Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chuck 3.11: "Chuck Versus the Final Exam"

“We’ve got to get you reinstated, buddy. Without a license to kill, you’re a menace to society.”


I really enjoyed “Chuck Versus the Final Exam.” It had a few rough spots, but overall, it hit the emotional notes well. There are especially great character moments for both Chuck and Casey. The events of this episode force Chuck to begin to contemplate why he wants to be a spy and whether or not that’s really the life for him. I think that is something Chuck desperately needs to figure out. It also begins to answer the question of what the heck Casey is going to do now that he is no longer a spy. Overall, it’s really a very compelling ride.

The episode begins with some in media res, which seems to be the go-to trick for tv writers to use this season when they want to switch up their show’s structure a bit. It’s dark and gloomy, and Chuck has a gun pointed at someone. The situation looks pretty dire. We fade to black as a gunshot rings out. We then flash back a bit to a game that looks sort of like laser tag, but with NERF guns. Whatever it is, Jeff and Lester are engaging in some foolishness at the Buy More, and it’s pretty funny. The shenanigans are brought to an abrupt stop by Casey, who has thrown himself into his Buy More job with gusto since being kicked out of the NSA.

Casey is interim assistant manager while Morgan is off taking a class at El Segundo School of Finance (the usual excuse to leave an actor or two out of an episode for budget reasons), and his enthusiasm is not met with approval. Apparently Jeff and Lester didn’t appreciate having their heads cracked against each other. Big Mike is also forced to admit that Casey has taken things a bit too far. Jeff and Lester threaten to sue, and Big Mike has to do some quick thinking to diffuse the situation. He decides that Casey basically needs an attitude adjustment.

Big Mike’s plan is a little unconventional, but it’s very Big Mike. He brings in his tailor to make Casey a nice suit. Barney Stinson would most definitely approve. Casey doesn’t love the idea (he gives one of this trademark grunts), but he rolls with it. The big reconciliation is supposed to take place at a local Subway. As much as I generally despise blatant product placement in my scripted TV, I don’t mind the major Subway shilling these latest episodes of Chuck have been doing, because it’s directly a product of the grassroots fan movement to buy a Subway sandwich every Monday near the end of the second season to try and save the show for a third.

Big Mike tells Casey (now clad in a new, awesome suit) that all Jeff and Lester want is a sincere apology. But it’s Jeffster, of course they’re going to take things to extremes! And of course Lester is the real instigator of the shenanigans. First Lester demands Casey pay for their sandwiches. Jeff starts to put together his signature sandwich- the pepperoni tuna- out of two separate sandwiches, and takes a big bite. This leads to Lester’s final demand. Casey has to take a bite of sandwich. As Lester puts it, who knows where Jeff’s mouth has been. Gross. Casey is a good soldier, though, and he takes a bite without so much as a grimace. He might even be smiling a little at the absurdity of it all.

The main plot of the episode, however, is all about Chuck. It’s time for his “spy test,” which sounds incredibly silly (and kind of is), but it does provide for a lot of satisfying character development. Sarah delivers the mission information to Chuck- it seems pretty straight forward. General Beckman suspects there’s a Ring mole within the CIA, and Chuck is to conduct a stake-out at a local hotel to figure out who it is. Sarah is to accompany him on the mission, more as an evaluator than partner, but Chuck tries to make the best of it. He has realized that he wants Sarah back.

Chuck tries to recreate their first stake-out with some sizzling shrimp and a stake-out mix featuring “Private Eyes,” which is pretty darn adorable. Sarah is digging it, too, until the moment is interrupted by, you know, the actual job they were sent to the hotel to do. Chuck’s mission involved him following some Ring operatives into a sauna, which provided some nice eye candy for we female viewers for once (enough with the slow motion, windblown hair cheesiness with Sarah and other female spies already!). Chuck ends up peering in from outside on the hotel room where the Ring operatives are meeting with the mole, still clad only in his sauna towel. The scene ends with Chuck successfully pointing a camera at the mole but winding up in a predicament that leads him to say “I’m a naked spy!” Which most definitely had me cracking up.

Chuck had been told that if he passed the test, he’d be sent to Rome while Sarah and Shaw remained in DC. So when Chuck believes he passed the test, it’s kind of a bittersweet moment for him. It was great to see Chuck start to realize the full implications of the life he thought he wanted. He’s determined to go ahead with the “become a spy” plan, though, because he feels like it’s the only way he ever really has a shot with Sarah. Always thoughtful, Chuck rescues Casey’s gun from Castle and gives it to him as a gift for teaching him so much of what he needed. I thought that was a pretty great moment.

Sarah invites Chuck to a celebratory dinner, which Chuck is quite excited about. Everything is not as it seems, though. The second half of Chuck’s spy test is about to begin. This part is called the “red test”- Chuck has to kill someone. Sarah considers her red test the worst day of her life, and she doesn’t want to be a part of putting Chuck through that. Shaw, however, convinces her that she has no choice, so she goes along with the plan. Chuck isn’t really thrilled when Sarah informs him that their dinner is actually going to be a meet-up with the mole he’s supposed to kill, but he doesn’t really have any choice but to go along with the plan, either. He feels like if he doesn’t become a spy, he’ll lose Sarah forever.

The mole figures out pretty quickly that something is up, and he attacks. Chuck flashes on his kung fu skills and manages to subdue the mole, but Chuck is reluctant to kill him. He’s going to arrest him instead. Which is a very bad idea, but also very Chuck. He’s really still not the monster Sarah fears she has created. The mole escapes, and Chuck ends up chasing him through what looks like a bunch of train cars. Sarah is following, but Chuck doesn’t realize that. Chuck finally catches up to the mole and points the gun at him. A shot rings out, and Sarah hears it and looks forlorn. It wasn’t Chuck who pulled the trigger, though. Casey figured out something was up and followed Chuck, too. Because Casey’s a civilian and what he did would most certainly be considered murder, Chuck has to promise never to tell anyone, even Sarah, what really went down.

Chuck arrives home to another message from General Beckman. He’s to report to DC to be officially inducted into the agency. Chuck keeps frantically trying to call Sarah, but she’s ignoring his calls. Shaw asks Sarah if she’s still in love with Chuck, and she says that she’s not. I’m fairly certain that opinion is still subject to change, though. Chuck hears the doorbell to his apartment ring, and he runs for it, hoping that it’s Sarah. It isn’t Sarah, though. It’s another agent who is to escort him to DC. And they need to leave immediately.

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