Mondays on NBC at 9/8
“Chuck vs. the Lethal Weapon”
Written by Zev Borow & Matthew Lau
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Fulcrum: “What’s your real name?”
Barker: “Bond. James Bond.”
Aaaaand like a rubber band, Chuck snaps back into the groove. After two weeks of mediocre work, Chuck stepped up to the plate again Monday night with a fun, well-balanced episode that entertained and moved the storyline along. Naturally, he tells them the truth: “Bond. James Bond.” Right there, in the teaser, the show made up for all the disappointments of the last two weeks. I do so love sweeps month.
MI6 agent Cole Barker (Jonathan Cake, Law and Order: Criminal Intent) is back, this time being interrogated with a rubber hose by agents who keep asking him who he is. Despite the best (worst?) efforts of his tormentors, Barker does not break, does not tell them that Chuck is the Intersect. Having fought his way past nine (or is it twelve?) bad guys, he finds his way to the Castle and passes out, providing Agent Walker with some prime opportunity for hurt/comfort bonding. I find it very interesting that of the two men other than Chuck who have vied for Sarah Walker’s attention, both of them are spies and both of them have complicated relationships with Chuck. Bryce Larkin betrayed Chuck’s trust on several occasions, worked like half of a well-oiled machine with Sarah, and never took Chuck seriously as a spy. Barker refuses to betray Chuck to Fulcrum, works like half of a well-oiled machine with Chuck, and consistently defends Chuck’s spy abilities to Sarah, Casey, and the General. I like Cole Barker a lot.
Casey and Sarah are ordered to go undercover to an embassy party (hey, it wouldn’t be an episode of Chuck if someone didn’t get naked or go to a party, right?) to flush the mysterious “Perseus” (Robert Picardo, Stargate: Atlantis, Star Trek: Voyager), the man who constructed the Intersect. Chuck and Cole act as handlers and stay in the van (we already know how this is going to go, yes?) until things go bad—the men who tortured Barker take Casey and Sarah prisoner. Cole and Chuck race to the rescue—and Cole hands Chuck a gun. Chuck freaks but does his best to support Cole, and arrives just in time to prevent the execution of the one man who might be able to take the Intersect out of his head—by shooting him accidentally in the leg. Chuck is waylaid by an ankle-eating window frame, Casey and Sarah unleash hell on the bad guys, Perseus gets away, and Cole gets shot. More hurt/comfort bonding between Sarah and Cole ensues, with Chuck looking on from the sidelines with a sad puppy expression. Chuck now makes it his mission in life to find Perseus and get the Intersect out of his head.
Meanwhile, Chuck’s decision last week to move in with Morgan is fraying a bit, as Morgan’s girlfriend Anna gets hold of the lease agreement and thinks it’s for them. Morgan is desperate to move out because Big Mike’s affair with his mother is driving him nuts. In a hilarious “roast” sequence, Jeff and Lester take turns riffing on his situation, with versions of “Morgan is so grossed out…” jokes. It’s brilliant comedy, and it only gets better. Jeff and Lester offer to help “repulse” Anna from the idea, with the result that Morgan hands Anna a “Morgannuptial” agreement listing all his peculiarities that she will have to live with. It’s a pity this document was not available last week, so that the Awesomes (and we) would have been spared the image of a naked Morgan raiding the fridge at three in the morning. At least one hopes Anna, of all the characters in this show, will not be repulsed by the idea of a naked Morgan allowing his “worm to wriggle free” as Devon so… oddly put it. Jeff and Lester’s idea of repulsing Anna by playing archival tennis was just plain funny, even if it meant we had to see Jeff more or less in the buff. I so, so could have done without that. I’m deathly afraid that next week will bring us Big Mike au naturel, and I’ll have to check myself into rehab. (I kid, I kid. Mostly. At least we got plenty of shirtless Jonathan Cake to make up for it.) The BuyMorons continue to be one of the best comic-relief teams since the Three Stooges hung up their cream pies.
