A nerd before the birth of TOS Red Shirts, I share my thoughts on genre media be it books, movies, TV shows, etc

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lessons Learned? Mostly – Episode 4.01: Chuck Vs The Anniversary

Written by Chris Fedak
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill
With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach I watched the fourth season of Chuck start out with a lie by omission aka a secret. Coupled with an inexplicable rationalization by Chuck – as proved wrong by Casey and Sarah’s willingness to not only help Chuck at the end of the episode but also to keep it a secret from General Beckman – that Sarah and Casey would block his mission to search for MamaB.
A wobbly start.
From that tenuous opening it took about half the episode for solid footing to return and allow the story momentum to hit its stride. By the time Sarah tried ‘sexting’ while enroute to Russia the show finally gained full traction and finished in rousing style. Given how loose the episode played with time, Chuck and Morgan could have just as easily gone off on the Indiana Jones style montage searching for MamaB without the need to have kept it a secret.
With the benefit of the additional six episodes last season all the threads from the original thirteen episode arc had been closed off. That allowed this episode to fully establish and position the rest of Season Four to commence starting with the very next episode. Something that did not happen until the fourth episode of Season Three.
The new BuyMore is indeed shiny and having General Beckman on site is a definite bonus. I am still of the mind that with the Gretas and with the impending return of the Big Mike, Jeff and Lester that a time crunch is unavoidable. Add in Alex to the mix and the pressure for precious screen time becomes greater in a show with an already large cast. The reluctance to lose the BuyMore is understandable since it is such a signature part of the show but Chuck the character and the series have moved past it. It is akin to having Captain Kirk warp back to StarFleet Academy after every mission. That being said the show gets full marks for bring the BuyMore back in a streamlined and as relevant manner as possible. Anyone want to take bets that the DefCon 1 Button is part of the next Pineapple scenario?
In a show that aims so broadly there are bits that will appeal to different sections of the audience. I enjoyed the Stanton RepoMan scenes but found the interview segments being sabotaged by Beckman a clunky way of bringing Chuck back to the BuyMore. A more focused aim with the humor culled from a tighter storyline would be my preference. The standout sequence from the first half was the HongKong roof jump by Casey and Sarah. Markus setting off the EMP and blacking out the surrounding city scape was very cool.
Episode Flashes:
  • Linda Hamilton is MamaB!
  • Chuck and Sarah spy version of spouse leaving for business trip
  • Morgan/Chuck Rogue Team
  • Morgan flexing
  • Nerd Herd icon Lost Arking their progress on world map – little miffed about Canada being excluded – overlayed with Morgan and Chuck silhouettes I Spying and Avengering across the screen
  • Repo – ‘Harry Dean Stanton’ – showing up to reposses a $900 AMC Pacer and yellow at that
  • Markus using the portable EMP and blacking out surrounding Hong Kong skyline
  • Sarah openly and Casey grudgingly missing Chuck on the mission
  • Casey/Sarah roofjump from HongKong skyscraper – ode to The Dark Knight
  • Casey getting a Season 3 Callback to Sarah’s, ‘Thank You.’
  • Morgan sexting Chuck to Sarah
  • Sade, ‘Smooth Operator,’ reference by Chuck during the interview sequence
  • New and improved CIA/NSA owned and operated BuyMore/Castle – shiny! And it has slides!!!!
  • Beckman is in da house! Great idea to have Bonita Friedericy onsite and from behind the desk.
  • Olivia Munn as Greta – very pretty but not very relevant to story
  • Sarah finds ‘sexting’ cute
  • We’ll always have Tangiers. Ie RUN!!!!!!!!
  • Weapon Orders via a Chinese Dumpling Take-Out Menu – brilliant!
  • Morgan covers the trip to Volkoff Industries by selling his prized Millenium Falcon replica
  • Sarah posing awkwardly for ‘sexting’
  • Nerd icon and Casey/Sarah LearJet icons intersecting in Russia
  • Lundgren says it! ‘I must break you.’ And does kickass job as a guest star.
  • The new spy nom de plume, ‘The name is Carmichael. Michael Carmichael.’ Move over Bond!
  • MORGAN! – ‘Respect the beard.’
  • Sarah toe sexting!
  • Morgan learns from Season 3 bomb detonator finale and stays away from handling portable EMP.
  • Chuck and Morgan developing world class rep because they use public transportation
    off stage Chuck Intersect fight with 10 baddies and fire fight in dark cool ways around budget limitations
  • Casey and Sarah’s reactions when they believe Chuck has been killed
  • Chuck and Morgan hiding under table in the dark
  • Casey and Sarah agreeing to help Chuck find MamaB and keep it from Beckman
  • Did I mention Linda Hamilton is MamaB and a kickass one at that!! Woah! Great closing scene and her character and codename – Frost – leaves us with mixed signals.

Team B - Ready To Take On The World
The episode really hits its stride in the second half of the episode when Team Barktowski all converge in Russia. From Morgan’s, ‘Respect the beard,’ and ‘Michael CarMichael,’ to Markus’s belief that Chuck and Morgan are master spies – hilarious and delivered with perfection by Dolph Lundgren – to Casey and Sarah’s reactions of grief and relief over Chuck to the off screen ChuckFu and fire fight to using a bus as a getaway vehicle; it is Chuck at its best.
To cap it off Chuck and Sarah reach a new agreement. No lies. No secrets. Chuck honors the agreement and brings Casey and Sarah fully in the fold. The show ends with Team Bartowski in synch, working as an unit, covering each other’s back, and ready to take on the man – er General Beckman in this case – and the world. Made even more so joyous because the team members are all in a good place.
To end on such a high is most welcome. Too bad it is marred slightly by the Chuck and Ellie scene where Chuck feels compelled to keep the secret from Ellie. The delay is somewhat bearable because of Ellie’s announcement of impending motherhood. This episode made vast gains in having the pretenses within the Bartowski clan dropped. Let us hope for some form of swift resolution between Chuck and Ellie too.
Linda Hamilton’s appearance as MamaB in the closing scene really left the episode on a high. Linda still cuts a very menacing Sarah Connor type persona and her ruthless take down not only impressed but added a layer of mixed comprehension for the audience. Who exactly is this Frost person? Cannot wait to find out and cannot wait to see MamaB’s return and eventual meeting with Sarah.
No doubt about it. Linda Hamilton IS MamaB! And she’ll be back.
Season 4 is off to a very solid start.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chuck - Episode 3.18 & 3.19 Reviews

