“Chuck vs. the Mask”
February 8th, 2010
I was pretty down on “Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler,” and I was in the minority on that one: many called it one of the best episodes of the season, and I’ll admit that I just don’t see it. I had a day to sit on the episode, which meant that my concerns festered overnight, but I do think that it failed to really capture the show at its strongest, losing a lot of its momentum by keeping Chuck and Hannah apart, and by sidelining Shaw in an effort to keep things moving. The Manoosh story was solid, but it seemed like it wasn’t saying anything new, and the story seemed to be actively delaying the inevitable (with Hannah) rather than integrating her into the stand-alone story.
And based on some early responses, I might be alone yet again in much preferring “Chuck vs. the Mask” to last week’s episode. While it wades into dangerous waters with its engagement with romantic entanglements, it uses that drama to its advantage, and crafts a story that sells some pretty important transition points as the show heads into an Olympics hiatus. The episode is a bit insulated, and it resolves one of its potential long term story threads a bit too quickly, but it’s all extremely well executed, and continues a string of good episodes that gives me plenty of creative faith in the show heading into the post-Olympics episodes.
Apparently, the shippers are up in arms over this episode, in that it once again raises the question of Chuck and Sarah without having them fall into each other’s arms or express their true feelings to one another. However, as someone who doesn’t particularly care if they actually end up together, my bigger issue is when their relationship issues are raised but don’t actually go anywhere. Here, the show wants them to be able to move on, so dealing with their tension (as both are jealous when the potential for other partners is first raised) and then diffusing it enough to sell those of us open to other options on the new pairings was an important step, and justified the return to their dynamic without necessary resolving it once and for all.
They had to work a little bit too hard in the hour to work Hannah into the story, in that Chuck seemed too willing to abandon her early on, and she seemed too willing to forgive Chuck for saving her life without asking what, precisely, got her into the mess in the first place. Those shortcuts paint neither character in a particularly positive light, especially since we never see Chuck struggle with that decision (although Shaw’s life was in danger, so he made the right call) nor did we see Hannah ask about why she was being gassed in the first place (which makes her seem a bit too oblivious). The show has never pretended that the two weren’t intended to be together in some romantic capacity, and it felt like they went through a few too many stages of their relationship in a single episode to entirely sell me on it (even if, based on their chemistry in “Chuck vs. First Class,” I had already signed off on the relationship’s potential).
But I thought the work they did with Shaw and Sarah was more interesting, in that it was working solely on a fairly complicated shared interest (in falling in love with their partners and losing them in tragic ways) and the fact that they are both extremely attractive people. Chuck is right, it really is disgusting in a heartwarming way, but the show went at it from a really engaging angle. Letting Brandon Routh nicely walk the line between charming and douchebag was a risky choice, in that the latter was clearly present to the point where some likely have no patience for the guy. However, I thought his awkwardness in flirting with Sarah showed a nice combination of a lack of social interaction (in that he’s been so focused on life as a spy he has no idea how not to use the mission as a way to flirt with her) and some potentially screwed up power dynamics. Perhaps my least favourite thing about viewing Chuck and Sarah as a predetermined couple is that it implies Sarah shouldn’t be able to make mistakes in terms of who she dates – Shaw is a mistake in many ways, but he’s one that appeals to her, and I like that she’s being allowed to have an actual emotional connection with someone who isn’t Chuck.
On a mythology note, the episode returned us to Ring headquarters, where this week’s generic bad guy revealed that there Daniel Shaw is about as popular within the organization as one would expect, considering the fact that his only purpose seems to be bringing them down. Routh isn’t going to be in every episode of the season, so the show is going to have to work around that schedule a bit, but I do think that the character’s connection with the Ring helps to give things a bit more of a personal angle – as a shady organization, the Ring can only be so menacing, and placing Shaw and his back story within the conflict will help the story down the line.
Now, after writing about how the one thing that really worked about last week’s episode was the sign that Ellie and Morgan were getting closer to the truth about Chuck’s vocation, I’m a little disappointed that they gave up so easily once it seemed that Chuck’s weird behaviour was the result of the exact opposite emotional state that Ellie and Morgan had predicted. It was extremely convenient, and I do want the show to get to that point, but I thought the way the story was told was actually really enjoyable. Ellie and Morgan have some fun comic chemistry, and the whole secret knock runner was really well implemented. And, more importantly, I buy Ellie and Morgan’s reaction to the news: Ellie, as Chuck’s sister, is happy to see him happy and willing to forget any deeper problems, while Morgan is inherently sad that the girl he liked is with Chuck instead. That sadness was really poignant, and well handled by Gomez, so I’m happy that at the very least the delay on the “big” secret reveal has nonetheless created some new tensions between characters.
At the end of the day, there isn’t a whole lot to say about this one: there were less “funny” set pieces in it, and it did at times feel like it was being a bit too sloppy with its relationship stuff. However, at the end of the day, the Sarah/Shaw stuff developed with a complicated but logical purpose, and Chuck/Hannah got together in a way that skipped some important beats but nonetheless played an important role in the episode. There was a lot going on here, and while it might not have been as fun or care-free as last week’s episode, I feel as if it holds up to scrutiny just a bit better.
- I like the idea that Shaw is someone who actually goes on missions, but I kind of question why a mission apparently so dangerous didn’t have Chuck on it to begin with.
- Some fun fight stuff with the pulley system in the vault, although I wasn’t entirely sure that the constant gag of the opening/closing door was executed as well as it could have been – the crowd shots seemed a bit over the top.
- After a meta-“That guy could be a professional wrestler” joke for Steve Austin, I shouldn’t be surprised we got a similar “Superman” joke tonight.
- The idea that Shaw set a guy’s face on fire is kind of cool, and I like that we weren’t given a logical reason for such brutality so as to avoid making Shaw too sympathetic.
- I didn’t note it above, since I liked the story overall, but forcing Shaw/Sarah to their realization by having them come close to death a was bit hokey.