Wednesday, 4 May 2011

'CHUCK' 4.22 – "Chuck Versus Agent X"

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

This felt like three episodes stitched clumsily together, meaning it was notably disjointed, but there was enough good humour across the episode to see it through -- not to mention two big developments for the show's mythology. For those reasons, I found myself enjoying "Chuck Versus Agent X" more than expected, particularly during an action sequence set around a house in the idyllic English countryside.

This week, Chuck (Zachary Levi) and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) had their bachelor and bachelorette parties. For Chuck, this meant a road trip to Vegas with buddies Devon (Ryan McPartlin), Casey (Adam Baldwin), Big Mike (Mark Christopher Lawrence), Morgan (Joshua Gomez), Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay), which turns out to be a campsite, not the world-famous gambling mecca. Sarah was thrown a "party" by Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) that threatened to be a tedious bore involving aromatherapy, until she was surprised with a more conventional shindig with invited female guests you won't recognize -- many of whom don't seem to actually recognize Sarah! Seriously, it's a little worrying to be reminded that Chuck has so few regular female characters. Couldn't Casey's daughter Alex be persuaded to swing by?

Meanwhile, Alexei Volkoff's lieutenant Riley (Ray Wise) was trying to locate Orion's super-laptop with the help of his sexy sidekick Jasmine (India de Beaufort), unaware it's in the possession of Ellie. After a mix-up with bags that puts the super-laptop in Devon's possession during the boy's night out, it eventually became clear Chuck must confess to his sister that he's not only still a spy but is the recipient of the Intersect their father's laptop keeps referencing.

I'm not a fan of the Buy More clique, but I enjoy Chuck on the rare occasions it finds a way to get the whole cast involved in a story. The ensemble feel seems to work well with Chuck's style of comedy. For that reason, the bachelor party to "Las Vegas" was fun, especially because the writers have to find amusing/ridiculous ways to keep Jeff, Lester and Big Mike oblivious to the fact their lives are under threat by swarms of bad guys. This episode didn't handle the promising idea of Chuck's bachelor party very well, but fortunately the story progressed into a more successful second phase -- after Ellie learned the truth about her brother (she took the news so well it made you wonder why Chuck kept it secret), and the reveal that "Agent X" is a man called Hartley Winterbottom, a friend of their father's who used to reside in Somerset, England. Adding a further wrinkle, it turns out Winterbottom was the world's first recipient of an Intersect, designed to provide him with an impenetrable cover identity, but the program malfunctioned and made it impossible for Winterbottom to remember his original life.

Second of Strahotness: sud-uctive

The last quarter of "... Versus Agent X" rescued the whole episode in many ways -- as Chuck, Sarah and Casey arrived at a quaint English country house to investigate the history of Winterbottom, meeting his eccentric mother (Millicent Martin) with the requisite obsession with tea. In an Avengers-like twist (or was it inspired by Helen Mirren in RED?), the sweet old lady then revealed herself as a gun-toting bad-ass with an enormous machine gun hidden in her coffee table, ready to fend off Riley's team when they made their approach over her garden's stone wall. The sight of a genteel old woman pumping lead into baddies, before detonating C4 using a hand grenade triggered by the strand from a ball of wool, has to rank as one of Chuck's funniest. In fact, if we don't get more Mrs Winterbottom soon, I'm writing a letter of complaint. This "Granbo" made Casey look like a wimp.

But it was still a mixed episode, lacking a clear focus, with about three different ideas just stirred together. The episode's big reveal (that Alexei Volkoff himself is Winterbottom) was predictable the moment the story involved England and a mysterious scientist approximately Scott Bakula's age, but still worked well. It clearly wasn't the intention of Chuck to reach this point back when Volkoff was introduced, but the ad hoc development's a fun one. I'm expecting Volkoff to have his mind cleared of his proto-Intersect and be restored to a character not unlike his "cover" of bumbling nerd Tuttle, which would a nice bookend for that character. I much preferred Timothy Dalton as lovable Tuttle over rasping Volkoff, so it would be a nice way to bring that character back, and restore peace with his daughter Vivian. If that's where the story is definitely headed, anyway. I could be wrong, as it's perhaps too predictable and will be avoided somehow.

Incidentally, I guess my 2009 poll and letters to NBC finally paid off, as the delightful India de Beafort (Krod Mandoon) made a guest appearance. It was just a shame her character didn't amount to much (a happy-go-lucky role as a friend of Sarah's would have been more satisfying), but her presence was still welcome. Her character Jasmine was apparently blown to smithereens, but another appearance on the show would be appreciated, if Chuck returns next season. I'll resume writing those letters...

Overall, "... Versus Agent X" lacked a streamlined plot and was really just a trio of ideas swimming around, trying to fit together in a plausible way. But I'm just glad Ellie's now fully apprised of the situation with her brother (the delay was agonizing and confusing), and the setup for Volkoff feels like it'll deliver some entertainment and a possible happy ending.


  • Why did Sarah pretend to be English exactly? Was it just an excuse to let Yvonne Strahovski do another accent? For what it's worth, she does American a lot better.
  • Why doesn't America use the British terms "Stag" and "Hen" parties? Australia does, right? It's so much cooler. I suppose "bachelor party" is passable, if weirdly formal, but "bachelorette party"? Bleugh.
written by Phil Klemmer & Craig DiGregorio / directed by Robert Duncan McNeill / 2 May 2011 / NBC