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The Truth Will Out: Revolutions and Revelations on "Chuck"

Every good hero needs a sidekick.

Someone who has your back, can offer well-timed quips, and who innately understands the complexity of your mission.

Chuck has been stymied of late from a lack of emotional release. Unable to talk to Awesome (because he can't lie to Ellie), reluctant to talk to Sarah (because their relationship has been fractured due to her involvement with Shaw), and unwilling to risk a limb by opening up to Casey, Chuck has found himself bottled up, which has produced a bit of a complication with his new Intersect-derived abilities: he can't flash.

This week's game-changing episode of Chuck ("Chuck Versus the Beard"), written by Scott Rosenbaum and directed by Zachary Levi, found Chuck the weak link on the team for the first time this season. Not flashing means not being able to provide intelligence to the team as well as not being able to handle himself in the field... all of which makes Chuck one big liability. No surprise then that the team would leave him behind at Castle to go off on a real mission.

While this could have developed into an episode about Chuck being forced to rely on his own ingenuity, the writers wisely took this week's installment into unexplored country, shaking up the foundations of the series and giving Chuck the one thing he's been missing: a Duck Hunt-playing, truth-espousing sidekick with whom he can share this part of his life.

Risky? You bet. But I applaud the writers for having the courage to take the series where it needed to go and I thought that Rosenbaum and Co. delivered what might have been my very favorite episode of the series to date, one that was jam-packed with humor and heart... and Jeffster.

(If you need a reminder of what I originally thought of the episode, here's my advance review of the most recent batch of episodes of Chuck, which includes this week's episode.)

Chuck and Morgan's relationship has been at the heart of the series since the beginning but the writers have downplayed Chuck's friendship with the Bearded One of late, emphasizing the widening chasm between them. The more Chuck became entrenched in the spy world, the more he pulled away from his best friend. Recent episodes have played up their fracturing: Morgan's sense of betrayal when he sees Chuck making out with Hannah, his tete-a-tete with Ellie that he believes Chuck is going over to the dark side, and--in this week's episode--his firing of Chuck from the position of best friend.

You can't blame Morgan for being prickly around Chuck. He's known that something has been up for a while and, despite the fact that they moved in together at the start of the season, the formerly inseparable duo have more or less gone their separate ways as the onus of keeping his secret identity, well, secret has driven a wedge between them.

It's clear that Chuck needs a confidante. Captain Awesome was rather unwittingly cast in this role in Season Two but the pressure of maintaining both Chuck's secret and his and Ellie's safety has proven too much for Devon to bear. Awesome knew about Chuck's life and grounded him in a way due to his relationship to Ellie and his place in the "real world." But Awesome, for all his innate awesomeness, is not a natural liar... and I can't blame him for not wanting to be placed in a dangerous and awkward situation with both The Ring and his wife.

It's also clear that things have hit a low point between Chuck and Sarah. Chuck knows that he loves Sarah (a fact he was once more reminded of at the end of last week's episode) but he also doesn't feel he can open up to her anymore. Certainly, not since she's gotten involved with Daniel Shaw... and told him her real name, a boon that she hasn't bestowed on Chuck.

(Chuck tried to tell Ellie his secret last week but her "half a spy" nature prevented him from doing that as she forced him to come to terms with his feelings for Sarah. Besides, I don't know that Ellie would handle the truth about Chuck's job very well.)

Lack of emotional outlet means lack of flashing. It's a nice little psychological dilemma for Chuck and one that pays off the constant use of Chuck's emotions either holding him back or making him a better spy. Here, it's not that the emotions are bad, per se, but the fact that he can't express them, can't achieve catharsis in any meaningful way, means that he can't use his abilities.

Which brings us to Buy More assistant manager Morgan Grimes. Morgan's been suspicious about Chuck for some time, feels betrayed by his best friend, and is so hurt that he takes disciplinary action against Chuck. A series of coincidences--driven by The Ring's efforts to seize information from Castle in the guise of Buy More execs looking to sell the store--leads to Morgan uncovering the truth about Castle.

And then, faced with death and/or torture, Chuck is forced to come clean and unburden himself. I'm glad that it's Morgan who is the recipient of this information and that the writers didn't stray into camp territory by having Morgan's memory erased at the end of the episode or him somehow forgetting Chuck's secret. It's a far more tantalizing story thread to have Morgan aware of Chuck's spy status as it gives Chuck someone to talk to and an ally at the Buy More who is aware of what's really going on.

It also brings Morgan into the circle of trust, again altering the dynamic of the team. Whether or not Morgan goes on missions is irrelevant (and I'd be surprised if he did); what's important is that his knowing changes the relationships within the series. Morgan is now aware that Chuck is in love with Sarah but that their relationship was fake ("Does that make her your beard?") and that Chuck's feelings for Sarah have never been consummated. If anything, it strengthens the positions of the non-spies within the series, providing another anchor between it and Chuck's spy world.

