Let's start with some of the flashier bits of Chuck news: We've officially secured a fourth season! Jeffster returns! Scott Bakula reprises his role as Chuck's father! So long, Heroes, forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever (until the made for TV movie wrapping up all the "loose" ends)!
That first tidbit seems especially fortuitous given tonight's pretty-dang-good entry into the Chuck canon. The show has finally tweaked every bit of its early dynamics to become a different, but not fundamentally unfamiliar show with some staying power. Now that Devon and Morgan are in on the spy game, the entire cast can play along. Ellie, for one, is now dragged into the world of the Ring, running her own spy work by pulling her dad away from seclusion (using the newspaper's classified section) and tracking him for what she believes is the CIA. Meanwhile, in the real CIA, Chuck's dad comes out of the woods to see what's up, and Chuck lies to him about his involvement with the organization and the fact that the Intersect is still in his head. "I'm just off to a romantic evening with my girlfriend," he says; cut to him scaling a wall with Sarah on their way to a mission.
That's the essence of this new form of Chuck: When the title character was an outsider, the spy stuff felt like such a fantasy, an escape from the drudgery of the daily Buy More grind. Now that Chuck is a full-fledged agent, with his Sarah squeeze to boot, the spy stuff feels so much more…routine. After Chuck and Sarah infiltrate Shaw's old apartment—which, like most Chuck missions, ends with a shoot-out—and recover Shaw's will (of sorts), there's no "back to reality" moment. Sr. Bartowski returns to the cabin, the Ring agents arrive, as do Chuck and Sarah. The mission, and the action, go on. This is no longer a comedy show with spy elements, this is a full-fledged spy comedy.
Even more so now, the Buy More stuff is left high and dry. There were, I think, three scenes total involving Buy More drama: Lester and Jeff sing "Love Hurts" outside the store, where Big Mike offers to represent them; cut to Jeff singing alone under a "Jeff ?" sign as Lester looks longingly on; cut to later, as Big Mike admits to Lester that he once was the Rain in Earth, Wind, & Fire, takes out his old uniform, gives it to Lester who has "the hips of a six year old girl," and that's it. As much as I loved those scenes, with so much more happening that actually has to do with the plot, they felt even more distracting than normal.
But as much as the supporting players have stepped up to help (or, in the case of the Buy More, to only sometimes help), the focus of the show remains squarely on Chuck Bartowski, and I'm very happy for it. The first part of season three tested the limits of what Chuck was capable of, both due to the Intersect and due to his own moral ground. We watched as he figured out how to control his flashes and, eventually, control his emotions enough to do the unthinkable and kill someone. Now much like the Intersect is bleeding uncontrollably into his subconscious, the effects of Chuck's spy life are starting to seep in. "You know me, I wouldn't lie," he says near the top of the episode to his father. Of course, he's talking about being out of the CIA, and it's obviously a lie. And do we even know Chuck all that well anymore? "Chuck, you are special," he's told later on by Sarah. But how special is he? He's a great guy, sure, but he's still petulant and flaky. He's just some dude who's been given a gift. And though the show goes through changes, twisting and turning towards surprises, it's the show's devotion to that last sentiment that has served it, and continues to serve it, well.
- It bothers me just how naive Sarah can be sometimes. She's a trained spy, but she can't tell when Chuck is lying to her face so blatantly?
- The whole interrogation with Sarah outlining the intimate moments with Shaw was, well, pretty uncomfortable. But as always, Casey ends with a great zinger. "Though for some of us, it wouldn't be the first time." Cut to: "Love Hurts"
- I could get lost in Awesome's awesomeness, too.
- I can't wait for the Governator. That's what they're calling it, right?