"Playtime is over... It's time for you to become a spy." -General BeckmanWhat she said -- only double it.
I never want Chuck the character, or "Chuck" the series, to lose the innocence and goofiness that makes him/it so appealing. But two seasons in, it's time -- really, it's well past time -- for Chuck to be treated not as some clown who's a temporary inconvenience for the NSA and CIA, but as someone who's been working as a de facto field agent for a while, who has saved both his partners and the world itself enough times that calling him anything other than a spy is just a matter of semantics and training. He already is a spy, so much so that Vincent from Fulcrum (played by Arnold Vosloo from "The Mummy") recognizes the name Charles Carmichael; now he just has to learn the right way to be one.
These last few episodes have been slowly inching both man and series into more serious territory, and with "Chuck vs. the Predator," co-creator Chris Fedak shows that it can be done without losing the comedy. The stakes for Chuck are getting higher and more deadly, but here they got raised in an episode that also featured Jeff aping Fonzie by turning a men's room stall into an office, Millbarge going berserk in two different Buy More locations, and hilarious homages to both "The Right Stuff" (Big Mike leading the Buy More crew in the triumphant side-by-side slo-mo walk) and "The Untouchables" (Big Mike quoting Sean Connery's speech about The Chicago Way and then recreating the "You're not from Chicago" scene).
I'm guessing/hoping that this will lead to some other questions we have being answered, like whether Chuck will be paid by the government, how well (or not) he'll take to getting self-defense training from Casey and Sarah, and even whether the Buy More cover is necessary anymore. If they're treating him as a spy who's going to be instrumental in bringing down Fulcrum(*) and not as an asset to be hidden from the bad guys at all costs, does he really need to spend so much time slipping in and out of that cover job? At the very least, could they have him quit the Nerd Herd to man the counter at the (government-controlled) Orange-Orange?
(*) It's a measure of how good the character work and emotional beats are that I buy into this "war" between the CIA and Fulcrum even though I have no real idea about or interestin in what Fulcrum is really up to. Fulcrum is basically a MacGuffin, the thing that's necessary to make the story go, but not worth actually explaining. If Fulcrum turns out to have a master plan down the road, fine, but I don't really need it.
Beckman's first physical meeting with Chuck made it clear that the stakes are going up, but also that she's starting to realize it was a mistake to leave two agents out on their own without major oversight. You could see her reacting strongly to Sarah's defense of Chuck throughout the episode; she may have a desk job now, but she didn't get that job without having a good eye for detail, and it's clear that, whether Sarah is supposed to be Chuck's handler or his partner, she's not as cold and objective as Beckman would like. (Neither, interestingly, is Casey, who knows just how schmoopie and annoying Chuck and Sarah can be, yet he refused to rat them out to Beckman.)
One episode after introducing us to the concept of Orion, the show appears -- again, appears -- to have killed him off. I'm guessing this is a classic comic book case of there not being a death without a body -- that, or my theory that Orion is Chuck's dad has to be tossed out the window. I suppose Chuck's dad could have been involved in building the Intersect without being Orion, but there's something in the way that Orion said that he always wanted to do the "this disc will self-destruct" spiel that sounded very much like something Chuck himself would say.
After keeping nerd world and spy world mostly separate for the last few episodes, "Predator" also managed to use the Buy More to complicate the Orion situation, first with Jeffster playing war games with Orion's laptop in Jeff's office, then with mess involving Jeffster, Millbarge, Vincent and the safe in Big Mike's office. The scenario of two break-ins happening simultaneously, with lots of mistaken identity, is so old that I think they did it three or four times on "I Love Lucy," but it was well-executed here, in part because of how Jeff and Lester are revealed to be some Bizarro World version of Casey and Sarah. (After all, Casey tricked out the A/V room as an office in the same way Jeff did to that stall, while Lester's been mistaken for a woman at least once before.) And it helped that Tony Hale was finally allowed to cut loose and be completely insane as Millbarge -- and, based on his "Just like Fresno" mantra, I don't think this is the first time Emmitt has had a freak-out in the middle of a store.
