January 12, 2010

Chuck: "Chuck vs. The Three Words"

"Sarah, I love you."

Now that the team is back together, the show has no problem resuming the rhythm of its previous seasons. So much so, that the writers decided to throw in one small twist: the return of Corina, the femme fatale DEA Agent that always seems to have one foot in the dirty end of Spy World, but who also generally proves herself to be on the up-and-up by the end of the episode in which she appears.

The plot is well executed, but relatively unimportant: Team Bartowski is sent to support Corina as she acquires a weapon of unknown origin from an arms dealer whom she happens to be engaged to (as part of her cover). Antics ensue, the weapon is recovered, and Morgan gets lucky. The end.

What's more interesting in the episode (as belied by the episode's title) are the character beats between Sarah and Chuck.

In the critical scene of the episode (the beats of which are played out of order and at various points through the use of a security recording of the incident) Chuck stands alone in a vault with presumably poisonous gas pumping in, pouring his heart out to Sarah. At the very end of his speechifying, Sarah saves him, and Chuck, undone by the poison gas, collapses in her arms while saying those three words at the top of this post.

It isn't until the very end of the episode that we (and Sarah) realize that Chuck's admission wasn't simply more puppy dog-eyed crushing from our favorite Buymorian, but instead the conclusion of an impassioned explanation for why Chuck chose not to run away with his lady love.

It's a bittersweet moment in that we know that (for the time being at least) Chuck's decision will keep him and Sarah apart, but it's also the moment when Sarah realizes just how much Chuck was willing to give up for her. It's really well played by Yvonne Strahovski, and a great conclusion to a really good episode.

Here's hoping for more next week (read: tomorrow).

My Quick Thoughts

The Three Words: While Chuck's admission that he loves Sarah is certainly important from her character's stand point, the fact remains that both Chuck and Sarah have been quite open about their "love" for one another, in as much as they could be throughout the previous two seasons. So more than offering a "major revelation", the vault scene served really to provide context for what I called Chuck's "interesting decision": to forgo more Sarah-time for more zip-lining. Essentially, the reasoning behind his decision was this: Chuck just wants to make a difference in the world, and he has for too long felt that he was wasting his life. Chuck left Sarah on that train platform not because he doesn't love her, but because he does. It maybe doesn't make the most sense in the world, by Zach Levi sells it, and you can definitely feel the earnestness of Chuck's admission.

The Moonlighting Effect: While some critics have complained that the Chuck/Sarah relationship is played out (or at least that the show has run out of legitimate obstacles to prevent the couple from consummating their love), this whole angle of what it means to be a "real spy" is working well for the show, I think. Clearly Sarah and Chuck still have feelings for each other, but as has been demonstrated on the show so often in the past, those feelings can get you killed in Spy World. In a very real way, Chuck had to choose between becoming a spy and truly being with the one he loved. The more he moves towards one pole or the other, the more he loses the other side. It's a nice dichotomy, and I think it works.

Intersect 1.9?: It was played for terrific comedic effect, but why would Chuck's fully functional Intersect 2.0 finish his gymnastic move set only 90% out of the vault? Are we to understand that Chuck was given only gymnastic prowess, but not some greater understanding about the layout of the room? That Chuck was, in essence, calculating angles on his own, on the fly. I find it difficult to believe that he didn't get information regarding the ideal route through that particular security system, and since the Intersect essentially takes control of his body, shouldn't he have finished his moves completely outside of the room? If Chuck did "solve" the room on his own (albeit with the benefit of augmented physical acumen), it actually creates an opportunity for some interesting scenarios in the future, where Chuck has the knowledge and ability to perform physical feats, but actually needs to implement them using some skill he brings to the table. That's probably not what was intended by the scene, however, as it merely served as a good situation for allowing Chuck to express his feelings to Sarah.

UFO of Deaaaath: It's funny, but as much as I love Chuck I can't ever help but feel that the show's "mythology" is just there to take up time. While the question of the nature of the weapon recovered by Team Bartowski (some kind of chrome UFO-looking thing) is somewhat interesting, I never really care about these kinds of plots vs. the personal and comedic interactions that really make the show hum. So when the show includes a mysterious scene about the danger the weapon (and "The Ring's" plans) could pose to the team, I'm simply not taken with it, the way I would be if a similar scene appeared in a show like Lost or Fringe. I guess I just don't consider that kind of thing to be a strength of the show.

No Intersect required: Perhaps one of the best things about the climax of the episode is that Chuck receives absolutely no help from the Intersect whatsoever. Clearly when Sarah tosses Chuck the tiki torch she expects him to flash on some kind of bo training. But that doesn't happen. Instead, the writers remind us just how smart and intuitive Chuck is by having him set a fire in the fountain (recently filled by Jeff and Lester with highly-flammable "Jail Juice") which in turn distracts their captors. One of my favorite parts of Chuck has always been seeing how the writers can have Chuck's unusual skill set save the day in novel ways. It's good to see that we won't be losing that aspect of the show even post-Intersect 2.0.

A United Buymoria: The show is always at its best when it can successfully integrate the more comically oriented plot lines at the Buy More with those of Spy World, and this episode was a good example of that. From the moment we see Jeff and Lester teasing Morgan about Carina, we know that the major plot lines of the show are bound to intersect (pun intended), and it's a testament to the show that even after the flyer with Chuck's address is introduced (which will obviously lead the bad guys to Chuck in the final act), the twists and turns of the episode remain entertaining primarily because everyone on both sides is involved.

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