Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Chuck: "Chuck Vs. The Anniversary"

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So much happened near the end of Chuck’s third season. Every single person in Chuck’s family and close friend group (aka, Morgan) learned he was a spy. He and Sarah finally got together as a real couple. Chuck quit the spy biz. Shaw came back from the dead. Orion was killed in front of Chuck. The Intersect nearly fried Chuck’s brain. A secret room was discovered where Orion had been secretly researching the whereabouts of Chuck’s mom this entire time. Chuck took big leaps all season, yet the story stayed cohesive, moved along at a brisk pace, and remained rife with humor; if anything, getting Morgan into the fold made for even more silly situational comedy. Basically, the ambition paid off

Chuck, though, has a way of backpedaling after sprinting. Take the premiere of season three: The end of season two had Chuck downloading a new kind of Intersect, one that gave him extraordinary powers at the click of a brain button; but the premiere demonstrated that Chuck can’t utilize the full power of the Intersect because of his “emotions.” Then that took most of the season. The show enjoys trafficking in infinite possibilities, as long as it can limit some of those possibilities later on. (This subplot felt not unlike every Heroes attempt to keep Hiro Nakamura, the guy who can bend freakin’ space and time, away from the action as long as possible.) For the most part, it wasn’t a problem. There were still plenty of new dynamics to play with, like Captain Awesome’s turn as a spy and the wedge Shaw was driving into the dynamic threesome the team had already established. And maybe something with the Buy More, I honestly don’t remember.

But here we are for the season four premiere and things are already back to normal. The show certainly sprinted, but backpedaled significantly.

We open on that hidden room. Chuck is revealing the information about his mother to Morgan, and the two make a secret pact to explore all the leads as to her whereabouts. They hide this information from Sarah and Casey—who are off on their own mission sans the early retired Chuck—and incur $43,000 of debt globetrotting, only to end up back in Los Angeles staring at an empty safe. Dejected and car-less (thanks to Roman Grant), Chuck embarks on a series of job interviews in order to pay back some of that debt, but each one goes wrong in its own painful, awkward way. It’s bottom-of-the-barrel time, and Chuck heads to the newly rebuilt Buy More to grovel with the manager for a job. Only the manager has been replaced by Beckman, and the store is now a cover for a government facility. And because Beckman has been sabotaging Chuck’s interviews, he literally has nowhere else to go but back to work as a spy.

I suppose this solves a problem Chuck has had from day one. Finally, the Buy More segments have been shoehorned into mattering. I’m not quite sure what this means for Lester, Jeff, Big Mike, and Other Background Gangly Teen Employees, but at least we’ll get plenty of Beckman—who proved her comedy chops last season. Plus: Snarky Hannah, aka Olivia Munn.

That’s the only savvy change Chuck makes. The rest is a major step back. See, Chuck does find one clue as to his mother’s whereabouts: A Chinese food menu that is discovered—after a well-timed flash—to be a menu for ordering weapons. Chuck calls as Carmichael and finds himself on a plane to Russia; meanwhile, Casey and Sarah are on a different plane to the same place, one that’s hijacked by Dolph Lundgren. So Chuck is there and Sarah is trying to get in touch. What are the odds? (In addition, what are the odds that there’s some sexting humor thrown in? High.) Chuck saves the day by a) flashing on kung-fu even though he never wanted to again, and b) sacrificing a data download that would aid his momma sidequest, even though he could have gotten away with the data if he’d waited, like, 10 more seconds.

The secret is out. Sarah and Casey now know about Chuck’s private mission, and they want to help. Chuck’s officially a spy again because Beckman ordered him to be, and he’s going along with it for his own purposes. Gone is The Ring or any specific nefarious organization; gone are the possibilities for skimpy Sarah outfits at nearby fast food joints—assuming she simply works at the Buy More now, sans additional cover. Also back: Chuck lying to his sister about his involvement in the spy world. She thinks he’s just a Buy More guy again.


Oh yeah, this. Pretty much the exact same thing we’ve been working with for an entire season. I know Chuck isn’t a surprising show. Other than the big reveal at the end of season two—the capabilities of the Intersect 2.0—episodes hinge on earned character moments, not massive dips and dives in plot. The show took such a big step forward in revealing Chuck’s spy status to his entire family, and everything changed for one episode. Now the lying is simply going to continue. There’s not much in “Chuck Vs. The Anniversary” that teases exciting developments in the coming episodes.It’s obviously not fair to judge an episode this way, but even as a standalone “Chuck Vs. The Anniversary” only serves to set this familiar stage. Little happens that isn’t purely plot-based, and what is…well, again, there was sexting. It certainly was satisfying to watch Linda Hamilton pummel bad guys and shoot Dolph in the face point-blank (especially because Chuck’s massive ass-kicking session happened off-screen), but the emotional ground Chuck covers in “The Anniversary” feels well-tread.

Good to be back, though. It’ll be interesting to see how this show matures with the most grown-up Chuck thus far. See ya’ll next week?


Stray observations:

  • "Are you flexing?"
  • Morgan sexting on Chuck's behalf: creepy, or creepy?
  • Heh, Vandalay Industries.
  • Michael Carmichael.