Summer Rewatch 4.16: Chuck Versus The Masquerade.

This isn't one of "those" parties, is it?

After a few refreshing weeks off of the main spy arcs with some missions of the week, and some heavy-duty baggage handling, this week we get back to the business of missions that are missions, not the ones that happen because of a tipsy general or a girls night out.  Volkoff is back, sort of.  That doesn’t mean we need to abandon looking for the growth and change our fictional friends experience, just that it’s going to be more in the background.  This episode needs to start setting up another of those epic endings TPTB (and we) love so much.  And it’s all on the table.  Volkoff defeated (?) a wedding on the way, a family re-united, and a new family or two adjusting to the changes in their lives.  This week we have it all, from murder and mayhem to creepy sex parties to patty-cake and chocolate sauce.  We’re packing up and moving on, to the next big thing.  After the jump.

It’s been quite a ride.  And with all the celebration of engagements and babies and families and re-unions, maybe it’s time to take a moment, but just one, to see where we are.  The Awesomes are parents, Chuck and Sarah are engaged, Sarah is (gradually) unpacking and dealing with her past and her baggage, and both Chuck and Morgan have girlfriends, and it’s Valentines day.

OK, priorities, it’s Valentines day!  But wait, you say, somewhere in the world someone is knocking off Volkoff’s lieutenants looking for “the key”.

Didn’t you hear me?  IT’S VALENTINES DAY, FOR REAL!!  That means Chuck and Sarah, the newly engaged couple are going to celebrate… VALENTINES DAY!! TOGETHER!!  (Enough enthusiasm Faith?)

Actually there’s probably a bit too much togetherness (and maybe a bit too much enthusiasm on Morgan’s part) at Casa Bartowski for comfort.  You see Morgan and Alex have the livingroom for 90 minutes, then Chuck and Sarah get it, and then… Wait, Chuck is still planning Valentines Day celebrations around Morgan?  Maybe it’s time to re-think the whole clubhouse mentality guys.  Because aside from the spy stuff this episode is all about growing up, moving up, moving on and moving out.

Getting a little too cozy at Casa de Bartowski

~ Ernie ~

It seems that there’s a power vacuum now that Chuck has taken down Volkoff and his network, and there is someone looking to move up in the world.  Meet Boris.  He’s stealthy, tricky, cunning and ruthless, and he apparently knows there is a key to Volkoff Industries.  He just doesn’t know who has it.  So it’s off on a pan-European killing spree for Boris, where we see he’s stealthy, tricky, cunning and ruthless, and he apparently knows just about every language there is.  Just the sort you’d expect to work his way to the top of the crime world. Will he be a worthy successor?  It seems that will depend on who has “the key”.

But first, Morgan has the livingroom, and Chuck has Valentines Day with Sarah dialed in.  Some champagne, some sweets, some music and some romance (and a little nerdiness for good measure).  Sarah’s chocolate strawberries and surprise looks to be the perfect complement to Chuck’s plans.  And her enthusiasm is evident.  Is this her first real Valentines too?  It certainly is shaping up better than the last one we saw.  Unfortunately it’s also apparently time for real-girl lessons for Sarah.  You know when you put a sock on the door in college so you know… You know, never mind, but getting those strawberries and getting the celebration started could take some spy work from the best spies in the world.  This time they are more like the like tandem fighting ninjas as opposed to the bickering Bickersons we’ve seen lately, arriving with deft timing and exercising all the proper stealth they are almost home free when … Surprise!

Surprise! Again.

Sadly Dad busts in and all their plans go to hell.  Happy Valentines Day!

Mission.  Beckman.  Now.

When Casey says now, he apparently means now.  Without so much as a change of clothes Team B is off to the briefing  There’s been a murder!  Three apparently, and all are Volkoff lieutenants.  Looks like Boris Kaminski is looking to move up in the world, and one Vivian MacArthur is key, or is the key, or maybe has the key.  In any case it’s off to a party to make sure Team B gets to her before Boris does.

