"In this mission, Devon is you and you're her. So be her, Chuck." -CaseyI talked a lot last season about the "Chuck" Plot Hole of the Week, and how I often brought them up not to complain, but to illustrate how good the rest of each episode tended to be that I didn't even mind the one gaping flaw in the story. "Chuck vs. Operation Awesome" may be the most obvious example of that to date - or, at least an episode I enjoyed a ton in spite of the biggest plot hole I can remember the series featuring.
Simply put, I in no way understood or believed any of the episode's attempts to explain why the Angie Harmon character might mistakenly believe that Devon was a spy. I don't know what kind of intel The Ring has on the events of the last two seasons, but if they knew some or all of it, they'd focus in on someone at the Buy More. And if they're just basing their theory on the events of last week's "Chuck vs. the Angel De La Muerte," then The Ring poisoner saw Devon interrupt Casey's attempt to stop him, and cause Casey to be arrested by Goya's men. Casey argues that anybody looking at Chuck's life would assume Devon was the spy, but why would anyone be looking at Chuck's life in the first place? And if they were, wouldn't they be aware of all the other stuff that points squarely at Chuck, even if he's a geek with a pocket protector?
But even though I didn't buy the mistaken identity at the center of the episode's plot (nor did I believe Harmon would give so much free rein to a CIA agent she was trying to turn until she was absolutely sure of where his loyalties lay), I had a lot of fun watching "Operation Awesome." Even more than "Angel De La Muerte," it played around with the Chuck/Devon role reversal, and with showing Captain Awesome seriously out of his depth (a good comic showcase for Ryan McPartlin) at the same time Chuck was kicking ass and taking names. Even with the Intersect 2.0, Chuck still often seems like the little kid pretending to be a spy next to Casey and Sarah, but when you leave them in the surveillance van and put Chuck next to civilian Devon (and when the Intersect works properly for once), he comes across as every bit the hero he wants to be (or the hero he sees Sarah and Casey being). He may not like real guns any more than Agent Shaw, but he two-handed those tranq guns like Chow Yun-Fat in "Hard-Boiled." And if Chuck's a bit more of a spaz once Devon goes to the sidelines and the super-capable Agent Shaw gets involved, it gives the writers (in this case, Zev Borow, with Robert Duncan McNeill directing) another chance to show that Chuck can still save the day through his computer skills, and through his knowledge of the death trap that is the Burbank Buy More. At this point, Zachary Levi can very easily play the character as either a bad-ass or a dork, and the show can have fun mixing and matching between the two as needed.
Getting back to Shaw - first glimpsed in shadow at the end of "Chuck vs. the Three Words," and here given face and form by Brandon Routh - he provides a whole lot of drama as he takes direct control over Operation Bartowski and points them very specifically at The Ring. Routh is always going to have an air of Superman about him, but that works for the part - Shaw so quickly winds up at odds with Chuck, Casey and Sarah that if he weren't so square-jawed and wholesome, the character might be instantly hatable. It's still not clear that Shaw has our team's best interests at heart (General Beckman sure seemed afraid for them when she talked to shaw in "Three Words"), but Routh provides some moral ambiguity at the same time he's causing trouble.
And after last week's episode featured none of the Buy More crew and precious little on the pop culture reference front, "Operation Awesome" brought both back in a big way, as Morgan is again promoted to Ass Man(*), and almost immediately has to deal with a rebellion by Lester and Jeff, who both hate management (ass or otherwise) and who are inspired by an Intersect 2.0 malfunction to start up a Buy More Fight Club.
(*)That joke still makes me think so fondly on the "My Favorite Year"-style climax to "Chuck vs. the Seduction," and to Big Mike staring at the mangled "Under New Ass Man" banner and saying, "I ain't new!" It's the gift that keeps on giving, that one.
Morgan was, of course, briefly Ass Man under Millbarge (RIP), but this promotion feels more permanent, and like more fertile territory. He wasn't tricked into this one, and he does have a weird, not entirely desired father-son relationship with Big Mike, and Morgan has to grow and advance at the store in the same way Chuck does in spy world. So this storyline is going to give Josh Gomez some good stuff to play, as it is for Vik Sahay and Scott Krinsky, as Jeff and Lester have immediately turned adversarial on their old buddy Morgan.
