Summer Rewatch 4.17: Chuck Versus The First Bank of E-vil

As our summer rewatch campaign rolls on we’ve dealt with pasts and futures, baggage and clutter, moving on, growing up and moving out.  Finally, we get to the here and now.  Our team now lives in the present, having dealt with their pasts, and whether it’s finding a new roomate, starting a new job, or planning that wedding/bank job it’s now the every day that occupies our heroes.  And what heroes they are.  We’ve got bodyguards and The Matrix meets Pulp Fiction, with a bit of wedding madness and a J. Crew for spies tossed in the mix.  Join Faith and me for our second thoughts, or rather our thoughts the second time around, after the jump.

Ernie: In our re-watch campaign I managed to somehow volunteer myself on all of the four post-Push mix episodes.  As far as having homework due every week, not so great, but it allowed me to see something that I’ve known was there and even commented on in a new light.  I often talk about how TPTB use the Hero’s Journey model to tap into a sort of cultural mythology and highlight that the characters are on a journey towards a goal which has more to do with achieving self knowledge and growth, so you can have the life you dream of, than it does spy missions and completing some grand task or revealing the secret behind the intersect.  Don’t get me wrong, those are the framework of the plots, and Chuck clearly has a broader appeal when that part is done as well as the characters and the story are consistently done.  But my big investment is on the characters and the story and the emotional connection and resonance.  Funny part is that the Hero’s Journey provides pace and structure to both the story and the plot.  We come to expect drama, tension, loss, rebirth and celebration at certain points in both the spy context, such as Chuck losing and re-gaining the intersect and at the same time Sarah losing and re-gaining Chuck, or the dual triumph and happily-ever-after of defeating Volkoff and getting engaged in Push Mix.  The parallel stories are always there, with the growing pains, the fun dysfunction, or the drama presenting itself either as a metaphor or an allegory of the main plot, or the main story.  In that aspect I don’t think I can say it much better that Thinkling did here.  But that won’t stop me from having my say, or from stealing liberally from Thinkling.

In Seduction II and Cat Squad (and for a bit of Masquerade) we had the new couple finding their way through the minefield of conflicting visions of past and future with some tremendous growth on Sarah’s part, and some less extreme, but every bit as necessary growing up on Chuck’s part.  The result was we went from the worst spies in the world to the best, and from that couple that tries to out-seduce each other to the ones that are consistently there to support each other in both the personal and spy aspects of their lives.  In Masquerade we had Chuck and Sarah pretty much in sync both personally and professionally, with Chuck needing to display just a tad bit more maturity in both the spy-life (getting creeped out by a bunch of socialites in masks is not the mark of a great spy) and his personal life.  Chuck, buddy, that rock on her finger means you are well past the sock-on-the-door stage of courtship, get your own place.  Pack up the toys.  The interesting thing to me is that from this episode on all the threats and stress on The Relationship are external.  I’d allow a quibble over the pre-nup in Family Volkoff, but from the start of FBoE to the end of the wedding in Cliffhanger there is never more than a blip of angst between Chuck and Sarah as the A-team, and the best spies in the world team up to make their dreams, all of them come true.  The thing that caught my attention was how similar the feel was to that epic last 6 of S2 feel.  Angst was put aside, the team was (mostly) on the same page, and it was full steam ahead to grab ahold of the new life you’ve decided on.  In this case it’s the wedding as opposed to getting the intersect out of Chuck, but is was an odd bit of deja vu for me.  We’ve had Chuck and Sarah versus the world before, just wihout the couple thing being formalized.

Faith: Ah Chuck and Sarah vs. the world, something many fans have been looking forward to since…well since it was obvious that Chuck and Sarah belonged together. Let me backtrack for a bit before I get too far ahead of myself and Ernie.

Upon remembering that I signed up for this episode, I wracked my brain on anything memorable and sad to say I couldn’t really think of anything. Not a ringing endorsement for what I consider a genius season. Worse, my overall lasting impression was that of lingering negativity…well negativity isn’t accurate, more like ambivalence? I’ve gone on record saying I wasn’t and haven’t been a fan of Vivian (both the character and the actor) so that tended to cloud my vision a bit but on rewatch I most wanted to see whether that has changed.

