The spy genre will never be the same.
Yes, behind Chuck’s pocket protector beats the heart of a spy. Chuck is a spy show in addition to a comedy-drama-action-romance. The world of spies, lies and regular guys is where Chuck is set. Jetting off to Dubai for Wepcon 2010 or to Paris or Milan for a mission, all in a day’s work for our merry band of spies. Our top three wouldn’t be complete without delving into the spy plots and the twists and turns, so with the season start nearing, and a season-ish long spy arc (the search for mama B) on the horizon it seems a good time for our little group of bloggers to re-visit our favorite spy episodes. After the jump.
The world of spies. Names like Jason Bourne and James Bond define the genre, but Charles Carmichael comes quickly to mind. Who can forget the man who brought down Fulcrum and The Ring. The man who found Orion, seduced Sasha Banacheck, bested Hugo Panzer and beat Missile Command. And who can forget the exotic locations; Paris, Dubai, Prague…Burbank, Encino…Barstow. OK, so Chuck takes some liberties and has some fun with the genre, but there are still some fun spy plots and amazing moments. Chuck facing down Colt with a cell phone and Morgan’s Call of Duty plan comes to mind. Or then there’s surviving torture at the hands of La Ciudad or tracking down Orion, the spy of all spies. Join us as we revisit our favorites in preparation for the new season that will hopefully add some more.
I always got a kick how out of how Chuck managed to honor the spy genre at the same time it subtly mocked it. Everything from the music to the action sequences was not just a tribute to our favorite spies, but a reminder how silly the premises and some of the stories really where. But lord they were a lot of fun. Even as Bond moved nearer to self parody with some of the later Roger Moore films they were still fun. And so is Chuck. As usual narrowing it down to four or six isn’t so bad, but picking that third of three is a killer. So to assuage my guilt at the omission of some fun episodes I’ll just put in a plug now for my honorable mentions, Chuck Versus The Dream Job, Chuck Versus The First Date and Chuck Versus Operation Awesome.
Chuck Versus The Fat Lady From the initial mission to sneak into Guy Lafleur’s room to the final twist with Jill’s picture popping up as a Fulcrum operative this one kept the running, jumping, shooting and the puzzles moving at a brisk pace. When I finally took my first breath after Chuck and Jill drive off into the sunset my first thought was WOW. My second was to run the entire last two episodes again with the context that Jill is Fulcrum. It worked even better. Maybe I’ve become jaded, but there was a time when I understood why Schwedak were so spoilerphobic. The spy twist at the end of Fat Lady is to me head and shoulders above anything else we’ve seen, like Bryce being alive or the Tron Poster
Chuck Versus The Subway/Chuck Versus The Ring II Yep, I’m cheating again. I still can’t separate these episodes no matter how I try. So I’ve stopped trying. This has the spy game down cold. The mysteries and The Ring’s evil schemes are implemented and it’s up to our band of rogue spies, plus some of the civilian team B, to step up and save the world. Who could ask for more?
Chuck Versus The Predator Mysterious men in exotic foreign lands, computer searches and signals, leads and laptops are tracked and captured. All part of the search for the mysterious Orion and the secrets of the Intersect. This episode gave us Vincent, the best Fulcrum villain we ever had IMHO, and it gave us Orion, sort of in the flesh.
Chuck vs. The Predator. Secrets, Tron posters, searches for the elusive Orion. Trust issues bubble up between Sarah and Chuck. Misunderstandings (and some great comedy) between General Beckman and Sarah/Casey. Predator drones, super laptops and wrist computers. Awesome!
Chuck vs. the 3 Words. This may not be an obvious choice for many. We get a glimpse of Chuck’s training, his failures, and finally a few successes. We get Sarah undercover, Chuck trying to win her back, and our first glimpses of what the Intersect 2.0 can do.
Chuck vs. the Subway/Ring II. This should really need no explanation, but here goes. Mysteries are unraveled, truths revealed. Sarah chooses Chuck, Casey chooses his daughter, Chuck chooses to protect Sarah and run, only to realize it would be a mistake. Bartowski mettle is tested (and I’m talking all three), Morgan steps up, and they trick Shaw. I didn’t see the video teleconferencing thing coming and was very pleasantly surprised with that twist. Score one for the good guys! And finally, a new mystery has been revealed for Season 4 to pursue. Awesome!
Ah, spydom. There’s been 426 spy shows on the air since 1955 (and 92.83% of all the stats you see on the internet are made up on the spot). But who’s done it better than Chuck? Well, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., for one, and maybe the early Robert Culp/Bill Cosby vehicle, I Spy. And how about Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner? Hum? Not chopped liver. There’s been a lot of excellent shows in the spy genre, and even in the more selective spy-comedy genre, and as good as it’s been, Chuck has been appreciated for its characters and for the romance story, not the spy part.
Now let me tell you what I really think. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was fun, and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin single-handedly made turtlenecks safe for men to wear for a generation. But it was a Bond clone, imitative and derivative. I Spy was historic and broke racial barriers when Bill Cosby appeared in that show in 1965. But for all it’s cutting-edge politics, it attached itself to the ’60s and stays there to this day, another Bond-inspired dramedy.