In one of those wonderful parallels Chuck does we find that Vivian is a young, somewhat non-social recluse.  Seems she’d rather hang out in her barn with her horse than mingle at her own party.  Remind you of anyone’s birthday back in the day?  So why throw a party in the first place?  Let’s get back to that later. For now the members of Team B are busy yanking each other’s chains.  Chuck is too easy, and Casey has been behind the bar for years, and Morgan (aside from his applebox behind the bar) doesn’t really seem self-aware enough to be bothered by a few hiccups.  But there are some seeds planted for moving on and moving out.  Back to moving up.  After Chuck and Sarah locate Vivian MacArthur (nee Volkoff ) in the stables Boris has them cornered, and the relief Team B is called in.  Before they can arrive however the best spies in the world have made good their escape with Vivian, and a really nice ride.

I guess Chuck gets to drive as long as Sarah get’s some gunplay.  Poor Casey, he gets the backseat with Morgan.  Again.

~ Dave ~

As Ernie mentioned, this is the episode that finally gets the back arc underway for this season.  But it starts with some outrageous fluffy fun.  I love these sort of interludes on Chuck. Its sort of a glimpse into what the current state of “normal” is.  And even if this Valentine’s Day is as messed up as the last one we saw, it still shows a happy place for all of our main players. Even if Chuck and Morgan seem a bit old for this sort of game; Alex and Sarah both seem to understand their man/boys. In fact Alex’s connection with Morgan is almost creepy it’s so close (although at least she’s physically the right age for this sort of stuff!  And Sarah’s been denied a normal life for so long she doesn’t even know how the game is played (I pride myself in being naive, but even I knew what the sock meant…).  It’s hard to know what’s funniest in this V-Day gone wrong; but between Morgan, Alex and some chocolate; Sarah sprouting wings; and Casey bursting in; this is the funniest laugh out loud moment since the last laugh out moment.  Something “Chuck” has actually become quite good at this season.

Now Boris may be one of the more forgettable baddies this season, right up there with whats-his-name from Balcony.  But he is an adequate device for moving the story along.  Ernie already pointed out the numerous parallels between Vivian and Chuck.  I’d add just a few stray thoughts about the party scene; it’s really a nice scene for showing how Chuck can be capable and cool, while still being the nerd at the same time.  While I don’t relate to ever finding a food “too hot”, I do appreciate his lack of comfort with the creepy party, and how he overcomes and gets the job done.  I also like the Casey/Morgan exchanges here quite a lot.  Morgan brings out a human side to Casey, and we see it here with fatherly (okay, maybe more obnoxious big brotherly) advice to Morgan.  And Morgan’s reaction is typically clueless, but a nice set-up for what comes later.  Director Bentley stopping by to belittle Casey is the one moment that doesn’t quite work for me; I mean, Casey has usually worked the bar and he’s always been an important part of the team.  She later will challenge him for doing paper work.  I can only conclude the good director has not been a federal employee for very long.  But her jab that parallels Casey’s role with Chuck and Sarah to Morgan’s does strike home.

I’d also echo Ernie’s “best spies in the world” theme.  We get a lot of that in this mission.  No miscues between Chuck and Sarah, they function as a team from beginning to end.  For me, this is “Chuck” at its very best.

~ Ernie ~

Back at Castle it’s time to deal with the fallout, of everything.

Casey’s made Morgan pout, but since it involves feelings, he’d rather do the paperwork.  Chuck is glad to handle Morgan, he always does, but Sarah figures it’s time she and Morgan connect.  She is after all engaged to his best friend.  What could it hurt to “hang” for a while.  Famous last words.  Sarah is about as up on collectables and Star Wars as she is on college dorm etiquette.  A very few moments later Morgan has seen himself through another pair of eyes.  He collects toys.  He lives in an apartment with a couple, and he leaves his toys everywhere.  He’s doing the same thing he’s been doing since he was 13.  And he’s holding Chuck, who would never leave him behind, back from moving upward and onward with Sarah.  They couldn’t even have a decent Valentines without Morgan underfoot.  He has to move out.