Suffice it to say, it has, tremendously. I still have lingering distaste for the Vivian character (it’s not any one thing, the accent, the acting, the lack of believability doesn’t help) but overall I’ve seen that I let that cloud my vision for what was in its way a memorable, touching and hilarious episode. 

Sympathy for The Devil

Ernie: We re-join our story where we left off, a confused and lost Vivian ponders her past and her future simultaneously.  At this point she’s still listening to Chuck and Sarah.  Sorry your dad was evil, find a path for yourself other than what he had planned.  But Vivian is given an offer she can’t refuse apparently, and in true Godfather style poor Riley (Ray Wise) gets to stand in for Luca Brasi, though Vivian’s gift of dead flowers aren’t quite roses on his grave, he’s sleeping rather soundly (just not with the fishes).  And again we see Vivian, though apparently still directionless, is capable of decisive action.

Faith: It’s amazing what one misses on first, second, even third watch. When Vivian picked up the bank thingy-magig, I missed the sensor that activated and thereby brought on Riley. Pretty cool. 

Riley is such a Get Smart-Chaos character, entertaining to say the least. A villain through and through and yet one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I loved to hate Riley and his creepy vibe added to his villainy. 

Ernie: Sarah has always been capable of decisive action.  Emphasis on action.  It’s decisions she seems to have a problem with.  Sarah is getting used to “real girl” world.  In a way she’s as lost as Vivian.  She’s not sure what she wants, and she’s afraid of people’s expectations for her, but she’s got a family around her to support and guide her.  Planning a wedding is a bit outside her comfort zone, so her first instinct is of course WWED (what would Ellie do?)  But Ellie, like a good real world (as opposed to spy world) handler, leads rather than instructs, informs rather than decides, and leaves it to the assett to find the right path, her own.  Even flat-out asking for help doesn’t get Sarah off the hook, because, believe it or not, this wedding is for Sarah too.  Chuck wants the friends and family there, but it seems the Bartowskis, beyond that, are letting Sarah get in touch with her inner bride.  If she can find her.  In the mean time it’s the other Bartowski’s turn to handle his asset’s introduction to her new world.

Faith: It tickles me to see Sarah Walker interact among normal people, do normal things. The fact that it freaks her out, tickles me even more. I’m an unabashed fan of Sallie, so to me Ellie and Sarah talking, about anything is welcome but in this case it was touching.

Ellie: Maybe this girly stuff is a little outside of your comfort zone. I will tell you every bride feels overwhelmed with this stuff, I totally did. But there was a moment where that all changed, I remember I went to pick out our wedding bands and I finally held them in my hands and it all just became so real. I was getting married to the man that I love for the rest of my life and I just broke down crying…but it was a turning point, everything from that moment on became magical.

I said earlier that I overlook some great things within this episode, this is one of them. Hearing Ellie talk to Sarah about the moment, about what it means to start that life with one’s soulmate, needless to say, I was touched. Eternally poignant and heartwarming.

More when it comes down to it, Chuck didn’t leave Sarah alone with her inner angst. He called her up on it and got her to talk about it. A welcome sight for this ‘shipper. I said once before that if there was something Chuck needed to work on, with her, is that making her believe that he was capable of helping carry her burden (we often see it the other way around) and so he did and they did. It was great!

Ernie: Like Ellie, Chuck handles his asset gently, and honestly.  He gives her assurances that the answers are there, and maybe she can find them, and he promises to help her do so.  Unfortunately this is the spy world, where the answers are never really clear, or necessarily available, or true, and where promises have a way of coming back at you.  Sarah’s had some experience with that, but Beckman handles team B very well, she tells them what they want to hear, and it’s off to find Vivian’s inner Volkoff.

Faith: Chuck as a handler isn’t a comfortable fit, at least it isn’t for me. There’s a certain amount of manipulation germane to the role and Chuck, well Chuck, he’s got too much heart. Remember Gravitron?

Sarah: Don’t get used to it. What makes you special is you’re not like any other spy. You’re a good guy and you want to help people. Leave the deception to me.

