Written by written by Mark Miller/Scott Rosenbaum
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Chuck, 'Piece of cake.'
Except it never is in the spy world.
The other shoe has dropped. The closing moments show Chuck downing a generous shot of Johnny Walker Black after burning his asset. It is a watershed moment for the character and the series. Almost half way to the 13 episode third season arc and Chuck is no longer able to skate around the dirtier side of the job. In the Nacho Sampler he meets and faces up to those responsibilities. And in the process changes who he is forever.
'I completed my first solo mish.'
Fresh off his first solo mission we find a slightly cocky Chuck chuckling at the apparent ease of his next assignment; take on a lonely and brillinat nerd and turn him into an asset. It seems that one, Manoosh Depak, has developed tech that the Ring is interested in. Casey has fun poking at Chuck using his background records at first to compare how close Chuck and Manoosh are. Though Chuck stumbles a bit out of the gate, Manoosh desperate for friendship, latches on to what seems like a kindred spirit. By the end of the episode Manoosh totally trusts Chuck. Just what any good handler hopes to achieve with their asset.
'Classic Geek Tragedy. Sound familiar?'
The parallels between Chuck and Manoosh, and two big thumbs up to actor Fahim Anwar for creating a sympathetic and a Chuck clone like character but with his own unique characteristics, are plain to see. If not for how each came into contact with the Intersect; Chuck's fate could easily have been the same as the that befalls Manoosh.
Each team member of Team Bartowski sees the parallels. Casey uses them as opportunities to needle Chuck. Sarah is obviously uncomfortable having to use her seduction skills on an asset that is all too much like the person she has fallen in love with. Chuck can, better than anyone, empathize with Manoosh's plight.
This is good writing. To take on an asset and then have to burn them is difficult enough for a first time handler. To do so when that asset is used to hold up a mirror to those involved gives the episode that extra bit of empathy and poignancy that makes this such a strong one.
'Just don't think about it Chuck. It makes spying a lot easier.'
During Chuck's indoctrination as a handler Sarah continues to worry that they are pushing Chuck too fast. She also struggles with the potential emotional trauma Chuck may face if they have to burn the asset. A term which covers a wide variety of possible solutions from lifetime imprisonment to termination. Sarah knows from her experience with Chuck that being a handler is rife with inner conflict, especially if the handler becomes compromised by their asset.
Plus she knows that Chuck may have to make decisions and take actions that are not reversible. Life changing moments that will forever separate Chuck from the person he was and the spy he will become. Chuck is going from a dipping a toe into the pool moment to near full submersion. He will be taking a person's trust to manipulate them to attain a goal and then discarding that person.
Casey ragging on Chuck – one solo mish does not an agent make!
Weap - Con!
Chuck's first Johnny Walker Black
the drooping laser pen and Chuck's aim
Sarah Seduction of Manoosh
great callback to the pilot Vicki Vale scene to bookend the episode
Sarah's sadness at watching Chuck become a spy
Casey's quiet pride at Chuck becoming a spy
Hannah telling Morgan, in his broom closet office, about Chuck's Paris trip to the climatic strain of Swan Lake
Jeff & Lester – professional stalkers that do solid spy work on Hannah's background
Sarah's Frak Off T-Shirt
Morgan in a smoking jacket replete with cravat
Weap-Con floorshow models complete with automatic weapons
Casey, 'The kid is growing up. He's becoming a spy. That's a good thing.'
Sarah, 'Is it?'
Throughout the episode Sarah sees repeated demonstrations by Chuck of his growing abilities as a spy. Abilities, that Casey painfully reminds Sarah, that Chuck has picked up from Sarah. His handling of Manoosh, his ability to lie to Ellie, being capable of burning an asset by preventing his escape and then telling Manoosh to his face that he is not Manoosh's friend but a spy; all prove over and over again that Chuck Barktowski from the first two seasons is gone. The very qualities that made Chuck special to Sarah are being tainted by the spy world. Will there be anything left of Chuck to differentiate him from any other spy?
Sarah, 'Piece of cake.'
As both Chuck, in a clever pilot flashback, and Sarah have found out that expression does not apply in the spy world. There is a price to be paid with other people's lives and their own. Sarah seeing Chuck lose his innocence is hard for her to bear. Chuck laments that loss too. But hopefully, Chuck will realize just how much Sarah has done for him when she was his handler. Sarah put herself on the line for Chuck since the beginning. Repeatedly standing up for him to prevent Chuck from being burned. This realization can only help to bring the two of them together in the long run.
I must admit my first viewing of the episode left me ambivalent. There were parts that I loved but at the end of it the episode seemed uneven. Subsequent rewatches made me realize that I was very much feeling the same things that Sarah was feeling. Even though I knew these moments were coming and had to come for Chuck, I did not like seeing them. Now I am able to embrace this necessary evolution of the Chuck character like a parent leaving their child on their first day of school. It is a bittersweet moment. When one can feel that deeply about a fictional character it is a testament to the power of art.
With Ellie and Morgan on alert that there is something going on with Chuck, the walls between Chuck's dual life are getting ever thinner. Much like the barrier is between Chuck and Sarah.
The rollercoaster has started its first descent.