"Just so you know, I am going to get this thing out of my head one day. I will. And when I do, I'm going to live the life that I want with the girl that I love. Because I'm not going to let this thing rob me of that. I won't." -Chuck BartowskiOutstanding. Maybe even, with apologies to Devin, awesome.
Where "Chuck vs. the Beefcake" appeared to be taking Chuck a step back in his relationship with Sarah and his unwanted spy career, "Chuck vs. the Lethal Weapon" shows that, in fact, Chuck is trying damned hard to take two steps forward. As he shows throughout the final few scenes, he is not a sap, not a clown, not a victim. He knows who he is and what he's capable of, and if he's the clown some of the time, he's also working to get better and to find a way out of this nightmare he's been living for two years.
If the episode had ended on the two final scenes involving Sarah -- Chuck leaving her alone with Cole (because he knows he can't just be clingy and neurotic about her), and then Chuck forcefully drawing a line about what he will and won't do in this fake relationship and what he hopes to accomplish in the future -- "Lethal Weapon" would have been a terrific episode. But by then taking us into Chuck's room to show us what's on the underside of Chuck's much-discussed "Tron" poster -- by showing us that Chuck has, all along, been assembling information on everyone associated with the Intersect, in an attempt to find a cure for his bizarre condition -- well... that was a great moment in "Chuck" history, folks. Not only does it give the story greater urgency going forward, but it changes the way we have to look at Mr. Chuck Bartowski, dating all the way back to the beginning. He cowers and he stumbles and he squeals like a girl at times, but he's not the loser it's sometimes easy to take him for.
And it feels right that this revelation would come at the end of an episode where he spent so much time hanging around with Cole Barker, archetypal man of action and someone who treats Chuck with more professional respect than Casey and Sarah ever have. Because he hasn't known Chuck from the beginning, hasn't seen his many mistakes and growing pains, maybe doesn't even fully grasp what Chuck's true story is (i.e., that he's an accidental asset and not an agent), he views Chuck as a colleague and not a burden. He puts a gun in Chuck's hands when Casey and Sarah never have(*), doesn't roll his eyes at every suggestion (other than some macho gamesmanship while they're on comms with Casey and Sarah during the party) and gives him advice even as he realizes that Chuck is serious competition for Sarah's affections. (Or maybe Cole respects Chuck as much as he does because he realizes that if Sarah sees something in him, then he must be more special than he appears at first blush.)
(*) And it's long past time for those two to teach Chuck some rudimentary skills about fighting, shooting, etc. They've been doing this a while now; they know Chuck's never going to wait in the car, and that he's not always going to have them around to protect him. Schwartz and Fedak have said that sort of thing is finally coming, so hopefully the events of this episode convince Casey that it's better to show Chuck how to use a gun than to risk him shooting more scientists -- or even Casey himself -- in the leg.
And the episode did a good job of mixing in good jokes about Chuck trying to play spy without actually making him look a fool. He screws up with the gun, but his clumsy foot pursuit of Busgang is funny because they're both limping, and Chuck's too inexperienced to realize that he should have pretended to tie his shoe and not his cast foot.
Speaking of Busgang, Hey, It's That Guy! Hall of Fame inner circler Robert Picardo wasn't the kind of guest star who made it easy for NBC to promote ("Guest-starring the holographic doctor from 'Star Trek: Voyager'! You may also know him as the gym coach from 'The Wonder Years'! Or that older doctor on 'China Beach'! Or..."), but like so many of this year's guests, he's so familiar and so well-cast that the writers didn't have to waste a lot of time building a character for him. You see him (working without his occasional toupee) as a government scientist and you go, "Okay, I know what this guy's about." And that leaves a lot more room for bits of business with characters we care about, like Casey actually appreciating Chuck's pointer about the hors d'oeuvres.
Though Busgang dies here, I'm guessing the mysterious Orion is going to tie in with Chuck's search for his dad. I can't imagine them making a point of telling us that Papa Bartowski bought Chuck the same "Tron" poster that he's now using to find the people who can fix him.
Though most of my favorite moments of the episode involved Zacahary Levi being a man, and/or Jonathan Cake(**) letting him, I don't want to shortchange the typically-great Yvonne Strahovski for the way she played Sarah's ambivalence about Chuck vs. Cole. She likes both men for very different and very obvious reasons, and that's not an easy thing for an actress to pull off without it seeming false or contrived, but she did it, the way she usually nails this stuff.
