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The Ring Cycle: Operation Awesome on "Chuck"

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you tell a kick-ass spy story with heart, humor, and unexpected plot twists.

Last night's episode of Chuck ("Chuck Versus Operation Awesome"), written by Zev Borow and directed by Robert Duncan McNeill, is hands-down my favorite installment of the new season so far. (Next week's is pretty damn fantastic too.) Quickly revealing the resolution to last week's cliffhanger ending, it nicely restated some overarching themes for the season--family versus duty, personal lives versus private ones--without resorting to clunky dialogue or telling rather than showing.

It also introduced one hell of a recurring character in Special Agent Shaw (Brandon Routh), a welcome addition to the Chuck universe. I'll admit that I was nervous about Routh coming on board the series for such a lengthy spell but last night's episode erased any doubts in my mind. Shaw adds an unpredictable element to the series (undoubtedly, there will be a new love triangle in the making between Shaw, Sarah, and Chuck) and some tension but also provides a sympatico element for both Chuck and Sarah.

What did I think of last night's episode? Let's discuss. (Note: while I've seen the first five episodes of Chuck's third season, I'm keeping the discussion limited strictly to the first four installments.)

After teasing Awesome's in-the-field involvement last week, Devon was not only a tangential member of the team but arguably the main spy in the field this week. It was an unwelcome position that not only placed him and Ellie in danger but also forced Chuck into the role of a handler, stepping up to shield his brother-in-law from bodily harm and maneuver him into position. A deft piece of role-reversal, really.

In a nice twist, both Awesome and Chuck had the opportunity to prove themselves, given the fact that Sarah and Casey were locked in their mobile Castle van and unable to assist either of them. Which rendered the mission's success all the more important and critical; there was no backup, no safety net, no platoon of gun-toting agents ready to burst in and save them should things go pear-shaped. More than last week's mission, it truly showed Devon just what the stakes are in Chuck's world: one slip-up means the difference between life and death.

Given The Ring's GPS-and-explosives-laden earpiece, they clearly meant to forcibly recruit Devon to their side. I have a feeling that Sydney (guest star Angie Harmon) has pulled this trick before to flip agents and force them to work for The Ring. Devon's involvement in the mission therefore had to have the patina of professionalism; no risks could be taken to allow The Ring to think they had the wrong guy (otherwise: Devon goes boom) or have them believe that the mission was in fact a ruse.

As I said before, I thought that Routh did a fantastic job making Shaw three-dimensional and believable rather than a stereotypical master spy. Besides, what other series could have a character make their first appearance by faking their own death... by shooting themselves in the shoulder? (Not many, I'd wager.) It immediately set up Shaw as particularly bad-ass while also rendering The Ring as even more deadly. They want Shaw removed because he knows too much and he's only too happy to make it seem like they've gotten their wish. He's a character that's likely going to be a thorn in Chuck's side because he knows what the stakes are more than anyone and he was willing to place himself in jeopardy in order to ensure that The Ring believe he's been removed from the playing field.

But there's more to Shaw than meets the eye, really. I loved the fact that while he orders Chuck to shoot him he ends up taking the gun away from him and doing it himself, saying that he doesn't like guns either. (When's the last time you heard a spy say that?) Plus, Shaw is clearly struggling through some emotional pain of his own as well. There was a lovely and subtle reveal at the end of the episode where Shaw is watching the gang enjoy a dinner party at Chuck and Morgan's and then rather solemnly puts on a wedding ring. Could it be that he too has sat at a table such as that? Could it be that he's lost something irreplaceable and understands all too well what Chuck and Sarah are saying about relationships? In a flash, Shaw went from being a tough-as-nails superspy to being one of the series' most tragic figures to date. And I for one can't wait to see where they take his character.

What else did I love? Devon's hysterical attempts to lie to Ellie about where he's been (a decapitated bear); the John Casey drunken exposure cover story; Fight Club subplot at the Buy More, Chuck knocking out Lester with a roundhouse kick; Sydney's death; Chuck shooting the tranquilizer gun to take out about eight CIA agents; Shaw's introduction (naturally); the return of the "Ass Man" sobriquet; numerous pop culture shout-outs to everything from Under Seige to Animal House; and, oh, much more.

All in all, a fantastic installment that kicked the Ring storyline into top gear and further explored the central relationships of the series. The only downside: it's a week's wait until another new episode.

What did you think of this week's episode? What did you think of Shaw? Want to see more Awesome in the field? Discuss.

Next week on Chuck ("Chuck Versus First Class"), Shaw sends Chuck goes on his first solo mission to Paris, despite Sarah and Casey's objections; Chuck flashes on another passenger (guest star Steve Austin) and connects with a beautiful woman (Kristin Kreuk); Casey helps Morgan battle Jeff and Lester for control of the Buy More.


SweetD said…
I've never thought much of Brandon Routh but he was great in this! I'm already looking forward to seeing more of him and think he fits perfectly into the Chuck universe.

I also liked seeing Chuck step up as a handler and the role reversal of him being (relatively) calm while Devon was freaking out. Great episode!
Tempest said…
Jace, basically, what you said. It's just soooo nice to have Chuck back on Monday nights. (Between this and Castle, Monday's are looking good.) I must add, though, I loved Casey's "I like guns" moment.
Nicole said…
I really enjoyed this episode. We got both SuperChuck and NerdChuck, and aside from the ridiculous thing that Zach Levi has been doing with his hair, it's all working for me this season. I even loved Angie Harmon (I have an inexplicable soft spot for that woman, as long as I don't have to hear her talk about politics). I'm sorry she bit it, but you know, it had to be done.