Science Fiction, Double Feature, Picture Shaw
Episode 3.18 - Chuck Vs The Subway
Episode 3.19 - Chuck Vs the Ring II
3.18 - Written by Ali Adler, Matt Miller & Phil Klemmer
3.18 - Directed by Matt Shakman
3.19 - Written by Chris Fedak & Josh Schwartz
3.19 - Directed by Robert Duncan McNeil
''Two Bartowski's. Double the fun.'
Wow! Whew! Catch your breath yet? It has taken me awhile. Already intellectually and emotionally fatigued by the Lost series finale the night before – fantastic BTW – approaching the Chuck Season 3 Finale included some trepidation. Heading into the Chuck double header in a fatigued state is not the best situation. My fears prove unfounded as Chuck delivered its best season finale of the series. Chuck Versus The Subway is the perfect episode. The events contained within it were truly series's defining and character changing ones for all the Bartowski clan.
He's Baaaaaacccccckkkkkkk!!!!!!!!!
So, with apologies to the theme song of the Rocky Horror picture and its fans plus my occasional lapse into bad puns ie Shaw instead of Show, let us dive into the goodness that episodes 3.18 and 3.19 gave Chuck fans. The title of this review is most fitting because these two episodes had a real SF vibe to them as the tech of the Intersect and PapaB was mixed with the tension of Chuck unravelling mentally all while the menancing spectre of Daniel Shaw lurked as a dangerous presence to the members of Team Bartowski and their loved ones. Cap off all of that with the expansion of the Bartowski family backstory and the genesis – or the continuation of the Orion legacy – of Chuck's next step in his heroic journey. What more can a fan ask for?
At the end of Chuck Vs The Tooth Chuck was experiencing Intersect fueled dreams about Daniel Shaw being alive. We knew those dreams were true. We also knew that Shaw had downloaded a Ring version of Intersect; Ringtersect anyone? Chuck Versus The Subway is the swansong for writers Ali Addler, Matt Miller, and Phil Klemmer. And what a swansong it is. Subway is brimming with emotion, action, drama, and revelations. It is also the swansong episode for PapaB. We may get to see him in future episodes in Jor-El type videos but it is doubtful that Orion will be brought back from the dead. Even more so than Shaw and Bryce it would not feel right to do so. The finale is about the passing of the torch from a father to his children. Mainly Chuck and, I hope the showrunners see it that way, Ellie as well.
Chuck & Sarah - They Have Come A Long Way
This episode did so many things right with the pinnacle being the strengthening of the bonds between the main players of the cast. What precipitated that was the truth of the spy world revealed to Ellie. With everyone in the know the barriers between characters have been finally lowered. Instead of deflection the characters can share mutual reflection. Instead of being kept at arm's length to hide the truth, characters can now reaffirm bonds that existed before Bryce sent Chuck the email in the pilot. The benefits of finally allowing Chuck and Ellie to have open conversations again is immediately apparent. Sarah Lancaster was finally given some new material to work with and it is a development the show would be well advised to continue.
Mercifully the resurrection of Shaw as the villain worked for the most part. There were even flashes of above adequate enjoyable bits from Shaw from the knocking on the subway car door to his evil guy laugh. The disdain that the fandom had for the character and his history with Chuck and Sarah added that extra level of tension needed for a nemesis. The weak part of his return is the undercooked aspect of Shaw's motivation of going totally Ring and becoming fixated on killing Chuck. This does not jibe with his arc of revenge for his wife's death and wanting to punish the person responsible; Sarah.
Morgan - Two Thumbs Up Despite The Detonator Accident
What more can be said about Scott Bakula as Stephen J. Bartowski? Scott brought so many things to the character and he will be sorely missed. PapaB's actions during the Subway episode illustrated the bluerprint for how Chuck, and Team Bartowski, should handle things. His smarts are dramatized over and over again in identifying Shaw at the Subway station, using Ellie to find the Ring Base, breaking Chuck out of the CIA holding cell, and the building of the Governor.
Above all that was his heart and the premium he placed on family and keeping them safe. We knew what he had done for Ellie and Chuck. It was not until the final scenes that the true scope of what PapaB had done, and sacrificed, became known. PapaB's approach to how to protect his family may not have been the best one but it worked for him.   What worked for him does not mean it would work for Chuck and Ellie. Plus they have an advantage. They have each other and the rest of Team Barktowski to watch their backs.
Episode Flashes: (Lots of them. Proof these episodes were packed with goodies):
For 3.18:
  • Chuck hovering over his father's shoulder as PapaB works on Chuck's Governor
  • PapaB 'talking' Chuck down
  • Sarah's touching extending to PapaB
  • Awesome not looking as Awesome as usual
  • Morgan breaking the news to Devon about Ellie – 'How could she do this to us?'
  • Casey surreptiously checking up on his daughter
  • Chuck and Sarah sharing a blueberry in the Farmer's Market – so...... normal
  • Knock, knock, knock - Shaw reveal in the subway car
  • PapaB working the Castle computers to track Shaw
  • Jeff and Lester 'consoling' Devon
  • 'Its my dream come true. Ellie is exactly like Chuck but with lady parts.' Jeff – creepy funny
  • Sarah discovers TeamB is in a CIA not Ring building
  • Chuck and Ellie come face to face – 'Chuck, I thought you quit KungFu in the third grade.'
  • Chuck barging into Beckman's hearing on the value of the Intersect project
  • Shaw walking into the hearing – he gets a slomo entrance – still waiting for Chuck's BTW!
  • Shaw playing the Hearing and Sarah's reaction to learning Chuck's mental condition
  • Casey and Sarah go to the aid of their loved ones
  • Devon accidentally spills the beans about Chuck to Ellie – Ellie takes charge!
  • Casey protects Alex who seems pretty capable herself
  • PapaB works his tech magic and frees Chuck from CIA lockdown
  • Casey growling at Justin over apple pie
  • Casey revealing to Alex that he is her father and protecting her escape
  • 'Oh and you can blame the CIA for my bachelor party. Stripper?. She was an agent. Told you I didn't cheat. Faithful!' Devon vindicated!
  • 'Morgan Grimes, the boy that took my pillow as his date to junior prom, knows more about my family being spies than I do.'
  • Sarah clocking Shaw. Nice callback to Shaw clocking Rafe. New scumbag in town.
  • Beckman's desperate Princess Leia plea, 'You are our only hope.' Morgan and Devon not sure to whom she was pleading with. LOL!!
  • The Bartowski's playing it smart
  • Shaw's evil – 'Moowahaha'
  • McTiernan Industries – shoutout to action director John McTiernan(Die Hard, Predator)?
  • Sarah and Casey's pride at Chuck's spy skills – 'Picked a good one Walker. Finally'
  • Ringtersect sure is slick looking
  • Shaw puts down PapaB! 'Always remember son. You're special.'
  • Is anyone more expressive than Ellie?
  • 'Check out the fresh fish' – another Shawshank reference
  • 'You might want to stand back. This could explode. Ummm yeah...OK' Morgan is priceless!
  • 'There is no one left to save us.' Ellie, Devon, and Morgan jump to the rescue.
Episode Flashes for 3.19
  • Ellie showing spy skills tailing the armored car
  • little Chuck and Ellie and the seeds of why Ellie looks after Chuck so fiercely
  • 'No plan? That never stopped me before.' LOL Morgan is so priceless!
  • Glovebox!
  • Casey's Crown Vic could give the Green Hornet's Black Beauty a run for its money – missile launcher!
  • Ellie puts her foot down and keeping her promise to protect Chuck.
  • Big Mike's 'Moses' phone – shades of the Batphone.
  • Chuck getting to tell Ellie that their dad was a great man.
  • Chuck using PapaB-like skills to communicate with Beckman.
  • 'Who are the Elders? They sound scary. World of WarCraft scary.' - Guess who!
  • TeamB unites to take on Shaw and the Ring Elders.
  • Chuck and Sarah in disguise sharing winks before putting the plan into action
  • Morgan and Casey cracking the Conference database
  • Morgan waking up Casey's paternal instincts
  • Chuck conning Shaw into a confession and capturing the Ring Elders – shades of Quantum of Solace anyone? Though Bond never used the Mexican Hat Dance ring tone!
  • Muzzle down Morgan!
  • Morgan breaking his thumbs for naught
  • Morgan has mad nose touch iPhone skills!
  • Pineapples! The Sequel.
  • Chuck GETS his slomo entrance. Yay!
  • Ewww! Shaw's flash look is even creepy.
  • Jeffster- Blaze of Glory!
  • Shaw and Chuck square off.
  • Wow – Chuck intersected as a young boy. Very intriguing.
  • Sarah delivering the final blow to Shaw and racing to get the Governor back to Chuck and her look of relief at doing so.
  • Morgan is all er no thumbs with the detonator.
  • Lester- 'Did we do that?' Bye-bye Buy More.
  • Jeffster! Fugitives! Band on the Run!
  • TeamB family gathers to remember PapaB and welcomes Alex into the fold.
  • The, 'Oh boy,' that Chuck mutters as the Orion signature screen comes up on his computer monitor?  A subtle 'passing of the torch' moment.  Love it.
  • Chuck's promise to Ellie about leaving the spy world will be short lived as he discovers the Bartowski legacy and the hope of finding MamaB.
  • ChuckCave! Shades of the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark too.
  • Orion and Hydra!
Stephen J. Bartowski to Chuck and Ellie - 'There is nothing in this whole world you two can't fix if you work together.'
Could that line be the Mission Statement for the series going forward? Three seasons in and the entertainment value in trying to perserve the barrier between the spy world and the real world have been played out. As each character found out about Chuck's dual life more dramatic doors opened than the ones that were closed. With Ellie in the loop and the setup in the closing moments the more entertaining avenue now would be to bring everyone into the fold and pick up the mantle of Orion's legacy rather than try to perpetuate a new series of lies.
With the Chuck and Sarah relationship resolved and all the characters free to talk openly to one another, there is much more story telling manuveuring room. With these obstacles removed and the attendant effort to maintain no longer necessary, those energies can now be turned towards creating a more fleshed out show mythology. Instead of maintaining divisive constructs the show can now focus on unifying ones.
Goodbye BuyMore?
Chuck works best when it balances all the elements equally.   Chuck Vs The Subway is the showcase episode for doing that.  With the exception of Chuck Vs Santa Claus has there been a better episode where all the main cast members are used so equally and effectively?  This is my all time favorite episode of the series.  Thanks to Ali Adler, Matt Miller & Phil Klemmer for gifting us with this episode before departing.  Best of luck to each of you on your new endeavors!
And Hello ChuckCave?
So endeth the Third Season of Chuck. What a journey it has been. It is amazing to take the characters of this season and compare them against previous seasons. The growth and evolution has been fantastic. The execution of those changes faltered from time to time which is too bad. Fortunately the show righted itself and these final two episodes have the show pointed in a most promising direction.
As to what that direction might be, look for an upcoming article that explores the possibilities of Season 4.
MamaB! Hydra, by any chance? Season 4 - Family Matters....
I had a lot of fun writing these reviews and hope you enjoyed reading them.  Thanks to Mel for giving me a place to put down my thoughts.  Hope to do it again for Season 4.
Have a great summer everyone!  See you in September.

