“Chuck vs. The Predator”
March 23rd, 2009
When we last left Chuck, Josh Schwartz had revealed that our protagonist had been, without our knowledge, compiling information about the mysterious Fulcrum in an effort to get the intersect out of his head. It was a smart reveal because it does a lot to enhance Chuck’s character in terms of his determination, not just a weak innocent but someone who is trying to take an active role in his future. And it also felt like the kind of thing that could create realistic tension in Chuck and Sarah’s professional relationship, which is a smart choice in diversifying their interactions after they’ve been coming up a bit stale.
And yet, the show surprised me by immediately blowing Chuck’s cover, bringing his investigation and Orion himself out into the open and ultimately “resolving” it in the span of a single hour. I felt the show was lazy with Chuck and Sarah, dragging it out with storylines too similar to one another, but “Chuck vs. the Predator” shows that they’re not making that mistake. While the episode eventually circles back around to where we started, it’s in a whole new way, which is far more complicated in its themes of mistrust and subterfuge than a simple “Chuck grows a pair” narrative.
It’s another sign that this show is operating at a different narrative level than you would have expected when it first premiered, and another element that NBC brass are hopefully paying attention to as they map out next year’s schedule.
Essentially serving as a call to arms, the episode makes one thing painfully clear: there is a war ongoing with Fulcrum, and Chuck and the intersect are a key weapon to be used in that war. This is why Beckman believes that it should stay inside his head, as having him in the field has led to all of their successful missions: were it not for his mobility, their success rate would be much lower, and they would go back to relying on technology alone (which, let’s face it, would make for a far less interesting TV show). I found the logic in that quite clear, and it’s a justified reason for the show to continue even if the technology were available for it to get out of Chuck’s head.
But, similarly, it’s fitting that Chuck has no interest in listening to such logic, primarily because of how much it impacts his daily life. I love the note when they begin to realize how odd it is that Chuck hasn’t barged into their meeting, or found a way to communicate with the General – he isn’t the kind of person who just sits back, so just as they should have known that he had gone off in search of Orion they really should have known that he had been collecting that information in the first place. It’s not just about the fact that they have 24-hour surveillance on Chuck, but rather that they know his moods – he’s human, and that fact is what drives him to make the decisions he does.
We still don’t know who Orion is, but I have to presume we will find out eventually – I would tend to think that Orion wasn’t actually in that helicopter, rather some other operative, primarily because keeping his identity a secret wouldn’t make sense otherwise. The possibility is still present for it to end up being Chuck’s father, and there’s some evidence for that in this episode: he knew Chuck personally, enough to know his middle initial and to know that he could trust him. Similarly, we don’t really know why he would be so motivated (and to put his life or someone else’s in danger) in order to help Chuck get it out of his head – it’s one thing to be empathetic, but he seems more empathetic than a man should be when he has spent so much time being secretive and careful. There’s too many unanswered questions for him to actually be dead, so while the “beyond the grave” disc delivery might give Chuck some new momentum I don’t really think we’ve seen the last of the shrouded figure.
What really worked about the episode is that what could have just been “Chuck hiding something from Sarah” has taken on a new dimesion. Within minutes, the show gave up on the initial trust issue, with Sarah being noticeably hurt about not being told, but as the episode progressed Chuck was given reason to doubt her that he didn’t even have before: he sees only her willingness to concede to Beckman’s logic before he runs off to Castle, being held at gunpoint when Sarah speaks her mind about how Chuck deserves a real life. Suddenly, he’s not just being extra cautious in planning in secret, but he actively doesn’t trust Sarah with the information since she didn’t follow through on her word. I like when their relationship has some dynamism, and that feels to me like a legitimate and valuable point for their characters heading towards the end of the season.
The episode was also another strong one for the integration of Buy More and Castle storylines, in this instance having Orion’s computer first end up in Lester’s hands. The confusion about it being the new gaming computer started on a bit of a rough note, the controlling of the Predator missiles a bit hokey and too clearly foreshadowing for later events, but it was a good way of starting us in the Buy More before the two storylines branch off. The heist sequence, with Jeff and Lester confusing themselves with Sarah and Casey while they’re all on the same mission, was a little staged (they could have just broken in through the vents like the fulcrum agent (the always great Arnold Vosloo) did, couldn’t they?), but there were some wonderfully funny moments with Emmett, and especially Jeff and Lester mistakingly thinking that Sarah/Casey were their own partner in crime.
There’s just a lot of fun in the Buy More scenes, which helps to counteract everything else: Jeff’s bathroom office was all sorts of disturbing, as was his insistence that he doesn’t use toilet paper (ironic considering the location of his office), and the Big Mike/Morgan father and son bonding was a sweet little note. The rivalry with Beverly Hills could have used a bit more time, and the show could have used a bit more budget to dress up the Beverly Hills store to be a bit more different from their existing set, but it was all in vein with some of the more fun stuff from the Buy More, so it’s hard to complain about that overall.
But this episode was all about keeping the momentum going: despite ending up in a similar position, with Chuck hiding secrets about an investigation, his betrayal is now a bit more clear, and based on next week we’re going to see his and Sarah’s new dynamic tested in ways it hasn’t really been tested before. I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out, as we’re getting dangerously close to the end of the season at this point.
- A smart move to get rid of Ellie and Awesome for this one, as it would have made the scenes in the apartment complex more complicated than they really needed to be.
- Honest question: wouldn’t someone have seen who slipped that disc under Chuck’s pillow, considering that there’s 24-hour surveillance. I know that there’s not constant eyeballs for it, but it’s something you’d think that would cause a would-be delivery person some pause all things considered.
- I enjoy the idea of the Buy More way extending into the real world, but I kind of expected them to have that moment of realization when the new laptop got delivered and that it had all been a giant misunderstanding. It felt like that comeuppance was earned considering just how much too far Emmett went with his bat attack (with Big Mike’s “fiddle”).
- Arnold Vosloo got to play to type here: kind of gross death sequence combined with a resurrection is right up his ouevre’s alley.
- Didn’t Morgan and Anna move in together? Or did the lease not go through?