'Chuck' recap: Sarah gets committed
The reason "Chuck" has worked so well for as long as it has, despite having a bunch of unwieldy elements in it, is because the show typically nails the emotions it's going for. When Chuck and Sarah finally fell in love, it really felt like two longtime crushes giving in to their feelings for each other. When Casey found his daughter, it felt like a man who'd shut out most of the world getting a second chance to feel something. The Chuck-and-Ellie relationship has always been the base of the show's soul, while the Chuck-and-Morgan relationship often provides the show its heart. Even when other stuff on the show isn't working, the emotions are giving the audience something to invest in, which is why the show has likely attracted such a small but mighty fanbase.
So although there were times in "Chuck vs. the Suitcase" when I rolled my eyes, I thought the show stuck the landing very nicely. The final five minutes, in particular, were well done, and most of the humor at the Buy More was very, very funny (like Jeff and Lester walking toward the camera, wind from a fan Morgan was holding blowing in their hair). So long as the show figures out a way not to introduce needless drama into the relationship of Chuck and Sarah, I can handle episodes where they get into occasional spats (all couples do). This spat, as a matter of fact, got to something very basic in the romance between the two: Sarah has no real desire to settle down -- hence her suitcase -- but Chuck wants nothing but. He and Ellie never had the dream family other people had growing up, so perhaps they're overcompensating now. When Chuck muses about marriage and a baby while drifting off to sleep and it terrifies Sarah, it's a nice character moment and a believable disagreement these two would have.
I liked the spy mission this week, though I did wonder if it didn't try a little too hard to tie in the Chuck-and-Sarah relationship drama. The audience was probably already thinking about this -- thanks to Chuck's conversation with Morgan about every relationship having an Achilles' heel -- so it wasn't really necessary to introduce the couple conflict into the midst of all of the action. The initial mission in Milan felt rather by the numbers, but once the two returned to Milan, the story was filled with great action and great stunts, not least of which was that lengthy fight between Sarah and Sofia down the catwalk at the fashion show. Sure, it makes next to no sense that Sarah could somehow remain a spy after being made like this, but it's a great fight, and it's a nice payoff to Sarah's envy of supermodel Sofia. (Honestly, though, I couldn't tell just why she'd be jealous of Chuck looking at Sofia. Sofia was hot, but have you seen Yvonne Strahovski?)
Meanwhile, back at the Buy More, the show found some solid comedy. The Old Spice guy, Isaiah Mustafa, who I hope isn't tired of being referred to as the "Old Spice guy," was the new Greta, and he was a great foil for Josh Gomez's Morgan. Furthermore, this storyline figured out a funny way to bring back Jeff and Lester without making it seem as though the show was running back to the status quo too quickly (even as it was), simply by pointing out that, well, the show was running back to the status quo. Morgan discovers that Buy More customers will become suspicious if the store is too well run, which might lead to them guessing it's a CIA operation. (Both Awesome and Ellie visit the rebuilt store and come to this conclusion fairly easily, Awesome by observing that it seems like everyone who works there is just like him.) Thus, he persuades Beckman that she needs to let him mess things up a bit.
This is good for a variety of reasons. For one, it puts Morgan and Casey together on a quest to retrieve Lester and Jeff (who've been living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland just a few minutes out of Burbank), but it also provides for ample Jeff-and-Lester comedy, like when the tranquilizer darts do nothing to knock out Jeff until Casey's pumps far too many into him (and Morgan's blown on him) or when Jeff walks up to Ellie to say he's heard she's pregnant, then asks if there's room in her womb for two. (It sounds horrifying when I just type it up like that, but trust me, it's funny in the moment.) Finally, it leads to the spectacle of Morgan becoming the manager of the Buy More, a situation that I hope sticks around for at least a few episodes, as it could lead to some great moments. I'm not often a huge fan of the Buy More subplots, but I like the characters who work there, and seeing all of them again makes me appreciate what they can add to the show.
But it all comes back to Chuck and Sarah, as it should. I like that the show isn't just throwing obstacles in the way of their relationship to throw obstacles in its way. A fear of committing and a fear of settling down are the sorts of things characters this age would confront, and the fact that one person is reticent while the other is gung ho should probably give both of them pause. That it won't is one of the things that will hopefully drive the season as it continues. What will drive this is the fact that Chuck wants something normal -- look how his sister pores over that photo album in a nicely done scene to see just how much the Bartowskis have missed "normal" -- and Sarah often just wants Chuck to be happy, even if it means she doesn't get what she wants. This is going to be the biggest test these two have ever faced of their young relationship, and I know that, as the story continues, "Chuck" will get the emotions right, if nothing else.
Some other thoughts:
- * Another weird "Chuck" plot hole: Wouldn't Chuck have been able to just flash on the bomb and know how to disable it? That struck me as forced.
- * I do hope the entirety of the "Jeff and Lester living on the streets" documentary is put online somewhere. That has the potential to be some seriously funny stuff.
- * My apologies for missing the Harry Dean Stanton connection to "Repo Man" last week. Bad things happen when you write on planes and don't have Internet access!
- * I hope we get to see Casey's daughter again. She was a fun character, and she let us see another side of the grizzled tough guy.
- * Chuck greets the idea of his girlfriend kicking the snot out of another agent on a catwalk while wearing some high fashion and getting a bloody nose with the only appropriate gesture: wild applause. I was clapping too, buddy.
- * The ratings for "Chuck" last week were ... not terrible? They could have been much better, but they suggested that the audience for "Chuck" is at least steady and isn't going anywhere. Considering how many trouble spots NBC has, the show may be safe for another season.
-- Todd VanDerWerff
(follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: Chuck (Zachary Levi) and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) confront one of the first major challenges of their relationship in Monday's episode. Credit: NBC