Friday, January 15, 2010

Chuck 3.02: "Chuck Versus the Three Words"

“It’s the cardinal rule. Spies don’t fall in love.”


“Chuck Versus the Three Words,” the second hour of NBC’s two hour Chuck premiere last Sunday night, returned the show back to something more closely resembling its usual formula. We were back in familiar locations and situations. Plus there was a fun reprise by a season 1 guest character. Despite the return to the familiar, though, care was still taken to continue the character arcs from where they were in the last episode and the season 2 finale. Overall, I think I enjoyed this episode more than the first hour because of the more cohesive story.

The opening scene sets up the mission of the week and adds a tongue-in-cheek twist very typical of Chuck. In what looks like a deserted area of a park, a man holding a gold case is being chased. He doesn’t last long- the guys who are after him catch up easily and kill him quickly. The surliest looking guy, who clearly is in charge of the group of criminals after the gold case, pauses to take a phone call. And calls the person he’s talking to “Smooshie.”

Meanwhile, Carina, Sarah’s DEA agent friend from the early season 1 episode “Chuck Versus the Wookie,” is in town, and she and Sarah are celebrating at a club. Chuck and Morgan, however, are having a much more low key evening. In fact, their evening plans to play video games are too low key for Morgan. Because this is television, they wind up at the same club as Carina and Sarah. This has the potential to be very awkward, but Carina’s new fiancé Karl, the man from the opening scene, shows up, and Chuck and Sarah find themselves quickly thrown back into their old cover identities where they’re supposed to be dating. It’s not a one-time deal, either. Chuck and Sarah have been invited to Carina and Karl’s engagement party. Carina’s got another surprise when Karl’s away getting their car from the valet- she’s actually on a mission. Karl is an arms dealer.

One of the interesting things about this episode is the obvious differences between Sarah and Carina. Carina is ruthless, and for the most part, she has managed to completely shut off her emotions when she has a job to do. Sarah is generally pretty competent in that regard, too, but Chuck gets to her in a way that nobody gets to Carina. Carina’s mantra is the Quote of the Episode about how spies don’t fall in love. General Beckman has assigned Casey, Sarah, and Chuck to help Carina on her mission to bring down Karl, so there are other opportunities to see this dichotomy throughout the episode.

Continuing on a theme I talked about in my recap of “Chuck Versus the Pink Slip,” one final piece is put back into place near the beginning of this episode to bring us as back to status quo as I think we’re going to get. Big Mike is back as manager of the Buy More. He has taken a class at El Segundo School of Finance, and he’s anxious to apply what he learned. Or at least he’s anxious to tell everyone he’s been to the El Segundo School of Finance.

Another thread that has been carried through from “Chuck Versus the Wookie,” besides just Sarah and Carina’s friendship, is Morgan’s obsession with Carina. As soon as he sees her in the club, he starts scheming to spend time with her. It doesn’t help matters when Carina comes into the Buy More to talk to Chuck and completely ignores Morgan. Not wanting to see their friend humiliated further, Jeff and Lester have a plan. They want to throw a big housewarming party for Chuck and Morgan, and they think Morgan should invite Carina. Morgan fully supports the plan, especially when he finds out Chuck is talking to Sarah again. I think he’s afraid of being left out if Chuck and Sarah get back together.

One thing that I didn’t really like in this episode, but I guess is to be expected from this show, are cheesecake shots that objectify the female characters. First there’s the slow motion shot of Carina entering the Buy More, complete with wind machine. There’s also a scene of Sarah and Carina strapping on weapons as they get ready for Carina’s engagement party. I usually accept the occasional use of the wind machine, because that’s just how the show has already been, but in this episode, it was just too much.

Chuck crosses the line from adorable to annoying at Carina’s engagement party. He wants to have a heart-to-heart with Sarah because he’s feeling bad about Prague, and he wants to have it right then and there. He becomes even more insistent after Carina tells Chuck that Sarah is cold to him because she loves him. The middle of a sensitive, dangerous mission is not the time to get distracted by needing to get your love life figured out. Naturally, Chuck again has trouble flashing on a skill when he needs to. This time, he and Sarah are in a vault at Karl’s house, and the gold case they’re after is protected by laser motion sensors. Once Sarah promises that they can talk after the mission, Chuck manages to flash on some acrobatic skills and retrieve the case. He’s clumsy at the end, though, and he accidentally touches a laser when he’s almost out of the room. Doors slam shut and gas starts pumping into the vault. Chuck is on the inside of the vault, and Sarah is on the outside.

