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Old Scores: Love is a Battlefield on "Chuck"

"You are a Bartowski, Chuck. Start acting like one." - Ellie

After the darkness of last week's episode of Chuck, last night's installment ("Chuck Versus The American Hero"), written by Matt Miller and Phil Klemmer and directed by Jeremiah Chechik, brought back a lot of the humor and lightness that had been missing, with the action spinning out to include Casey, Morgan, and Devon's task force, the Picasso-like stalking skills of Jeff and Lester, and a nice callback to Ellie's belief that Casey is a degenerate lowlife.

But it also offered a major revelation in the second half of the episode, one that will likely shape next week's installment, originally designed to be the season finale. Yes, NBC has initially ordered thirteen episodes for Chuck's third season and "Chuck Versus The American Hero" was designed to be the penultimate episode of the season. That's abundantly clear from the aura of change drifting over the characters, with several about to depart for different climes and major shake-up in the dynamics between Casey, Chuck, and Sarah.

So it will be very interesting to see just how Josh Schwartz, Chris Fedak, and the writing team manage to connect the six episodes that follow... and whether Monday's episode will contain the same level of game-changing dynamics that marked last season's finale. As it stands now, we might just get a conclusion to the Daniel Shaw arc that has threaded its way through the season, given what we learned last night, and might see a new twist in Chuck and Sarah's very complicated relationship.

So what did I think of this week's episode of Chuck? Let's discuss.

I loved the beginning with Chuck arriving in Washington D.C. to meet with General Beckman and receive his assignment, all of which seemed to show us the same-old Chuck in some very new surroundings. His handling of the gun, confusion about which floor he was meant to be on, and his general nervousness haven't pointed to the fact that three years of spy training have dramatically altered his sense of self. Yes, he can handle himself with a tranquilizer gun (interesting, that) but he hasn't lost that inherent Chuck-ness that makes him who he is.

I'm glad too that Chuck isn't immediately thrilled about his new assignment, despite the fact that it comes up with a deluxe Italian villa, perks beyond description, and the ability to select his own team. The truth is that there's only one spy on his mind and it's Sarah. Sarah is hung up on the fact that Chuck has changed--believing that he was the one who killed Perry during his "red test"--though it's clear to everyone else that Chuck hasn't really changed all that much. He's still the same fish out of water that he has been since the beginning, albeit with a better wardrobe at times and Intersect-derived fighting skills.

But it's that act of murder that Sarah can't shake from her head, just as she can't escape her own "red test," an act of violence that not only shaped Sarah as a spy but also has major consequences here vis-a-vis her relationship with Daniel Shaw. (It's a reveal that I was skeptical of when a friend mentioned the possibility to me but I shrugged it off. I wholly apologize now for not listening to her.)

Shaw's entire motivation has been to dismantle The Ring and pay them back for the murder of his wife, Agent Evelyn Shaw. Everything he's done has been in pursuit of that goal, from faking his own death to hiding out in Castle to sacrificing everything to retrieve intelligence about the Ring or create a scenario in which the government has the possibility of wiping out the higher echelons of The Ring's power structure.

But in coming face to face with The Ring's Director (Mark Sheppard, always in fine form)--or at least, a hologram of him--Shaw learns something so awful, so destructive, and painful that he can't help but feel as though everything has been a lie from the start. Shaw's quest for vengeance for his wife's murder places Sarah right in the crosshairs.

It would appear now that The Ring didn't kill Eve, at least, not directly. No, his wife's murderer has been far closer than he realized: Sarah Walker herself. It's a very interesting twist that these two lovers would now be on opposite sides. Sarah described her "red test" as "the worst day of her life" last week and she certainly isn't aware of the identity of her victim. So why was Sarah given the order to kill Eve? Was she a mole for The Ring? Has Daniel Shaw been fighting the wrong people all along?

Two possibilities exist. One, that Sarah's handlers were themselves Ring operatives secreted within the CIA and they ordered her to kill Eve in order to get at Daniel Shaw. Or two, that Eve was herself a Ring operative and Sarah's red test was designed to eliminate the leak. Which would mean that Eve was lying to Daniel all along. I'm leaning more towards the latter as I'd hate to see Sarah misled and fooled by her employers.

And then there's the matter of what The Ring wants with Daniel Shaw himself. This week, he seemed to be summoned to a tete-a-tete with The Ring's Director himself, who clearly wanted Shaw kept alive. But then why was Sydney tasked with murdering him a few weeks back? Why bring Captain Awesome in to kill Shaw if they wanted him alive? Color me seriously confused. I've been a little uncertain about what The Ring has wanted since most of it seems to circle back around to Shaw himself time and time again. What are they after? Why is Shaw so important?