Chuck finds and pursues Perseus despite Casey and Sarah’s admonitions (what else is new?), and finally confronts the man who may have been, in a sense, his maker. He flashes on a document naming someone called “Orion” as the real developer of the Intersect, but before Perseus can tell him anything else, he is conveniently shot dead by Fulcrum agents. Sarah once again saves Chuck’s life with one shot and Chuck is left, if not in a better position, at least with more hope of getting free of the Intersect than he used to have. Cole says goodbye to Sarah after she refuses to come with him, and he advises Chuck to never take “no” for an answer. Not that Chuck ever has, but it’s a sign of the respect Cole has for Chuck, a refreshing new attitude in this show.
“Just so you know, I am going to get this thing out of my head one day. I will. And when I do, I’m going to live the life that I want with the girl that I love. Because I’m not going to let this thing rob me of that. I won’t.” —Chuck
Chuck, in turn, tells Sarah that he’s “crazy about her”, which in the Chuckverse is about as solid a declaration of love as we are likely to get. He also promises that he’s going to have it all—he’ll get the Intersect out of his head, he’ll have the life he wants, and the girl he wants. Then he goes back to his room and takes down his Tron poster, and we see that the back of it has become his conspiracy chart, where he tracks all the elements that have turned his life upside down. I love this ending, where in the space of three or four minutes we see a quietly mature Chuck, now sure of what he wants and what his goals are, actively pursuing them not with the spy skills of a John Casey or even a Cole Barker, but with the weapon that trumps both of them—his brains.
I don’t know if this marks a permanent change in Chuck, or if we’ll see him next week as unsure of himself as he has been up to this point. However, I have to applaud the very complex character that is Chuck Bartowski. Week after week, the writers and Zach Levi give us a consistently believable portrait of a geek who is also a grownup, not a fanboy, not an immature man in a permanent state of arrested development. It’s tricky, yet Levi pulls it off effortlessly every week. He’s every bit as authentic when he’s freaking out over holding a gun as he is when quietly telling Sarah how he feels about her.
Sarah Walker, however, is a mess. She’s dishonest. She won’t even admit her feelings to herself. She wants to be the shining heroine Chuck sees her as, but she can’t. She has extremely low self-esteem. She relies on what she does to define her, not who she is inside. She doesn’t really know who she is inside. Yvonne Strahovski does an outstanding job delineating this character, but I have to admit that as written, Sarah is much shallower than Chuck. I still am not really sure what Chuck sees in her, other than her stunning beauty. She has lied to him, pointed guns at him, manipulated him. A man who put up with this would normally be someone I would despise as a doormat, but Chuck sticks with her not out of low self-esteem but out of love. Chuck knows who he is and what he is (ubergeek!). He has a solid, loving sister and good friends to anchor him, even in his unglamorous life. This actually makes him stronger than Sarah. Chuck sees something below Sarah’s surface, something vulnerable, and being the protective kind of guy he is, he wants to embrace that—but she won’t let him. Which is why the continual frustration of their non-relationship is so unnecessary. Just working out the dynamics of those two personalities after they got together would be fascinating. Holding them apart forever robs us of the opportunity to see these characters mesh and grow, which is far more interesting to me than this silly guessing game.
Not that we’re likely to ever see the end game anyway. Despite a really stellar episode, Monday night’s audience was a mere 5.69 million, down nearly one million from last week, its smallest audience ever. With numbers like that, it doesn’t even really matter what the demographics breakdown was. Suffice to say that the timeslot winner, Dancing with the Stars, had an 18-49 demographic that almost equaled Chuck‘s entire audience. I’m afraid that with the last two mediocre episodes, Chuck may have finally driven away the lukewarm viewers and now is down to its core fan base. If so, this is terrible. A show in this precarious a position ratings-wise can notafford to turn in less than a top-notch episode, every single time, especially after a weeks-long hiatus. Worse, NBC is planning to show a re-run next week instead of a new episode. I think this is terrible timing. I dearly love this show, but unless it gets a shot in the arm of some kind, or is moved to a kinder night, I don’t think it’s coming back in the fall.