Wednesday, 2 February 2011

'CHUCK' 4.13 - "Chuck Versus The Push Mix"

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Over the years, Chuck's writers have been forced on many occasions to write would-be series finales, owing to uncertainties about the show's future. They've done an astonishingly good job, until now. "Chuck Versus The Push Mix" was the culmination of the Volkhoff (Timothy Dalton) and Mary Bartowski (Linda Hamilton) storyline that has fuelled season 4, but it was oddly underwhelming until the final 10 minutes. And even the belated jolt of adrenaline and emotion in the fading moments was nowhere near the high standards set by previous finales.

This week, Mary and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) tried to access Volhoff's HYDRA database, only to discover he's moved its location to "the Contessa", which is later proven to be a ship. Chuck (Zachary Levi) found a fragment of the glass eye that can access HYDRA, before flashing on its creator Roni Eimacher, setting in motion a plan with Morgan (Joshua Gomez) to find and interrogate Eimacher for information on Volkoff and "the Contessa". Meanwhile, Volkhoff was unnerved by a cryptic electronic message, apparently sent from his nemesis Orion (aka Stephen Bartowski, the late-husband of his beloved Mary), which prompted him to move Mary to the safety of the Contessa, with Sarah in tow.

It was another of Chuck's slightly strained piece-moving plots, which often struggle to flow very naturally and crumble to dust when you stop to think about them logically. To be honest, I think Chuck's naturally jocular nature protects it from harsh criticism in this respect, but I still wish the show was more robust with its plotting and there wasn't a half-improvised feel to everything. It ultimate became an episode of moments, some of which were entertaining: such as Morgan trying to bend his way through a corridor of deadly laser beams using his yoga skills, before snagging his wet-suit on a bolt and being forced to strip to his underwear.

My big issues with "... Versus The Push Mix" are down to season 4's general direction and storyline, particularly regarding Volkhoff and Mary. Dalton has undoubtedly done a great job with sketchy material, despite the fact he was twice as entertaining as the bumbling Tuttle before his real identity was revealed, but Volkhoff has ultimately been too much of a blithering idiot. I was ready for Chuck to give us a villain with a savage bite, but Volkhoff was instead written as a love blind fool with a bizarre obsession with Mary.

Worse, the Mary Bartowski storyline has been simply torturous from the start, I don't care what people say. The show spent far too long playing with our expectations about her, then didn't seem to know if Mary was deep undercover or a genuine traitor, and finally the writers seemed to give up and turned her into a tragic figure of infatuation that needed rescuing by Sarah. Throughout this episode, Hamilton gave her usual rote performance, with the fixed expression of someone with concussion. There's nothing fun, interesting, cool, humorous, or complex about Mary, so some of the blame rests with Chuck's writers. As the epitome of a self-sacrificing spy, who gave up her family to infiltrate and destroy Volkhoff Industries, there was a curious lack of impact here. This was the moment when Mary's mission to destroy Volkhoff (the man ultimately responsible for killing her husband) reached its climax, but Mary was pretty much wasted: Sarah handled most of the action, Morgan did the comedy, and Chuck got the privilege of defeating Volkhoff by laying a trap at his father's cabin. I know this isn't the Mary Bartowski show, but shouldn't she have been more instrumental in the plot? I'm still convinced the writers realized Mary wasn't working out as a character, and Hamilton was a buzz kill who didn't bring the natural charisma of her screen husband Scott Bakula.

Onto the positives: Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) went into labour, and her subplot delivered some of the warmth missing elsewhere. It was an especially fun way to involve Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay), who decided to steal Devon's (Ryan McPartlin) "push mix" CD for Ellie to listen to during her labour, and arrived at the hospital as "Jeffster" to play Salt-N-Peppa's "Push It" over the hospital's public address system. It was a rare moment when Jeffster actually worked (their reputation far exceeds their mirth-making ability), mostly because the choice of song was perfect for a birth sequence, and the silliness of them prancing around reception with stunned patients tickled the funnybone.

Overall, thanks heavens this wasn't Chuck's series finale, as it could have been if NBC hadn’t ordered 11 more episodes. It was far too low-key for series finale status; lacking a strong Chuck/Sarah combo and with Casey (Adam Baldwin) invalided for, what, the fourth time this year? The final scene, with Chuck proposing to Sarah in a hospital corridor, was also a bone of contention for me. The aim was to give them a private moment together, as the camera itself chose to focus on a floor waxer that drowned their conversation, but that was a creative choice I strongly disagree with. I think fans were owed hearing Chuck's proposal after being teased with it for so long. Could you imagine if that was the last scene of Chuck, ever? I'm relieved there are more episodes in the pipeline, but still oddly hopeful NBC will call it a day with Chuck now. The show's past its best, I think most will agree.

WRITERS: Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc
DIRECTOR: Peter Lauer
TRANSMISSION: 31 January 2011, NBC, 9/8c