The Prisoner is a completely different story. No one understands The Prisoner. Okay, I exaggerate (again), but only a little. What I think about Chuck as a spy-story, is that on occasion and definitely not always, it has made my heart stop, which is very scary for an old man like me! 🙂 More than occasionally Chuck has been a top-notch spy-show, as action-filled, complex and dramatic as any on television without any of the “camp” usually associated with the genre. When Chuck is in danger, you want to bleed for him. When Sarah is in danger, even though you know it’s going to happen, your pulse races until she saves herself or Chuck saves her.
Like Ernie, I want to put Dream Job in the list because of that wonderful scene with Chuck suiting up to save Stephen while Luisa’s Bones plays in the background. But for me, the emotional focus in that episode is about family, and the gist of that scene is action. So I put it in a slightly different category. I also really, really want to put Predator in this list. It’s hard to beat the spy-action in that one, especially when Vincent looks at Chuck and says “I’ve heard of you.” Angst is blessedly missing from this episode, so there’s nothing in the way of the spy story. But I could only pick three!
And these are the episodes that have brought me to the edge of my seat or left me thoroughly entertained without using Chuck & Sarah to raise the angst levels or the Buy Morons to raise guffaws:
Chuck vs. The Undercover Lover – We finally get to see ubër-spy John Casey as something other than an assassin, and something other than a big gallute. Ilsa Trinchina and Casey in Paris is perfectly reminiscent of Casablanca; The scene where Casey drunkenly explains to Chuck why he does what he does and the scene where Sarah breaks the thumb of a Russian apparatchik are sweet combinations of thriller, characterization and action. The episode brings Casey to life as a three-dimensional character we can care for.
Chuck vs. The Colonel – (again, please allow me my little cheat of calling the ending of First Kill the true beginning of this episode.) Chuck and Sarah are on the run from – Casey! They hide away in a motel and are captured by Casey and almost by Vincent. No angst because Chuck and Sarah are never this close again until episode 12 of season 3 (sorry for reminding you all!). Chuck is never better and never more “his own man” than when he tells Devon exactly what’s going on, or when he says to Casey “I don’t care.” Sarah is never a more effective spy than when she bests Casey – twice. And after all that, after all the emotion and trauma, the team comes together to free Chuck from The Intersect. Does it feel like victory? It sure does.
Chuck vs. The Subway and vs. The Ring pt. 2 – There’s not a false note in the entire two hours. Watching Chuck enjoy the afternoon at the farmer’s market with Sarah only to get whip-sawed by Shaw’s reappearance was a masterstroke. Brandon Routh nearly redeems his role by being the best villain of the season, in my opinion (Mwa-ha). Sarah Lancaster provides a second focal point of drama and tension to counterbalance Chuck’s desperate race to retrieve the governor. But it’s Zac Levi’s Chuck-as-master spy that makes this one special. Chuck as fighter, Chuck as sleuth, Chuck using Perchik (from Fiddler on the Roof) to almost fool Shaw, his coolness in Shaw’s office, all demonstrated traits that Chuck did not have in him for all of the first two seasons. The climactic fight scene is icing on the cake. It all worked to convinced me that Chuck had indeed become a spy, just like he had convinced Casey and Sarah.
I’ll say the unpopular thing here, to me Chuck is not a great spy story. I don’t mean to disparage anything, I just see the spy stories as an excuse for the action, comedy, and character drama. It’s the show’s genre, but not its reason for existence. I’m fine with that. I enjoy the other aspects of the show a lot. And plenty of other shows do a good job in the spy department, so it’s not like I feel any real loss about it. But it does mean my particular difficulty with this list is that I rarely think of the show in “spy” terms. The three episodes I think owe most to the spy genre are as follows.
Chuck vs The Predator. This is really one of my favorites from S2. The finale story arc was just getting going and this episode introduced us to Orion and Vincent. I bet everyone can guess I didn’t care for the little tension between Chuck and Sarah at the end. Why didn’t it bother me here? I don’t know exactly, except that it struck me as a more legitimate questioning of loyalties than the more pedestrian love triangles they normally club us with. I loved Chuck seeing Sarah’s conflict between protecting him and answering to Beckman’s authority; I only wish it had been played like Chuck understood what he was seeing better, instead of just selfishly being disappointed when she caved in to her boss.
Chuck vs. The First Kill. Oh my gosh! Has Dave lost his mind? Surely this is some breach of protocol listing two episodes from the same arc. I really like the Orion arc from the end of S2. I liked both infiltrations; Jill’s family home and a Fulcrum headquarters, especially the second one. The shoot-out at the latter facility is one of my all-time favorites. And conflicted Sarah making the right choice and proving her loyalties remains my all-time favorite moment of the entire series (take off your watch; of course this also leads directly to why I despise S3, but that’s another story).
Chuck vs. The Colonel. Tell me you saw this coming. Best episode ever. On the run from Casey, Devon showing his own spy skills, and the downfall of Fulcrum. I’ll go way out on a limb and predict I’ll be mentioning this episode on our upcoming “best of the best” list. So if one episode makes three different top three lists does it gain some sort of super power???
You know the drill by now. This is just the start of the conversation, and we need you, dear reader, to provide the rest. Have your say in the poll (pick up to three) and then the comments.