“Chuck vs. the Best Friend”
February 23rd, 2009
Utilizing every one of its regular cast members other than Big Mike, “Chuck vs. the Best Friend” is the kind of episode that demonstrates the show’s confidence within its second season. It connects all of Chuck’s various world in numerous different ways, allowing for the Buy More storyline to intersect with Awesome and Ellie while Chuck’s spy storyline intersects with Morgan and Anna’s on and off relationship that is currently in the decidedly off position.
And although the episode doesn’t deal with the show’s ongoing mythology, or introduce a new dynamic into Chuck and Sarah’s relationship, this is an example of a show that knows its identity and knows it well. To be fair the episode, it actually did some of the show’s best Chuck and Morgan material to date, and at a certain point you start to realize that even their mostly perfunctory bromance can be milked for some considerable drama in scenarios like this one.
If a show is going to have a “Flash of the Week,” it needs to do one of two things: make it stand out from an action/suspense point of view or connect it to the show’s characters. What Chuck has decided to do this season is show up every other show by doing both at the same time. It’s made for some darn great television.
The main A-Story here is one that’s actually quite a lot of fun, while also offering some honestly heartfelt moments as Chuck’s friendship with Morgan takes center stage. On the side of action and suspense, you have a Chinese Triad who are plotting to murder the Chinese ambassador, with Anna’s new boyfriend caught up in their scheme (albeit not really understand what he’s got himself up to). This in itself would have worked if the show was content with tangential links to the Buy More, but this was much more about the fact that Chuck’s undercover mission to get close to Anna’s new flame is Judas-like to Morgan, who is stalking Anna (calling it anything else is kind of, well, lying) and is none too pleased with his friend’s behaviour.
There are two moments that define why this show is doing so well right now with storylines like this one. The first is when Chuck, discovering that the Triad are going to take Morgan hostage thinking he is a spy, rips into Morgan for being so pathetic as to stalk his ex-girlfriend, calling him out for being essentially the scum of the Earth. Yes, he just saved his life, but it was extremely harsh and it made me enormously sad. I didn’t particularly like Morgan last season, but this episode reminded me that he’s been a heck of a lot more likeable this year, and here I really felt the legacy of Chuck’s friendship in the second scene, where Chuck explains to Sarah that Morgan has been there through the moments in his life that have been the hardest: the departure of his parents.
This, of course, is foreshadowing for the upcoming reappearance of one of those parents (Hint: there’s a wedding coming up, and one parent plays a particularly important role), but it’s also a reminder that Chuck’s life didn’t start when he became the intersect, and there are things that will be there after Sarah and Casey are out of the picture (not that I ever want them to be out of the picture – let’s not get hasty, here!). That’s a good humanizing moment for Chuck, and Levi really nailed both the comic side of his predicament and the more emotional undertones. And while there is no question that Gomez is not quite at the level of Levi and Strahovski when it comes to this material, he still brought to Morgan that reasonably annoying but ultimately endearing quality that was necessary here.
The other side of the storyline, though, is that Sarah and Casey were kind of on baby-sitting duty, left to clean up the mess of sorts that was left behind. The spy side of the episode was very linear: a Chekhov’s gun of a tranquilized spray, a bug planting, relying on Chuck to flash, a conveniently remote controlled vehicle, and not really much in terms of personal connections for either of Chuck’s handlers. However, I really liked a lot of Casey’s one-liners (His “Stop That” response to Chuck’s thinking, especially), and both of them got their own big action sequences. Casey on top of Chuck’s car really only worked for the few quippy one-liners, but Sarah’s car fight with the female Triad member was pretty kickass, and reminds us that the show can be a really intelligent action show (for television) when it chooses to be.
The B-Story, meanwhile, brought together two sides of Chuck’s life that have interacted well before: Jeff and Ellie’s last encounter certainly did establish a rapport, and the existence of Jeffster! to potentially solve Awesome’s band-selection woes was well-timed and ultimately a lot of fun. There were a few points where it felt like they were just making the same joke over and over again, but Jeff and Lester just make everything so funny: hell, all Jeff did was repeat the opening to “Lose Yourself” without a punchline and the sheer zaniness of his character made it hilarious. Their version of “Toto” was actually kind of catchy, but ultimately I was glad when the real version cut in. I like Awesome/Ellie, and I like Jeff/Lester, and putting them together was at the very least a fun way to spend the remainder of a fun episode.
And if it had all just been fun, I would have been content, but there was some strong emotional stuff with Chuck and Morgan in here. And, compared to last week (which is actually next week, since the episodes aired out of order), the Chuck/Sarah moment at the end was far more subtle. That actually might have hurt last week’s ep: if viewed in the wake of this storyline, with Sarah believing Chuck to have exploded and understandably being quite emotional about it, perhaps next week would have felt like a more gradual evolution and less of a “Oh look, one more stop on the Chuck/Sarah track.” Overall, it just felt like the episode was a soid triple in baseball terms: it didn’t drive in any runs (wasn’t even trying to), but it was a pretty fun ride regardless.
- I’m with Chuck – who the heck comprises the 20% of Jeff’s encounters with women that took place with their knowledge? Other Jeff puzzler: how he thought that PDA from Jason and Anna could still be between siblings. Oh, and also: who stops a door from closing with their hand?
- It was good to have Anna back – I know that budget dictates people missing episodes, but Jeff and Lester have been around a lot more than Anna and the Buy More was getting a bit too overladen with testosterone.
- I didn’t know a lot of the music used in this episode, but it seemed like it fit pretty well – I do kind of wish that there had been a song other than “Africa” to close, though, just because I like it better when Chuck plucks somewhat more obscure tunes (See: “Tom Sawyer”).
- I loved Sarah’s car fight for many reasons, but my notes indicate I was most excited for “HORN ATTACK,” the point where she ejected the CD and broke it in half to turn it into a sharp object, and of course the airbag finish. Great fight design.