Chuck - Episode 3.16 - Chuck Vs The Tooth

Prepare For The Jump To Light Speed
Written by Zev Borow & Max Denby
Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer
'Doc! I'm not insane!'
Fasten your seat belts everyone! Chuck is about to engage hyperdrive once again. Much like the last handful of episodes from Season Two the narrative from Chuck is amping up. In the ChuckVerse amping up the story narrative means going way past eleven and off the scale into faster than light mode. It has been 'Engaged' with Chuck Vs The Tooth.
One of the things to be savored about Chuck is its willingness to push the storyline in new directions and the characters along with it. The downside to that is the show often forges ahead through fertile dramatic ground planting seeds without ever coming back to partake of the bounty from those plantings. It is a tip of the iceberg approach to storyline that skims between dramatic issues with no time allotted to diving deeper to explore the treasures that lie beneath the surface.
Grimes. Morgan Guillermo Grimes.
In Chuck Vs The Tooth a cornucopia of new ideas are thrown out: Chuck's apparent merging of his subconsciousness with the Intersect, the potential for the Intersect to overpower Chuck's brain, Chuck possibly going insane, Sarah unable to say ILY to Chuck, Ellie being pulled into the spy world by the Ring, Chuck and Morgan running missions without the rest of TeamB, and the possible return of Shaw. So many avenues to explore. So little time to do it in. Throw in the return of Anna and the end result is a bursting at the seams with concepts. Many of which could have entire episodes devoted to them.
It is a marvel that Chuck can take so many disparate elements, cram them into one episode, and come out with one of the best installments of the season. Plus it is done in the most balanced manner of the season to date. There are equal measures of spy intrigue, action, romance, relationships, drama, comedy, and nerd references that mimics those plate spinner acts. Is there any show that can switch as seamlessly from comedy to drama as Chuck can? Simply amazing!
The highlight of the episode was the curve ball thrown by the restrained and carefully modulated performance given by Christopher Lloyd as Chuck's CIA psychiatrist. Expectations of an eccentric Doc Brown or Reverend Jim knock off are not met. Yet Lloyd plays the role exactly the way it is needed for the episode. His 'Doc' role is tailored to elicit the needed responses for Chuck and later for Sarah.
Morgan is given closure with the welcome return of Anna Wu as that relationship is put to bed. Is this the last we will see of Anna? I hope not. The timing of this raises my speculation antennae. Having this closure now has to lead to something for Morgan because as happy as I was to see Anna return, this was not the episode to do it. This episode is putting the show into position to commence the run to the finale. As such the screen time allotted to the Anna storyline would have been better served to be used to addressing some of the main storyline or Ellie's. Anna should have popped up in the Role Models episode.
There is much to enjoy in this episode. Chuck and Sarah spending quiet time watching TV. Morgan working with Chuck on a mission. Ellie! Finally Ellie getting a worthy storyline. One that will play directly into the main storyline for the finale. It is so great to finally see Sarah Lancaster be able to flex her acting muscles outside of playing mother hen to the men in her life. There is also the ever strengthening bonds of friendship between the members of TeamB, including General Beckman. Who did not love that shot of Beckman's kitchen with an unidentified male companion in the background? Plus the scene on the Doc's doorstep where Sarah admits her love to Chuck publicly and finds Casey there too.
Episode Flashes:
  • Chuck and Sarah chilling at home on a quiet Monday night
  • Spies Like Us and the value of humor lesson for Sarah
  • Chuck's dreams
  • Beckman with bed hair in the kitchen with male guest? in the background
  • 'General. Permission to slap Bartowski. He had a bad dream.'
  • Chuck babbling on the couch.
  • Intersect possibly responsible for dry scalp?
  • 'You can die from a spider bite in Africa as easily as from a spy in Burbank.
  • Dune reference! 'Fear is the mind killer.'
  • Morgan saying the wrist gripper is stuck.
  • President of Zambibia is Washington from Welcome Back Kotter!
  • Jeff and Lester lamenting their single status – 'Its full of lumpy housewives. My favorite.'
  • 'Hi guys. Long time no smell.' 'She remembered our smell!'
  • Anna gets a 'slo-mo' entrance only to be trumped by Morgan's 'slo-mo!'
  • Chuck and Morgan on a mission
  • 'My codename is Cobra.'
  • 15 season boxset of ER
  • Ellie gets a mission! Too bad it is for the wrong guys.
  • 'Chuck's in a tux?'
  • 'I got the elf.'
  • Sarah demonstrating beyond a doubt where her loyalties lie.
  • Casey tranquing Morgan at the concert.
  • World Class spy -Morgan Grimes!
  • Spy Asylum – complete with Will Sampson broom pushing look alike. If only Hurley had strolled by in the background too.
  • 'Give your boyfriend your hand.'
  • Sarah's - 'I need him to be OK.' and the discovery that Casey does too.
  • Chuck air 'fighting' under psychotropic influence
  • 'Spies! Attack!'
  • Chuck's burden of knowing that continued use of the Intersect could be at his mental peril
  • Morgan moving on from Anna
  • Sarah saying ILY to Chuck
  • Ellie being manipulated into contacting PapaB
  • Chuck's final dream and the potential return of Shaw

'This is a new science. Only time will tell.'
For the first time the seams of one of the additional episodes does not line up with the original thirteen episode order. Chuck's issues with the Intersect should have had some foreshadowing sprinkled throughout the earlier episodes. The softening of Casey and Beckman seems rather abrupt as well. Last week Beckman's, 'Its about damned time,' seemed like using the character as a voice for the fans. Now, with some egg on my face, I must retract my stance that it was out of character to attribute such sentiments to Beckman. For this episode proves that she does indeed have affection for Chuck. (Though in my defense I maintain the show gave us nothing previously to show this character growth for Beckman.)
Daddy! Foreshadowing?
As much as it is great to see Casey and Beckman softening up, there is a worry about this. There is a need for a hard liner character in the show and that is being lost. In tandem with this, is the unpredictability of how Beckman and Casey will be portrayed going forward. Once you open up a character you cannot put the cork back in without undermining the character in the process. Lastly, seeing characters reach some form of equilibrium tweaks my spec antennae once again. When characters come to such a place they are usually at the end of their dramatic usefulness.
Just saying.

Tame Tabby - Episode 3.15 - Chuck Versus The Role Models

Written by Phil Klemmer
Directed by Fred Toye
'Congratulations Warren Beatty'
Inevitable. After several episodes with the emotional content cranked up, plus the payoff episode last week with the HoneyMooners, the show had to come back to earth. Not unexpected and it occurs with every show and story. After hitting the heights for so long, a coming back to earth type of reckoning is as inevitable as the force of gravity. This is a transitional episode which is necessary to start laying the groundwork for the next big storyline.
This shot makes me laugh every time.
Chuck Versus the Role Models is a stand alone episode that does little to advance the show mythology and dishes out a generic mission which leaves it hobbled out of the gate. Stand alone episodes can be good episodes just as much as mythology ones. Especially if an episode directly impacts or involves one of the Team Bartowski members in a personal manner. Best Friend and Tic Tac are examples of stand alones that do a great job. Sizzling Shrimp is one that never did and now it has company with the Role Models.
Role Models, like the previous three episodes, starts out of the gate very strong with a hilarious Morgan dream induced send up of the 80s, 'Hart to Hart' TV show intro with Chuck and Sarah taking over the Wagner and Powers roles plus Morgan doing his best to invoke Lionel Standish. The next scene with Morgan at the fridge bumping into a scantily clad Sarah is also fun. Chuck and Sarah continue to dispel any issues about the two of them being together hurting the show.
Everything is played for laughs in this episode; a no fuss, no muss approach. So Sarah's hidden gun cache and her initial reluctance to move in stir no dramatic interest as they are both casually dealt with. Too bad about the gun issue. Right now Team Bartowski has been left with a situation where Casey and Sarah handle all the dirty work. This could be a good source of ongoing conflict between Chuck and Sarah but it for now it looks like the show is going to steer clear of it.
The concept of Fred Willard and Swoosie Kurtz playing a mature version of Chuck and Sarah; with Udo Keir and a tiger thrown in, reads like a gold mine on paper. Sadly, the execution did not have that same gold sheen. Willard and Kurtz have their moments, but their storyline never engaged or surprised or brought the amount of humor that was anticipated.
The Casey and Morgan moments thankfully do. Morgan's failures at all his training exercises were well done. However Casey's, 'heart to heart,' with Morgan and approval of Morgan's training were too much even in a light episode like this one. Morgan may indeed be a diamond in the rough but it would have been preferable to find a honest way to have him pass his training. At this rate of concession, can Jeff and Lester be far behind in joining the team? ( I kid! I kid.)
Another bit of a head scratcher was the sending off of Ellie and Devon to Africa via the Doctor Without Borders program only to have them come back in the same episode. It must be surmised that this storyline was originally envisioned to kick off the Fourth Season when the initial thirteen Season Three episodes were ordered. Whatever is going to happen in the next four episodes must require their immediate return.
Episode Flashes:
  • Third great opening sequence in a row – Morgan's Hart to Hart dream with Chuck and Sarah
  • Morgan's bedroom decor – including sparkly alarm clock
  • Pyjama wearing Morgan - a concession on his part – bumping into a scantily clad Sarah by the fridge – Vitamin Ds!
  • Congratulations Warren Beatty!
  • 30 Foot Rule Versus the Bartowski Rule
  • Craig/Laura Turner aka George/Bitsy Witherspoon aka John/Suzie Smythe
  • Diamond in the rough. Very, very rough. I'm sure you'll make him sparkle.
  • Chuck channelling Ellie as he cleans up waiting for the Turners to arrive
  • Morgan being trained in the BuyMore by Casey
  • Udo Kier! - as Otto Von Vogel
  • This is how I deal with stress.
  • Doctor, super fantastic, white person.
  • Morgan's gun training – video game knowledge vs reality
  • Morgan's 'bravery' with the tiger
  • Sarah stepping in to 'explain' the Turners's mission plan to Beckman
  • The handing off of the spy couple baton from the Turners to the Bartowskis
Call of Duty Meets Reality
'Chuck Versus The Role Models' is a solid, albeit inconsequential, episode. It has the misfortune of following the superior efforts from The Other Guy and The HoneyMooners. For those that prefer lighter episodes and enjoy the relational aspects of the show they are sure to find much to be happy with this one. There is continuing proof that putting show leads together is not the kiss of death. Plus the opening of acting manuveuring room for Yvonne Strahovski continues to reap benefits for the Sarah Walker character.
For those that prefer the mythology based episodes or ones that tackle character issues in a more grounded manner, take heart, more engrossing times are ahead based on the preview for the next episode. Things should start revving up once again.

