Boop, boop: this guy!”

• Thomas Jefferson Barnes: “First, I need to you shave my back. I can’t reach the middle.”

• Casey: “Better dead than red.”

• Mama B: “Charles is my son.”
Volkoff: “Really?”
Mama B: “Really.”
Volkoff: “Really?
Sarah: “Really.”
Volkoff: “Really?”
Chuck: “Really!” See? That pacing was just weird, but could have been so funny.

• Volkoff: “Kids love me!” Now that was funny.

• Chuck: “Devon, I know you’re the world’s worst liar. Right now, I need you to be awesome.”

And Pieces

• Casey called Mama B, Mama B. He must read the fan sites.

• Yes, I caught the Die Hard reference.

• Morgan strapping the gun to his back. It could have been funny, but wasn’t.

• I almost forgot the most important part: Chuck knows kung fu. Again.

Two and a half out of four 7G Phones

(Thanks to all of you for patiently awaiting my late reviews for the past few weeks. I’m a seasonal day laborer in Santa’s workshop, and he’s been a real slave-driver this year. I'll try to stay off the naughty list, though, and post reviews in a more timely manner when Chuck returns in January.)

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

10 comments:

Jess Lynde said...

Josie, you catching the Die Hard reference made me chuckle more than the actual Die Hard reference, which was just a poor shadow of the much more clever previous reference.

I agree that this episode was seriously underwhelming. I put a lot of the blame on Zachary Levi's overly artsy "Look I'm directing!" direction. As you note, it was very weird, especially in the dinner sequence. But I put the rest of the blame on the writing. Timothy Dalton was fun, but the rest was weak, weak, weak.

Especially the ultimate resolution with Chuck getting the Intersect back. That was way too easy. Ellie just had to solve the brain puzzle then hand the kooky laptop over to Chuck, and voila! Is this some kind of upgrade, or just a massive reset button? Either way, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I'm kind of with you on the whole lying to Ellie thing, but for a slightly different reason. You seem to resent that they are keeping her in the dark. I resent that she makes them feel like they have to. I'm so sick of her being the wet blanket on Chuck's spy life. The guy *is* a spy. It is his calling. He should just tell her, then tell her to suck it up and freaking deal with her concerns already, then move on. I know she's pregnant and all, but they need to rip that band-aid off. Chuck should not be making his career choices based on her fears. It is his life and if she really loved him, she would recognize that he's a capable adult with a good support team who should be free to choose his own path in life. It is her role to support him, not control him. Aargh! This and Chuck's need to hash out relationship issues mid-mission are my biggest pet peeves with the season thus far.

On that subject: Yes, Chuck does seem to be fulfilling the stereotypical straight female role in the Chuck-Sarah relationship. Guess that's just the way things role when you fall for a giant blond she-male.

Billie Doux said...

For me, this episode was nearly all about Timothy Dalton. He made me laugh out loud over and over again. And the Die Hard stuff was funny, especially the gun taped to Morgan's back. Good thing he doesn't have Jeff's problem, huh?

I agree that the Chuck-Sarah relationship is a reverse stereotype, which is one of the reasons why I like it.

What title was Volkoff acting out during charades? Did I miss something obvious?

Josie Kafka said...

I've seen some speculation that it was License to Kill.

Billie Doux said...

What did the chicken mean, then?

Gus Brunetti said...

I kind of identify with Chuck because my first girlfriend was not one to tsalk either. In fact, in terms of talking , she was more like Casey, only grunting her way out of an argument. I tried to verbalize, but she wouldn't, and that's pretty kuch wyy the relationship ended. Though my second girlfriend was physically much more similar to Sarah than my first. I'm also an under achiever, like Chuck. Well, you can see I really identify with Chuck.

Josie Kafka said...

Maybe "license" sounds like "chicken"? Licken-->lishen-->license?

"Though my second girlfriend was physically much more similar to Sarah than my first."

Gustavo, all of our straight male readers are now horrible jealous.

g said...

Josie, I don't date much, but when I do I'm incredibly lucky with how my girlfriends look. Not very lucky with the rest, though.

In fact, I think I really like Sarah because she's an improved version of my ex.

Gus Brunetti said...

Oops! that last coment was mine.

Dustin said...

"Smart phones that can also send and receive calls." What a great line. I gotta get me one of those 7G phones! I'm surprised with all of the product placement in these episodes, that they don't ever have actual electronics product placement.

Dimitri A.C. Ly said...

I feel the same way you do about this one, Josie, and, truth be told, about most of this season so far. I'm just not connecting as much.

As for Chuck and Sarah's relationship, I think it is indeed going against the stereotype, but I also think the stereotype is grossly outdated and doesn't properly apply to most people born after, say, 1977. From roughly that generation on, girls have been taught to pursue idependence and self-affirmation first (in contrast with previous generations), while boys have been taught to pay more attention to communcication in relationships (again compared to previous generations). As a result, the male-female romantic relationship has shifted a bit compared to before.

To me, "Chuck" has always been about what it's like to try to navigate through our *new* image of manhood, so his relationship with Sarah doesn't feel like subversion so much as an accurate portrayal of the new model.

Note: I'm simplifying to keep the comment short. Obviously, 30 years of cultural evolution is more complex than just going from point A to, uh, halfway to point B, so don't nobody start throwing stuff about reverse sexism or whatever. That's not what I'm saying. =P