Recap: 'Chuck' - 'Chuck vs. the Tooth'
After two zippy episodes, Chuck experiences bad dreams
This recap is superfluous.
HitFix has Alan Sepinwall now. He doesn't just recap "Chuck." He *saved* "Chuck." It says so in the flash banners that still swaddle our site.
It's not like I'm incapable of disagreeing with Alan, but in this case, I happen to share his general sentiment on "Chuck vs. the Tooth," which was a worthy if not completely successful attempt to expand on the show's tonal tapestry.
I'm almost writing this recap entirely because so many of Alan's readers are taking him to task for not loving the episode, since it's unclear how many of my observations are going to be new (I only skimmed Alan's recap).
So why didn't I love "Chuck vs. the Tooth"? I guess that's after the break...
There was just no way for the "Chuck" team to win with the pacing of these last six bonus episodes. As much as I really enjoyed the zippy, fun, angst-free pacing of the past two episodes, Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak pretty much had to know that doing six episodes of "Hart to Hart" after "Chuck vs. the Other Guy" really wasn't going to force NBC's hand on a fourth season renewal. They had to know that doing six episodes of action-comedy procedural entertainment wasn't really going to be true to the mythology-based arcs that have made the past two seasons an evolution past the mostly stand-alone first season. So they had to push the story along, push the story into some kind of escalated narrative that will culminate in the sort of two-hour finale that will let both viewers and NBC brass know what Season Four will be.
So Monday's episode? It was a turn-the-corner episode and it was a turn-the-corner episode that shrieked around the corner without bothering to put on the breaks. And at time, it was a turn-the-corner episode that felt like it had driven over the curb and possibly side-swiped a fire hydrant.
Everything in the episode needed to have taken place over two or three possible episodes, but without time, things were rushed along.
And the slightly disappointing things are that not only did I enjoy large chunks of the episode, but I also knew that with slightly more graduate execution, I'd have been strongly in favor of all of the major plot developments.
The meat of "Chuck vs. the Tooth" was this: Chuck, like Hamlet, has been plagued by bad dreams. He's worked up about his relationship with Sarah, he's still got issues with having killed Superman and, to make matters worse, he's got strange Intersect things going on, where he's flashing in his dreams, but not literal flashes.
And all of those things make complete sense to me and they're all directions I want the show to feel comfortable going.
Why didn't they work for me?
Let me list a few ways...
Sarah and Chuck are stuck in milestones. We apparently can't have a single episode where Chuck and Sarah are just a couple. Their first week together they dealt with the possibly conflicts of their professional and romantic desires. Their second week together, they dealt with moving in together and facing versions of themselves 30 weeks in the future. This week, there was more talk about them imagining the future together, but then there was a weirder part where, both in dreams and in reality, they were having "I love you" awkwardness. Maybe it's just me, but when a drunk Chuck asked Sarah in "The Other Guy" if she loved him and she said she did (or she had) that felt like they skipped right over the "Who will say I love you first?" weirdness that TV shows (and life) have led us to expect. So there were points tonight where I was thinking, "Wait. Is it supposed to be significant that they're admitting that they love each other? Didn't we cover that? Didn't they move in together?" So that got in the way of what should have been a lovely moment as Sarah realized that she was willing to believe in this man she loved through sickness and health, rather than cluttering things with the same stuff she'd realized last week. Just as Sarah spent five or six straight episodes lamenting that Chuck wasn't the man she'd fallen for in the first half of the season, she's now on her second straight episode of announcing that what she feels for Chuck is different than what she's accustomed to.
Chuck's dreams confused me. Chuck's subconscious interacting with the Intersect? Got it. Makes total sense. I'm not sure, though, that even that potent cocktail would make Chuck clairvoyant and that's sorta what he was experiencing tonight. I get that nothing in his dreams was literally a realization of the future, that he was processing various pieces of data from his awake life, running them through his still revving Intersect and spitting out information. That this new process allowed him to go all "Minority Report" and become a bit of a pre-cog is strange, but not nearly as strange as Beckman's instant dismissal of Chuck's Nocturnal Intersection Emissions. And not nearly as strange as the shrink played by Christopher Lloyd not being able to make a similar leap. Chuck starts acting strange and starts having semi-plausible flashes? After 51 episodes? Give him the benefit of the doubt. Station two agents outside of the symphony box. Let Chuck go to the symphony and see if he flashes again. And then, when Chuck goes to the symphony and he does, indeed, flash again... LISTEN TO HIM. Since when do we overrule Chuck's flashes just because a random African ruler says that the man Chuck is flashing on is an esteemed scientist?
Maybe nobody was able to tolerate Chuck's changing skill-set because there had been no previous indications of these problems. Having Sarah say something like, "Oh, Chuck. You've been having such bad dreams lately," isn't the same as this problem having been introduced, at least in passing, in a previous episode.
There's a rule: Nobody just dies of consumption in Reel Three of a movie. No, in Reel One, they have a cough and somebody says, "That sounds bad" and the character goes, "Oh no, tis just allergies." Then in Reel Two, the character coughs into a handkerchief and somebody notices and somebody notices a speck of blood. Then in Reel Three, they die and everybody wishes they'd noticed the signs earlier.
