You Can’t Touch This
Mondays on NBC at 9/8
“Chuck vs. The Predator”
Written by Chris Fedak
Directed by Jeremiah Chechik
Lester: Look on the bright side. We don’t have to buy toilet paper for years.
Jeff: Why start now?
This one is all about diversion, from a computer going astray to a Predator attack drone being yanked around in mid-air from one target to another. It’s about pople who don’t really know themselves, too, to such an extent that their lack of self-awareness puts them at risk. And at the end of the episode, Chuck shows how dark his world has finally become–he lies to Sarah Walker. Yeah, this is one we can sink our teeth into.
Having learned in the last ep that the Intersect was crafted by a character named Orion, we now find Chuck desperately looking for Orion. He may not be a trained operative, but he knows computers and he’s not stupid. So he homebrews a search program, draws diagrams on the back of his Tron poster (I so love that), and finally gets a hit from the shadowy Orion himself. Orion uses ASCII characters to draw a self-portrait, and communicates over the Internet using an old-school amber-on-black command line interface. DOS, anyone? Or even C/PM. What’s next, a stack of punch cards? Odd behavior from someone sophisticated enough to program a computer into someone’s head. But we should have known that the Intersect would be both ahead of and behind its time; in the pilot (and in Chuck vs. The Breakup), we saw that the Intersect is housed in an original 128K Macintosh. My keyless car remote has more processing power. This has to be the ne plus ultra of computer geek love, a show that reveres the memory of its cyber ancestors and lovingly honors the code monkeys who created them.
Orion promises to deliver a “safe” computer to Chuck, but does Orion want to help him or kill him? The answer seems to be the latter, when Lester (lusting for the latest release from Roark Industries) diverts the delivery to himself. He and Jeff check it out in Jeff’s “office”. This turns out to be a literal rendition of the old “step into my office” joke about bathrooms; Jeff’s hideaway is a lavishly redecorated stall in the men’s room. From this sancturay, the BuyMorons explore the laptop, and engage in what they think is a war game. The Predator drone they launch, however, is very real, and only Chuck’s last-minute diversion saves the downtown Beverly Hills BuyMore from fiery destruction.
Which brings me to the Civil War. No, not that one. I mean the one between the Burbank branch and the Beverly Hills branch of BuyMore. The rivalry begins with some toilet paper re-decorating in the Burbank branch, and culminates in a toppling-shelf domino scene right out of “The Mummy”. Which is surely no coincidence, because this episode introduces a world class Bad Guy into the spy world: Arnold Vosloo’s (The Mummy) Vincent. Can any casting be more perfect than the Mummy himself as the master operative of Fulcrum? Better yet, he gets to come back to life at least once in this episode, after having apparently suicided to prevent capture. Vosloo’s Vincent looks like he could end the war in Iraq single handedly, with a few well-placed assassinations. He is the only villain in this series yet who looks like a match for John Casey for sheer malevolence. But then, in classic Chuck fashion, he turns a meeting with the ominous Fulcrum Council (which looks like five mannequins) into farce: “I’m going to the Buy More. You want me to pick something up for you?” I hope he sticks around, because I really like Vincent.
Big Mike confiscates the laptop, believing it to be the Roark computer. Two burglary teams converge on the shop that night–Sarah, Casey and Chuck, and Lester and Jeff. Emmet has been assigned guard dog duty, and spends a goofy two minutes talking himself up to the role, unaware he is being overheard. Chuck gets the computer back, just as Vincent arrives to take it from him at gunpoint. Casey takes out Vincent with a concealed weapon, and Vincent swallows a poison pill. The General forbids Chuck to touch the computer, however, claiming that it may be boobytrapped or a decoy. Which is not just dumb, but disrespectful of her. Despite her claim that she has had whole brigades of agents looking for Orion, the General has come up short–yet Chuck found him in only a few days. The General, as usual, denigrates Chuck’s contribution to the team. She personifies lack of self-awareness so completely, she shold be an entry in Wikipedia.
