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'Chuck' recap: I have no idea what's going on, but I like it

February 21, 2011 | 11:58 pm

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Every single act in tonight’s episode of “Chuck” felt like it was from a different episode of the show entirely. I don’t say this is a bad thing! Normally, it would have been, but the show somehow managed to make all of this feel vaguely cohesive, even as you were constantly aware that things could completely crumble and fall apart at any moment. There was a lot of STUFF crammed into this episode, but it all largely worked. Were there issues around the edges? Sure. But for an episode that began with a light-hearted, silly scene set at Valentine’s Day and ended with a villain’s daughter discovering her (probably evil) destiny? It worked better than it had any right to.

The most interesting thing here is the introduction of Vivian, Volkoff’s daughter, who ostensibly requires Chuck, Sarah and Casey’s protection but reveals herself to be pretty handy with a gun when all is said and done. And when the episode ends, she finds her way to her dad’s office and discovers… a strange glowing light. So just what’s going on here? Has she stumbled upon some sort of secret weapon Volkoff was keeping hidden away from the CIA, to be broken out only when his daughter was ready? Is there some sort of massive treasure he’s hidden away for her, the better for her to be rich? Or is this just going to turn out to be whatever was in Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase, somehow wandering its way over to a light action drama on America’s lowest-rated major network? Whatever the case, Vivian went from a character who seemed like just another girl of the week to someone who could tie together the back half of the season the way her father tied together the first half. I’m not sold on Lauren Cohan’s accent work (which comes and goes as she plays the character), but I’m intrigued by Vivian. I want to see where this goes.

The worst thing about the episode was probably the action sequences. I’m not someone who’s been spending the season complaining about how cheap the show looks now, as it seems to have spent less and less of its cash on shooting the action sequences in thrilling ways and more and more of it on music, but this episode was really, really terribly shot in places. In particular, that sequence with first Sarah riding a horse and then Chuck and Vivian riding a horse was pretty bad. You could mostly figure out what was going on, but the episode seemed to be actively working against you doing so. (It was never immediately clear where Casey was in relation to anybody else, even though he was saving the day. Watch the sequence on mute, and it’s an utterly ridiculous mish-mash without the dialogue clumsily patching it over.) There are moments in the show that cleverly paper over the budget gaps by letting our imaginations do the work—Sarah’s big escape here comes to mind—but this was one sequence that got away from the show, and it actively hurt the episode. (The pattern of cutting between awkward close-ups with footage green-screened in behind the actors and wide shots that provided no geographical context was particularly bad.)

To continue our informal, “Say two nice things, then say one bad thing” session, let’s look at what might have been the best of the episode’s many, many, many plotlines. Morgan has realized that it’s time for him and Chuck to “grow up,” and that means that it’s time for him to move out. Leaving aside the fact that Morgan and Chuck haven’t lived together all that long, this was a surprisingly sweet and funny storyline. The Morgan and Chuck relationship is one of the two or three the show has never really screwed up, even when it was actively messing with everything else that worked around the midpoint of Season 3, and I’d buy that these two guys are this sad about their cohabitation adventure coming to an end. In particular, I loved the scene where Sarah, desperate to prove to Morgan that he wasn’t a third wheel, decided to get in a little bonding time with him. The sight of Yvonne Strahovski growling while trying to play with a Chewbacca doll was likely enough to send many geeks into paroxysms of joy (and it was very, very funny to boot), and the emotional core of the scene was solid, too. Morgan and Chuck work. Sarah and Chuck work. Morgan and Sarah probably wouldn’t be friends if not for Chuck. And that’s OK.

And, come to think of it, I also enjoyed the storyline with Ellie and Awesome. I always like seeing these two do stuff, but there have often been episodes this season where the show just didn’t know what to do with them. Not so here, as the two get tossed into a clichéd storyline about not finding time to sleep after the birth of their new baby (who’s apparently 3-months-old now!) but have a lot of fun moments to play within it. The sight of the usually perfect-looking Sarah Lancaster and Ryan McPartlin looking frazzled and frayed as they entered the Buy More was another funny wordless moment in an episode with plenty of them, and the show’s strange obsession with Rusted Root bore further fruit, as the only thing that little baby Clara would sleep with was Jeffster! covering the band’s “Send Me On My Way.” (A song I know mostly -– embarrassing teenage admission time –- from the “Party of Five” soundtrack, of all things.) And the storyline found a good way to tie together the perils of new parenthood with Chuck and Morgan’s big decisions, as the Han and Chewy dolls took their place watching over Clara, as Chuck and Morgan surely will in the years to come. Aw.

OK, one more complaint before we’re done here. I’m not sure what the storyline with Casey has to do with anything. This is “Chuck.” We know he’s not going to leave the team, and at the same time, this wasn’t enough of a tease of what’s to come to let me write off its clunkiness. So the woman from the new government agency who’s trying to tempt Casey tempts him by opening a door and revealing … a big wall? That’s the best you can do for us, show? “Chuck” often has problems with big revelations, so I’m already planning to be underwhelmed by what’s behind that wall. (Unless it’s the Hulk. That would be awesome.) Still, though, these flies in the ointment weren’t enough to ruin my enjoyment of this very fun, very chaotic episode. I don’t know if it all hangs together, but I was having too much fun to care.

Some other thoughts:

  • --Morgan and Alex’s relationship is apparently very, very weird, as evidenced by getting to see their Valentine’s Day ritual, which apparently involves putting on blindfolds and trying to bond via their emotions. All right, then.
  • --Bonus points for having Casey interrupt the V-Day festivities and so obviously be horrified by everything he found, from Morgan smearing chocolate all over Casey’s daughter’s face while wearing a blindfold to Sarah in an angel costume. Romance is not for John Casey, apparently.
  • --It’s too bad the horse sequence was so poorly shot because the episode’s other big action sequence -- the escape from the masquerade ball -- was pretty thrilling. Anything that ends with Sarah firing a gun out of a car’s sunroof is just fine by me.

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

Photo: Chuck (Zachary Levi) has to rescue Vivian (Lauren Cohan), but her evil father has other plans for her. (Credit: NBC)

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