Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chuck 3.01: "Chuck Versus the Pink Slip"

“You’re slightly unmotivated. A bit of an underachiever. But loser? It’s not your turf.”


“Chuck Versus the Pink Slip” kicked off what is shaping up to be quite the busy week in television. We’ve got three episodes of Chuck, two episodes of Fringe, and (a partridge in a… oh wait…Christmas was a few weeks ago, you say?) the 100th episode of How I Met Your Mother, complete with a full-on Busby Berkeley-style song and dance number. Anyway, the season 3 premiere of Chuck started the week off well enough. The plot was a little thin because a lot of time needed to be spent restoring the status quo after the big “Guys? I know kung fu” cliffhanger from the season 2 finale. Despite that, there was still amusing espionage and intrigue and plenty of memorable character interaction.

The episode opens six months after Chuck became the Intersect 2.0. He’s in Prague, in what looks like a precarious situation. Chuck is being held captive, tied to a chair. His objective was to retrieve a case, but clearly it didn’t go well. Despite clearly becoming more of a spy than he used to be, Chuck is still fundamentally Chuck. He can’t bring himself to shoot one of his captors, instead using his Intersect 2.0 kung fu skills to free himself. He also can’t get out of the situation without hitting a snag. He needs to flash on how to use a zip line in order to escape the building where he was being held, but he can’t quite manage it. Luckily for Chuck, the whole thing was just a training exercise. Unluckily for Chuck, his failure was the last straw for General Beckman, and Chuck has been fired.

And so the moving of all the pieces of the puzzle back to pre-season 2 finale status quo begins. The first thing to set back to status quo is easy- Sarah wants nothing to do with Chuck. Instead of going to spy training in Prague, Sarah had wanted Chuck to run away with her- she had fake identities ready and everything. Chuck met with her at a train station, but it was to tell her he was going to do the spy training. He just couldn’t give up that opportunity. That scene in particular was heartbreaking to watch, mostly because it was superbly acted. It was sweet to see one of the rare occasions when Sarah let down her guard (Yvonne Strahovski excels at that type of scene), and it was definitely unexpected. Now, when Chuck tries to call Sarah, she throws her cell phone in the swimming pool that belongs to the obviously very rich guy she’s now dating (or conning, as the case actually is).

Chuck has also moved back in with Ellie and Awesome. Although I’m sure they’re grateful to know Chuck is safe, he quickly wears out his welcome. All Chuck does is sit on the couch all day and eat cheese balls. This continues, despite Awesome and Ellie’s best efforts, until Chuck finishes the huge container of cheese balls. He notices a Buy More price tag on the bottom of the container and goes back to his former workplace in search of more snacks. Chuck tries to disguise himself from his coworkers, but he can’t escape the humiliation. Emmitt sees Chuck on the Buy More’s security camera and thinks that Chuck is a homeless person who wandered into the store (Chuck really hasn’t gotten off that couch…at all…until now). When Emmitt realizes that the guy he’s after is actually Chuck, he does not waste the opportunity to insult Chuck as much as possible in front of his former co-workers. What I really liked about this scene was how hard Chuck had to work to resist the Intersect 2.0 flashing on his kung fu skills. Not only does emotion sometimes keep Chuck from flashing on a skill when it’s necessary, it can sometimes trigger a skill.

Chuck is rewarded, in a way, for keeping his cool. Lester has some important information- Sarah is still at the Orange Orange. Chuck then hightails it to Castle, where he’s knocked down by Casey. After more insults, Chuck manages to finally articulate some semblance of a plan. He wants to work with Casey and Sarah again to show General Beckman that he’s not completely useless. He wants his old job back. Casey refuses, nicknaming Chuck “The Lemon,” but Chuck doesn’t give up that easily. He figures out, from items around Castle, where Sarah and Casey are supposed to be that night.

The funniest sequence of the episode brings Chuck a step closer to restoring another missing piece of the status quo- both of his jobs. He suits up in his Nerd Herd best and uses the uniform as a cover to get into the party where Casey and Sarah are conducting their operation. Casey says the operation is supposed to be simple- they need to stop a courier who works for the Ring. The courier’s name, Javier Cruz, causes Chuck to flash. He’s not successful in warning Sarah and Casey, though, since security guards are pulling him out of the building. Thanks to accidentally knocking out what appears to be a mariachi guitarist while trying to get back into the building, Chuck finds himself back inside and on stage. The Intersect 2.0 allows Chuck to play the guitar (most of the time), but he’s got bigger problems. The mariachi guy was actually Javier, and he’s not a courier, he’s an assassin. The whole situation devolves into chaos, with Sarah and her mark almost getting shot by Javier as Casey tries to shoot a tranquilizer at Chuck. At the end of it all, Javier has escaped, and Chuck is still out of the spy world.

It’s Morgan who finally pulls Chuck out of his funk. Morgan reveals that he’s not back in town for a short visit. Benihana didn’t work out. He also takes Chuck to where he’s now living- the Buy More home theater room. The usually taciturn Casey gives Sarah a similar wake-up call. He tells Sarah to put Chuck out of his misery. The upshot of all this? Emmitt ends up dead and Chuck and Sarah end up abducted. Yeah, I know it’s sudden. It turns out Javier found Chuck’s Nerd Herd badge that fell off his shirt when he was trying to get back in the club the night before, and that led Javier straight to the Buy More.

Emmitt’s death is certainly iconic. He’s getting ready to leave the Buy More, and the Wilson Phillips song “Hold On” is playing on his car stereo. Javier approaches, Emmitt threatens Javier with mace, and Javier responds by shooting Emmitt. Tony Hale is in very good company in the category of “actors who play characters that got killed off dramatically early in a season of Chuck.” CIA Director Graham, played by the incredible Tony Todd, was killed when the Intersect exploded early in season 2. I’m about to delve into seriously nerdy territory here, but if you haven’t seen Todd’s work as future Jake Sisko in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “The Visitor,” you should go do that right now- that episode will seriously make you cry.

Chuck and Sarah are now being held captive (Javier found and abducted both of them after killing Emmitt). Javier wants to fight Chuck, but Chuck can’t flash on the necessary skills, so he gets beaten up pretty badly. Chuck finally is able to flash on his kung fu skills when Javier returns later and threatens Sarah. The success is short-lived, though. Chuck and Sarah soon find themselves pinned down by gunfire on the roof of the building where they were held. Calling back to the beginning of the episode, Chuck sees zip lining as the only way down. He asks Sarah to trust him, she does, and the plan works. Unfortunately for Chuck and Sarah, Javier is waiting for them when they reach the ground. Chuck, thinking he’s going to die, is about to tell Sarah he loves her when Casey rides in to the rescue…in a chopper. Casey saw Emmitt was dead when he looked at the surveillance footage and called in a team to get Chuck and Sarah back. It was hilarious to watch Casey so delighted to fire a huge gun from the chopper.

By the end of the episode, just about all the pieces are in place for the new season. General Beckman informs the team that Javier was a Ring operative and the NSA has captured his phone. She also reinstates Casey and Sarah’s mission. Team Bartowski is back in business! Chuck and Morgan also get their old jobs at the Buy More back. Casey says that with no manager, it was easy to push through that paperwork. One thing is different. Ellie and Awesome are moving to an apartment across the court, so Morgan will be moving in with Chuck. I’m mildly disappointed to see the reset button set on Chuck and Sarah’s relationship, because I think that the Chuck writing team has thrown one too many obstacles in front of them for that particular storyline to be interesting anymore. Overall, though, it was an enjoyable hour, and I was glad to see these characters again.

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