Monday, November 24, 2008

Chuck, "Chuck vs. the Gravitron": All your base are belong to Chuck

Spoilers for tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I find the instruction manual for my house...

"You're under arrest, Jill -- and I'm breaking up with you." -Chuck

As we come to the end of the three-episode Jill arc, it becomes clear that the entire thing was the greatest revenge fantasy ever over the ex who dumped you and broke your heart. Okay, maybe "ever" is hyperbole, but you have to admit that over the course of these three hours, and particularly throughout the second half of "Chuck vs. the Gravitron," Chuck showed Jill that she made a very, very poor choice in breaking up with such an obvious badass.

And the beauty of the episode (written by "Chuck" co-creator Chris Fedak) was that Chuck got to be a badass in a very Chuck way. He can't fight, he's a horrible liar and still prone to panic attacks, but damn if the boy can't read and comprehend an instruction manual like nobody's business. In his mastery of both The Castle and the Nerd Herder, Chuck showed he's not a man you mess with if there are electronics with remote controls within reach.

(In fact, Chuck's domination of Jill and "Leader" in The Castle was so wonderful that I must once again choose to ignore one of the usual "Chuck" plotholes: who designs a super-secret government installation that can be entirely controlled from inside one of the detention cells? Did Michael Scofield draw up the plans?)

In addition to Chuck owning everyone in the closing minutes, this episode also gave us maybe my favorite "Chuck" action sequence to date: Leader chasing Chuck through the titular Gravitron. That is the kind of thing that Fedak, Schwartz and company should be doing as often as they can: action that's likely not that expensive or complicated to produce, but that feels both unique and appropriate to this world. (And is also really funny.) Leave the neck-breaking to Jack Bauer and Sayid Jarrah; Chuck'll do just fine trying to get away from the bad guy while both of them are resisting the powers of centrifugal force.

After doing my best a few weeks ago to explain the nuances of who can know about the various levels of Chuck's secret identity, I have to admit I'm at a loss with all the Fulcrum stuff. I get that Jill wasn't a CIA agent recruited to join Fulcrum, or else General Beckman and the others would have known about her from the start, so that means Fulcrume is more than just an in-house splinter group. And I get that Jill only lied about sleeping with Bryce on orders of her Fulcrum handler (though shouldn't this have come up in one of the season one Bryce episodes?). But how, after all these intersections between Fulcrum, Bryce, Jill and Chuck has it not occurred to anyone yet in Fulcrum that maybe it's not Bryce who has the Intersect, but his nerdy buddy who keeps winding up in CIA/NSA cases? I'm assuming there's a master plan at work here, and given how well everything else on the show is going, I'm putting my trust in the creative team that the Fulcrum story will eventually make sense and be cool, but parts of the last two episodes made my brain hurt.

Some other thoughts on "Chuck vs. the Gravitron":

• The Nerd Herd b-story provided not only an opportunity for '80s pop culture references galore -- Morgan and company doing the slo-mo, side-by-side strut ala "The Right Stuff," Morgan and Lester touching hands through the glass like Kirk and Spcok at the end of "Wrath of Khan" -- but it gave us one of the better "Seinfeld"-ian mergers of A-story and B-story when Big Mike returned from his aborted fishing trip in time to forearm tackle Leader. (As I nerd-quoted when he vaulted the counter last season, how can anything that big move that fast?)

• The powers of product integration: now I want to buy a Nerd Herder. Did you hear? It has iPod capability!

• Captain Awesome's parents don't show up until next week, but their potential arrival did provide Ellie with the line of the episode: "The Very Awesomes are coming here, who make their son look mildly impressive."

• I also liked the pause Lester gave before saying the word "turkey," as if the whole concept was alien to him.

What did everybody else think?

41 comments:

Nicole said...

I haven't even seen this episode yet, but had to comment on the riff on "all your base are belong to us"..
Still a classic for me.

J said...

This one was too heavy on People Acting Stupid and directional hokey-pokey for me, but the Graviton chase was inspired and the Big Mike takedown was great. Also, the person I've been trying to indoctrinate into the show can stop looking at me funny when I call Dr. Awesome (who hasn't said, I don't think, "Awesome" a single time this season) Dr. Awesome.

