A Saving Throw
By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2009 by Sarah Stegall
Mondays on NBC at 9/8
“Chuck vs. The Colonel”
Written by Matt Miller
Directed by Peter Lauer
“For the first time, everything is fine. It’s all over.” -Morgan
Oh, how I love this show. I almost wish this was the last episode of Chuck. I can’t imagine that next week’s episode, the last of the season and possibly the series, can top this story. Everything changed for everyone except Ellie Bartowski: lives were altered, futures shifted, stakes raised. The basic premise of the show evaporated, alliances were realigned, and the ground rules rewritten. After weeks of episodes where the storyline seemed stuck in the mud, spinning its wheels, it suddenly slipped into high gear and roared off into the sunset. Okay, enough with the colorful metaphors. Bottom line: last night’s Chuck was totally awesome. It’s hard to imagine next week’s episode will be anything but anticlimactic.
The storyline of the last few episodes–Chuck finds his father, loses his father, goes in search of his father (Scott Bakula, Quantuum Leap)–resolves as Sarah and Chuck go AWOL in a last desperate bid to find him. Bartowski Senior is chained to a lab bench in an underground bunker by evil genius Ted Roark (Chevy Chase, Spies Like Us) to re-create the Intersect. Naturally, the bunker is under a drive-in movie, a la Spies Like Us. Holed up in a hotel room, unaware that they are under surveillance by Roark’s henchman, Sarah and Chuck come very close to finally hooking up (as the kids say), but of course matters are derailed. Chuck discovers that Morgan has “borrowed” his only condom–and here I have to say that no matter how much of a geek Chuck may be between the sheets, surely Sarahcould have shown him that there are, shall we say, other ways? But no, unslaked sexual desire is the gasoline this show runs on, and it’s a very lean mix. No sooner does Chuck step out for the necessary, than Casey (now Colonel Casey) grabs him. Sarah gets the drop on Casey, however, and the would-be lovers make a break for it. Fulcrum arrives. Mayhem ensues. Sarah Walker takes out most of the bad guys in North America singlehandedly. But Casey prevails and takes them both back to the Castle. On the way, Chuck sees a drive-in movie sign advertising a midnight showing of Tron (Oh, how I love this show) and knows it’s a signal from his father.
And I’m stopping right here to express my admiration for the acting in this show. Chuck’s joyous, gentle smile at Sarah when he realizes she’s saying yes to sex was more than lust fulfilled, it was an expression of true love. Kudos to Zach Levi for totally selling that all too brief moment. My hat, gloves, and shoes are off to Yvonne Strahovski. She went from demure lover to berserker warrior in the blink of an eye and made me believe it. She showed hope, despair, love, anger and sly wit all in fifty minutes of jam-packed action, and made me believe it. She fought for Chuck’s happiness at the expense of her own, surrendered finally to the feelings she has been repressing, and defied the entire government (or at least General Butthead) and made me believe it. The hand-holding session in the bed was as loving and erotic and full of bated-breath tension as any bodice-ripping scene from daytime drama. I am convinced that Yvonne Strahovski and Zach Levi both have bright futures ahead of them, no matter what happens to this show.
Chuck and Sarah are, as always, the main attraction, but the secondary storylines and characters were worthy of their own show. At the Buy More, Morgan is ostracized by the other BuyMorons for his betrayal of Big Mike. In a scene straight out of The Godfather II(again), Big Mike responds to Morgan’s apology by telling him “Never go against the family again”. Jeff and Lester show Awesome, er, Devon, John Casey’s locker at the Buy More (and why hadn’t I realized that of course Jeff would have burgled it long ago), which contains a stalker’s diary, keys and chloroform. Jeff commandeers the chloroform, mutters “Mind if I get right?” and knocks himself out in one of the funniest moments of the night. (If this show dies, can we get a Jeffster spin-oof? Please?) When he revives, he and Lester conspire to kill the electricity to the store in an act of rebellion, and inadvertently allow Sarah and Chuck to escape the Castle.
Devon, meanwhile, has used Casey’s keys to enter his house, discovers his spy equipment, and is trapped by Casey’s security. Chuck rescues him, and finally, finally tells his future brother-in-law what the hell is going on. Devon’s reaction to this is wonderfully characteristic–he immediately commits to being Chuck’s wingman and protector of Ellie. More laurels for Ryan McPartlin for continuing to make a real, believable character out of what in other actors’ hands would be a caricature. I cannot say enough good things about the whole character of Devon Woodcomb. Including Devon in the secret of Chuck’s spy life opens up wonderful story possibilities for the future, and is much more believable than having Chuck continue to lie to his family.
