The Things That Make You Great
By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Stegall
Mondays on NBC at 9/8
“Chuck vs. the Tic Tac”
Written by Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc
Directed by Patrick Norris
Sarah: Please don’t lose that guy that I met three years ago. Don’t give up on the things that make you great.
Chuck: I’ll always be that guy.
Who knew that it would be John Casey who would give Chuck his most indelible lesson on the price of becoming the “perfect spy”? It turns out that Iron John has a soft spot after all—for his long lost love, the woman he gave up to serve his country twenty years ago. And now the man who persuaded him to give her up and become John Casey is back. Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The X-Files) plays Colonel James Keller, a Tic-Tac eating special ops rogue who, as Sarah reveals, was responsible for “turning” Casey’s sensei back in “Chuck vs. the Sensei”. A Ring operative, now he has threatened to kill Kathleen McHugh (Clare Carey, Criminal Minds), the woman John renounced, unless he will steal a special experimental drug for the Ring. He does so and gets arrested for treason. Chuck and Sarah team up to break Casey out of jail, rescue his reputation, save the woman he loves from assassination, and recover the drug.
So now we know the limits of John Casey’s loyalty. He gave up the woman he loved twenty years ago. Now he gives up the country he loves to save her. He has learned one thing in three years, however: how to trust. In the end, he appeals to Chuck and Sarah to help him take down the Colonel, recover the drug, and save the unsuspecting Kathleen. Sarah gets in some kung-fu fighting of awesome dimensions, Chuck eats the drug and saves the day, and John learns that he has a daughter, who has no idea who he is. Mature enough to know that you can’t really go home again, John conceals his identity from Kathleen and his daughter. To spring his news on them now would confuse and dismay them, so he unselfishly renounces them… again. General Beckman drops the treason charges but fires Casey; his country has renounced him. Now Chuck knows how far loyalty and love will take a man, one he considered a “perfect spy”. All of Sarah’s nice speeches aside, Chuck now has a living example of the dedication and selflessness—and courage—it really takes to be a super spy. Does he really want this? At this point, it looks like the only one who really wants Chuck to become James Bond is Chuck, and he’s having second thoughts.
Love can certainly drive a person to do strange things. Casey is violating his loyalty oath for love, but Chuck is seeking the pill that will obliterate his emotions. Captain Awesome gives up his idea of a trip to Africa for love of Ellie. Even Sarah is worried that Chuck will no longer be the Chuck she loves. She is so confused, she actually takes the General up on an offer of a seat on a plane to DC. Has she left California (and Chuck) forever? Will Casey now become a mercenary? Will Chuck be on his own as the Buy More branch of the CIA? Tune in, as they say, next week.
I don’t really consider this a game-changing ep, since I don’t think John Casey’s exile will be permanent. He’ll find a way to re-up, because Casey without a (metaphorical) uniform is not Casey. Sarah’s heart belongs to Chuck, and she’ll be back. I was glad to see the Awesomes decide not to leave, because that would deprive us of one of the best married couples on TV.
The best part of this episode, for me, was the conversation between Chuck and Sarah, where she reminds him of who he is and what he was. The Chuck of Season One had his faults (screaming in terror on a regular basis, for example) but he was, above everything else, honest. He had compassion. He had faith in people. He was an optimist. Why anyone thinks a guy like that can turn himself into a trained killer, thief, and spy is beyond me. It appears to be beyond Chuck, but at least he’s now getting an idea of just how impossible that’s going to be. I like this maturing Chuck, and I really liked the Chuck/Sarah scenes in this episode. There was a note of honesty between them that is usually missing.
However, if I have watch one more scene where Sarah says Chuck is changing into someone else, or Chuck realizes he loves Sarah, I may throw something. Do we really have to have this brought home to us every episode? I realize that many viewers may be new to the show, but I don’t think the writers have to assume that they need this important information dumped on them every time. Savvy viewers—the only ones likely to stick with the show—will pick up on these two themes all by themselves. It’s a little condescending to be reminded every week of what we already know, ad nauseum.
High points of the night included Morgan spying on spies, complete with stakeout snack and running commentary on the video. He really is becoming a shorter, hairier version of Season One Chuck, which I find delightful. I loved the bleak shot of Casey alone in his empty apartment, nursing back to health the only thing he lavishes attention on—his bonsai tree. Sarah was warmer and more human in this episode than usual—maybe they should let Yvonne Strahovksi kick butt more often. Chuck’s acrobatics were not only well done, they were the perfect setup for the pratfall he took on their second visit to the CIA.
Overall, Chuck has seen a nice progression in three years, both as to character and story. It’s the kind of story arc that usually does not work, and is not encouraged by studios more interested in repackaging series for syndication than in aesthetics. It would seem the studio has a certain amount of faith in the show, since they have ordered 19 episodes this season. However, as much as it pains me to say this, perhaps the writers had best be preparing a series finale. Chuck has always struggled in the ratings, and even with the outstanding writing of the last two episodes, the audience is just not there. This episode saw a 17% drop from last week in the percentage of adults watching. I’d like to think the switch to Daylight Savings Time was to blame, but I can’t. If this kind of slide continues, I expect this to be the last season ofChuck. And if that is the case, I hope the writers will leave us with a real resolution of some kind, unlikePushing Daisies. That would be an unworthy end to a fine series.