Summer Rewatch 4.18: Chuck vs The A-Team

Season four of Chuck has a couple of ongoing story-lines that play out in the back episodes.  The Volkoffs may be the “featured” story, but the Orion legacy is also in play and will crash into the Volkoff story in a few places.  Chuck vs The A-Team is founded in the Orion legacy; while “what makes a good team?” is the driving issue.  Which is all a lot of fancy talk for an episode that is mostly just for fun.

Thinkling~ It’s interesting how perspectives change on rewatch. As Dave said A-Team seems like an episode that is mostly just for fun. And it is fun! S4 has some really great fun! CS episodes. But there’s more than just fun. There’s warmth and intimacy, teamwork and trust. They are the heart and glue of the show in general and of A-Team specifically. This is the spy couple I want to keep seeing in S5. More about them later.

While their relationship carries the episode, it’s Sarah’s mood that sets the tone. Initially, it’s all about their lack of missions and Sarah’s reaction to that. You don’t mess with Sarah’s missions. Sarah’s mood drives the story and delivers the comedy. Chuck follows her lead and “helps.” After they break into Castle’s secret GRETA room, all of that shifts. The hilarious turns serious when Sarah finds the laptop, and they realize that Orion’s legacy has been hijacked by the CIA. Chuck is a pretty laid back guy, but there are a couple of things you don’t mess with: his family/friends and his dad’s legacy. Suddenly Chuck takes the lead in the unfolding mystery, and Sarah moves to a support position, her mood now reflecting the weightier tone of the episode. Zach and Yvonne are absolutely perfect. It’s a brilliant episode with tons of fun and more mythology than we probably realized the first time around.

Dave~ The tone is set for this episode with Casey interrogating Morgan. Seems funny Morgan would be so freaked out when he knew it was Casey and knew he was being tested. Yet he still wets himself; and “just a little” seems to be an improvement. I think that says a lot about the sort of episode we’re in for. Especially as the very next scene goes to the faux tension of Chuck and Sarah playing Operation. Chuck, like Morgan, is stressed by the artificial atmosphere of the game. While Sarah is more like a caged lioness, growing very restless from forced inactivity. Which leads to their unofficial investigation into why Casey isn’t going nuts. The dynamic between Chuck and Sarah is so much fun right from the start; we see them understanding each other and working together well. The only tension between them is what’s played for comedy, and that’s from the external issue of wondering where all their missions have gone. In a reversal from Chuck SOP we see Chuck following in Sarah’s wake trying to keep her out of trouble, but ultimately getting dragged right along. Staying out of trouble doesn’t seem to be a strength for either of them. So they quickly talk themselves into providing unofficial and unwanted back-up for Casey on a mission they had been purposely excluded from.

One of the satisfying elements of what plays out is how Casey continues to show affection and loyalty to his old team; in spite of the contempt his new team and boss show them.

When Chuck and Sarah do get a new mission They are both excited and ready to go, until they realize it’s menial nature.  But this remains the sort of material ‘shippers have been wanting from the start.  They continue to work together to figure a way to restore their former status; while nicely staying in character.  Chuck’s first reaction is to wallow a little at discovering they are now the “B” team, while Sarah immediately accepts the challenge of regaining their former status.  Although the tone of the episode is always played for fun, there is some nice stuff going on here.  I do like how we see an external crisis that brings unity and individuality out in equal measure.  This is such a well written episode that really highlights how Chuck and Sarah make each other better.  Chuck even convinces Sarah not to remove Casey’s hand, truly he is the moral center of the team (kidding, just like I’m mostly sure Sarah was kidding).

Of course the need to be the “A” team drives them right into another rogue operation.  It is somehow satisfying to see Chuck and Sarah outmaneuvering Morgan.  We know there is no desire to do actual harm here, which makes for a very funny operation.  Both because of how bravely Morgan gets tranqued and his child-like hands.

Thinkling~ There is so much to love about the episode, and the way Chuck and Sarah play off each other heads the list. Ever since Cat Squad Sarah has relaxed (well, for her) into Chuck’s help, and Chuck has learned how to help. That dynamic has been so much fun to watch. No less satisfying is Sarah’s increasing ability to support Chuck and follow his lead. She doesn’t have to be in control all the time.

Besides the Chuck and Sarah dynamic, there are the constants twists and turns in this episode. From the opening Morgan interrogation and Chuck diffusing a wishbone to Casey’s lone-wolf mission — to Yana — to the GRETA’s and the suitcase nuke, absolutely nothing is what it appears to be. The never-ending twists keep the episode light and entertaining, despite the disturbing twist that the CIA (Cia — what kind of name is Cia?) seems to have stolen the Orion laptop.