If the Beverly Hills Buy More didn't look like anything but the regular set dressed up with some new cardboard cut-outs, it did set up a nice parallel between nerd world and spy world, with Buy More 90210 as the nerd equivalent of Fulcrum, Big Mike as General Beckman and Morgan as Chuck.
And speaking of Fulcrum, "Predator" also gives us our first glimpse of their headquarters, albeit done in a minimalist fashion that evoked the tribunal where General Zod and his gang get sentence at the start of "Superman: The Motion Picture" (or similar tribunals in a half-dozen paranoid '70s/'80s thrillers). At Comic-Con, I had asked Fedak why Fulcrum wouldn't be constantly sending raiding parties into the Buy More after Mauser disappeared at the end of his mission in "Chuck vs. the Santa Claus," and he said this episode would explain that what Fulcrum thinks is happening at the Buy More is very different from what's actually happening. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the in-episode explanation that they think it's a CIA substation -- wouldn't they still want to know what was so valuable at this substation? -- so I asked Fedak via e-mail if he could expand on it. Here's what he wrote:
Mauser's plan was to identify what or who Casey and Sarah were protecting inside the Buy More. His orders from Fulcrum would have been: "We've identified a domestic substation in Burbank, California. Create an incident and see what's really happening there." Mauser succeeds (he learns that Chuck is the Intersect), yet he never gets to deliver his report. Back at Fulcrum HQ, they're stuck with their original information -- there's this base in Burbank but all the agents they send inside it get taken or wind up dead. And remember, their real focus is Bryce Larkin, who we always imagine is having super spy missions all around the world, battling Fulcrum in a James Bond vs. SPECTRE fashion.The Bryce part of the explanation is the more important part -- it's been established repeatedly that they think Bryce has the Intersect, not Chuck -- but I still have to think the Mauser's disappearance would only make them more curious about that Buy More, even if it kept costing them manpower.
Some other thoughts:
• Loved the CG effects on the Predator drone itself. One of the cooler-looking pieces of FX on the show to date.
• I always enjoy those glimpses of Operation: Bartowski returning from a mission we'll never get to see -- in this case, them all covered in filth after posing as plumbers -- as it's both an easy opportunity for humor and a sign that Chuck's life as a spy is even more thorough than there's room for on the show itself.
• This episode did slightly undercut the coolness of the "Tron" poster scene at the end of "Chuck vs. the Lethal Weapon," in that it reminded me of the surveillance cameras Casey has in Chuck's bedroom -- and Chuck's awareness of them. Yes, he deliberately looks at the Tron poster while he's facing the camera, so Casey couldn't see what's on it, but at the same time, wouldn't Casey (or whoever else has access to that footage) wonder why Chuck kept looking at the back of some poster? I thought the idea of him slipping the new Intersect blueprints inside a copy of Brian K. Vaughan's very cool "Ex Machina" makes more sense.
• Our weekly plot hole that's necessary to make half the plot work: how does Chuck not understand what Orion means when he says he'll be sending a computer to "your current location"?
• I did a quick Google Maps search of the two addresses mentioned. The corner of Wilshire and Doheny, where the Buy More 90210 is allegedly located, is pretty dull (there's a bank on one corner), while 54 Temple Ave. doesn't exist at the zip code given.
• If Beckman's speech at the end of the episode didn't have such important ramifications for the series as a whole, I would have been sorely tempted to lead the review with an incredulous Chuck asking Casey, "You had a gun?" and a smug Casey saying, "I always have a gun."
• Does no one else live in the apartment complex but Casey, Chuck, Ellie and Awesome? Beckman makes quite the entrance that would be noticed if the building were as populated as, say, Melrose Place.
• On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a basket of puppies and 10 being Jeff eating the urinal cake, how disturbed should I be by Lexter expressing his fear of having to turn tricks "again"?
• Got a kick out of Beckman mocking Casey's Reagan photo by telling him, "The '80s are over." Just try telling that to Fedak and Schwartz.
What did everybody else think?