They Are Still Our Chuck & Sarah Too - Episode 3.13: Chuck Vs The Other Guy

Written by Chris Fedak
Directed by Peter Lauer
‘I appreciated the tank.’
Chuck and Sarah are together. Huzzah! The elephant in the room has been set free. What was so great about this episode is that the Sarah and Chuck relationship was resolved early in the episode. That early resolution allowed attention to shift to other matters such as tracking down the Ring Leader.
Still The Sarah and Chuck We Know
The episode opens with the best teaser the series has done to date. Like Chuck we rightly believe that Shaw is intent on seeking revenge on Sarah. He leads her to an abandoned Ring location where monitors show Sarah's Red Test playing in a never ending loop. Sarah learns that Eve Shaw was her Red Test while Shaw hovers menacingly in the background. With that setup a hilarious payoff is delivered when Chuck arrives on the scene after seemingly mobilizing the entire military to rescue Sarah. Including stealth bombers and tanks.
From the teaser the episode never falters as it gives resolutions and changes for the main characters all done in that uniquely comedic touching and heartfelt way that the Chuck show does so well. When the show shifts back to the spy world, the little beats between Chuck and Sarah as they worry about Shaw in general and about him finding out about them specifically; continue the fun of the previous normal world moments.
'You saved me.'
The show shifts gears in the final act as Chuck really has to save Sarah this time as Shaw's end game plays out. Season long threads are revisited as Chuck's aversion to violence, his priority on family and friends, his Red Test, and the struggle to not lose himself even as he must do necessary things he abhors. The final act is the serious version of the teaser and this time it is all about Chuck handling it on his own with no backup.
Chuck tries everything in his power to prevent the eventual outcome from happening but once he knows there are no other options he does the necessary thing and pulls the trigger. A trigger pull that he knows will save Sarah's life but may cost him Sarah's love. If Sarah remains steadfast in her belief that if Chuck kills it means he cannot be the same guy she fell for. Fortunately for Chuck, Sarah was able to witness the moment in her paralyzed state so she knows the truth of that moment. She knows what Chuck did was unavoidable. She saw Chuck trying everything to not have to kill. Sarah knows he had no choice and that Chuck's love for her is such that Chuck was able to have the stones, as Casey would say, to pull the trigger.
Chuck saved her.
Most fitting that the theme of Chuck doing the right thing no matter what the cost is the very thing that brings him and Sarah together.
Episode Flashes:
  • Opening sequence – one of the best ever for the series. Tense, action packed, and funny.
  • 'And the tank too.'
  • General Beckman chewing Chuck out for his rescue mission – 'This bill is longer than my copy of Atlas Shrugged.' LOL
  • 'I appreciated the tank.'
  • MORGAN! Like every scene he was in!
  • Morgan saying goodbye to Big Mike
  • Casey and Morgan wishing each other well in their respective old lives
  • Chuck on a nerd bender mixing whiskey, mint ice cream, guitar hero, and John Hughes movies.
  • Sarah's amazing ability to conceal knives no matter how she is dressed
  • OMD -'If You Leave,' on vinyl! Or at least the show used a needle on record sound effect
  • Morgan yelling he hates the song now
  • Sarah admitting she loves Chuck – without ever saying it - and fell for him pretty well from the start
  • Morgan obviously eavesdropping on Chuck and Sarah's heart to heart and popping out at the mention of a mission
  • Chuck and Sarah worried about whether or not Shaw knows about them and resultant shot down the elevator shaft
  • the elevator scenes – including the cheesy Ring logos at the end of the hallways
  • Morgan sussing out right away that Shaw's fight was staged – Sonny Chiba for the win!
  • Beckman does sleep sometimes! Plus she uses the clapper!
  • Morgan's Yoda line delivery, 'There is another.'
  • Morgan rallying Casey to help out Chuck rescue Sarah
  • Chuck trying everything to avoid killing Shaw but doing what was necessary in the end
  • Casey getting back on the team and adding Morgan to Team Bartowski!
  • Joy at RingLeader Mark Shepherd not being dead somewhat muted by him being captured
  • Sarah's realization that Chuck saved her for real
  • Beckman's interruption – very Bondish
  • Sarah's, 'Shut up and kiss me, ' followed by Chuck's you betcha head shake before diving in
  • closing shot of Chuck's Chuck hanging out of the bed before panning to the Eiffel Tower
'Shut up and kiss me.'
Being Together Does Not Mean Puppy Dogs & Sunshine All The Time
'Chuck Versus The Other Guy,' is a crackling piece of enjoyment. The action, the humor, the drama, nerd/80s references, and of course – romance are mixed together to provide a finale in midseason. Chris Fedak has introduced several major changes, the key one being the long awaited, and for many - way overdue, resolution to the Chuck and Sarah, 'Will They, Won't They,' storyline. Yvonne and Zac nailed their heart to heart scene with Josh hovering in the background. Chuck at its best. Funny and touching.
There were many other things to like in this episode. With the Love Interest storyline between Sarah and Shaw finally put to bed, so to speak, the shift of focus to Shaw's revenge storyline was most welcome. Too bad it was undercooked and left till so late in the game. However the production budget was apportioned for the episodes, this one felt like it had something a little extra as there was never a moment where costs seem to be an issue. The Paris scenes especially looked very authentic. Kudos to the production crew!
Most enjoyable was Morgan's role in this episode. He straightened out Chuck several times, pointed out Shaw's duplicity, and gave Casey a kick in the rear to boot. His inclusion on Team Bartowski opens up a wealth of story possibilities and the comedy potential is off the charts based on his interactions with Casey and Beckman. Glimpses of him in action from the promo for the upcoming episodes are hilarious.
Quibbles with the episode? Three minor ones. First one; the lack of Ellie and Awesome was a disappointment in what is a midseason season finale. Secondly; thematically the same material was covered again contrasting Shaw against Chuck. It felt like the character of Chuck was treading water, waiting for everyone to catch up until the last act. Finally, it would have been a nice call back to 3.04 if Chuck had repeated his nothing matters more to him than family and friends creedo in response to Shaw's belief that Chuck would not pull the trigger.
The gang is back together and the next 6 episodes should be a blend of the best elements of Seasons 1 and 2 mixed in with the evolved characters of Season 3 to date. Safe to say, everyone is looking to the next half dozen episodes with great anticipation.

