Chuck: “Chuck vs. The Imported Hard Salami”


By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall


Mondays on NBC at 9/8

“Chuck vs. The Imported Hard Salami”

Written by Scott Rosenbaum & Matt Miller

Directed by Jason Ensler

“He had me at pastrami.”

When even Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez) gets a girlfriend, we know we’re in sweeps month. I think there was more kissing going on in this episode than a whole week of soap operas. First we get Lou (Rachel Bilson) and Chuck making out in the Nerd Herd car in a funny homage to Rose and Jack in the Model T in Titanic–complete with sweaty hand on the window. Then we get Chuck placing the sexiest sandwich order in the history of delis, picking up Lou and kissing the hell out of her. Then Sarah kisses Chuck and defrosts the entire contents of my refrigerator from ten feet away. I didn’t know if I needed a cigarette after this episode–or a Reuben sandwich.

Chuck launches the spy plot when he flashes on a poster in Lou’s deli and discovers that her ex-boyfriend, Stavros Demitrios, is a smuggler. Casey and Sarah confirm that Stavros (Theodore Zouboulidis, El Greco) and his father Yari (John Kapelos, Monk) are expecting a large delivery from Finland; they are ordered not only to intercept the shipment but to scope out Chuck’s new girlfriend. Casey delights in twisting the knife in Sarah, repeating “She got dumped” as often as possible during the conversation. They persuade Chuck to use a date with Lou to investigate Stavros, despite his reluctance to drag Lou into his secret life.

The one thing we can absolutely, positively predict on this show is that no one–whether it’s Chuck or Sarah–will stay in the car when told to do so. Twice Sarah leaps from the car/van and rushes to Chuck’s “rescue”–only to totally screw things up. The first time, she screws up Chuck’s date with Lou, forcing him to that insanely hot apology in the deli. The second time is when she and Casey send Chuck into the Demitrios’ lair after Lou, under the impression that she is in league with Stavros. As it turns out, Lou is smuggling cured sandwich meats into the country–oops. As soon as Lou makes her awkward exit and Sarah arrives to “rescue” him, the Demitrios family takes them both prisoner. They wind up at the warehouse where the shipment has finally arrived, Casey concocts a smart plan to find out where they are, and enters, shooting, in the nick of time. The shipment looks a lot like a big blue vitamin, but is ticking down like a bomb. Chuck can’t flash on a way to defuse it, and as Sarah realizes they can’t get away in time before it explodes, she lays a passionate kiss on Chuck as a farewell.

Except that they don’t explode. And now Chuck knows Sarah isn’t lying about her true feelings any more. And Papa Demitrios gets taken out by a mystery sniper (Anthony Ruivivar, Traveler) who might be part of something larger and more sinister. And the big blue capsule turns out to hold the cryogenically preserved Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer, Traveler). Things are going to be very interesting next week.

Amusing coincidence: there are now two former cast members of Traveler, last summer’s short lived spy show, appearing in Chuck: Matthew Bomer and Anthony Ruivivar. If Aaron Stanford or Logan Marshall-Green shows up next week I’m going to get suspicious.

Did anyone not know who/what was in that big blue container? Of course it was Bryce. No one really dies on TV, especially on soap operas. The Brycicle is going to be a real spanner in the works. I’m ambivalent about this plot device–on the one hand, I am so over the idea of bringing in the ex boyfriend to muddle up a main romance. That cliché is so dead maggots won’t even eat it. Bringing Iced Bryce back to clear up the Intersect mystery, however, works just fine for me.