It’s one of the few things things that he hasn’t lost/outgrown (that heart, that earnest desire to help, to serve). He’s still that guy that would help the Ballerina over an opportunity to flirt with a pretty girl and so he bobbles the role. He reveals too much truth to the asset; he naively believes that what his word is bond and that his asset isn’t a asset, but a friend. A very tricky thing within the spy world. 

Sarah, who in my opinion best exemplifies that spy personality required (enough manipulation when absolutely necessary, just enough evasion to be mysterious and genuine caring) wasn’t always the best handler (she was too in love with Chuck to ever really compartmentalize) so what chance does Chuck have? Of course it’s worth noting that there isn’t that pesky emotion getting in the way this time so Chuck is safe. Still a tall order for one Chuck Bartowski. I’m not convinced that Sarah would have been a better handler for Vivian either, but since the plot called for conflict and for Chuck’s actions to reverberate beyond this one role, it was better all around that it was Chuck.

Anyway I digress, Chuck as a handler to Vivian, well it was too real. In a world full of secrets and lies, how could it not go wrong?  We should have known Vivian’s fate the minute the bank manager announced, “now I see your father in you” (cue creepy music). I won’t get into Vivian the character much here (I have done so in the past), only that I wished she would have thoroughly embraced her dark side after this “betrayal.” No redemption, no backsies. Just plain evil, and of course exposition into her journey to the dark side. No Riley to have to prop her up either. To some that’s not as entertaining (her not being redeemed), but in this instance I think it would have fit. 

Ernie: A word if I may about the plot.  From the second Vivian said “no” to the lie detector’s question “Are you working with a law enforcement agency.”, and the program quit without a “true” or “false” displayed, I felt Vivian was playing into Volkoff’s and Riley’s hands, with the bank manager playing his part.  It could be that the lack of a lie detector “true” or “false” to the last question was merely to pump up the drama, but to me it looked as if it served a dual purpose, and the bank manager was under instructions to deliver the box of precious memories in the eventuality she failed the test (but not to tell her she’d failed) or to just do so on her first visit, to allow Riley to be ready for her second.  Either way, I thought it pretty obvious that Riley and the manager were colluding to make sure Vivian could be gently peeled away from her CIA handlers and tempted by people who seemed to be on her side.  It nicely explains how Riley is there and ready, with Chuck’s picture, for Vivian’s second visit, but it makes a few things a little more complicated.  Chuck’s capture and subsequent release aren’t too tough to explain, and neither is the bank robbery.  Chuck and Sarah are just that good.  Perhaps Volkoff Industries even guaranteed the bank’s losses if they let Vivian in and out without interference.  It’s Volkoff and Riley the master manipulators versus the best spies in the world.  The only part that bothered me was the digital tag, but then I’m sure the FBoE would be willing to sell out a few terrorist organizations if the price, from Volkoff, was right, allowing the CIA to think the plan was a success long enough to think they didn’t need Vivian anymore and predictably go back on their word.  Interesting stuff.

Or just a typical Chuck spy plot that you shouldn’t think too hard about.  In the end it’s about Vivian being betrayed and turned unwittingly by Chuck, not really the minutia of how.  Seen from her point of view it isn’t really clear how she ends up where she is, so maybe that, like her sort of undefined character is part of the point.  In any case it didn’t dampen my enjoyment of this episode.  Chuck isn’t about having the spy-plot spelled out, at least for me.  The main point is that in the battle for Vivian’s soul, or at least trust, Chuck & Co. are outmaneuvered by Riley and Volkoff.

Which brings us back to the other asset who slips the control of her handler.  Bridezilla.  It’s fun to see Sarah embracing her inner bride, even if it’s just the dam breaking and the initial flood of “real girl” feelings gushing out.  She may be a sappy lovebird letting her guard down, but she seems to get her bearings soon enough.  At this point, Chuck and Sarah are ready.  The rest of the season there’s nary a whif of angst and misunderstanding between them personally or professionally.  Hart to Hart meets A-Team?  Here’s your preview of season 5, with some minor adjustments of course.  It’s Chuck and Sarah against the world.  Look out world.

