“Chuck vs. the Tooth”
May 10th, 2010
So far in this six-episode miniseason, Chuck has been barreling along not unlike the train in the “premiere” of sorts: the destination isn’t particularly important, we’re just along for the ride as Chuck and Sarah adjust to being a couple and fighting evil at the same time. It’s been a nice change of pace in a season which felt like it was so clearly driving towards the triangle between Chuck, Sarah and Shaw that none of the show’s other elements really got to shine, and I’ve been enjoying these episodes quite a bit.
However, with “Chuck vs. the Tooth” that train has put on the brakes, and you can very clearly see the switch turning to send the train in a certain direction. I understand why this is (we only have two episodes left this season), and I also understand the long-term plans at play within this solid if not spectacular episode. The problem is that the show manipulates short term reactions in order to establish potential consequences regarding the intersect, leading to an episode which plays out as Chuck’s worst nightmare when, in reality, I think the episode would have played out in a more logical and less dramatic fashion.
It gets the point across, no question about that, but it does so in a less than elegant fashion which hearkens back to the original 13 episodes more than this more recent run.
What we’re supposed to take away from this episode, I believe, is that the intersect is a complicated piece of technology that no one (except Stephen Bartowski, we presume) understands. The result is that there are some pretty serious concerns about Chuck’s mental state in his future, as his dreams begin to tell him things that he isn’t flashing on otherwise, which I find really interesting as a long-term consequence. The show has largely played on the external threats that being the intersect creates (like, for example, the Ring wanting to kill him), but the idea that there are internal threats is a nice piece of story which feels like it explodes a bit too quickly in this episode. It’s one thing for Chuck to begin experiencing these dreams earlier in the season and eventually acting on them, but it’s another to have the dreams start, take over Chuck’s entire focus, get him institutionalized, and threaten his relationship with Sarah all within a single episode. That’s simply too much of an arc to sell in this amount of time, and the sort of torrid pacing that we saw earlier in the year has returned with a vengeance with this particular story.
I understand the impulse here: they want to give Chuck a sense of how Sarah would eventually respond if he went crazy, so they have Sarah immediately jump to the “Chuck’s crazy” realization (at least subconsciously) so that Chuck hides the truth about his future prognosis from her at episode’s end in order to maintain their happiness. A show like this feeds off of secrets, so I’m fine with long-term subterfuge as a point of character: however, it wasn’t clear why Chuck wouldn’t go to Sarah when his dreams started coming true, nor is it entirely clear why Sarah wouldn’t be told that Chuck wasn’t cleared for field duty and perhaps even told to keep an eye on him. None of that happened because it’s more convenient for Chuck’s actions to seem crazy when Sarah and Casey are illogically aloof, and so that Sarah and Casey can both come around to believing Chuck just in time for a heartwarming conclusion. The sentiment involved is fine for the show, but it doesn’t feel particularly earned, and goes through too many hoops within a short period of time to really have the meaning it is supposed to.
The other two stories in the episode were given very little time as a result of the sheer volume of story that the show tried to tell with Chuck here, but both were pretty bare bones. I don’t really miss Julia Ling’s Anna Wu on the series as a whole, as Morgan’s character is more interesting as part of Operation Bartowski, so I was glad to see Morgan brush her off even if the show never really gave it much time to sink in. Meanwhile, I liked the simplicity of Justin’s motives with Ellie: rather than simply trying to kill Awesome (as I presumed last week) or kidnap Ellie to use against Chuck, they’re there in order to get at Papa Bartowski. This means that Ellie can remain ignorant (for now) to Chuck’s true identity, and while I was frustrated that Awesome didn’t sense something bigger was going on (or talk to Chuck or Casey about her line of questioning) I think that it’s a nice way to bring Scott Bakula back to the show at the end of the day.
I guess we’re supposed to derive from the conclusion that Agent Shaw isn’t dead (which I’ll withhold judgment on when I see if the character is any more interesting this time around), but this episode was more interesting than suspenseful or momentum-building. The idea that Chuck’s dreams are telling him things, somehow tapping into the intersect, is a very strong idea, but I think the show doesn’t quite know how to bring those ideas to life. The dreams were nicely captured from a visual perspective, but how characters (including Chuck) responded to them was all too sudden, and I think they should have placed a dream or two (perhaps brushed off as just “weird”) in the past few episodes to give this something to refer back to. As it was, they tried to do mix mythology and science fiction of sorts with comedy (Merlin and the other psych ward patients) and ongoing relationship drama, and it ended up feeling unfocused in a way that gets enough of the point across to send things to the penultimate episodes of the season but doesn’t end up feeling particularly strong in its own right, and doesn’t have the panache of the show at its best.
- I don’t remember Julia Ling being a bad actress on this show, but boy did Anna’s scenes just die on screen – maybe it was just that the script gave her nothing of any value to say, but outside of her fan-assisted entrance (nicely playing into Morgan’s own fan-assisted entrance in his tuxedo) I thought it was all a bit sleepy and forgettable.
- I really enjoy Christopher Lloyd in general, but his subdued play on Dr. Dreyfus was one of the more problematic elements of the episode in terms of how he was a lone voice of seriousness surrounding a situation that devolved into humour. Those tonal problems were obviously not Lloyd’s fault, but considering his past with quirky doctors it seemed strange that he would be entirely stoic in an episode which took the show to some funny places often at the expense of the story being told. If he had been more on the same page, I think that it might have balanced out a bit (if in the less interesting direction).
- Great to hear some Gaslight Anthem over the final sequence – great band, that one.
- For more on the episode, Sepinwall and Fienberg tag teamed it at HitFix tonight.