Believe It Or Not, It's Just Me - Episode 3.12: Chuck Vs The American Hero

Written by Matt Miller/Phil Klemmer
Directed by Jeremiah Chechik
Greatest American Hero Theme Song - Believe It Or Not
Look at what's happened to me,
I can't believe it myself.
Suddenly I'm up on top of the world,
It should've been somebody else.
Believe it or not,
I'm walking on air.
I never thought I could feel so free.
Flying away on a wing and a prayer.
Who could it be?
Believe it or not it's just me.
Just like a light of a new day,
It hit me from out of the blue.
Breaking me out of the spell I was in,
Making all of my wishes come true.
Believe it or not,
I'm walking on air.
I never thought I could feel so free.
Flying away on a wing and a prayer.
Who could it be?
Believe it or not it's just me.
‘No thanks. She's still there.’
With the attainment of his goal of becoming a spy, Chuck believes he can finally be together with Sarah. Everything seems to be falling in place when Beckman tells him he can pick the members of his team. Naturally his first choice is Sarah. So Sarah's angry reaction upon Chuck's return and offer is a shock for him. Telling Chuck that because he has killed, Sarah; based on how her Red Test affected her, does not believe that Chuck can emerge from that test as the same guy she originally fell for.
Sarah is grieving for what she believes is the death of the Chuck Bartowski she fell in love with. If we apply the Stages of Grief to Sarah:
in 3.11, she was in the denial phase, hence her proclamation of no longer loving Chuck. Now she has moved onto the anger phase which her behaviour and responses upon Chuck's return validate. Chuck is trapped because he cannot reveal that Casey killed the mole and not him.
Vision Clouded By Anger - The Nerd Is Right There In Front Of Sarah
Fearful that Sarah is slipping away from him into a life in DC with Shaw; Morgan, Casey, and Devon rally to Chuck's aide; albeit they do so with ulterior motives. As expected, the results of this mission are less than helpful but provide a lot of enjoyment as Civilian Team Bartowski(CTB) unknowingly vy with a Ring Team intent on capturing Shaw. This leads to excellent Ellie moments as she first scolds CTB and then Chuck.
This time Chuck returns to woo Sarah with a clear head. Rescuing Shaw, with the knowledge that Sarah may very well end up leaving with Shaw, Chuck does the right thing again. Even if it is at a personal cost. Through his actions, Chuck proves to Sarah that he is indeed that guy she first fell for. Chuck is the 'True' American Hero of this episode as what he did was for selfless reasons in stark contrast to the revenge reasons that motivate Shaw.
Chuck's closing speech is much like the one he gave Sarah at the end of Lethal Weapon. Except this time he is blunt and direct in relaying to Sarah his feelings. And again, he leaves the choice up to her. He shows Sarah how deeply he feels by being willing to give up the spy life he has worked so hard to attain to be with her.
Episode Flashes:
  • Beckman's waiting area with multiple receptionists and spies waiting to see her
  • Chuck trying to find out how to sit comfortably with a gun
  • Chuck and Beckman scene – 'I understand that the hand wringing and the second guessing are all part of your process.'
  • Ellie excited to go to Africa because she thinks that is what Devon wants
  • Chuck's Civilian Team Bartowski(CTB) – Casey, Morgan and Devon!
  • Morgan telling Casey to take a number
  • Morgan telling Casey love is a battlefield
  • Jeff and Lester being totally cognizant and up to date on the Sarah/Chuck/Shaw triangle -'Guy knows how to fill out a pair of slacks!'
  • CTB with their own agenda – 'We help you get the girl back, you help us get out of Burbank.'.
  • CTB and Ring Team targetting Shaw at the restaurant
  • Morgan telling Devon, 'You live in a bubble. A freakish bubble of awesomeness.'
  • Morgan calling Shaw out of the restaurant and getting carried away with instructions
  • Morgan getting tasered! 'Man down! I've been tazzed! Bring a stretcher. Wheelbarrow....change of pants!' LOL
  • Ellie scolding CTB
  • Ellie's anger at Chuck for going to CTB instead of her
  • Ellie's pep talk to Chuck telling him to act like a Bartowski and that one can never go too far in the pursuit of love
  • Jeff & Lester berating CTBs stalking skills and proving theirs by tailing Shaw in Loretta
  • 'Stalker's Log: Possibly for sexual encounter. Both men are physically fit. Should be lively.'
  • Casey selling 'Hot Zone' vacuum cleaner
  • Chuck's Batman jump into Shaw's sports car
  • Dr. Jibb Pop Machine elevator entrance into Ring base
  • Ring Leader – very cool
  • Chuck and bad guy's reactions to impending flash bomb explosion
  • Stealth Bomber Sequence
  • Chuck's rescue of Shaw – The 'True' American Hero
  • Chuck's final speech to Sarah – 'One time because it feels really nice to say. I love you Sarah Walker.'
  • Casey's confession of killing mole in Sarah's apartment. Adam really nailed it.
  • Reveal that Sarah killed Shaw's wife – Eve.
Phil Klemmer was tasked with kicking off the Sarah and Shaw relationship in 3.07 – Chuck Versus The Mask and along with Matt Miller in Chuck Versus The Greatest American Hero, he has drawn the short straw once again in ending it. If he volunteered for these two episodes then Phil is to be commended as the Real American Hero of the Chuck writing staff. If it was the luck of the draw then Phil should not take it personally if no one takes him up on an offer to pick lottery ticket numbers.
With this episode the final pertinent pieces of the Sarah and Shaw relationship have been placed in the open. I have been withholding final judgment until this moment, hoping that the writers would pull a rabbit out of their hat to salvage this arc. Alas, it is not to be. For all the props I have given the show in my reviews, I am behoven to call foul when appropriate. To be blunt, the Sarah and Shaw relationship was a sham. It did not work and the episodes that included it, suffered because of it. A further examination of why will take place in an article(s) looking back over the first 13 episodes during the upcoming two week break after 3.13 airs.
Proof that the Sarah and Shaw relationship is irrelevant is that if you can isolate and ignore those moments the episode still works. Works very well. The inclusion of Morgan into Chuck's spy life continues to reap great dividends. The interplay between Casey, Morgan, and Devon is a hoot to watch. The action beats were great. The Chuck and Sarah moments were as good as they have ever been. Casey's continuing struggle in the civilian world continues to intrigue.
'I love you Sarah Walker. Always have.'
A Real Hero - Selfless Act
As mentioned in the 3.11 review, I was banking on a Casey and Sarah counterpart scene to bookend the one that Chuck and Casey had, which came to be true. While the scene did not prove to be the deciding factor in Sarah's decision it did put to rest any lingering doubts she had during her packing. Adam and Yvonne played the scene beautifully. Casey's furtive glances at Sarah's packing on the bed and his round about way of wishing Sarah well was done to perfection. My favorite scene of the episode.
With the reveal that she killed Shaw's wife the stage for the next episode has been set.   So glad that the episode ended with Sarah being shown as having clearly made up her mind.
Spy or not, Sarah believes it.  It's just Chuck.

A Fistful of Catch 22's - Episode 3.11: Chuck Vs The Final Exam

Written by Zev Borow
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeil
'Catch 22,' a novel by Joseph Heller:
“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.  Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions.”
‘I love irony.’
In 3.10, life changes were introduced for several of the cast members. This week those changes were explored in their various stages of progression for the three leads. Tied into those changes were barriers for each of the characters. In some cases the barriers are external. In others internal. In all cases there is a Catch 22 element to them. Damned if you do. Damned if you do not.
Catch 22 Scenario 1:
Chuck is convinced that in order for him to be together with Sarah, he has to become a spy. The catch? In order to become a spy, Sarah believes Chuck cannot accomplish that goal without losing the qualities that has endeared him to her in the first place. Those qualities are more than endearments. For Sarah they are lifelines to redemption as we later see.
Catch 22 Scenario 2:
This one is built on a false premise.
In order to be a spy, Chuck must pass the red test, which means he must kill. If he does not, Chuck goes back to his old life. This one has always struck a false note right from when it first arose back in 3.01. As long as Chuck has the Intersect, how can he go back to a normal life? It would be more plausible for him to go back to an asset status. Or bunkered. Maybe that is what the show means, but since they leave the details of what his old life are nebulous, the inference is that he will be a civilian. Which makes no sense if he still has the Intersect.
Trapped Within Their Own Perspectives
Catch 22 Scenario 3:
Chuck has become a spy dishonestly. With Casey taking the shot the cheat has worked in Chuck's favour this time. In Stanford, the cheat cost Chuck his diploma. Ah yes, the smell of irony. The catch here is that Chuck cannot come clean for Casey is a civilian and what he did was murder. So Chuck's hands are tied in being able to tell Sarah the very thing she needs to hear.
Catch 22 Scenario 4:
If Chuck passes his spy test, he gets everything he wants, except Sarah in his new assignment. If he fails he loses everything including, it is inferred, Sarah. What would anyone put the chances of Sarah resigning to stay with Chuck if he did fail though?
Some of these barriers do not bear up under examination but we must accept them for what they are. They are the factors being used to drive the actions of the characters. The main thing to take away is that for the story to continue the log jam has to be relieved. Which it looks like it will be in the next episode. With the relieving of these pressures, changes for the characters is inevitable.
Episode Flashes:
  • Beware blue bubble wrap envelopes! They bring ill tidings.
  • Casey finding his spy skills cannot be employed at the BuyMore
  • For the men – nice legs shot of Sarah
  • Chuck and his reaction to the spy test - #2 pencil and scantron!
  • Chuck's new cover as a billionare in Rome – pretty sweet for a first gig
  • Chuck Bond! The Nerd is getting smoother all the time.
  • Chuck Stake Out Essentials with his own specialized case of champagne, Sizzling Shrimp and Stake Out play list amongst other items
  • Sarah's twisty mouth 'I shouldn't be falling for this but I am,' reaction
  • Private Eyes!
  • Chuck and Sarah showing the chemistry is still there in gobs during the stake out/date.
  • Sarah hiding behind binoculars as Chuck's words get past her emotional defenses
  • 'I can expense this, right?'
  • For the ladies - Chuck in a towel
  • One of the Russian baddies named Ivan Drago! Ala Rocky IV 'I must break you.'
  • Chuck fighting in the Steam Room in TV version of Eastern Promises
  • Ka-kaw! Ka-kaw! Chuck bird call to help ID the CIA mole
  • 'I am a spy!' - cue shot of dropping towel - 'I am a naked spy!' - eat your heart out James Bond!
  • Chuck strutting in the OrangeOrange up to Sarah, 'Hi there colleague!'
  • Chuck's gift to Casey
  • Sarah having to deliver Chuck his final mission test – the red test
  • Washroom fight – Casino Royale style!
  • Chuck trying his best to bring the CIA mole in alive
  • Chuck unable to take the shot
  • Casey taking the shot
  • Sarah's remorse and the intertwining of her feelings of her red test with those of being responsible for leading Chuck down the path to taking the red test
Zev Borrow has crafted an episode that seems very much like the launching pad for some major story threads in the next episode or two. All done with the trademark mix of humor, drama, action and comedy. Characters are being positioned to make irreversible choices. Once again, this has become a mantra, the three leads turn in strong performances. With Chuck we get the first glimpses of the spy he will be. Zac Levi's merging of the Bondian aspects of the spy world with Chuck's innate goodly goofy qualities is a treat to watch. Adam Baldwin's turn as John Casey as a hair triggered weapon with no place in the so called real world of the BuyMore was fun. Finally there is Sarah's back story reveal of her red test which explains much, if not all, of her behaviour this season and the series. Yvonne nails the turmoil and anguish of that moment and encapsulates Sarah's behaviour since Prague.
'It was the worst day of my life.'
With Sarah's backstory reveal of her red test, the final piece of the puzzle for her seemingly inconsistent behaviour this season has been added. Not only is she struggling with dealing with real feelings for the first time in her life, Sarah is seeing a chance to reclaim a part of herself through Chuck slipping away. Sarah has been struggling with her identity, as has Chuck and Casey, all season. Meeting Chuck gave her an anchor upon which to re-establish whom she was. When Chuck decided to become a spy, Sarah lost that anchor and has been adrift ever since. Staying with Chuck and watching him evolve by incoporating the very things Sarah hates about the spy life has been torture for her. Worse because she feels responsible for tainting those rare qualities of truth and honesty that Chuck has. This explains her request for transfer and distancing herself from Chuck all season as that process fermented. Now, believing Chuck has killed and knowing the fallout from her red test, Sarah is at her lowest point.
Her statement of not loving Chuck is a sympton of pain but Chuck is not the source. Sarah is. It is herself that she loathes. Chuck represents her past. And her shame. When Chuck passed the red test it equated to a lost opportunity for Sarah. A chance that may never come again to, in some measure, redeem herself. This is a line in the sand moment. Not a reinforced bunker. Such lines can be crossed. Sometimes the person making them is begging for someone to cross them.
'You're not a killer Chuck.'
CleanUp Is Still Possible
Exciting times ahead. Sarah is about to discover that all is not lost through the actions and words of, not just Chuck, but Casey too. This is what we have been waiting for.
Payoff time!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes! - Episode 3.10: Chuck Vs The Tic Tac

