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Salamanders and Welcome Wagons: Chuck and Sarah Play at Life in the Suburbs on "Chuck"

There's a reason why Chuck Bartowski was afraid to go to the suburbs.

And it wasn't because that particularly well-manicured cul-de-sac was actually an entire covert operation constructed by Fulcrum (complete with creepy Mac-white sub-basements with Clockwork Orange-esque psychological experiments), but because it offered him a painfully real glimpse of a life he would never share with Sarah Walker.

On last night's episode of Chuck ("Chuck Versus the Suburbs"), written with flair by former Veronica Mars writer Phil Klemmer and directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, Chuck and Sarah are tasked with going undercover in the suburbs. Their mission: to learn just what happened after an operative, working on a top-secret mission that General Beckman doesn't even seem to know about, turns up cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs after living in the 'burbs. So it's off to the aptly named Meadow Branch, where Chuck dons a sweater vest and gets a look at an idealized married life with Sarah. Meanwhile, back at the Buy More, the gang tries to relieve Big Mike's, er, pressure by forcing him into the world of online dating, with some very unexpected results for Morgan.

I really quite enjoyed this episode, which featured a fantastic array of guest stars (Andy Richter, Jenny McCarthy, and The X-Files' Brian Thompson), a smashing plot that forced Chuck and Sarah to come to terms with their complication-fraught relationship, and the heady mix of action and comedy that make Chuck such a highlight of my television-viewing week.

I do feel bad for Chuck, given the fact that he's so clearly in love with our Sarah Walker despite the fact that it seems nigh impossible that they'll ever live happily ever after together. The look of pure happiness and satisfaction on his face when Sarah made him breakfast, not because of their cover but because she wanted to, spoke volumes. As did his amazement at seeing the visible signs of a "life" lived together: the wedding photos, snapshots of vacations past, the lovable Golden Retriever, the painted portrait.

All of which were remnants of a past that were never actually experienced. Still, in a bit of a wish fulfillment twist, Chuck did get the chance to see just what a "normal" life with Sarah would be like: the garden parties, the giant bowl of potato salad, waking up to a wife already perfectly coiffed and made-up, even at 7 am. (Loved that bit as even the gorgeous Yvonne Strahovski would likely not be that well put together while still wearing a negligee and cooking.)

Even more heartbreaking? That even Sarah seemed to relish her role in this cover story. The joy with which she cooked Chuck his breakfast and waved to him from the driveway as he left for work definitely seemed heartfelt, a departure from the sham their dating cover story had become on Valentine's Day. I dare say that things haven't been the same since Chuck caught Sarah in a compromising lie about killing the Fulcrum agent back in "Chuck Versus Santa Claus."

I loved seeing Chuck and Sarah together in such rose-colored fashion... even if their sunny little neighborhood was in fact a facade constructed by Fulcrum and the duo (along with Casey, posing as the world's most conspicuous cable man) get sucked right into their endgame. As Chuck fends off the advances of his cougar neighbor Sylvia (McCarthy), he's forced to fall prey to her seductions in order to gain access to her home, where he discovers that Salamander isn't an operative but the password to an Intersect-like program that Fulcrum has developed... which he then downloads into his brain.

The Clockwork Orange-like information relay downstairs in the sub-basement was absolutely creepy (eye-clamps get me every time) but the Fulcrum goons didn't seem to be aware of Chuck's identity as the Intersect, which actually makes him the perfect candidate to get a bunch of Fulcrum intelligence secrets downloaded right into his frontal lobe. I loved that Chuck seemingly went along with Fulcrum's plan in order to let Casey get into place and then whispered "close your eyes" to Sarah... before the Fulcrum baddies got a dose of their own death-inducing medicine. That Chuck would come that close to death and still manage to be smart enough (and cool enough under pressure for a change) to save Sarah from a fate worse than death just proves the depth of his love for her.

Of course, nothing lasts forever, not even a fake marriage in the suburbs, as Sarah is instructed by General Beckman that Chuck is more in danger now than ever before and that their relationship will have to change. So no more playing house for them. The look of stolid duty on Sarah's face as she demands Chuck give her back the wedding ring is at extreme contrast with Sarah's wistfulness as she takes off her own wedding ring back at the house. Will Chuck and Sarah ever be able to regain what they lost? And will they ever be able to fully express their true feelings for one another under non-professional circumstances? That remains to be seen.

Chuck's speech to Ellie about his relationship with Sarah was so poignant and precisely worded that it nearly made me teary. "Being in that house with her, it was so close to being perfect, to being the way I always pictured, that I realized what was wrong with that picture," said Chuck. "And it was us. Sarah and I are never going to be anything more than what we are right now... and, you know what, I'm okay with that." (Sniffle.)

What else did I love about this episode? Emmett's ghastly hairpiece; Casey spraying cologne on Chuck's, uh, crotch; the payoff of Casey advising Chuck to break his thumb in order to get out of handcuffs; Chuck passing out after the Fulcrum test (nice homage to the pilot episode); Chuck climbing out of Sylvia's window and onto her roof--in full view of the neighbors--after her failed seduction; Sarah slapping Chuck for cheating on her; Emmett's "Who crapped in his box of chocolates?" line; Casey's Valentine's Day plans of watching a documentary about a military excursion and drinking alone; Must Love Dogs.

