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Up in the Air: Another First Class Episode of NBC's "Chuck"

Is it just me or is Chuck getting even better each week?

This week's fantastic installment of Chuck ("Chuck Versus First Class"), written by co-creator Chris Fedak, found our typically hapless spy on his very first solo mission, which just so happened to involve swordplay at 35,000 feet, a very large Ring operative (guest star Steve Austin) with a penchant for gut punches, and a gorgeous traveling companion, Hannah (Kristin Kreuk).

It also found Brandon Routh's Shaw stepping up to become the leader of our little band of Los Angeles operatives and making some decisions that fly in the face of Casey and Sarah's logic, while also rendering himself even more of a tragic figure than we had previously thought. Meanwhile, Casey helped Morgan deal with "insurgents" at the Buy More.

In other words: an absolutely fantastic installment that advanced the overarching plot, offered the series' trademark blend of comedy and action, and introduced and deepened some new members of the cast.

So what did I think of the episode? Let's discuss.

As I mentioned previously, I'm very impressed with Routh's turn as the deeply nuanced CIA Special Agent Shaw. This could, in the hands of lesser writers, have become a cartoonish, hard-assed agent that we've seen numerous times in espionage stories but Fedak and the writing staff--and Routh himself--have rendered Shaw into something else entirely, a shadowy superspy who seemingly abhors violence but isn't afraid to use it and who doesn't coddle his assets but rather pushes them to their full potential.

It's that last trait that's perhaps the most interesting. His assessment of Chuck and his handlers found that Casey and Sarah protected Chuck more than they did empower him and that if Mr. Bartowski has any chance at becoming a real spy he needs to do more than flash on things and stay in the car. His decision to send Chuck into the field--and not totally briefed about the mission, at that--could have backfired horribly but it was also a true test of Chuck's Intersect-derived abilities and also his ingenuity and reactivity. Would he sink or swim? Can he adapt to new challenges and shifting scenarios?

There were some nice dynamics to Shaw's relationship with Chuck and also with Sarah as well. The underlying theme this season would appear to be the consequences of spy relationships and a nice subplot that had Shaw interrogating Sarah about why she went off the grid during Chuck's time in Prague and was photographed in Lisbon. If anyone understands Sarah's predicament, it's Shaw. We learn, by the episode's end, that his wife Evelyn was killed by a Ring agent five years earlier and gave her life to safeguard some valuable intelligence about the Ring. His sense of loss is palpable but it also gives his life and his mission meaning. Sarah, meanwhile, revealed that she went to Lisbon to dispose of Bryce's ashes, per his wish that they be scattered there. These two are linked by their shared losses, by their knowledge of just what it means to fall in love as a spy and with a spy.

But while Shaw would advise against Sarah becoming emotionally involved with Chuck, Shaw also cares deeply about his asset and, while he's not aboard the plane with Chuck on his solo mission, proves that he's thought this through ahead of time and is able to seize control of the plane's controls in order to assist Chuck.

As for Chuck, I have to say that he did very well indeed on his first solo mission, considering he was a guy who Shaw described as a cross between James Bond and Jerry Lewis. While not everything went according to plan (to wit: the poison pen, hiding in the coffin), Chuck accorded himself quite well this time around. Loved that he didn't get to use the nunchucks but he did get to engage in the world's best fencing match aboard a moving vehicle. Ever. (And, given his distaste for violence, he smartly severed the cords holding the luggage in place and instead knocked his opponent unconscious.)

I also have to say that I'm really enjoying the inclusion of Kristin Kreuk's Hannah thus far. She represents something diametrically opposed to Chuck's life but different than the superspy fantasy of Sarah or Casey: she's a woman who has seen the world, lived in Paris, had an exciting job, and has lost it all. She's looking to regain her footing again. It was no surprise that she ended up at the Buy More at the end of the episode but I'm quite all right with that: it makes sense narratively and I think she'll add another layer of tension within the world of the Buy More. Chuck has gotten a little too complacent there; with Morgan taking over as Assistant Manager, there's less danger in Chuck's workplace life than there should be. Hannah, by the fact that she doesn't really know Chuck, represents a new liability for him as well as a potential romantic interest. I'm excited to see where it's going.

