'Chuck': Morgan versus the big reveal
Morgan Grimes has always been one of my less favorite elements of "Chuck." I don't think the character is badly performed or anything, and I think he mostly makes sense as a clueless doof who doesn't know just what's up with his best friend, but he exemplifies that "Chuck" is often not as tightly focused as it could be. All too often, the action at the Buy More, while funny and perhaps thematically related to what's going on in spy land, feels like a completely different show, a lesser show than the action-adventure show that usually makes up the A-plot. Most TV shows embrace some of this messiness, to some degree, to give the big stars on the show a chance to take a breather every so often, but the disconnect on "Chuck" often threatens to swallow otherwise solid episodes.
Now most of the time I can ignore storylines I know I'm not going to like as much as the main action. I've spent the last however many years largely pretending the Juniper Creek storylines on "Big Love" aren't even there, and I was perfectly willing to pretend a lot of those Season 2 and 3 "Lost" flashbacks were happening on some other show. So I don't talk about the Buy More plots a lot here unless I particularly like one, just because it feels like picking on a show I really enjoy by picking on the one thing I don't enjoy about it. And I can't say I always dislike Buy More either. I like most of the stuff Jeff and Lester get up to (particularly in their band, Jeffster!), and I'll occasionally enjoy the show bringing together the Buy More gang with the spy action. But for the most part, I can take or leave things like Big Mike or most Morgan subplots, which are often thuddingly obvious in the way the show connects them to Chuck's stories.
If you sense, slightly, that I'm stalling for time, I am. Because some big things happened in Monday night's episode, and while I can't join the "Best Episode Ever!" club that's building on Twitter, I do think the choice the show made in "Chuck Versus the Beard" was probably the right one for the show's long-term future, and I'm interested to see where they go with it. But enough of my confusing you and trying to keep this under wraps. Let's go under the jump, and if you haven't seen the episode, know there's going to be lots of spoilage going on.
Morgan knows Chuck's secret now. That's the big takeaway from this episode. He knows Chuck's a spy. He knows the relationship with Sarah was a fake. He even knows that Casey's an agent as well. The whole episode is a pretty perfect snowball of doom, from when Morgan hears and sees the Ring operatives breaking into the secret CIA base to when Chuck finally confesses to being the man the operatives are looking for in full view of Morgan. And the scene where Chuck tells Morgan the whole story and Morgan is able to say that he knew Chuck was in love with Sarah because he knows his best friend is surprisingly sweet. Zachary Levi and Joshua Gomez have always had good best-friend chemistry, and this storyline makes good use of that.
It's worth pointing out that Levi directed the episode, and he does a mostly fine job of it. There are scenes that are a little over-directed (and he's sure fond of long, slow pans around the characters as they reveal their deepest secrets), and I don't know that he completely nails the tone of the episode in some places. There are moments here that feel a little too far over-the-top, even for a show that flaunts just how far over-the-top it can go from time to time. But Levi got one of Gomez's best performances of the series out of the actor, and he also got typically solid work out of Yvonne Strahovski, Brandon Routh and Adam Baldwin, as the three scrambled to figure out the Ring's true goals after realizing Sarah and Shaw had been sent off on a wild goose chase to take them away from ... something they weren't meant to be in town for. Levi also kept the pacing moving along, as the episode really benefited from things just getting worse and worse and worse.
I'm a bit saddened by how Ellie and Awesome are being sidelined so much this season. It's not like the two were ever the most prominent characters on the show, but their sweet domesticity provided a nice counterpoint to Chuck's inability to have a normal life, and I feel like that's gotten a bit lost in the shuffle this season. It's good that Awesome is keeping Chuck's secret, and his inability to lie is funny, but I also feel like the show is undecided as to whether this is a serious impediment to Ellie and Awesome's marriage staying strong (which would, necessarily, be a kind of dark and dramatic story arc) or whether it's a light, comic story about a guy who's gotten in way over his head. This means all of these scenes hit the same notes over and over and over, which is not ideal.
And need I even say it? The Buy More stuff, while funny in places, felt a little too overcrowded. I liked having Jeffster perform "Fortunate Son," but I'm not sure I needed the shots of the Buy More employees cocking their Nerf guns (much less two series of shots like this). And while I briefly got excited that the entirety of the Buy More was going to find out the truth about Chuck and what was going on beneath their very store, I was less enthused when it just turned into the employees staging a revolution (with the help of Big Mike) that didn't really seem to go anywhere. This was less a storyline than a comic sketch, and while I get that the episode was too full for much else, it might have been better off trimmed a little more. (Plus, didn't we just go through the whole "people from corporate come to make the Buy More more efficient" thing with Emmett last season?)
That said, what works here is that the show has taken the big step of bringing Morgan in on the action. Those moments at episode's end when he's in on it and the team has to accept that he's never going to be even as good a spy as Chuck could be (even in Season 1) are funny, and Chuck's final speech about how Morgan will be good about keeping the secret gave the episode a solid emotional note to end on. If Morgan's never been my favorite character, I'm more interested than ever to see what the show does with him now, and I think he's going to get involved in some great things in the weeks to come.
- Sorry if I sound unnecessarily down on this episode. I really did enjoy it, but you can talk about the central revelation only so long, hm?
- I was impressed that Cedric Yarbrough and Diedrich Bader -- two very funny guys -- made such convincing bad guys. In particular, Bader might have a second career as a heavy if he can play snidely cruel men as well as he played the operative here.
- With all of the anvils being dropped on our heads about how Chuck and Sarah belong together in these last two episodes, I do hope the show gets on with it and hooks the two up for the long-term at the end of the season. It just doesn't make sense to keep them apart much longer.
- A funny episode overall. The funniest thing, though, was the sight of Jeff with an apple in his mouth, like some sort of trussed-up roasting pig.
- See, Morgan HAS a beard, and Sarah WAS a beard. Get it? (Though both times I typed "beard," I accidentally wrote "bear" first, which would make this a very different -- perhaps even more awesome -- show.)
--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: Morgan (Joshua Gomez, left) learns Chuck's (Zachary Levi) big secret on "Chuck." Credit: NBC.