I loved how Morgan resolved his crisis of conscience at the Buy More. After initially accepting the promotion to Ass(istant) Man(ager), he finally grows a hairy little pair and quits. Determined to follow his dream of being a Benihana chef in Hawaii (oh, how I love this show), he carries Anna out with him a la An Officer and a Gentleman. I wonder how often that iconic final scene has played out in real life over the years? Morgan, of course, can’t quite make it all the way to the door with Anna, but he gets his point across. Congrats to the writers of this show and Josh Gomez for evolving Morgan from the annoying, whiny sidekick of the pilot to this fully developed, loyal-to-a-fault man and friend. His loyalty to Chuck and his own conscience make up (almost) for his cock-blocking moves re the condom. Will Morgan be back? I almost hope not; this was a great exit for this character. On the other hand, I’d miss his bond with Chuck, so I’m happy whether he stays or goes.
Of course the real story of this episode is Bartowski Senior’s success at removing the Intersect from Chuck’s head. This is the goal Chuck has been working for, waiting for, living for. He’s stunned when it finally comes true. And of course, the first thing he does is turn to Sarah, who looks almost scared. And why wouldn’t she be? With Chuck no longer a national security threat/asset, she would inevitably be reassigned. Having postponed a decision on her relationship with Chuck for two years, now she has to fish or cut bait.
Now, everyone raise your hands who believes that the Intersect is out of Chuck’s head for real, or that it won’t soon be back in it. Yeah, me neither. If this show continues, it either turns into Hart to Hart or Chuck gets the mother of all databases back in his skull. This is why I said this would make a good series finale. With Chuck able to live a normal life now, he and Sarah are free to make their relationship as solid and real as it was fake before. Sarah can find the family she has always lacked, Casey is free to take a new mission, and Chuck can make a real future for himself. Ellie and Awesome can be married, Morgan can fulfill his dreams, and Jeffster, if there is any justice in the world, will end up running the BuyMore. From here, the odds of any future story development going downhill grow exponentially larger.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of small moments to cherish in this, the best of all the Chuck episodes of the series. There is Sarah Walker’s stolen vintage Challenger. There is Casey’s final revelation that his anger grows from being left out of the team. There is Casey’s jaunty rehearsal-dinner getup, complete with cigars. Arnold Vosloo doing anything at all. Colonel Casey’s radiator-fu. Casey and Chuck debating all the different ways Casey could kill him in the car. Roark’s speech to the Fulcrum agents, straight out of The Warriors (Can you dig it?). Emmett crawling on the floor of the BuyMore, crying for his AssMan. Scott Bakula nailing every moment as Chuck’s loving, tender Dad. Angry humor from Chuck: “Congratulations on that chicken franchise you’ve always wanted.” An air strike, for crying out loud. Casey lying to Beckman to rescue Sarah’s career. And best of all, Casey redeeming his word of honor after his General blows off his concerns for Dad Bartowski. Everything changed in this episode, but the characters remained true to themselves. That’s fantastic writing.
My only caveat in this episode was that the Roark character may be the blandest villain in the history of villains. I was disappointed that Chevy Chase could not have upped the temperature on this guy. Comedians often make the best villains, either a hilarious one (Jim Carrey as The Riddler in Batman Forever) or a chilling one (Robin Williams as a serial killer in Insomnia). Maybe it was the writing: Chase’s Roark gets only one good line (“You can eat them if you like.”) and not much else. For whatever reason, I was completely bored by his bad guy. Arnold Vosloo, now, scares the hell out of me.
This one was for the fans, no question. Newcomers to the show might have appreciated all the explosions and the one-liners, and many would have gotten the movie references, but the particular undercurrents and tensions established in earlier episodes, which made their resolution in this one so delicious, would have been lost on them. So I raise my frozen yogurt cup to the writers and producers of this show for giving us such a tasty wrap-up of the show’s loose ends, setting us up for a whole new world if they get renewed or a satisfactory conclusion if they don’t. If I may paraphrase Jeff: from one writer to another, I’m impressed. Very impressed.
So everything is different–for now. Nothing is what it was–for now. TV land being what it is, there is every chance that this “reset button” episode may go the way of Bobby Ewing in the shower–we come back next fall to find that Chuck has the Intersect in his head again and Awesome has developed amnesia, Sarah is in love with Bryce, Casey has been demoted to Major again, and the General is revealed to be a Fulcrum spy. I will be unhappy if the writers try that (seriously, guys, we’re not that dumb), but not surprised. But until that cynical day comes, I will be watching and re-watching this episode. If I never see another episode of Chuck, this one would have been enough. Dayenu.
Chuck won 6 million viewers on Monday night, for a 1.9/6 rating/share. Among adults 18-49 it won a 2.3/6 rating/share. This is pretty much what it got last week, but even so those numbers are improved since March. Are they enough to get NBC to order another season, or even a half-season? This is me, chanting “Renew, renew!” to NBC like some character on Logan’s Run. Oh, how I love this show.