A lot went on in the damned entertaining "Chuck Versus the Truth" -- the end of Chuck's (maybe not so) fake relationship, the beginning of a new (and potentially real) one, and sodium pentathol/near-death-fueled revelations by Chuck and Ellie -- but I want to start with the most permanent change:
Oh my god, they banished Harry Tang! You bastards!
While I'm sad to see the control freak go, the producers really didn't have any choice in the matter. In between pilot and series, C.S. Lee got promoted to regular cast status on "Dexter," and when you have a full-time job on one show, they're usually not wild about you moonlighting on another. That "Chuck" got to engage his services for this many episodes was kind of a bonus, and if Masuka should ever get as close to uncovering Dexter's secret identity as he did here with Chuck, he'd likely suffer a far worse fate -- which in turn would allow Lee to come back here.
(That Harry Tang -- and even in his farewell episode, it's a sign of what a vividly-etched character he was that I feel compelled to use the full name every time -- could stumble across Team Chuck conducting confidential government business in the middle of the Buy More illustrates what a contrivance it is for them to use the home theater room for that purpose instead of Casey's apartment, but at least it's a contrivance they've been using since episode two. If they'd dreamed it up just to get rid of Harry, I'd be annoyed.)
Not sure yet what I'd like to see happen with the assistant manager position. It could be a new character, or it could be Harry Tang protege Lester, but I feel like we've been given several hints now that Morgan will wind up with it, and that might be best. It would give Joshua Gomez a different color to play and also create some interesting tension between Chuck and Morgan. It's one thing for Chuck to sneak around behind that jerk Harry Tang's back to do his night job, but could he handle lying even more to his best friend -- especially after an episode in which the weight of all these lies and secrets (secrets and lies!) finally becomes too much to bear?
I'm glad the writers didn't string out Chuck and Sarah's cover relationship forever. Chuck's a nice guy and kind of a pushover, but that was just a cruel situation for him to be stuck in, with this blonde goddess blocking his access to other women and yet not allowing him access to herself. If the government needed an excuse for Sarah and Chuck to be spending so much time together, they could have had her move in to his building, or work at the Buy More (though it would have deprived us of the Wienerlicious uniform), or pretend to be Casey's girlfriend or whatever. This was unnecessary (in Chuck-world, though it created good tension in TV viewer-world), and good for Chuck for finally putting an end to it.
It helped that he had a good reason to end it in Lou the sandwich lady, AKA adorable and funny original Josh Schwartz player Rachel Bilson. Given the oft-discussed resemblance between Zachary Levi and Adam Brody (though I've realized it's mostly about the hair), there could have been a danger of this just turning into a rehash of Seth and Summer from "The O.C.," but Schwartz has written a character for Bilson that plays to her banter-y strengths without being the exact same person. Lou's passion for sandwiches reminded of of latter-day Summer's non-GE-mandated passion for the environment. But there's a straightforwardness and even a vulnerability to Lou that's new and appealing. I can't see Summer telling some guy she just met that she likes him so much she'd be into him if/when he dumped his current girlfriend, for instance.
What made "Truth" one of the strongest episodes yet (maybe not as funny as "Sandworm," but emotionally richer) was that it wasn't just about Chuck's bogus love life, but the larger question of him playing spy and lying to everyone about it. Chuck's angst would have worked even better if Ellie's situation could actually be blamed on his new life, rather than a coincidental case of wrong place/wrong time/loud-mouthed baby brother -- a point Casey or Sarah could have made more forcefully when he got too self-pitying -- but the scenes in the hospital were very strong.
In today's column, I talked about how the spy stories and villains aren't the series' strongest element, but this one was helped out mightily by the casting of Kevin Weisman, as he has more screen presence than most of the bad guys to date. Plus, it was bizarrely compelling to imagine Marshall from "Alias" as both an evil poisoner and a gymnast. And the gymnast thing led to that great Indiana Jones in Cairo moment where Weisman did a million backflips and then Sarah just shot him in the leg.
The sodium pentathol element to the poison provided several opportunities for good laughs, first with Ellie unloading on poor, unsuspecting Captain Awesome -- "If everything is awesome and nothing is unawesome, then everything by definition is mediocre!" -- then with Chuck and Casey being unable to lie about their plans to double-cross each other with the antidote. And of course it led to that sweet moment at the end where we find out Sarah was somehow unaffected by the truth serum. It wasn't exactly a surprise, as Yvonne Strahovski was playing the "Is this ever going anywhere?" scene like a woman madly in love with Chuck, but it was still effective.
Some other thoughts on "Chuck Versus the Truth":
- The moment where Chuck finally called Captain Awesome by his real name felt both earned and well set-up. (In contrast, "Scrubs" a few years ago built an episode's emotional climax on Dr. Cox finally referring to J.D. as J.D., but it wasn't quite as effective if you remembered that he did it a few times in the early days before the writers decided it was important that he not.)
- I will forgive the use of a Britney Spears song (albeit an on-the-nose one like "Toxic") because the episode also used Elmer Bernstein's soaring "Great Escape" theme (one of the most iconic film scores ever) as Casey talked Harry Tang into moving to Hawaii.
- Again, I realize Morgan is an acquired taste for some, but I really liked his "Her hair looked so much like licorice" line about Lou.
- Another funny, off-kilter line: Lou's "Our vast height difference intrigues me."