Chuck: Chuck versus the Gobbler

“I love a good suicide mission.”

I’ve written elsewhere about how little I like the proleptic cold open in which we see the inexplicable—Dark Sarah beating up Casey!—and then rewind to find out how on God’s green and verdant earth such a thing could have happened. It’s a device designed to ratchet up the tension, which often means that the plot, in chronological order, wouldn’t be too scintillating without some narrative trickery. And, indeed, this week’s entry felt blah, and I didn’t laugh once.

I know that Chuck isn’t about deftly plotted spy games—it’s not a John Le Carré novel, and I don’t expect it to be. So I won’t address the questions of how Sarah managed to pull off enough wacky Euro-heists to make her way to Volkoff in just a couple of days, or how in the two days the show gave her, she managed to fly from LA to Moscow and back approximately three bazillion times without looking remotely dehydrated or sniffly.

But I will mention the illogic of Volkoff having a network of information called Hydra that exists in only one place, a fake eyeball hidden inside an imprisoned cannibal. This network is vital to his organization, but he has been without it since the Gobbler was imprisoned, and does not seem to have told his “right hand” Mama B about it until just now.

I will also mention the illogic of Sarah needing Chuck, Morgan, and Casey to help her with the Great Gobbler Escape. We know from past episodes that there are, in fact, many other CIA agents out there—why not use some of them? The miniscule staging of most of this episode has me worried: it was something I started noticing in the middle of Season Three of Heroes, in which it seemed like the heroes were the only people in the world, often without even extras in the background to add depth. I started to feel like it showed some desperation on the part of the writers, that they were unwilling to develop plots logically for fear that logic would take our attention away from the awesome centrality of our characters to the continued existence of the universe.

But most of all, I will mention the emotional illogic. Sarah has a history of running from commitment—we know that. But Chuck doesn’t mind that, at a vital moment in their relationship, she chose to accept a mission that her predecessor (Mama B) has been working on for about 20 years. Such an emotionally nuanced and long-simmering problem is simply not on the table. Instead, this episode hands us a new emotional tension on a platter: will Sarah go dark? That’s not a real risk, though, which is why the proleptic opening didn’t create actual tension. It just asserted it.

The structure of many Chuck episodes can be explained in terms of Chuck’s kung fu flashes: whenever he’s about to fight, he has to re-access his kung-fu knowledge bank. He doesn’t really carry that information around and accessible (the way I have my address memorized); he has to look it up every time (the way I can’t ever remember my mother’s address). On a larger scale, each episode of this season has to re-access the emotional drama by creating a new “problem” for the characters to overcome. Because most of these problems are solvable in 45 minutes (although this one might take another episode), they don’t feel real or lasting or important. They feel fluffy, like perpetual deferment.

There was some good in this episode, though: I thought the Grönka thing was rather funny, although it might have gone on too long. I absolutely love Timothy Dalton vamping his way through his evil, evil, evil role, and even thought the arbitrary accent switching added some nice color.

Most of all, though, I’m touched by Casey’s sacrifice. He’s not the type to tell someone he loves them. He’s the type to build shelves of love, and I hope his daughter understands that. I also really, really hope that Casey is okay. Many people have been alluding to 4.13 (the next episode) as something hugely important, but I’ve worked pretty hard to remain unspoiled. If he dies I’ll be horribly sad.

I haven’t lost all of my faith in Chuck. But it’s not the highlight of my week. It’s not even the highlight of my Monday.

Bytes:

• Chuck: “The CIA developed a tonal language for us that only we can understand... Right now, [Sarah] is saying she loves me. Or, she’s planning on buying a Buick. I can’t tell. It’s a very confusing language.”

• Mama B: “There’s one square meter of land in this entire compound that isn’t under surveillance.”

• Morgan: “Wow, Sarah, you look evocative.”

And Pieces:

• Volkoff painting a puppy. Aww.

• I think Sarah has lost weight. She’s lovely either way, of course, but I liked her better with a few more curves.

• The Armenian serial killer joke might not have been funny to the rest of America, but in the context of Burbank’s large Armenian population, it’s actually quite appropriate.

Thank you all for your patience with this review. I got the flu this week, and whenever I sat down to start writing I wound up falling asleep and having terrible fever dreams. Away, elephant, away with you!

