Spoilers for tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I comb my beard for secrets...
I knew it! As soon as they announced that they'd be doing a big story arc about Chuck's ex-girlfriend Jill, I thought that she'd wind up being a spy. After all, what are the odds, in this show's universe and logic, that only two-thirds of that Stanford love triangle would wind up in the espionage game?
But then the production team and Zachary Levi did such a good job of selling Jill as Chuck's best hope for something resembling a normal life that I got sucker-punched by the revelation that she's a Fulcrum agent. (Technically, I got sucker-punched when the computer started spitting out pictures of other Fulcrum agents, when it became clear that Jill's would be the final picture in the bunch.)
Until we got the last-second reveal, the episode was primarily about the Clark/Lois/Lana-style triangle between Chuck, Sarah and Jill. Chuck's fake girlfriend caused some problems with his potential real one during the Rachel Bilson two-parter last season, but this played out differently for a couple of reasons. One, Jill knows about Chuck's secret identity (albeit not the Intersect part) and knows, intellectually, that Sarah and Chuck have never really dated, even though it's hard to look at Sarah and not feel threatened. And, two, Sarah is much more attached to Chuck than she was last year, and also knows that Jill matters a lot more to Chuck than sandwich girl ever did. Her jealousy over Chuck finding, as Casey so eloquently put it, "a new piece of asset," was much greater this time. So the stakes felt higher, and the jokes -- whether it was Sarah showing up in her best hooker-wear, Chuck and Sarah having a very dirty-sounding conversation in the ventilation ducts after Chuck pocket-dialed Jill, or circumstances conspiring to make Chuck and Sarah shower together -- felt even sharper as a result. In particular, it's an impressive trick to do a scene where Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski are soaping each other up in nothing but their underwear and not have it be the least bit sexy, but they pulled it off, to fine comic effect.
As with any "Chuck" episode, there were the usual plot holes you just have to grin at and ignore, like Casey turning his back on Chuck when the thumb drive was readily accessible, or the Fulcrum agent not bothering to make sure he had destroyed the right thumb drive. And, as with pretty much every "Chuck" episode this season, the jokes are so good that they do a nice job of paving over the plot holes -- in this case, Chuck making unexpected use of Morgan's illicit Canadian video game copier to decrypt and duplicate the Fulcrum list on the drive over to the opera house.
The writers are starting to figure out how to write for Tony Hale, meanwhile. Millbarge's attempt to gain Morgan's loyalty with the concept of "Buy More-ia" was amusing (particularly in that Morgan had himself thought of the concept and name years earlier), and Millbarge's oblivious tool-ishness was better done here, notably with his wine cooler bender.
(Other than that brief period in the late '80s when Bruce Willis thought he was a singer, have wine coolers basically always been funny? Come to think of it, they were pretty funny even during Willis' "My my my my!" phase.)
Millbarge's witchhunt, in addition to acknowledging that the whole "onsite install" alibi for Chuck's missions would get noticed sooner or later, also provided the usual set up for funny moments from the other citizens of Buy More-ia. In particular, I loved the dual interrogation of Lester and Jeff, with Jeff again going into prison mode and Lester sounding genuinely terrified while talking about the secrets in Morgan's beard.
And the rehabilitation of Morgan continues. The Millbarge stuff was largely separate from Chuck's story this week (though a thematic parallel, as usual), but Morgan's uhappiness at learning that Chuck was with Jill again -- and that Chuck hadn't told him -- was well-played by Josh Gomez. It makes sense that Morgan would have the same reaction as Ellie. And Morgan also got to achieve victory over Millbarge, while simultaneously invoking the name of the one, the only, Harry Tang. Nice.
Some other thoughts on "Chuck vs. the Fat Lady":
• Need a ruling: has there ever been a funnier John Casey moment than him unexpected hitting High C, then abashedly explaining that he was once a choir boy?
• A nice joke, and the sort the show rarely had time for last year, when the scenes tended to work on one level at a time: while Sarah and Casey are arguing over what to do about the level of surveillance on Chuck, you see Chuck whining and whining on the monitors in the background.
• Now, when Millbarge says, "I have heard the loading dock is like a Five For Fighting concert," I'm supposed to take it that Five For Fighting is lame, right? But... the song about Superman's existential angst speaks to me as a comic book nerd! And my daughter loves the song about penguins that John Ondrasik did for "Dog Train"!
• Speaking of being a comic book nerd, I can't have been the only geek in the audience whose eyebrows raised when Chuck mentions the Culper Ring, the Revolutionary War-era spy organization that's such a key part of Brian K. Vaughan's sci-fi epic "Y: The Last Man," can I?
• Still more geekdom (if I can't nerd out while discussing this show, when can I?): Jill says that one of the late Guy LaFleur's passwords involved Vogon poetry, which is, of course, the third worst poetry in the universe.
• And yet another kind of nerdhood: the puzzle-bomb stops with the read-out at 007, just like in "Goldfinger."
What did everybody else think?