Meanwhile, back at Castle a picture emerges.  Vivian has grown up with wealth and privilege and been focused and schooled and taught all her life, but she’s never had a moment to think about what she wanted apparently.  Until we could surmise a few months ago, when the schedules and events and travel just sort of stopped, and she was left to herself to decide what to do.  She seems a bit directionless.  Can you blame her?  It seems she has about as much experience with finding her path in life as Sarah does with college dorm etiquette.  But Chuck’s pep talk has apparently taken, because Vivian sees something, not quite a path, but a start.  An opportunity.  Rather than have the CIA take over where her father left off, she has a chance to move on with her life, if she can get past one obstacle.  Boris.  Chuck, he knows what it feels like to want to take back control of your life, control others have exercised for you.  He agrees to help.

~ Dave ~

How does one, "hang" ?

Coming home is my favorite part of this episode.  This might be the funniest Sarah/Morgan interaction of the entire season, and that is really saying a lot.  Sarah trying to play with toys is easily one of Yvonne’s best comic moments to date.  It still leaves me amazed that we didn’t even know she could do this so well until 3.14.  Of course, that is also part of what makes it so very funny.  Sarah’s the serious one, the emotional heavy of the show.  And here she is making bad Wookie sounds.  Too funny.  But wait, there’s more…

This also turns into a very sweet and poignant scene as the weight of Casey’s words finally sink in on Morgan.  He is a child; worse, he is Chuck and Sarah’s child.  And Sarah not only tries to talk him back from the edge; but she recognizes the importance of this and does the sensible thing, she calls Chuck.  With patience and understanding, and no judgment; she’s a friend to Morgan and a partner to Chuck.  Great scene.

Of course I just skipped some of what lies in the middle.  Chuck’s scene with Vivian.  This largely serves to emphasize the parallels between these two characters. But I think we see some differences showing too.  Vivian is adrift in more ways than Chuck ever was. She truly doesn’t know herself and has no moral center.  The similarities to Chuck are only superficial.

~ Ernie ~

At this point I want to take a step back and talk about a few of the other plots, and another aspect of Masquerade that I find really impressive.  The editing and transitions.  There are also some wonderful parallels, as we’ve noted.  We haven’t yet discussed the Awesome’s less than awesome experience on taking it to the next level.  The new baby smell is gone, replaced by vomit and Cheerios, and their bundle of joy is a shrieking banshee.  You see, growing up is hard, and not just on the one doing the growing up.  Baby Clara has already reduced her parents to sleepless basket cases bent on petty larceny, and she isn’t even dating yet.  Casey’s jabs have come back to bite him as an opportunity seems to fall into his lap.  His own words will haunt him, as Morgan’s taunts already do.  To paraphrase Chuck in Coup d’  Etat, life is change, and getting to that happy place doesn’t mean you can make it last forever.  For some reason on re-watch it just struck me how seamlessly we move between all the developing plots.  None of which seem superfluous, all of which either intertwine or parallel in allegory, and all of which, oddly, seem equally important to how lives, happy and full lives, are changing.

Change may not ruin things, but it can be hard.  There may be no easy way around it.  That miracle sleep sheep that was going to solve all your problems?  Well it invites its own brand of hell with it.  Maybe the same goes for that opportunity that drops in your lap, or that easy solution, like moving out, or getting past that one obstacle so you can see clearly and get on with your life.

Sometimes there’s no way around doing the tough work and going through the rough times growing up, moving up and moving on requires.

But back to our story.

Chuck is having a domestic crisis.  He’s happy.  For Chuck, that has often been the sign of doom coming.  He was happy when he got Sarah to go on a date, a real date, thinking he had his whole wonderful free life ahead of him.  He was happy when he got the intersect out of his head, thinking he was free, and could finally be with Sarah, freed from the restrictions and the lies.  And he was happy to have his father back in his life, only to have him taken again.  Happiness, while not a stranger to Chuck, is something he clings to.  Sarah views it with suspicion, or did until recently.  Sarah sees happiness as a transitory state, lost at the flapping of a butterflies wings, or at least she used to.  Chuck sees happiness as a path, one thing building on the other.  So, Chuck, in his own way, fears change almost as much as Sarah.  Just in a different way.  Sarah despite the wanderlust looks for stability and stasis (or did).  Keep moving, keep looking, and when you find it, don’t let a thing about it change.  But it means that single place and state is all she has to sustain her.

