Note: I was going to post this on the comment section, it’s not really a write up per say, but it got very lengthy and I figured I’d spare you guys having to scroll through my comment and give you the opportunity to completely ignore this post instead 😀
I’ll say right off that I didn’t like this one as much as I liked some of the episodes this season. That’s not a bad thing, Chuck is always awesome and this is definitely a strong showing.
For a show that boasts drama, comedy, action, adventure and romance (with a sprinkling of pop culture) this was one of the strongest of recent episodes to straddle those genre lines. They did a very good job in my opinion of moving in between scenes of light comedy, sinister themes and poignant moments. Thematically this was a far different episode than most of the season. The tone was definitely darker, even sad. From the the gruesome scene with the shot to the head (not something Chuck tends to do, but when they’re foreshadowing a darker episode they use it) to the scenes in Echo Park about Valentine’s day to Vivian’s party to the climax it was all seamless in its ever changing tone. You almost had to wonder if you’re watching the same show after every commercial, but yet it fits and goes together. But if this episode was a foreshadowing of the things to come (as leading arc episodes usually are) it’s going to be a very intense back 8.
My main issue for the episode itself was Vivian, played by Lauren Cohan. Not that I didn’t enjoy Cohan’s performance, I think she did an ok job, nor is it the role (I think we’re going to be floored with the developments) but rather the execution. I didn’t feel that there was much screen chemistry between her and Zac Levi. I should say that that’s not a bad thing…as a friend so aptly put it, too much chemistry and the shipper in me would riot 😉 (I’m just kidding, PLIs are so 2010). But I do think there’s something to be said for it. Yvonne Strahovski and Adam Baldwin have chemistry on screen together. So does Sarah Lancaster and Zachary Levi (BTW IMO that’s the kind of relationship they’re going for here). Chemistry isn’t always romantic, or steamy but it definitely enhances a scene when present.
More importantly (and this is where the bulk of my issue is) when it comes to her and her situation we were often told rather than shown and I felt like in this particular episode the writing rule of thumb should have been adhered. Obviously you can’t always show certain things, that takes time and money, something that is already short on Chuck but it would have contributed immensely to the episode. For example, in Castle when she was telling Chuck that she’s aimless and that she doesn’t know what to do with her life, I’d have preferred to be shown her socialite and aimless lifestyle and lonely upbringing much like they showed us Chuck working at the Buy More, avoiding the party his sister threw for him and striking out on all his conversations with the women in said party in the pilot. Those scenes added credence to his role as an unfulfilled individual whose entire being is about to be turned upside down with his destiny forthcoming. Plus it added sympathy. For Vivian we were pretty much just told. Again understandable with budgets, etc.
Having said that it was a fantastic parallel: Vivian and Chuck. I absolutely adored the scene in which Chuck becomes “Chuck” (aka not a spy) and tells her his life story. Chuck is such a sharer but in this one he more than just wanted to help, he wanted to give her hope that not all is lost because look at how his life turned out. He’s “happy.” The best heroes aren’t simply heroic in action, but rather in the hope that they instill that even in dark times there is a hero among us. Chuck was certainly “heroic” in this episode. We’re reminded once again that Chuck Bartowski is “not like any other spy, he’s a good guy who wants to help people” (Gravitron). It’s a fantastic, yet subtle call back.
It was also great to see the parallel of two individuals as Herder put it that were essentially armed for a destiny. Both were also abandoned as children–a very powerful life-changing event. Though I do have to wonder if there is any one in this show who wasn’t abandoned (haha). Yet even with all the parallels, the distinction becomes clear very early on. The writers put Vivian in a situation that sets her apart from Chuck. Shooting to kill. Chuck is an idealized hero, as in he won’t kill unless it’s absolutely necessary and usually only when it comes as a move to save his love ones’ lives and not his own; in this one the writers have essentially separated Vivian from Chuck by essentially giving her her red test long before we ever really got to know her. Very well done. Certainly adds to the ambiguity of her role.