That leads us to the hijacking of Orion’s legacy. Orion’s legacy has evolved over time. At first we didn’t even know there was an Orion or a legacy. There was only the Intersect — a bunch of government secrets, randomly sent to Chuck and loaded into his brain, making him the government secret. Then we learned that it wasn’t so random, after all … and not so secret either, apparently. The next piece of the puzzle was a scientist, the creator of the Intersect (or at least the cool parts), whose code name was Orion. Our first introduction to him was in Predator, through a modulated computer voice and his super-cool, next-Gen laptop. So the laptop has come to symbolize Orion and his legacy — at least the science/brain side of it … his genius and the science to upload data into the human brain. Every time the laptop appears, we get another piece of the puzzle. (Last we saw it, Chuck had fixed it, and TeamB learned all about Agent X. So where is the laptop now? What will it do next? …)

But there’s more to the Orion legacy than that. There’s the family/heart side … moral responsibility (always doing the right thing), loyalty to family (Chuck and I do anything for family), right motivation (you’re a good guy who wants to help people). That part of the legacy is in Orion’s kids (and by extension Sarah and TeamB). That’s why the laptop contained specific information for both of them and required them to work together. The government and other groups want the science, the laptop. However, the science in the wrong hands, used from wrong motives, for the wrong ends yields disastrous results. If we hadn’t figured that out before, A-Team showed us what Orion’s legacy looks like when others hijack it.

Bently (who turned out to be a red herring) figured that out. She realized that they needed to hijack both sides of the legacy … the laptop and a Bartowski. Of course, it had to be done surreptitiously, so she returned the laptop to Ellie covertly. We later learn that she is monitoring Ellie’s every click.

What’s interesting, watching this episode with hindsight, is that A-Team is a microcosm of the last 30 years. The government has been hijacking Orion’s legacy all along … and not just the science. When they couldn’t figure out the science or make it work for them, they hijacked a Bartowski, like Chuck, for instance.

So buried in all the fun, A-Team gives us a snap-shot of how the government has been playing the Bartowski’s and TeamB all these years. It’s subtle, easy to miss … because that’s what it is — subtle, easy to miss. Nobody realizes it until Decker tells Chuck, flat out, that it’s all been a manipulation. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to S5 filling in the gaps. I want the good guys to prevail, the bad guys exposed and brought to justice, the Intersect back in the right hands (or no hands at all). Most of all I want the Bartowski’s and TeamB to get their lives back.

Dave ~ I think you’re the first to even bring up the “B” plot. It’s mostly played for laughs in this episode until the very last moment. As always it’s so much fun to see the comic talents of the supporting cast. I love seeing very excited Ellie as she talks Devon’s ear off after a long day. Its a very old joke for family relationships, and I believe I’ve heard there’s even some truth to the old adage about women using twice as many words in an average day as men do (or type twice as many words in a blog…). So in traditional model families, when the man gets home at the end of the work day he may well be talked out already; while the wife is just getting started! Of course we know Devon and Ellie are a far more modern couple, but they played to this 1950s stereotype like pros; very funny scene. And Ellie trying her seduction skills in getting something resembling work from Jeff and Lester is another high point; especially her disgust when it works! The mind reading gag is funny in almost every way; from Lester accepting that box and wavy lines are “close”, to Jeff accurately reading Ellie’s opinion of him, to an actual success, even if Lester has no idea who Cia might be.

In the end, the “A” and “B” plots intersect (ain’t I clever?!) when Bentley delivers the Orion laptop back to Ellie. We’ll see the consequences of that in the weeks ahead.


About atcDave

I'm 54 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 31 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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18 Responses to Summer Rewatch 4.18: Chuck vs The A-Team

  1. Verkan_Vall says:

    @Thinkling, atcDave

    Writeup: Thanks.
    Dave, inre Chuck, Sarah, Casey: ditto.
    Thinkling, inre “Women use more words than Men”: Huh?

    • atcDave says:

      Actually that was Dave. You never heard that one VV? I know I saw it being presented as “fact” as recently as the 1980s. I have no idea if its actually been debunked or not.

      • alex says:

        i’ve heard that idea and trust me it wasn’t in the 1980s but rather much more recently

      • atcDave says:

        Hey Alex I am tempted to believe it too; but I’d love to see a credible study on it. I’m not about to draw a definite conclusion without documentation!

      • jason says:

        I would not get too specific with that, certain josh gomez is more wordy than Yvonne to break the mold for starters, but in general, my experience shows women to be more wordy with the spoken word, while I think men might be more ‘verbose’ with the written word – again, specifically some folks exist who are both, but in general, I see people as being more one or the other – strictly opinion of course!

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah Jason, that’s why I won’t quite embrace it as truth, I know too many exceptions. And of course right on the show, Sarah/Yvonne both seem to be quiet types. It wouldn’t surprise me if, on average, it was true; but I’m not about to make any firm statement without better proof than an old adage I’ve never seen documentation on.

  2. Verkan_Vall says:

    Thanks, Dave. I got a little confused there.

    In fact, I do remember hearing that a while back, I was just trying to be a smart alec by using as few words as possible in my comment as a way of illustrating what I thought was Thinkling’s mention of that theory….oh, never mind. Serves me right.

