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Childhood's End: First Blood, First Fights on Chuck

Hmmm, did you see that coming?

While I teased some details about this week's fantastically serpentine episode of Chuck ("Chuck Versus the First Fight") in my advance review last week (which you can read over here), I was especially careful not to spoil that particular bait and switch, lest it ruin what was a rather masterful plot twist this week.

Morgan, here thrust into largely the same role that Chuck was way back in Season One, claims that first fights set the tone for the entire relationship and his rubric can be applied to relationships in general. In fact, the way that the final conflict in this episode plays out might hold the key to unlocking--or at least gaining some understanding--about the ways in which Mary Elizabeth Bartowski operates. Her frosty exterior belies a true emotional core, one that's not tied up in whatever elaborate ruse she's involved in at the moment.

So now that the episode has aired and I can get more specific with my thoughts without spoiling you, what did I think of "Chuck Versus the First Fight"? Read on. Just be sure to put down the tiny weapons first.

As I did in my original review, I again want to praise Timothy Dalton for some fantastic work in this week's installment. From the befuddled professor facade he created (I loved his glee in diving out of the airplane and his joke about there only being one parachute) to the final reveal that the man we've come to know as MI6 handler Gregory Tuttle is nothing more than an illusion, a cover story concealing this man's dangerous true nature: Volkoff himself.

I suspected as much when "Tuttle" began to ask Chuck about his relationship with Frost (during their sheep-laden trip back to Los Angeles) and when he got shot at the bank, it clinched it for me. It was far too easy to have Tuttle get shot and bleed out on the floor of a bank, but the mechanics of the plan were ingenious, a long con designed to get Chuck to take Mary inside Orion's headquarters, bypassing all security measures and allowing her to walk in freely.

Which is what it appears to have all been about: access to Orion's technology and the secrets that were hidden away underneath the Bartowskis' Encino house. Triangle-shaped discs, MI6 black ops, kindly handlers, they were all props in the end, a convincing slight-of-hand that distracted Chuck from what was actually going on behind the scenes.

For all of his training and his Intersect-derived skills, Chuck fell prey to exactly what Sarah had tried to steer him away from: he was felled by his own emotion, clouded by his unresolved feelings about his mother, and he was an easy mark for a spy as gifted and accomplished as Frost. Why? Because despite the evidence, he wanted to believe that his mother was as good as he wanted her to be. That underneath the posturing and the brutal iciness, she was the same woman that read him stories and tucked him in at night.

Did that woman ever exist? Was her whole life as Mary Bartowski just a convenient cover? Was her relationship with Chuck and Ellie's dad Stephen an assignment? Or is there something more to her? After all, she doesn't let Chuck and Sarah go boom when the explosives--rigged to destroy Orion's HQ--go off. And she does slip Sarah the means of escape. Plus, her scene with Ellie, in which they talk about little Ellie curling up between her parents in the blue leather seats of that classic car, did point towards some true emotion buried underneath that icy surface.

Better still, just what did Mary do to Chuck in the basement there? What was that that she showed him on that monitor. What was it that Orion never wanted Chuck to see? Given that we don't see Chuck flash on anything for the remainder of the episode, nor use any of his Intersect 2.0-derived abilities, it seems as though Mary has either deleted the Intersect from Chuck's head or somehow removed his access to the data.

Chuck has largely dealt with Chuck Bartowski's relationship to the Intersect program, so I can't see why the writers would decide to remove it altogether at this point in the game, but I also can't quite figure out just what Mary did to Chuck in this week's episode. It would be a huge game-changer if he lost the Intersect altogether, though it could also be a sign that the MacGuffin of those powers are replaced by real spy training and martial arts. And that Chuck becomes more proficient a spy on his own, rather than backed by any performance-enhancing technology.

But if Mary's actions aren't Intersect deletion- or alteration-related, could it be that she showed him something specific, a particular piece of intel, that could be hugely damning? Something that his brain hasn't yet processed but which is waiting to be analyzed by the Intersect? Something related to Mary's disappearance in the first place?