The Morgan and Chuck relationship drama (heh) was also very well done. Life is funny sometimes, you think you’ve grown but you’re actually holding on to your past. Morgan this season has been the most mature he has ever been and it was very interesting to see him grow up and realize that he’s living as Chuck and Sarah’s kid. (Too funny). It’s the end of the Corgan era and it’s bittersweet but it’s part of growing up. I thought that aspect of the episode was very well done. Of particular note was the symbolism of Chuck and Morgan separating with toys into their own space and you have this wall shot of the two of them back to back and Sarah enters the picture with “Chuck, is everything ok?” Fantastic. From one part of life to another, “you guys are going to be married in a few months” (throw away line or fact?). From one relationship to another. It’s subtle but it’s powerful. Of course the fact that it’s reminiscent of Pushing Daisies didn’t hurt ;). (Film nerd note: Sarah was not in the room when they panned the room as Chuck enters, but she suddenly appeared when Chuck was sitting, of course she could could have been in the closet lol).
Though I do have to ask, Chuck said “living with two bestfriends.” Who was the second one and is he referring to him living with two best friends or Morgan living with two best friends? I think more than likely he’s referring to Sarah and Morgan as his now two best friends. Fantastic callback to Best Friends (no pun intended).
I’m still not convinced that Alex is the one for Morgan but I thought their weird sensual habits were absolutely hilarious. Getting caught by Casey was even more hilarious. It was an awkward scene all around and it was well played by all the participants. You contrast that with the Awesomes who were not so awesome and it was a very interesting Valentine’s day altogether. Still Sarah’s attempt at fostering a connection with Morgan through his “toys” was the funniest of all. It was simply hilarious. Awkward and yet very funny. A nice moment of emotional connection for Sarah (she really genuinely felt bad that Morgan is leaving) and an awakening for Morgan Guillermo Grimes as well.
Casey’s questionable future as a Team Bartowski’s fat kid was evident in this one. I say “fat kid” with affection. He was necessary and yet not. It’s a dichotomy that really works for me and I absolutely love that they’re exploring this. When Chuck was telling Vivian about the direction his life has taken, “I never expected this to be my life” they showed a shot of Casey whose life also didn’t exactly turn out like he wanted, also in some ways for the better, another parallel. I don’t know how I feel about Robin Givens (friend or foe?) but as is I’m intrigued. They foretold several aspects of this coming storyline with the lines, “go out on top” but seeing it develop is still worth watching.
It’s also worth noting that Adam Baldwin had the most of his screen time in this episode in a great long while. He returned to his soldier roots, while not exactly leaving behind his “lady feelings conversing inside a stakeout van” persona. A fine balance.
Finally, I feel teased. They got me hooked on a premise of Valentine’s day complete with romantic situations and yet they didn’t come through. Well they did, but the romance wasn’t so much Chuck and Sarah but Chuck and Morgan and considering they essentially broke up, happy valentine’s day it is not. That said, loved the references to several romantic comedies that I absolutely love Pretty Woman (my second favorite movie! First: Notting Hill) and Love Actually. Yes women do go for those movies and well, men too lol. I thought it was of note that Sarah actually got the pop culture reference. We’re definitely far removed from Living Dead when Chuck had to explain humor. And of course there’s always the engagement ring sighting. Good stuff.
All in all I would give this 4 bear skin rugs out of 5 bear skin rugs, which may or may not rise with repeated viewings. Probably the weakest of the Lejudkins’ team showing, because they are that good. What did you guys think?
Some reviews from people that actually do this for a living:
Sepinwall: “It is, in other words, a much denser episode of ‘Chuck’ than we often get, and one that handled almost all of its assignments superbly. Lots going on, but it didn’t feel too busy.”
Zap2it: “It’s not that the past two episodes have skimped on character development, but ‘Chuck vs. the Masquerade’ also threw a whole bunch of spy stuff on top pretty big things in the non-spy lives of Chuck and Morgan, Casey, and Ellie and Awesome. Yet despite all those plates spinning (and a few excellent comedy beats), nothing felt underserved. It was an excellent balancing act.”
LA Times: “I have no idea what’s going on but I like it.”
TV Squad: “A more accurate title? ‘Chuck versus the Incredibly Heavy Lifting,’ a title that describes the incredible amount of story and plot thrown into this hour. Did all of it work? Not really. But what didn’t work isn’t entirely the show’s fault.”