Chuck – “Chuck vs. The Lethal Weapon”

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“Chuck vs. The Lethal Weapon”

March 9th, 2009

Well, the second time’s the charm.

See, immediately upon watching last night’s episode of Chuck, I found myself preoccupied with just how similar it was to last week’s episode: it involves the same guest character (MI-6 agent Cole Barker), and the ways in which that character interacted with the group were more or less along the same lines. However, I soon realized that the sense of deja vu I was getting wasn’t making me think less of “Chuck vs. The Lethal Weapon,” which came together as a rather great episode by the end of the day, but rather I was kind of even more frustrated with “Chuck vs. the Beefcake,” last week’s tepid and repetitive story.

That’s not fair to “Chuck vs. the Lethal Weapon,” where everything from last week is that much better due to a decision to pair Chuck’s efforts to get Sarah Walker out of his head with his equally strong desire to get the intersect out of there as well. It means that Chuck isn’t just lovelorn or sad about his current existence, but rather that he is striving for a future, hoping for a chance to be normal. It’s something the show felt like it put on the backburner recently, and returning to it in earnest (and, at episode’s end, with a pretty substantial reveal) makes yet another trip to the relationship well completely justified.

It’s amazing to me how much more nuance we get to Cole Barker this week. Last week, he was the suave agent who represented a threat to Chuck’s relationship with Sarah, but this week he was something different: he was a confidante, someone who (unlike Casey, or even Sarah) wanted to treat Chuck as an equal, and was willing to give him credit for his efforts during missions despite Chuck’s usual antics. He gave Chuck a gun, which while fundamentally a bad idea considering his lack of training is nonetheless a step in the right direction in terms of Chuck gaining some competency, but more importantly he gave him enough positive reinforcement and advice that by episode’s end Chuck is entirely prepared to tell Sarah how he really feels. Whereas last week Cole’s introduction felt like Bryce 2.0, this was a much more interesting use of the character, and while Bryce has certainly empowered Chuck to some degree in the past this was a much more direct mentorship of sorts.

This was really all about Chuck’s awakening, as the other half of this equation was Chuck’s desire to get the intersect out of his head, something that it’s very clear is going to be a dominant and recurring storyline in the weeks ahead. It’s always going to be a bit of a red herring, considering that the show can’t really confront the question head-on without fundamentally changing the structure of the show, but the threat of it creates some very strong dramatic tension. Here, it took Chuck’s quest for self-fulfillment and gave it a clear barrier, something standing in his way that is entirely out of his control and unrelated.

The map at the end of the episode is evidence that Chuck has been, on the back of that Tron poster, trying to piece everything together since the very beginning, trying to place Fulcrum into some sort of context. It’s a good reveal because it puts Chuck in control of part of the narrative, a control that he doesn’t actually have in the context of the missions he’s given. It connects him to the viewer as well – now we know that he has been doing as we have, waiting for Fulcrum to surface and trying to piece together this bigger story. We still don’t know how much difference either of our last two scenes are going to make: Sarah and Chuck both have come to a realization, but both of them are secret and below the surface, and as a result it’s not clear if we’re going to see immediate ramifications or more subtle shifts.

My only hope is that things remain consistent: the show’s biggest concern, even if the show has always been quite good at it, is ensuring that there are some ramifications from this bigger statement. They have never quite taken Chuck and Sarah to this level before, with Chuck putting his foot down in a perfectly worded speech, and at the same time we’ve never seen Chuck this determined. Knowing what is coming up next, I’d say that these issues are going to stay prevalent, but I just want to make sure the show doesn’t fall off the rails in its attempt to keep things interesting.

As for the rest of the episode, it was a fair bit of fun: the Buy More storyline had some fun stuff in Morgan’s contract he wanted Anna to sign, the limp-off between Chuck and the intersect creator (Robert Picardo, “Star Trek: Voyager” amongst others) was a nice piece of comedy, and I particularly enjoyed a couple of smaller moments. I’ll admit, though, that after a few episodes of being wary about the problems relating to Chuck and Sarah, I was in a mindset of skepticism through a lot of this one, and the overjoyed reactions across the interwebs (See: Sepinwall’s great review). I totally understand those reactions, it just didn’t have that effect for me personally.

But, nonetheless, a definite step forward.

Cultural Observations

Loved Casey’s “We’re going to die – Bartowski’s got a gun.” They easily could have too – that accidental firing was a bomb waiting to go off. I also loved Casey’s “God, you’re popular!” to Sarah as he teased her about her little love triangle. Fun stuff.

How, exactly does an apartment have 1 1/4 baths? A sink room? Just something that struck me.

You can find Chuck’s full poster at NBC’s site – it’s quite epic, although he’s going to run out of space soon enough.

Jeff’s flesh being 95% alcohol? Likely my favourite throwaway Jeffster line of the evening – the two of them had some fun stuff in this one, but they were really sidetracked as the other side took over.

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