So now the main story begins . . . We’ve established Chuck and Sarah are a committed team. We know MEB is a pretty shadey character, and Volkoff is a powerful and dangerous man, The Awesome’s are expecting, The Buy More is an official CIA substation, and Morgan is living dangerously by dating Casey’s daughter. So here we present Dave and Thinkling’s attempt to discuss a key episode while dealing with all those pesky holiday/family distractions.
Aisle of Terror was a much anticipated episode for quite a while before we actually got to it. Robert Englund as the weekly baddie and Linda Hamilton making her first full episode appearance as MamaB. I think it’s safe to say we were all well pleased with both. The biggest concern going in was if Chuck would play “I’ve got a secret” again with Sarah; this quickly proved to be unfounded, as Chuck is now treating her as a full partner on both a personal and professional level. This is particularly good to see after the frustration many of us felt with this subject in S3.5. Chuck is learning from his mistakes.
The most controversial aspect of this episode would prove to be Sarah going behind Chuck’s back to arrest mom in the final scene. We spent much time here discussing if she had indeed violated her own full disclosure rule or was honoring Chuck’s concern over his blind spot. In the next episode (First Fight), Sarah will say quite succinctly what she was thinking (she was protecting Chuck again, and didn’t want him committing treason by helping his mom elude arrest). I still think, ideally, Sarah should have sent Chuck a simple text message saying something to the effect “mom’s story doesn’t check out, I’ll be there shortly”; but I do sympathize with her concerns, and I just can’t feel too bad about the choice Sarah made.
So what seem to be the two big issues start and end the episode. What we have in between is a fun and exciting story that holds up very well to rewatch. We see Sarah at the start joking about snarfing Chuck’s desert and blaming it on Morgan, a funny joke made even better by the unlikely teller. This a happier, more relaxed Sarah Walker than we saw in the first three seasons. Chuck is different now too. He is a capable agent who knows he can trust his partner. The actual meeting itself is a tense showdown between two of the more important people in Chuck’s life. So much fun to see Sarah and Mary facing off. Chuck knows clearly who to trust.
I’m not a re-cap sort of guy and I’m not going to go over every scene here, but there is so much that is satisfying and fun in this episode. The restaurant scene is such a great surprise and shocker. Is there any doubt Frost is playing a dangerous game? She will try twice to “kill” Chuck to get him off Volkoff’s radar. The nerve agent in question does not strike me as a particularly fearsome weapon, certainly no worse than any number of gas agents that have been in most nation’s arsenals since the First World War. But it does make for a fun, Halloween themed episode. When mom meets Chuck at Buy More loading dock, with a threat and a gun, she could easily win any bad-mom contest. It’s sort of funny and sad how messed up the car ride discussion is. Mom has to be reminded not to point a gun at her son, but she still seems to be a firm believer in tough love. We first see cracks in her tough persona when Chuck informs her Ellie is expecting. This desire to connect with Ellie leads directly to Mary getting busted in the end. So we all know the moral of the story is families will get you in trouble every time (errr, maybe not).
The Buy More sub-plot integrates well with the main plot in this episode. Jeff’s nightmare images only struck me as mildly amusing at first, but when Dr. Wheelwright chases Chuck into the Aisle of Terror it becomes a very funny gag. Recoiling in horror over the baby/snail costume and black licorice was the comic highlight of the episode. The other sub-plot involving Honey Woodcomb was less interesting to me. I enjoyed a couple of the gags; both the canceled hotel room and “babies love dictionaries” made me laugh.
I think I’ll call that enough for my first round of comments. Christmas supper filling the house with wonderful smells is becoming a major distraction. So Thinkling, I look forward to your take on this episode.
My cooking marathon completed, and my stomach filled, twice now, with the caloric goodness of Christmas dinner, I can reflect on my rewatch of Aisle of Terror. For me the episode is a mix, but I give it high marks, because it was the right mix. The really important things were great! My complaints lie with less consequential matters. So, I’ll get the negatives out of the way first.
I rarely notice the technical stuff, but in this episode, I have some issues that become more annoying with each rewatch. There are at several scenes where Chuck & Sarah are looking at each other, and the camera zooms in too far too fast, so we get Zach’s face and Yvonne’s nose. Watching in slow motion reveals what we missed … some meaningful C/S connections. I found that really irksome. The other is the filming of the diffusing scene in Castle. The whole scene is partially obscured by some very annoying, out-of-focus bars that distract hugely from what could have been a nice, couple-y scene. Arrgghhh.
