Saturday, 31 December 2011

CHUCK, 5.8 - "Chuck Versus the Baby"

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Another terrific episode of what's quickly becoming one of Chuck's best seasons, which is a great turnaround after the lacklustre fourth. "Chuck Versus The Baby" put the spotlight on Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) and explained more of her character's back-story, specifically in the period after she'd joined the CIA and before she agreed to become Chuck's (Zachary Levi) handler for Director Graham (Tony Todd). It was also another brilliant showcase of Strahovski's athleticism and screen charisma, making this something of a spiritual sequel to "... Versus Phase Three" (where Sarah did everything in her power to rescue Chuck single-handed in southeast Asia.)

This time, flashbacks to Budapast five years ago revealed that Sarah was part of an operation with handler Ryker (Tim DeKay) to retrieve a "package", which turns out to be a baby girl who's heir to a dead family's fortune and the only thing standing in the way of Ryker getting his hands on that money. Understandably upset about this turn of events, Sarah took it upon herself to kill Ryker and smuggle the baby to safety—namely her mother's (Cheryl Ladd) home. However, now it appears that Ryker survived his gunshot and he's back with a plan to make Sarah give up the location of the now five-year-old heir, and Sarah can't let Chuck or Casey (Adam Baldwin) know the full details without endangering their lives.

Much of this story doesn't make sense when you really stop to think about it, but watertight plots with robust motives aren't really Chuck's strong suit. The point is, this episode did a great job explaining how Sarah's been changed for the better by meeting Chuck—as she was once a loner from a dysfunctional family who became a ruthless killer for the government, but now has a loving husband, friends, and the potential to lead a very happy and normal life. In reuniting with her mother (whose absence from the show till now finally makes some sense) and meeting her "sister" Molly for the first time, she's even healed old wounds and isn't quite so reliant on Chuck's extended family. If Gary Cole can be persuaded to return as Sarah's conman father before the season's done, I'll be overjoyed.

I'm astonished Chuck hasn't featured many Sarah-centric episodes over its five years, because they're always a season highlight. Maybe their rareness is part of the appeal, because Sarah and her history aren't as overexposed as Chuck's own. It was also a huge relief that they made such a brilliant casting decision, with ex-Charlie's Angels star Cheryl Ladd being the ideal person to play Sarah Walker's mother. She has a resemblance to Strahovski and is famous for playing a character that was effectively the '70s Sarah Walker, plus she can act—which is a skill poor Linda Hamilton appears to have lost, from what we saw of her as Chuck's sourpuss mom last year. I hope this isn't the last we've seen of Ladd.

The subplots this week were okay, and fortunately improves as the story progressed. At first the idea of "couple therapy" over a board game played in Castle wasn't very appealing, but somehow the actors made it work. I find it quite amusing that Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and Devon (Ryan McPartlin) get such a thrill by pretending to be spies, here play-acting an "interrogation" with Devon doing a terrible British accent. And while I'm not the biggest fan of Morgan (Joshua Gomez) and Alex (Mekenna Melvin) as a couple, because it feels even more unlikely than Chuck/Sarah ever did, I'm glad they've got back together so we can finally move on.

Overall, "... Versus The Baby" was a really great episode and again served as evidence that, if there's any justice in this world, Yvonne Strahovski will get the chance to headline an action-packed TV series of her own after Chuck ends. I was also pleased the story didn't decide to explain that Sarah herself once gave birth to a daughter, whom she gave up to focus on her career, if only because that was the more cliched choice. Above all, this episode highlighted beautifully just how far Sarah's developed as a person, even if a sizable chunk of the changes have been hidden from us. But it's hours like this that help us see why Sarah's so in love with Chuck, because it runs much deeper than just having found a nice guy who makes her laugh and is loyal as a puppy. He's allowed her to blossom as a person and is giving her the happy family she was denied herself.


  • Tim DeKay co-stars with Matthew Bomer on White Collar, who previously starred as Bryce Larkin in the first three seasons of Chuck.
  • If Sarah's sister is still the heir to a massive fortune in Budapest, it must surely be feasible the Walker family can get their hands on that money? Speaking of fortunes, why hasn't Chuck been given the frozen Volkoff millions back, now that mess with Decker has been sorted out?
  • I'm also happy that Chuck and Sarah don't want to go back to being CIA spies, as that really did feel like a backwards step for this final season. I'm enjoying the independent spirit of Carmichael Industries a lot more, and it helps gives the Buy More some relevance.
  • The opening action sequence with Sarah shooting dead a house full of bad guys, later while carrying baby Molly with her, was probably in homage to John Woo's Hard Boiled—where Chow Yun Fat does pretty much the same thing in a hospital. The table-top gunfight was also similarity to a scene in The Crow.
  • They didn't mention the name of Sarah's mother, which is probably intentional because they've also never revealed what Sarah's maiden name is! I'm not sure that's a mystery anyone's intrigued by, so why all the continued secrecy? Is it a really embarrassing name, being saved for a joke in the finale?
written by Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc / directed by Matt Barber / 30 December 2011 / NBC