'Chuck': Chuck and Sarah fall in love -- just not with each other
"Chuck Versus the Mask" probably wasn't planned as the episode that was going to be the show's big cliffhanger heading into the Winter Olympics-mandated break. Remember, the series didn't think it would be back until after the Olympics, and this episode was conceived well before NBC's entire fall prime-time lineup fell apart and the "Jay Leno Show" experiment failed.
So when "Mask" was in production, the show's producers couldn't have known that the episode's final moments would have to be enough to carry the show past a two-week break in its storytelling flow. Fortunately, the final moments of the episode -- filled with romantic intrigue and the first appearance of the Ring leadership -- work surprisingly well as a cliffhanger, and the rest of the episode continues this season's swing toward more tight-knit action storytelling.
The thing that everybody's going to be complaining about on the Internet, I guess, is the fact that the episode ends with both Shaw and Sarah and Chuck and Hannah makin' out. The mind of the Internet shipper is a confusing one, I have to confess.
I don't think there's anyone out there who doesn't think this show will end with Chuck and Sarah apart. While I'm generally in favor of shows not pushing will-they/won't-they relationships too far past their sell-by dates (I don't buy that whole "David and Maddie hooking up killed 'Moonlighting'" piece of conventional wisdom), I'm still mostly enjoying the ways that Chuck and Sarah always seem to just miss with their timing. The show has been so good at throwing obstacles in their way and in having them have moments when they're ALMOST able to be together that I can cut it plenty of slack in regard to stringing this storyline along.
One of the most common techniques a show uses to keep two characters who clearly belong together apart is to bring in a guest star or two who will behave convincingly as an alternate love interest for an episode or two before they have to leave to pursue other career options. No one thinks that Hannah and Shaw are around for the duration because, let's face it, Kristin Kreuk and Brandon Routh are probably above this show's pay grade as far as being made regulars. They join the long, proud tradition of characters as diverse as Julie the paleontologist from "Friends," Karen from "The Office" and Seth Bullock's surprise wife, Martha, from "Deadwood." So if Shaw and Hannah are just obviously stalls in the drama between now and the inevitable Chuck and Sarah pairing, why don't I mind?
I don't mind because Shaw and Hannah are pretty awesome and fun characters in their own right. I loved Hannah from minute one, as the show finds that Kreuk, who can be a limited actress with bad writing, is actually pretty good at playing bubbly and effervescent. The show's also done a darn fine job of coming up with a woman who might actually be a good match for Chuck if not for all of the spy stuff that keeps getting in the way of their relationship. She's got many of the same interests as him, she seems really into him, and the only real issue she has with him is the whole "always hanging out with his ex" thing that's ruined many a relationship. As for Shaw, while he started out mysteriously, he's revealing himself to be a rather fitting all-American guy, just the kind of strong, silent type Sarah seems to normally be attracted to. (And it's a nice reminder that Brandon Routh was a pretty underrated Superman. I speak heresy, I know.)
So while neither Hannah nor Shaw is Chuck or Sarah's all-time love partner, both will make pretty good boyfriend/girlfriend material in the immediate short-term future. Plus, having the actors on the show has been a nice boost of energy, providing some really fun scenes in every episode both have appeared in. And in the third season of a show, when a series must necessarily diversify both the kinds of stories it can tell and the world the show takes place in, having these guys around to suggest there's a world outside of the spy world is a good call. It also helps that neither has been made evil (so far), which would be too predictable and beneath this show (unless it was really, really cool).
Plus, the show is coming up with really good ways of involving both characters in the action, keeping Shaw in the loop and Hannah mostly oblivious. Tonight's episode revolved around a museum heist, of all things, as the Ring had hidden a dangerous weapon in the base of an artifact called the Mask of Alexander. (This, in and of itself, is a clever conceit, since museum artifacts don't have to go through the kinds of screening processes that would turn up, well, dangerous weapons.) The action sequences here, which often involve the giant, security-laden vault at the heart of the museum are quite fun, particularly one where Sarah's doing hand-to-hand battle with a Ring agent while Chuck dangles above the museum vault floor and Hannah's trying to open the vault doors remotely. It's a giant, rolling ball of catastrophe, and the way the show averts it is clever and fun.
I'm less certain about Morgan and Ellie beginning their plan to figure out just what Chuck is up to. I get that the show needs to push a wedge between Morgan and Chuck (presumably so that he finally is dogged enough to get the actual truth), but seeing these two squabble over a girl is just not the sort of thing that it seems like the show would do terribly well. As with most Buy More subplots, this one was blatant comic relief, but in this case, the main story had enough goofy stuff going on (like everything Casey was up to) that I didn't need the added comedy, particularly in a subplot that should play off Ellie and Morgan's fears about Chuck's secrets at least a little seriously.
But any fears I might have about the show not taking its storytelling seriously are wrapped up by that final scene, where the Ring agent goes in to confront his superiors and tell them just why everything failed and is shot in the head. The Ring is up to no good, and they've got Chuck, Sarah and, especially, Shaw on their radar now. What they do with that information can't be good, and I'm genuinely excited to see what happens when the show comes back in -- can it be true?! -- three weeks.
Some other thoughts:
- So, those five Ring agents in shadow ... can anybody say ... final five?
- Look, I get that the show needed to get Hannah in the vault as quickly as possible, but she still doesn't seem too bright for just wandering in there like that and not realizing the doors were sliding shut behind her.
- Once again, Entertainment Weekly breaks "Chuck" casting news at a time when it works better to just insert here down at the end. Michael Ausiello reports that one of my favorite live-wire actors, Christopher Lloyd, will be joining the show. Man, this series is good at coming up with actors who've been out of the spotlight too long and giving them great roles.
- And with that, I'll say bye for a few weeks. If there's any "Chuck" news worth posting here, though, be sure that I'll post it. See you in March!
-- Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: Brandon Routh plays the debonair Daniel Shaw on "Chuck." (Credit: NBC)