Credit: Mitchell Haaseth/NBC
I'm back from the island I exiled myself to after failing to be head-over-heels in love with "Chuck vs. the Beard" last week. I appreciate the number of you who were at least tolerant of my feelings that "Chuck vs. the Beard" was sloppy, narratively redundant and tonally over-the-top, just as I absolutely get why many of y'all felt like there was still plenty of fun to be had in the episode.
In that spirit, I plan to be totally understanding if you happen to disagree with my appreciation of "Chuck vs. the Tic Tac," an episode that I thought did a terrific job of blending madcap comic moments with truly emotional character material. I also appreciated how well "Chuck vs. the Tic Tac" handled its thematic through-line, making it an entire episode about loyalty, about difficult choices and the reasons we make them.
I'll grant that there were aspects of this episode that have now been repeated for the fourth or fifth times this season, but Monday's (March 15) episode had enough good storytelling for me to ignore the redundancies.
[Recap/thoughts on "Chuck vs. the Tic Tac" after the break...]
If you're an Adam Baldwin fan -- and if you're bothering to read this recap, I suspect you probably are -- you'd be hard pressed not to think this was one of the meatiest episodes he's ever gotten on any of his various shows. This wasn't the funniest Baldwin has ever been, not by a long shot, but it was perhaps the most human he's ever been.
We began in Honduras in 1989, where we met Robert Patrick's Colonel James Keller, a man who gave a young Alex Coburn a choice: Either be an ordinary soldier and live an ordinary life, or join an elite black-ops team of the nation's finest snipers and rangers willing to do anything to protect the country. Because we know Casey and we know his devotion to God and Country, we know that the choice he made is in-character.
[Note: The actor playing Alex Coburn was supposed to be Adam Baldwin circa 1989. We know very well that due to his pact with the Devil, Adam Baldwin circa 1989 looked almost identical to Adam Baldwin circa 2010. And this actor looked like neither.]
It was the first of the episode's tough choices.
Flash forward to the present, where we realized that the voice on the other end of communicator at the end of last week's episode was Keller, who now poses a new choice to Casey: During a routine operation -- a "Trace Cell Mission" -- to test the security system at a CIA facility, Casey had to remove the contents from a lock-box.
"I know you'll make the right decision. You always do," Keller told Casey.
In this instance, Casey didn't actually make the right decision, but he made the decision necessary to advance the plot and demonstrate the episode's other big points about free will and the like.
The contents of the safe? An experimental drug called Laudanol, designed to suppress emotion in soldiers. For most civilians, I can't exactly see how we're dealing with anything more than a glorified beta blocker, but for Chuck, this pill was presented as the magic placebo to help him get past his difficulties with flashing, to basically unleash the full capabilities of Intersect 2.0.
Have we actually done a good enough job of illustrating what complications do and do not prevent Chuck from flashing? Maybe not. Sometimes Chuck have been hampered by his own fears and emotions, while other times adrenaline has seemed to help his ability to flash. And last week, just being able to open up to his buddy Morgan relieved his super-powered constipation. So I don't know if I buy the idea that an Emotion-Free Chuck would be a fully Flash-Enabled Chuck, but sometimes the mechanics aren't relevant. We're dealing with a guy with a computer in his brain.
One thing that's certain is that we've spent much of this season emphasizing that Chuck's human frailties are both keeping him from being the spy the government wants him to be, but also occasionally reminding Sarah of the guy she probably still loves. Laudanol might not make Chuck into the Universal Soldier, but it would definitely accelerate the DeChuckification process.
But what if you make the wrong choices for the right reasons? Colonel Casey, in stealing the pill, commits treason, but if was doing it to protect the fiance he abandoned 21 years earlier? Well, that's a bit weak, because doing things for the people you love is a sign of humanity. So Chuck's willingness to take the pill to become a real spy? Not good enough as a choice. But Chuck's willingness to commit treason on the behalf of his friend? Well that still makes Sarah mushy.