Faith: Allow me a moment to gush about the wedding dress scene. Fan-tab-ulistic! Accolades galore. A fantastic scene not just for Yvonne Strahovski’s acting prowess but also for the growth and evolution of Sarah Walker. Who would have ever imagined her in a scene like that back in season 1?Casey too! His fatherly moment would have brought a tear to my eye, if I wasn’t already crying with Sarah. But most of all, it was a great scene because it allowed us a moment to be happy for her. To be happy for ourselves. Yet another thing I overlooked in my lingering ambivalence towards this episode.

Combined with Jeffster dating, Renaissance themes, bank robbery and The Matrix homage, thoroughly entertaining. Yet another underrated episode (by me) during the back 11 of season 4. 

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About Ernie Davis

I was born in 1998, the illegitimate brain child and pen name of a surly and reclusive misanthrope with a penchant for anonymity. My offline alter ego is a convicted bibliophile and causes rampant pognophobia whenever he goes out in public. He wants to be James Lileks when he grows up or Dave Barry if he doesn’t.  His hobbies are mopery, curling and watching and writing about Chuck.  Obsessively.  Really, the dude needs serious help.
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26 Responses to Summer Rewatch 4.17: Chuck Versus The First Bank of E-vil

  1. joe says:

    I wished she would have thoroughly embraced her dark side after this “betrayal.” No redemption, no backsies. Just plain evil, and of course exposition into her journey to the dark side.

    Wow! Faith, I’m not sure how I’m going to come out on this, but you sure have me thinking about Vivian now. I sort of liked the character (what can I say? I’m a sucker for all sorts of accents)! And seriously, I thought she was played with just the right amount of Chuck-like naivété without silliness. Silliness would have killed it for me.

    But you make a great point. Vivian was always on the fence about her position in life. Was she McArthur or Volkoff? It kept us in suspense, but the indecision lets Chuck off the hook a bit.

    And I’m totally with ya about Bridezilla and the Wedding Dress Scene. Fantastic, and fun!

    Ernie, you’re reading my mind again. I had the same questions as you raised about that lie detector scene. Did she pass or didn’t she? If not, why not? I didn’t say anything at the time in print ’cause I really thought it was going to be a plot point.

    I’m guessing it was, and wound up on the cutting room floor. Man, I wish they could have afforded a directors cut! 😉

    • Ernie Davis says:

      You know Joe, Schwedak did mention that their directors are for the most part terrible at delivering directors cuts anywhere near the 43 minute mark. They joked about one who hands them enough for two episodes on a regular basis. My guess is only the more important of the deleted scenes, the ones that can change direction or context, are the ones that they include on the DVD. Still, I’d love to see the directors cuts anyway.

    • Faith says:

      A director’s cut, a cast commentary, a play by play, some drawing board material, maybe some scripts (for example did you know that in Break Up the role actually did ask for Yvonne to emote? Brilliant on Yvonne’s part but all the more so because it’s one thing to have it on paper, another to hit it out of the park).

      We are such dreamers! 😉

    • atcDave says:

      I REALLY wish they would do director’s cuts for the discs. A few of the cut scenes like Sarah talking to Casey about a kill order from 2.01 contains important information that now only exists in quasi-cannon state.

      • kg says:

        Sure Dave, that was huge. We know Sarah DID have a reason to worry. Casey was basically lying. He did have an order, of course, a moment before he was about to execute the order, Sarah was timely with her entrance and revealed to Chuck and Casey (indirectly) that Colt’s cypher was a trojan horse that blew up the intersect chamber with Director Graham in it.

  2. Gord says:

    Great review, I really liked the WWED – what would Ellie do.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Thanks Gord. WWED brought back a memory from Truth, where Sarah watches Ellie and Awesome outside the sushi place then tries to get Chuck to copy them. Sarah’s been using Ellie as her “real girl” example for quite some time I think. Which is good. Who else was she going to copy? Carina?

      • thinkling says:

        Interesting, Ernie. I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right. Not only that, it was overhearing Devon talking to Chuck about taking his bike for a spin that made her bring up making love for cover. Hilarious scene, that.

