Monday, April 5, 2010

Chuck 3.12: "Chuck Versus the American Hero"

“You’re very prolific. You’re the Picasso of creepiness.”


“Chuck Versus the American Hero” was originally intended to be the penultimate episode of "Chuck's" third season before NBC expanded the season order. Even though it didn’t contain all the fancy special effects of “Chuck Versus the Ring,” I think it still would have been satisfying had it actually been the penultimate episode. It hit some important emotional notes and gave us some great cliffhangers. I think the show overall is going in a direction where many of the main characters are going to have to make big life decisions very soon, and that should be compelling to watch in the weeks to come.

The episode opens with Chuck reporting to “DNI Headquarters” in Washington, DC to be formally made an agent. As he wanders around the building looking for General Beckman’s office, he runs into a kind of shady guy on the elevator, but Chuck doesn’t think much of it. This man ends up shooting his way into an autopsy room. He’s a Ring operative, and he’s been sent to retrieve something from Hunter Perry, the mole Chuck “killed.” The object seemed to be about the size of a large pill, and it had been partially digested by Perry. Not especially pleasant stuff.

Finally in General Beckman’s office, Chuck expresses some reluctance to fully embrace the spy life now that he’s directly confronted with it. General Beckman, however, absolutely refuses to take “No” for an answer. She tells Chuck he can have one last week in Burbank to tie up loose ends before he has to start choosing his team for Rome. Back in Burbank, Morgan, Casey, and Awesome are all a lot more excited for Chuck than Chuck is for himself. Casey and Morgan both want on Chuck’s team, and Awesome wants Chuck to be fully ensconced in his new life so he and Ellie can go do Doctors Without Borders (UCLA let Ellie defer her fellowship for a year). Chuck is reluctant to go anywhere without Sarah, so the trio decides that their new mission will be to help Chuck win Sarah back.

Sarah, however, is still broody over the fact that she thinks Chuck is a murderer now, so the boys are going to have their work cut out for them. Morgan is really the plan’s organizer, which I thought was kind of fun. It’s nice to see Morgan making real contributions to the plot these days. He borrows Jeff’s van, and Chuck and the team head to a restaurant where Sarah and Shaw are having a nice dinner. The plan is not going to be as easy to pull off as Morgan thinks, though, since, of course, the Ring is still around to cause interference. Morgan says he’ll distract Shaw while Chuck goes in and talks to Sarah. I quite enjoyed Morgan’s attempt at distraction. He calls Shaw, and using a device to change the sound of his voice, pretends he’s a Ring operative and draws Shaw outside.

What happens next can only be described as Awesome strike again- and not really in a good way. Shaw finds Morgan, and Shaw is reprimanding him about pulling such a stunt when the actual Ring operatives catch up to them. Shaw, since he’s not really a nice guy, to put it mildly, uses Morgan as a human shield when the Ring operatives deploy the tasers, and he gets back inside the restaurant. Chuck is in the middle of trying to win Sarah back when Shaw returns. The moment still could have gone down in Chuck’s favor, except that Awesome chose that moment to spring into action. He tackles Shaw, and they both fly through the glass restaurant window Kind of a mood killer, there.

During his brief encounter with the Ring operatives, Shaw learned that they wanted to take him to the Director. Shaw decides he’s going to play the sacrificial hero, and he asks General Beckman for permission to take them up on their offer. He can swallow a tracking pill, and agents can follow him to wherever the Ring takes him and wipe the place out. There are protests all around from the team, but General Beckman gives the okay.

Chuck is feeling pretty crushed after he sees Sarah’s reaction to Shaw’s sacrifice plan, and he’s ready to just completely give up on Sarah and the spy life in general. A pep talk from Ellie, however, changes all that. She doesn’t know that Chuck is a spy (all she knows is that her husband was arrested trying to help Chuck win back Sarah- that confrontation scene cracked me up), but she believes that he has it in him to win back the girl. Chuck locks Sarah in a room in Castle so she can’t protest, and he tells her he’s going to get Shaw back because he knows she cares about him.

Chuck’s quest is made a little easier thanks to a surprise assist from Jeff and Lester. They were a bit insulted that Chuck, Morgan, and co. borrowed Jeff’s van to stalk Shaw without wanting to make use of their own (especially Jeff’s) legendary stalking skills. Since Jeff got the van back, the two have been stalking Shaw themselves. They call Chuck to tell him that they followed Shaw to a warehouse where he appears to have been abducted. At the warehouse, Chuck flashes on a soda machine and discovers it’s actually an elevator. He descends into the underground Ring base.

Sarah, naturally, also wants in on the action. She somehow uses some wires in Castle to make some of the lights in the Buy More blink “SOS” in Morse code (I knew exactly what she was doing thanks to “SOS” being the one bit of Morse code my Dad taught me when I was a kid). Casey sees it and understands it thanks to his military training, and he goes down to Castle and gets Sarah out of the locked room. While all this is going on, General Beckman calls in a stealth bomber to destroy the Ring base. It’s kind of shady that she’d make that call while she knows darn well two of her agents are there.

Down in the Ring base, Shaw comes face to face with the Director. And of course the Director is played by Mark Sheppard. What villain in a genre/other nerd adjacent show like “Leverage” isn’t played by Mark Sheppard these days! He’s just that awesome. The Director plays a video for Shaw. It’s the night Shaw’s wife was killed. Which just happened to be the night of Sarah’s CIA “red test.” Kind of predictably, Sarah is actually the person who killed Shaw’s wife. Shaw is obviously going to be on a destruction mission now. I think it might have been more interesting had Shaw known this bit of information much sooner. It would have been fascinating had all his machinations to join Team Bartowski and ingratiate himself with Sarah had been out of revenge, but alas, he has only just switched teams to villain after seeing this video.

The stealth bomber does it’s work just as Sarah arrives at the warehouse. She’s about to break down, convinced both Shaw and Chuck are dead, when she looks up and sees Chuck carrying Shaw out of the flames. After the situation has calmed down, Chuck tells Sarah that she was right in Prague. He wants to run away from the spy life with her. He wants her to meet him at Union Station if she feels the same way. The whole thing has a very nice symmetry with the beginning of the season.

Sarah is packing up her hotel room with a big smile on her face. We don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing she was probably at least seriously considering taking Chuck up on his offer. There’ s a knock on the door, and it’s Casey. He admits to being the guy who killed Hunter during Chuck’s red test. He wants Sarah to know that Chuck is most definitely still the guy he always was. I love that with the hard, gruff exterior, Casey is always a Chuck/Sarah shipper. It’s pretty adorable.

The tension ramps up after Casey leaves. Shaw also arrives at Sarah’s hotel room, telling her they need to go on an urgent mission for General Beckman. He hurries her to the car, not really giving her any time to protest. At the same time, Chuck learns form General Beckman about the video Shaw watched at the Ring base. General Beckman claims that nobody at DNI had any idea Sarah’s red test was to kill Shaw’s wife, but now that Shaw knows, they’ve got big problems. To put it mildly.

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