Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Angel of Death”

“Chuck vs. the Angel of Death”

January 11th, 2010

The unique two-night, three episode premiere has been a ratings success: the two hours last night scored the show’s best non-3D ratings since Season One, and while tonight will see a drop against intense competition from House, The Bachelor and How I Met Your Mother the show is still off to a good start.

However, creatively, the schedule is both blessing and curse: it allows the show to present a diverse set of circumstances rather than trying to start the show on a single episode which fails to capture the show’s wide-ranging quality, but it also means that certain thematic elements feel as if they’re being beaten into our skulls. “Chuck vs. the Angel of Death” is a spotlight episode for Ryan McPartlin and Sarah Lancaster, but it also reminds us that Sarah and Chuck’s “Will they, won’t they” relationship isn’t going away.

In the short term, the latter point may seem problematic, but the constant onstant reminders of Chuck and Sarah’s relationship would be more annoying spread out over several weeks, and right now the show isn’t being overrun by them: instead, the show is using it as a subtle complication of their working relationship, which takes a fun and adventurous story finally living up to Captain Awesome’s partial knowledge of Chuck’s vocation and having some fun with Casey (and Adam Baldwin’s history of revolution-inspired nicknames) in the process.

And so long as “fun” outweighs Chuck and Sarah’s relationship at the end of the day, the show is in great shape going forward.

There’s a big cliffhanger in this one, which wants us to believe that Chuck is killing its second character in three episodes, although I have to presume that this is taking things too far: the show isn’t so cruel as to kill off a regular, and the show gets more mileage out of the story if Captain Awesome becomes Captive Awesome at the hands of The Ring.

The episode is a great showcase for McPartlin, who has always been more than eye candy and comic relief in the series. While some might have missed the Buy More folks, I have always preferred the impact that Devon and Sarah have on Chuck’s character, so for the show to finally address how Devon’s awareness of Chuck’s position in the CIA is going to adjust this dynamic is a welcome step forward. The storyline has always felt like it has a lot of potential, primarily because Devon believes it to be “awesome.” He has a romantic notion of what the job entails, and the episode nicely demonstrates that Devon would have been a great spy if not for the fact that he has a wife he loves, and a profession he is, well, awesome at. While for Chuck the CIA is a chance to finally do something meaningful (as we saw in last night’s episodes), for Devon it’s just another way to get his professional rocks off, and as a result he can’t possibly make that kind of commitment to espionage that Chuck does.

Yes, the show got a bit heavy-handed when it brought up the idea that being a spy means ignoring your emotions, which Awesome can’t imagine doing with Ellie and which he feels is unfair for Chuck to have to do with Sarah. The dual conversations between Ellie/Sarah and Chuck/Devon on the subject were the most overt example of the show’s continued rumination on the role emotion plays in being a spy, and while so much of the theme in two nights might seem a bit much I’m still a fan of the idea: it may just uphold the status quo of their relationship, but it feels like something that would naturally come into play at this stage. It’s not being played for melodrama, and the lack of questions surrounding how they actually feel is sort of an internalization of the “Will They, Won’t They” situation: now, instead of just the audience being toyed with, both Chuck and Sarah are beginning to feel that their job is toying with them, and so long as they continue to probe and question the value of emotion remaining separate from their work I believe the show can continue to entertain.

The show is always at its best when it ignores the “Cardinal Rule” and mixes worlds together, and after “Chuck vs. the Three Words” demonstrated the congruity of the spy world and the Buy More, we got to see the show bring Devon and Ellie into the equation here. The story could have felt more contrived, since it involves a foreign dictator showing up in the courtyard with an armed escort and all, but McPartlin was up to the plate in terms of selling Awesome’s comfort in this kind of environment, and Lancaster was as good as ever in terms of grounding her characters in reality (and grounding both Chuck and Devon in the process). The story never felt too cartoonish, although there was plenty of humour in terms of Awesome’s “es muy awesome” press conference and the like, which shows how much the show has dialed in on its tone. While the show is perhaps stacking the decks in its favour by cutting off either the Buy More or Sarah/Devon in episodes which feature the other (creating only two storylines to bring together rather than three), it’s a smart decision early on to reintroduce these dynamics (or introduce them to new viewers who might be watching for the first time).

And the episode was enhanced by a fun story for Casey, our eponymous angel. Adam Baldwin, as noted above, had a similar revolution-inspired nickname story in Firefly, but it’s fitting that here we see a much darker folk story at the heart of his moniker. In the end, the story was a good way to make the mission seem more personal from writer Phil Klemmer, as it wasn’t just a random dictator they were protecting. Combine with another moustache, and Chuck’s quick thinking allowing them to both cause Casey pain (always fun to watch) and force him to save his sworn enemy’s life (always fun as well), and the story managed to lighten the episode when it needed to be lightened. This was another nicely plotted hour, and Casey’s story was a key component of that.

I’m not entirely sure where the cliffhanger is headed, but considering that critics were high on all five screened episodes and this cliffhanger was amongst them, I’m going to suggest the conclusion will maintain a high level of awesome.

Cultural Observations

  • I always forget how much Awesome knows about Chuck’s position – I don’t think he understands the intersect, and especially not Intersect 2.0, so I have to wonder why Awesome isn’t asking more questions by episode’s end.
  • Yvonne Strahovski was as attractive as ever in the Premiere, but the nurse’s outfit was just too much for me to avoid skeevishly commenting on it. Yowza.
  • I don’t really remember what the Ring actually is, and what I’ve discovered is that I don’t particularly care – the show doesn’t seem to think it matters beyond being a shadowy organization, so for me to treat it otherwise seems silly.
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5 Comments

Filed under Chuck

5 responses to “Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Angel of Death”

  1. James

    Is anyone else starting to get a little bothered by the lack of characterization of Ellie? I understand that it’s more useful for the plot to keep her in the dark about Chuck’s activities, but now that Awesome is on board and getting some fun screen time it seems like a huge shame that we couldn’t give Chuck’s sister interesting things to do. Maybe next week’s episode can expand her character rather than the shallow things Ellie had to do this episode.

  2. Jennifer

    Ellie is kind of in “the wife” role for Chuck. The one to wonder why he isn’t home for dinner, to be the womanly presence at home, the family/blackmail material… so yes, I agree with you that she needs more to do. I like the actress and think she could bring more to the table than she gets to do.

  3. Bob

    I believe since Awesome knows about Chuck, Ellie will soon find out. Either Chuck will tell her for some reason or Awesome lets it slip. There’s no way they can continue this series without Ellie knowing. The others from Buy More, I understand that they may never know or maybe Chuck will reveal to everyone at a big party thing at the end of the show or something. But Ellie will need to know sometime and when she finds out, her role will be a larger one.

  4. re: Strahovski in the nurse outfit – I think Sarah shops at a year-round Halloween store…maybe she’s Ted’s Slutty Pumpkin! (Kidding, kidding.)

  5. Bob

    About Sarah’s outfits, I think her outfits are mainly for distraction. Like in “Chuck vs Tom Sawyer”, her Nerd Herd outfit was to distract all the guys in the room so Chuck and Casey can get upstairs. That and she looks good in those outfits.

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