By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall
Mondays on NBC at 9/8
“Chuck vs. The Other Guy”
Written by Chris fedora
Directed by Peter Laure
“You’re still Chuck. You’re still my Chuck.” — Sarah Walker
Everything that was wrong with Chuck last week was right with Chuck this week. For every stupid plot obstacle, we got a resolution–Casey back on the Team, Morgan on the Team. For every stupid relationship obstacle, we got a resolution–Sarah declares her love, and she and Chuck get a bedroom scene in Paris. For every stupid mission, we got a resolution–the Ring director is captured. Chuck even passed his own “red test”, but in his own unique way. Frankly, if it were up to me, I might call this a series finale and get the hell out of Dodge. You couldn’t close this series on a higher note.
Originally, NBC had ordered only 13 episodes for this year, and this thirteenth episode looks as if it had been written as as series finale. However, we now know there will be six more episodes, albeit after a hiatus of several weeks. From this faux finale, the show could go anywhere. I’d like to see it become a funny version of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but I suspect the writers have Get Smart in mind instead.
We ended last week at a low point for the series and the season: having discovered that Sarah killed his wife, Shaw plans to kill her. Sarah has already told Chuck she can’t be with him because (she believes) he killed a man in cold blood in order to qualify as a spy. This week, she knows that Casey killed the mole in Chuck’s “red test”, so he’s still “her Chuck”. Last week, Chuck thought he’d lost her; this week, he gets her back.
I loved the resolution of Chuck’s “red test”. When Chuck kills Daniel Shaw, it’s not because he’s been ordered to, or because it’s his duty, or to save the mission. He kills Daniel to save Sarah’s life, which is something “her Chuck” would have done on any day since they met. He didn’t have to be a spy to kill for her, he only had to be in love. After all, his shooting skills were honed by “Duck Hunt”, not the CIA. No matter what has happened to her, he’s still Sarah’s Chuck. And ours.
“No. There is another.” – Morgan Grimes
There were many reasons to love this episode: the return of geek culture (Star Wars references! Pretty in Pink references! Sonny Chiba movie posters! Guitar Hero!), Jeff and Lester trying to recruit Casey for their “crew”, Big Mike’s scenes with Morgan. General Beckman’s Clapper and Ayn Rand references were hilarious. Chuck and Sarah taking hostages in an increasingly crowded elevator was right out of the Marx Brothers (A Night at the Opera, in fact). I loved Sarah finally opening up to Chuck, and of course her “Shut up and kiss me” has been years in the making. But for me, the best moment was Casey reminding Chuck that, back before he was the Intersect, before he was a spy, he was smart. As always, the best stories are the ones where Chuck solves the problem with his native intelligence.
Thank goodness we have several weeks to savor this episode. Because I am certain the next one will screw it all up. I have very little faith left in this writer’s room, which has consistently come up with stellar, game-changing episodes, only to cut the ground from under them in the following week. They have no sense of pacing at all: it has taken far, far too long to get to this episode. Their idea of character development requires entire geological epochs. I would love it if they would put their minds to building better villains; Fulcrum was unlikely enough, but it was forgotten at the end of Season Two. Now we’ve been slogging along after the Ring, which turns out to be an even more inept bunch of villains than Fulcrum. How about having Team Bartowski go up against something really tough, like a biker gang made up of retired accountants?
I will give the writers credit for the clever way some loose ends were tied up in “Chuck vs. The Other Guy”. Casey’s bargaining with General Beckman not only for his own reinstatement, but Morgan’s addition to the Team, was a lovely surprise. It was a nice touch to let Morgan be the one to discover that Shaw faked his fight. It made perfect sense for Morgan to connect with Casey through their shared value: loyalty.
If the writer’s room performs erratically, the green room does not. The acting in Chuck continues to be top notch, particularly Zach Levi. He absolutely sold the scene where he is drunk and morose enough to be honest with Sarah, honest and desperate enough to ask what may be the most painful and difficult question any of us will ever ask: Do you love me? Her answer simply lit him up like a candle in a pumpkin at Halloween. Yvonne Strahovski finally got to crack a couple of smiles, let go a few tears, and show some actual joy. She has been playing Repressed Sarah for so long, it was a relief to the audience to see her finally unleash the happy. Adam Baldwin continues to humanize Casey while retaining the essential thug, a difficult task at best. And Josh Grimes’ Morgan has moved from the character I wanted to kill to the character I want to hug.
“I told you a lot of things to get you here.” — Daniel Shaw
Brandon Routh went out well. His character started his run by shooting himself when Chuck couldn’t, so naturally Chuck had to shoot him by the end of his appearance. Routh had a hard job, what with the countless fakeouts with his (often badly written) character. Last week, he showed shock and outrage when shown the video of Sarah killing his wife. This week he tells Sarah he was playing her from the beginning, that everything he said to her to date was designed to lure her out, which indicates he knew it was her all along. I have nothing but sympathy for an actor yanked around by scripts like this. His portrayal was more nuanced than we are used to seeing in such a broadly acted comedy, and I hope viewers can give him credit for that.
“I appreciated the tank.” — Sarah
Of course, the major payoff is Chuck and Sarah’s relationship finally reaching fulfillment. Chuck may have fallen in love in the pilot, but what was he falling in love with? He had no more understanding of Sarah Walker’s true character than he did of Casey’s. All he really felt was physical attraction. Over the course of three years, he’s gotten to know the vulnerable and unhappy woman below the facade, and his love for Sarah now grows out of something more lasting than mere looks. Sarah confesses that she fell for Chuck in the pilot, before he started “defusing bombs with computer viruses”. In other words, she fell for the sweet, honest nerd, not the spy. Which means this whole three year journey to Paris was about Chuck learning about himself and Sarah, not about spies and Intersects. Sarah loves Chuck for the same reason we do–he’s sweet and honest. Casey respects Chuck for the same reason we do–he’s loyal and smart. This is a great way to end a long and troubling arc.
Chuck held onto its measly 2.1 rating from last week, generating another 2.1 in the 18-49 demographic with an overall 5.8 million viewers. The audience grew by about 300,000 viewers, which represents a three-week high for the show. That isn’t really cause for rejoicing, however, because it still put Chuckfourth in a field of four last night. However, NBC has renewed the abysmally performing Parks & Recreation, whose ratings are even lower than Chuck’s, and Chuck is a favorite among NBC execs. It may hang on by a thread. I only hope this stellar episode turns out not to be a case of too little, too late. Chuckhas six more chances to build an audience. Good luck, Chuck.