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.
- 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.