Bait and Switch
“Chuck vs. Agent X”
Mondays, NBC, 8/7c PM
Written by Phil Klemmer & Craig DiGregorio
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill
“It’s about high stakes, and gambling, and getting into some weird stuff that just might haunt you for the rest of your life.” — Big Mike
Every time I think this show has exhausted a character, they find a new dimension. It may not always work, but it keeps me tuned in. This latest episode of Chuck plays out as a two-parter – a half-hour devoted to Chuck’s bachelor party and a half-hour devoted to his spy life. Along the way we get a new slant on an old nemesis and a new wrinkle in Chuck’s relationship with his sister. Like so many late-season episodes, it feels like a game-changer, but may not be. In any event, it made for more fun in this episode than we’ve seen in awhile.
“I got a fat stack burning a hole in my crotch.” — Lester
Captain Awesome has been allowed to plan Chuck’s bachelor party. This, all by itself, spells trouble; it’s like letting Lucy Ricardo plan a wedding. You know it’s going to go hilariously wrong. Having pumped everyone up with the promise of a weekend in Las Vegas, he drives them to “Las Vecas”, a campground in Nevada. There, he offers a fun weekend of hiking and climbing to a bunch of urbanites who are dressed for gambling and wenching. This bait-and-switch, as one might expect, does not go over well. Similarly for Sarah; Ellie offers her a dull weekend at a spa, then leads her into her own apartment for a surprise party. Even then, it’s a pretty tame party until the strippers show up. Sarah, the seductress and cool-headed agent, manages to maintain her poise even when surrounded by pumping torsos, and it’s hilarious.
“Let’s get this party started.” — Jeff
The bucolic getaway in Las Vecas is invaded by Riley (Ray Wise, Psych), who is following a tracking device in Papa Bartowski’s computer, which Awesome mistakenly took on his getaway. His lovely female assassin Jasmine (India de Beaufort, One Tree Hill) tortures Jeff for information – or tries to. Alas for Ms. Jasmine, shooting up Jeff with any substance one can imagine merely enhances his party mood. I suspect anything Jeff says under the influence of sodium pentothal would damage the mind of anyone listening. It was weird and funny to be laughing through a “torture” scene – but it was so very Chuck. When Chuck comes to Jeff’s rescue, he is forced into a knife duel with Jasmine, which he’s on the verge of losing when Casey saves him. In the fight, the computer is damaged.
“You don’t have to lie to me, Ellie.” — Chuck
The time has come to confess all to Ellie, and Chuck does so. I found this confession scene to be something of a letdown. Chuck has spent four seasons fanatically protecting Ellie from just this thing: the truth about his spy life. Now that he comes clean, there are no recriminations, no crying, no hysterics. It makes Chuck look foolish to have spent so much effort to hide something that Ellie apparently accepts with aplomb. What, not even one temper tantrum? Chuck even introduces Ellie to the Castle. When she wonders what all this is protecting, he confesses that he is the Intersect she’s been studying on her dad’s computer.
“I haven’t spent ten years in the Nerd Herd for nothin’.” – Chuck
To prove it, he has Morgan attack him with a sword, and uses the Intersect to defend himself (yes, this is the same Chuck who nearly lost a knife fight ten minutes ago). His solemn apology (in Japanese) to Morgan for “dishonoring” his shirt (by slicing the sleeves off) was surely one of the best Chuck/Morgan moments in the history of the show, once again giving us the complete trust between the two friends, the mutual and unspoken understanding. Chuck accesses his inner nerd once again, reassembles the computer, and they go through the files. Chuck thinks he must be the Agent X his father was designing the Intersect for, but Ellie has discovered that the first Intersect was uploaded on November 21, 1980. (Is it a mere coincidence that November 21 is World Television Day?) Since that’s well before Chuck’s birth, who could Agent X be? Their only clue is a photo of an old house, and a name: Hartley Winterbottom.
“There go my primroses! Eat lead, you bastards!” – Ma Winterbottom
Part Two opens with Chuck, Sarah and Casey arriving at the old house – which is in Somerset, England. A very nice old lady who sounds exactly like Angela Lansbury serves them tea and tells them “Hartley” was the former tenant, who left a few things behind. She leaves to get them – and comes back with a shotgun, snarling at Chuck. It seems the CIA swallowed up her son Hartley, a peaceful scientist who hated guns, and turned him into Agent X. Riley chooses that moment to attack, and Ma Winterbottom (Millicent Martin, Hot in Cleveland) pulls a .50 caliber machine gun out of her coffee table. With a mixture of awe and glee, Casey helps her set up the gun and fire back at Riley’s gang. When she decides to “scuttle the house” and sets up a bomb with a grenade and her knitting yarn, he is nearly brought to tears of joy: “The mother I never had!” I laughed myself silly through this entire episode; I do so hope Mrs. Winterbottom puts in another appearance, if only for Casey’s sake.
“I think I might be Agent X.” – Chuck
Back at the Castle, having recovered Hartley Winterbottom’s spy will, they open it and discover his “Agent X” identity (which, one assumes, they could have done by merely asking Ma Winterbottom, but that would be too easy). Of course we knew who it was – this would not be Chuck if someone didn’t have daddy issues. This time the daddy issues are going to be Vivian Volkoff’s again, and boy is she in for a surprise. For myself, I’m just glad Agent X didn’t turn out to be Chuck after all. Let the poor man get married, already.
“Take the drama down a notch!” – Big Mike
The best thing about this episode is that it showed, once again, that Chuck is funny when the entire gang is in on it. In fact, Chuck and Sarah were not, themselves, particularly funny. But Morgan, Casey, Jeff and Lester, and Big Mike absolutely killed in this episode. The entire running joke about “Vegas”, Casey’s mom-crush on Ma Winterbottom, the “interrogation” of Jeff were all among the high points of the season. I loved it when Casey set Awesome and Morgan to whittling spears while he competently took out an entire security patrol. Sarah’s calm during the stripper scene was magnificent: “Is that a gun? No.” And one does not get better than Morgan’s glee when allowed to help Chuck demonstrate his katana skills, even though it cost him his shirt sleeves: “Sleeveless? It’s a bit Eighties, but what the hell.” I know there are financial obstacles to having all of the actors in every show, but when they all come together like this, it’s golden.
“Us Bartowskis. When we’re good at something, we just jump right in, don’t we?” — Ellie
Chuck gained 8% from its last new episode, to garner a 1.4 rating among adults among 4.1 million viewers. This is a respectable number, but still put Chuck in fourth place for its timeslot. With only two episodes left, the jury is still out on the show’s fate, but it’s good to see even a tiny uptick.