A review of tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as we're restricted Facebook friends...
"Digging into the past: old friends and family, is a bit complicated for me." -Sarah
We seem to be falling into a pattern with these bifurcated "Chuck" seasons, wherein the original 13 episode arc wraps up, and then we get some fun standalones for a bit. "Chuck vs. the Cat Squad" even had an opening sequence similar in style to the opening of last year's 15th episode, "Chuck vs. the Role Models," this time with Morgan imagining Sarah's old team as the stars of a "Charlie's Angels"-type drama (after last time he dreamed about Chuck and Sarah in "Hart to Hart.")
And while it would be nice for the creative team to know in advance how many episodes they would actually have, this approach has some benefits. I love big emotional arc-y episodes of "Chuck" as much as the next fan, but there are also times when I just like seeing the show have some fun. And having Operation Bartowski have to deal with the leggy, ass-kicking babes of Sarah's former Cat Squad team was definite fun - while at the same time allowing the show to continue this character arc about Sarah's past.
I do have a couple of small complaints that I should get out of the way first. One is that it was way too telegraphed that party girl Amy would be the mole. We knew it wouldn't be Carina because the show has already played the "Chuck and Sarah suspect Carina's loyalties" game, and she was proven trustworthy. That left the other two, and Sarah was so convinced it was Zondra that it was obviously not going to be her. So a bit of a drag there.
The other is that the climax in the Buy More was the first time since the show introduced the Chuck Fu that it felt like it sucked all the tension out of a scene. In general, the writers have been very wise about deploying Chuck's new skills, whether making them unreliable (most of last season), making them only useful to a point (Chuck has to fight someone like Stone Cold Steve Austin or the Gobbler) or doing something so cool and/or amusing with them (fighting one-handed while holding the wine glass) that Chuck's invincibility is besides the point. This time, though, there didn't seem to be any sense of jeopardy. Turning the busted DVD into throwing stars was fun (though I wish we knew what his original plan was), but overall it was the sort of scene that would have played better either during the period when the Intersect was turned off or else with Morgan trapped in the store instead of Chuck.
The rest of it, though? Lots of amusing moments, from Morgan assuming the helicopter was a UFO like in "Close Encounters" to Sarah being hungover (and over-dressed) in bed. And a good character episode for Sarah, as well. She's not the person she was on the Cat Squad. She's not emotionally closed-off, and she does have people she cares about whom the bad guys can threaten. And while that's a good thing for her personal life, it can be a dangerous thing for her spy life.
The series always has to walk this fine line between Chuck being too well-meaning for his own (and Sarah's) good and Chuck being a pain in the ass. "Cat Squad" did a good job of being the former, and for letting both Ellie and Sarah call him out on how close he came to being the latter. And even if it bugs Sarah to have her past brought back to her so cavalierly by her man, it's definitely opening interesting doors for the character. The mentions of her mom have me very intrigued.
In some ways, though, the episode's strongest material involved Morgan. Carina's dalliance with "Martin" back in last season's "Chuck vs. the Three Words" was of course going to come up again now that he's with another woman. And since she was only interested in sleeping with him after he rejected her, of course her curiosity would be piqued even further by the idea that he's now unavailable. Some funny interaction between Josh Gomez and Mini Anden, and then a really nice emotional moment between Gomez and Mekenna Melvin where Morgan said the big three words - particularly in the way that it rendered Carina's own attempt to fix things redundant. ("It's okay. He loves me.")
I'm sure the search into Sarah's past is going to turn into a big arc in and of itself, but for now I'm just happy to have some light, entertaining "Chuck" episodes.
Some other thoughts:
• My old friend (and noted comic book reviewer) Johanna Draper Carlson once introduced me to the concept of the Bechdel test, which sets the very low bar - which most Hollywood entertainment sadly still fails to clear - of looking for a single scene in which two female characters have a conversation where they discuss something other than a man. As "Chuck" is a pretty unapologetic male fantasy show (not that there's anything wrong with that), it's not necessarily something you would look to to pass Bechdel, yet "Cat Squad" featured two scenes - in which Sarah and Ellie discussed Sarah's issues with dealing with her past - that I think kind of sort of did. It's a bit of a grey area, in that all of it spins out from what Chuck is doing, but it felt like they were mainly talking about Sarah and not about Sarah's relationship to Chuck. I know people have clamored for a while to have these two interact more, and regardless of whether you feel those scenes actually passed the test, they were still nice to see.
• This week in "Chuck" music: "Turn It On" by Franz Ferdinand (the Cats take Sarah away for a night on the town, and later Chuck fights Amy and Gaez alone in the Buy More), "The Parade" by Daniel Indart (Casey watching the club video feed), "Eu Quero Agora" by Josephine Bauza (the Cats split up to search the club for Gaez), "Pra Rua" by Rio Funk (the Cats take out Gaez's guards), "Rockers to Swallow" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Zondra and Sarah fight in the Castle dojo), "Belongings" by Clock Opera (Sarah asks Zondra and Carina to be bridesmaids) and "Please Ask for Help" by Telekinesis! (Morgan tells Alex how he feels about her, Sarah talks to Ellie about the wedding).
• This week in "Chuck" guest stars: Mini Anden returns as Carina, with the other two cats being played by Mircea Monroe (who's one of the few parts of Showtime's "Episodes" that I even somewhat enjoy) and Mercedes Masöhn. Also, I wish Lou Diamond Phillips had gotten a bit more to do as the Cats' arch-nemesis. Though I imagine he'd be easy to bring back, either after a prison break or because they need more info from him.
• Casey has his own mini-arc, meanwhile, as it's clear that, his "Good for you" comment last week aside, he's not entirely cool with Kathleen being with another guy.
• The Castle dojo is very well-stocked with bo staffs, isn't it? Seems like every fight scene that takes place there eventually ends with someone brandishing one of those.
What did everybody else think?
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