And, finally, was this action part of Volkoff's plan? Or a rogue personal mission for Mary herself? Hmmm...

And then there's the matter of Stephen's old classic car, the one with the custom-made blue leather seats... and whatever is going on underneath there. I'm not sure what to make of the glowing box underneath the driver's seat, nor why he specifically left this boon to Ellie rather than Chuck. Could it be that Ellie herself might be more important to the overarching plot than we realized? Did Stephen have a plan for his daughter that was separate to Chuck? Curious.

It's fitting that the Encino home where Chuck and Ellie grew up was destroyed by the end of the episode, an explosion that incinerates Orion's life's work as well as the closest symbol Chuck as of the family life that detonated when Mary disappeared all of those years ago. Everything that those years represented, those small moments that define a family, detonate with those explosives. What's taken down to the ground isn't just Orion's work, but the decades of secrets that the Bartowski clan kept.

And it's perhaps also a signal that there are no sacred cows in this show, that Orion's underground lair, with its vast caverns of knowledge, tech, and nifty gizmos, is able to be destroyed so casually. Volkoff is clearly playing for keeps... but what might undo him in the end is a mother's love for her son. At no point is it made explicit that Volkoff is aware of just what Mary and Chuck's true relationship is; in fact, it seems clear at the end of the episode that Volkoff orders Chuck and Sarah's execution without knowing who Chuck actually is.

Which is very interesting to me. While Mary went to great lengths to conceal Chuck's identity from Volkoff, it's that very relationship that could end up saving her. If she isn't completely evil, that is. But that moment between her and Sarah ("keep him safe") points towards some goodness in her heart, at least where her son is concerned.

Here's to hoping that the dastardly Volkoff and his kick-ass cohorts (including guest star Ana Gasteyer's hilariously scarred and scary indestructible woman Dasha) has more than a few tricks still up his sleeves. And that this season turns out to be just as twisty and complex as this week's episode. (Dare I say it: one of the all-time best Chuck episodes?)

What did you make of "Chuck Versus the First Fight"? Did you love Morgan's slapstick moment with the earpiece and him redeeming himself by suiting up and going into battle at the bank with John Casey? Is Mary Bartowski good or evil? What did she do to Chuck? And what's the deal with Ellie's new car? Head to the comments section to discuss.

In two weeks on Chuck ("Chuck Versus the Fear of Death"), Chuck tries to prove himself by going on a hazardous mission; Casey and Morgan try to cover when the Buy More staffers attempt to investigate the identity of the newest Greta (guest star Summer Glau).

Comments

Lioness said…
Morgan should have been harder on himself than he was. He's a buffoon.

It was clear to me that Volkoff does not know that Chuck is their son, especially when you see Sara realize that fact.
I've never been a fan of Ellie but since the rest of the family have been spies, perhaps this is her turn- especially since she will soon have a child to protect herself.
OldDarth said…
I just knew Dalton had to be Volkoff!

Best episode of the series to date. Bar none!

That is my kind of Chuck!! 8)

Right down to MamaB Intersecting Chuck with a PSP. LOL 8) 8) :D
Amrit said…
How come no one gets it! the intersect is not gone, what did stephen want most of all for his kids? not to be in the spy world! and so when his mom said your dad never wanted you to see this, it was I think a back up device, it was all orions work in one computer that is uploaded to chucks brain. Based on the promo, the intersect is still in his brain he just needs a way of accessing it, getting around the his dads date in a way. So now chuck not only has the intersect, fight skills, etc he also has his dads entire work in his brain. Now I think next episode the fear of death will put his intersect back online and he will be able to use it again, then he will flash in his dads work when he needs it, so he is now the ultimate superhero!
FoosRckKona said…
I agree with Amrit, I think this is everything in the basement, that's why it wasn't a real issue for her to destroy it all.
Jeremy Fitch said…
Good read. Here's my personal theories on Momma B's motives and Ellie's new car.