Written by Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc
Directed by Patric Norris
(Turn and face the strange)
Don't want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the strange)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
David Bowie
'You ready to die today?'
Alex Coburn - A Life That Was
Tis the season of change in the Chuckverse. Even for a show where events often occur at a rapid clip, Chuck Vs The Tic Tac places characters on their own personal precipes on a scale never encountered before. To wit, five of the main cast members are left at the end of this episode faced with life altering changes:
  1. Chuck
  2. Sarah
  3. Casey
  4. Devon
  5. Ellie
The quoted line is the question asked of a young Alex Coburn who must chose to serve his country or return home to his loved ones. Coburn choses to serve his country and in the process gives up who he is ie dies and is reborn as John Casey.
In Tarot, the Death Card is misleading. It signifies death as not an end but an agent of change. Or a new beginning. Redemption stories are about the death of the past. Coming of age stories are about the death of the child. So all stories begin at a point of change for a character. All stories are really about death in terms of change.
'I know you'll make the right decision. You always do.'
So Colonel Keller tells John Casey. But did young Alex Coburn really? Its a tough question where there is no clear answer. Casey certainly seems to think so. Was his decision to serve his country altruistic or did he see it as an opportunity to hide from feelings which he and his girlfriend acknowledged he has trouble dealing with. The answer is not clear and maybe this aspect of John Casey's life can be explored in the future. Maybe Chuck will show a new path to John Casey.
The background reveal of Casey's backstory explains much of his character. Quite a nifty piece of work as it sheds new light on Casey's history of intolerance for the relationship tension between Chuck and Sarah since Team Bartowski came into being. Casey was often quick to express his displeasure when the relationship spilt out into missions and he always delighted in making Chuck and Sarah painfully aware when the other's attention was diverted elsewhere. But he was always there to give both of them a nudge too when he saw things heading in bad directions. His actions in previous episodes take on a different light now because of his back story.
Most significantly for Chuck, making the right decision is at the basic core of his character too. We have seen Chuck do this time and time again even when it comes at his personal happiness. For Chuck, and for Sarah, to see the personal price that Casey has paid is hopefully a revelation that will play some part in the final outcome between them.
'Don't give up on the things that make you great.'
What Tic Tac does is crystallize the issues running between Chuck and Sarah. There is an accepted conceit that Sarah, and Casey, believe that in order to be an effective spy one has to make personal sacrifices. For Chuck to be a spy, Sarah believes that he will lose the very qualities that attracted her to Chuck in the first place. This is the challenge Chuck faces. To prove to Sarah, and maybe even to Casey, that the two lives do not have to be mutually exclusive. That being a spy does not mean giving up the essence of who you are. For Chuck has an ace card up his sleeve. The Intersect. With it, if he learns to control it properly, he has the power to prevent that from happening.
The catch to mastering control of the Intersect is he needs to have someone watching his back. Not so much in the physical sense but the emotional one. Someone to share with. To keep it simple. To keep it real. This is what he and Sarah need to discover together.
Episode Flashes:
  • Robert Patrick by just being himself, which is all his role asked, was still cool
  • Morgan spying on Casey
  • Team B working their way through 15 levels of CIA security
  • Castle debriefing scene which starts out with Chuck goofiness and quickly escalates into the most intense scene in the series to date – a Showcase sequence that demonstrates Chuck at its cross genre best
  • hats off to Fitzroy's ability to quickly upgrade CIA security
  • Chuck's smash into plexiglass wall and Sarah's reaction due to said upgrades
  • Sarah's applauding of Fitzroy's upgrades to defuse the situation and turn it to their advantage
  • Fitzroy and Morgan. Is it just me or would these two together not be hilarious?
  • Fitzroy revealing he is a big fan of Carmichael's and his glee at Chuck kissing Casey back in Season 2
  • Sarah's punchout of Fitzroy and her exasperated 'Yes' to Chuck for it being necessary
  • Devon and Morgan circling one another as they feel each other out as to how much they each know about Chuck
  • Morgan agreeing to help Casey if he gets a codename like Condor or LadyFingers
  • Chuck promising Sarah he still is that guy that Sarah met three years ago
  • Sarah and Chuck helping Casey despite the potential consequences
  • three excellent fight scenes:
    • Casey getting to do a Terminator toss of Robert Patrick
    • Sarah getting Casey's back and taking out 5 baddies on her lonesome
    • Chuck's slomo/speedup drug enhanced flash fight
  • Sarah seeing her nightmare version of Chuck, echoed by what she saw in Casey's fight, the perfect emotionless spy and confirmation she wants no part of that version of Chuck
  • Casey's discovery that he gave up much more than he realized
  • Casey giving Chuck advice about him and Sarah. Can a Casey and Sarah talk be that far away?
  • Ellie telling Chuck that her choice in Devon was her best choice regardless of the sacrifices made
This is an entertaining and intense episode which marks the impressive writing debut of Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc. They blend together those cross genre elements of the show with deft ease. The debriefing scene in the Castle after the first mission is genius. To take something that starts out as a piece of Chuck charming goofiness and turn it into the most intense scene in the serie's history is writing prowness at its best.
Add on to that some true comedic moments for Sarah, long overdue and most welcome, coupled with some kick ass action sequences and great scenes with Morgan, Ellie and Devon and it is all the more impressive. The cast continues to shine this season with Yvonne and Adam getting to extend their acting chops. Zac was stellar as usual.
The only quibble would be around the use of Laudanol by Chuck to suppress his emotions to better use the Intersect. While the intent is clear; to show Sarah the nightmare version of Chuck she dreads; the implementation was weak. Maybe budget restrictions were the true culprit here but for Chuck to be freaking out about having to fight too many guys, when he easily handled a similar number the episode before, undermined the purpose of those scenes.
'Walker is a good woman.'
Choices and Changes - Chuck and Casey Contemplate
If anyone had any doubts about whether the Chuck and Sarah romance storyline is headed for imminent resolution, Casey's speech to Chuck at the end of 3.10 is a big, flashing neon sign. It is has been a long running hope of mine that Casey would play an important part in resolving the Chuck and Sarah relationship and it looks like that is going to transpire.
Do not be surprised if John Casey has a similar moment with Sarah soon.

