Clever. Chuck Versus the Family Volkoff is a clever episode. It is also a lot of fun. I found myself smiling all the way through.
Chuck and Sarah’s unwillingness to let the CIA assassinate Vivian, sets off a cat-and-mouse spy-game with the CIA, TeamB, and FamV. Each player thinks he is the cat among mice. We wind through a spy-world maze of plots and traps and curveballs and twists. At the end, one cat is clearly ahead, but the game is far from over.
Meanwhile in the real world, Each family deals with its own secrets and lies and curveballs and twists. The Volkoff’s aren’t the only family relying on secrets and lies and throwing curveballs.
Chuck and Sarah have been kicked out of the Secrets-and-Lies Society, but they come up with a doozy of a curveball.
Besides all that, the episode hooks everyone up to the Cool Detector. We learn who’s cool and who’s not and discover that sometimes cool is … not cool.
Family Secrets, Part I: The Skeleton in Orion’s Closet
Well, OK, it’s really the laptop in his Mustang. If MamaB pointed Ellie toward the Mustang (which I am rethinking), she clearly had no idea about the skeleton under the seat. “Stephen, what did you do?” Curveball!
As Ellie reveals secret after secret and mines for new information, Mary blocks with lie after lie, not so much to keep the secrets safe, but to keep Ellie safe from the secrets.
Chuck’s day is off to a great start: good book, tasty cereal, beautiful fiancée … who just handed him … a prenup? Curveball!
Sarah is obviously nervous about the pitch (and the conversation that she knows will follow). She drops it on the table as she walks by, no eye contact, not even a glance. She pretends it’s normal … no big deal, “Will you sign these when you get a chance? Just wedding prep docs.” She watches to gauge his reaction … about what she expected. Keeps things light. “There’s post-it notes on the signature pages. Just sign and date.” Keep smiling. It’s no big deal.
If things go as she expects, they’ll talk about it all the way to work. Mr. Sarah Walker will get to the bottom of what’s bothering her. He’ll tease the answers from her, soothe her worries, and let her know that they don’t need a prenup. By the time they get to work it’ll be all good … or at least all better. It’s one of those thousand ways he helps her every single day.
Chuck lies … something about European hygiene and catching a ride with Morgan.
What? He didn’t even swing at it. Keep it light, “OK, OK, um … I will see you there.” Ball one.
Signal From the Dugout. Chuck looks to his coaches, who are in sync with their signals … and with everything else. Too funny. (I had this flashback of the movie “Twins” … never could tell them apart.)
Casey takes the opportunity to tweak Chuck and help Sarah, “You over-analyze everything, Bartowski. You talk every issue to death. It’s exhausting.” Morgan nods his agreement.
Ouch. He had no idea.
“Spies have secrets. … Sign the papers.”
Bottom line from both coaches: “Be cool.” So Chuck picks up the “cool” bat and gets back in the game.
The problem? Casey doesn’t know the new Sarah … or the new paradigm in their relationship.
Family Secrets, Part II: The Skeleton in the Coburn Closet
Now, here’s a twist. The skeleton in the Coburn closet is that there Is. No. Skeleton. There should be a skeleton. There’s a death certificate. Kathleen (or somebody) has the folded flag. In his daughter’s mother’s eyes, Alex Coburn is still sort of, well … mostly dead.
Despite the Morgan/Casey/Alex conspiracy, it’s getting harder and harder to keep the door closed on the empty closet, especially around family events like Alex’s graduation.
Alex is caught between her mom and dad. Morgan is caught between his friend and girlfriend. Casey is caught between what might have been and what is. At least Kathleen is blissfully ignorant … for now. (There’s always someone who’s blissfully ignorant.)
The Volkoff Games
I say games, because there are games within games on top of games surrounded by games.
General Beckman informs the team that a kill order is out on Vivian based on the bombs planted in Castle.
Casey is cool with the plan. Chuck is convinced that Vivian is not a killer, and Sarah points out that it could be a rogue operative in the Volkoff organization.
GB compromises and the ground rules are set. Meet with Vivian and bring her in. If she gets hostile, take her down.
Let the games begin.
Before they leave, Sarah winds up for another pitch, “Don’t let him get to you. He’s just being Casey.”
Chuck is cool. It’s all cool.
She throws a soft pitch right to his sweet spot, “Look, I know I sprung those papers on you this morning, so ah, I assume you want to talk about it?”
He should hit this one out of the park. We can talk about it all the way to the meet.
Chuck swings his cool bat, “No. … Prenup. Signed, sealed, delivered.” Nothing but air … strike one.
This is where we see the truth. It’s all over Sarah’s face. She wants, needs to talk, and she is counting on Chuck to be … Chuck. Her Chuck. But he is this all-new, Cool Chuck. … Not Cool!
