Mondays on NBC at 9/8
“Chuck vs. The Third Dimension”
Written by Chris Fedak
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill
Chuck: Tyler, that’s not such a good idea.
Tyler: All the greatest nights of my life have begun with that very sentence.
Usually, when a show resorts to gimmicks like 3-D to gain viewers, it’s a sign of desperation. While that might be the case with this episode of Chuck, it is also part and parcel of the geek culture it so vividly taps. And it is somehow even more appropriate that the effort fails, at least for me. Even with special glasses, there was nothing special about the “three dimensional” shots in “Chuck vs. The Third Dimension”; in fact, I had to ditch the glasses at the first commercial break because they were causing my eyes to cross. It’s just as well, because it’s pointless to judge an episode of a comedy on the technical genius of a few camera tricks. Like any episode, this one must stand or fall on the story.
Still disturbed by Sarah’s execution of Fulcrum agent Mauser at the end of the last episode, and even more disturbed by the fact that she lied to him about it, Chuck is off-center, disgruntled, and plagued by nightmares—like the one in the opening sequence, where a lingerie-clad Sarah threatens him with a knife. Ellie and Devon recommend that he take a little time off, and it almost looks like he might get that wish. The Buy More is hosting an appearance by rock star Tyler Martin (Dominic Monaghan, Lost, The Lord of the Rings), and the crowds pretty much ensure that Chuck’s services won’t be needed that day. But then Chuck foils an attempt on Tyler’s life and suddenly the day turns dramatic. Casey and Sarah are more concerned about the threat to Chuck’s life, so they start an investigation into Tyler. To do so, they “secure” him with a tranquilizer dart and leave him in Chuck’s custody.
Bad idea. Tyler, having a “rock star metabolism”, recovers more quickly than Casey expected, and heads out for the clubs. Chuck follows along to keep tabs on him. And who doesn’t relish a pub crawl through the neon underbelly of… Burbank? Slamming back shooters with a self-described “rum-soaked narcissist” is not the best preparation Chuck could have chosen for guard duty. While Tyler shows off his tattoos, two lovely ladies show up and start hitting on him. Ever the generous “wingman”, Tyler introduces Chuck as a member of the band, and we are treated to Zach Levy’s amazing Cockney accent for a couple of hilarious minutes. Might want to work on that accent, Chuck, if you really want to be a spy.
In the ensuing scenes, most of them shot to include at least one 3-D oriented moment, we learn that the girls are assassins (duh) and that they want to get Chuck out of his pants (in which they are not alone). Reduced to T-shirt and boxers, Chuck suffers an attack of shyness, warns off Tyler, and finds himself riding an exterior elevator. (In one of the subtlest callbacks of the series, he finds himself interrupting a second-honeymooning couple in the elevator. They are the same couple he interrupted in “Chuck vs. The Seduction”. While climbing up their balcony, they step on his hands, causing him to fall. In this ep, they abandon him to his fate on the exterior elevator. This is one hell of an in-joke, even by Chuck standards.) Sarah and Casey rescue Chuck and Tyler, and Chuck flashes on Tyler’s tattoos. It seems that Tyler’s manager is using his client as a billboard; the tattoos carry information about illegal nukes.
Oh, come now. This is sillier than the whole 3-D gimmick. Why would any sensible bad guy place critical secret information in so public a place as a rock star’s tattoos, and what was their exit plan once the project was complete? Erase the tattoos? Erase the rock star? Is there no other way this information could have been communicated? I know this is a farce and a comedy, but that’s just downright dumb.
This is one of those episodes where the parts did not add up to the whole, much less exceed them. I can pick out individual moments that worked—Chuck’s opening dream sequence, Sarah’s vamping, Casey’s “tasty little trank darts”, and Tyler’s “rock star metabolism”. But taken as a whole, the plot made little sense, even by the standards of Chuck. The tattoo idea doesn’t work. The B story, with the Buy Morons competing for a Golden Ticket (hello, Willy Wonka) to one of Tyler’s performances, was pretty routine—except for the highly disturbing discovery that Lester wears women’s underwear. (And what’s with all the underwear on this show? We get Sarah in her underwear, Chuck in his boxers, and Lester… oh, let’s not think about that.) On the whole, my enjoyment of this episode derived more from the fact that the show was back, than from the plotline.
One bit I was glad to see was the attempt at resolving the rift between Chuck and Sarah from the last episode. Chuck’s anxiety over what he perceives as Sarah’s cold-bloodedness is somewhat relieved when they finally discuss it. However, if this was intended to be a full restoration of trust between them, I don’t think it worked. It wasn’t that Mauser was an innocent man; Chuck knew first hand that he was dangerous and planned to kill Ellie. I don’t even think Chuck was so bothered that Sarah shot an unarmed man; it was that she lied about it to him. That’s disrespectful of the trust she demands of him. And that’s the one part of that incident she does not explain to him—why she lied. Chuck can accept the assassination, just barely, as a necessary evil. The lying, not so much. Sarah’s excuse, that she “forgot” that Chuck is not a professional spy, is disingenuous. Lady, it’s your job to protect Chuck precisely because he’s not a spy. Not buying it. The trust issue is still open between these two.
If the 3-D camerawork was a moderately failed gimmick, the shout-outs are a more successful one. There are constant meta references throughout the show, as in the use of the “Marriage of Figaro” in a scene where Butterman (Jerome Bettis) is selecting a soda as Morgan and Jeff discuss his prison time. As in Morgan’s quote, “Get busy living or get busy dying” and Butterman’s reference to Zihuatanejo, it’s from The Shawshank Redemption, a prison movie. I’d like to think that Tyler describing one of his tattoos as meaning “Serenity” is a callout to Adam Baldwin’s old show. And the Molly Ringwald reference was pretty much obligatory, given the frat-boy atmosphere pervading the Buy More Triathlon. Little self-conscious references like this give the show that edge of irony that just balances the sometimes too-sweet characterization of Chuck.
Thanks to massive promotion during the Super Bowl, Chuck delivered an audience of 8.35 million, a 20% increase in 18-49 rating, and a 24% increase in total viewers. This is the best rating for this time period for NBC in the previous 11 months. I’d love to think these new viewers will stick around for the next episode; let’s just hope they don’t expect 3-D technowizardry every time.