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

Chuck: "Chuck Vs. The First Fight"

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… and with a mammoth twist, this show is no longer spinning its wheels.

The problem with Chuck's pursuit of his mom used to be that there wasn't a pressing reason to do it right now. Each week's challenge brought Chuck closer to finishing his dad's work, but the missions were largely dictated by Chuck's pitches to Beckman and breadcrumbs of intel. "Chuck Vs. The First Fight" gave Chuck a reason to solve the mom mystery, and quickly.

The big push forward is due to the appearance of Volcoff himself, and the show treats the reveal as the end result of a few long cons. First, there's Chuck's mom, who knows exactly the kind of influence she has over her son; it's with supreme confidence that she waits in her cell for Chuck to come knockin', hoping to prove her innocence. She sends him to find her handler Gregory Tuttle (Timothy Dalton), and thus begins con number two. Tuttle is uncomfortable and afraid to take action. When he and Chuck are captured by a scar-y Ana Gasteyer, aside from a trick that loosens his ropes, he's utterly helpless. And the show never gives us a reason to believe otherwise.

But then a couple of things happen at once. Chuck and Tuttle nab a disk that will prove Mary Bartowski's innocence. Gasteyer comes back seemingly from the dead and shoots at Chuck, but Tuttle takes the bullet—dies. Chuck, Sarah, and mama head to the secret lair, the disk is shown to be empty, and in walks Tuttle. Or, as he introduces himself. Volcoff. There were so many elements to the plan that had to work flawlessly—Chuck meeting Tuttle, Gasteyer acting convincingly as she shot at him, Chuck blindly trusting mom and taking her right to the lair, the computer in said lair actually accepting triangular disks. It was impressive seeing Chuck juggle so many variables.

More impressive still is how the show had us guessing at Mary Bartowski's allegiances and has us questioning them even after providing a moment of short-lived but fake clarity. It's one thing to have Sarah and Casey question what Mary is up to; it's another to spend an episode showing Mary reunite with Morgan and—almost tearfully—Ellie, then pull the rug out from under us, THEN have her slip Sarah a razor blade to let them escape at the end. The show has rediscovered its suspense groove.

But what, you may ask, about the comedy? Is it just me, or has the show been way less funny lately? I mean, it's not not funny, but I miss the zippy zingers of season two, the looseness with words. Instead, Chuck has become far more of a situational comedy, and it's not necessarily a bad thing when Morgan Grimes is involved. The show has finally figured out what to do with him: If he's going to be over-the-top in everything he does, he should accompany Chuck on one of his faux-suave missions and let his eagerness mess things up. I mean, he should do that explosive entrance from the bar in every scenario imaginable.


So why did it take so long for Chuck to finally do … something? I have no idea, other than maybe it's a matter of stretching a budget over more episodes than ever. Big reveals need special effects, guest stars, etc. I don't really know, but I'm thrilled we might be in the "meat" of the season, as it were. Bring it on.

Stray observations:

  • Har har, Sarah's Friendster humor. Yuk yuk yuk. Is it clear yet I thought the joke was a groaner?
  • I did like how Morgan asked Chuck to read him the specials while in the middle of the mission. Eyes on the prize, buddy.
  • Aaron Sorkin perfected the talking-while-walking scene; Chuck's working on talking-while-fighting.
  • Theories on the de-Intersecting?