Chuck is developing into a wonderful character–“handsome, charming and brave.” This is the second episode in a row without a craven Chuck, and I’m loving it. A guy this smart has to have figured out by now how to handle the situations he gets into. I’ve also been afraid that presenting Chuck as a nerd would also require that he be an awkward adolescent in every romantic encounter; fortunately Lester (Vik Sahay) took that job this time around. Chuck was actually acting his age in this episode–not a Lothario, but with enough confidence and determination in him to wait a couple of hours in a crowded deli to apologize to Lou. And then did it with panache. How painful it must have been for him to be on the receiving end of Lou’s “Is this a real relationship?” conversation; and how utterly Chuck of him to end things with her with such dignity and respect. He doesn’t want to have to lie to her; he knows all too well what that side of a relationship feels like. I love how Chuck’s innate honesty bubbles up no matter how he’s pressured. I hope we continue to see this more mature, yet still funny, dorky, and humane Chuck in future episodes. Kudos to Zach Levi for showing us this evolution in such a realistic way.

Sarah is maturing a bit, as well. She seems to have learned a little about honesty and trust in this episode, but she’s still, if anything, even more emotionally shut down than Casey. I liked her evolving partnership with Casey, but did Sarah already know that Casey shot her lover Bryce? ‘Cause I was so hoping to see what would hit the fan once she found that out. Apparently she knew all along, which tells me she’s really repressed. I’d find it very hard to work with the guy who killed my lover, no matter how justified his actions. Much less would I call him, as Sarah did Casey last week, my “partner”. I loved Sarah turning Lester’s pseudo-suavity back on him, and her faux tears as she “sold” the fake breakup. I’d like to see a lot more depth in this character, though. So far she’s more surface than substance.

Casey the Master Thief once again steals every scene he’s in, right down to the giant stogie. He gets all the best lines:

Casey: Hasn’t that mirror suffered enough?

Chuck: I’m in the bathroom. Is there nothing you hold sacred?

Casey: The right to bear arms.

This is a wonderful character. Every week we see a new facet of him; last week he improvised a scanner in a milk carton, this week he posed as an FDA agent and remembered to bring Chuck a rose for his date with Lou. Yet he remains, as always, the dry wit, the emotionally constipated man of action. Kudos to Adam Baldwin for another well drawn character in his mighty repertoire.

But Morgan? With a girlfriend? No. Just … no. I found the Morgan/Anna subplot more creepy than funny, from Morgan telling Anna he’s a lone wolf (wolves mate for life, moron) to his breaking up with her over an intercom. (Wince.) Anna should hang that boy by his heels. Jeff’s claiming “dibs” on Anna was equally reminiscent of high school lunchroom behavior.

Which brings me to what seems to be the real theme of this episode: couples. In a way, Morgan and Anna are playing out the usual TV-geek stereotype: he remains a geek, refuses to grow up, and hooks a girl not because he’s cute but because she takes pity on him–as usual, a hot chick has to make do with a lesser male. This dysfunctional pair form a brief foil to the Chuck/Sarah relationship, which despite its obstacles is finally showing some signs of growth. The other foil couple in the series, Ellie and Captain Awesome, are posed as the perfect relationship–caring, honest and loving. Background couples such as Big Mike/Mrs. Tang show us even more dysfunctional hookups. I think I’m going to need a spreadsheet to keep track of these couplings.

I may look like I’m overanalyzing a spoof show, but then again, it’s why Chuck works at all. The premise of the show is inherently ridiculous. Almost every facet of the show shrieks self-parody, from the “Buy More” to the “Nerd Herd” to the “Intersect”. If that were all there was to this, Chuck would have burned out two episodes ago. What saves Chuck week after week is the same thing that savedThe X-Files from its own, equally ridiculous premise: the characters are played for realsies. Chuck, Sarah, and Casey are played straight. They have real emotions. They have real problems. Sarah is a seriously messed-up character with trust and intimacy issues. Casey is emotionally corked. Chuck has an inferiority complex as wide as his own smile. Watching them deal with these personal problems every week while trying to defuse (sometimes literally) a volatile crisis is both engaging and funny.

Chuck pulled a 3.1 rating, placing third in the ratings but once again maintaining half-hour-to-half-hour increases with every one of its eight Monday original telecasts as of the present. Chuck’s got legs; I hope it’s in for a long run.