Chuck looks for the next step, the next level, adding the next element, but he’s unwilling to leave anything good, or happy, or precious behind to achieve it.  It’s a wonderful quality in some ways, but in others, he carries far more baggage than Sarah, just a different sort of baggage.  Sarah’s baggage, once unpacked, doesn’t weigh her down.  She deals with what to keep, what to leave behind, and moves on.  Chuck’s will continue to hold him back till he boxes it up and stores it in the attic.  He needs to take the everyday clutter of his very full life, and make some of it happy memories rather than the stuff he has to navigate around every day.

Is it about Morgan moving out?  Not really, but sort of.  Morgan is moving straight to mom’s, so he’s not exactly growing up in that way.  He is however in another.  He’ll do something for Chuck, even something slightly painful, because Chuck would never do it for himself.

In any case, on an emotional level, every guy who has had a best friend move, or a brother go away to college or the military (or been that friend or brother) knows exactly the feeling Chuck (and Morgan) is feeling.

Sarah isn’t in the room when Chuck walks in.  That isn’t an accident.  It’s genius.  Sometimes you see only the loss and what you leave behind, and then you wake up and realize you haven’t lost it.  You may have boxed it up so it isn’t there every day distracting you, you’ve just made it part of your past so you can see your future.  Chuck sees only loss and empty space, until Sarah snaps him out of it.  The sense of loss is still there, but he realizes immediately, it’s a bit juvenile.  Sarah, she may be new to the real girl and real life thing, but she knows Chuck, and knows enough to let him work it out.  All she needs to do is be there.

What Chuck has known and Sarah is learning is that the past does not so much weigh you down as anchor you.  As Dave says, you need that moral center.  It comes from not just who you are and your upbringing, but through bitter trial and error.  To paraphrase, man will have no tutor but experience.  You deny a past or a life, or are denied one, and you are adrift.   Anchor yourself too heavily, you go nowhere.  You can’t raise anchor without sinking the ship.

Metaphor orgy almost done; Chuck is finally considering weighing anchor for a new port with Sarah, Sarah now has an anchor should she and Chuck decide to settle down in some cozy harbor some day, Vivian, she’s adrift.  Casey, he’s a Marine, so maybe he’s just looking for the next port even while he has fond memories of the last.  Morgan is still figuring out the port and starboard thing, but even he realizes he’s got to make this damn thing move.

Oh, yeah, the plot and the spy thing.  So, mission, use Vivian as bait to lure in Boris.  Sarah of course will be Vivian, again asking Vivian to cede control of her life to someone else.  Chuck is of course Chuck, but oddly convincing when he says things like this is serious, or you need to stay with me where it’s safe.  Casey, oooohhhh Casey, he gets to return to the elemental form of Casey, pure soldier.

But now the twist, you see Boris is stealthy, tricky, cunning and ruthless, and he doesn’t attack where Team B thinks he will, because he has the MacGuffin (guaranteed to make horse throw rider or your money back).  I’m not being cynical, really.  Chuck has done this from the NSA burner (episode 2), or if you prefer the intersect (“high concept” premise) on.  But what follows is interesting.

Casey’s motivations are easy, he won’t leave a man down behind.  Vivian, well, she’s tougher to read, but it seems she wants to face the consequences of the life she’s lived (I’m not doing this anymore, I’m not letting anyone die for me…)  Chuck, well he understands Vivian at that moment, it’s something he’s always had in him, and it’s Sarah.  So it’s off to save Sarah while Casey holds off the approaching hoards.  I would come up with some sort of cavalry metaphor but I think I’m over my limit.

With Sarah saved (nice shootin’ there Casey) the only question is where’s Vivian.  In the evil Boris’ clutches.  And now we see where the superficial Chuck and Vivian similarities diverge.  Vivian is no Chuck when it comes to quick, decisive, and violent action.  And Boris pays the price for his assumptions.

So mission accomplished, and a few people are dealing with the question, am I moving on, or moving up?  And should I be. How much will that opportunity that just dropped in my lap cost me, before I find the path I was meant for?

Ask Chuck or Sarah.  They’ve put in the work.