Given the times, it would have been nice to see Ellie not throwing a whole turkey away. Viva America. Shout out Meals on Wheels or something, sheesh.

Meh episode (which ended with a Ra Ra Riot song, something that should make anyone vomit up their Thanksgiving dinner), but the promise of a Casey-centric hour gives me something to look forward to.

filmcricket said...

And here I thought your jump comment was going to be "after I unleash the Casey."

I never even considered the idiocy of having the controls inside the detention room; you are so right, Alan. I was too busy pondering the idiocy of Sarah and Casey leaving anything remotely resembling a weapon within the confines of the bunker while Chuck and Jill were in there alone. (Not to mention: leaving Chuck and Jill in there alone.)

I was also really offended by Ellie throwing the turkey away, even if it got us the visual of Morgan dumpster diving for it. I can't wait to meet the Very Awesomes, though.

I was glad that, at least, they took the Jill reveal in a different direction than last season with Lou: instead of having Sarah confront Chuck with the info, they had him discover it himself. But of the two, I infinitely preferred last season's Thanksgiving episode (and where was Anna?)

Anonymous said...

Chuck Tip o the hat to The OC up there on the ferris wheel.

Puff

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alan Sepinwall said...

Are the previews fair game?

No. That's one of the few rules we have around here, as part of the larger "no spoilers" policy.

Pamela Jaye said...

I may be having a case of severe slowness. did it *just now* occur to me that Sarah Lancaster keeps playing doctors?
(except, of course, on Scrubs)

filmcricket said...

Alan, re the no spoilers thing: I didn't know the Awesome seniors were showing up until I read your post, and I didn't know Jill was only going to be around for 3 episodes until I read it here, either. I'm not asking this to be smart or rude or anything, but what constitutes a spoiler?

Chris Littmann said...

Did they do a Black Friday Buy More story last season, too? Like with the security code word and stuff.

Oh Jordana, how you'll be missed. I saw a Fast and the Furious trailer the other day before Role Models and finally it dawned on me that that's where I'd seen here way back when I was in HS.

I say this a lot, but how they've basically taken Seth Cohen from The O.C., slightly evolved him, and made him an action hero cracks me up.

Mike said...

Well, nuts. I love the blog, and I feel like a real jerk for breaking the preview rules.

the2scoops said...

Loved the episode, so much that it obliterated how distracting this plot hole is: the handlers bug Chuck's watch and his car, but not his iPhone? What geek lets his iPhone out of site?

But damn can Big Mike move...

Pamela Jaye said...

Okay, Awesome.

or at least mildly impressive.

gotta love Chuck and his geekability. (and were those ComicCon stickers, posters, everywhere last season 2?)

Where *is* Anna? (did casey have her shanghaied? (oops. that was unintended))

I just remember saying No! Don't let her go! right before that Negative.

I'm not clear on the Fulcrum thing either, but then i don't remember you explaining it wrong, so it's all good (and just as confusing as ever. i need to watch the first ep with bryce, says my friend who doesn't do primetime but does do Chuck. (I'd bet Josh and Zach would be tickled that Josh hitting on a girl in Boston created a whole extended family of fans (of course, if it were me, I'd rather be hit on by Zach, but I'm guessing that's true of my friend's niece as well))

I see the holding cells come with IM.

dez said...

"Unlease the Casey" and the Big Mike takedown made the whole ep for me. Also loved the way Chuck broke up with Jill.

Anonymous said...

Enough about Chuck. We need to talk about the funniest "Mother" since "Slap Bet" stat!

Rachel said...

Loved the break-up line.

Again, Chuck is firing on all cylinders. The action was very Chuck-like (e.g. the carnival ride and hall of mirrors), the comedy was great (Big Mike, the Wrath of Khan homage, Ellie's Very Awesome freak out, Chuck and the Castle manual), and the whole cast was utilized very well.

To top it all off, the emotional beats were superb. ZL and YS were especially great in the early scene where she was teaching him to pretend. I was really hoping Sarah would punch out Jill, though. You know she wanted to about 10 times.

