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'Chuck' recap: Love, 'Chuck' style

October 11, 2010 |  9:00 pm

NUP_141560_0497 “Chuck vs. the Coup D’Etat” has me breathing a sigh of relief. It’s the first episode this season that I’ve wholeheartedly liked, with only a handful of minor quibbles. It’s a big bounce back from last week’s boring hour, and it uses one of the best guest stars in the show’s history to great effect. On top of that, it somehow profiles four different relationships at four very different stages –- just starting out, dating for under a year, married and waiting for a kid and married for years –- and doesn’t make the device too cutesy or cloying.

This is a very funny episode, first and foremost, but it’s also one that has some smart stuff to say about what happens when two people are together and having some issues but somehow can’t figure out a way to talk about those issues. The comedy was good, and the action was good, but so was the emotional stuff, and that adds up to a very fun episode. And it prominently featured Casey. Since Casey’s been a little sidelined this season, this was probably music to most fans’ ears.

Let’s look at those four couples one by one, to see what the show did with them.

Couple 1 –- Morgan and Alex: Morgan’s met the girl who just might be the girl of his dreams. The only problem? She’s Casey’s daughter, and given Casey’s feelings about Morgan, this relationship doesn’t seem like it would be long for this world. The episode early on used Morgan as an audience surrogate in complaining about how many little, niggling problems in the Chuck and Sarah relationship would be taken care of if the two just had an honest conversation for once, but it quickly turned the tables on the poor guy when he was simply unable to man up and declare his feelings for Alex. In particular, this story used Big Mike very well, as Morgan’s romantic counselor, and the joke about hearing sweet soul music when you kiss the girl you like was well done (as was the inevitable rise of that music on the soundtrack when the two finally kissed). Morgan is often at his best when he’s pursuing something, and Alex is certainly going to give him some interesting beats to play, especially once Casey finds out.

Couple 2 –- Chuck and Sarah: Morgan’s right. These two have been having a fair share of problems this season, but they’re all pretty minor. It’s not as though Chuck and Sarah are going to break up over some of the stuff they've fought over this season, and even the big conflicts -– like whether they want the same things out of the relationship -– feel curiously small, as though the show is scared to really pull out all the stops in driving a wedge between the two. I get it. I do. The series has committed to having these two together for the foreseeable future, but that also means the show has written itself into a corner. If they can’t break up, then their arguments have no stakes, and that leads to boring plots about the relationship. Plus, the show has been pushing the “Chuck and Sarah wuv each other very much!” plots a little hard this season. This episode was nice because it kept that stuff mostly in the background, but it didn’t downplay it too much either. Chuck and Sarah’s communications problems were contrasted with the communication styles of Ellie and Awesome and the Generalissimo and his wife. When the show is displaying to us how longer-lasting couples keep their relationships functional, rather than just having Chuck and Sarah constantly tell each other, “We don’t know how to communicate!” it works much better.

Couple 3 –- Ellie and Awesome: Ellie and Awesome have been the show’s go-to functional couple for quite a while now. Everything about the two is sweet and charming and perfect, and while the show often plays their perfection for laughs, it also understands that they’re a couple all other couples aspire to be. Now that a baby is entering the picture, the two are mostly handling that development with aplomb, but there’s also a sense on both parts that they could lose touch with each other if they’re not careful. Hence, a “babymoon” (a word I hope I never have to hear again), wherein the two head off to Costa Gravas to the Generalissimo’s celebration (complete with giant Awesome statue that apes a classical nude). Watching these two toss back and forth their easy banter is a nice reminder of how much they can add to the show when they’re used well, and while they’re unfortunately sidelined a bit too much in the episode’s second half, it’s nice to have them there as the couple Chuck and Sarah hope to emulate someday.

Couple 4 –- The Generalissimo and his wife: Here’s a couple we should care basically nothing about, since the Generalissimo has appeared in exactly one episode of the series so far (albeit a good episode) and his wife is unknown to us. But the show figures out a way to make us care, as it turns their marital conflicts into a giant battle over the direction of the country he ruled before she took him out in the titular coup. Oh, and that country just happens to have a bunch of nuclear weapons that the United States didn’t know about. It’s a clever way to do a new take on both the “nuclear weapons fall into the hands of new leaders of a rogue nation” and “long-married couple can’t stand each other anymore” story lines, and I appreciated the way that the resolution of their conflict was also the resolution of Chuck and Sarah’s conflict. This kind of stuff can feel stupid, but here, they dovetailed so nicely that I barely even noticed until the scene was over.

And finally, let’s talk about John Casey, because this was easily the finest hour for everybody’s favorite reluctant protector. From having to be roommates with the Generalissimo to the latter sharing gossip about the Angel de la Muerte (better known as Casey) over the communicator, this episode featured everything Casey fans love about the character, and Adam Baldwin made every moment count. He got to be deadpan, driven and brilliant (when he saved the Generalissimo at the last possible minute), and the episode kept him confined to a wheelchair for most of the running time. As a bonus, now his daughter is dating one of the people he likes least in the world, meaning we’re certain to get some even better stuff down the road. The message, then, is clear: If you’re “Chuck,” you figure out a way to tell neat emotional stories in new ways, and you give lots of  screen time to Casey. And then you get a good episode, like this one.

Some other thoughts:

  • Was it just me, or was there a LOT of product placement in this episode? I usually don't mind this sort of thing, but we had Subway, the minivan and the subconscious bit where Sarah appears to be showing off the many features of Windows 7.
  • There’s really no reason why Armand Assante’s character should still be alive, but I do hope they bring him (and the Generalissimo) back. He and Baldwin have such an easy chemistry, and he’s such a goofy character to have as a villain (and sometimes-ally).
  • "First, we revolution, but then, we party!" You said it, sir!

-- Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)

Photo: The Generalissimo (Armand Assante, right) is so thankful that Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) saved his life that he builds him an elaborate statue. (Credit: NBC)

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