On TV, those stages can be split into multiple episodes, but "Chuck" tried rushing through everything in one episode so rapidly that Chuck had been checked into the psychiatric ward for crazy spies by the half-way point and he'd been checked out within 15 minutes.
I know "House" already did a two-hour "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" premiere this season, but in a perfectly paced season, surely Chuck would have spent a full episode in the hospital, right? He'd have gotten to know one or two of the patients as more than just broad caricatures. He'd actually have seen the fulfillment of the teasing line of dialogue where he realized that they were "Spies, like me" (a less than subtle call-back to the appearance of "Spies Like Us" earlier in the episode). Maybe he'd have seen how various drugs impacted his flashing abilities through more than one silly drug-fueled failed attempt at martial arts. And maybe somebody would have had cause to doubt Chuck's sanity.
Instead, he was in and out quickly because there was never much doubt that everything Chuck had flashed on was real. The African doctor really was a body organ harvester or something.
In this capacity, the psychiatric hospital was wasted, as was "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" co-star Lloyd, who didn't really get to have fun with any of his iconic characters or roles.
We haven't completely moved past Chuck's issues, though. The shrink explained that his mental difficulties may only worsen. Assuming that Zachary Levi is good enough to play a seriously damaged Chuck -- tonight it was just comically damaged -- I look forward to seeing that. I still wish he'd just told Sarah what was happening, rather than lying to her. Instead, we've set ourselves up for the "Chuck" equivalent of one of those horrid movies where Charlize Theron or Winona Ryder is dying of a wasting disease, but then they fall in love with somebody boring and they don't want to tell them that they're dying because they just want to enjoy life for those last few months.
Oh and Shaw is still alive. Chuck knows that, because he's a pre-cog and his dreams told him so. I think that could have been handled in a way where we saw how Chuck's subconscious brain was able to come to this conclusion. But so it goes. Maybe in Season Four, General Beckman hooks Chuck up to wires and submerges him in a saline solution and lets him pre-viz crimes, just like Samantha Morton in "Minority Report."
I'll say this again: I love the darkness of these plot developments. What I didn't love was the way they had to be rushed and the abrupt tonal shift from the first two episodes of "Chuck S. 3.1."
Also rushed? The strangeness of Ellie and Captain Awesome, now back from their very brief Doctors Without Borders experience. So Justin gave Awesome faux malaria to get Mr. and Mrs. Awesome back to California so that Ellie could give up Daddy Bartowski's location? Again, abrupt. But after seeing Devon and Morgan both yoked into Chuck's spy lifestyle under a legitimate guise, I'm totally down with Ellie becoming a spy herself, being duped into thinking that Casey is a double-agent and finding herself distrusting everybody around her because of the weight of her secret. I could have done without the whole "People will think you're crazy" echo into the A-plot, but this pushes Ellie into an interesting place because it gives her too much knowledge about Casey to remain absolutely in the dark, even once she learns Casey's on the right side.
And there was a C-plot also, one that began with Lester talking about needing to get laid, which was only a set-up for the return of Julia Ling's Anna. It was nice to see Ling back and she got a well-deserved slo-mo/wind-machine entrance. And it was good to see her appreciate Morgan's dramatic new confidence. Not much else there, though.
Other thoughts on Monday's "Chuck"...
*** References galore, once again. Not just "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Spies Like Us," but also just a bit of "Marathon Man" and what I'm guessing was a "The Man Who Knew Too Much" nod with the scenes that might have been filmed at the Disney Concert Hall (but confused me, because the LA Phil plays at the Disney Concert Hall, while the Los Angeles Symphony doesn't really exist.
*** Favorite sweet moment of the episode: Sarah arriving at the shrink's house, telling Doc Brown that she loved Chuck and seeing that Casey was already there. All together now... AWWWWW.
*** Second favorite sweet moment of the episode: Casey tranqing Morgan at the symphony and then resting his KOed little buddy's head on his shoulder. All together now... AWWWW. I also liked Casey referring to Morgan as "The little elf."
*** Favorite line of the episode? Captain Awesome responding to Ellie's discovery of Casey's armory with, "OK. Casey has some serious guns. Is that creepy? Yes. Is that illegal? Sadly no." Meanwhile, this wasn't exactly lying from Devon, but he was uncharacteristically at ease with this potential breach of protocol.
*** Second favorite line of the episode: Casey's "General, permission to slap Bartowski. He had a bad dream." But seriously, does Chuck not get any benefit of the doubt? As Doc Brown observed, this is new science.
*** Favorite meta line of the episode? Sarah flipping channels and observing, "It's official. There is absolutely nothing on TV." And Chuck agreeing, "Yeah, Monday nights can be a bit of a wasteland." That must be why my DVR is recording seven or eight hours or TV tonight.
*** What's up with Chuck's skin? First Morgan was able to track him down in Europe through his eczema cream and now we learn that the Intersect has given him a dry scalp? Odd...
So those are my thoughts and that was my redundant "Chuck" blog post... And yes, I'm well aware that I wrote 2000+ words after saying I wasn't going to write any because I didn't have any new thoughts.