By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Stegall
Mondays on NBC at 9/8
“Chuck vs. The Fat Lady”
Written by Matthew Lau
Directed by Jeffrey Hunt
Just when the writers for Chuck might be tempted to back off a little on the intensity of geek cultural awareness on this show, they ramp up instead. Case in point: in this episode, a character is revealed to use Vogon poetry as his password. I ask you...Vogon poetry? I thought this show could not get any more deliciously geek when it was using Klingon to verify a spy’s identity! What do we get next, secret messages written in Elvish? And then there are the cute in-joke references to larger pop culture, like naming a deceased villain Guy Lafleur, after one of the all time great hockey players. And just in case we weren’t sure that we’re in an alternate universe, tonight’s episode gave us a whole new country: BuyMoria. Somehow I always knew this show was just a live action version of Dungeons and Dragons, complete with warriors (John and Sarah), mages (Chuck) and orcs (Morgan). It’s only a matter of time until Chuck solves a case with his twelve-sided dice.
“Chuck vs. The Fat Lady” picks up where last episode left off, with Chuck happily reigniting his relationship with Jill Roberts (Jordana Brewster) despite her past history of betrayal. Sarah is clearly conflicted–is she jealous of Jill, or are her instincts warning her of a legitimate threat? Casey smirks his way through a scene where Chuck is pleading for a little privacy so he can make out with Jill–as if Casey hasn’t kissed Chuck himself. Jill may be jealous of the exotic spy partner, Sarah. This whole setup is as convoluted and tricky as a thirty year old soap opera. General Beckman orders Casey, Sarah and Chuck to go back to Guy Lafleur’s hotel room to find a list of Fulcrum agents he apparently had put together before one of them threw him out of a window. Though guarded by FBI agents, the trio gain access to the room, and Chuck finds a Venetian puzzle box. In a line that pretty much sums up who Chuck Bartowski has evolved into, he reminds Casey and Sarah that “the running, jumping, shooting people stuff” is their territory, but puzzle solving is his. This kind of expertise makes Chuck a legitimate part of this team, as valuable as Casey’s muscle or Sarah’s ninja moves. It’s been a slow development of the character from the beginning of this season, as Chuck has evolved from the quivering boy-man to the confident yet lovable amateur spy. So Chuck solves the puzzle box–but releases a powder that gets all over Sarah and him, forcing them to disrobe and hop into the shower.
Yeah, right. Is this sweeps month? But as contrived and fan fic-y as this whole scene appeared to be, it was saved by a lovely moment of poignant revelation, as Chuck realizes mid-scrub that he is pretty much naked and wet in a shower with the woman of his dreams, a woman he has renounced. Kudos for the eleventy-first time to Levi for consistently and expertly balancing pathos and comedy in the character of Chuck Bartowski.
Fulcrum is after the list too, of course, so inevitably there are confrontations and kidnappings and hostage taking and shooting and more smooth ninja-Sarah moves. Casey sings, glowers, threatens to shoot Chuck, and stands in open-mouthed astonishment when Chuck pulls the wool over a Fulcrum agent’s eyes. Sarah broods, sulks, defends Chuck’s right to privacy, questions her own motives, pulls a gun on Chuck, and ultimately warns Jill not to hurt Chuck again. Chuck, who once wondered if his government was dead set on making sure he never had sex again in his life, gets well and truly laid. The upshot, with Fulcrum’s most dangerous agent finally revealed, is a “twist” ending I saw coming last week, but which was still well founded and believable.
Meanwhile, Assistant Manager Emmet is fostering treason at the Buy More. Morgan, always loyal to both his friends and his weird view of the universe, in which video games inform reality, is torn between his loyalty to his job and his loyalty to Chuck–for maybe three seconds. He is hurt to find that Chuck has gone back to Jill, but stands firm against the temptations of Emmet. And as usual, his questionable ethics coupled with his mad tech skills saves Chuck’s day.
The writing on this show is consistently high. I’d put it in the top three well-written shows on television, along with Pushing Daisiesand NCIS. Little things that seem to be thrown in just to illustrate a character’s quirks (like the video copy chip) wind up playing a major part in the denouement. The dialogue snaps like a flag in the breeze, the mood expertly shifts from laugh out loud slapstick to the pathos of Chuck’s confession that being with Jill “is like having my old life back”. This is the only comedy I can think of where people get killed on a regular basis and I can still find a reason to laugh. Campy, witty, with dark humor but not over the top.
Chuck improved its rating in the 18-to-49 demographic, with a 2.6/7 rating. That’s a slight increase over last week. This is better than losing numbers, but that’s about all that can be said for it. Chuck still needs much better numbers if it’s going to survive into a third season. With any luck, word of mouth (or reruns) could bring some new immigrants to BuyMoria.