Also, I thought I had tired of "Fight Club" references (it has been 10 years, after all), but seeing Lester tricked out in the Tyler Durden sunglasses (and Jeff in much geekier '80s shades) was very funny, as were the glimpses of the bruised, defiant, incredibly nerdy Buy More staff. And, as happens in the better episodes (including the aforementioned "Chuck vs. the Seduction"), a Buy More storyline wound up helping Chuck save the day in a spy story, and those worlds-colliding moments are always welcome. I've said in the past that if the show were to just do references for the sake of them, it would feel like a live-action "Family Guy," but all the "Fight club" jokes tied in nicely to Morgan's story and then to Chuck's.
After the set up of the season's first few episodes, it feels like Shaw's arrival and Morgan's promotion have really kicked season three into gear, and I'm looking forward to what's coming.
Some other thoughts:
• I've never really liked the "Chuck" stylistic device of having a character talk directly into the camera as if we were seeing the POV of the character they're talking to. It always makes things feel too broad on a show that's already quite silly enough, thank you, and it certainly pushed Awesome's attempt to concoct an alibi for Ellie too far into the ridiculous for my tastes. It was only the arrival of Casey at the end of that scene, completely ignorant of the lies Chuck and Devon had told about him, that saved it, I thought.
• I'm sure the gag about the man who doesn't like guns but knows how to use them has been featured in many, many, many films prior to it, but the one that immediately popped out at me after Shaw killed Sydney was the end of "Quigley Down Under" with Tom Selleck and Alan Rickman. (Shaw's hatred of guns also nicely set up the moment where Casey quick-draws on Shaw and says, "Something else you should know about me: I love guns.") And whether or not "Quigley" was where they got the idea from, it leads us to...
• This week in "Chuck" pop culture references: "Fight Club," obviously, but also "Under Siege" (Lester does his Seagal impression and talks about being "just a cook"), "Pulp Fiction" (the adrenaline shot to Shaw), "Enter the Dragon" (Chuck trying to swing his arms around like Bruce Lee to intimidate Sydney and her henchmen), "The Warriors" (Lester apes the famous "Come out to plaaaaay!" scene while taunting Morgan), "An Officer and a Gentleman" (Lester quotes Richard Gere's "I got nowhere else to go!" speech), "Animal House" (Lester is, like Delta House, placed on Double-Secret Probation), and possibly "Alias" (Angie Harmon's character is named Sydney).
• This week in "Chuck" music: "Space Monkeys" by Dust Brothers (the "Fight Club" song, also from the movie), "Got Nuffin" by Spoon (Chuck and Awesome racing through the office building), and "Bears" by Sam Isaac (leading into the final scene at Chuck's apartment).
• In "Chuck vs. the Three Words," Chuck said Casey has dungarees older than Carina, and here Casey complains he has issues of Guns & Ammo older than Shaw. Where is Casey buying all his pants and magazines from?
• I loved the plaintive tone of Jeff's voice as he explained - after Lester said Chuck's kick made him feel like a man for the first time since his bar mitzvah - "I've never had a bar mitzvah!" Also loved that we saw Lester punching Jeff in the face in the background of that scene.
• After the heavy dose of Chuck and Sarah in the season-opening double feature, and a couple of big scenes about the state of their relationship last week, here we only got a hint of it at the very end when Chuck and Sarah tried to argue to Shaw that caring about people can be a help, not a hindrance, to spy work. (Based on the last scene, with Shaw spying on Chuck and company while he studies a wedding ring, I'm assuming the person he lost was his wife.)
• When Shaw explains that The Ring is made up of a group of decentralized cells, my first thought was that Fedak, Schwartz and company had finally figured out a way to avoid all the "How do the bad guys not know there are spies at the Buy More?" questions they had to deal with during the Fulcrum episodes last year. Now we can have one Ring cell after another march into the store, and even discover Chuck's secret identity, and assuming they're arrested or killed, nobody in any other cell is going to be any the wiser.
• In part because I had trouble not thinking of her character as kind of an idiot because of the Devon mistake, I didn't love Angie Harmon as Sydney, but her presence did lead to the first good Sarah-on-girl fight in a while. (Though it wasn't up to the standards of Sarah in the car or Sarah in the locker room. Few things are.)
Finally, in case you missed it (since we posted it on a Saturday night), Fienberg and I got around to recording that podcast we've been threatening to do for forever, and you can listen to or download it here. We only discuss "Chuck" briefly, at the end of a rambling 40+ minutes (prior topics include "Idol," Jay/Conan, press tour, and Dan's hatred of Stephen Hawking), but I imagine that if we ever do this again (which will involve figuring out how to do it via Skype), "Chuck" will be a more prominent topic.
What did everybody else think?