"This place isn't real. Her feelings for you aren't real." -SylviaHere's the thing: we know by now that Sarah's feelings are real, that if circumstances were different -- if the fate of the world didn't depend on her maintaining a cool professional distance from her asset -- she would be strapping herself back into that Princess Leia costume and taking Chuck on the greatest date of his sad little life. But with circumstances being what they are, she has to act like she doesn't care, and Chuck has to let her. There are lies within lies -- Sarah to Chuck and vice versa, Chuck to Ellie, Sarah to Casey, etc. -- and everyone's far more miserable than they appear on the surface.
In that way, Chuck and Sarah's non-relationship relationship seems an ideal subject for a trip to suburbia, since movies and television are so fond of using the 'burbs as a symbol for romantic dysfunction and self-deception. This wasn't exactly the "Chuck" equivalent of "Revolutionary Road" -- no episode with a line like "Charles Carmichael always comes quickly" is taking itself all that seriously -- but it did feel right, pop culturally, to have Chuck finally confront the limits of his fake romance while spending time in a cul-de-sac.
And despite the presence of Andy Richter and Jenny McCarthy, this is one of the less overtly comic episodes of the season. It's "Chuck," so there are always going to be jokes -- and the Big Mike B-story had plenty, starting with Millbarge's toupee -- but there was a bittersweet quality to even the comic scenes, like Chuck's arrival at his fake new home, scored perfectly to Talking Heads' "Once In a Lifetime." Yes, it's funny that the dog scampers by at the exact moment Chuck realizes he has a dog, but there's a sense throughout the hour that this is a life he desperately wants, and one he's not likely to get -- certainly not with Sarah. Even if they solved the whole Intersect problem, I doubt Agent Sarah Walker's going to want to play full-time domestic goddess.
And speaking of the Intersect, the hour opens up a bunch of interesting arc possibilities with the revelation that Fulcrum is working on building its own Intersect, with the hopes of training a fleet of agents to get the full Chuck treatment. Now Chuck has an added database in his head (I hope the writers don't try to treat these red Fulcrum-sect flashes as a one-time thing), but there's also an even greater threat to his life -- wouldn't an Intersect-equipped Fulcrum agent figure out pretty damn quick that Bryce Larkin's ex-roommate works at the Buy More where Lt. Mauser disappeared, and that's all she wrote?
This storyline, and the danger of exposing an average brain to those images, doesn't quite track with the season premiere, where Tony Todd had a bunch of agents all prepped to download the Intersect 2.0, but it did lead to the very cool "Raiders of the Lost Ark" moment in the climax where Chuck made sure he and Sarah were the only ones in the room not looking at the monitors when Casey turned the sequence back on. (Was I the only one hoping to see Richter and/or McCarthy turn to dust on camera? Just me? Okay. That's just how my brain works, Intersect or no.)
The Big Mike story was the obligatory comic relief from the Buy More gang, but it was funny comic relief as usual -- I particularly liked Jeff dropping a "BSG" reference by comparing Big Mike to a skinjob, as well as Big Mike's confusion about Millbarge's "affiliation" -- and it incorporated Chuck slightly more than these stories have of late. Spy world and nerd world haven't been too closely tied together in either of the '09 episodes, but if we at least see Chuck having a conversation or three with Morgan, they feel like the two settings are both part of the larger "Chuck" universe.
I knew Big Mike would be hooking up with Morgan's mom based on the clip reel they showed at Comic-Con, and based on some of the upcoming footage from that storyline, it looks like a very smart -- and funny -- decision from the creative team.
Some other thoughts:
• This episode was always scheduled to air tonight. Despite last week's Obama-related pre-emption, NBC decided to keep this one on tonight, both because of the Valentine's Day theme and because they felt Richter, McCarthy and Chuck in suburbia were easier to promote than "Chuck vs. the Best Friend," which now airs next week. There may be some minor continuity issues, but you have one of the show's best fight sequences to date to look forward to.
• Also, in case you missed it because of the lack of a new episode last week, here's my account of the "Chuck" panel at Comic-Con.
• Casey's overkill with the spray cologne felt appropriate, given his tranq-dart overkill in "Chuck vs. the Third Dimension," and it led to Zachary Levi's hilarious delivery of "Why here?"
• On the more serious Casey tip, how bad-ass is he that he can casually break his own thumb to get out of handcuffs? Lando Calrissian's got nothing on that guy, and his rescue mission was so impressive I even applauded his latest cheesey kiss-off line, "Somebody call the cable guy?"
• Exactly how large is the operational budget for Operation: Chuck? I know the real estate market's depressed, but first they build the Castle underneath the mall, and now they're just randomly buying up suburban haciendas?
• This week's script is from regular staffer Phil Klemmer, whose last script was for the excellent "Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer," and it's the second episode of the season (after "Chuck vs. the Ex") to be directed by Broken Lizards vet Jay Chandrasekhar.
What did everybody else think?