Wednesday, 13 April 2011

'CHUCK' 4.20 - "Chuck Versus The Family Volkoff"

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Will this season ever end? It feels like we've been stuck watching the interminable machinations of Alexei Volkoff (Timothy Dalton) forever. Remember when Chuck was a string of standalone, funny, exciting, sexy escapades, with only a thread of mytharc running through it? It feels like the writers are running out of ideas, so there's been far more reliance on family-based serialization this season. And, frankly, Chuck's too trivial to do a good enough job with that stuff for an extended period of time. I suffered through the Mary Bartowski (Linda Hamilton) back-and-forth, but even that's creeping back into the narrative as Chuck approaches its finale -- hitting an all-time low in the ratings, to boot.

This week, Chuck (Zachary Levi) was shocked to hear that the CIA plan to assassinate Vivian Volkoff (Lauren Cohan), believing she's become a traitor after the bombing of Castle, so organizes a meeting to ascertain her loyalty. But when the rendezvous is interrupted by a mystery sniper, second after Vivian gives Chuck super-weapon "The Norseman" as a sign of good faith, relations become even more strained. So much so that Chuck and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) are forced to meet with Vivian's incarcerated father Alexei, who agrees to help them retrieve the missing components of "The Norseman" (which, uh, kills targets instantly using DNA tracking?) if they arrange a meeting with his daughter.

Meanwhile, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) delves deeper into her father's super-laptop, finding information relating to an "Agent X", which unnerves her mother so much she starts erasing files behind her daughter's back. Elsewhere, Casey (Adam Baldwin) was saddened he can't attend his daughter Alex's (Mekenna Melvin) graduation, as her mother still believes he's dead, and Chuck grappled with the fact Sarah's given him a pre-nuptial agreement to sign. Is that a sign she has no faith in their marriage going to the distance, or just a spy-related precaution he should accept?

I really don't know where to begin. I'm just not having fun with Chuck nowadays. I think it's become obvious it's squeezing the last dregs of juice from its high-concept premise, only really kept alive because weddings and childbirth have become markers for the writers to reach for with key characters.

I have no idea what super-laptop and Agent X is all about (didn't the laptop scan Ellie and identify her as X?), but even worse I don't actually care. It just feels like a way to give Ellie something to do, as she's been a largely unnecessary character since season 3. And I've lost track of what Ellie actually knows about Chuck's activities. I seem to remember her being told everything about his double-life as a spy and Intersect, but that can't be true based on how Chuck and Ellie interact during this episode. Really, Chuck's mythology has become convoluted simply because the writers go down avenues they regret (letting Ellie know Chuck working for the CIA), so drag themselves back as best they can (Ellie thinks Chuck's stopped working for the CIA.)

Second of Strahotness: the ice queen

Timothy Dalton's an interesting case. I thought he was sublime when he was introduced as his alias, Tuttle, and he's had his moments as criminal mastermind Volkoff, but in general I think Dalton's been ill-served by the material. The writers don't even seem to know if he's Russian or British from one scene to the next, while Dalton's accent slips all over the place. Chuck's the kind of show where actors can come in and have fun, so I can't be too harsh on Dalton's scenery-chewing, but there's nothing about his character that's particularly funny or frightening. I miss Tuttle -- a character who was a world away from the kind of characters Dalton usually plays, not this OTT Soviet whose accent appears when he says his own name.

I really liked the idea of Vivian Volkoff turning from genteel English socialite to super-bitch villainess, but the development's cut too many corners. The flow of the story's been knocked by non-Volkoff episodes and an inopportune hiatus, so everything about Vivian's character has fallen a little flat. It was a promising idea that hasn't fulfilled its potential -- and what happened to Ray Wise as the Volkoff lawyer?

The theme of family members keeping secrets was established well across the various storylines: Vivian's masterplan to usurp her father, Casey's long-standing lie to Alex's mother about his "death", Ellie shocking Chuck by lying about what she's found on their dad's super-laptop, etc. There were also a few entertainingly silly and ludicrous scenes, like Volkoff accessing his secret Swiss Alps base by playing a five-minute game of computer chess with automatic guns trained on him, or Chuck playing Uno with a pirate called Ellyas Abshir (Kevin Daniels) in Mogadishu.

Overall, I'm hoping the "Agent X" story develops into something surprising (there's a risk Ellie's about to be "Intersected", right?), and the Volkoff storyline achieves a worthwhile payoff. There are elements I'm still enjoying about Chuck (its heart is in the right place still), but this season's story arcs haven't appealed to me, and some of the show's usual pleasures have dulled over time. Maybe fans are in denial, but Chuck's best days are behind it and I hope it's allowed to end on a high soon. I'm very surprised episodes like this get positive reviews elsewhere online, as we've seen it all before, done better.


  • I'm sorry, but Linda Hamilton's still terrible. As Mary, you don't sense any kind of connection with her screen children. It was bad casting, prompted by the fact she played Sarah Connor in The Terminator (one of cinema's most badass mother figures.) Unfortunately, Hamilton doesn't fit the tone of this show and isn't being given anything funny to even attempt -- perhaps wisely. She's hardly known for her comedic repartee.
  • A timely shout-out for Game Of Thrones, with Chuck reading George R.R Martin's novel and exclaiming "Eddard, you don't let your kids keep a direwolf. That's a terrible idea."
written by Amanda Kate Shuman & Nicholas Wootton / directed by Robert Duncan McNeill / 11 April 2011 / NBC