‘In media res‘ beginnings to an episode used to be all the vogue back in the day as they say. Check out spy show Alias for textbook examples. Nothing niftier than opening an episode with an intense action sequence that stops with a decisive moment only to fade to black. A cliffhanger to start things off! What a great way to lure a viewer in! Cool, right?
Not really. The problem with such a story telling device is that it starts an episode with something that is all furious motion with no context. In media res story starts are a gimmick that should make a viewer wary because they either start or end with a disclaimer that a whole bunch of story needs to happen before the context and payoff for the opening scene is realized. In Chuck Vs The Gobbler the fight between Sarah and Casey ends with a fade to black and a title card telling us we are jumping back to two days earlier.(Which over the course of the episode raises eyebrows about the amount of shuttling back and forth from Russia, Sarah is able to do in a two day period.)
When in media res is used it is a lock that after the time jump a lot of setup is about to be dumped on the viewer. If written and paced well we are shown as much as possible the events that lead up to that sneek peek scene. More often than not in media res is used because there is too much setup to show and the viewer has to wade through a lot of exposition before the show gains any traction. So it is no surprise when all the scenes up to Sarah’s arrival at Volkoff’s headquarters just before the title cards are about bringing the viewer up to speed.
So instead of being shown anything about Sarah building up on her cover as a rogue CIA agent we are told by Morgan and Casey. We are also told about Chuck’s mental state and the fears he has about how Sarah being a double agent is placing her in danger. Quite a leap in the lead couple’s mental and emotional mind sets since the end of the previous episode where Chuck and Sarah were in total proposal mode. So the info dump start of the Gobbler makes it cumbersome for the viewer to make the jump and connect emotionally with the current situation. As much as I enjoyed the previous episode, Chuck Vs The Balcony, it may have been advisable to use the back half of that episode to set up the Sarah Double Agent story for the Gobbler. This would have kept the viewers in synch with the story being told in the Gobbler.
The other burden the Gobbler carries is that the reasons why Mama B has been on a twenty year mission desparately need to be addressed – not to mention all the other dangling story line threads such as the PSP and laptop – in a plausible way. Does the Gobbler do that? Mileages will vary but not by a long shot in my book. With one episode left in the Volkoff/Mama B arc, the Mauser Mop – which first appeared in Season Two to brush aside Chuck’s issues about Sarah gunning down an unarmed opponent – looms large to make an unwelcome reappearance to once again sweep under the rug all the unresolved tangled storylines of Season Four. Gobbler offers up some possibilities of some answers only. The Hydra database could be the start but there are many more questions to be answered. Will Chuck Vs The Push Mix be up to that task? We will find out next Monday.
Episode Flashes: Add your own in the comments.
- Morgan work shopping his tough guy voice
- Evil Sarah!
- Volkoff into poetry, painting – puppy dog!, and the art of massage
- Sarah applies for a job with Volkoff. Volkoff telling Sarah she is so much fun!
- Volkoff telling MamaB he likes to control and manipulate people while looking at Sarah
- Volkoff’s, Me Too! toast to Sarah’s, ‘I love a good suicide mission.’
- Alex in Morgan’s previously unopened collector’s Back to the Future t-shirt
- Ellie wanting to call their baby Grunka!
- Casey grilling Morgan about Alex
- Hello boys!
- Morgan loves sour dough bread
- Yuri the Gobbler is Hydra!
- A disappointed Volkoff is not someone to trifle with
- Morgan’s ‘text message peeking while looking like I’m not peeking’ look
- Volkoff manipulating Sarah, Casey, and Chuck
- ‘Let’s make it exciting. Have some fun with it!’
- Where did Casey go to get tested to determine how far he could safely fall?
- Clara Woodcombe!
Season arc story telling issues aside there is still much to like here. The welcome return of Timothy Dalton as Valkoff is much like Heath Ledger’s turn as The Joker in The Dark Knight. Dalton clearly is having so much fun and is so much fun to watch. His candid revelation that he enjoys controlling and manipulating people is the cause for Chuck’s concerns at the end of the episode. This maybe being misread by some viewers because of the show repeatedly having characters doubt one another and failing to return messages. Such is not the case here. Chuck is not doubting Sarah. He is deathly concerned for her.
The whole cast gets a turn in this episode including the most welcome return of Casey’s daughter, and Morgan’s new love, Alex. Her appearance in a previously pristine Back to the Future T-shirt from Morgan nerdily captures how far their relationship has come. Too bad Alex was not around more so that her appearance at Casey’s bedside at the hospital would have carried more emotional heft. Mama B’s intentions are clearer, but still not satisfactorily solidified. Still she has some great moments with Volkoff plus some touching ones with Sarah. Yvonne Strahovski, as usual, does stellar work here harkening back to those pre-couple days where she was restrained to expressing herself solely through facial and body language cues. Morgan and Casey have some great moments together and the Ellie/Devon baby naming conflict – Grunka! – was an exercise in skillful manipulation of Devon by Ellie.
Chuck sadly is still stuck in react mode this episode. Josh Schwartz has trumpeted that the final ten minutes of Chuck Vs The Push Mix are the best the show has ever done. A ‘Take Charge Chuck’ in those final ten minutes would be a most welcome sight to see indeed.