"It's Casey," Chuck said simply.
That earned a nicely played smile of relief from Sarah and, "I was hoping you'd say that."
Of course, Chuck's decision to commit treason for Casey? Good. Chuck's decision to take the pill and magically becoming capable of dodging bullets (Intersect 2.0 was designed by a big "Matrix fan) and apparently lose all remorse? Bad. If Sarah saw the man she loved in Chuck's first decision, she saw a worst-case scenario in the second. How said worst case scenario made Boring Shaw more palatable? I'm not exactly sure.
Some choices, once you've made them, can't be undone. Casey saved the former love of his life and learned that he also had a daughter, but after 21 years of separation, he couldn't return to being the kind of man who could live that life or who could reenter that life. The choice was between love of a woman and love of country and Casey picked the latter. For Chuck, Casey emphasized, the choice had not yet been made. It's here we not that the past two weeks *also* ended with Chuck being told that it wasn't too late for Chuck to choose Sarah, but it had a little more gravity and urgency delivered by Casey this week, than by Morgan last week or Ellie the week before that.
Casey's sure looking like a worst case scenario this week. He made his choice, served his country and, after all of these years of service, General Beckman dismissed him this week. For good. Now on one hand you could say that Casey got off pretty light for the whole "Treason" thing, but what is John Casey without his name and rank? I'm guessing we're going to see next week.
And what of the best case scenario in the business of decisions? How about Ellie and Awesome. Awesome? Eager to go into Doctors Without Borders (to protect his wife). Ellie? Willing to follow her heart and her husband, even if it means sacrificing her dream fellowship at USC. Resolution? Lovely acting moments for Sarah Lancaster and Ryan McPartlin, plus an O Henry-style seemingly happy ending. The logic part of my brain wants to point out that the episode ends with Awesome deciding that letting his wife get what she's always wanted is more important than keeping her alive and that this is questionable decision-making, but I turn off that part of my brain.
Other thoughts on this week's episode...
*** This was a good companion piece to last season's Casey-centric "Chuck vs. the Sensei." Nothing to say beyond the simple fact that Baldwin is capable of doing just about as much as he's allowed to do. And I think I liked "Tic Tac" more than "Sensei."
*** I can promise you that at least in the short term -- i.e. next week's episode -- there's fun to be had with this next step in Casey's life.
*** The best payoff for Morgan learning Chuck's secret was the fantastic scene with Awesome, ending with "You went on missions?" "You haven't?"
*** I also liked Morgan going on a misguided mission for Casey and making the request, "Can I get a cool call name like Condor or Ladyfingers?" Plus, who knew that iPhones could be so useful for espionage?
*** Morgan's dislike for the original "Planet of the Apes" -- "Because their upper lips never move." -- called to mind Chandler Bing's fear of Michael Flatley, Lord of the Dance ("His legs flail about as if independent from his body!").
*** Funniest part of the episode? Fitzroy, the CIA security analyst and "Chuck"/Chuck fan with a photographic recall for our hero's adventures. Sepinwall says
he was relieved they didn't go additionally meta, but I'm astounded that Fitzroy didn't ask Chuck and Sarah when they're gonna stop dancing around and just settle down together. Or maybe I'm relieved?
*** Bullet-dodging ridiculousness aside, the climactic Chuck-fu brawl was one of the season's better action scenes. Lots of good stunts and prop-work.
*** Several lines from the episode -- "Please don't lose that guy who I met three years ago. Don't give up on the things that make you great" and "I'll always be that guy" and "I want to commend you, Agent Walker, for your work with The Intersect. He seems to need you less and less" -- felt like lines that have now been repurposed in more than half of the season's episodes. There seems to be a wee bit of concern in the writers' room that we aren't remembering this season's key points.
Enough of me. What'd you think of "Chuck vs. the Tic Tac"?