Loved the "insurgents" storyline with Casey becoming Morgan's lieutenant and helping him end mute Lester's reign of terror (or at least stopped the constant pranking). Was extremely surprised by how far (and how seriously) Casey took his assignment, even going so far as to kidnap and brainwash Lester in order to make him fall in line. (BTW, nice footie pyjamas, Lester.)

All in all, another top-notch episode of Chuck that has continues to pay off the promise and potential of Season Three, mixing up its formula and bringing in new and compelling characters while still keeping the focus squarely on the central relationships.

What did you think of this week's episode? Another stellar installment? The best yet? Discuss.

Next week on Chuck ("Chuck Versus the Nacho Sampler"), Chuck attempts to juggle his two lives as he trains new Nerd Herder Hannah and gets his very own asset who is caught up with The Ring; Awesome must lie to Ellie when she starts to ask questions about Chuck; Morgan, Jeff, and Lester do some recon work to learn more about Hannah.


Anonymous said…
Again, great review, Jace. Fantastic ep all around indeed. Gah, I love this show, it's pure fun!

And as a Superman/Brandon fan, I LOVED seeing Shaw wearing glasses. ;) I also have to say that Kristin Kreuk was very likable as Hannah, which was a nice surprise. In general, the Chuck cast rocks.

kat said…
I loved this episode! Go Chuck!
Bella Spruce said…
Great episode and great review. Loving both Routh and Kreuk on the Chuck (or C2B) team. Plus, Levi has really gotten that spy/slapstick thing down. The fencing scene on the airplane was hilarious!
Anonymous said…
I loved this episode, it was cram packed with awesomeness. I agree the show just keeps getting better and better.
Jmundt said…
I felt this was definitely the strongest offering of the season so far. The Buy More subplot wasn't too clunky, and the homages to Fight Club and The Manchurian Candidate were interesting. Ms. Kreuk seems to have found a way to bring her winning commercial and interview personality to the small screen, so she made a nice active contribution to her first episode and the future looks bright. Shaw's backstory humanizes him without allowing him to upstage Chuck the way Bomer's Bryce Larkin always seemed to. The fencing scene was quite humorous--analagous to but more interesting than say, Noah Wyle's fencing scenes as Flynn Carsen in the "Librarian" movies. Integrating the Woodcombs (both Ellie and Devon) into a fine stew like this seems like a promising prospect.
maryploppins said…
Yup this was a great one and I also think that it was the best ep of season 3 so far. I was skeptical about it when I saw NBC's preview after last week's show - With the entire mission taking place on the plane, I was afraid that the other characters on the show (like Casey, Sarah, etc.) would be left with nothing much to do. Thank goodness I was wrong, especially in regards to Casey hahah ... great storyline for him in this episode. Loved it!!
Unknown said…
Wonderful episode. I look forward to the dynamics Kristin Kreuk will bring to the Buy More as Hannah. I hope she's not sidelined too much though--I see some good potential tension between her and Sarah. Or maybe it'd be more interesting if there weren't any...
Anonymous said…
I think Casey hypnotised Lester purely and simply to mess with the guy's head. IMO, it gave Casey perverse delight. It also showed us that Casey has indeed, many skills. Seeing that Lester still wears kids' pyjamas with feet booties was hysterical!

BTW - nitpick alert! 1) Chuck's cellphone should not have worked in the cargo hold. Look up 'Faraday Cage'. :-). 2) It's physically impossible to see any of Paris from Charles De Gaulle airport. Much less from a vantage point which appeared to be perched on top of the Sacre Coeur de Montmatre!

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