Review: 'Chuck' - 'Chuck vs. the Masquerade': Casey & Morgan vs. the third wheel
A review of tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I transfer my energy...
"I think it's time we both grow up." -Morgan
There's a lot going on in "Chuck vs. the Masquerade." It's one of the rare episodes these days to not only feature the entire cast but to give them all something of note to do. (Well, maybe Big Mike's presence was a bit skimpy, but he at least had a good reaction to the shell-shocked Ellie and Awesome.) It has a spy plot (Operation Bartowski has to save Volkoff's daughter Vivian), a spy subplot (Robin Givens tries to recruit Casey) and various personal subplots all built around various characters trying to grow up and figure out what to do next with their lives. It has one of those rare-but-welcome Sarah/Morgan scenes, a whole lotta Chuck and Morgan bonding, and an Ellie/Awesome subplot that's actually entertaining on its own (as opposed to the "well, at least they got screentime" feeling I sometimes get when those two are on their own). It even has room to stealthily build up the character whom I'm assuming will be one of the big bads of season 4.1.
It is, in other words, a much denser episode of "Chuck" than we often get, and one that handled almost all of its assignments superbly. Lots going on, but it didn't feel too busy.
I will say that I was losing interest in Chuck and Vivian's friendship for a bit, simply because she's a new character and I'm much more invested in Chuck and Morgan feeling like the third wheel, or even Ellie and Awesome's sleeplessness. But when it became clear (during Boris' speech about how Volkoff raised her) that all of this was leading to Chuck having inadvertently inspired his new arch-nemesis (if, indeed, that's what she turns out to be), I was impressed. Sneaky stuff.
Still, the episode's most engaging material involved Morgan and Casey's feelings of being left behind. Casey's been playing bartender practically from the start of the series, but back then he had more mission value than he's been allowed to show of late. So it was good to see that issue addressed, and to see Casey get to kick some ass in defense of Sarah while Chuck was busy elsewhere. I'm not a huge Robin Givens fan, but I'll admit to being intrigued by whatever's behind the big scary Castle wall(*). A cell for Volkoff, maybe?
(*) On the other hand, given the horrific security problems that Castle and the Buy More have had over the years, I'm not sure why the CIA would want to keep anything or anyone of importance in there. On the other hand, if part of the idea here is to have the place be more secure now with all the added personnel, I can go with that.
The Morgan end of things was even more fun, starting with that hilarious glimpse of Morgan and Alex "transferring energy" while a baffled and scared Chuck and Sarah watched, then going on to Sarah trying to have a playdate with Morgan(**), followed by some serious bromantice moments for Chuck (who has dressed as Han Solo, at least in a CIA-manufactured photo) and Morgan (who is furry enough, but not tall enough, to pass for Chewbacca). The only part of that that didn't entirely work was the notion that Morgan moving out was this huge deal, when he and Chuck had only been living together for a couple of years. If the show had started out with Chuck and Morgan living together (and Ellie already across the courtyard), then this is a serious ordeal. But the guys were well into their adult lives before they co-habitated, and given that they still work together, they'll be seeing each other as much as they did in, say, season two - or, given that Morgan's now kind of a spy, even more. But Gomez and Levi still played the heck out of that stuff, acknowledging it as both silly and sincere at the same time.
(**) Yvonne Strahovski attempting to play with toys = super-adorable. I also enjoyed her delivery of the word "hang" like it was from some alien language.
Ellie and Awesome's story fit the growing up theme a bit more loosely, in that Clara's still going to be a baby for a long time. But moving into the nursery - and letting mom and dad sleep - is a big milestone, and while sleep-deprived new parents is a pretty stock comedy plot, this one was well-executed, amusingly played by Sarah Lancaster and Ryan McPartlin, and with a nice Jeffster! twist that didn't overuse the band. Plus, I've been listening to that Rusted Root song since college, and I don't know the lyrics any better than Ellie and Awesome do.
This episode's writers, Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc, were the rookies on a veteran staff a year ago. Then everybody who ranked in between them and Schwartz and Fedak left to go work on other shows, leaving them as unlikely vets. But based on episodes like this one and "Chuck vs. the Push Mix," they're more than living up to the challenge.
Some other thoughts:
• This week in "Chuck" music: "Felicia" by The Constellations (Chuck and Morgan's Valentine's Day prep), "Love Insurance" by Mike James Kirkland (Chuck tries to get to the fridge while Morgan and Alex have the living room), "Immunize" by Pendulum featuring Liam Howlett (Chuck and Sarah at the masquerade ball), Jeffster! covering Rusted Root's "Send Me On My Way," "Crinan Wood" by Alexi Murdoch (Morgan explains why he's moving out), and "No Time for Dreams" by Last Days of April (final montage).
• By the standards of most 21st century action TV, the opening scene with the Russian guy getting shot in the head at point-blank range wasn't in any way gory. By the standards of "Chuck" (which usually keeps its violence on the bloodless side), it was surprisingly graphic.
• Like Chuck, I am freaked out by masquerade balls, and it is all the fault of Stanley Kubrick, Tom Cruise and the former Mrs. Cruise.
• We've always known that Chuck is the girl in his relationship with Sarah (dreaming of a big wedding, always wanting to talk about feelings), but rarely has it been more explicit than in his Valentine's Day plans, which included him acting out the Julia Roberts part from "Pretty Woman" (also named Vivian, interestingly) and wanting to watch "Love Actually."
• Loved the rapid-cut sequence of Casey seeing his daughter smearing chocolate on Morgan's face, his partner dressed as a Victoria's Secret angel, etc., etc. His worst nightmare.
• Casey referring to Chuck and Sarah by their 'shipper name of Charah: funny or too in-jokey?
• A clever omission: we don't see any of the awesome escape plan that Sarah hatches to get her, Chuck and Vivian out of the stable, which A)saves money for the cash-strapped series (ala the off-camera fight scenes from the season premiere), B)creates an image in our heads of something cooler than they may have been able to pull off, and C)puts in the same headspace as Casey, who also missed it and feels left out for having done so.
• On the other hand, I wish the final shootout had been staged in a way where it was clear why all the bad guys weren't shooting at Casey while he was busy picking them off one at a time. It's not like he was either in good cover or constantly on the move.
What did everybody else think?