We’re up to Chuck’s first mission. And incidentally one of my all time favorite episodes. Tango will be the first time we see our new team in action. And we’ll see Chuck deal with the very difficult task of deceiving Ellie, all while pursuing his Buy More “career”.
So let’s jump right in…
I know I’m not alone in considering Tango one of my very favorites. I’d even call it first or second best of S1 depending on my mood (it competes only with the Pilot). I know this is a minority opinion, and many find this episode fairly unremarkable. But why does it excite some of us so much? Like all things Chuck, that is a very complex question. For me, the balance of the action adventure and comedy is just perfect. I also love the version of Chuck we get here, even though he’s wayoutside of his comfort zone, he deals with challenges with courage and intelligence. Devon teaching Chuck to Tango is a brilliantly funny scene, and then Chuck uses his new skill.
But unlike a million ordinary sit-coms I’ve seen before, Chuck is no mere buffoon. He quickly realizes what was wrong with his “training”, fesses up (no standard sit-com sort of stupid denials), and adapts. I love that moment, not only was it satisfying in the context of this episode, but it tells me great things about Chuck.
But that is only one example. I love the discussion about Chuck’s future, especially contrasted with the real discussion about his future taking place next door; and of course I love the significant detail that Sarah is the one looking out for Chuck when he isn’t there to speak for himself (we will see this many more times!).
I love the Chuck/Sarah pre-mission briefing. She is showing a professional level of concern and compassion for her asset, and maybe just a little something more…
I love the ride to the auction in the limousine and Chuck learning about “spy humor”. Everything about Chuck’s encounter with La Ciudad is fun, although I will have to admit the small bias of finding her the most beautiful woman ever on this show. But I particularly like Casey and Sarah charging to the rescue; great shoot out and wonderful rescue.
Then I also really like Chuck’s return to a prying Ellie, and Chuck running off to rescue Morgan and do something he’s actually good at. The next morning at Buy More is also a favorite sequence. From Chuck’s heroic use of a counter and PA system, to the long set-up involving the cage gag (very well laid out over the course the entire episode), to Casey finding innovative uses for freezers and micro-waves, to Sarah’s awesome take down of the deadly foe.
And finally, a pretty much perfect last scene for Chuck and Sarah; Sarah is at her encouraging best again, with just the right amount of flirting. This may be the moment when I first thought Chuck would be the show to break from television tradition on how wt/wt was handled (although I didn’t know the wt/wt term or acronym yet!). Funny how you can be both right and wrong about something. I even said to a friend that they would be married in season four. But I certainly never imagined how painful the process of getting there would be at times. So fun and not fun all at once.
So I guess my final answer on why I love this episode so much is actually simple, they did almost everything perfectly to my taste. I even skipped over many scenes and moments that I enjoyed. What bearing does Tango have in the big picture of the whole series? To me, the answer is it’s a sort of prototypical Chuck. The introductions are over, this is the start of how its going to be. And really, with only small incremental changes, this is the form of the show through season two. This will always be a very special episode to me.
Ernie Takes a Turn
Like Dave I consider Chuck Versus The Tango one of Chuck’s best. If the last two episodes were the co-creators revving the creative engine of the show and building their worlds, Chuck Versus The Tango is that engine dropping smoothly into gear for our first Sunday drive through their world. A lot of the signature elements of Chuck, while we’ve seen them before, are stylistically introduced into the show’s DNA. The Tango is not just the title or the dance Chuck has to learn, but a theme. The interplay between partners, the seamless transitions and the montages, the interplay between worlds, or rivals, is all played as a dance. The visual style too is solidified in this episode, even as it reflects the dance metaphor.
It may be a stretch, but to me the dance metaphor is established right off the bat. We see the painting moving through that dark underworld, and the same steps are repeated by everyone in the exact same way. And that leads me to a major digression. There is an Australian movie I love as a guilty pleasure called Strictly Ballroom. It is, like Chuck, a fun romp through a world we don’t recognize, and one that doesn’t take itself too seriously, even though the character’s pain and growth does connect, but it ultimately reflects some larger truth of our own world.