I can't wait til next week!
MC said…
Jace, fantastic review as always.

It's nice to see I'm not the only person here with a slight man crush on Shaw. I absolutely think that his character arc is going to be the best thing to ever happen to this series.

Though he will certainly be a source of agnst for the Chuck and Sarah fans, I believe he will be used as the final catalyst to truly putting them together when his time on the show comes to an end.

Also, aside from his romanitc involvement in the plot, I believe he will be the most influential aspect to the mythology of the show and in bringing out the best in Chuck and his capabilities.

Now I'm going out on a limb by saying this after only one episode, but I am willing to put money down that he will be the best non-core character they've ever had, even over Bryce, Jill, and Orion.

I want to give big props to Tim Jones who does the musical score for Chuck. I think that aspect of the show is overshawdowed by the fact that Chuck may have the best music on it week in and week out. Of course, being a Josh Schwartz show, this is no real surprise.

If this episode is a taste of what's to come for the rest of the season, bring it on. This might just go down as one of the best season's of a TV show of all time.
AJD114 said…
Chuck vs. Operation Awesome was indeed AWESOME!

Best Ep. this season so far IMO. Im liking the new element with Shaw.
kat said…
@ MC - you are absolutely right. I think they have the best music week in and week out.

@ Jace - great review as usual.

I love seeing Chuck in his new role. We get to see the super spy and the man he always has been and will be - the one who values his family and friends more than anything. This show is Awesome!
Anonymous said…
Great review, Jace. Loved the episode. The spy drama, in particular is getting so good! And Brandon Routh makes a great addition to the show. Shaw is such a interesting and badass character!

Watch out Chuck! ;)

Anonymous said…
I agree, this was an awesome episode. I look forward to the rest of the season and especially more of Shaw.

I hope this show finally gets the attention and audience it so deserves. It has always been so much fun to watch and has been even better so far this year.

maryploppins said…
I've been a little surprised at the mixed reviews I've been reading about this episode. Most of the negative reviews focus on the spy storyline being a bit "messy", i.e. the plot holes being a bit too big to ignore and forgive in this one. ;-) I had some issues with that too actually, so after watching the ep, I was a little conflicted about it (though I did mostly like it). A couple examples mentioned in the reviews were: How would anyone believe that a gunshot to the shoulder would kill anyone that quickly? Why is The Ring keeping such a loose leash on the "CIA Agent" that they are trying to turn (Captain Awesome), at each point in this process, and not keeping closer tabs on him? Stuff like that.

I watched ep again before bed and I enjoyed it more the second time around. Some of the plot points made more sense to me the second time around, which helped. Though I definitely do find myself wishing, NOT just with Chuck but with ALL shows I watch, that the writers would try to be a bit more thoughtful about making sure the plot holes are not TOO large. :) All t.v. shows I have ever watched have been guilty of this to some extent. Since Chuck is a comedy it tends to be easier to forgive them, BUT I don't want the writers to get careless about it either.

Then there were a couple reviewers that had points that were totally ridiculous and not valid IMO, like one reviewer didn't like the Fight Club storyline (this person must entirely lack a sense of humor), and the other reviewer didn't like the scene were Awesome made up all the crazy lies about decapitating a bear to Ellie (again, this person must have no sense of humor).

So all in all for me, I guess it comes down to, there's a certain level of wacky (and sometimes convoluted) spy storylines and plot holes I can forgive, but let's not get TOO crazy with them. ;-) Other than that, I thought all the comedy in this episode worked really well, I was intrigued by the Shaw character, and I liked the dinner scene at the end of the ep. Here's hoping that next week's ep is a great one ...
Anonymous said…
I enjoyed this episode, even w/ it's plot holes.

I found the Buy More stuff amusing, but like usual, I'd rather more time was spent on the spy stuff.

Oh, and thankfully a small break from the Charah soap opera, though longing glances were evident. By the by, I'm probably in the VAST minority, but the C/S chemistry just isn't there for me. I know, they're re-setting the relationship & all, but I'm just not feeling Charah. Something's off to me; maybe the long break between seasons is a partial explanation. It just seems forced, whereas in the first 2 seasons it was as natural as breathing to me.
Anonymous said…
@Rachael, there are 2 leashes involved in turning the "CIA agent" (Devon).

The first one was the explosive earpiece which Sydney used to force Devon to "kill" Shaw which was, at the very least, murder and possibly an act of treason.

The second leash is the ability to blackmail Devon for the "killing" of Shaw.
Unknown said…
I liked Routh in Superman, and I think he fits well in Chuck. However, I disagree about a triangle between him and Chuck and Sarah. That's been done with Bryce, and I hope the writers are more creative than that. More likely, at the end of the season, we'll see him sitting down at that table with everyone. Or, what if Sydney was his wife? And, what if she's not dead? Shaw already faked his death, so why not his wife's?
Samantha Hunter said…
Routh looks like Superman, no matter what -- and I am a big Superman fan, so this was a no-lose proposition for me. :) This show really knows how to choose and use their guest stars.

But his transition from big screen, iconic character to this complex spy guy was flawless -- loved the epi, and after being disappointed in the season premiere I feel like now, Chuck is solidly back.

Loved the wedding ring scene, and read it as you did, in a kind of poignant way (given his statement on family, friends, etc) but this show is great at leading us to think one thing and then doing something else, so I'm interested to see what comes.


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