Momma B: I'm not sure yet whether she's good or bad, but I am 100% convinced that she cares for her family greatly and worries about their safety. After she showed Chuck those images, I was checking for any sort of flash for the rest of the episode, and none came. One could argue that Chuck couldn't flash because he's too emotional at his mother's apparent betrayal (see beginning of season 3), but using knowledge from the next Chuck episode preview, it's clear that she removed the intersect. By removing the tool that makes Chuck an amazing spy, she severely crippled his abilities to track her down. Destroying Orion's base and his life work not only severely cuts down on the information Chuck has access to in regards to Momma B and her "friends" it also makes it HIGHLY unlikely that Chuck will be able to build a new intersect for himself. So by removing the intersect from Chuck's brain and destroying Orion's base, Momma B is protecting her son by ensuring that he can't track her down again.

Onwards to the car. I'm not sure why exactly Poppa B decided to give the car to Ellie, but I have a guess to why the writers did. My hunch is that the computer in the car is an intersect. Let's not forget how paranoid Poppa B was, and the fact that he's a super-genius. He obviously wanted his son to find his mom and knew that Chuck needed the intersect to do so. So by giving Ellie the car with the intersect in it, the writers have basically given Ellie the keys to Chuck's spy life. To become the intersect again, Chuck will have to get Ellie's approval to be a spy.

My two cents, the next episode can't come soon enough.
Amrit said…
Jeremy your theory a good one! but then why did his mom say your dad never wanted you to see this before she showed it to him. His dad never wanted chuck or ellie to be part of the spy world and so if the device were to remove the intersect then he would want him to see it, not the other way around. I think when his mom said she thought his dad was wrong, she meant that chuck is ready (with sarah by his side) to take on his dad's work and so that device will allow him to do that. I think he cannot flash because he needs to figure out how to get the intersect online again.
Unknown said…
Actually, the MacGuffin could be it. It's a stretch, sure, but it's entirely possible that Mary, having spent time with Chuck, knows that without the Intersect he will still dedicate his life to being a spy -- he'll CHOOSE it, as opposed to having it thrust on him because of the Intersect. And Chuck's father never wanted that.

Less of a stretch would be that she simply gave him all their family secrets and his emotions are preventing him from accessing the Intersect.

Either way, the idea that he at least thinks it's gone is interesting, mostly because it would have to raise questions among the others. If they hunt down another Intersect, why would they give it to Chuck? Aren't there other spies out there who would be better suited?

My only real complaint about this episode is how much Josh Schwartz hyped it up on Twitter. I was expecting more, even though it was still great. He said it was the best episode in two years, so I was expected something as great as the season 2 finale -- but nothing is that great.
The CineManiac said…
Jace,
Another fine write-up. I agree with most of your points, and I agree it is one of Chuck's best episodes yet.

My first thought when she showed Chuck the PSP-intersect-lite, was also, that she had removed the intersect and now Chuck would have to rely on only his spy training, which I would be totally down for. He's clearly not using the intersect as much as he was anyways, so why not see how good he is without it.

Can't wait to see what's next.
Unknown said…
Hey, Jace (and anyone else), doesn't the preview for the next episode kind of imply that the Intersect is still in his head, he just can't access it?
Chris L said…
I knew Tuttle wasn't for real when he "accidentally" threw that knife into that guy's back. But I never suspected that he was Volkoff, though. Not until I realized that the shooting at the bank was staged. I was thinking that he was Mary's possible lover and a kick-ass MI-6 agent who was hiding his true skill. D'oh!

And I think the glowing thing in the car was Orion's personal laptop computer, similar to the one he sent Chuck in season 2. (By the way, whatever happened to the cool wrist-computer that Papa B gave Chuck at the end of season 2??)

Anyway, it was a great episode! A real treat. I never thought Chuck was a show that could fool me for any length of time, but this one kept me guessing. Nice!
Ally said…
Absolutely one of the best episodes of the series. In fact, apparently it was preempted in some places because of election coverage and I told a friend who didn't get to see it to make sure she catches it on nbc.com, as she will NOT want to miss it.

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