Funny, though, as awesome as this episode was, for the first time this season I thought HIMYM was better.

kwig said...

The funniest part was right before the credits, Lester is still so clueless about thanksgiving dinner that he thinks the turkeys volunteer to be eaten.

drake lelane said...

did anyone else think of Scaramanga's funhouse (The Man with the Golden Gun) during the hall of mirrors scene?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Well, nuts. I love the blog, and I feel like a real jerk for breaking the preview rules.

Don't feel like a jerk, Mike. What you posted was actually fairly mild -- and, as Filmcricket pointed out, not too different from stuff I've included myself. (To answer his question, I generally consider casting issues to be a judgment call, but if enough people feel like mentioning that stuff is problematic for them, I can be talked into putting it under the No Spoilers policy.)

I deleted the comment just to avoid the slippery slope issue, but don't feel bad. It's not like you're the tool who randomly posted every future "Friday Night Lights" season three plot point in a comment without even saying that's what he was about to do. I deleted that one a lot faster and a whole lot angrier.

T said...

Great episode. I think it may have been the greatest break-up revenge story ever. Also, I learned what those "Leadership" weekends were really all about. I thought that all of that enthusiasm may have been hiding something nefarious--guess I was right.

LAP said...

Seriously "Unleash the Casey" is a phrase you can't help but cling to.

For me, I'll admit that I was really hoping that Jill saving Chuck's life wasn't really a trick. I knew it had to be, but big kudos to Jordana Brewster that I really hoped Jill was redeemable and perhaps visited in prison, or wherever Fulcrum agents go..

It's been a slow metamorphosis, but Morgan really isn't unpalatable anymore. I loved that the slo mo moment of the episode was him looking at Ellie with the turkey and that it wasn't delusional.

Tina said...

More '80s stuff: the Chuck/Sara teaching to kiss scene was straight out of Some Kind of Wonderful.

Robin said...

The episode was full of fantastic moments, but as a whole, it was my least favorite of the Jill arc. However I think very few things are going to top seeing Big Mike take out a Fulcrum hit man. "I hate thieves."

Just my two cents, but since you asked, I definitely consider casting news as spoilers, especially specific number of episodes for guest stars or news that a cast member is leaving. I knew through your blog that Jill was a 3-arc episode, which took away some of the "suspense." Worse than Chuck though, I've read about several casting decisions on Lost or the Office that have totally changed the way I've viewed episodes. Ryan's behavior on the Office last week is an example.

Pamela Jaye said...

i have severe spoiler allergy, but my feelings about casting news and spoilers are mostly like this

The first time House's parents appeared on the show:

Not a spoiler, unless we were unaware he *had* parents, or they were lost in a tragic plane accident over the Andes or whatever.

The last time they showed up, however, there were life changing events attached to them, so maybe not.

If Wilson's brother suddenly appeared, that might be a spoiler.

Awesome can be expected to have parents. As long as it didn't mean he was getting married right then, i wouldn't care, and honestly, since he's a minor character, anything short of him leaving the show 9or finding out about Chuck's secret, isn't going to matter a lot to me.

Major characters or plotline changes are usually what bother me. Then again, on Grey's, almost anything would spoiler me. And yet that's not true. A friend knew Bernadette Peterson was going to be on and wouuldn't say - but she just played a random patient, so i wouldn't have cared.(and i'm the one who refuses to watch previews, promos, or clips the actors bring with them to talk shows (there was one really super scene that would have been better if i'd never seen any part of it in advance))

ISTM that Ellie's already having Impending Awesome Anxiety, so they might as well come.

Just another 50 cents you probably didn't need.

Cindy said...

This episode did a decent job in wrapping the arc. I'm as confused about Fulcrum, but I'm glad Chuck finally got his answers regarding Jill/Bryce/Stanford/Fulcrum. Hopefully the writers will dig into that organization later in the season.

This week, he did what he do best-- being the nerd who saves the day. Last week, it was all just a coincident that he remember Morgan's little toy to copy encrypted games, and that made me feel a bit annoyed.