As an aside, I was also really confused this week by Ellie's decision to take a sabbatical and head to Africa with Devon, after they had agreed to stay in Los Angeles so Ellie could do her neurology fellowship at USC. Just where did the fellowship evaporate to? And if she did take the fellowship, how is she taking a year-long sabbatical? If she didn't take it, why didn't we see that? I'm still scratching my head over this one.

I did, however, appreciate that Chuck squared off against Shaw in his own way. Not in a battle of fists or high-flying action, but that he fought for Sarah in the only way he knew how: with words. He kept his word to Casey not to tell anyone about what actually happened in the railway station (though if anyone would keep mum about it, it would be Sarah) and offered her an ultimatum, one that recalled their scene in the season premiere where Sarah offered Chuck the very same offer.

I'm of the mind that Sarah was going to go with Chuck even before she learned the truth about Perry's death but that Casey's confession sealed the deal. Sarah is finally standing on the brink of having a happy, normal life. One that doesn't involve cons, guns, or aliases but a true and honest love. Her decision to toss her gun on the bed underscored that, even as it left her alone with Shaw and unarmed...

But it's the first time in the history of the series that both Chuck and Sarah are willing to be swept up in each other's journey, with each of them choosing the path of love rather than the professional obligation. (I'm sure quite a few fans cheered aloud when Chuck and Sarah finally kissed last night.) Both these characters know that they are meant to be together and there are no more obstacles standing in their way, except maybe Shaw himself.

It was nice to see Chuck save the day for a change, risking his life to save Shaw's and bringing him back to Sarah because he knows how much she cares for him. If that isn't the definition of altruism, I don't know what is because Chuck could have rather selfishly stood by and let Shaw die when Beckman sent in the bomber. But that's not Chuck, after all.

Of course, he would have maybe been doing Sarah a favor now that Shaw seems to want to punish Sarah for Eve's death, but Chuck didn't exactly know that at the time. He's just as taken aback that it was Sarah who slew Shaw's wife and he knows just what Shaw will want to do to Sarah in return. But I can't shake the feeling that there's still more going on here than meets the eye.

What else did I love about this week's episode? Chuck's super-improved gun-skills and his lack of flashing (could it be that the Intersect is being absorbed into his general consciousness?); the troika of Casey, Morgan, and Devon as Chuck's new spy team whose mission was to win back Sarah; Jeff's "blue period" of stalking; Ellie's disgust at bailing the guys out of prison; Devon tackling Shaw through a glass window; the Dr. Jibb soda machine concealing access to the Ring base; Fro Yo Ho; Chuck's inability to carry his gun around properly (get the man a holster!); Ellie's speech to Chuck; Casey rescuing Sarah in Castle; and much more.

Best line of the evening: "We are perfect for each other and I want to spend the rest of my life with you away from everyone else and away from this spy life." - Chuck

What did you think of this week's episode? Glad that Chuck finally made his play for Sarah and she accepted? Worried just what Shaw will do to her now that he knows she killed his wife? Wondering how this will all wrap up next week? (Or will it?) Head to the comments section to discuss.

Next week on Chuck ("Chuck Versus The Other Guy"), Chuck, Sarah and Shaw reunite to find the Ring operative behind the death of Shaw's wife; Sarah has faith that Shaw is ready for the mission but Chuck is worried about his emotional stability; Morgan considers leaving the Buy More.


Holly said…
I'm also a little confused about The Ring's intention for Shaw as they seemed to want him dead and now, suddenly, it looks like they have other plans for him. I'm sure it will all be revealed soon, though. (And I'm hoping we'll see more of the fabulous Mark Sheppard too!)
chuckfan75 said…
reason ring won't kill shaw, IMO they are trying to turn him into a double agent - using the sarah kill to the ring's own benefit. Do you know (really do you care to comment on) the rumor that routh is back for some of the back 6 episodes?

also, if you are in a chatty mood, will the show be back S4?

thx for the reviews
HelloHowAreYou said…
Sarah already was packing to meet Chuck before Casey came because:
1) Why does she need to pack to go to DC? As far as we knew, Shaw wouldn't be leaving that hospital anytime soon.
2) Sarah cut off Casey explaining there was no need to plead Chuck's case as she already made up her mind. And after Casey made the reveal, she didn't seem shocked, but rather pleasantly surprised.

The point was that Sarah was willing to accept the changes in Chuck, but realized Chuck would always be Chuck.
gretchen e. said…
I agree on all fronts. I think last night was a really solid episode. Loved the "fro yo ho" line. And a BIG sigh of relief that Chuck didn't tell Sarah about Casey stepping in on his mission, but still Casey (and his rough-around-the-edges-big-heart) did end up telling Sarah. Not sure why he even cared about keeping it from Sarah since she seems to be annoyingly good at keeping secrets.

