Written by Lauren LeFranc & Rafe Judkins
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Well played Chuck showrunners. Not only did you throw a curve ball at us, diverting us from the obvious Dalton as the baddie casting connection, with Timothy Dalton playing a frumpy MI6 Handler by the name of Tuttle; you simultaneously deked us out about the title and how it would play out in the episode.
Move over Dream Job, I now have a favorite new episode. All things Chuck just work so much better when the spine of the show is based on a compelling spy story. The humor flows more naturally and feels funnier, the nerd references have more pop, the relationships gain more emotional weight, character motivations are often in conflict with the spy story creating extra layers of tension, and the weaknesses of the show diminish; if not vanish altogether. Conversely when the spine of the show is based on the relationship between Chuck and Sarah those very same elements rarely work together as well. The reason for that bears further examination.
It is oft quoted that the Chuck and Sarah relationship is the heart of the show. (I like to think that heart also includes all the relationships of which, indisputably, the Chuck and Sarah is the major one.) But to paraphrase the original Star Trek episode, ‘The Trouble with Tribbles,’ ‘Too much of anything, even love, is not a good thing.’ Those loveable but prolific tribbles soon inhabited every corner of the screen distracting the characters from the real threat. After three Chuck episodes in a row(4.02 – 4.04) that focused on Chuck and Sarah, even the most die hard relationship fans were ready for a change of pace. That is because the spy stories ended up being generic and not emotionally engaging for the principal characters and by extension, the audience. There was no sense of danger. No tension.
When the spy mission is the spine of the story, comments about the show firing on all cylinders or being a balanced episode are often seen. Why is that? It is because all the characters are on equal footing in such episodes. When the episode is based on a relationship issue between Chuck and Sarah the only characters directly involved are, obviously, Chuck and Sarah. This focus creates an imbalance or barrier between the leads and the other characters. The other characters are hobbled from the get go. They can either only be involved in the main storyline from an indirect vantage point or the episode must contain a separate storyline for them. Which dilutes both storylines.
Things go even better when all the elements that go into making a show come together to create something that is greater than the individual sum of the parts. It is rather magical. Always hoped for. Occasionally happens. Can never be manufactured. Casting the right person for a part and having that person not only handle the role but go beyond what was envisioned is every show’s hope. Timothy Dalton as Tuttle, aka Volkoff, is one of those moments.
Dalton brings such an energy, such a glee, such a joy of life to the screen that it synergistically affects the other actors around him. Dalton’s scenes with Zac Levi were so much fun to watch. As his reveal at the end of the episode. Amazing. Also amazing is what a little change in wardrobe, hair style, and body language can bring to an actor. Scott Bakula had the same transformative moment in Season Two’s Dream Job when he went from being PapaB to Orion. Tuttle becomes Volkoff and those preconceived images the audience had of Dalton because of his Bond heritage served that reveal moment well. Too bad the Tuttle character has been lost so quickly but par for the course on a show where plot elements are often burnt through so rapidly. Tuttle was a lot of fun.
Episode Flashes: Add your own in the comments.
- Sarah distracted by MamaB during briefing with Beckman
- ‘calm’ Chuck
- Phalanx computer and triangular? discs
- Chuck ‘waltzes in’ by Tom, Jerry, Casey & other agents to see MamaB in the Castle
- Sarah turns a high heel spike into a weapon, Morgan pays the price
- ‘Morgan, please don’t touch my chest.’
- ‘I’m sorry. The code one more time.’
- Morgan, unlike Chuck, confronts Casey about their ‘First Fight’
- ‘Do I get to parachute out of a plane on a horse?’
- Subtle, undercover Morgan dropping ear piece into glass of water
- Tuttle and the plastic fork, ‘I’d like to apologize for addressing you in a harsh tone.’
- ‘Had my first sexual experience while watching Lawrence of Arabia.’ Tuttle cracks under threat of torture
- ‘Oh cool! A tiny weapons standoff!’
- Close quarters plane fight and another big guy prove too much for the Intersect.
- Tuttle’s ‘Here! Catch!’ knife throw
- Morgan brokers a deal with MamaB. ‘I haven’t had a decent Rice Krispie square since..’
- Tuttle teases Chuck about only have one parachute
- ‘Thrilling! Reminds me of that episode of Alias. I loved that show!’
- Sheep truck bonding
- Ellie and MamaB meet and talk, Sarah listens
- MamaB tells Ellie about the car that matches the one in the paper
- The Indestructible Woman! Scars and beauty marks!
- Sarah’s exasperated, ‘Is there anybody you didn’t tell about our fight?’
- Morgan accepts Casey ‘apology’
- Sarah a bit behind on social media with a ‘Friendsters’ shoutout
- ‘Fighting with you is exhausting.’
- Chuck and Sarah fight through their ‘First Fight’
- Tuttle is shot!
- MamaB zaps Chuck with some form of Intersect update via a PSP!
- ‘There is no Tuttle, Charles.’ Volkoff unveiled!
- Chuck cannot flash. No more Intersect or?
- PapaB narrates letter left for Ellie
- Ellie ends up with a present not only from PapaB but Orion too
Linda Hamilton continues to thrive as MamaB. Her stern exterior is broken by the most unexpected moments. Morgan showing up in the Castle detention cell to plead with MamaB is one of those great beats. MamaB talking to Ellie about their family history is another as she ends the scene brushing Ellie’s hair behind her ear. What is so great about the scene is that Casey and Sarah, in their own way, get to show they are part of the Bartowski family too. Casey’s subdued and regretful interruption that it is time to for MamaB to go along with Sarah’s reactions as she sits in the background and gets to hear a recounting of family history that is so relevant for her, are quiet moments that show how much ‘family’ there is with these characters.
This episode also demonstrated that bringing Morgan into the spy world is the right choice. Morgan’s struggle with the earpiece and glass of water was very funny. The Morgan/Casey ‘First Fight’ was carried out with aplomb; like the Chuck and Sarah fight; and resolved ‘in mission’, in ways that befitted both groups of characters. And Ellie! Ahhh Ellie. Is this a sign of things to come? Is Ellie really going to play a role in the spy world or will she simply carry a baton for a short bit? I hope the right answer is the first choice. Each time we get a glimpse of Sarah Lancaster’s acting ability it becomes ever more painful when she sinks back down into the background again. With Chuck in Intersect limbo could Ellie’s neuroscience abilities along with the Orion laptop left in the car become the story tool to unlock Chuck? The sharing and familial bonding that could occur in such a storyline gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Imagine how it would play out if Ellie was actively involved in those moments!
Laura Lefranc and Rafe Judkins continue to demonstrate their skill in handling not just the characters but their ability to interweave previous events from the show into their most current writing assignment. They also have the comedy down pat and this time really shone with the mission storyline.
Chuck and Sarah could be facing their toughest challenge yet. Hanging on to their personal and professional lifes in a world where Chuck can no longer access or has the Intersect.
Chuck the show, and Chuck the character, finally has an adversary to take note of in Volkoff.