And it might be arriving at just the right time, given Awesome's sudden interest to travel with Ellie to Africa as part of Doctors Without Borders. A worthy cause? Certainly, but that's not why Awesome is looking to put some distance between them and Los Angeles. It's good to see the married couple getting a storyline of their own as Awesome proves that he's willing to do whatever it takes to keep his wife safe from harm, even if it means taking her far away from her brother and the life they've build in LA. If someone is going to crack, it's more likely to be Awesome than Morgan, the holder of Chuck's secrets.

My sole complaint about the episode was the cover story concocted by The Ring. Surely someone from Buy More Corporate would have given them advance warning if they were going to be stopping by with inspectors to look at inventory and interview the staff with an aim to selling the store. Additionally, would a national chain like the Buy More really be selling off a single store? Wouldn't it have been more plausible if The Ring had engineered a scenario in which the Burbank Buy More was going to be closed? And that the inspectors were there, yes, to look at inventory with a view of liquidizing or shifting it, and determining if any of the staff would be transferred to other locations. A simple fix and one that only struck me on a second viewing of the episode.

But it's a minor quibble in an otherwise absolutely stellar episode that ranks up there with the very best of Chuck. What else did I love about the episode? The impromptu Jeffster reunion, culminating in Lester atop the Nerd Herd station singing Credence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son." Morgan's meow as he attempted to furtively make his way down Castle's numerous corridors. Jeff's stash of ether in his Buy More locker... and the fact that he took out a Ring operative without realizing it. Morgan's dual electric carving knives. The fight scene between Chuck and the Ring team, with Morgan lending a hand at the end to take out the leader (guest star Diedrich Bader, currently voicing Batman in Batman: The Brave and the Bold). The Buy More revolution, with its use of the Buy Moria flag and its hilarious recreations of both the flag-raising at Iwo Jima and the iconic victory kiss in Times Square at the end of World War II. Chuck telling Morgan the whole story about how he became a spy ("It all started with an email from Bryce Larkin") and Morgan's reaction minutes earlier that Chuck was a spy. Not to mention the Subway-branded Duck Hunt battle between Chuck and Morgan, a call-back to a simpler, happier time and the promise of future happiness between the two best friends.

However, it looks like some dark times lie ahead for one member of Team Bartowski, as Casey very reluctantly answers the Ring communication device and appears to recognize the voice on the other end. Hmmm... Did we just see one of our spies actually cross over to the dark side before our eyes? And just what does The Ring want with Colonel Casey?

Ultimately, I thought that "Chuck Versus the Beard" was one of the very best episodes of Chuck and definitely ranks up there with some of my favorites of all time. (Hell, it might just have sailed into first place.) And I thought that Zachary Levi did a fantastic job as a first-time director, nailing the humor and action with a deft hand.

But I want to hear from you: what did you think of this week's installment? Have the writers opened up new story possibilities... or a can of worms? And what will Morgan knowing Chuck's secret mean for his relationship with Chuck? What's up with Casey and The Ring? Will Awesome and Ellie really leave Chuck behind? Head to the comments section to discuss.

Next week on Chuck ("Chuck Versus the Tic Tac"), Casey carries out a side mission for his old commanding officer James Keller that leads to him committing treason. When Chuck learns the dark truth about Col. Keller, he and Sarah set out to break Casey out of jail and clear his name. Meanwhile, Awesome's plan to keep Ellie out of danger gets more difficult when she gets her dream fellowship.

Comments

Jimmy said…
It was one of the better episodes of the series. I don't know if it's the best. I will have to get a 2nd viewing to get a feel for it. Tired now and kinda sick so my Chuck enthusiasm is sort of out of whack.

It was cool that the incorporated the Buy More into the plot. Chuck hasn't had that much to do their lately.

Finally Morgan has a purpose other than to annoy me and my comrades in Chuck. We have always thought he needed to get run over by a bus. How long can you stay a man-child? It's good to see they are stepping his character up a great bit.

My favorite scene was the reveal to the rest of Team Bartowski of Morgan knowing Chucks and their secrets.

Excellent episode and story.
Jay said…
I enjoyed this episode, but for me personally, it wasn't a homerun. Instead, I see this as the episode as the pitcher that's throwing the pitch so that the next few episodes can hit a homerun.

That's because I saw this as a transitional episode which is basically setting up the arcs for the rest of the first 13 episodes. Chuck/Morgan have a new type of friendship, Shaw/Sarah and Chuck/Sarah were kept on simmer, and Casey might get himself into trouble...but not until next week. There were a lot of setups involved...so I'm looking forward to what's coming up next.
rockauteur said…
It was my favorite Chuck episode of all time!
Lev said…
I enjoyed it, but no, not in my top 5. I am going with Jay's comments above. I keep thinking things are being laid for some big stuff in the upcoming episodes.

I think next week's looks cool. Sarah and Chuck teaming up to save Casey - that to me is Chuck. Also, hopefully, limited Buy More. Am glad to see maybe they are giving Ellie/Awesome a bit of an arc.
OldDarth said…
Morgan is da man! He kicked ass six ways to Sunday! Loved his Indiana Jones like entrance into the OO!

He had so many great lines I don't know where to start and the cat meow he made when he bumped into the Castle Wall corridor. lol But the coup de grace was his Ewok jab at the bad guy to make sure his was really out.

