Just as Chuck giveth, Chuck can also taketh away. Last week we witnessed Chuck, infused with resolve by his love for Sarah, take a leap forward in his role as a spy (literally), and succeed gloriously. But here we are, one mission later, and things aren't going nearly as well. Where Chuck has flailed in the past by letting his Sarah fixation get in the way of his responsibility, here he fails–truly fails–as a result. It's a big step for the show, and it makes for the best episode yet.
It starts with the return of Bryce Larkin, former college roommate and destroyer of all things Chuck-Sarah. (Charah? Schuck? Aw, Schucks? It'll catch on ) Nothing else could have shaken Chuck more–after all, Sarah is the root of nearly all of Chuck's bravery, and threatening their relationship is sure to rattle the guy. Not only is he reduced to playing second fiddle to a real-life spy, but he's no longer given the opportunity to be a knight-in-shining-armor to his gal. We see the effects almost immediately; even a simple task of imitating a waiter and seeing what he can flash on proves hard to handle, as he can't keep his eyes off Bryce and Sarah's dancing. Without his head in the game, he winds up spoiling his mission and soiling the target's pants with pricy champagne. Realizing what he's done, he sneaks back in, and jeopardizes the entire operation by getting in harm's way. If that's not failing, I don't know what is.
This exposes something unexpected: Sarah's feelings for Chuck are clouding her judgment and interfering with her ability to carry out orders. And this doesn't just manifest itself in the first part of the mission, where she splits from Bryce and goes after the woman holding Chuck hostage; there's also the episode's end, where in a repeat of the preliminary flashback, she's tasked with taking a tough shot to save the man held at gunpoint. Of course, there's a risk of hitting Chuck in the process, which proves to be too much.
That final scene demonstrates how far Chuck has come. Last season, Sarah wasn't much (besides "to look at," obviously): the first 7 or so episodes found her keeping Chuck in line, and occasionally going soft for a man she witnessed struggle with the hard-knocked spy lifestyle. Call it love, but it was rooted more in pity than anything. But here we have some genuine feelings in the mix, and for the first time in Chuck's history, I'm feeling for Sarah. (Emotionally.) Whereas Chuck can conceivably go back to living a normal life, she can never have one, which I'm sure plays heavily in the fact that she winds up falling for her, for lack of a better term, coworkers–first Bryce, and now Chuck.
And poor Chuck–he's no longer on the receiving end of Sarah's pity love, and with good cause. He's grown up in a hurry, recognizing that he and Sarah can never have a normal life, so there's no point in even trying. And these last few episodes have shown us that Chuck, despite the excitement and confidence his spy life has afforded, craves routine; yes he's sick of the Buy More and wants to explore his passions, but within the confines of where the majority of people live. He knows he can't be with Sarah, despite his desire–and hell, she wants in now!–but he's back to the old routine, the fake boyfriend-girlfriend one, only this time it's painful for all parties involved.
Which leads me to something I've started wondering: Does Bryce care about Chuck at all? Near the end of the episode, I started thinking that he really believed he had Chuck's best interests at heart when he sent him the Intersect. He knows Chuck would do the right thing, and would handle everything in stride. And hell, best intentions count for something. But doesn't he recognize that Chuck really wants out? Why give him the Intercept update (besides perhaps a fanboy call-out to the fact that all software needs service packs)? Was it his own doing, a government directive, or yet another cruel prank on his old roommate? Only time will tell, and thank goodness NBC has picked up the show for a full 22 episodes so we can find out.
- Once again, while the Buy More stuff was funny, it stood as a separate story. But Chuck is one of the few shows out there that can get away with doing this without it feeling totally removed. If anything, it adds drama to the supposedly ho-hum life Chuck would be leading: He's got his guns and double-crossers; they've got the Mighty Jocks who sling burrito ingredients and can be bought off by PSPs.
- Speaking of, another great guest star appearance in Michael Strahan, surprisingly. I used to watch this late-night show Sports Action Team, where a group of Chicago improvisers would pretend to be sportscasters and perform scenes with athletes. Usually they pulled it off by giving the stars tiny parts, and some were actually pretty good actors. But most couldn't really shake the watching eye of the camera. I got the feeling that Strahan was a natural part of the story, though, and not just some stunt casting session gone awry.
- Chuck uses a clip-on bow tie, whereas Bryce ties his own. Do you think that was intentional? If so, it was a great way to play up Chuck's inferiority complex.
- Do you think Chuck's sister knows Bryce? She didn't recognize him in Orange Orange, but he was facing away. Still, hmm
- Capt. Awesome knows the human heart.