The Buymore … meh. I agree that the Buymore plot integrated with the main plot, but I didn’t find it particularly entertaining. I do give them points for creating a reverse fear zone where Wheelwright and Chuck ended up. Oh, and I do wonder what Jeff lost on his deposit. Other than that, my own flagging enthusiasm for the Buymore plus my general lack of interest in terror/horror flicks made the Halloween tie in and the Buymore … meh.
Now for the positive … two things I love about Aisle of Terror. First, the C/S partnership. The seamless teamwork and love and affection continue from Couch Lock, but because the mission is personal, there is an added mood of intimacy. Every C/S scene is laced with it. I don’t mean physical intimacy, of course, but an exclusive, shared-life intimacy. This is not his mission. It is their mission. I do think the mood begins to deflated when Chuck blows off Sarah’s offer to go with him to the meet with Ellie. Then there’s the major mood blow-out with the arrest.
Second, the intrusion of MamaB as the fascinating Mother/Spy. Linda Hamilton is fantastic, giving us the intriguing MamaB. She has great chemistry with the cast, and she is strong and effective in her role without ever detracting from Zach or Yvonne. Chuck & Sarah play very well off of MamaB as individuals and as a couple. The same is true for Timothy Dalton as Tuttle/Volkoff. (Routh was the opposite. He was weak and ineffective in his role and still managed to detract from the principle characters.)
In this season of overlapping arcs and arcs within arcs, nothing is static. TeamB, Bartowski Mythology, the Intersect, and Chuck & Sarah all grow in interaction with each other … and with one newly-added, very unstable element … Grenadium. I’m talking about MamaB!
At the end of Coup, C/S had reached a lovely destination. As Ernie said:
From [Coup d’Etat] on Chuck and Sarah are … all in. Both of them. … Just as the intersect and the Bartowski family mythology are a part of the story, Chuck and Sarah have entered the realm of permanence in the show.
This destination became, as all destinations do, the departure point for the next leg of the journey. As Faith and Dave pointed out, Couch Lock gave us the fruition of all this growth: happy, relaxed, joking Sarah; mature Chuck assuming leadership, planning missions; and their seamless partnership infused with palpable love and affection.
Ahhh … Life Is Good.
Aisle of Terror and Leftovers bookend an action-packed arc, loaded with humor and laden with emotion. It begins during a joyful Bartowski family get-together, with a playful, innocent moment by the fountain. Sarah threatens to eat Chuck’s dessert and blame it on Morgan. I absolutely love this moment. It is pure bliss and hints of something there that wasn’t there before. Well, savor the moment because an earthquake is coming.
MamaB launches a grenade into the peaceful tableau and sets in motion all the dynamics and machinations of the next 5 episodes. The arc ends after a very tense Bartowski family get-together, with a sober moment by the fountain, the former innocence replaced by a more mature love … tried, shaped, and strengthened by experience.
So what dynamics and machinations did MamaB set in motion? Several female dynamics: Mary, the Mother/Spy; the grandmothers to be; Ellie and her increased awareness and unwitting participation in the family biz; and of course Mary/Sarah. There’s also a subtly evolving threesome dynamic with MamaB/Chuck/Sarah. If that’s not enough, MEB touches off the Intersect-less arc, brings Volkoff home to visit … twice, blows up Orion’s base, and raises the stakes in the Bartowski spy game. And she’s not finished, yet. I’m not sure what you think guest stars do exactly … but most of them would consider that a pretty awesome role. And it all starts in Aisle of Terror.
I mostly agree about the Buy More. As I’ve said before, I think I get from a brand image perspective why it will never go away, but it seems old and tired to me. Jeff and Lester are profound creeps. As such, they are occasionally very funny. I’d forgotten Jeff’s line about the deposit, that was funny; but the best part of the Buy More in this episode was fairly long developing, that is Jeff’s disturbed mind being freaked out by the same things that freak out Dr. Wheelwright. So is a very good punch line worth such a long build up? I’ll cautiously say yes. In general I would like to see less Buy More, I think they could have cut out Jeff and Lester’s gaming time, we get that they are truly bizarre without the weekly update. I think the build up to capturing Dr. Wheelwright with the “Aisle of Terror” would have played just as effectively without as much prologue.
I strongly agree with your two positives about this episode. Chuck and Sarah working together is always good news, and it is so satisfying through most of this episode. Apart from wishing Sarah hadn’t so completely blind-sided Chuck in the end I really have no complaints.
MamaB is an excellent hero/villain. She is such a strong and commanding character. Your characterization of her as “grenadium” seems apt. I hope her story is extended into the back arc, she is a wonderful addition to a show that already has so many colorful characters. We’re not sure yet if her presence will even be possible after the ultimate demise of Volkoff (meaning we’re not sure if she’ll live through it!), but I hope she will have at least a recurring role for a long time to come.