  3. jason says:

    the episode had a role models feel to me. Sarah in both eps did not play nice with other spy teams, especially when the other team takes the lead. Secondly, Sarah was kind of on chuck’s case in both eps, but in a funny sort of way. I wonder if those who did not like A team, did not like role models????

    The last chuck sarah scene, where chuck asks something along the lines – ….you mean sex? – anyhow – the writers missed a great opportunity, a quick pan to Yvonne’s face for a non verbal response, she would have so nailed it, a smile, a surprise, a half disgust – half smile (is that a wicked smile?), no matter how she responded, it would have been pretty funny. So often in this show, the writers get to the edge of greatness, then don’t finish – again – IMO

    If I felt the mythology of the intersect was important, I can see where this ep crossed a line for some fans – with the intersecting of two more folks. I don’t see chuck’s drama / spy writing to be strong, hence, I let whatever comes my way slide in those areas. I have been rewatching a little bit of alias this summer, the difference in the way the mystery connects up in alias really puts chuck in some perspective. So many things are different, still the romantic leads have lots in common, the biggest difference is the bad guys are so layered in alias throwing in good deeds in between the bad keeping one off balance near the entire time. Chuck devotes 8-10 minutes of each ep to fluff with buymore, jeffster, sometimes morgan, alias uses that time to give layers to the bad guys. Added up over 75 or so eps, that is maybe 750 minutes of character developement that can be used to up the stakes in the mystery part of the show over the course of 4 or 5 seasons. Plus, the rambaldi mystery probably has more long term legs than the intersect mystery, unless TPTB really come up with something eye popping in s5.

    Getting back to this ep, I loved the feel of chuck and sarah against the world – partly serious, partly funny, most the dialogue directly between the couple, a theme I would love to see dominate this show in s5.

    • atcDave says:

      I would agree Jason that the mythology angle of Chuck is very much “mythology lite”. And I’m completely fine with that; if we take Chuck mythology too seriously we’re setting ourselves up to be disappointed (and I believe we’ve seen that happen right here on this site).

  4. joe says:

    What a wonderful review, guys!

    I did re-watch A-Team; it was a treat. You know, somehow, almost like a bad tick or a reflex, I always half-expect C&S to have some sort of relationship difficult – or at least a hurdle to overcome. It’s that ol’ Angst thing.

    But rewatching this was a joy precisely because those worries were made to seem completely unfounded. C&S work together throughout, whether it’s playing “Operation” or challenging the GRETAs to see exactly who the A-Team is in Castle. It’s just like you said, Thinkling: There’s warmth and intimacy, teamwork and trust. In spades.

    It’s in my favorite line from the episode, from Sarah.

    Chuck? Are you about to disarm a nuclear bomb using fruit juice??? [Chuck nods] Okay. Do it!

    It’s silly and ridiculous and impossible – and perfect.

    Oh! And if there was ever an episode with the perfect amount of Jeff & Lester in it, A-Team must be it. I mean, who knew that Jeff was psycho – uh, psychic? 😉

    • thinkling says:

      Psycho — uh, psychic. Good one, Joe. This may have been the best Jeff/Lester outing this year. I actually laughed out loud at the psychic moment.

      I loved the bomb diffusing scene just for the call back to the pilot … Sarah on the left and Casey on the right, with Chuck in the middle diffusing a bomb. Their absolute trust in Chuck to be able to diffuse the bomb if anyone can and doing whatever he tells them to do kind of warms me to my toes. Realizing how far they’ve all come in 4 years really makes me smile.

      • atcDave says:

        I love that parallel, funny how we never even mentioned it!

      • joe says:

        That is funny, Dave. I remember recognizing the parallel from the pilot immediately too, but somehow it works for it’s own sake.

        I think that’s because the scene really is about their confidence in him and not about defusing the bomb. You’re right, Thinkling. They have come a long way.

  5. I’ve always seen Vs. the A Team as a Casey/Sarah episode too, in a fashion, because it’s then when she realizes that something has changed in their partnership.

    From episode 9 on, it’s obvious that Sarah will always side with Chuck. In other stances, she could side with Casey, especially to protect Chuck, but now it’s obvious she will always support Chuck and take his side. I think it was necessary for her to see that, because Sarah (for weird it is) is somebody that takes relationships for granted, in the sense that once formed, she thinks that they won’t change (and they SHOULDN’T change.)

    In Vs. the Masquerade, the emphasis is put in Morgan being the third wheel, but at that stage, Casey felt the third wheel too. I remeber that I didn’t saw that the first time I saw the episode, but when I saw episode 18, it became clear.

    • Oops, I forgot. Great review, Dave.

      • atcDave says:

        Thanks! Good observation about Casey the third wheel. The difference is Morgan is more of a personnel third wheel, while with Casey its professional. Interesting too, that Chuck and Sarah don’t really intend to make either party feel that way. I’d also add that the way it pans out, Morgan the third wheel does have to make major changes, while Casey manages to re-integrate with his team. (of course Morgan does too in a way, but the changes seem far bigger in how he relates to the couple).

  6. Pingback: Episode of the Week: Chuck vs The A-Team (4.18) | Chuck This

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