Fortunate Sons - Episode 3.09: Chuck Vs The Beard

Written by Scott Rosenbaum
Directed by Zachary Levi
'I'm firing you as my best friend.'
A relationship that has been crippled since the pilot and gone through a lot of ups and downs; mostly downs; has finally been repaired. No not that one. The Chuck and Morgan one. For almost three years now Morgan has been pushed off to the side ever since Bryce sent Chuck the Intersect. From that moment Chuck has been unable to be best buds with Morgan. But now Morgan knows everything that has happened to Chuck and has become paramount in Chuck's ongoing ability to flash.
'I'm tired of being a loser.'
Last Action Hero - Grimes Style!
It is good for Chuck to hear from someone else that their life is not what they want it to be either. Morgan was badass to the extreme in this episode. The character is severely flawed in several aspects but his fearlessness, or lack of looking before leaping perhaps, and his unfaltering loyalty to Chuck are admirable. While the benefits in the bromance between Morgan and Chuck may seemed heavily skewed to Morgan's side, Morgan provides Chuck with a constant reality check.
'Its awful you had to pretend to be in a relationship with someone you clearly loved.'
It has been pointed out that the previous episode had Chuck realize he still had feelings for Sarah. In the confessional scene where Chuck tells Morgan all, Chuck undergoes an emotional release that expunges all the things he kept secret since the Intersect first came into his life. The final beats where Chuck confesses out loud his love for Sarah are needed. It is one thing to realize something internally but to put those thoughts into words; to publicly profess something, takes those thoughts and turns them into something real. Something tangible. This is the power of spoken or written words. They turn thoughts into something with weight and heft. They capture feelings and thoughts. This was a catharsis for Chuck, and Morgan, and was not a repetition of beats from previous episodes.
Episode Flashes:
  • Chuck's shifting looks at Sarah and Shaw when told he can talk to them about his problems
  • Morgan calling Chuck to the office for disciplinary action
  • Jeff's snake jaw ability to place a whole apple in his mouth
  • Chuck practicing with flash cards to try and get his own flashing back
  • Morgan stumbling onto the locker entrance to the Castle
  • Morgan sneaking around the Castle and meowing when he bumps into a wall
  • Casey's flashbomb scene
  • Morgan's willingness to do what has to be done to defend the Castle
  • Chuck and Morgan bonding when held as prisoners
  • Morgan's joyous reaction to finding out Chuck is a spy
  • Morgan allowing to Chuck to voice out loud that he does love Sarah
  • Jeffster rocking it to Creedence Clearwater Revival – aww yeah!
  • Chuck taking out the bad guys once he flashes
  • Morgan taking out the last bad guy with the requisite Hai-Yah!
  • Morgan giving the bad guy he knocked out the Star Wars Ewok confirmation poke
  • Morgan's exit from the OOC and calling Sarah – Agent Walker
  • Casey's dismayed reaction to the release of Morgan
  • Morgan ribbing Casey, 'Colonel Casey. Always so angry. I knew you had a secret.'
  • Chuck owning the Duck Hunt level – foreshadowing of his reacquired confidence?
A very upbeat episode that harkens back to the lighter tone of the previous seasons that features the entire cast and the directing debut by Zachary Levi. He does some great work here with some nice shot compositions including not just the flash bomb sequence but several scenes of fight choreography too. He proves himself adept at character moments too and his scenes with Morgan are set up to highlight the emotional beats. Josh Gomez and Zac Levi have some great moments too, together and apart.
While the Morgan, Chuck/Morgan and BuyMore storylines ranged from awesome to very good the spy stuff was, at best, trying. If there is one area the show needs to tighten up it is the logic of the spy story. Most of the time I am more than willing to meet the show halfway on these points but increasingly it seems like my need to reach is going beyond the halfway point.
The hotel feint was suspect. In the spy game information is the gold standard so when we are told they received intel it should be explained. Also we are told no known spies are listed at the hotel but did anyone take a moment to look at the names? Devon and Ellie's should have jumped out. Or did they only look under, Occupation for spy?
Then there is the Ring cell phone. We were told in 3.02 that the Ring phones operates on a closed system and that the system had been tapped for use by Team Bartowski. So it seems in 3.09 that the Ring knows that their cell phone system has been cracked. Rather than utilize that for tactical advantage as a tool for misinformation they use one of their cell phones as a trap and give up that advantage in the process.
The closing scene has the same Ring phone being used to put a call through to Casey. How did they know Casey was there to pick it up? If they really wanted to contact Casey, would they not have sent him a phone directly like they did with Devon in 3.04 or used other means?
As to jumping on a self-destruct plan to solve the Castle takeover, surely there must be other nonlethal contingencies in place? Not to mention the idea of blowing up a facility in an area with civilians present!
Going forward into an anticipated fourth season I petition the showrunners to step up their game when it comes to the future spy story plotting and logic.
'You are rehired as my best friend!'
The Boys Are Back In Town!
Chuck has started his ascent. With Morgan at his side as Alfred to Chuck's Batman, Chuck now has a sounding board to keep him grounded. Rather than turning inward towards himself, Morgan enables Chuck to focus outward and release his emotional insecurities.
It is fitting that the first relationship crippled by the Intersect has been repaired. Look for big things going forward for Chuck Bartowski. Including the resolution of that other relationship. There is no discussion of the Chuck and Sarah relationship in this review for good reason. This episode is about Chuck re-establishing himself through the life long bond of brotherhood with Morgan.
Chuck has rediscovered his old self. With this healing complete, we can expect to see a confident and more assured Chuck than we ever have to date.
Chuck has his wingman back. Someone who understands him, whose loyalty is unquestionable, and who will always have Chuck's back. By any definition of the word they are brothers. Fortunate sons indeed.

Living The Lie - Episode 3.08: Chuck Vs The Fake Name

Written by Ali Adler
Directed by Jeremiah Chechik
'Everything you think and feel. Even your innate reflexes have to change.'
So Sarah and Shaw inform Chuck as he is prepped to take the place of hitman – Rafe(as wraith as in ghost) Gruber. Being a spy has a heavy price. Taking on the identity of another person is much more than that of merely playing a part. The immersion into a new persona has to be all encompassing. Your own identity has to be submerged. One slip could cost lives.
Do enough of these covers for long enough and you begin to lose who you really were. Or are. This is the subtext which runs through Chuck Vs The Fake Name. In this episode we are clearly shown the opposite paths that Chuck and Sarah are running on. Chuck is losing himself while Sarah is desperately trying to retain her identity. Something she was able to do when she had Chuck as her anchor.
'I can pass for an cold blooded killer.'
Chuck or Cold Blooded Killer?
Chuck or Cold Blooded Killer?
For Chuck, the game is still so new and his desire to become a spy is so strong that he does not yet see the downside. He does not see that he is losing those intangibles that made him the person to whom Sarah was attracted to in the first place. Chuck is on so much of a tunnel vision express he cannot see how it is affecting his relationships with his family and friends.
All around Chuck are warning signs like the Ellie/Hannah encounter, the dinner he did not prepare, the lies he is telling to Hannah, his total ignorance of the state of his friendship with Morgan, and even the fact that he is dating Hannah, a civilian, in the first place. He is very much a person with blinders on. Unaware of the consequences that inevitably will arise.
'The way he lies to Hannah. Lives are being affected.'
Sarah sees Chuck doing and saying things in the real and spy world that are stripping away the better parts of him. There is a price to these actions and we see one of the results when Chuck breaks up with Hannah. The hurt and the pain he has unwittingly inflicted on Hannah are the actions of a person that Chuck would have never sanctioned before. Now he has become that person and Hannah rightly calls him on it. He is no longer that nice guy.
'I barely remember who I am anymore.'
For Sarah being an alias goes even further than that. She has been in the game for so long now that her grasp on who she is, is slipping away. Just the simple act of saying her real name now feels unnatural. When you reach that point the sense of loss must be great indeed. For names have power. Names are the tool by which people are identified.
With Chuck being so focused on becoming a spy, Sarah has lost the anchor she was using to cling onto. In a revelatory moment Chuck overhears Sarah telling Shaw all of this. It is a paralleling of Chuck's speech to Sarah in the vault back in Chuck Vs The Three Words. If nothing else Shaw has become Sarah's confidant. A sounding board for her concerns. With Shaw, Sarah has someone who can understand the issues that spies deal with when they are living the lie. They have both been there and back again. Chuck has not.
A picture tells a thousand words.  Or in Yvonne's case -  a million.
A picture tells a thousand words. Or in Yvonne's case - a million.
Episode Flashes:
  • Casey sniping the assassin with a tranq dart
  • Chuck sliding down the Castle rail bringing donuts
  • Chuck's first crush Mrs. Seaver – the mom from Growing Pains
  • Chuck flashing on Alex Coburn in regards to Casey – someone else with an alias?
  • Casey's urging Chuck on to torture him by taking out his tooth
  • Chuck's reaction to the torture tools – 'Is this stuff sterile?'
  • Casey telling Chuck how proud he is at Chuck's ability to play the part
  • Sarah's cheese knife throw
  • Hannah's toast during dinner coupled with Sarah's reaction to watching it
  • gangsters voicing fan concerns and giving Chuck relationship advice
  • Casey sniping the assassin for real; making the shot only 5 other people could do
  • Chuck and Ellie talking as brother and sister
  • Hannah calling Chuck on being a very good liar and not being a nice guy
  • Sarah trying to create something real
This is a strong episode that features great performances by the leads. Zac kicked ass inhabiting the role of a hitman with zeal bringing menace and humor to the role. He was equally adroit at handling character moments most of which involved painful revelations. It was great to see Chuck and Ellie share a brother and sister moment again too.
Yvonne turned in another stand out performance and continues to express Sarah's struggles not just in dialogue but through her amazing ability to emote through body language and facial cues.
Adam Baldwin was badass as Casey. Again. The revelation that he too has a potential alias will no doubt have payoff further along. The respect that John Casey has for Chuck's abilities as a spy was most welcome to see.
The BuyMore stuff was a mixed bag. While Jeff and Lester being perplexed by Chuck's prowness with the fairer sex is in line with their characters their use as a Greek Chorus to point out the magic of Chuck and Sarah's relationship did not work for me. Those two are the BuyMore equivalent of snipers. Using them for them for meta statements was a choice due to the budget restrictions the show is under but that moment would have worked much better using Morgan and Big Mike instead. Or better yet, dropped altogether. In contrast, the use of the gangsters to discuss, 'Will they? Won't they?' relationships and give Chuck relationship advice was a hoot and a humorous wink to the fans.
'I thought you were a nice guy!'
Chuck has hit rock bottom. The pain he inflicted on Hannah and the revelations from Sarah have been a hard slap of reality. Chuck is positioned to find his way back. But what a difficult balancing act it will be to keep his identity and yet be able to function successfully in the spy world.
Ali Adler has written another great episode.   Chuck and Sarah are struggling in unfamiliar territory.  They are making mistakes and are searching to find the right answers.  Never have the two of them been more vulnerable; more human; more real.
I love that.

