After Monday (April 26) night’s episode, “Chuck” fans have seen the future and the future turns out to be a ton of fun.
There’s a lot of erroneously motivated paranoia regarding the horrors visited upon TV shows that consummate the will-they-or-won’t-they tensions between main characters. Both audiences and the characters force themselves to hedge their bets by asking questions like, “What will happen if we hook up? How will everything change?” Those questions imply that change is evil and that change can’t be organic in the same way that occasional human lives have been know to change dramatically in the real world.
In the season’s last new “Chuck,” Intersect-enhanced spy Chuck and handler-turned-colleague Sarah finally gave in to chemistry, temptation and flirtation and admitted that they loved each other.
Oh no! What will happen now that they’ve hooked up? How will everything change?
Maybe it’s the 47 episodes it took to get us to this point, but Monday’s “Chuck vs. the Honeymooners” made a compelling case that a “Chuck” in which Chuck and Sarah are a happy, sexually fulfilled couple can be every bit as good as a “Chuck” beholden to yearning glances and unspoken feelings. If “Chuck vs. the Other Guy” was the best episode of the season, “Chuck vs. the Honeymooners” was perhaps the season’s most purely entertaining hour.
[More recapping of Monday’s “Chuck” after the break…]
“Chuck vs. the Honeymooners” comes after two weeks of repeats and one could treat it as the premiere of “Chuck” Season 3.1 except that NBC usually promotes premieres and I’m not sure that I remember a single “Chuck” promo on NBC over the past two weeks.
Monday’s episode is a welcome return to Shiny Happy Pressure-Free “Chuck.” I don’t want to say “It’s been too long,” but viewers have certainly earned this change of course after several months of “I don’t think you’re the same man I fell for” and “I know we just slept together, but we have to break up… Say hi to your parents for me” and “You killed my wife, now I’m gonna kill you” and “I’m flash-impotent and it turns out just needed to reconnect with my friend/my sister.” “Chuck” put in 13 episodes of sturm und drang (relatively speaking) and that just means that the direction the show seems headed? The writers definitely laid plenty of foundation and viewers had to put in a little work to get there.
When we left Sarah and Chuck two weeks ago, they were cuddling in a fancy Paris hotel room, ignoring the Eiffel Tower to concentrate on their growing intimacy. If you know what I mean. You don’t? They were DOING IT.
“Chuck vs. the Honeymooners” picks up a few days later with Sarah and Chuck still apparently quite satisfied with this new stage in their relationship, as they take the longest train journey in history between Paris and Zurich. And after so much uncertainness and so many words unspoken, they’re pretty pleased with the decision they made. Put frankly, the sex appears to be quite good and everybody’s happy. In the short term, we aren’t dealing with silly things like Sarah being drugged and practically dangled over the edge of a bridge, nor with Chuck killing a man. Eventually, I have no doubt that the angst is going to return. But when pretty people are in love, shouldn’t they get a respite?
Of course, Chuck and Sarah are thinking of making the respite permanent, which would mean the complete and total end of “Chuck” as we know it, rather than only a reinterpretation of “Chuck” as we know it. But Chuck is so serious that he proposes to Sarah… that they quit the spy game and run off together.
And she says, “I do!”
But wouldn’t you know it? Retirement doesn’t come so easy for Chuck and Sarah, which is a relief since a “Chuck 4.0” focusing on two pretty people who live in Europe and have sex a lot would wreak havoc on the NBC censors and would probably tax the show’s green screen limitations (this week’s one-episode European Vacation didn’t do a bad job of evoking the Alps-by-way-of-the-WB-lot, but we wouldn’t wanna push it). Sarah’s always gonna be a spy and Chuck’s always going to be a geek with a supercomputer stuck in their head, so they’re professionally destined to be spies every bit as much as they’re romantically destined to be together. [Please note that everything I know about romantic destiny I learned from a lengthy answer given by Keanu Reeves at the press junket for “The Lake House.”]
In no time, Chuck flashed on a Basque separatist — I may have been distracted, but did “Chuck” actually use a real fringe group (ETA) in this episode? — while Sarah used her natural powers of observation to spot the same suspect, who they decided to apprehend first separately and then, after exactly the right amount of “Three’s Company”-style “sneaking around” farce (exactly one scene, all credit to the writers for not overplaying), together.
If Chuck and Sarah had watched this whole season of “Chuck,” they would have already learned a valuable lesson: Solo operatives have their purpose, but our crew has always had its strength in the totality of the team, a team which now includes Mr. Morgan Grimes. So Sarah and Chuck had to discover that while their instincts as freelance spies aren’t necessarily wrong, they get better overall intel if they have General Beckman, Casey and, yes, Morgan. It’s the strength of Chuck and Sarah as a team that can separate a suspect from his hired goons. It’s the overall strength of the team that could have prevented them from taking out two InterPol agents to snag a terrorist who was already being taken off into witness protection. Ooopsies!
