Chuck vs. Operation Awesome
Last night’s episode of Chuck was a relief on several fronts. For one, they let the whole Chuck/Sarah relationship drama thing cool down a bit, which is going to be crucial if they want to continue to give that relationship meaning. What little emphasis did fall onto Chuck and Sarah was diluted through the larger issues of family involvement in the spy world, so it was nice to hear Sarah speak up for maintaining contact with the outside world. Even better, she spoke in favor of relationships not just as a part of her ongoing thing with Chuck, but out of her own interest. Sarah’s always been a reasonably well-sketched character, but she can fall into some boring character development grooves that have more to do with Chuck than with herself. It’s always good to see her work a little outside his plotline.
Aside from the downgrade in the Chuck/Sarah Emergency Alert Level, the episode was a good example of how Chuck’s new intersect powers will be working, which is to say, only some of the time, and not very conveniently. Zachary Levi has had a whole different aura these first few episodes, which I think may be related to a slightly shorter haircut and whatever extra training they’ve been putting him through to make the fight scenes look better. His neck’s a little more defined. He seems tanner. And that’s fine – it’s entirely appropriate that Chuck would seem different after some actual CIA training and a fancy new intersect. Even so, Chuck now looks a lot more like the real spy he’s trying to become, so it looks slightly incongruous when he falls down on the job. He’s got to go all the way to ridiculous kung-fu hand gestures before we realize the intersect’s not going to kick in, and that tension is interesting and suspenseful. Before intersect 2.0, Chuck was incompetent and you just waited for Sarah and Casey to come busting in and save him. Now, you’re not sure what to expect, and his failures are more frustrating and emotionally meaningful.
This episode also made several moves toward minor character development, as well as introduced Agent Shaw into the mix. Captain Awesome has always been one of my favorites, and in addition to being a hilariously terrible liar, also served as an important audience stand-in: his awe at Chuck’s sweet tranq gun abilities was a good reminder to the viewers of how far Chuck has come from his Nerd Herd beginnings. The whole Fight Club plotline was also fun, and while Morgan makes a fictionally fruitful and worthwhile Ass Man, the highlight for me was absolutely Lester as Tyler Durden. Something about the sunglasses and the rolled up sleeves totally sold me about that role, and I almost wanted to see some creepy liposuction soap production scenes.
Lastly, of course, Agent Shaw, who seems to be the catalyst for this season’s big arc forward into the Ring conspiracy and whatever else may come. I’m not sure how long Brandon Routh is contracted to be on Chuck, but at the moment, I think it’s a good idea to have some shakeup in the main team members. The ending shot of the wedding band was pretty over-the-top dramatic, but I can live with it as long as it doesn’t become a habit. Next week: Stone Cold Steve Austin! More Superman-related alumni casting! Chuck’s first solo mission!