Keeping it All in the Family
Mondays on NBC at 9/8
“Chuck vs. The Beard”
Written by Scott Rosenbaumr
Directed by Zachary Levy
“I was just getting my awesome back.” — Captain Awesome
You never lost it, babe.
The awesome is back in Chuck. Push has finally come to shove: Chuck must reveal his secret to his friend, or lose both their lives. When the Buy More is invaded by a potential buyout team, “evaluating” the crew with interviews and background checks, everyone panics, fearful of losing their jobs. Under the Buy More, Chuck is losing his job, as well: unable to flash, he is left behind on a mission because he’s of no use without his Intersect. But both the Buy More buyout and the mission prove to be diversions; this episode marries the Buy More world to the spy world in a brilliant interweaving plot. The buyout team is actually a bunch of Ring operatives who scope out the Castle in no time, and the “mission” turns out to be a setup to flush out Daniel Shaw (am I the only one who thinks Shaw will not survive this season?). Before Casey, Sarah and Shaw can get back to the Castle, the Buy More buyout team has taken it over, and has taken Chuck and Morgan hostage. Casey can’t even get into the building, now that Big Mike and his people have barricaded themselves inside and staged a revolution to save their jobs.
This was a pivotal episode for this show, in more than one way. Chuck has hit bottom, unable to flash, unable to move forward after his eleventy-fifth breakup with Sarah Walker. He is blocked in every way possible, and needs an emotional outlet. He tries to lean on his brother-in-law, but Devon is not the kind of guy who operates well outside his comfort zone. Chuck’s spy life terrifies Devon, and he proves a weak reed. Chuck would normally confide in Morgan, the one man who totally gets him, but he’s gagged by the secrecy surrounding his mission. Something’s gotta give, and in this episode, finally, it’s the secret that collapses. When Morgan discovers the Castle on his own and winds up tied to Chuck and threatened with torture, Chuck finally tells him the truth.
And Morgan is totally on board. He could easily have thrown a fit (“What? You lied to me for three years?”) but instead he solidly supports his buddy. Morgan is a born wingman, and he slides right into his alloted role as easily as he slides into gaming mode. The Revelation to Morgan was one of the best things to happen to Chuck this year. The stage is now set for a more satisfying balance of Nerd Chuck and Spy Chuck. One of the charms of the early seasons was the giddy sense of discovery that Chuck gave us every week. It’s too late for that now, as seasoned as he is, so now we have a new, shorter, hairier version of Chuck to give us awe and wonder every week. Another brilliant facet of this episode is the way it used Morgan’s immersion in the video gaming world to render his actions totally plausible: upon discovering that there is a secret underground base under his workplace, Morgan does not freak out. He takes it in stride. Morgan has never been one to draw firm distinctions between his fantasy gamer world and the “real” world. Hence, he not only accepts the reality of this dreamlike setup, but calmly plans to take it out. For I am now eagerly looking forward to some episodes involving Morgan on a mission. This should be good.
More subtly, including Morgan in the mix now will actually tell us more about Chuck. Most of the character-building scenes this season have been with Sarah Walker. But Sarah is a stranger who is still getting to know Chuck. Of course that exploration is part of the attraction of this romance, but in the end, she’s still an outsider. Morgan is the other half of Chuck, the guy who knows him better than anyone else in the world, even Ellie. The character of Morgan has gone from annoying twit in Season One to an invaluable companion and character in his own right. My congratulations to Josh Gomez for embodying such a warm, hilarious, annoying and complex persona.
I guess we can expect to see little or nothing of the Awesomes for awhile. While this may allow the bean-counters to cut the budget for a few episodes, in story terms this may make the inevitable revelation to Ellie even more painful. The longer Chuck’s deception to Ellie goes on, the more it’s going to hurt when it ends. Especially if she discovers that everyone else–her husband, Morgan, her father–has been lying to her all along. Ellie is a time bomb waiting to explode, I’m afraid.
The Buy More subplot was beautifully and seamlessly integrated into the spy caper, in one of the best written episodes this year. The Jeffster concert alone was worth the price of admission–“Fortunate Son” will never be the same to me again. Which is fine, because in my opinion we cannot have too much Jeffster. The Buy-Moria flag raising echoing the Iwo Jima flag raising was a brilliant touch, as was theBraveheart speech from Big Mike and the Rambo-like poses of the Buymorons, complete with weapons of mass hilarity.
And we end with the most awesome demonstration of Chuck-fu all season. Chuck leaping and flying and kicking was great, but Morgan chiming in at the last minute with some mop-fu was even better. I loved it when he poked one bad guy with a stick to make sure he was out. These two are going to make a fantastic team, now that Chuck has his mojo back. Rather than protect Chuck or hold him back, Morgan can be the perfect corner man, the best supporter Chuck has had to date. When it comes to taking care of his buddy Chuck and seeing he can be the best he can be, nobody is better than Morgan Grimes.
One of the reasons this was an outstanding episode was that there was little to no romantic angst. At least, not between Sarah and Chuck. The heart of the story is Chuck’s confession to Morgan, not just that he’s a spy, but that he and Sarah were fake. The second best part of the story was Morgan’s confident assurance to Chuck that he’s fooling himself, that Chuck really does love Sarah. It’s only when he stops lying to himself that Chuck, one of the most innately honest characters ever on television, is able to use the Intersect. This is a wonderful character development, and I hope Chuck is wise enough to use it in the future. He may be able to lie as Charles Carmichael, but Chuck Bartowski must and will tell the truth to himself.
The only idea that didn’t really work for me was the hint of treachery in the “twist” at the end. I really do not believe John Casey is a traitor, so the only other conclusion I can reach is that this is yet another sub-rosa operation, that he’s trying to show up someone as a traitor. Given our casting, that someone can only be Daniel Shaw. Which will be a pity, because I am growing very fond of Brandon Routh in this role, and wish it could be continued.
Special moments include Jeff taking out a bad guy with ether, the Jeffster concert, Chuck acing “Duck Hunt”, Casey’s “Peace out”, Awesome in a swimsuit, the singing fish in Morgan’s “office” echoing Big Mike’s marlin, Lester faking push-ups, Morgan winking at Sarah and calling her “Agent Walker”, and Zach Levy’s face in that painful, funny, honest moment when he confesses that he really does love Sarah Walker. Even granting that Levy was directing himself and thus could make sure it was the most flattering take possible, it was a poignant and sincere moment. Having said that, however, I will say again that one of the reasons this episode worked so well was that the focus was off the romance. It’s long past time to let those questions cool a while, while Chuck works on his spy game, Morgan becomes a buzzing mosquito on every mission he’s on, and Casey proves that he can be subtle as well as stoic. The geek love this show is famous for is on high boil in this episode.
Kudos, then, and a big Buy More fish award to Scott Rosenbaum for a fine story, and Zach Levy with a well directed, well paced episode. This episode would have been a challenge for a veteran director, but Levy handled it well. Most of all, I am glad the Buy Morons were so well integrated into the story. In the past, I stated that I wanted to see the last of the Buy More and Morgan, thinking the comedic possibilities of these elements had been exhausted; this show has proved me wrong. I’m glad to take it all back.
Chuck dropped a bit from its numbers last week, coming in at 6.31 million viewers. It dropped a tenth of a point off adult viewers last week, and NBC came in dead last in the ratings for the top four broadcast networks. Scuttlebutt says the next few episodes will be exceptional; if they are up to the quality of this episode, I expect to see a bit of a rise—not much, but some–in the next week’s ratings. I, for one, will be watching.