One ball/one strike going into the mission.
Chuck and Sarah arrive at the meeting place. Check out Sarah’s new wheels. I don’t get all twitter-pated about cars, but even I know that’s a pretty sweet ride. (They should’ve done an insurance promo.)
Sarah’s next pitch breaks a little to the inside, “Look, Chuck, a prenup doesn’t mean the end of our marriage.”
“Hey, you’re a spy, and spies have secrets they need to protect. That’s cool.” A swing and a miss … strike two.
Since when? “No, I don’t keep secrets from you. It’s just, uh, family stuff.”
“Got it. Done.” Ball two.
“Yeah. … Cool.” Not!
Two balls/two strikes. Back to the mission.
Vivian — A Trapped Mouse. Chuck begins the conversation, and Vivian denies everything, citing her exemplary record as the new CEO of Volkoff Industries. She even offers a token of her good will … an unknown weapon from the arsenal of her father’s deadliest weapons. She insists that she wants nothing to do with her father’s world and asks for their trust.
Oh. … Well, that’s different. Nothing says truce and trust like an unidentified deadly weapon.
The point is drilled home with a hail of sniper fire, that wounds Vivian and takes out three of her four body guards.
Chuck and Sarah didn’t save their mouse, but at least they got the cool Volkoff weapon. That should should count for something, right?
It’s GB’s move. The weapon is not enough. The kill order stands.
Chuck and Sarah negotiate a temporary reprieve, on the chance that Alexei Volkoff will give them the Intel on the weapon.
See you in prison.
Alexei Volkoff: Sinister Villain or Penitent Saint? Timothy Dalton is great as the penitent Volkoff, working on his entitlement issues and making amends for cutting line in the cafeteria. It is a penitent-iary, after all, and this one appears to be working surprisingly well. Dr. Nelson looks so pleased … until company arrives.
Don’t Chuck and Sarah look menacing? Especially Sarah. I do not want to mess with her. As I looked at the scene, I couldn’t help remembering all their history. Chuck’s mom. Volkoff trying to kill them … how many times? I lost count. Sarah infiltrating Volkoff Industries, betraying him, rescuing Mary. Chuck sending him from the little cabin to the big house. They are his nemeses.
Chuck and Sarah are the big cats, come to push around the prison mouse. But this is Alexei Volkoff, master of chess and champion of cat and mouse. Chuck and Sarah are the only foes he hasn’t beaten. Today he is definitely feeling his cat whiskers! Like him, I feel like we’re about to have some fun.
The scene is flawless. Dalton walks the finest of lines between villain and saint. He is so … almost believable. Chuck is firm in a Chuck-like way and Sarah is velvet over steel, as Saint Psycho bares his remorseful soul. Something about being ashamed … absentee parent … serving his fellow man, etc. Yeah right! Chuck and Sarah aren’t buying it either. But I can totally understand how Dr. Nelson would.
The weapon reveal (the Norseman DNA tracker) gets the subtlest of reactions from Chuck and Sarah. When they press for the location of the other components, Volkoff sets his conditions … 5 minutes with his daughter Vivian, so he can make amends. News flash. Five minutes won’t be nearly enough.
Coburn/McHugh S&L Update. Casey and Alex agree to meet after her graduation, but before she meets her mother for dinner. Alex will simply tell her mother that she is meeting friends for drinks. It’s a lie, of course, but compared to their big lie, it barely moves the needle on the lie detector.
Back at Castle, the Volkoff games are at a stalemate, and Vivian still has a target on her back … until the CIA’s big cats put their paws in the game. The CIA wants the Norseman bad enough to put the Vivian hunt on the back burner. Cool.
They want it bad enough to let Alexei have his five minutes with his daughter in exchange for his help in getting component #2 … in person. Cue the Russian music. Ready the Volkoff chariot, er dolly. Wheel him in. Not cool.
I’m not so sure that the CIA’s big cats didn’t just become Volkoff’s mice.
The Bartowski cats think this is a very bad idea. History. Remember the history. TeamB want nothing to do with Volkoff. When Chuck voices his concern, the truth comes out, “The Norseman is extremely dangerous. Washington wants it now. … Damn the risks!” Well that’s easy for Washington to say. They’re not babysitting the world’s biggest psychopath. Excuse me, psycho-saint. Looks like TeamB just became the CIA’s mice. Another fantastic scene. Check out the facial expressions.
So, Volkoff gets to tag along with TeamB to get a weapon from a well known high-seas pirate … The Dread Pirate Ellyas Abshir. “When do we fly?” Volkoff is such a smirker.