(**) Frequently shirtless for the benefit of a certain demographic!
While "Lethal Weapon" didn't tie the spy story to the Buy More story from a plot standpoint, there were at least important thematic ties, as well as an opportunity to see Chuck be a good friend to Morgan. Though Morgan's characterization has been one of season two's biggest improvements, there have been long stretches where the two don't interact at all, or where Chuck has to be dismissive of Morgan because he's dealing with three national security crises at once. We've been reminded time and again this year why Chuck is still friends with Morgan, but not as often why Morgan is still friends with Chuck.
So it's always good to see Chuck pause for a moment to offer some guidance to his hairy little buddy -- especially when the advice is so informed by what Chuck's dealing with over in spy world. Chuck doesn't want to live with Sarah, but only under these circumstances, where everything's fake and he has to miserably be around that forbidden fruit 24/7. Morgan and Anna are both weird, but their relationship isn't a cover story, and it's about time Morgan stopped acting like a little boy and embraced the best thing to ever happen to him. Chuck nudges him in the right direction, and you can see as he watches the two of them make out how jealous he is of what Morgan has for real.
Some other thoughts:
• My one real complaint, which I guess we file away as this week's plot hole I'm going to ignore only because the rest of the show is so good: at no time do Casey or Sarah or General Beckman think to question the truth of Cole's story about escaping from Fulcrum. For all the trouble the members of Operation: Chuck go to in protecting the identity of the Intersect, they're pretty loosey-goosey with a foreign agent who improbably escaped from the organization that poses the most danger to Chuck. They give him free rein at Castle, leave him alone with Chuck, let him go back to England, etc. What if he didn't escape? What if he turned? And even if he didn't turn, isn't his first loyalty to MI-6? What's to stop him from blabbing to them about America's greatest intelligence asset working at a Buy More in Burbank?
• Okay, no. Two plot holes this week: if Beckman knows Busgang was on the team that built the Intersect, why wouldn't they have called him in before now to ask him about getting it out of Chuck's head? The government doesn't want all its secrets in the head of this schnook, and it's not like Busgang was being held prisoner by Fulcrum. Can I excuse two plot holes in one episode? For this one, yes.
• Getting back to Cole's apparent escape from Fulcrum, I liked the running gag about Casey's inferiority/hero worship towards Cole, particularly the moment when he tells Chuck he's taken out 9 guys, and when Chuck questions him on it, he sheepishly says, "Just saying it's doable."
• For the five of you still watching NBC's "Life," didn't the poster scene at the end of this episode look an awful lot like those sequences where Charlie Crews stares at his conspiracy wall and thinks very un-Zen thoughts about revenge?
• A very funny week for Jeffster, even though Jeffster! the band did not appear. "Repulsion is our business." "And business is good." Yikes!
• This week in "Chuck" pop culture referencing (another feature that could use a sponsor): Both the episode's title and the opening scene of Cole being tortured while hanging from the ceiling, are homages to Mel Gibson in the first "Lethal Weapon," all the talk of "sweep the leg" is from Bill Simmons' favorite movie, and Morgan quotes Han Solo when he tells Jeffster, "Laugh it up, fuzzballs!" when he catches them playing the dozens about his mom and Big Mike.
• After being the main villains on the show since late in season one, Fulcrum as an agency finally starts getting an identity with Duncan's spiel about how they're "patriots" who "do what needs to be done to preserve this nation's rightful place in this world." So they're less SD-6 from "Alias" (self-interested mercenaries posing as the good guys) than they The Others from "Lost" (people who do reprehensible things but claim to be the true good guys of the story).
• Some other good Chuck-related gags: Chuck tries to brainstorm a cover identity for him and Cole that doesn't involve waiting tables ("How about dentists?") and Chuck offering Cole a copy of Us Weekly to help him in his time of recuperation.
• Before Chuck more emphatically broke up with Sarah (or, at least, declared that he won't move in with her), we at least got a little comic mileage out of the two of them as roommates, with Chuck unable to sleep and covering himself up to the neck in blankets. But haven't we seen them have to spend the night together before as part of their cover?
One final note: next week is a rerun of "Chuck vs. the Seduction." Originally, NBC was going to run the rest of the season straight through without repeats, but the Obama pre-emption last month caused a slight change of plans, and now they want to line up the rest of the original "Chuck"s to air on nights when they have original eps of "Heroes." I believe the season's remaining six episodes should run straight through starting in two weeks.
What did everybody else think?