Great episode!
The CineManiac said…
Jace, I'm with you, this was easily one of my favorite episodes. It was a perfect blend of action, comedy, Jeffster, and all the other things that make Chuck so great.
Glad to see Chuck finally has an out that enables him to function fully as the intersect, and I'm really glad that out is Morgan.
I think my favorite part was Morgan's response to finding out, he wasn't mad, just ecstatic to know his best friend is a spy. Also thought it was great when he told Chuck its ok to admit he's in love with Sarah.
Some great emotional scenes this week.
Plus Jeffster returns with Fortunate Son! The Buy More plot was great and I loved having everyone together in one episode again.
Can't wait to see what Casey's up to next week.
Anonymous said…
jace - for me, it has been far too long since I had a happy ending, since I dislike PLI's, my last episode was 3.4 - I love happy endings for each episode. Four episodes is a long time. Shaw continues to be joined to sarah's hip like Siamese twins (I think he had one scene (3.7) since his introduction without sarah, normally he is within 3 or 4 feet of her) - so it is impossible for Yvonne's character to interact with anyone, but I know that will come to an end soon, zach seems to be a step or two ahead of her this season, his realizations about morgan and sarah were great for the show, Yvonne's moments can't occur soon enough for me.
It was very very entertaining!
My take - it went back to the single episode mode... it was a complete thought - rather than a continuing dialogue across several episodes. All the bruhaha from the past couple weeks seems to be tied up nicely. I get the sense that Chuck is finally taking back some control in his life - rather than being the victim of circumstances around him.
Having Morgan back " in the loop" will actually make Chuck's normal life simpler in the same way it will make being a spy more complicated. The whole Chuck and Morgan thing was fantastic...
I kinda wish there was more of a Casey element in there too.
It was refreshing to have the Shaw & Sarah thing placed way in the background. Speaking of Shaw -
How hard must it be to play an innocent character - without having any fans really like you?
Now that Chuck is on some level ground - I expect the roller coaster to pick up speed again soon!
Hadley said…
LOVED this episode and can say it was definitely one of my favorites as it had the perfect combination of humor, action, and heart that Chuck does so well. And I think that Zach Levi did a fantastic job of capturing all of that and would love to see him direct more episodes.
Unknown said…
Since we see the show from Chuck's perspective, it's such a relief to finally have Morgan know the truth. I got worried briefly that the writers were going to have Morgan feel betrayed after learning Chuck's alter-ego, but he responded exactly the way he should have: with uncontained glee! :)

'Cause, seriously, if you're the type of person who sets up a Call of Duty plan with 23 infantry troops, 16 snipers, seven heavy gunners, four demolition experts and enough ammunition to orbit Arnold Schwarzenegger, how could you NOT be excited that your best friend is a spy?

Besides, "Bag'em and tag'em, Sarah. Excuse me ... Agent Walker" has to have been the greatest exchange in the entire series to date. This is definitely at the top of my all-time favorites list.
Anonymous said…
Really fun ep. Morgan was adorable. Nice to see him and Chuck reconnect, Jeffster was good. That said, I enjoyed last ep (Fake Name) much more. I guess I prefer the darker/more dramatic stories a lot more.

And hey, I love Shaw. Can't wait to see more of him and his connection to the Ring. Also enjoy the Shaw/Sarah scenes very much. Not enough of them in this ep. Continuity wasn't that good. But I guess they wanted to give the shippers a break, haha.
Anonymous said…
Best episode of season 3? Yeah. Best episode ever? I'm gonna have to disagree with you. As others have said before, this episode was just a set-up for the next few episodes.
Jace Lacob said…
Anonymous,

Having seen the next few episodes, that's not really the case other than the ending with Casey. Morgan finding out about Chuck is a huge shift in the series' dynamic and one that will have many repercussions down the line but this episode is hardly just "set up" for those plot twists.
Katelyn said…
I agree that this isn't the best episode. However, it is the episode that, to me, puts the show back on track. We are probably going to see more Chuck and Sarah (Sam) and some great dorky duo stuff with Morgan that will remind us why we loved Chuck in the first place. Morgan is still totally in touch with his inner nerd!
phillymom2 said…
This is my first time reading your column Jace. I tuned into my latest Chuck vs. the Podcast download and caught your interview. I really love your insights. We've been watching this show from day one and fell in love with it immediately. We always DVR the show, so I can watch it more than once...a guilty pleasure for sure. I hate to admit this as a mature, happily married mother of two but I think I have developed a crush on Zach Levi this season. He is adorable. I like all of the ways the writers are letting him explore his acting chops this season and how the character is evolving. Major kudos on Zach's directing debut. The whole Morgan and Chuck reveal was cathartic and well...Awesome! Every week I look forward to Monday night...that's what good TV is about.
Anonymous said…
The Ring agents were posing as inspectors for a company named "Cost Less". Buy More Corporate wouldn't necessarily know when the inspectors would show up.

In real life, a national chain may own the store but they may not own the building or the land the building is located on. They may sell the store if they can't afford the rent anymore.

A company that is trying to cut costs and/or stave off bankruptcy may sell off "underperforming" stores.

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