Wednesday, 3 November 2010

'CHUCK' 4.7 - "Chuck Versus The First Fight"

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Arriving in the nick of time, "Chuck Versus The First Fight" recalibrated this spluttering fourth season, developing and strengthening the ongoing storylines while providing a winning hour's entertainment. I still have issues with Linda Hamilton's hard-faced performance and Chuck's general direction this year, but this story was a lot livelier and ended with a twist, double-cross and cliffhanger guaranteed to replenish your commitment to this show...

This week, Chuck (Zachary Levi) resolved to prove his mother's innocence, now she's being held by the CIA as a traitor, and is told the only way to verify her double-agent story is to contact her secretive MI-6 handler Gregory Tuttle (Timothy Dalton), who has access to physical evidence that can authenticate her tale. However, during Chuck and Morgan's (Joshua Gomez) secret mission to contact Tuttle in a downtown pub, Chuck and Tuttle were kidnapped by Volkoff operative Dascha (Ana Gasteyer), prompting Mary (Hamilton) to strike a deal with the CIA: she'll reveal where Chuck's been taken, but only if she can see her daughter Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) to explain her disappearance.

On the whole, this was a much better episode than we've had recently, and perhaps season 4's best so far. It's always been true that Chuck takes awhile to lay its foundations before capitalizing on the groundwork, and "... Versus The First Fight" definitely felt like an episode intended to take advantage of the six episode build-up. Guest star Timothy Dalton was great fun as the bumbling MI-6 analyst, employing a Yorkshire accent to create a likeable character at odds with expectations of a James Bond-alike. He's easily the funniest and most personable guest star they've had on Chuck in awhile, which I wasn't expecting from Dalton's appearance. In some ways it's a shame he was unmasked as the season's big bad, Alexei Volkoff...

Yes, the climax will be the big talking point of this episode, when everything involving Mary and Tuttle was revealed to be an elaborate trap, intended to locate the secret base of Chuck's father "Orion" and destroy his life's work. Tuttle was a character being played by the menacing Russian villain Volkoff, and his accomplice Mary has been manipulating Chuck from the start. Indeed, she's sunk so far that she happily ties her son and his girlfriend Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) by chairs before priming the explosives in her late-husband's lair. Only, perhaps Mary's a genuine double-agent after all: as she passed Sarah a razor to aide their escape from the blast.

Second of Strahotness: house call

There were many great moments that shook up the season in this episode, which was beginning to grow stale. Dalton's impressive performance gives Chuck a more credible villain than ever before, although I hope he's allowed to stretch his comedy muscles in different ways, given how amusing his Tuttle persona was. It would be a waste if Dalton's reduced to doing an intimidating Soviet act, with a wavering accent. Also, might it have been an even juicier twist if Tuttle had been allowed to stick around for awhile before his unveiling as Volkoff? It was a fun surprise here, but I can't help thinking it would have been shocking if we'd allowed to grow attached to Tuttle over a few more weeks. It might even have become Chuck's version of The Usual Suspect's climax.

There's also the bizarre behaviour of Mary to consider. She appears to be a double-agent who has fooled Volkoff after years of loyal service, based on her decision to spare the life of Chuck and Sarah. Or is she an clear enemy, but one whose soul might still be saved because her maternal feelings are returning -- which is why she couldn't bring herself to kill her son at the last minute? And why did she use a gadget to erase the Intersect from Chuck's mind, if she's actually on his side? Removing Chuck's one advantage doesn't seem to be a good idea, unless Mary really is a villain, although it'll be interesting to see what happens to Chuck from hereon in. If he no longer has the Intersect, there's little reason for the CIA's presence in his life, and are his regular skills and experience enough to cut it in the world of international espionage? Will he be allowed to find out, or is "Operation Bartowski" all but over?

Finally, the only real subplot belonged to Ellie. The scene where she was reunited with her mother was quite good, although I still don't see enough range from Hamilton. Lancaster was doing her best, but it didn't quite tug on the heart-strings enough for me. Still, Ellie's investigation into the hidden messages her father used to leave her in classified ads was fun, eventually leading her to her dad's classic Ford Mustang (which contains a glowing laptop). Does it contain a backup Intersect for Chuck? Some intelligence about Mary or Volkoff that will be valuable?

Overall, "Chuck Versus The First Fight" was clearly the best episode of the season, and hopefully the much-needed shot of adrenaline to kick this year into top gear. It was eventful, quite funny, full of good action (loved the airplane fight and bank sequence), Timothy Dalton stole every scene, the emotional beats were strong, the stakes were suitably high, and there was no damn Buy More dragging the hour down into goofiness.

  • I assume "Tuttle" was named after the bureaucratic hero of Terry Gilliam's '80s movie Brazil?
  • Great to hear Scott Bakula as Stephen Bartowski, reading the letter he wrote to Ellie. I still hate the fact they killed his character off, as he was far more engaging than his screen wife, and Bakula had a wonderful comic touch. Then again, I'm just more of a Bakula fan than a Hamilton admirer.
  • Random thought: whatever happened to the idea Chuck needs a "governor" wrist-device to keep the Intersect mentally stable?
  • The ugly, scarred Dascha appeared to be a homage to Rosa Klebb in "From Russia With Love"
WRITERS: Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc
DIRECTOR: Allan Kroeker
TRANSMISSION: 1 November 2010, NBC, 8/7c