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'Chuck' recap: Sarah Walker will have her revenge

November 22, 2010 | 11:09 pm

"Chuck" has a relatively large ensemble, but the name of the lead character is right there in the title. It'd be hard to do an episode of "Chuck" without the main guy around to keep things humming, yet the series sets up as a challenge for itself to do a virtually Chuck-less hour of the show. What it ends up with is a very good episode of "Chuck." At the end, it maybe avoids some of the stakes it set up a little too neatly, and the comic relief subplot doesn't amount to much, but there's a real sense of these characters as people who care about each other in this episode, as all of the CIA gang decides to rescue Chuck from the Belgian before the Belgian can get the Intersect and do awful things to our hero. It's an episode full of great Morgan lines, some nice moments under pressure from everyone in the crew, some appropriately creepy dream sequences, and Yvonne Strahovski kicking people in the face.

If nothing else, in fact, this episode cements Strahovski's ability with a fight scene. There are a bunch of them, and she makes every one feel more than believable. Indeed, they're downright visceral. Sure, we've known that Sarah can fight before this (and that Strahovski can fake-fight), but in this episode, that gets taken right up to the next level. This is a woman who's not about to consign her boyfriend to death, particularly when she finds out he was about to propose. Sarah's fighting skills have a tendency to get a little lost in the shuffle on the show, so this is a great episode to remind us all that she's probably the best one in the whole gang when it comes to fisticuffs. In particular, that fight against the champion in Thailand, the fight she very well could have died in, has a thrilling quality to it that some of the action sequences this season have lacked.

But it's not just a series of highlights of Strahovski's fighting ability, oh no. She also gets to look pensive when she sniffs Chuck's work shirt. She gets to show how far Sarah has come in overcoming her fear of relationships when Morgan tells her about Chuck's proposal plans. She gets to play the single-minded determination of a woman on a mission in all of the scenes where she gets closer and closer to finding out where Chuck is. She even gets to be downright terrifying in the scene where she threatens to poison the informant to death with ammonia, should he not explain to her where Chuck is right. Now. It's all good stuff, and it's all stuff Strahovski plays with absolutely smashing presence. This is a woman who's been wronged, and she's intent on reversing that wrong. Sure, Casey and Morgan are great in all of this, too, but the real best in show here is Sarah, who hasn't had a showcase like this in quite some time. Indeed, this might be Strahovski's finest work in the history of the series. (She even gets to be silly and sexy as Chuck's dream Sarah.)

Speaking of Chuck's dreams, the poor guy is hooked up to some sort of hallucination machine, designed to prompt the exact right combination of elements that will allow him to finally flash again, so the Belgian might take the Intersect and (presumably) simply rid himself of Chuck. To Chuck's credit, nothing gets him to flash, even when the dream adds Sarah leaving him, Ellie trying to pressure him, and the gang at the Buy More laughing maniacally on TV monitors. Now, I'd say that the episode probably set up some stuff it should have paid off by the suggestion that bits and pieces of Chuck's memory were being erased, since it seems a little too easy to have the power of Sarah's love thwart advanced neurobiology. But on the other hand, I don't terribly want to see a bunch of episodes where Chuck stumbles around trying to remember who everyone in his life is, so this is all probably for the best. I am impressed that the show continues to deprive him of the Intersect and that it returns to the idea that he makes a good, worthwhile member of the team, even without his special brain tricks.

Over in the B-plot, Ellie finds the secret laptop that was hidden under her dad's old car, but she has to go to the hospital for a 36-hour shift, which means Awesome is the one who gets to try to figure out what it is. At first, he can't even turn the thing on, but once he provides free medical testing for the entirety of the Buy More staff (seemingly), they figure out a way to get it on ... at which point he needs a password he doesn't know. Fortunately, Ellie knows exactly what it should be, and after she plugs it in, the screen flashes white and ... something happens. Ultimately, this whole storyline feels like kind of a tease and such obvious comic relief that it's a little irritating, but it's always fun to see Ryan McPartlin do things that don't involve his on-screen wife, so it's hard to get too upset, particularly when the main storyline is so engaging.

All in all, most of the pieces on "Chuck" were working perfectly tonight. I tend to watch this show on a Slingbox on delay, so I can zap the commercials if I want to, but I'll often use those commercials to write a few paragraphs about what I've just seen or something like that, the better to pull these pieces together quickly. Tonight, however, I couldn't wait to see what happened next. I was fast-forwarding the commercials as quickly as I could. If nothing else, that suggests that "Chuck" has found its groove thoroughly again. I don't know if the show will ever be as good as Season 2 again, but it's at least cranking out a fun, suspenseful ride every week, and that's something to be very thankful for indeed.

Some other thoughts:

  • --Looks like Chuck will already be celebrating Christmas next week. Man, Chuck gets around fast, doesn't he?
  • --Oh,  right, the perfect proposal thing. On the one hand, I much preferred this to the stupid, "Chuck holds up a ring that just happened to fall at his feet" thing from earlier this season. On the other hand, I do wonder just why the show seems to be rushing the relationship between Chuck and Sarah. I know that they've been together for roughly a year of show-time (right?), but it sure seems like they're rushing. They can't be together for even a season before getting this serious?
  • --Nice touch: The doctor going through Chuck's iPhone to figure out the people to introduce into the guy's hallucinations, then reading off the names to the slumbering Chuck. Though it did make it seem a little sad that Chuck only has friends who are in the regular cast in his contacts list.
  • --I'm not normally a big fan of torture scenes. They're too easy as a plot device (especially after "24," which came up with about every variation on the ticking bomb scenario it could think of), and there's often little thought paid to the idea that maybe the one being tortured has more to gain by NOT talking. But I did think the one in tonight's episode was good, particularly because the pain Sarah described sounded genuinely horrifying, enough to believably make the guy talk.
  • --The week in quotes, all Morgan Guillermo Grimes edition: "I think that's kind of international incident-y." "I overshare to connect. I'm a connector!" "Tonight, I ride in the back."

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

Photo: Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) will kick you in the face if you make her unhappy. Fact. (Credit: NBC)

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