“About freaking time.” That was the thought going through my head during the middle part of tonight’s Chuck, an episode that finally brought Ellie into the same world as the rest of the main cast. Should it have taken this long to loop her in? Probably not. OK, almost definitely not. However, the show managed a minor miracle at paying off her involvement with Papa Bartowski’s computer so well. Was this the mother of all retcons? Perhaps. But does it really matter when the solution is this satisfying?
As Ellie and Chuck sat down for their heart-to-heart tonight halfway through the hour, I scribbled down the note “Season 1 vibe.” By that, I meant that I suddenly remembered all the talks these two had back when Sarah Walker was just an unattainable girl taunting Chuck in a Wienerlicious outfit. The two actors had genuine chemistry together, but as the titular hero grew into his role as super-spy, Zachary Levi and Sarah Lancaster were forced to play scene after scene in which one side was overtly lying to the other. Throw in the fact that by Season 3 pretty much everyone in the show knew Chuck’s secret, and Ellie has transformed from “core character” to “obtuse afterthought”. She served as the complement to various pairings: she was Chuck’s sister, Awesome’s wife, Sarah’s friend. But she didn’t really stand on her own.
The computer arc has put her back into the position of being central to the show again, both as a compliment to Chuck emotionally but also intellectually. Her scientific brain works different from Chuck’s engineering-based mind, leaving the two able to support each other’s weak spots when working in tandem. (These two must be killer at playing Portal 2 co-op.) Her puzzle-solving nature allows her not only to see things Chuck can’t, but that no one else in the CIA could as well. The show cheats a bit by having the puzzles designed by a father to be solved by a daughter, but that gets to the heart of the show: family first. Works for me. This isn’t Rubicon, y’all.
While it’s been frustrating for the show to constantly invent reasons why Chuck couldn’t tell his sister about his spy life, it was certainly thrilling to see her in Castle with the makeshift family that’s formed around him since the outset of the show. Contrast that with the surprise bridal shower for Sarah, in which she discovered hordes of people she barely knew. In Castle, Ellie saw familiar people in unfamiliar surroundings. She didn’t exactly meet them again for the first time, but things that previously had been puzzling (pun intended) finally clicked into place for her. It didn’t have quite the epic feel of “Chuck Versus The Beard,” when Morgan finally learned about Chuck’s true nature, but it was plenty effective all the same. Having four years to wait for this payoff probably had a lot to do with the sense of catharsis in that scene.
The reveal of Agent X as Volkoff (née: Hartley Winterbottom) furthered this episode’s series of solidly executed reveals. While some of you may have guessed the connection before tonight, it was insanely obvious once Ellie started laying down information gleaned from the computer about the Alpha Intersect. That the characters were shocked by the ultimate revelation doesn’t exactly make them stupid, but let’s face it: it was either Volkoff or Big Mike as the only possible candidates. Still, seeing a pre-Bond Dalton inside that spy will was great payoff all the same.
Now, Winterbottom as the root of the Bartowski family misery is a bit of a reconfiguration of previous mythology. Many of the previous tales of Stephen surrounded his desire to protect his children, not undo the damage incurred by unwittingly creating one of the world’s deadliest villains. But since Chuck is a show much more interested in character than tightly knitted mythology, I’m not going to cry bloody murder over this. Plus, it gives a fresh perspective on why Mary would have volunteered to go undercover decades ago, AND now places Team Bartowski in more personal danger than at any point since the end of Season 3. If that’s a retcon, it’s certainly a retcon with which I can live.
Much less successful was anything involving Chuck’s bachelor party and Big Mike/Jeffster’s subsequent desire to save their manly weekend. Between the ol’ bag switcheroo trick and a series of misunderstood locations, I impatiently tapped my computer waiting to get back to the most kick-ass English granny this side of Helen Mirren in the movie RED. Arguing that the Buy Morons need to be off this show is a bit like arguing that NBC should stop devoting a third of my television screen to in-show ads for The Voice: neither are going to happen anytime soon, so why bother? You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of Chuck.
Still, the show did so much right tonight that it’s easy to let that stuff slide. The Bartowksi family secret ties into a major government cover-up. The last time Adam Baldwin was involved with one of those, Reavers were involved. Vivian Volkoff is slightly less terrifying than Reavers (at least not in the way the show would like her to be), but the threats to Team Bartowski come as much from within their own organization as from outside of it. Luckily, Chuck’s ability to finally work with Ellie will allow him to not only bring peace to the Winterbottom family, but to his own as well. If the show can bring closure to that storyline this season, it will do so on the most important level possible: the personal one.
- Great to see Ray Wise back onscreen, although he was given next to nothing to do except stare at a curvy Volkoff agent who took the theme song’s suggestion of “short skirt, long jacket” quite literally.
- If the remaining episodes of Chuck all feature Sarah in a bubble bath, I WILL NOT OBJECT AT ALL.
- Between Awesome’s shirtlessness and the male strippers, this show was equal in its depiction of flesh this week. Forget about Game of Thrones, New York Times: THIS show definitely had “something for the ladies.”
- Do I need to mention the Osama bin Laden target? Yea. Didn’t think so.
- While on topic, everything John Casey this week was pure gold: the way he distracted Morgan/Awesome on the trip; his increasing affection for Winterbottom’s mother; his immediate and sober response to the revelation at the end. Everything was note perfect.
- I got annoyed that Awesome wasn’t in Castle when Ellie saw it for the first time, but it’s probably best to not show her that even her husband was keeping secrets from her.
- Nice shout-out to the spy will, something the show hasn’t really brought up since Season 3’s “Chuck Versus the Living Dead.” Even though I support the retrofitted über-arc, continuity still counts for something.
- “I got a fat stack burning a hole in my crotch!”
- “You really have never been to Vegas, have you?”
- “Now you’re talking my language!”
- “Get ready for some hard-core aromatherapy!”
- “I have a plan.” “Don’t bother to tell me, I’m in.”
- “Oooh, is that a gun? No!”
- “Chuck, I’m so sorry I let this guy plan your bachelor party.”
- “You just Rubix Cubed me, sis!”
- “I have dishonored your shirt, and for that I apologize.”
- “Please! You’re feeding ME!”
- “The mother I never had!