  3. jason says:

    this ep seemed to be about the time that the serious spy fans that stayed with s4 started to question chuck’s direction. Faith, your description of riley:

    “Riley is such a Get Smart-Chaos character, entertaining to say the least. A villain through and through and yet one that doesn’t take itself too seriously”

    I wonder if your point did not hit home with many fans in FBoE the show indeed is more Get Smart-Chaos entertainment, than Alias styled riveting drama – both due to the Riley Viv contrast, as well as how fun yet silly chuck and sarah were in the bank the second visit.

    One negative, might be a guy thing, but the Sarah dress and Ellie – Sarah interaction scenes could have been better, they still were great, but I think most fan fic writers could have really made those few scenes memorable, like top ten or twenty ever. I get the impression Sarah and Ellie just are not TPTB’s cup of tea. Ellie is really a good straight man comic, she brings home sarah’s comedy streak in this ep, as ellie has with chuck, morgan, awesome, jeffster, and casey since the show started.

    One food for thought, had the big bad been Riley, and Riley had norseman’d good guy vivian at the engagement party at 4×23’s end, and 4×24 been a volkov (not winterbottom), sarah, chuck rush against the clock to save vivian, I think the whole arc works much better – hurting sarah is a card that has been played, and played, and played …. Vivian was for more suited as a damsel in distress than the big baddie, and Volkov’s redemption thru chuck’s heroic acts rather than a flip of a switch, would have been far more satisfying.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I don’t think Vivian works as a damsel. People just didn’t invest in her that much, and that lack of investment lessens the drama involved in Chuck racing to save her. Not that she worked really well as a villain, but I think that was more the character being all over the place rather than anything Lauren Coen did in my opinion.

    • Faith says:

      The “little show that could” was never one to take itself too seriously, so to me Get Smart villains are…apt. A little less campy, a little more straight man but hokey nonetheless. Even Linda Hamilton and Timothy Dalton when they signed up for Chuck uttered those sentiments. It’s not a bad thing, Chuck’s charm comprises of that characteristic and many others.

      Chuck has always derived its seriousness from its characters, from the emotion, from the relationships. Everything else was fair game. Which is technically why a lot of the drama also comes internally. Things changed for a spell but overall it’s always been Get Smart-y. Just like I said, a bit more serious and straight face than that.

      As for Vivian/Riley, I agree with you wholeheartedly. To me that final arc would have been better–felt more intense and thereby satisfying had the villain been a villain through and through. Evil. Although I wouldn’t have chosen Riley for that role (hence my point about wishing Vivian would have fully embraced her dark side), I would have taken even that.

  4. atcDave says:

    Funny to me that Faith reacts so negatively to Vivian. I found her pretty uninspiring on any level, but uninspiring also means she isn’t a distraction to me. I thoroughly love these first two Vivian episodes, but Vivian has nothing to do with it. Chuck and Sarah are perfect together in both. The Sarah/Ellie scenes here are wonderful. And of course Riley is a very good baddie.
    To me, the main problem with Vivian is that her shifts seem inadequately motivated. By the end of FBoE she has chosen her path, yet I find myself thinking “oh brother, that wasn’t even a real betrayal!” and of course, Chuck could have easily explained things a little better.

    But as I said, this hardly seems like a big deal to me; teamB and Charah are perfect in this episode, and that seems to be the single most important issue to me.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I agree that Vivian was written all over the place. I think we were supposed to buy her as turning evil only to be shocked that she was still being manipulated by Riley, only to try to take revenge for the loss of Riley (the only one she trusted or cared about her) and then in the end is redeemed. Like you said, made her look kind of schizophrenic. I think one twist too many.

    • Faith says:

      Dave, I have to admit I am pretty prickly and whiny about Vivian. Uninspiring isn’t a ringing endorsement either but I think what keeps me from feeling that way, as opposed to how I feel (which is a lot more vocal and volatile about it) is that they made a point to make us get to know her and yet they back-tracked on that. It’s by design, she had just enough villain (a characteristic that usually means we don’t get to and thereby we don’t care about them) and secondary protagonist (a characteristic that does mean we get a back story and some sympathy with the role as well as emotional investment) for us to be fooled but in the end I think that is the same thing that did her in as a character, for me. You said it yourself, “her shifts seem inadequately motivated,” all of it including her motivation was “just enough” and not more than that. But more as a character and an actor she did nothing for me but take away from the story/the show. Joe remarked on her accent, one of my many disgruntlements. I love an accent, but a poor accent is worse than none. Ironic because she really was raised in England!

