By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Stegall
Mondays on NBC at 9/8
“Chuck vs. The Gravitron”
Written by Chris Fedak
Directed by Allison Liddi Brown
“Unleash the Casey.” — Chuck Bartowski
Ah, revenge is sweet. Who has not longed to find the one that got away, the one that broke your heart, and turn the tables on them? This episode brings to a close (I hope) the story of how Chuck got past the pain of his ex-girlfriend’s betrayal, got a little payback, and grew up a little. Having been scorned by her in the past, and now finding her betraying him again in the present, he uses her affection for him against her, right to the end.
After a fun night in bed with his ex, Chuck discovers by accident that Jill is not who she seems to be. Freaked out, he makes a run for it, is deflected by Sarah and Casey, and agrees to continue his role as “boyfriend” so as to help flush out Jill’s handlers in Fulcrum. Hello, Chuck, and welcome to another fake relationship. Unfortunately, the very thing that makes Chuck lovable–his innate honesty–makes him a horrible liar, and Jill is not fooled. She forces Chuck to go with her to meet her handler, a thug with the stupidly obvious name of “Leader” (Patrick Kilpatrick), at a carnival. Jill apparently still has feelings for Chuck, however, and refuses to shoot him, leading to a hilarious chase scene through a gravitron (whose controls are labeled “Touch this and you die!”), a fun house barrel tumbler, and a mirror maze. Jill saves Chuck’s life by shooting Leader. Casey and Sarah question Jill with a lie detector, and she gives up everything–her involvement in Fulcrum, her handler Leader and his whereabouts (getting stitched up).
While Casey and Sarah run off to capture Leader, Chuck questions Jill, who is still hooked up to the lie detector, about their past history. I loved Zach Levi’s performance in this scene–Chuck needs the answers to these questions, questions which changed his life and haunted him still, but he is also afraid to hear the answers. Nervous and sweaty, he nevertheless rips off the Band-Aid, and discovers that the past is not what he thought it was. Jill’s “honest” answers persuade Chuck she can be trusted, so he releases her. And naturally, she pulls a gun on him again, betraying him yet again. At this point, I think even a trusting soul like Chuck Bartowski comes to the end of the road.
But no, even after Leader locks up Casey and Sarah and threaten to kill them, Chuck still goes along with Jill, hoping for some kind of resolution where no one gets killed or hurt. He secretly unlocks Casey and Sarah (leaving the immortal message, “Unleash the Casey”, on Sarah’s PDA), and leads Jill and Leader through a secret trap door into the Buy More. Big Mike, mistaking Leader for a thief, takes him out with a tackle worthy of Refrigerator Perry on his best day. Jill tries to shoot Sarah, and that’s the last straw for Chuck. He tricks her into getting into a Nerd Herd car, triggers the “detention mode” (where do I get this feature added to my car?), and tells her, “You’re under arrest…and I’m breaking up with you.”
The plot holes in this A-story are large enough to drive a Nerd Herder through. By rights, Chuck should long since have “flashed” on his former ex-girlfriend Jill, and discovered that she is at the very least a spy. It’s not a question of her being in his database, since when he’s given the code word “Sand Storm” he flashes on her right away. So we have to ask why he didn’t make this connection earlier. Could it be that testosterone was blocking the inner workings of the Intersect? Jill is a member of Fulcrum but apparently not a CIA agent–despite the fact that so far we’ve been told that Fulcrum is composed of rogue CIA agents. What kind of secret ops base builds a detention center that contains internal connections to the controlling computer?
But you know what–I don’t care about the plot holes. This show is just too much fun. It’s mostly internally consistent, so I can live with the rest. I mean, a secret spy base underneath a shopping mall? Yeah, if you can swallow that, the rest is easy. The thing I think I love most about Chuck is that this show lives in a world of its own. It’s consistent enough on its own terms to make suspension of disbelief not only possible, but joyful.
As a professional technical writer, can I just say that my love for Chuck Bartowski doubled when he said he read the manual to the ops area? That makes Chuck one in a million. Only a guy who has made a million service calls to computer users who can’t be bothered to read their own manuals can truly appreciate the power of a well written manual, and use it. I knew as soon as he let himself out of the detention area that Chuck had unlocked Sarah and Casey’s cells, probably on a time delay. Smart Chuck once again uses his mad techno-ninja skillz to defeat the Luddites who threaten his world. (His message to Sarah, “Unleash the Casey”, should be a T-shirt. I’ll buy it.)
The secondary story, about Thanksgiving at the Buy More and at Ellie’s, was almost as funny as the main story. I loved Morgan’s soft-core porn fantasy about Ellie taking a turkey out of the oven. I loved Lester’s wide-eyed awe at the prospect of “real” turkey. The pop culture references I love were everywhere: the palm-to-window exchange between Lester and Morgan as Morgan escapes the Buy More (“Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan”), Casey reprimanding Chuck for blowing kisses (in violation of the Man Code?), Morgan praying for a Swedish Bikini Team to come through the door, and the wonderful slow-motion strut from “The Right Stuff”, when Big Mike and his three Nerd Herders round the aisle and walk towards the camera. Great stuff. I loved the calm, always in control Ellie freaking out over Thanksgiving with the in-laws.
As always, I am impressed by the way this show blends comedy, drama and action. Chuck’s bitter speech to Sarah (“You know, for a few days, I thought things were going to be different, I could have a life again.”) balances his panicked flight from Leader and later, his smooth improvisation in the Castle (love this new name for the Ops center). And for sheer physical comedy, I don’t know that anything in this series has yet approached the hilarious moment when Chuck gets off the Gravitron and tries to walk straight. Unless it is Big Mike taking out both Casey and Leader like a bowling ball taking down a row of pins. The only real complaint I have with this episode is the missing Anna: I miss Anna’s pouty-Goth presence, teasing the Nerd Herd boys.
Chuck held steady in the ratings this week, clocking 6.6 million viewers against juggernaut Dancing with the Stars. Chuck is still hovering just outside of the top ten NBC shows, but with NBC consistently coming in third on Monday nights, that is not all that encouraging. But it’s not bad news, especially since this was a “finale” episode for DwtS. At this point, NBC is probably happy not to be shedding viewers.