The ending, when Chuck was giving the whole speech after locking Jill in the Nerd Herd, I felt it lacks emotions. Maybe it's just me, but it's as if Levi was just reading off the darn script. I feel disappointed that he did't deliver the right punches, making a statement about himself of deciding between Sarah and Jill. Comedy is his thing, and I really appreciate that from him. Frankly, in general, when it comes to the emotional side of the show he often relies on his chemistry with his co-workers (
particularly, Strahowski and Lancaster). He's lucky he gets to play the different genre/aspects within the show;sadly, everyone else seems so restricted/limited to a certain genre.

dez said...

Did anyone else hum, "Na na na na na na na na na LEADER!" during this ep? Just me? I've got to stop watching "The Simpsons." Cripes, even the word verification reminds me of "The Simpsons" (I got "puree").

Re: Casting spoilers & arcs & such: I vote for avoiding 'em whenever possible. If it's something that's been trumpeted everywhere--and especially if you had to write about it for your TV column--I can see where you'd talk about it; otherwise, it's probably better to leave it out of the blog. God knows there's a certain "24" spoiler for S7 that I wish the producers hadn't plastered all over creation--where's the surprise in that??

David said...

What kind of spies allow their bait to meet them at the designated location? (Always use a tail, always) Those opera tickets where such an obvious trick. SO obvious. And then Jill leaves behind Leader, to live another day? Again, obvious. Otherwise, an okay episode.

Anonymous said...

As the lone dissenter who didn't like this week's HIMYM, I've realized my thorough enjoyment of this week's Chuck probably means my mood and health weren't to blame.

I think I'd rather not have known that Jill's character was only around for three episodes. They did a pretty good job of making Jill's inability to kill Chuck seem sincere, but knowing Jill wouldn't be around for future episodes made it harder to believe in her.

AndyW said...

RE: The titular Gravitron. My wife and I were both saying that the Gravitron chase scene really rocked and wondered why it hadn't been done in a real action movie before. I mean, a Jason Bourne scene in the Gravitron? That would totally kick ass.

Chris said...

Three words: "Unleash the Casey."

Got an out-loud laugh there.

Pamela Jaye said...

oh, absolutely - *number* of episodes leans spoilerish.

There's a character on Grey's right now that i wonder how many eps - but I really dont want to know.

I heard the 3 Jill arc and felt the same way - no matter what happens, this is the last ep.

I didn't necessarily feel the same way about Jane Doe on Grey's (her first season) but she wasn't the type of character I'd really be invested in. it's possible an Alex fan might feel differently. But Chuck's old girlfriend? Lost love? Yup. it does change the tension level. (i'd wish the networks wouldn't tell us, but even Shonda isn't that close-mouthed)

Bobman said...

What kind of spies allow their bait to meet them at the designated location? (Always use a tail, always) Those opera tickets where such an obvious trick. SO obvious. And then Jill leaves behind Leader, to live another day? Again, obvious. Otherwise, an okay episode.

THANK you. I am admittedly an idiot when it comes to noticing obvious plot holes - mostly because I TRY to not notice them because it takes away from the fun - but that one was so blatantly obvious the second they said "we'll meet you there." Mostly because they usually just show up, they never make a big deal out of how.

Great episode otherwise. Loved the whole Jill arc, and thought Jordana Brewster did a really great job. She should be in more stuff.

JustJoan said...

did anyone else think of Scaramanga's funhouse (The Man with the Golden Gun) during the hall of mirrors scene?

No, I was too busy thinking of "The Lady from Shanghai," and wishing Leader could be sporting a cane. That scene of Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane was so, perfect for Chuck. I only wish they had worked in a reference to the famous "Are you aiming at me?" exchange.

pixelwax said...

* Trusting the writers
Yeah, look at where it got us with Alias. Chuck is sorta like Alias in that we have a new kind of hero but geek instead of kickass female lead. And while "Chuck" is as fun it is funner because of its humor, so I trust that the show will never take itself as seriously as Alias mistakenly did in going the whole improbably soap opera plot twist way of things.

