“Chuck vs. The Fat Lady”
November 17th, 2008
One of the things that Chuck has done so well in its second season is the integration of all three parts of Chuck’s life, specifically how the Buy More and Friends/Family storylines have integrated (mostly) seamlessly into the cases that dominate the rest of Chuck’s time. “Chuck vs. The Fat Lady,” in many ways, is the toughest test of this yet: reintroducing Fulcrum in a big way, the show is given the task of personalizing a group that has remained very vague and poorly defined since the show’s first episode.
But, proving once again that it’s absolutely on the right path this season, the show demonstrates with a deft hand how it is able to personalize that which could seem impersonal, and familiarize storylines which could have felt even more diversionary. Capture under the theme of surveillance, the episode provides ample pleasures on every level: charactertization, eye candy, plot development and John Casey demonstrating his ability to hit a High C with only his pristine voice.
And that’s just fantastic stuff, there.
Now, first and foremost: admittedly, I’ve been spoiled about Jill being a Fulcrum Agent ever since an ill-advised scroll on a page with various episode descriptions, so there was no big surprise for me at the end of the episode. That being said, however, I thought it was quite well handled – the final moment wasn’t played as a shocking cliffhanger so much as a moment of actual tension, resulting in a setup for the next episode. If they had simply cut out at Jill’s image popping up on the screen I think it would have felt cheap, but instead the show let the moment resonate before rushing off to the credits.
It’s an interesting development, even if it is a little bit obvious in retrospect: Jill, clearly, couldn’t stay around forever, and the show would have to return to the initial dynamic eventually. However, the value is that getting them there allows us to learn more about Fulcrum while spending time on a storyline that is directly related to Chuck. Much as Bryce represents a chance for the show to bring out Chuck’s insecurities while offering some really interesting spy material, Jill has given them the ability to understand some of Fulcrum’s motives (still fairly shadowy, admittedly) without moving too far away from our central characters.
And that’s what makes an episode like this really work, both in its smaller moments of comedy and in its broader moments of extremely well-played dramatic material. The entire sequence sneaking in through the ventilation was humorous, and while the phone gag was a bit cliche I thought it was played with such gusto by Levi that it was impossible not to chuckle at his contortions. But then you have the genius of Chuck’s attempt to get into the grate by sitting on Casey’s shoulders (compared to Sarah’s graceful ascension), and there’s just this rapid fire rapport that these three have together. It was similarly on display when, as they needed a perfect High C note to open a locked box, Casey filled in with, well, the note they needed with only his voice behind him. While Sarah was right in noting to Jill that every day activities don’t usually involve Casey singing, they have (this season) involved Casey doing something awesome on a pretty consistent basis.
But the Jill storyline gives them, also, that fantastic dramatic moment during the lockdown, as Sarah refuses to shoot Chuck despite what he was planning on doing. When the actual plot of an episode is a bit all over the place (The random puzzles got to be a bit much, and quite inaccessible, and the game copier had no purpose in the episode and thus I was waiting for it to be used), those moments do more than enough to elevate the material. The pathos between Sarah and Chuck might only be a bit over twenty episodes long, but there was some great stuff in terms of Casey bugging her about the relationship developing between Chuck and Jill (My two favourite euphemisms Casey used: “browsing someone else’s network” and “jealous of Bartowski’s new piece of asset?”). Of course, for fans of the eye candy, the shower sequence between Sarah and Chuck was a reminder of this: even when fearing for their lives, there is something romantic between them.
While the show technically called a moratorium on direct Sarah and Chuck discussion, the show has been smart not to backseat it entirely: the two obviously have feelings for each other that go beyond simple friendship, but at the same time they’re smartly playing it as a more of a Vaughn/Sidney situation (if we’re willing to use Alias comparisons here). It’s not that it is unromantic, but that there is no lingering question of “Will they, won’t they” until it feels like they’ve gone to the brink of insanity trying to keep their hands off each other. If it results in us getting a “Phase One” moment for these two, then so be it. In the meantime, next week should test their relationship further, and offer us a solid resolution to this little trilogy of episodes.
One of the episode’s sharpest bits of connection to the Buy More storyline, though, is that idea that just as Chuck is getting annoyed with having too much surveillance in one part of his life he is unaware that more surveillance is in place at the Buy More. While Tony Hale still isn’t being given much to do in his role as the new Assistant Manager, his entrance and interest in Chuck does present a new wrinkle for the character. These are, mostly comic relief, and it played out well on that front: I enjoyed Jeff thinking that Jill was less well-endowed than he would like, and Hale’s Emmett got a few great lines (like the idea that 4% alcohol was “risky” or that the proper reference point for marijuana use was a Five for Fighting concert).
However, it also raised something we haven’t really delved into much, and that was the fact that Chuck has been lying to Morgan this entire time. Yes, his character is mostly comic relief and not really ready to be in on Chuck’s secret, but just as his beard holds many secrets it also holds a human being who would be very hurt to learn the truth…before he’d stop and realize that it was the coolest thing ever. I thought it was a nicely humanizing story for Morgan, and for a character that was so obnoxious last year a haircut seems to have really make him more likable and effective in the big scheme of things. The entire “Buymoria” part of the storyline was a lot of fun, but the idea that it brought this question of secrets and lies into their friendship was a really smart development that helped tie these storylines together.
It was clear after the show kind of stumbled out of its pilot that it would be smart to personalize these stories: after spending the first season leaving villains shadowy and vague, they learned their lesson later and have since worked tirelessly to really familiarize us with our targets. The result, here, was an episode where things felt suspenseful (the Fulcrum agent, played by (I believe) Mark Pellegrino, was creepy often thanks to those “feet exiting vehicle” shots that recurred), meaningful (to the plot and these characters) and very, very entertaining. Asking for anything else at this point is getting redundant.
- While I like Ellie and Captain Awesome, it was a smart decision to leave them out of this episode – there’s only so much they can handle in a single episode, and with so much focus on establishing Jill it’s good to take a step back of sorts.
- The theme of surveillance stretched into the episode in more ways than the cameras (which was also an issue of concern in this summer’s fantastic The Middleman, not that anyone was watching it), what with the key being part of a pair of opera glasses.