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Chuck This

February 10, 2010
tags: ,

(Watch out, SPOILERS for “Chuck vs. the Mask”)

The season came out of the gate strong, I thought, and I certainly missed the computer nerd-super spy. I loved the inclusion of Captain Awesome into the world of espionage, and maybe that’s what was missing from this week’s episode.

I still love Chuck. It’s a fun hour of escapism, and I’ve been a ‘professional fan’ for too long to be surprised when my ships don’t pull safely into harbor. It happens. (Remember that list I made of TV pairs? Most of the people on it died before the full consummation of their relationship, so let’s maintain a little perspective.)

Because I’ve studied writing, and television writing specifically, it doesn’t bother me when relationships take a turn for the worse as long as it serves the story. This is my primary issue with last night’s episode. Chuck and Sarah are over – for now. Fine. They have plenty of issues between them, I get it, and I accept it. Gotta keep the tension up. Chuck gets a new love interest? Also fine, though he was confessing his love for Sarah not too long ago.  Hannah’s not horribly annoying, the chemistry works, and her introduction wasn’t too forced.  The show can’t afford Kristin Kreuk for much longer, so I’m not exactly worried about her taking over.

Sarah and Shaw. Sigh. Here’s where things falter.

We open on a vault, and a ninja pulling a Mission Impossible. For a yet-to-be-explained reason, the handsome agent Shaw is attempting to steal a gold mask that very much resembles something I made in elementary school. He’s wearing a black ski mask in the attempt to deceive the audience into thinking that this ninja is a bad guy, so that the reveal is shocking! (Didn’t work. Even Brandon Routh’s eyes are too good-looking and easily recognizable.)

Alarm bells go off. The ceiling opening through which Shaw is suspended begins to close – and his winch isn’t fast enough. He’s trapped, and a convenient monitor on the wall informs him that decompression is starting. Despite the fact that one percent of the oxygen seems to disappear every second (logically giving him 100 seconds to live), Shaw has about an hour before he runs out of air, so he calls in reinforcements.

His savior, Chuck, is busy at the Buy More, flirting with new girl Hannah. I only watched about a year of Smallville back in the day, but I definitely prefer Kreuk in this role. She’s spunky, and obviously crushing hard on Chuck. Chuck is oblivious to this, even though the woman has just come from an IT job that sent her all over the world and is now working in a retail store in Burbank. There’s only one reason she would do that, and even though Chuck’s not always the sharpest pencil when it comes to the fairer sex, I find it hard to believe even he would miss that.

Unfortunately spy business takes precedence over flirtation, and Sarah arrives to drag Chuck to the museum where Shaw is suffocating. Hannah, who was promised she could accompany Chuck on his next Nerd Herder install, decides to follow. No apparent ulterior motive, though her work ethic is a trifle suspicious.

Together (unbeknownst to Hannah) they save Agent Shaw from a vacuum, and thanks to whatever magic they worked on the museum’s security system, both are invited to the party which will unveil the golden mask of Alexander the Great – but not as guests. They’re on call.

(As my father pointed out, the museum doesn’t have its own private IT guys? Well, why should they – they don’t have security guards either.)

Since Chuck is already assigned to the control room, and Casey is hanging out in the van, per usual, Shaw assigns himself as Sarah’s date for the evening. He’s been bringing her coffee, and notices that she likes to chew on her swizzle sticks. Sarah looks distinctly uncomfortable.

Unfortunately for Chuck, right after Hannah makes a move on him (in terms even Chuck can’t ignore), she notices that his ex-girlfriend is wandering around the museum. Chuck abandons her to do spy stuff –  the Ring operative is in the museum, and is intimately acquainted with the good Agent Shaw, so Chuck has to don the harness and lower Sarah into the vault to swap out the real mask for a fake. (Something about the Ring smuggling something or other in the mask so it won’t be searched by customs. Uh huh.)

After the usual snafus, Chuck makes the swap and hurries back to the control room to smooth things over with Hannah, who refuses to be smoothed. She returns to the Buy More, angry, and Chuck stops by Castle, to see how Shaw and Sarah are doing with the mask. They find the hidden compartment, and manage to release a toxin, forcing the super-secret-hideout to shut down for contamination.

Meanwhile the token bad guy for the episode really wants his mask back, so he lures Hannah back to the unguarded museum, ostensibly on a computer emergency, and locks her in the vault with only an hour of air. What a coincidence! Sarah and Shaw only have an hour to get the antidote and reverse the effects of the poison. Fortunately for Chuck, both routes take him to the museum, where he and Casey plot to placebo the bad guy.

Back in Castle, Shaw admits he was hitting on Sarah, with the coffee and the kissing of her neck at the party. She admits she liked the kissing. I groan.

The writers want to give Sarah a new love interest? Fine. But it shouldn’t be Bryce Larkin 2.0. In addition, the relationship doesn’t make sense. One of Sarah’s primary reasons for not being with Chuck is that they’re both spies. Shaw is not only a spy, he’s her superior. And it seems like he’s still dealing with the death of his wife, who’s not long in her grave. I was enjoying the dynamic he brought to the team – before he woke up one morning and decided he wanted to sleep with Sarah.

Ship or no ship – this is just lazy plotting, which can pretty much be said for the entire episode. It wasn’t the worst thing ever, as some might be claiming, but it wasn’t as sharp as, say, “Chuck versus Operation Awesome.”

Back at the suspiciously small and glass-free museum…

Setting off a smoke grenade, Chuck manages to convince Bad Guy that he’s been poisoned too – only to discover that he doesn’t know where the antidote is. They start smashing vases, and Chuck smashes the right one over B.G.’s head. Shaw comes rushing in with Sarah in his arms, even though he’s dying in a rush, and Chuck hands over the antidote before he finally goes to rescue Hannah. She’s swept off her feet, and forgives him for everything.

There’s a miscellaneous subplot about Morgan and Ellie’s concern for Chuck, but other than the sad puppy face of Morgan when he discovers Chuck and Hannah making out, it’s pretty unimportant.

Not one of their better efforts, but for all the Chuck/Sarah fans freaking out and suggesting boycotts, it’s not over ’til it’s over. And even then there’s fan fiction.

For more thoughts on the subject, I recommend Maureen Ryan’s Watcher article (in which she and I have basically the same opinion), and this article: Chuck versus the Entitled Fan Base. Serve the story before serving the fans. When done properly, they’re the same thing.

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