There is nothing quite like watching an episode of Chuck in a convention hall with a thousand other fans. Known well for its communal endeavors to keep Chuck on the air via twitter, blog and mail campaigns – from sending boxes of Nerds to NBC executives to flooding corporate sponsor Subway’s comment card boxes with Chuck related notes – it is a vocal group. Rarely is this more apparent then when they are gathered en masse and thrilling in perfect unison to one of the strongest episodes of Chuck‘s young televised life.
It takes watching an episode at a convention to truly realize what creators and writers Fedak and Schwartz (and co.) have done with Chuck- there is no division in fan opinion as the episode rolls along. Even when events aren’t foreshadowed so much as fore-broadcast, even when the events aren’t particularly surprising or seem, in fact, inexorable as fate, the gasps, laughs, applause, cries of victory and wordless murmurs of discontent sweep across the audience without a dissenting voice to be heard. Everyone watching is rooting for the same things, and cannot help but be pleased by the way in which those things are delivered- with intelligence, warmth and humor.
In ‘Chuck vs the Other Guy‘, we are given a season finale in mid-season. Fedak and Schwartz explained in the Q&A following the episode’s premier that the entire arc of the season had led to this episode and that the final moments of it could well have been the final moments of the show- they have heard no word on being picked up for a fourth season yet. That being the case, the episode delivers in every sense: We are given closure to characters and events that have been happening all season long, albeit without definitively closing the door on any potential plots. Cleverly, though designed to be a book end, the episode acts as more of a portal, and the possibilities for new storylines spiral outward ad infinitum from it. From here on out, there will be major spoilers aplenty, so consider yourself warned.
The largest obstacles for Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) this season have been The Ring, a shadow agency seeking to do everything the CIA and NSA do but in bad ways, and Agent Shaw (Brandon Routh), the devastatingly handsome, confident, polished spy who does not simply appropriate Bryce Larkin’s monopoly on that role, but brings a new level of gravitas and compassion to it. Bryce was ever the adrenaline junkie- Shaw is the steadfast leader, who nonetheless can kick ass, take names, and weaken the ladies’ knees with a simultaneously more serious but somehow more vulnerable hand. Shaw is Chuck’s real nemesis, being in every way a better spy and more reliable person, a mirror Chuck is none too pleased to have held up before him, but most egregiously by proving a much better match for the smart, tough and wholly self sufficient Agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski). In ‘Chuck vs the Other Guy‘, the title alone promises a reckoning between our eponymous hero and the man who has been actively pursuing Chuck’s true love’s heart, but we get so much more than that.
Shaw is an agent of the The Ring, helping them in their quest to build a better intersect in retribution for the CIA’s contracted murder of his wife Evelyn. The Agent responsible for her death?- Sarah Walker. In an elaborate scheme motivated by the deepest grief and a bone-deep disgust with the games played and mistakes made by the government, Shaw has decided to send a message to his employers: You betrayed the wrong person. He figures Sarah’s corpse will be far more effective than a Hallmark card. But everyone trusts him, and so Sarah leaves with Shaw for what she thinks is a mission, and no one even thinks to be concerned.
Except Morgan Grimes, portrayed with a staggeringly consistent oddness by Josh Gomez. He adamantly protests the merit of Sarah going anywhere, let alone Paris (Chuck’s dream city, the physical location that manifests his equally, eternally just-out-of-reach life goals), with Daniel Shaw. In an attempt to sway Morgan’s opinion of the man, Chuck shows him video footage of Shaw taking down enemy agents and saving Chuck and Sarah’s life. Except Morgan knows his HK cinema the way Ben Stiller knows his Star Trek- with an unhealthy degree of devotion and ability to retain details that no human eye should be capable of detecting- and so he points out that the fight was a big old stagey fake. Chuck protests that he witnessed Shaw shooting people Morgan prompts him, “Did you see blood? Did you see viscera?” Brain matter, et all, were in fact significantly lacking from the shoot out. Chuck is given no choice but to respond in the negative, the delivery of which is pure hilarity.
And so begins the mad scramble to find Sarah Walker. Finding no help from his ever-doubtful NSA General, he turns to the action man himself- John “I Will Kill You With My Awesome” Casey. No, that nickname isn’t canon, but it’s totally applicable. At first resistant, due to his soul-crushing assimilation into Buymoria and civilian life, John of course steps up to help his team- now his friends- and even wears a nice suit while doing do.
En route to Paris, panicked by the seemingly endless crawl of the minutes spent helpless and in the air, Chuck gets a sharp reminder from John about who he is, why he’s our hero, and the audience gets a simply worded but extremely poignant remind of why Chuck is a good show, why the fans are devoted fans, why the team deserves to stay together and get as many seasons as they want to tell stories like this. John says, and I’m sadly paraphrasing, forget the spy stuff, forget the intersect. Before all of that, you were smart.
It is then those smarts that save the day.