One out of four Grönkas.

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

12 comments:

daniel c w said...

I believe that kind of opening is called "in medias res", and I do not like it either.
I love Alias, but it overused it and made me hate that technique.

zob said...

I feel like this show became really shallow lately. I can't see any kind of depth anymore.

Gus Brunetti said...

You're right, daniel c w, it is "in medias res", though it's not the only type. And I feel irritated when they do that. Even really good shows, like Supernatural, do it. Sometimes the episode is good (Wishing Well, Clap your hands if you believe, for instance), but most of the time it presents a situation you forget about halfway through the hour, and when the moment comes back you say "oh yeah, I was supposed to be expecting that moment!"

Casey's sacrifice was very predictable (honorable, nontheless), there was no suspense at all.

And why is it that Hollywood still uses black clothes to show someone's evil?? We should have overcome it by now. A character wears a rainbow every day, but as soon as they start sloughing towards the dark side (or pretend to), they open their secondary closet, the one with all those black shoes and dresses, and all those leather pants and jackets, which they never wear under normal circumstances. I imagine those charactersgoing shopping; "well, I'd better buy this leather jacket. If one day I turn evil I'll have nothing to wear!"

Is Neil Gaiman evil?

I love wearing all black, and if the sun in Brazil allowed me that'd be all I'd wear.

Josie Kafka said...

Daniel and Gustavo,

I don't think that sort of opening qualifies as in media res. I know I'm in a minority of one on this, but I just don't think it's the same as starting in the middle of things.

Plot structures that do that have meander from one event to another, out of chronological order.

These "proleptic cold opens" (as I'm choosing to call them) don't impact the structure of the rest of the plot--they simply tell us what is going to come to pass before it comes to pass, and then begin the story at the beginning, through, and including, the scene we've already scene, and onto the conclusion that inevitably comes shortly after.

Josie Kafka said...

*Obviously, I meant "the scene we've already seen."

Death to homophones!

Gus Brunetti said...

Josie, don't bee a homophonophobe! Your being two harsh, There hear to make language moor interesting.

But, as I said, it's only one of the kinds of "in maedias res", and the most overuse and therefore cliched, and therefore one that should be avoided.

To qualify for "in maedias res", technically, the narration has to start from any point of the story other than the begginin. The one you mentioned, of the play in the chronological order, is much more interesting. (Go Tarantino and LOST!)

Jess Lynde said...

This one definitely exceeded my "willing suspension of disbelief" meter, which is pretty tough to do for Chuck. Sarah wearing the same black leather through almost the entire episode while accomplishing mind-boggling travel feats bugged the heck out of me.

Have to agree that the whole "will Sarah go dark?" mystery was not nail biting in the least. There was never any doubt at all that she and Casey were faking their fight, so I don't know why the writers expect us to believe that Chuck now fears she's gone to the dark side. (If that's what they going for in the end.) Ridiculous.

Yep. Chuck settled right back into the "chore I must get through" zone this week. I'm starting to hope the show doesn't get renewed. And that makes me sad.

Josie Kafka said...

Jess, this is extremely off-topic, but have you heard about The Chicago Code, starting on Monday 2/7, from Shawn Ryan? I'm excited to add that to my lackluster Monday lineup.

(My captcha word was pookify. Is that appropriate for a family website?)

Jess Lynde said...

I've heard lots of positive buzz from the critics, and I was planning to give it a go myself. I'm hoping for something in the Homicide vein, but we'll see. Cop shows don't always click for me, but this one doesn't sound like a typical cop procedural, so I'm cautiously optimistic. I'll probably give it at least two or three episodes to hook me.

Tom L said...

I actually liked this episode and didn't mind the plot holes. By the end of the episode I was actually concerned for the characters. Any episode that's not all about Chuck and Sarah gets points.

Daniel, you're right. Alias ruined the rewind technique for using it too many times.

Patryk said...

This type of opening (where a good character is shown doing something evil and then it's explained why over the course of the story) is called by TV tropes Super Dickery.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SuperDickery

ChrisB said...

I agree that this episode was weak, badly plotted, and lacking in any real dramatic tension. Which is probably a good thing as I spent a great deal of it thinking about the comments of the previous week's review.