Chuck: “Chuck vs. the Living Dead”

Chuck Sees Dead People

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Stegall

Mondays on NBC at 9/8

“Chuck vs. the Living Dead”

Teleplay by Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar

You checked for a pulse, right? Haven’t you ever seen a John Carpenter movie? —Morgan Grimes

I can see why this episode was called “Chuck vs. The Living Dead”. There are more people popping up in this episode who were thought to be dead than in your average zombie movie. Foremost of these is Daniel Shaw (Brandon Routh), who seems to have more lives than a cat. Then Papa Bartowski (Scott Bakula), who is an on-again, off-again dead person (dead for tax purposes?) turns out to be living in a cabin so remote that he doesn’t get his paper delivered until mid-morning. By halfway through this episode, I was half expecting Bryce Larkin to walk through a door.

Papa Bartowski is being pursued by the Ring, through Ellie. Ellie is hiding her contact with the Ring from Devon, from Chuck, and from everyone else. She even believes Justin when he tells her John Casey is a trained assassin. Of course, Justin is exactly right, but Ellie has known Casey—or thought she has—for some time now. I find it annoying that she just ditches her own judgement and accepts Justin’s, without question. Ellie is not a stupid woman; why does she buy this codswallop that her father has to be “tricked” into being protected?

Despite Chuck’s best efforts, both Casey and Sarah finally figure out that Shaw is still alive. Casey gets in one of his better interrogation scenes of the series, as he takes Sarah back through her entire relationship with Shaw, step by step, while Chuck squirms and denies and generally exhibits all kinds of insecurity re: Daniel Shaw. Looks like our boy spy still has some growing up to do. Still, the Intersect works as intended, and Chuck flashes on Shaw’s apartment. He and Sarah climb up several stories on the outside of a building sheathed in glass. This scene reminded me so much of the old Batman series that I expected a window to pop open and a guest star to appear with a witty bon mot. As it was, I kept wondering why they had to climb up a sheer wall rather than walk right into the building.

Our couple climbs through a window into what they believed was the apartment of a dead man, yet neither Chuck nor Sarah seems to find it odd that all the lights are on. Using X-ray glasses out of an ad in the back of a Mad magazine (I swear), they find Shaw’s safe and are preparing to open it when someone enters. They hide in the closet (where Chuck uses the X-ray glasses to good effect on Sarah) until Chuck’s Chuck Taylors squeak on the hardwood floor, giving them away. The intruder flees, Chuck pursues, loses him (after discovering that he is Justin, not Shaw), and Papa Bartowski rescues his son.

Steve Bartowski: The mission is never over. There’s another one, and another one, and another one.

Papa is furious at being lied to. He’s furious that his son is still mixed up with the CIA and NSA. And most of all, he’s worried about what the Intersect will do to Chuck’s head. They open the briefcase from the safe and discover Shaw’s “spy will”, a document supposedly telling survivors everything a spy learned during his life. Since this entire show is a farce, there’s no point in complaining that this is wildly unrealistic—except I do. It’s a silly idea and a sillier plot device. Less silly, and more painful to watch, is Ellie’s unwitting betrayal of her father’s whereabouts. As he is storming out, she plants a tracking device on him so the Ring can find him. Fortunately, Sarah is almost as fast at tracking him, and she and Chuck arrive at the cabin just as the Ring is torturing Bartowski for the “governor”. Much fighting ensues, including a wicked move by Sarah that saves Chuck from a thrown knife.

Victorious, Chuck and his father and Sarah sit down to work things out. Chuck confesses he has the Intersect 2.0 in his head. Papa Bartowski tells him he knew that the Intersect was dangerous, so he built a “governor” (in his watch) that ameliorates the effects of every flash. He promises to support Chuck in whatever way he can. Meanwhile, somewhere in the bowels of a Ring hideout, someone with Daniel Shaw’s ID is downloading the Ring’s version of an Intersect. (We know it isn’t a real, genuine Bartowski IntersectTMbecause he’s not using the customary 128K Classic Mac).

Chuck: Dad, You know me. I wouldn’t lie.

Chuck needs to stop lying to people, for two reasons. First of all, it was Chuck’s innate honesty that made him such an appealing guy from the very beginning. He might have been a nerd, socially awkward, techno-obsessed, and liable to emit girly screams at annoyingly regular intervals. But he was still an honest, sweet, good-hearted guy, generous to a fault, capable of love and loyalty. He is still most of those things, but now he’s learning to lie. And he needs to stop it. I don’t mean the kind of lying that’s part of his job as a spy; I mean the kind of lying that destroys relationships. Like not telling Sarah that he may be suffering from brain damage. Like not telling his father he has an Intersect in his head and he’s still working for The Man. And like not telling his sister, who has been nothing but loyal and supportive for three seasons, about his spy life. Making him lie to these people, his nearest and dearest, on a regular basis erodes our respect for the character.

Sarah: You need to be honest with the people that you love, and that goes for me, too.

Secondly, lying always backfires. If Chuck thinks he’s got problems now, wait until his nearest and dearest discover how he’s been deceiving them. It won’t be just a matter of plot conveniences by then, it will be a matter of emotional betrayal. To lie to someone is to manipulate them, and a manipulative, cynical Chuck is a nightmare to even contemplate. Chuck is not good at lying. He will be found out. The question then will be whether he has the intestinal fortitude to own up, or whether he will take the coward’s way out with more lies. I hope it’s the former.

Lester: Art, good! Commercialism, evil! Weird! Chubby!

As always, the main story was mightily enhanced by the secondaries. Morgan interviews Devon about his daily routine, and learns that Devon caters to Ellie’s every whim as completely as Morgan himself could. I loved Casey’s comments that he often goes through pictures of people he has killed. I loved Chuck checking Sarah out with the X-ray glasses. And Casey gets hit on the head with a skillet—always funny. Jeffster, as I have often said, steals every scene they are in.

While at first I was mildly annoyed at the recrudescence of Daniel Shaw, now that I’ve thought about it, his reappearance may be a good thing. One of the (few) flaws in this show has always been the lack of a worthy opponent for Chuck. It was less of a problem earlier than it will be going forward, because Chuck is now more or less fully trained, and his challenge now is to turn those talents outward in the fight for good. Whereas earlier he struggled to master the Intersect, his fears, his clumsiness, and general lack of social polish, now he must use his wits and training against—whom? Fulcrum all but disappeared like dandelion fluff in a strong breeze. The Ring’s biggest accomplishment so far is to dupe Ellie—something Chuck is a past master at. Roark was a fun opponent for awhile, but didn’t last long. If a man is measured by his enemies, then Chuck is pretty short indeed. If, however, Shaw is not only back, but possesses an Intersect, we might finally see a battle of equals, a true Spy vs. Spy. It’s a great transition from the soap opera romance angst of this season, to a third season of action, adventure, and couples takedowns. I look forward to it.

Chuck‘s ratings didn’t surprise anyone: 5.2 million viewers, for a 3.0/5 share in the demo audience. NBC came in fourth place again. What did surprise and delight me was the confirmation this week that the network has ordered thirteen episodes—half a season—for the fall. I was hoping this show would get renewed, but cynical about its chances. I’m happy to be proved wrong. Next week is the Chuck season finale, and it’s two hours long. Don’t forget to set your recording devices accordingly.