The A-story on Monday’s “Chuck” was a lark, especially if you conveniently ignore that two InterPol agents apparently died as a result of Chuck and Sarah’s gaffe. It played out as a series of variably Hitchcockian homages, a little “Strangers on a Train,” a little bit more “The Lady Vanishes” and when Chuck and Sarah found themselves handcuffed together, a lot of “39 Steps.” There was a resourceful use of a fine train set, as Chuck and Sarah found themselves shooting in and out of cabins, dangling from rooftops and rushing down aisles.
The location was secondary to this key thing that I’ve already mentioned: Chuck and Sarah were happy. Nobody needed to spend any time setting up artificial obstacles or limitations for their romance and instead, that concentration could be put into well-choreographed fight scenes, expert physical comedy and well plotted teamwork.
It’s an amazing thing that as much as I want to dedicate whole paragraphs to Yvonne Strahovski spending much of the first half of the episode in lingerie, I’d actually rather talk about the less prurient pleasures of an episode in which Yvonne Strahovski spent an inordinate amount of time smiling. After all, the show has always found ways to get Sarah scantily clothed, but making her smile has been a rare treat. I’ve often praised how well Strahovski does at comedy when permitted the opportunity, but how much fun was it watching her play a drunken Texan? Obviously if the character had been prone to broad comedy previously, the honeymooners gag wouldn’t have worked as well as it did, so this was just another example of the “Chuck” team making audience patience pay off.
Problem: This recap is getting dangerously long and I’ve barely scratched the surface.
We already knew from the last new episode that Morgan and Casey were going to be nearly as good as a permanent couple as Chuck and Sarah, but just as “The Honeymooners” confirmed our hopes for Chuck & Sarah, it also confirmed our hopes for Morgan and Casey. It took no time at all for Morgan to show his usefulness to Team Bartowski, displaying the advantages of what Beckman called his “oddly co-dependent relationship” with Chuck, using knowledge about Chuck — his eczema cream and his need to get the latest issue of “Justice League” — to track him down in Europe. We saw that Casey & Morgan are comic gold whether sitting on a plane or walking on a train. They’ll also probably be funny on boats and in cars and perhaps even on a funicular, if required. Not that Adam Baldwin needed the help to be hilarious, but this is a pairing that’s going to work out great for him.
And because of everything that was happening with Chuck & Sarah and Casey & Morgan, I was able to write 1500 words into this recap without getting to… Jeffster! Unplugged. This is actually the second time this season that Jeffster! has gotten buried in an otherwise stuffed episode, but how fun was it knowing that Jeff and Lester have an unplugged set list already prepared — “Leaving on a Jet Plane” was touching and appropriate — and that they have black turtlenecks and round glasses ready for the occasion?
Jeffster! was performing in the incongruous part of the episode, Ellie and Awesome’s going away party. I’m still not sure what to make of their African departure and it was even stranger that this party was thrown together so quickly and forgotten so totally by Chuck. The final payoff scene, with the ever-marvelously-tearful Sarah Lancaster playing Ellie’s fears of leaving Chuck alone and Chuck reassuring her that he wouldn’t be alone (“You guys are back together?” “We’re together.”) was aces.
The “Chuck” writers have gradually negotiated their way into a fruitful place. The show can clearly survive with Sarah and Chuck as a couple and there have to be plenty of variations on that theme that can play out for a while. The thing they’ll have to resist is falling back into the routine of giving the characters obstacles to happiness. They can be happy and still be entertaining. For at least a few weeks, I don’t need a First Fight. I don’t need a studly new operative to enter the mix and flirt with Sarah. I don’t need any kind of existential crisis from Chuck.
Just enjoy the ride, eh?
Some other thoughts on this week’s episode:
*** As somebody who backpacked around Europe with a Canadian flag on his backpack, I can vouch for the overall efficacy of Morgan’s strategy. Of course, I was also traveling on a Canadian passport at the time, so that’s a little different.
*** The most expert Hitchcock homage was the introduction of the seemingly random background characters on the train — the skiers, the musician, the Canadian — and then making sure that ever one of them got multiple payoffs.
*** Line of the episode: General Beckman’s reaction to learning about Chuck and Sarah, “I must caution you that allowing your private life to interfere with your professional one can be dangerous… but off the record, it’s about damn time.”
*** Alternative line of the episode: Lester: “In the olden days, bat mitzvah meant ‘Party hard, because your daughter’s almost ripe for plucking.'” Jeff: “I miss the olden days.”
*** Alternative, alternative line of the episode: Casey drawing Morgan a picture, “Chuck’s off-grid with Walker. Do the math… He’s going to need a walker when Walker’s through with him? They’re having intercourse, idiot.”
*** Alternative, alternative, alternative line of the episode: Lester’s, “Don’t you know it’s not the size of the instrument that matters, but how much and how long and how often your mother catches you playing?”
*** On a scale of 1 to 10, Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” is a 15.
OK. All y’all… What’d you think of “Chuck vs. the Honeymooners”?