Of All The Pirate Joints In All The Towns In All The World …
Where does one go, exactly, to get a weapon from a pirate? Somalia, of course. Specifically Mogadishu, to a rats nest of a hell hole with good gambling and a decent buffet. Chuck gets a pep talk from Alexei for his mission in a hell-hole full of pirates … as a Volkoff agent.
Sarah is beside herself. Chuck is going into a building full of pirates, and they haven’t talked about the prenup. What if something happens? There are things she is desperate for him to know. (She is being so Chuck.)
She sees her chance and throws out an easy pitch, “Hey, you uh, you good? You’re being awfully cool about the whole prenup thing.”
Chuck swings his cool bat, “It’s a non-issue.” Deep left foul ball.
Fast pitch, “Since when? Don’t you want to know why I asked you to sign it?”
He swings, “I figured you’d tell me when you were ready.” Foul tip.
Another fast pitch, a little high and outside, “Well, it’s got nothing to do with us.”
Chuck lets it go, “No, I get it. … Is that cool?”
“Yeah.”… Nooo! … Ball three.
Full count. And the pitcher is rattled.
The scene inside the rats nest of a hell hole is fun. We get a Somalian pirate with a Jamaican accent. We get flashes of S1 Chuck, and a high stakes game of … Uno? That’s our Chuck. And it turns out the pirate cheats. Shocker! In the end, TeamB and Volkoff go in to retrieve Chuck and the weapon. Oh … and to let Saint Volkoff make amends. What a hilarious scene … from everybody! Dalton is such a ham, without ever losing his psycho-saint persona. Sheesh, with amends like that, who needs threats.
Bartowski S&L Update. Ellie is turning out to be way more than half a spy … more like a spy and a half. When she suspects her mom erased the X file, she turns the baby cam on her mom. Clever girl.
The newest Bartowski spies, Agents Hot Mama and Six Pack, resolve to tail Agent Grandma to see where she’s going with Ellie’s files. (I wonder if they made it as far as the Buymore.)
MamaB may have missed the baby cam, but she knew she was being followed. I loved the exchange between Chuck and Mary. It was both a conversation between equals (spies) and a family conversation between mother and son. “Our family has relied on secrets and lies for way too long.” Nuff said.
GB calls Mary for a conference, although I’m not sure who called whom on the carpet. “Diane, she’s not a spy. She’s my daughter.” Doesn’t matter. “Mary, this comes from the top.” Washington wants to expand the Intersect project (damn the risks). Ellie is the key. Looks like the CIA is taking on the Bartowski’s. That may not be such a good idea.
Back in Castle, everyone waits for Volkoff to make his next move. Is it just me, or is it weird for Volkoff to have a seat at the table for Castle briefings. GB warns that the CIA is getting antsy (yes, she really said antsy). Chuck says that Volkoff knows where the killing agent is, but he’s being very “uncool” about it.
Whoa. Check out the look that Sarah gives Chuck. She clearly thinks there’s someone else being very uncool.
After Volkoff has assurances that his demands will be met, he spills the location of the killing agent. Grab your parkas, team. We’re going someplace … cool.
Mary gets wind, or sound, of Volkoff and gives Chuck a healthy reminder, “We’re talking about Alexei Volkoff. His mind is twisted. Never believe a word he says, and never let him out of your sight.” Another great mother/son scene.
See you in Switzerland.
The rest of the Volkoff games go down in a Swiss bunker. Chuck becomes Volkoff’s handler and helps him stay cool through a win or die chess match. (Was that a cool chess board or what!) In the process of helping Alexei rise to the challenge, Chuck realizes he can’t shy away from the prenup. Great work between Zach and TD.
Outside the bunker, Sarah and Casey have a heart to heart. The Burton’s have a skeleton in their closet, too. (Knowing Jack, they probably have more than one.) The prenup has to do with money Sarah set aside in case her dad gets arrested again. Her pain is from being caught between her parents and having to choose sides. (I’m guessing she has a soft spot for her dad that goes way back.) Her story strikes a chord with Casey.
Sarah has grown into her own realization about the prenup. The longer this has gone on, the worse the idea has become to her, because she feels it from Chuck’s perspective. She feels the absence of all she needed him to say, and it’s killing her that he never said it. By now the idea is abhorrent to her.
The conversation is interrupted by Russian chatter. Not cool.
The Volkoff Twist. Once inside the bunker, with the thorium in reach, Alexei the mouse becomes Volkoff the cat, “I am Alexei Volkoff and always will be.” Cue Russian music, Russian voices, and the thunder of boots. Enter Volkoff’s men and his accomplice cat Vivian. The game takes an ugly twist. Not cool.
