March 2, 2010

Chuck: "Chuck vs. The Fake Name"

"I hate those will they or won't they things. Just do it already."

Chuck has a problem.

In watching last night's episode, "The Fake Name", I realized that I was not at all invested in the show's characters. For a show that I had touted to my friends as one of the most entertaining on TV last year, for some reason, this year the show just hasn't connected in the same way. During last night's episode, I found my mind wandering, and after getting up several times with the show running (something I never do when I'm really interested), I began to think about how such a bright show began to lose its luster. The answer, in my opinion, is what some may still call the "Moonlighting" effect, the artificial drawing out of sexual tension between two leads past the point where anyone actually cares, emphasis on "artificial". The same tension that is rightly ridiculed by the mobster character's quote at the top of this post.

The problem is that I don't think that Chuck's writers are following their own advice to "just do it already."

After "The Mask" (in which seemingly half the internet became enraged at the prospect of a Chuck/Hannah, Sarah/Shaw combo platter), it was apparent that the show had moved into territory where the obstacles between Sarah and Chuck no longer seem reasonable. After all, Sarah's ostensible reasons for avoiding a Chuck/Sarah relationship rest almost solely on the fact that by choosing the life of a spy he has chosen a life where Sarah and Chuck can't be fully fulfilled as a couple. What sense does it make then for Sarah to fall for yet another spy, a spy who, in this case, is so transparent in his come on attempts that he might as well be asking Sarah if it hurt when she fell from heaven. If Sarah is losing her feelings for Chuck because he is taking on the characteristics of a spy, it doesn't make sense from a narrative perspective for the obstacle to their love to be someone who is more a spy then Chuck is ever likely to be.

This artificiality is only exacerbated to the tenth degree in this one, in which a lovelorn Sarah tells superspy Shaw (who she has known for, like, ten minutes) her real name, a secret she never shared with the man she was supposedly ready to flee the CIA for. The whole thing feels artificial, artificial, artificial. And while the show can bear that to some degree in that it is still slickly produced and has fun, if not meaningful, spy caper type plot lines, it can never rise to the level of what it was in Season 2 if the audience no longer cares about the characters.

Essentially, Chuck has become Human Target.

Now the plot of this episode wasn't actually so bad, though I thought it once again veered into lunacy where the show has before achieved a smarter balance of action and comedy. The mobster characters in particular were over the top, and we were never given an adequate reason why The Ring would be using them as a go between in any event. Throw in more than the usual number of plot holes (more on that below) and you have an episode that is well below average for the series.

A disappointment on all counts.

Quick Thoughts

The Plot Holes have Plot Holes: So, it almost goes without saying that one should not be watching Chuck for the taut plots fueled with airtight reasoning and ironclad logic, but this episode might take the cake for having characters take ridiculous actions just to fuel the plot. Let's take, for instance, the climatic scene of the episode, in which Casey ultimately snipes Rafe while he wields Sarah as a hostage against Chuck and Shaw. Now this is a rousing conclusion to the scene, and one which Casey pays off well in his gruff and sarcastic manner, but how did the characters arrive at this point?

The scene begins with Shaw and Sarah in the hotel room, with Chuck and the mobsters watching from afar through the lens of a sniper scope. So far so good. Chuck then convinces the mobsters that he is so hurt by Shaw's stealing his woman that he needs to kill him in person. Also, so far so good. Chuck arrives at the hotel room and starts fighting Shaw, at the same time Rafe has escaped from CIA custody and has arrived at the mobster's sniper perch. Rafe then assassinates the mobsters (without revealing his identity) for no better reason than to serve the needs of the plot. More egregiously, he then forgoes the use of the "fully operational" sniper rifle (remember, he's a sharp shooter) to run over to Shaw's hotel room to engage in fisticuffs with Chuck, Sarah, and Shaw.

Why does he run over to the other room? At this point he doesn't even know Shaw is the target (or if he does, that point isn't made clear in the episode), and further, he wouldn't know Shaw is in the hotel room unless he examined it, THROUGH THE LENS OF THE SNIPER RIFLE. Why not just shoot him dead, then and there? Because it serves the climax of the episode. Rafe's oversight/unexplainable character inconsistency, of course, leads Casey to be able to make the fateful shot that ends Rafe's life, and it is indeed rousing. It's just unfortunate that the actions that led up to such a scene aren't remotely plausible even in Chuck's world.

Sam I am: I touched on this above, but it's just insane to think that a woman as guarded as Sarah (Sam?) would reveal one of her most intimate secrets to a man she barely knows when she wouldn't reveal that same secret to a man she desperately wanted to become a fugitive with not six months prior. From a story perspective, this turn of events (and of course the Shaw romance on the whole), must be completely infuriating for those who consider themselves Chuck and Sarah "shippers." I've never fallen into that boat myself, but it's easy to see how this kind of rudimentary character manipulation could severely turn off some of the most ardent Chuck fans. That's probably not something that the showrunners should want to do for a show that desperately needs to prove itself to its network.

The Fake Name: Perhaps the most clever thing that the writers did in this one was revealed in the title of the episode itself. While Chuck does, in fact, assume a fake name in the episode, the true conflict, the one at the heart of the show, is Chuck's continued acceptance of Sarah's fake name, a name he knows is fake, and a name that Sarah allows to fall by the wayside when faced with Agent Shaw's shirtless machismo.

Hannah's heading to Montana: And the award for most meaningless multi-episode arc goes to Smallville's Lana Lang in a role where she accomplished little more than to accentuate the character plot lines already highlighted by members of the main cast. I mean, what did Hannah's presence accomplish other than to highlight the fact that Chuck was getting too good at this whole spy thing, a fact covered most adeptly by Sarah's continued statements regarding that very fact. If the cost of Kristin Kruek was anywhere near the cost of Anna Wu, I would have much rather maintained the Nerd Herd status quo rather than get such a meaningless aside.

What a Crock: Without Morgan, the Buy More side of the plot really had no where to go but the land of meaningless comedic asides. That being said, I did like that the writers elected to use the islanded Buy More staff to comment on the crazy slate of women Chuck has so far been able to snag during the course of the series. I could have done without the now obligatory reference to the fact that Sarah is his one and only soulmate, but if that message had to be delivered, better that it be done through Jeff's inherent creepiness, rather than through yet another sequence of the pair looking longingly at each other from across a crowded room.

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