* Spoilers
Casting is a big spoiler for me. Other than that I'm kinda over all other spoilers. Ever since I was a kid watching Star Trek re-runs and actually thinking while going into a commercial break that Kirk et al were gonna die. But during he commercial break, there was a station break previewing the next Trek episode. Stupid, I know, but that ruined TV for me and it has been very hard to forget it.

My word verification is spollyd. If ever there was a sign, that is it!

Alan Sepinwall said...

Trusting the writers
Yeah, look at where it got us with Alias. Chuck is sorta like Alias in that we have a new kind of hero but geek instead of kickass female lead. And while "Chuck" is as fun it is funner because of its humor, so I trust that the show will never take itself as seriously as Alias mistakenly did in going the whole improbably soap opera plot twist way of things.


Yeah, the fundamental difference between Alias and Chuck is that, after a while, finding out answers about Rambaldi was really the only thing Alias had going for it anymore, where Chuck is so entertaining the rest of the time that even a complete screwing of the Fulcrum pooch wouldn't really damage my overall opinion of the show.

Anonymous said...

did anyone else think of Scaramanga's funhouse (The Man with the Golden Gun) during the hall of mirrors scene?

Nope. Bruce Lee. Enter the Dragon.

Karen said...

I'm with JustJoan: that mirror house scene was pure The Lady from Shanghai. I got all happy just watching it!

And yes: "Unleash the Casey" wins all hands down.

(And I also was appalled that Ellie would THROW OUT an entire turkey, despite its putative dryness, and despite it leading to the awesoem Morgan Dumpster dive.)

annie said...

Cast notes tend to spoil things for me when they're along the lines of Amy Ryan on the Office. Knowing she was only there for a couple episodes prevented me from really enjoying them and traveling through that time with Michael Scott. I prefer to intellectually know that TV shows run through short arcs than know that thisstoryline has a definite shelf-life.

As far as Chuck, Morgan's T-day miracle at the end really made me smile. I'm hoping there will be a couple care-free 'sodes that get away from the convoluted who-knows-what of the spy world and focus on capturing the bad guy. And more Buy More. :)

J said...

the fundamental difference between Alias and Chuck is that, after a while, finding out answers about Rambaldi was really the only thing Alias had going for it anymore, where Chuck is so entertaining the rest of the time that even a complete screwing of the Fulcrum pooch wouldn't really damage my overall opinion of the show.

I've actually said, "These are the dumbest spies since Alias" quite a lot lately. I don't care about the overall Fulcrum Whajahoozhit, but it does hurt the show when the "real" spies (everyone but Chuck) do dumb-but-plot-convenient things.

Ed Howard said...

I loved this episode, even though Chuck was a bit on the stupid side with his willingness to trust Jill over and over again. The only upside to all that is that it perfectly set up the ending: I was groaning and gritting my teeth until Chuck sprang the reversal on her in the Buy More car.

And how cool was the Orson Welles reference? I never expected to see that on Chuck, of all places, but the funhouse sequence of Lady From Shanghai is one of the great scenes in noir cinema, and the homage here was nicely done.

I was very disappointed the Awesomes didn't actually show up, though.

RSR said...

Everyone keeps saying that Chuck was an idiot for trusting Jill again, but I actually thought it was kind of believable. I think that Chuck was trying to hold on to the one thing from his past that seemed real and he didn't want to believe the Jill had become an evil, conniving, Fulcrum agent. And Chuck, a trusting, honest person was tricked in ways that are very conceivable (Jill shooting Leader, and the lie detector test proving that she loved him all along).

Overall, absolutely loved the episode (as usual nowadays). Favorite line, along with every one else, "unleash the casey." Classic.

LoopyChew said...

You know, I seem to recall--and I think it was from one of your interviews!--that they wanted Chuck Norris to play a bad guy in one of the episodes but couldn't. Between the Enter the Dragon house of mirrors scene (granted, not the Bruce Lee movie Chuck Norris was in), this being the climax of the Jill arc (and ratings month) and the general build of the Leader, does anyone else think this was that episode, and that Chuck Norris was supposed to be Leader?