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'Chuck' recap: the Casey team

October 19, 2010 |  6:43 am

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I said last week that one of the things "Chuck" could do to return to its previous heights would be to give John Casey more to do. Lo and behold, this week's episode almost entirely revolves around the guy, and it's probably the best episode so far this season. That said, for much of the run time, Casey's just a prop, a big slab of meat that assorted characters haul around. Fortunately, Adam Baldwin is able to be funny even when he's just lying there, and the show figures out a bunch of ways to put him in danger while he's more or less paralyzed. It's a good setup, and it's made better by the way that the show manages to get almost everyone involved organically. Sometimes, you can really feel "Chuck" straining to tell an entertaining story that still incorporates most of the cast. In this one, the seams didn't show. Everything just clicked.

Casey has often been the show's window into action TV's past. Every time we drop into his back story, it's like we're dropping in on an action show from the past, and Monday night, we got to see that Casey spent much of the Clinton era working with a small squad of top commandos, "A-Team" style. It's a good development, not least of which is because the mission-based format of "The A-Team" is the sort of thing "Chuck" would do well to emulate more often. The opening segment, which takes place on the job, with Casey being the only team member who wants to follow the president's orders to cut off a supply of gold that is funding terrorists. Everybody else wants to take the gold, and Casey has to subdue them and turn them in to the authorities. Naturally, they escape from prison, and now the feds want to round them up again. The best way to do that? Chuck surmises it would be to stage Casey's funeral, hoping to draw his former team out into the open.

What's nice about this episode is the way that it balances a whole bunch of elements that have been dangling out there for a while now. Chuck's trying to track down his mother and figures Casey's old team might have some information. Morgan's trying to figure out a way to tell Casey that he's dating the big guy's daughter. Jeff and Lester have been idolizing Casey for quite some time. And Casey's life hasn't left a lot of room for personal attachments. What's great about this episode is that it doesn't spend a lot of time on big, emotional moments in which the characters talk about their feelings. This isn't to say that that approach can't work, but in this episode, it worked just as well to blend those moments into the action. When Morgan finally tells Casey that he's dating Alex -- an action designed to break Casey out of his drug-induced paralysis -- it's both a funny moment and a big, important emotional moment. Similarly, when Casey is trying to call Chuck when he's trying to run from his captors and accidentally calls Jeff, it's so much fun because it brings a card the show shuffled to the back of the deck to back on top again.

It helps that the action sequences in this episode are all very well-done. Casey waking up in the bad guys' lair, still paralyzed but trying to will himself back to being awake, was a lot of fun, and even if the reason the bad guys don't start cutting him apart is because they've ordered a pizza (for some reason), the fight where Casey escapes while trying to fight off falling back into unconsciousness again is a terrific sequence. Similarly, the scene in which Chuck gets trapped by the laser beam and Sarah can't defuse the bomb attached to that beam in time is a familiar sequence that's given an added poignancy by the two people involved in it, while the scene where Morgan potentially sacrifices himself to save everybody else makes it clear just why Casey would be OK with the guy dating his daughter.

The thing about too many episodes of "Chuck" this season has been that they've been clumsy about how they blend the emotions that make "Chuck" so touching, the comedy that makes it so funny and the action sequences that make it so much fun. The best episodes of the show toss all of these things together in unexpected ways, and in this season, there's been a sense that the scenes are kept apart from each other. There's a Chuck and Sarah scene in which they talk about their relationship in every episode. There's a Chuck and Ellie scene in which they talk about how sad they are that they miss their mom. There's some comedic bumbling at the Buy More. And then there's an action sequence or two. This makes for episodes that are too easy to predict and ultimately unsatisfying.

"Chuck vs. the Couch Lock" avoids all of this. It has a certain confidence that we want to see, with the characters acting smoothly, without bumbling around too much. Chuck's plan to ambush Casey's old team at the funeral was a good one, and for most of the episode, we just get to see him as a smart, competent spy. Morgan bumbles through the spy stuff, but when the chips are down, he does what he needs to. And Casey is both the big lunk we've come to know and love and the guy who can overcome anything to stop the villains or keep his daughter from dating the young man with whom he has a love-hate friendship. It's just an hour of the characters behaving in character, acting the way we've come to love to see them act. I don't know if this is a great episode of the show, but it's such a good one that it gives me hope that the series has found its way back to being as fun as it can be.

Some other thoughts:

  • Terrible dialogue: The bad guys tell Chuck that his mom is their boss, and then Chuck says to Sarah that he's starting to think his mom might be one of the bad guys. You don't say, Chuck?
  • On the other hand, I liked Chuck deciding that he wasn't going to work so hard to find his mom anymore ... immediately followed by her giving him a call. I'm looking forward to seeing what Linda Hamilton has to say when she turns up next week.
  • Ellie and Awesome are having a baby girl. I hope they name her Awesomeina.
  • The Internet rumor mill -- reliable as it is -- says that "Chuck" will be getting a full season order any day now. I certainly hope so. If "The Event" can get a full season order, what with its crumbling ratings and all, this show more than deserves one. (And actually, the source on that is Entertainment Weekly's Michael Ausiello, who is pretty reliable.)
  • Dialogue I liked: Jeff admitting that he, too, has a uniform because he sometimes likes to feel "official."

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

Photo: John Casey (Adam Baldwin) has to deal with problems both professional and personal in the latest "Chuck." Credit: NBC

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