January 13, 2010

Chuck: "Chuck vs. The Angel De La Muerte"

"You're an adventure-sports cardiologist."
"Whatever, man. I could do that in my sleep."

And so we reach the final third of our two-day, three-hour Chuck mini-bender, and like the previous episode, Chuck vs. The Three Words, this one mostly finds Chuck in situations similar to those we've seen him in before but with an outside figure altering the team's dynamics. In "Angel De La Muerte", that outside figure happens to be Chuck's brother-in-law: Captain Awesome (a.k.a. Devon Woodcombe).

In truth, I don't have a lot to say in summary of the plot of this episode. It mostly revolves around scenarios we've seen plenty of variations on before: a black-tie dinner, an agent interrogated, doe-eyed admissions in front of the apartment complex fountain, etcetera, etcetera. Like yesterday's second hour, however, this familiarity doesn't really take away from anything if only because the show's writers are now so adept at playing to their actor's strengths. John Casey, afraid to enter an embassy due to his reputation as that country's "Angel of Death", is as humorous as it is fitting. While I could do with a few less scenes per week featuring either Sarah or Chuck (or both!) looking longingly at the other across a crowded room, this episode's emphasis on Awesome almost entirely made up for it.

Though I still can't quite kick the image of Awesome's lantern-jawed portrayer (spoiler alert) seducing a vengeful Betty Draper at the end of Season 2 of Mad Men, Devon himself spends the bulk of this episode trying ever so hard to be a dutiful husband to Ellie as she gets used to life-after-wedding. Unfortunately (but fortunately for us), he let's his need for adventure embroil him in much of the action, first surprising Chuck in his apartment with a Dr. Evil-style chair spin, then accidentally tackling John Casey thereby undermining the whole CIA/NSA Premier protection plan, all before finally winding up on the wrong end of a murder/kidnapping/maiming plot at the hands of the same assassin that tried to take out the aforementioned Premier.

At the end of the day, then, this middle-of-the-road episode (which by Chuck standards is still a fair bit better than the bulk of the rest of the shows on television) is mostly saved by the antics of one Captain Awesome and could work solely as a vehicle to bring Awesome into the fold on a regular basis. The truth is, however, that we won't know if that is the case until next week at least, owing to the fact that Awesome's fate isn't fully revealed in the slow-play of a cliffhanger that ends the episode.

So Chuck's grade for this week: incomplete.

My Quick Thoughts

Devon Terminated?: Like my question regarding Chuck's termination in the premiere, I just can't help but wonder when it was that the American government in Chuck's universe lost its taste for killing people that could threaten it. I mean, at the point in time when this episode begins, Team Bartowski is fully aware that Devon knows of Chuck's secret identity. His disclosure of it, after all, occurred at the end of last season (at least six months ago in the chronology of the show). Why hasn't the government made some move towards neutralizing Devon (even if it meant simply having him sign an overly threatening non-disclosure agreement). It just seems odd that Chuck wouldn't have to change up his routine (Buy More, Burbank, etc.) in some way, even after a "civilian" learned of his secret.

Crashing the Party: It may have just been me, but in watching the scene where Ellie and Awesome are invited to dine with the Premier, it wasn't obvious that Chuck was also invited. Sure he ran out in the courtyard in an attempt to gain access for Team Bartowski, but the way the scene plays it seems that the Premier dismisses him and his "feminine features." The next we see of Chuck, however, he and Sarah are following the Awesomes into the party, so I guess we are to assume that an invitation was extended. Still, it seems like a few lines, or perhaps even another scene were cut from the proceedings.

Intersect Explained: As we go through the season, I fully expect that the writers will continue to explain just how Chuck and Sarah manage to make the Intersect 2.0 functional. In this one we got perhaps our biggest clue yet. While at the Premier's party, Sarah tells Chuck (in a way that indicates that Chuck already knows this) that he needs to stay calm because it's his nervousness that prevents the Intersect from operating properly. If these really are the rules, that it is Chuck's nervousness above all else that truly gums up the works, than Sarah is really more of a therapist than anything else: the only person that Chuck trusts implicitly enough to believe it when she says that everything's going to be okay.

The Etymology of Awesome: One of my favorite moments of the night occurred while the team watched Awesome's post operation press conference. After receiving a question given to him in Spanish, Awesome responds in kind, prompting Sarah to ask Chuck if there's anything his brother-in-law can't do. Chuck responds by saying "Well, thus, the nickname." This short exchange epitomizes everything we've come to know about Devon Woodcombe, but its interesting how a joke in the pilot can metamorphose by the time a show hits its third season. In the pilot Devon is most obviously called "Captain Awesome" by Chuck as a derisive slight on the fact that every situation Devon observes is uniformly declared by him as "awesome." There are even a number of instances during the course of the show where it is intimated that Ellie views the nickname as at least somewhat of a put down. By the time the events of "Angel De La Muerte" go down, however, the implication is that the nickname has far more sincere origins. Awesome is "Awesome" because he's awesome. Fine with me.

Embassy's Sweet: Did anyone else have flashbacks to Seasons 4 and 5 of 24 when the team was discussing the implications of performing a mission at a foreign nation's embassy. I thought bringing in Jack's torture at the hands of the Chinese would have been a good pop culture touchstone to establish the dangers of the mission. Certainly Chuck could have been counted on to know that bit of trivia. Even without 24 in the background, it's easy to see why the notion of an embassy is so fertile ground for all kinds of spy shows and movies: an embassy is a location that is easily accessed and by all outward appearances a part of the United States (or whatever home country the spy is operating in), but is, against all logic, actually foreign soil, and as such operations on that soil have immeasurably higher stakes. As I said, it's easy to see why Chuck, 24, Casino Royale, the Bourne movies, Alias, and I'm sure plenty more, have all had some of their action take place at an embassy.

One Ring to Rule Them All: So we learned last season that what we once thought was the ultimate evil in Chuck's universe, Fulcrum, was in fact only a portion of a much bigger consortium of evil, The Ring. What we still don't know, however, is just what the Ring's purpose is. Like the oblique references to Jacob, the Others, and Dharma in the middle seasons of Lost, the Chuck writers seem intent on answering questions about this mysterious villain entity only with more questions. And when, as in this episode, a character like Casey deigns to actually ask a Ring operative about his nefarious intent, he is met only with a Ben-like "you wouldn't understand." Still, since Chuck is less dependent on its mythology than a show like Lost, this lack of transparency doesn't really detract from anything.

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