Meanwhile, Casey, who is undercover as Carina’s “Uncle Johnny,” is forced to give a very long toast to keep the engagement party guests distracted while Chuck and Sarah steal the gold case. As Casey himself says, he’s “not usually a man of many words. Or any words, for that matter.” It’s a lot of fun to see the usually taciturn Casey have to keep talking and talking so he can stall for time. Chuck is also talking quite a bit, but in his case, it’s really too much. He’s babbling on with everything he wanted to tell Sarah, although Sarah’s most definitely not listening. She’s fighting security guards and disabling the gas. All she hears is the end of Chuck’s speech when she opens the door to the vault and Chuck collapses towards her, saying “Sarah, I love you.”

Back at Castle, General Beckman is being suspiciously secretive about the weapon the team retrieved from Karl. She doesn’t want anybody to touch it, except for Carina, who is supposed to hand it off to higher-ups. We later see her plead with somebody named “Shaw” to let Team Bartowski know what’s going on. General Beckman hasn’t ever really seemed to care all that much about Chuck in the past, other than his value as a national security asset, so the emotion in her face here leads me to believe something is seriously wrong.

Sarah is under strict orders to continue training Chuck, no matter what complications the Prague incident might present for the training process. Sarah uses a bo staff training session to vent her frustration. Chuck doesn’t want to fight Sarah because he doesn’t want to hurt her, and Sarah responds by knocking Chuck to the ground with her staff. Telling Chuck that he can’t hurt her, she’s trying to be like Carina. She isn’t really succeeding, though, and I think that’s what makes Sarah a compelling character. Most of the time she is tough and extremely competent about her job, but unlike Carina, she still has plenty of humanity left in her and can definitely be vulnerable.

Carina’s tactics aren’t exactly successful, either. Karl figures out pretty quickly that something was stolen and Carina was probably behind it, so he has her tailed. All the way to the Buy More. Morgan is delighted to have the chance to finally give Carina an invite to his party, not realizing that he’s putting himself in serious danger. Carina has just enough time to give the gold case to Morgan (to give to Chuck) before she is captured. Karl sees the invitation and has decided what their plans for the evening will be.

I quite enjoyed the actual party scenes, because Jeff and Lester antics are always entertaining. The only thing that could have made the party even better would have been a performance of a cheesy ‘80’s song by Jeffster. Instead of Jeffster song, this party’s entertainment is courtesy of Jail Juice, a highly flammable alcoholic beverage Jeff claims to have much experience drinking (and I don’t doubt it). Morgan is even more embarrassed when Carina shows up to the party with Karl and a few of his goons, and Jeff decides that the best way to reclaim Morgan’s honor, as it were, is to challenge Karl and the goons to a drinking contest. It doesn’t go as planned, though, thanks to Jeff and Lester drinking Jail Juice that has been drugged by Carina (she was hoping Karl would drink it).

Thankfully before the Jail Juice incident went down, Carina had the good sense to tell Morgan to call Chuck, and Morgan does what he’s asked. Casey, Sarah, and Chuck know that this could put everybody at the party (almost all the employees of the mall where the Buy More is located) at risk. The situation goes from bad to worse when Morgan finally decides to stand up for himself and tell Carina off for coming to his party with a bunch of guys. Stupidly, Morgan gives the gold case back to Carina. Then he manages to drink the drugged Jail Juice. Team Bartowski knows they have to do something drastic, and I love the plan they come up with.

Casey provides the means to get all the civilians evacuated. He plays the irate neighbor, complete with “angry neighbor” lawn sign, and I really don’t think it’s much of a stretch. He turns the hose on everybody in the courtyard so they all want to leave. In the final showdown with Karl and his entourage, Chuck is actually quite resourceful and saves the day in two ways. First, he uses a tiki torch to explode Jail Juice and provide a distraction. Then, when he realizes that what is really upsetting Karl is how Carina lied to him, Chuck shares his “Sarah pain,” which combined with a little acting from Carina, placates Karl long enough for Carina to take him down.

By the end of the episode, Carina isn’t quite as heartless as the first appeared (although she certainly still doesn’t have as much heart as Sarah). She spends the night with Morgan, intrigued by the fact that he’s the first person who ever told her “no.” She also gives Sarah a flash drive with Chuck’s full speech from the vault. It helps Sarah realize that Chuck didn’t choose spying for the glory; he chose it because Sarah herself taught him the importance of doing the right thing and helping others.

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