~ Dave ~

Some great stuff to chew on Ernie as always.  I really hadn’t seen the moving out on so many levels!  But there’s no doubt this is an important change that is all about growth.  And I knew Sarah wasn’t in the room at first!  Now I know, it was no mere continuity error.  It was certainly a sweet and tender scene.  So many of us viewers were wanting to smack Chuck out of his funk.  But Sarah didn’t, she was gentle and understanding.  There could be some growth there, but we all remember way back to the beginning, Sarah has always had a gentle touch where Chuck is concerned.  That she’s always there for him now, not just for the life and death stuff, that’s where the real growth seems to be for her.

We got off to a good start on the mission back to England; I mean Sarah does make a cuter Vivian than Vivian does. And its good to see Chuck become the protector of someone else.  But I think the visual effects of Sarah getting thrown from the horse may be the worst we’ve seen, in a season of many suspect effects.  The stunt woman’s face was badly removed from the scene; and we know the technology exists to draw the actor’s face back in, at least well enough for a fast moving action sequence.  But this scene was very poorly executed, possibly the first time in memory I’d say that about a Chuck scene.  The budget cuts were really evident.

We also get a bit of a mixed message about Vivian.  While she claims to not want anyone else dying for her, she’s quick and decisive in using deadly force to protect herself.  I’ll never call that a bad thing, but she clearly has fewer reservations about this than Chuck does.  Of course we’ll see in the weeks ahead she’s ready to kill for lying to her, when she doesn’t even have all the facts.  We get that first hint of what she’s capable of here.

The last Chuck and Morgan scene brings us back to family.  In an episode where we never once see Chuck and Ellie together we get a reminder that this whole show is about family.  And that includes Morgan and toys that should never be played with.  Do you think the Woodcombs will know the importance of that Han and Chewie when Clara starts reaching for them?

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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7 Responses to Summer Rewatch 4.16: Chuck Versus The Masquerade.

  1. thinkling says:

    A great review of a wonderful episode. It’s great the way the theme played through in all the relationships. It was a broad range for Sarah. The real-girl with her 1st real Valentine’s Day (or she seemed that way), to trying to connect with Morgan, to supporting Chuck. All different aspects of her real-girl growth.

    Even on rewatch, S4 is still genius … and a delight to watch.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah I’ve been really pleased how well the season is holding up on re-watch. The growth and change we see from all major characters in this episode is wonderful.

      • jason says:

        i’ve been surprised how much I like the rewatch of some of these ‘average’ s4 eps, strilingly more than the rewatch of average eps from other seasons, and seemingly on par with many of the very best from other seasons.

        I liked the sarah-morgan-chuck stuff more on rewatch kind of how you wrote about it, given how the season unfolded, the morgan / chuck / toys, et er collectables / etc part did not seem as juvenile and over the top sappy / stupid as it may have on first view.

      • atcDave says:

        Glad you liked it Jason. I kind of think that Morgan/Sarah scene is the highlight of the episode (although the V-Day stuff is pretty close…)

  2. Faith says:

    (Enough enthusiasm Faith?)

    Just a tad more 😉 lol. Actually this is the episode that left me hanging in its tease :D. What a tease!

    Sarah isn’t in the room when Chuck walks in.  That isn’t an accident.  It’s genius.  Sometimes you see only the loss and what you leave behind, and then you wake up and realize you haven’t lost it.  You may have boxed it up so it isn’t there every day distracting you, you’ve just made it part of your past so you can see your future.  Chuck sees only loss and empty space, until Sarah snaps him out of it.  The sense of loss is still there, but he realizes immediately, it’s a bit juvenile.  Sarah, she may be new to the real girl and real life thing, but she knows Chuck, and knows enough to let him work it out.  All she needs to do is be there.

    Brilliant, simply brilliant.

    The camera work itself was really good but the symbolism all the more so.

    “Do you think the Woodcombs will know the importance of that Han and Chewie when Clara starts reaching for them?”

    I hope so Dave, I certainly hope so.

    Great write up you too. A nice revisiting on one of Chuck’s underrated episodes. I speak of under rating from me of course.

    • atcDave says:

      I think I understand the under-rated part Faith, the ending somehow isn’t very memorable. But there is so much meat in the rest of the episode; this one of those that just gets better on re-watch to me.

  3. Pingback: Episode of the Week: Chuck vs The Masquerade (4.16) | Chuck This

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