MidSeason Melodrama - Episode 3.07: Chuck Vs The Mask - Part II

Part II
Note: the moments in question may reside in this episode but that is a matter of circumstance. There are preceding story telling decisions that led up to this point. It is not an issue that can be analyzed in isolation.

Chuck: 'Sarah and I have a very unique relationship.'
Indeed they do. Relationships are what drive this show. Not just Chuck and Sarah but all of them. More precisely it is the characters. This is the crux of the matter about the unhappiness being expressed by what transpired during the last 8 mins or so of the show. It is not about  WHAT of the show. It is the HOW.
When a piece of creative work is put forth to be experienced by an audience there is an unspoken bond taking place between the two parties. The creators are offering a story telling experience via the use of dramatic tokens. In turn for these tokens the audience gives the creator their willing suspension of belief. The creator sets up the premise of the show and within the first half dozen episodes build up an array of dramatic tokens for the audience to use to suspend that belief.
These creative tokens come in various forms via characters, plotting, show mythology, story telling logic, internal consistency, etc. Those tokens create 'buy in' for the audience. They know from episode to episode the show will be worth investing in because the tokens will be be in play. The more dramatically and empathically these tokens are woven into each episode the more engrossed the audience becomes. Synergistically so does their suspension of disbelief. The better the creators can get the audience to suspend their disbelief the stronger the audience's involvement becomes. There is a symbiotic relationship going on between the two parties.
The amount of initial suspension of disbelief is dependent on the type of show. Obviously shows grounded in the reality of our world require less suspension. Comedies and shows with fantastical elements require a greater suspension of disbelief. The creators of such shows must compensate for this by offering up bigger storylines, bigger characters, bigger action and so on.
While Chuck may take place in a real world setting, it is one rife with fantastical elements. The show's basic premise, that a computer database can be downloaded into a person's brain, allowing them to access information, and now physical abilities, is a big step for the viewer to take. In turn the show offers a mix of entertainment that includes comedy, action, drama, pop culture/nerd references, romance, music, wish fulfillment, spy world vs real life conflicts, and characters.
Out of all of these tokens the show offers, the bedrock one is the characters. Chuck is blessed with an awesome cast and the chemistry between the two leads is captivating. This has turned out to be both blessing and curse. Double-edged sword as it has been referred to elsewhere. For the character/romance token has become so powerful and so dominant that the other tokens pale in comparison.
What it has allowed the show to do is skate around most tokens with a greater degree of freedom. The tokens of story logic, internal consistency, and story mythology are not scrutinized to the same degree we would with other shows because the entertainment payoff is well worth it. We get some great laughs, action, music, spy intrigue, romance, wish fulfillment, and character interaction because of the cross genre show pedigree.
But the caveat is all of our suspension of disbelief hinges on the characters and, by extension, the Chuck and Sarah romance. They are the realest things in the show. They are the anchor for the viewer's suspension of disbelief. The moment the show wavers on that token then everything else built around it comes crashing down like a house of cards.
The show has set up the dynamics of a, 'Will they, won't they?' tension that has been carried over the 3 seasons of the show. The longer that tension is maintained the more mass it acquires. The more mass it requires the bigger the elephant it becomes in the room. I liken it to a dramatic ball of inertia, or DB for short.
The longer the show runs with this DB, the more history and emotional investment by the viewers it acquires. So it becomes more and more of a complex story telling exercise that the writers must address if they want to bring in other romantic parties to the mix. The days of having a guest star show up for 1 or 2 episodes and strike up a romantic relationship with Chuck or Sarah are long past.
Now it requires several episodes to set up a storyline that can overcome the inertia that the DB has accumulated. It is not just an operation of injecting the new characters into the storyline. That is the easier part of the equation. The more difficult part is positioning the two leads where the new characters can be integrated into their lives in a manner that is not contrived. To add to the difficulty, all this must be done in a manner that the viewers will find plausible and dramatically interesting.
Switching Things Up Is Getting More & More Complicated
Switching Things Up Is Getting More & More Complicated
Extremely vital is the storyline being told, must be told honestly. This means that story points, character traits, etc established previously must be adhered to going forward. With Chuck this comes down to being true to the characters. A difficult one to maintain too as character evaluation is subjective and varies from individual to individual. We may agree on the broad strokes but beyond that there are many interpretations on the finer points.
When it was announced that the third season PLIs were going to be around for 4 and 8 episodes it appeared that the story requirements would be addressed. However as we have seen that has not been done entirely successfully. Of the two, the Chuck and Hannah one has been the more successful. Hannah has been in consecutive episodes and it can be seen that her character is a perfect match for Chuck. Though in 3.06 little was done to advance her arc with Chuck.
(Total aside here – I find it hard to believe that Chuck would be interested in striking up a new relationship given his focus on becoming a spy. He, more than anyone, is aware of the danger he is putting Hannah's life in by mixing civilian and spy worlds together. This is one of those out of character issues that arise based on previous character history. To date the show has given me little to remove this objection.)
Matching Chuck up is easier than it is for Sarah because of the fundamental nature of the characters. Chuck is open emotionally and provides many doorways to new relationships. Sarah is the opposite and hence requires a lot more story finesse to do so. So when Shaw is MIA in episode 3.06, any momentum built up between him and Sarah is lost. This was a tactical error.
Shaw's absence places the Shaw/Sarah storyline in a difficult spot. Sarah may have expressed concerns over Chuck turning into a spy in 3.06 but, again, nowhere enough story time is allocated on this point to make the necessary dent in the DB. Especially when Shaw does return in 3.07 and Sarah spurns him for three quarters of the episode. This makes telling the story honestly no longer possible if the goal is to initiate these new pairings by the end of the episode.. What happens then is a rush to move the characters to a targeted position. An exercise in artificiality. In this rush corners have to be cut. This means corners that involve story logic concessions and the use of out of character behavior.
This is the overhead the show must carry when it decides to sustain the, 'Will they, won't they?' dynamic over time. If the Chuck showrunners want to use that device then they must be willing to pay that price. A price that has to be based on honest story telling instead of rushed story telling.
Rushed story telling is what happened in the last 8 minutes of 3.07. That is the HOW that is the issue.
Rushed story telling takes away the capacity for true storytelling and diminishes the most critical dramatic token the show has to offer; that of the characters. That is why the reaction is the one that resulted from fans.
It is not about telling the showrunners what to do.
It is not about objecting to injecting new PLIs into the storyline.
It is about whatever the show does, it does so by being true to the story telling and the dramatic tokens it gave us.
It is about the implicit bond of trust between creator and audience.
A speedbump was encountered on the third season journey. We saw it, we hit it, and we have gone passed it. It was a bump. Not a supernova. Let's look forward instead of back, shall we? Because the road ahead is oh so, very inviting!