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'Chuck' recap: Don't waste Gary Cole!

April 19, 2011 |  9:00 am

NUP_143956_0284 It took a while, and the episode nearly lost me, but the latest “Chuck” finally found its way into my heart. To be honest, I was ready to write this one off as among the worst episodes the show had ever done. But then Gary Cole’s Jack Burton became more integrated in the action, and I was much more into what was going on.

Let’s start with the episode's two big problems. 1) It took forever to get Jack involved in the storyline. When Gary Cole first popped up back in Season 2, he was a highlight of that year, simply because having him be Sarah’s dad was such a perfect bit of casting. Sarah comes from a life as a con man’s daughter? Of course she does! And he often tried to teach her all about running cons? That makes even more sense!

But Monday night’s episode stranded Jack off on his own for the first half, and, even weirder, it had him hang out with Captain Awesome, instead of his daughter and future son-in-law. It’s not that there was anything inherently wrong with this idea. Ryan McPartlin is a lot of fun when he’s playing comedy, and Gary Cole, of course, is a great comic actor who can make even pretty lame writing seem funny. But if we’re going to have Jack on the show for just one episode, then we want to see him with Sarah and Chuck, not with Awesome (even if Awesome is, well, look at his name). So this was fairly disappointing.

2) The far bigger problem was that the story involved Chuck and Sarah being so desperate to get the money they lost to the con artist wedding planner that they, uh, involved extensive resources from the federal government to track her down, all the while lying about just what she was up to. Now, I liked how this set us up for what came later. The idea that no one would really trust what Chuck said when he found the real threat was a nice little twist as Team Bartowski moved on to taking out the actual bad guys. So that wasn’t all bad.

But this whole storyline just didn’t feel like Chuck and Sarah to me. Now, I totally get why they’d be upset with the con artist for ripping them off, I do. But the fact that they’d lie to Beckman about who she was, just to get their money back, felt like the kind of unethical thing they wouldn’t stoop to. I don’t ask that these characters be perfect all of the time, but if they’re going to go against the ethical code like this, there should be a bit more logic to it than simply making it part of a wacky misunderstanding.

And that’s to say nothing of just how lame the tracking down of the con artist was. Chuck catches up with her in a Super Shuttle? Casey takes her down with a net? And then she’s basically unimportant to the rest of the plot? Why did we even do this whole adventure in the first place?

Honestly, the episode might have worked if it was Chuck and Sarah trying to track down the con artist with the help of her dad, while Casey dealt with the fact that his old girlfriend and the mother of his child had found out he was alive. The spy stuff that took up the second half was perfunctory, as though the show abruptly realized that Chuck and Sarah had been awful people in the first half and might as well do something better with their lives in the second half.

But despite all of the structural and character issues here, that second half was pretty darn entertaining.

For starters, Jack was much more part of the action, heading to the party with everybody else to track down the bad guys. (The reasons he came along didn’t really make a lot of sense, but at this point, I was so happy to have Gary Cole involved with the main characters that I was willing to overlook a plot hole or two.) For another point, Casey’s storyline was surprisingly well-drawn, and the show figured out a way to pull Kath into the main plot without having her slow down the action. When Casey realizes she’s there and in mortal danger, he has to deal not just with the emotional fallout that resulted when he left her (pregnant, no less) all those years ago but also with the direct danger she’s in at that very moment. It’s a clever way to pull Casey’s emotional story into the main story, and it worked for me.

And the final act, which dealt entirely with the emotional throughline of the episode, was pretty spiffy. Jack, despite an invitation to stick around from Chuck, disappears into the night, but he leaves the little piggybank his young daughter gave him so many years ago (thus justifying the elaborate flashbacks to Sarah’s childhood interspersed throughout the hour). He’s been adding money to it all along, and now Sarah and Chuck will have the cash they need to have a wedding. It’s a nice, sweet moment, and Yvonne Strahovski plays all of the emotions Sarah feels very well.

And at the same time, Casey and Kath are talking about their missed opportunities and just how much Alex takes after her dad. Casey’s been the one thing that’s been mostly consistent about this hit-and-miss season (that episode where he hung out with his own A-Team remains a highlight), and it’s nice that someone realized Adam Baldwin can play these more touching moments in addition to tossing off snide one-liners. The Casey and Kath relationship isn’t the most well-developed on the show, but the actors are still able to find an emotional reality.

Photo: Sarah's dad (Gary Cole) turns up in an episode that threatens to give him nothing to do. Credit: NBC

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--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on twitter.com/tvoti)

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