I’ll try to be brief, but the premise, in a nutshell, is that a promising young professional dancer has an epiphany during a competition. The limits, the staid conformity, and the confining rules placed upon him finally become too much, and he “goes rogue”. The rest of the movie is those around him trying to pull him back into the fold, for his own good, while he explores what it really means to dance with a new partner, and with the guidance of her family. Her father is a masterful dancer (as is his we eventually learn), and there is a key scene where the protagonist and his new partner demonstrate their technical proficiency to him and his friends, and are laughed at by those who understand the dance they are mimicking at a level they don’t even dream of.
It reminds me of Chuck for several reasons, most aren’t important, others (cough- hero’s journey-cough) I won’t go into, but the initial introduction to the two protagonists shares a lot. Sarah may be the most proficient of spies, but it’s all technique, and no heart till she finds the right partner. The greater good is an abstraction, follow orders, another mission, another kill. But she can tell herself she’s serving a larger cause, doing the right thing for once in her life, until she finds herself kidnapping a baby for the fortune she’s worth to someone else. Suddenly Sarah knows just doing someone else’s routine, repeating their steps and following their orders just isn’t working. She’s had her epiphany by the time she meets Chuck, she just hasn’t found the right partner to teach her it’s not an abstraction, the greater good is about protecting the people you love. I like to think Chuck Versus The Tango is the start of that process.
Back to our dance.
You know I love a good montage, and Chuck Versus The Tango has one of the best. And funniest. I like the metaphor too. The two spies know their steps and they prepare for the mission with an ease and grace born of years of practice. Chuck however is awkwardly trying to learn how to dance. On a side note, watch Ellie’s reactions in the background during this scene if you never have. It was one of the first clues I got to how important the visual presentation is to this show’s humor and its storytelling.
Chuck’s first dance in the spy world doesn’t go without its problems, and that applies to both the literal and figurative dance. But we do see that despite some rookie mistakes as a spy (telling Morgan where he’d be, associating himself with the painting, which is a known target for the bad-guy) he’s a natural, with a few minor adjustments. He manages to stall La Ciudad and her henchmen, all the while giving nothing away about who he is or what the authorities know. When the rest of Team B arrives in the nick of time we see the new team starting to fall into step. Chuck is the wildcard who makes the team improvise some new moves that ultimately will put them at the top of everyone’s dance-card.
Chuck however still has his doubts, about a lot of things. His new life has him feeling a bit isolated from Ellie, there’s too much he can’t tell her and he’s feeling a bit overwhelmed. A night doing something he’s good at seems to at least restore some confidence. As does an atta-boy from Casey, which was nice to see. But this dance isn’t over yet.
La Ciudad and her henchmen are the first in the spy-world to make the mistake of entering the Burbank Buy More (spies go in but they don’t come out). Once again Chuck’s quick thinking and improvisation give Casey the chance to ad-lib and take out both the baddies, while moving some merchandise no less.
And what can you say about Yvonne that hasn’t been said. While her acting depth would eventually outshine her ability to do her own fight choreography and stunts I remember being far more impressed with her ability to carry the action scenes and do the fights at this point. This was a killer combination I’d never seen anywhere else, and that goes for both Yvonne and the rest of the cast, and the show in general.
While that just about wraps up Team B’s tango with La Ciudad there is one more dance about to start. The fountain scene, which would become a staple of their journey to find a way to the life they both dream of launches the question that would occupy Chuck for the next two years. Is this real? At this point even we don’t know, I read the look on Sarah’s face as either upset she slipped and gave away too much, or upset she had to manipulate such a nice guy. At this point I’d venture even she doesn’t really know, but she’s doing her best to convince herself it’s the latter. The resolution of that question is for next week’s episode.
This is the point where I consider the show to have fully found its stride and it’s strengths. And while it would occasionally have its rough patches, it was a remarkably strong and quick start for an amazing show.
Chuck Firsts in Chuck Versus The Tango.
Just for fun here are a few things we noticed that became regular features of Chuck’s world. This early on almost everything is new or just introduced, but here are a few that are notable.
First appearance of Charles Carmichael.
First actual mission.
The Watch is introduced, both Chuck’s GPS tracker version and the Dick Tracy version Casey and Sarah wear.
First “it’s complicated”
First “Fountain Scene”
First major shootout
First Casey use of both a major and minor appliance as an offensive weapon. OK, it wasn’t really a regular feature, but it was just too cool not to mention.
First reference to Team Bartowski. Actually there’s the Buymore TeamB, Ellie and Devon and Morgan as TeamB, and the burgeoning spy TeamB.