“Chuck vs. the First Bank of Evil”
Mondays, NBC, 8/7c PM
Written by Henry Alonso Myers & Craig DeGregorio
Directed by Frederick E. O. Toye
“I think I created a monster.” – Ellie
Who knew robbing banks could be such a blast? And who knew a wardrobe department could find anything that looked bad on Yvonne Strahovski? Once again Chuck returns to its geek roots, in an episode filled with in-jokes, pop culture references, and an homage to an iconic science fiction series. This was one of the better episodes of Chuck, even as it rehashes yet again the tired old looking-for-daddy storyline that everyone in this show except Morgan and Casey have had to live through. This time it is Vivian Volkoff (Lauren Cohan, The Vampire Diaries), the daughter of evil mastermind Alexei Volkoff, who has only now learned about her father’s real character.
“I am the only one who can tell you about your father.” — Riley
We open with Vivian discovering her father’s secret vault, which contains one single clear glass credit-card shaped keycard. Her father’s lawyer Riley (Ray Wise, Reaper, Twin Peaks), urges her to take up the reins of the Volkoff empire, but she not only rejects the idea, but pins his hand to the desk with a letter opener (the apple does not fall far from the Volkoff family tree). Apparently Vivian doesn’t watch much television, or she would have noticed right off that the numbers etched into the card’s face are the most famous numbers in science fiction television: 4 8 15 16 23 42. These are the infamous “numbers” from Lost; nor is it the only sly reference to that series. When Vivian takes the key card to access her father’s bank account, the oily head of security, Guillermo Chen, is played by François Chau. Lost fans will recognize him as Dr. Pierre Chang. (As in many of his roles, Chau’s character combines a French first name with an Asian last name, echoing his own name. Cute.)
“Your father told me this box contained all of his most prized possessions.” — Chen
Chuck has established a rapport with Vivian, based on their shared father issues and his innate compassion. It makes perfect sense, therefore, for him to accompany her to the Macau bank where Volkoff stashed his most prized possessions. (Chuck’s paste-on porn ‘stache makes less sense, but then wardrobe and makeup are the recurring in-jokes of this entire episode.) Vivian is stunned to learn that those prized possessions are baby pictures of her; no one expected to learn that Alexei’s love for his daughter ran this deep. As he is sneaking through back doors in the bank, Chuck spots a room full of servers that he instantly identifies as stolen Chinese military-grade hardware (hey, he does work at a computer store). Why a black-market bank run by the richest thugs in the world would need to steal anything, when American companies would fall all over themselves to sell it to them, beats me. Force of habit, maybe. At any rate, General Redhead decides that a return visit to the bank is required, so that Vivian can plant a gizmo to track data on the servers and deliver it to the CIA. But this time, Vivian wants a better incentive to cooperate. She wants to see her father. Chuck gives her his word that she will, and the General comes up with yet another loopy plan.
“Gear up. You two are going to rob a bank.” – General Beckman
Which leads us to the funniest bank robbery since George Burns donned Groucho glasses to rob a bank inAll Good Things. Chuck and Sarah return to the Macau bank, but this time dressed as the main characters in The Matrix, all black catsuit and swirling trench coats. Of course they don shades, and of course they execute a few Matrix-style moves (multiple back flips? In a catsuit??). Not content with referencing The Matrix, they also fire off some Pulp Fiction-style banter, right down to Tim Roth’s “honey bunny” line, as Sarah tells Chuck she has finally found the perfect bridal gown.
Sarah: Ellie was right. When I put it on, it felt like magic. (to bank personnel) GET DOWN ON THE GROUND BEFORE I BLOW YOUR FREAKING HEAD OFF!
Chuck: I’m so glad you found a dress. That’s awesome. And I bet you look gorgeous in it. (to bank personnel) DON’T BE A HERO, MY FRIEND. I WILL BREAK YOUR FACE!
Definitely one of the funnier moments in the series. It’s another of the scenes that I will remember from this series long after it is gone, the perfect homage/parody of a pop culture icon.