It was a setup from the beginning. (That means that Vivian had 3 of her own body guards killed to set up the game.) The Norseman was a message to Volkoff that Vivian wanted his help running Volkoff Industries. (Kind of like the way Orion and Ellie communicated) They played Chuck and Sarah and the CIA. Not cool.
Vivian orders grenades placed all around the room. Like father like daughter. Then in the final twist, Vivian leaves her father to die with TeamB. The mouse in the CIA trap, the one Chuck and Sarah were trying to save, turns out to be the cat. Cool. OK, not really … but sort of.
Volkoff despairs and is no help getting out of his bunker. Chuck the handler to the rescue … again. Finally Alexei uses an EMP to save TeamB. (Nice callback to Anniversary.)
Volkoff is stricken. He was going to tell Vivian all his secrets. They were going to be partners. “Not anymore. Welcome to the future.” Poor Volkoff. What’s a psycho-saint to do?
Chuck and Sarah (watch their faces) genuinely feel for him and take the lesson to heart. Futures and families can’t be built on secrets.
Alexei bids Charles farewell, but not before he gets a chance to make amends with Mary. It was a powerful speech, especially the part about not deserving her love like Orion did. Wow. We can only hope it was half as genuine.
Volkoff’s End Game. Vivian (you didn’t think I meant Alexei, did you?) will rebuild the Norseman components and go after Agent X … the only man her father ever feared … the only threat to Volkoff Industries … the only one standing between her and world domination. (gulp) Someone is in the Volkoff cross-hairs. He and his entire family could be wiped out with one pull of the trigger. Not cool.
The Casey/McHugh Twist. Casey takes the high road and refuses to let Alex keep lying to her mother. In an unexpected twist Alex decides they should tell her mom the truth. Cool … maybe.
The Bartowski Twist. Chuck decides he has to tell Ellie the truth. Sarah agrees with his mom that Ellie should find out from him and not on her own. Cool.
Groping for a way to start, he confronts her about their dad’s computer. Ellie turns the tables on Chuck and flat out lies about what she found on the computer. Not cool.
Chuck’s Home Run. Sorry she ever thought of the word prenup and desperate to have her old Chuck back, Sarah tosses out her final pitch, tearing up the prenup. Cool. “Done. Please forget that that ever existed, okay? … And can you please stop being so cool?” (Yvonne is terrific in this scene.)
Chuck swings his new Chuck bat. It’s a fly ball deep to center field. He hands her an envelope labeled PRENUP.
“That is so not cool.”
“Just read it.”
“I Sarah Walker promise to always love Chuck Bartowski. In return he will always love me. … I can’t read this fine print.”
“The fine print says ‘I promise Chuck that I will not even contemplate the word divorce. And I will never use my prenup.’ … I already signed it.”
Cool. This is Sarah’s Chuck, the one who helps her every day.
Bottom Line / Parting Thoughts
Top performances from the whole cast. Timothy Dalton was superb. He still has me wondering where the line is with Volkoff. Is he somewhat genuine. (I’d like to think so.) Or is he still bad to the bone? TD has great chemistry with Zach and Yvonne. The dynamic between Volkoff and TeamB, especially Chuck and Sarah is intriguing, particularly Charles and Alexei. LH was crazy good as Agent Grandma/Agent Bartowski and Chuck’s mom. The Woodcomb sub-plot was fantastic. Keep it coming, please. Sarah Lancaster and Ryan McPartlin were just great.
Zach and Yvonne turned in outstanding performances as well. Though the moments were not dramatic like Phase 3, Yvonne’s facial expressions were wonderfully nuanced. I think we got new territory and new faces from Sarah. Zach was tremendous, especially his scenes with TD. And with Yvonne, as always.
Casey and Morgan are good together. Just the idea of Casey getting Morgan as a son-in-law is too funny.
I liked the new pairings … and the trio on the mission. It played well. I’m also excited about the Kathleen stuff coming up.
I loved Sarah’s acknowledgment that being a spy is not just what Chuck does, it part of who he is. He’s not like every other spy, but he is a spy. She is coming to the point that she can reconcile the two. Chuck has not only redeemed her, but he has also redeemed their profession, at least to some extent.
After the spoilers, I didn’t expect to like the prenup. I actually liked it a lot, once I got over wondering where it came from. I loved the last prenup scene. Sarah learned more about who she is with Chuck. She’s different with Chuck, but she needs his interaction to complete her. She needs him to meet her halfway. Chuck (hopefully) learned he doesn’t need to be cool. She didn’t fall in love with James Bond; she fell in love with him. Being himself is how he helps her. She didn’t want the prenup. She wanted him to do what he finally did … assure her they didn’t ever need one, because he will always love her and never leave her. It’s that simple.
And it is.