I loved how all of the characters were used in the episode, as well. It didn't seem like any dialogue/time was wasted.
CJ said…
I always like the episodes where the entire cast is used, and this was one of those instances. We also finally got to see Shaw actually be interesting like he was when he was first introduced.

There's only one major reason I can see that would cause the Ring to change from wanting to kill Shaw to wanting him to change sides: they recently found out about his relationship with Sarah.

It's perfectly believable that at the beginning of the season, all they knew was that Shaw was alive and they wanted him out of their hair. But then, perhaps from the information transmitted back by the agents who infiltrated Castle, they discovered that Shaw had entered into a romantic relationship with the very woman who kill his ex-wife. Then they go, "Wow, what a gift this is. We don't need to kill him, we can use him to sabotage our enemies from inside." So that's what they do.
phillymom2 said…
When last night's episode concluded I clapped and gave a loud cheer and told my huband that was the best episode this season. His response was less enthusiastic ("eh, it was alright) but as he put it he "doesn't have all those girly emotions invested in this." So, that being said, my "girly emotions" were very satisfied after what seems like several episodes of building angst. Good for Chuck finally saying it like it is. And good for Sarah realizing they do belong together. He loved her anyway after he saw her gun down that guy who was going to blow Chuck's identity. It was right after he gave her his mother's charm bracelet, I think it was last Christmas or the season before. At first he wasn't sure he still loved her either, but he realized she was protecting him and it was her job. That's unconditional love. So, hopefully she gets that now.

But of course, there is more to the show than Chuck and Sarah. There are so many facets that make this show great. Last night the dialogue was very snappy among Casey, Awesome, and Morgan. I loved the interplay and unlikely cameraderie among those characters. I especially loved Ellie and Chuck exchange. It could be a bummer not to see them around Burbank when they go to Africa. I must admit that the reveal was shocking, didn't see that coming but I am enjoying how the writers seem to set up future episodes now with flashbacks and callbacks. Very cool. I also find it hard to believe the General "had no idea" as she claimed when she replayed the video for Chuck at the end of the show. How could she not know who Sarah's target was for her red test? I think your idea that Shaw's wife was a ring operative is plausible and that could be an explanation, there are definitely some unanswered questions here. But, loose strings aside, this show was awesome! As always, can't wait for next Monday night for the next chapter in the adventure. I sure do hope NBC picks up Chuck for next season. If not, maybe they can go over to USA Network...all of my other favorites are there and Chuck would fit in quite nicely.
Dacaria said…
I agree, I too believe Sarah was packing to meet Chuck when Casey arrived. For example, her comment to Casey," If you're here on Chuck's behalf it's not necessary." Meaning she already decided to go off with him. Casey's reveal that it was he, not Chuck who made the kill shot just solidified her choice, and brought home the fact that Chuck was still the same man she loved. As for the Ring and Shaw, I think the Ring's first intention was to kill Shaw. That is until they got the intel on his wife. It wasn't until after the mole was killed did they get the video footage. After viewing the video, I think the Ring felt they had the upper hand with Shaw and could use his anger and need for revenge to their benefit.
The CineManiac said…
I like Dacaria's theory on Shaw, that they didn't decide to turn him until they saw who killed his wife.

Before showing that video I wondered if Eve was a ring operative. Part of me still things she is a ring operative and that Sarah's red test was a set up, and Eve is really still alive.

But I'm just glad for Hulu, as my local NBC affiliate decided to preempt Chuck for a special on Cleft Pallets (no you can't make this kind of crap up) and just didn't air the episode. My dad just thought Chuck wasn't on tonight, so I'm worried about the other people in my surrounding area that will tune in next week not knowing a very important episode of Chuck aired, just not on our station.
Also curious how that effects the ratings which we need so much right now.
Jeff C. said…
AAAAAHH! Jace, what are the rules here about spoilers? I've always been able to come to the comments threads for episode reviews here without having to worry about revelations regarding upcoming storyines (which would include rumors about who may or may not be appearing in the final six episodes).

Anyway, I thought it was a fantastic episode.
Unknown said…
I've really enjoyed the last few eps, but I do have one quibble. Why is Sarah perfectly happy to have a relationship with a full-blown spy/killer, but she refuses to be with Chuck if he's a spy? Here're Shaw and Bryce, both stone-cold killer spies, and she's willing to hang out with them, but poor Chuck might've killed somebody in self-defense, and she draws the line. Weird.

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