Wednesday, 24 November 2010

'CHUCK' 4.9 - "Chuck Versus Phase Three"

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The conclusion of last week's storyline offered plenty of violence built on a foundation of strong emotion, and a welcome exploration of Chuck's (Zachary Levi) anxieties regarding his relationship with Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), but it was sorely lacking in big laughs. Still, there was enough bruising action and focus on character to make "Chuck Versus Phase Three" worthwhile.

Chuck has been kidnapped by The Belgian (Richard Chamberlain) and transported to Thailand (for no discernible reason), where he's subjected to invasive psychological techniques designed to retrieve the intel contained in his dormant Intersect. These are visualized as a variety of anxiety dreams, where Chuck's lack of Intersect is equated to sexual impotence. "I want you to ffflash" purrs Sarah in bed, lingering on the "f" long enough to have you cupping the ears of any children in the room.

Meanwhile, the real Sarah became obsessed with finding her captured lover, growing exasperated that the might of the CIA isn't getting results. Rather implausibly, it's Morgan (Joshua Gomez) who finds the only strong lead, prompting the illegal capture of a henchman from the Thai embassy downtown. Sarah tortured the Belgian's associate for information, before resolving to go rogue in Thailand to rescue Chuck without backup from Casey (Adam Baldwin), becoming notorious as "The Giant Blonde She-Male" to the local populace.

Elsewhere, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) discovered her late father's high-tech laptop in the back of his Ford Mustang, leaving Devon (Ryan McPartlin) at home to get past its stringent security. A task that Devon didn't have much success with, forcing him to request a Nerd Herd home visit from Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay)...

This was an episode with a few smart ideas and some of the best fight sequences Chuck's delivered. If you enjoy seeing Sarah Walker kick ass, "... Versus Phase Three" is the new benchmark, as she became a hybrid of Jack Bauer (intense, ends-justify-the-means mentality) and Kill Bill's Uma Thurman (ruthless, unwavering) for the entire hour. Sarah's Rambo III-inspired clash with a muscled Thai warrior (dressed in black shorts and foot bandages), featured the best fight choreography in the show's history.

Second of Strahotness: bedroom blues

I also greatly enjoyed the drug-induced nightmares Chuck was presented with, particularly the one where his escape from captivity was revealed to be a dream. A very old trick, but damn it worked again. The Belgian's titular "phase three" procedure -- to erase Chuck's memories as a last-ditch effort to get at the remaining Intersect -- was also brilliantly visualized on-screen. Owing a debt to Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, it was genuinely haunting when Chuck found himself in the Buy More, as the store's lights gradually turned off, seeing the faces of his friends and family stuck behind television screens.

Even the CGI for the slow-motion explosion of a window, showering Chuck with shards of glass, delivered the right mix of wonderment and prickly tension. The only thing I wasn't convinced by is seeing Chuck get rescued at the last second, but still retaining all of his memories. That's kind of like deleting the contents of a computer hard-drive, hitting cancel when the process hits 99%, and still having access to everything. That just doesn't happen. I was expecting Chuck to be rescued, but for him to have forgotten who Sarah was. But hey, I'm not writing this show.

The episode's big concern -- that Sarah's actions conclusively prove the depth of her love, and that she doesn't care if Chuck's a regular guy or a walking supercomputer -- was also covered well. I was also surprised to see the Intersect still hasn't been restored by the episode's conclusion. It looks like we're in for a longer arc with Chuck as an ordinary spy, proving himself on a level equal to everyone else, which could be good. At the very least, the moment Chuck's Intersect inevitably returns will, no doubt, prove invigorating after a long absence. This is essentially Chuck doing Clark Kent's arc in Superman II.

Overall, "Chuck Versus Phase Three" worked because everything flowed from a place of emotion and character, and for action fans we got to see Yvonne Strahovski smashing people's heads into bars and kicking tattooed men in the face. It was a shame there wasn't more laughs to be had (even in the comic relief subplot with Devon), but I'm interested to see where they go from here.

  • Any predictions about what's on Stephen Bartowski's mysterious laptop? I was expecting something Intersect related, but Ellie's reaction to whatever's on the screen didn't seem to fit.
  • I had to question the decision of Devon to let Jeff and Lester try to gain access to a former-spy's laptop. He's lucky there was a password as the opening prompt, or he'd have some explaining to do!
  • It looks like we're headed for a mid-season proposal and a season finale wedding for Chuck/Sarah, doesn't it. I'm guessing the writers are trying to keep their options open, because if NBC pickup the show for a fifth season it might be best to leave the "wedding arc" for next year. But if NBC decide to drop the show (unlikely, I feel) they can quickly get the wedding story done before next summer.
WRITER: Kristin Newman
DIRECTOR: Anton Cropper
TRANSMISSION: 22 November 2010, NBC, 8/7c