And, of course, that Big Mike's new lady friend just happens to be Morgan's mom, which he learns when Mike brings her over to the Buy More in order to come clean that he's not a shipping magnate. The look of horror and disgust as Morgan sees the two of them kissing? ("You're banging my mom?!?") Classic. I'm actually hoping that these two remain a couple for at least a little while, if only to see Morgan squirm.

Best line of the evening: "Charles Carmichael always comes early."

All in all, a simply fantastic episode that showcased Yvonne Strahovski's subtle acting charms, offered us a glimpse into an unlikely future for Chuck and Sarah, allowed Chuck to come clean (somewhat) to Ellie, and combined both quips and guns with equal delight. But I am curious to know what you all thought of this week's installment. Did you love seeing Chuck and Sarah as a blissfully married domestic couple (even if only for a cover)? Did you think Strahovski nailed Sarah's blend of steely nerves and hidden vulnerability? And did you expect that Big Mike's date was Morgan's mom? Discuss.

Next week on Chuck ("Chuck Versus the Best Friend"), Chuck helps a heartbroken Morgan spy on Anna; the team investigates Anna's boyfriend and his connection to a dangerous gang; Jeff and Lester try to convince Ellie and Captain Awesome to hire their band Jeffster for their wedding.

Comments

Anonymous said…
It was a great episode and this time Zac Levi deserves extra kudos. He did it all in a showcase episode - comedy, action, drama, physical humour, and as you pointed out some real tender emotional beats. The look of confusion, disappointment, and sadness as Sarah shot down his plans for a fun down was awesome.

A tightly scripted episode with hardly any plot holes. And the BuyMore story, while incidental, was genuinely funny for a change.

Best episode of the season so far.
Anonymous said…
er that last sentence in the first paragraph should read - The look of confusion, disappointment, and sadness as Sarah shot down his plans for a fun night down was awesome.
Page48 said…
See also: "Welcome to Liberty Village" from S4 of "Alias", where Syd and Vaughn set up phony house in phony suburb full of dangerous phony neighbours, albeit in Russia.
The CineManiac said…
Was I the only one wanting to scream "Just Tell Her/Him How You Feel!!!!" (I only refrained because I just watched it on Hulu on my lunch break and didn't want my new co-workers to think I was crazy.
I just want to see Chuck & Sarah together, but I know that's a big part of the show and will likely be a long time before it happens, if it ever does.
But I loved the episode, it was near perfect in every way.
And when Big Mike's new gal said she had a son, I knew it was going to be Morgan for 2 reasons. 1) She was hispanic, which meant her son would likely be as well, and 2) it had to be someone who we love to have the shock it needed and Morgan is the only one who fits both categories. Bt I loved the reveal wither way.
Can't wait until next week, although I curious to see how it will work out since it's been placed out of order.
Great episode complete with laughs, action, and some sweet moments too. Chuck works best when it includes all of these elements and I think it did so perfectly in last night's ep. It will be interesting to see how the next episode plays since it's out of order (I hate it when they do that)!
Anonymous said…
Ahhhh. "Chuck" makes me look forward to Mondays.

Jace, your "loves" of the episode are mine as well with the addition of Casey's "These people scare me" and the internet hotness conversion factor.

NBC simply must renew this show (or move it USA).
Anonymous said…
They so belong together. It hurts me so much that Sarah has to try not to like him and that she always has to say no to him.
As Ellie said they are so perfect but its such a frustrating end to the ep.
Anonymous said…
The ratings were down from the post Super Bowl episode. Last night’s episode had about 6.75 million live + same day DVR viewers. The week break thanks to the pep rally didn’t help. That is down about one million viewers from vs. Santa Claus. Go watch on Hulu or NBC.com.

I will completely agree that it was a fantastic episode, one of the best to date.

I think just an expression on Sarah’s face isn’t enough. Just showing her facial expressions could have an infinite number of meanings we are just assuming that they means that she wants a real relationship with Chuck.

At the end Chuck & Ellie talking just got me PO’ed!!

So now Chuck has all of fulcrum’s secrets too? WOW.

As much as I agree that eventually the show will end with Charah the writers can’t keep pulling heartstrings and not have it come back to bite them.
Unknown said…
Strahovski always nails the nuances. I love her performances. She was clearly pleased to have a chance to do something domestic for Chuck--as opposed to just saving his life over and over. (That sounds sexist, but I think both men and women enjoy taking care of the people they care about.)

The most jarring thing for me in this ep is that Chuck and Sarah's discomfort with each other seems out of the blue. Yes, I know she killed that guy, but I don't think the way that was resolved would lead to this sort of discomfort. Is it a result of the out-of-order airings?

@Page48: Yup, just like Welcome to Liberty Village, but Chuck can do worse than emulate Alias. :-)

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