Wednesday, 16 March 2011

'CHUCK' 4.18 - "Chuck Versus The A-Team"

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

There was a great theme of obsolescence running through this episode, in a story that justified a two-parter but instead bailed out after an hour, leaving a few dangling threads. Chuck (Zachary Levi) and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) became suspicious of their lack of missions and a mysteriously absent Casey (Adam Baldwin), soon discovering that they've been demoted to the "B-Team" by Director Bentley's (Robin Givens) new outfit in the NSA-built "Castle 2" next door.

It was definitely a great idea to have Chuck and Sarah pushed off their pedestals and replaced by hunkier, leggier versions of themselves. Bentley had managed to replicate the Intersect using Stephen Bartowski's super-laptop, and uploaded the data into two CIA spooks: Captain Richard "Rick" Noble (Isaiah Mustafa) and Captain Victoria "Vicki" Dunwoody (Stacy Keibler); both recognizable as former "Greta" agents. Indeed, the ever-changing Greta position at the Buy More was revealed to have been a field test to find suitable agents to become next-gen Intersects. It was a decent way to make the misfiring Greta idea feel relevant, retrospectively, but I'm mainly just glad Mustafa and Keibler were given a second chance to leave an impression on the show. The problem with the Greta idea (beyond its intrinsic ridiculousness) was how it ultimately wasted brilliant guest-stars by confining them to the Buy More.

The actual plot this week wasn't much to get excited about (another arms dealer to catch), but that didn't really matter. The point of "... Versus The A-Team" was to see Chuck and Sarah reduced to trivial missions like retrieving a pampered dog, while Casey's super-efficient A-Team get to tackle the important stuff, and how they eventually managed to prove themselves as the superior agents. Crucially, despite the fact Rick and Vicki have high-speed Intersects that make Chuck's flashes look sluggish, they both lack his natural lateral thinking and act before they think. Flaws nicely proven when trigger-happy Vicki stupidly shot a man whose heartbeat was preventing a suitcase nuke from arming, and when Chuck managed to disarm the bomb using simple apple juice (its sodium content replicating seawater, which will deactivate the device because it was designed for Chinese submarines.)

Second of Strahotness: goggle-eyed

The subplot weren't so strong, but that's typical of Chuck. Sometimes you just need a breather so you can come back to the A-story refreshed, so they achieved their aim. Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) asked Devon (Ryan McPartlin) to retrieve the laptop her dad left her, as she's suddenly fixated on the idea there's a hidden message in there directed at her. It's a problem for Devon, as Ellie isn't aware the laptop's now in the possession of the CIA, so he tried to pin the blame on Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay) for losing it after he took it to the Buy More for repair. Frankly, it all felt like a strain, while the suggestion Ellie (being a Bartowski) will be able to unlock the laptop's deeper secrets that are beyond Director Bentley is pretty laughable. She has no real insight or attachment with technology, from what we've seen. I guess there may be a few cryptic puzzles that reference Ellie's childhood to decipher. But still, it feels a little strange that this laptop is becoming such a linchpin to the plot now.

Still, by and large "... Versus The A-Team" was a great deal of fun and the core idea behind it was very entertaining to see play out. Chuck and Sarah on the back foot, Casey almost turning traitor in his friend's eyes, General Beckman (Bonita Fiedericy) being outranked by Director Bentley, decent guest-star appearances from Mustafa and Keibler, it all combined to create an episode that tapped into a fresh pocket of ideas. Givens isn't a villain, but her desire to revive the Intersect program kind of makes her one, in the sense that her success could make Chuck redundant. Kind of ironic that Givens offers Chuck everything he wanted in the days of season 1 and 2 (the removal of his own Intersect, to be replaced by someone else and be allowed to live a normal life), but these days he's desperate to remain a vital part of the CIA.

Overall, a strong episode from Phil Klemmer (one of Chuck's original writers, now back on-staff after working on Undercovers), and you could actually tell one of the show's founders was in control of things. It all moved a lot better and felt more creative. Quite a few of Chuck's writers didn't return for season 4 (Alison Adler went to No Ordinary Family, Scott Rosenbaum took over the running of V, Zev Borrow and Matt Miller joined Human Target, etc) and there's been a noticeable change. Season 4 has been a lot scrappier than previous years, basically. If Chuck does return for a fifth season, I'm hoping most of the "old team" will be reunited, as quite a few of the shows they joined aren't likely to get renewed.

What did you make of this episode? Did it deserve longer than an hour to tell its story, given how strong the idea of replacing Chuck was? Or is that still possible, seeing as Bentley hasn't given up her project? And what secrets will Ellie discover in her dad's laptop?


  • Of course, the Greta gimmick was happening well before Stephen Bartowski's laptop was ever discovered, so it doesn't really fit that Bentley was testing agents to replace Chuck.
  • "Euegh, sounds like a CBS show." NBC's Chuck comments on Sarah's use of forensic gadgetry, at their rival network's expense. Very funny.
  • Product placement: I think PP is in my head now, as it arrived on UK shores as of last week, but how could you not notice the awkwardness of Chuck extolling the virtues of Devon's car as the perfect tailing vehicle.
written by Phil Klemmer / directed by Kevin Mock / 14 March 2011 / NBC