      In fairness like I said above, when I was able to look beyond that, beyond Vivian, the episode scored much higher from this viewer than remembered.

      • atcDave says:

        So Faith do you find her accent as bad as Yvonne’s Australian? (sorry, kidding, I know nothing about the actress)

      • Faith says:

        LOL. I’m sure you remember me saying that when I first saw Ex, I thought her Australian accent was fake. I didn’t know she was Australian back then XD.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah, I think that’s what you call an inside joke! (I remember that well…)

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Ahh, but that is the magic of TV. Her accent sounded fake because it was a CIA agent faking an Australian accent (do they really begin greeting scientific conferences with G’day?) Her real accent is different. It was done purposefully. The problem with Vivian’s was it was her natural accent, not one of the cultivated ones we are used to hearing and which we consider as “real”.

      • Faith says:

        Dave, ha!

        Ernie, well see that’s not it either. I actually had this conversation with some fellow Chuckaholics that are from Britain and they also had a problem with Viv’s accent.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Faith, I didn’t say her natural accent represented an authentic British one (of any regional variety). Just that it was one natural to her. Yvonne has remarked on the same phenomenon in her personal life.

  5. Wilf says:

    Hi,

    Been lurking here for a while. I’m a great fan of Chuck and am British / Irish (from Belfast) and I definitely had a problem with Vivian’s accent … it just didn’t sound real to me.

    BTW, I just love reading these blogs; they have really cast the Chuck episodes in a new perspective for me, especially in respect of Sarah’s personal development journey.

    Wilf21

  6. gringochuckfan says:

    Hola Amigos – very nice summation [ as always I might add] : )
    If and When Chuck finally wraps up – “Schwedak ” should open a waffle house! Apparently they are masters! Unfortunately we are regularily treated to the flip flop routine with both character development – and with plot…. most recent case in point was obviously Vivian. I’d hazard a guess that they were planning something else with Vivian – until the whole Hartley Winterbottom – Agent X idea hatched – and they clung to that as a way to try and explain more of the life and times of Stephen and Mary Bartowski.
    Maybe its just called artistic licence… we’ll never know for sure.
    YES Wonderful Idea More Chuck to be Nerdy about – it would be incredible to sift through all those extra shots and scenes that are discarded as digital debris. [ Wonder if we’d be more or less satisfied with the final product that goes on the air?] ~ cheers

  7. Good review.

    I liked this episode because it made believable enough to me that Vivian could begin her path to “evilness” through Riley’s machinations. In fact, in episode 4X20 I thought the attack against Chuck, Sarah and Vivian had been planned by Volkoff to further push his daughter away from the CIA. But then we discover that Vivian was already “evil.” Which yeah, surprised me, but at the plausibility’s expenses. That was a twist too much.

    Also, I always saw Vivian as Chuck’s mirror, as Shaw had been, and as a “tool” used by the writers to highlight how lucky Chuck had been. The same way they used Frost regarding Sarah (and explicitly pointed out by her in Vs. the Leftovers.) Chuck was lucky and as anybody who knows fate could be very different, he tries his best to help another person he thinks has been less fortunate.

    >>>She’s not sure what she wants, and she’s afraid of people’s expectations for her, but she’s got a family around her to support and guide her. Planning a wedding is a bit outside her comfort zone, so her first instinct is of course WWED (what would Ellie do?) But Ellie, like a good real world (as opposed to spy world) handler, leads rather than instructs, informs rather than decides, and leaves it to the assett to find the right path, her own. Even flat-out asking for help doesn’t get Sarah off the hook, because, believe it or not, this wedding is for Sarah too.

    Awesome description of Ellie and her role in the last past of season 4. Really impressive. For me Ellie is like Chuck… but with lady parts. No, it’s a joke 😉 Ellie is very much like Chuck, but she knows when to stop helping others, she’s not as pushy as her brother.

  8. Pingback: Episode of the Week: Chuck vs the First Bank of Evil (4.17) | Chuck This

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