Chuck does not follow orders (duh), and even as the General arrives to question Sarah’s commitment to her role, Chuck sneaks back into the Castle to play with the laptop. Just as Orion contacts him for a face to face meeting, Vincent revives and takes him hostage. Diversion again, as he takes Chuck to the meeting place and forces him to identify himself to Orion (who uses a wrist mounted computer, like the Predator in the movie Predator. Heh.). Orion is taken by Vincent’s men just as Sarah and Casey arrive to rescue Chuck. But Chuck doesn’t want to be rescued, he wants to save Orion. Alas, at the last moment, Orion diverts the Predator to take out his own location, destroying him and his captors. Or does he? Anyone want to place bets on whether this, too, was a diversion?
Back in his room, Chuck discovers Orion’s legacy–the plans for the Intersect. And when Sarah comes in to make sure Chuck still trusts her he hides the plans from her. It amounts to an outright lie to Sarah, and in my opinion marks a turning point in the show. And who can blame him? Apart from all the other times Sarah has lied to his face, Chuck has also witnessed Sarah confirming to the General that she will help keep Chuck away from Orion, to prevent Chuck from actually losing the Intersect. Chuck is devastated by this betrayal, moaning, “Oh, no, Sarah.” Chuck has always been honest with Sarah, even if he was forced to lie to everyone else in his life. He hates the lying. He wants to trust people. But when his last hope of removing the Intersect is gone, he finds he can no longer trust Sarah Walker. And he lies to her. This is a significant moment; I eagerly wait to see where this goes.
Pop culture in-jokes came fast and furious, starting with Big Mike’s parody of Sean Connery’s speech from Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables (“They put one of yours in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue.”) to Morgan’s echo of his tag line (“That’s the Buy More way”). And naturally, when Big Mike goes looking for vengeance, he not only carries his weapon in the de rigeur violin case, but it turns out to be Big Al Capone’s weapon of choice in Untouchables–a baseball bat. But the cap of the show wasn’t anUntouchable reference–it was Chuck hiding the Intersect plans in an “Ex Machina” comic book. That book, based on a superhero who communicates with machines, is an homage not only to the comic book culture of the Nerd Herd, but to Chuck and Orion. Brilliant. And of course, there were other visual references to the movies–the slo-mo strut of the BuyMorons a la The Right Stuff, or Big Mike’sApocalypse Now reference: “I love the smell of Burbank in the morning!”
Props have to go to Tony Hale, whose Emmett looks more and more like Dwight Schrute (The Office) every week. Whereas I started out disliking the character of Morgan Grimes in the first episodes, I have come to love this little hairy man, and even more so now that we know he has Superman sheets on his bed. The Fulcrum mannequins looked so much like the Final Five in Battlestar Galactica I expected Starbuck to walk in. And much as I dislike General Beckman, her remark to Casey that “the 80s are dead” and his responding grunt of disappointment were solid gold. But for me, the single funniest moment was visual. When Morgan is in bed, morosely listening to Big Mike and his mom go at it in the next room, the camera cuts to Big Mike and Mamma. There is a photograph of Morgan sitting next to the bed–and his expression is exactly the same. Self-reference does not get any better than this.
So how much more of this delicious wit can we expect? Possibly not much. I hate to be so pessimistic about such a good show, but the demise of Pushing Daisies has made me even more cynical than usual. Nor am I alone. Show creator Josh Schwartz, in a recent interview, said, “It’s in the single most-competitive time period on TV right now. It’s, like, Dancing with the Stars, House (and) the CBS comedies are all top 20 shows. I love the show, and we have a lot of ideas for Season 3, but it’s by no means guaranteed to come back. I wouldn’t say it’s in trouble, but I would say it’s up in the air. We are on the bubble.” (Source: USA Today) Monday night’s episode racked up 6.05 million viewers for a 2.2/6 share. It was number four in the 18-to-49 demographic, which I would have said was its perfect audience. These aren’t great numbers; I am somewhat encouraged by the fact that NBC is not drawing great numbers anywhere. Maybe it doesn’t look so bad from the network suites. As yet, no announcements about renewal have come down, so hope remains. And Chuck is such an optimist, I’d like to hope he’ll stick around.