Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chuck 3.04: "Chuck Versus Operation Awesome"

“I had to decapitate the bear. Self-defense. In order to survive. I’m just glad you weren’t there to see it. It was really grisly.”


I think that “Chuck Versus Operation Awesome” was my favorite “Chuck” episode of the season thus far. It had fun spy action, introduced a new character in an intriguing way, and it had heart. When Awesome is mistaken for a spy by the Ring, Chuck and his team have to come to the rescue. Yeah, I know, after all that complaining about the promo monkeys last week, I just spoiled Awesome’s fate. Ah well. At least I gave you this much time to worry about him! That’s more than I can say for NBC! Anyway, on with the recap.

Devon’s fate is actually immediately apparent as soon as the episode begins. Sydney (Angie Harmon), a Ring operative, has him tied up to a chair on top of a sky scraper. The exact building seemed distinctive enough that Angelinos probably know what it is, but being a life-long resident of the East Coast, I don’t. Sydney, presumably having seen Devon’s heroics at last week’s Costa Gravan gala, thinks Devon is the spy the Ring is looking for. Sydney, after threatening Devon a little, lets him go with a Ring phone and instructions to answer it and do what she tells him to do. Meanwhile, Team Bartowski is, of course, desperately looking for Awesome.

Big things are afoot in Morgan’s life, as well. Big Mike has promoted Morgan to Assistant Manager. I think it’s part Big Mike seeing potential in Morgan and part nepotism. Big Mike is still dating Morgan’s mom, after all. To Morgan’s dismay, Jeff and Lester no longer want to associate with him, and Lester in particular goes out of his way to make things tough for Morgan. I enjoyed this plot because it was a chance to really see Morgan grow as a character. He had to take responsibility and stand up to his goofy friends.

Chuck inadvertently makes extra trouble for Morgan when he flashes on his kung fu skills and knocks Lester out. It was cool to see yet another example of emotions triggering a flash (Lester was acting silly and faking fighting moves) instead of preventing them. Lester goes on and on about how getting hit made him feel like a man, and he and Jeff end up starting a fight club in the Nerd Herd cage. It’s pretty intense, with a car battery electrifying the cage and everything. Shutting the fight club down is Morgan’s big problem of the episode. Big Mike has been noticing all his employees walking around with black eyes, after all. Morgan ends up temporarily firing Lester. It was a good move in that the firing asserted his authority over the staff, while the rehiring regained his friendship with Lester.

After Awesome is released from captivity, he goes straight to Chuck. After feeling relief that his brother-in-law is back, Chuck then has to face the difficulty of explaining Awesome’s absence to Ellie. There’s no way he wants Ellie to be in on all the spy stuff too. I don’t think Awesome wants her involved in that, either. Awesome’s one weakness is that he’s a terrible, terrible liar. I like that he has this one weakness- perfect characters aren’t as interesting. Awesome’s original excuse for his absence is that he was running in the park, saw a bear, and “had to decapitate the bear.” It was so ridiculous that it had me laughing hysterically. Chuck comes up with a better cover story when Ellie doesn’t believe the original one. He tells Ellie that Awesome was trying to help Casey, who was arrested for getting drunk and exposing himself at the park. This was also hilarious, because Ellie doesn’t look at Casey the same way for the rest of the episode.

Sydney drops a package off at Awesome and Ellie’s apartment, and on the rest of Team Bartowski’s advice, he opens it. Inside is an earpiece and a watch. Sydney explains over the Ring phone that these are communication devices. Chuck, upon receiving a nod from Casey, tells Awesome that he should put on the ear piece. This turns out to be very, very bad advice. The ear piece is rigged with explosives, and Sydney will trigger it if Awesome doesn’t do exactly what she says.

The mission involves getting to the twelfth floor of a pretty secure building, but luckily Awesome has Chuck, Casey, and Sarah for back-up in the van. Awesome, however, doesn’t last long without help. He gets flustered by the very first security guard he encounters. Chuck takes his role as Awesome’s “handler” seriously, though, and he’s right there to help him out. With tranq guns. Chuck is actually quite badass with the tranq guns throughout this sequence. I always like it when Chuck is shown as somewhat competent. It shows growth from the bumbling, beaten down by life guy he was when the series first began.

After following Sydney’s directions, Awesome and Chuck find themselves in a CIA office, specifically the office of Agent Shaw. Sydney instructs Awesome to kill Shaw, and neither Awesome nor Chuck want to do that. Shaw tells them that they have to- they’ll all be killed otherwise. Then he downs a red pill, which was a big flashing neon sign that even if he was shot and appeared dead, Shaw would not actually be dead. Since Chuck and Awesome still won’t shoot, Shaw shoots himself. In shock, Awesome conveniently picks up the gun, and when Sydney enters the room, it looks as if Shaw was shot by Awesome.

After Sydney confirms Shaw’s death and leaves (she tells Awesome she’ll be in touch with another mission, of course), Chuck finally reads the note Shaw gave him. The pill Shaw took slowed down his heart, and the gun shot was actually not life threatening. Awesome, with the help of a med kit, is pretty easily able to revive Shaw. It turns out that Shaw is the CIA’s expert on the Ring, and General Beckman has now placed him in charge of Team Bartowski.

We learn some interesting things about Shaw in this episode, which is something I like. His introduction to the gang is clever and has some drama. He also has a refreshingly business-like attitude. He doesn’t like guns, but he knows how to use them and will use them when necessary. He tries to keep his personal stuff from mixing with work. He expects people to clean up their own messes. Until Shaw starts putting the moves on Sarah (which is kind of inevitable, considering this is television), he’s an okay guy in my book, even if he is somewhat at odds with the rest of Team Bartowski at first.

Chuck is determined to end Awesome’s involvement in the spy world for once and all, and he has a kind of crazy plan to make it happen. He plays with the Ring phone and uses it to call Sydney. He tells Sydney that he’s the spy she’s looking for and that he’s at the Buy More. He figures he’s going to have Casey and Sarah for back-up when Sydney and her goons arrive. He’s wrong, though, at least at first. Shaw won’t let Sarah and Casey help because of his “clean up your own mess” policy.

Unfortunately, Chuck half-way fails at dealing with the situation on his own (remember how I said that I like when he’s competent). When he finds out Casey and Sarah aren’t coming, he panics, and he can’t flash on the skills necessary to defend himself. He does manage to use the “run away” tactic favored by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, though, and he actually has one pretty good move near the end. He hides in the Nerd Herd cage and manages to take a few of the goons out by electrocuting them. That was also a nice way to bring the sort-of disparate spy world and Buy More plots together.

Sarah and Casey do eventually arrive to back Chuck up, and they are helpful in dispatching the rest of the goons. Chuck still can’t get away from Sydney, though. Sydney is about to wreak some serious havoc when she is suddenly shot. Shot by Shaw, of all people. I liked that when the chips were down, he came through. One other interesting character note for Shaw happened at the end of the episode. Chuck, Morgan, Awesome, Ellie, Sarah, and Casey are all having a friendly dinner and Chuck and Morgan’s place. Shaw watches wistfully from the Castle monitor and pulls out an old wedding ring. Presumably he learned the hard way that real life and spy life shouldn’t mix.

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