“If this mission is going to work, you’re going to have to turn that girl into a Volkoff.” – General Beckman
Looks like the General will do that, even if Chuck can’t. As anyone but Chuck could have guessed, the General welshes on her agreement, refusing to allow Vivian to see her father. This was the most contrived moment in the entire story, a moment so unbelievable it stuck out like a sore toe. If, as Beckman claims, it was too much of a security risk to allow them to meet face-to-face, why not use all those nifty spy cameras and stealth communications devices to set up a videophone conference? It would not compromise security, and would mollify an asset who is important to Beckman’s plans. Beckman has made stupid moves before (as in, every single plan she has ever come up with), but this one was particularly pointless. It had Obvious Plot Device written all over it. Of course I understand that the idea is for Vivian Volkoff to become Anakin Skywalker, turning to the Dark Side, but must we be hit over the head with CIA incompetence yet again? We end with Vivian in a car, talking to Riley, who is tempting her once again to become her father’s heir and take over the evil empire. Tired as this plot is, I must confess it would be intriguing to see Chuck’s reaction to a female villain, one for whom he already has some sympathy.
“It’s kind of like J. Crew for spies.” – Chuck
The B-story started out as a yawn, but acquired some real depth along the way, primarily due to Yvonne Strahovsky’s work. Nothing bores me faster than wedding plans, or the materialistic squeeing that accompanies them. I particularly hate sequences where mature, professional, smart women like Ellie and Sarah start channeling their inner prom queens, obsessing over flowers and cake. Sarah is clearly out of her depth with all this girly domestic stuff, and Ellie advises her to find her one thing about the wedding, her one wedding epiphany, that will make it all real for her. Sarah discovers it with the Castle’s costume machine. This device, which manufactures clothing to order on the spot, was a delightful spoof of Q’s entire lab in the Bond movies. Q may be able to produce explosive pens and watches with darts, but by golly the Castle can finally find Sarah the one dress, the perfect dress, that finally brings tears of joy to her eyes. Strahovsky sold the scene as no one else could, making it a warm moment without the sappy sentimentality that otherwise could have overwhelmed it. And, naturally, Sarah picked the simplest, most elegant dress, one without the fantasy-princess frou-frou of the others. (Honestly, the wardrobe department for this show has to be congratulated on finding dresses that actually looked awful on Yvonne Strahovsky; that can’t be an easy task.) The fact that the dress Sarah picked has bullet holes in the back, as Casey points out, was a hilarious counterpoint to the drama of the moment. Even better, just before the whole wedding-planning story threatens to get maudlin, Sarah discovers her inner bride and turns into Bridezilla.
“The CIA has used you.” – Ray Wise
Chuck often casts popular actors as guest stars, but few of them have worked recently. Linda Hamilton was made of wood, and Timothy Dalton was less than convincing as a comic evil genius. Ray Wise, however, is an inspiration. Born to play the Devil, he absolutely killed me when he started reading Alexei Volkoff’s letter to his daughter with Alexei’s Russian accent. When Vivian stops him, he pouts that he has been rehearsing it for weeks. Riley is the perfect bad guy, a smooth operator with a core of violence, who tells Vivian just enough of the truth to make the truth a lie. He knows just enough about Chuck to spin Chuck’s compassion and empathy as deceit to Vivian. There can never been too much Ray Wise on my television; I hope he sticks around. Likewise, Lauren Cohan’s Vivian is just shady enough, has just enough distrust in her eyes, to make me wonder if she isn’t playing everyone in this story for a sucker. That’s enough doubt to make me keep watching her, even if her story arc looks as old as dirt.
“No, Morgan, don’t lead with the beard. Let it be a pleasant surprise.” — Morgan
The rest of the storylines felt forced, as if the writers were cramming lines into the script at the last minute to give Adam Baldwin, Josh Gomez and the Buymorons something to do. Renaissance Faire jokes? Seriously? Morgan’s search for a new place to live lands him across the courtyard from Chuck; how cozy. Didn’t it occur to him that if he’s living in the same apartment as his girlfriend’s lethal dad, the opportunities for sleepovers will be very limited? And I got tired of the joke about Big Mike and Morgan’s mom a long time ago. I could have slept through these scenes and still enjoyed the show; I only wish the writers were not wasting these fine actors. And where the heck was Captain Awesome?
Chuck held pretty steady in the ratings, with this episode coming in at around 5.5 million viewers, a 1.6 share in the 18-49 demographic. These are, as usual, dismal numbers against, say, ABC’s Castle at nearly 11 million viewers. But since the rest of NBC’s Monday night shows finished just as badly (fourth place for most of the night), it may be too soon to write Chuck’s obituary. It’s holding steady, but still teetering.