One thing I have to give Schwedak credit for is their excellent use of guest stars. Apart from a mostly forgettable S3 (I’ll go out on a limb and say Premier Goya was the only first rate new character of the season) we have seen so many fun and exciting characters. We know Frost and Volkoff have more episodes ahead, most of us look forward to the return of Carina and Roan too.
I agree, Dave, I look forward to more LH & TD and hope that they both get extensions into the back 11. Then I hope we get a season 5 (and 6 and so on), with LH still a member of the cast. Besides the fact that they are fantastic additions, I want to see some of these dynamics developed further. For now, I’d like to explore them a little, looking at Aisle of Terror in light of all that we now know.
Ellie contrasts the grandmothers-to-be: “It’s ironic. The mother I wish would disappear is here to answer all my questions, and the mother I wish I could talk to is disappeared forever.” What a contrast between these two! Besides the obvious differences, there’s a surprising twist of irony. Because the mother that’s present interacts with her own fantasy of her family, she is as detached from them as the mother who has been absent for 20 years. Mary telegraphs her opinion of Honey as she watches the dictionary exchange in the store. For all her faults, she at least knows that a bear is a better nursery accessory than a dictionary. Was bizarro Honey part of the reason that Mary chose to connect with Ellie? If Honey had bought the bear and been somewhat normal, MamaB might have smiled and walked away.
As for Ellie, herself, it will be interesting to see what they do with her in the back 11/14. So far, she has just found out about her mom being a spy. Later on she unwittingly dabbles in the spy game with the laptop. Is that the end of it?
MamaB — grenadium — explodes onto the scene in Aisle of Terror, destabilizing the new status quo and sending shock waves through the entire arc. Ernie would tell us it’s part of the journey. First of all, Chuck: his confession in Leftovers that his mom just pushes his buttons points to MamaB as the agent of Chuck’s apparent regression in this arc. Chuck’s life-long issues and building doubt about his mom are evident throughout AOT and continue to drive his ups and downs all the way through Leftovers. Sarah is his rock, and not in the “Rye” sense of the word.
While there is a dearth of evidence concerning her spy allegiance, we do have enough evidence to test her mom allegiance. In Aisle of Terror MamaB states that Chuck and Ellie’s safety has always been her primary concern. In a high-speed car ride that begins at gunpoint and ends at a mobile weapons lab (That’s how I have bonding moments with my son, doesn’t every mom?), MamaB tells us her motive and her sentiments about the day she left. Her every act in Anniversary through Leftovers substantiates that hypothesis. Looking back, her love for her family and her mission to protect them are beyond doubt.
The Sarah/Mary dynamic foreshadowed by the Oh, Chuck’s in Anniversary, begins in AOT with a gun showdown and builds to a … gun showdown in Leftovers, when Mary saves Sarah’s life. I predicted after the first watch of AOT that these two might bond, if they ever learned to leave their guns at home. While the latter is just not in their nature, we do see an unlikely bond forming … whether they want it or not. Sarah studies Mary from the first moment they lay eyes draw guns on each other, whereas Mary pays little attention to Sarah in Aisle of Terror. Looking back, I think Mary initially views Sarah as a partner/cover girlfriend. If she knows everything about Carmichael, but nothing about Chuck, this would be her natural assumption. That’s what I hear in the tone of her question, “You’re not going to tell your girlfriend this time?” Mary’s serious scrutiny of Sarah begins in First Fight, so I’ll leave it for now and pick it up again when Joe and I review Leftovers together.
Chuck & Sarah and MamaB
The Three Musketeers they’re not, but by the end of the arc there is a functioning Bartowski threesome … who’d a thunk? MamaB returns to see Chuck. Well, not really. She returns to manipulate him and carry out her mission to get him off Volkoff’s radar. She didn’t count on Sarah. Chuck is not alone. Remember Chuck & Sarah are all in … permanent. If MamaB wants to do a mission with Chuck, she gets Sarah, too … a two-fer. What’s more, MamaB is the outsider, not Sarah. Initially an inconvenience to her plans, Mary learns first how to use them and later how to appreciate them as partners and family.
All of these wonderful things begin in Aisle of Terror. I’ll bequeath them for now to my fellow Chuck This bloggers to explore in their upcoming posts. I’ll be back with Joe to put bows on all of it in Leftovers.
So far in season 4, MamaB is the catalyst for action and fun, mystery and mythology, and relationship drama. As great as the season was the first go round, it has been even better on rewatch because that’s when we see the pathways and patterns. It’s when we go *facepalm* … Ernie was right! Season 4 is GENIUS.
Dave and Thinkling