"I'm not who you think I am." -Chuck BartowskiChuck's dad serves neatly as a metaphor for "Chuck vs. the Dream Job" as a whole. The episode is rambling and confusing but still fairly entertaining (since it's not my long-lost father, after all), but it doesn't really kick into gear until we find out that Papa Bartowski is also Orion, father of the Intersect.
"Don't worry, Charles, I'm not who you think I am, either." -Stephen Bartowski
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way quickly. Even by the low standards of the "Chuck" Plot Hole Of The Week (insert your ad here), dad's explanation for not telling Chuck who he really was makes no sense. Sure, he's worried that Chuck thinks he's a nut, but any sentence featuring a combination of the worlds "Intersect," "Fulcrum" and "Orion" should have done the trick.
Also, while Chuck's brief stint as a Roark employee had its share of fine moments both dramatic (Chuck again viewing a cover identity as more appealing than his real life) and comic (Chuck struggling to balance himself on the exercise ball chair, Jeff throwing a body block while Chuck was running from Roark's goons), it felt like there were several scenes missing in the middle, and/or that some got shuffled out of order. One minute, Chuck's being dragged away by Roark security after turning a worldwide live product launch, and the next he's turning up for work at the Buy More to cast another glimpse at this place that makes him so miserable? Huh? Shouldn't there have been at least a throwaway line about Casey having to bail him out of jail(*), and/or someone from the Buy More confronting him about the gossip of him taking a job with Roark (or even about his appearance in said disastrous live webcast)?
(*) Glossing over the probable legal ramifications of that stunt feels like a missed opportunity. Sarah sold Chuck using his own identity as a good thing -- a way to boost his self-esteem by showing he has what it takes to get this job using nothing but his own (non-spy) credentials -- but instead it should have turned into a very bad thing. Even if Roark somehow didn't have him arrested, possibly to avoid the Fulcrum connection, Chuck has now been involved, on-camera, in a very public gaffe involving the biggest software company in "Chuck" World, while working under his own name. If he ever hopes to get out of the spy life and get an actual job in the computer game, wouldn't this come back to haunt him, big-time?
But any concerns I had about the plot holes started to waver when Chuck combat suit-ed up for the first time, and they vanished altogether once Chuck's dad turned up at Roark and took out Vincent(**), Orion-style. It was a moment a lot of us assumed was coming, but it was so well-executed in every phase -- from the "Princess Bride"-esque exchange quoted above to the way Scott Bakula effortlessly flipped the switch from crazy and ineffectual Stephen to vigilante genius Orion -- that the lack of surprise didn't matter.
(**) Didn't Casey kill Vincent the last time we saw him? Or will his Rasputin powers turn into a running gag?
And from there, things just got better and better. His true identity revealed, Stephen showed himself to be very much his son's father, talking about how didn't design all of the Intersect -- just the really cool parts. In a moment near and dear to any comic book or "Star Wars" fan, he taught Chuck that the Intersect in his head was more powerful than he could possibly imagine. And when Roark showed up -- outing himself not just as a smug, rich SOB, but an evil, smug and rich SOB -- the tension got even higher, until we came to that great moment(***) where Casey and Sarah had to pull Chuck away from his dad while under the gun of Vincent and his Fulcrum agents. As Stephen Bartowski himself said, while quoting Scott Bakula's most famous role, "Oh, boy."
(***) Time to play Pick The '80s Reference! Do you go with Han and Leia saying goodbye before he's frozen in "Empire Strikes Back," or McCoy and Scotty at the end of "Wrath of Khan" holding Kirk back from going into the irradiated chamber with Spock? The great thing about this game: everyone's a winner!
Of our two Very Special Guest Stars, Bakula got more to do, and did more with it. Again, I went in assuming he was Orion (despite Josh Schwartz playing with semantics by telling me at Comic-Con that Chuck's dad would not turn out to be "a spy"). But in spite of that, Bakula did a nice job making Stephen's crazy loner persona seem real enough that, if I didn't start to doubt my theory, I was at least impressed when he dropped the act (mostly; I think even as Orion, Stephen's a bit nuts). Extremely likable, believable in both personas -- and as Zachary Levi's dad -- and I look forward to more.
Chevy Chase was mostly asked to be Chevy Chase -- specifically, the more obnoxious persona we've come to know in his later years, after everyone bagged on him in Tom Shales' "SNL" book and after everyone was so vicious to him at his Friars' Club roast -- and he did that very well. In some ways, the idea of Chevy Chase being on a show that owes such a debt to Chevy movies of the '80s is almost more important than actually getting him to do a lot. (In that way, it's sort of like the Bob Hope cameo in the Hope & Crosby-esque "Spies Like Us," which I'll link to again.)
Three episodes to go -- for the season, I hope, and not for the series. I'm hoping to get Chris Fedak on the phone tomorrow to post-mortem some of the developments here, and preview (without spoiling) what's to come. If so, I'd look for it (based on East/West coast time differences and other scheduling issues) late afternoon or early evening tomorrow.
Some other thoughts:
• I liked the symmetry of Chuck putting on Casey's combat gear (and proving surprisingly adept with his tranq guns) in the same episode where Casey and Sarah went undercover as nerds. I just wish their nerd disguises had been either A)More convincing, B)More imaginative than putting on glasses and striped shirts (if ever there was a time for the return of Sarah's Louise Brooks wig, or something else anime-looking, it was this), or C)Been mocked by Chuck for not being A or B.
• This episode was co-written (along with Corey Nickerson) by Phil Klemmer, whose previous gig was on "Veronica Mars." I mention this because one of the missions of the "Mars" writing staff was to try to smuggle, line-by-line, the entire script of "The Big Lebowski" into that show, and because here Casey warned Chuck, "You're entering a world of pain." If next week features Chuck being accosted at the Orange-Orange and declaring, "Hey, careful, man, there's a beverage here!," we'll know Klemmer has converted an entire new writing staff to the cause.
• As Fienberg pointed out in his eloquent preview of "Chuck vs. the Dream Job," this was a very good episode for Ryan McPartlin as Captain Awesome. You don't usually think of him as being the show's most nuanced actor, but he really nailed Devon's fear of disappointing Ellie. Sarah Lancaster, for that matter, was very good, playing her resentment of her dad so well that it added credence for a while to the idea that he really was just an ordinary guy who went out for pancakes one night and never came back.
• The amount of spy and Bartowski family drama meant that the Buy More gang got back-burnered for the week, but Josh Gomez did have that really nice moment where Morgan got off the phone with Jeff and Lester and reacted for real to the news that Chuck had seemingly abandoned him for the Roark job.
What did everybody else think?