Chuck: “Chuck vs. the Aisle of Terror”

Mothers and Other Terrors

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Stegall

Mondays on NBC at 9/8

“Chuck vs. the Aisle of Terror”

Written by Craig DiGregorio

Directed by John Scott

Hello, Chuck. It’s your mother.” — Mary Bartowski

There comes a time in everyone’s life when one’s mother strikes terror into the heart. For most of us, that time ends about midway through adolescence. Chuck, ever the man-boy, proves that for some of us, it’s never too late for Mom to strike the fear of God into us. In this story, Chuck’s search for his mother turns back on him, as his mother finds him. She asks him to meet her in the park, then, significantly enough, at the playground. Sarah comes along, and Mom gets the drop on her. As Sarah and Mary (Linda Hamilton,The Terminator) face off with 9 millimeters, Chuck interrupts to hope that they don’t shoot one another. Talk about your mother-in-law moments. And while Chuck is dealing with his duplicitous mom, Ellie is dealing with her intrusive mother-in-law, who bombards her with thinly veiled put-downs.

“I don’t want to know anything about you.” — Mary Bartowski

Sarah trusts Mama B about as far as she can throw Casey soaking wet. Ostensibly, Mom is here to set up a CIA buy, hoping to offload a deadly nerve gas called Atroxium, concocted by Dr. Wheelwright (Robert Englund, Friday the Thirteenth). Atroxium creates so much terror in those exposed to it that they go permanently insane within a few minutes. (Those of us who enjoyed Batman Begins will realize that Dr. W apparently stole this idea from the Scarecrow, the demented creator of a similar terror gas.) Mama B claims to be breaking cover in order to allow the CIA to acquire the gas, rather than have it sold on the open market. But then, when Chuck shows up to make the buy, Mama B betrays his cover to Dr. Wheelwright and shoots her son in the chest.

Ah, family.

You know, Chuck, even in the spy world, where everything is run by deceit, you still manage to somehow genuinely trust people. You know what, that’s what I love about you. “ —  Sarah

Trust becomes a more slippery issue than usual when dealing with spies, double agents, family politics and love. Ellie does not trust herself to be a good mother, and in desperation turns to her mother-in-law. Sarah and Casey deeply distrust Mama B, who claims to be a double agent, but for whom there are no records in the CIA. In the end they must both betray Chuck’s trust by kidnapping “Agent Frost”. Only Chuck holds fast to his instincts, even when his own mother shoots him in the chest. Sure, she says she knew he was wearing a Kevlar vest, but it was an incredibly dangerous stunt that could have gone tragically wrong. There was no reason she could not have warned Chuck beforehand–except that Mary Bartowski apparently does not trust her own son.

I’m protecting your blind spot.” — Sarah

The truly shining example of trust in this episode came from, of all people, Sarah. The agent who could never trust anyone now trusts Chuck implicitly, and always has her trust confirmed. Chuck rarely lets Sarah down, and then only when it helps someone else more. So despite getting off on the wrong foot with Mama B, Sarah does her best to support Chuck in this difficult time Until she can’t trust Mama B any more, and has to kidnap her for the CIA. I must confess that, if we have to have a plot device to create tension between Chuck and Sarah, this is a beauty. Chuck’s girlfriend kidnaps his long-lost mom? Good one. Although, if this was real life, I’d be betting Chuck would trust his steadfast girlfriend over the mom who shot him.

“You’re either exceptionally smart or incredibly stupid.” — John Casey

Casey’s backhanded compliment to Morgan shows the growing closeness between the two agents. Casey is all set to mentor his eager but clueless sidekick, and Morgan is learning to decode the Casey grunt-speak. One of the high points of the hour was watching Morgan master the art of wearing spy-shades.  Another was watching him try to explain why he came armed with a paintball gun.  There is far more potential for funny in a Morgan/Casey partnership than in Lester and Jeff, alas. I like the Lester/Jeff pairing–it was geeky, funny, and perverse. Then something happened last year and they stopped being funny. Are the writers taking these two too seriously? I, for one, do not need to see Scott Krinsky shirtless ever again. Ever. Last week we got lots of Sarah Walker in a bikini–trust me, a shirtless Krinsky does not balance that out. Shirtless Jeff belongs in the Aisle of Terror.

I know a really good morgue that gives discounts on unclaimed merchandise. Maybe we can sprinkle some cold dead ones in here. — Jeff

Unlike some, I continue to look forward to Jeff and Lester every week. However, I do miss the first-season Jeff and Lester, who were not joined at the hip. I’d love to see a bit involving only Lester, for example–I recall when he thought Sarah and Chuck had broken up, and he moved in in Sarah. That was a hilarious moment, with no Jeff in sight. It would be nice if the Buy Morons could have a bit of the spotlight for themselves, but the writing for them this season has been less than stellar. There’s a certain loss of geekiness I miss. Even Chuck is less of a geek than he was, and I miss that too. While he’s fine and virile and charming as Charles Carmichael, he was also lovable when he was solving puzzles using clues from his vast reading experience with comic books. The last few episodes have relied more on spy missions than geek culture, and as a result they are not as funny.

NBC came in pretty low on Monday night, with Chuck earning a 1.9/5 share among adults 18-49. That’s from 5.39 viewers, not much more than The Event‘s 5.93 viewers. The Event is on shaky ground with those numbers, so it’s good to know Chuck has been picked up for a full season. With more episodes to work on, here’s hoping we get some more of the nerd herd humor back.