I think Sizzling Shrimp is a rare thing for Chuck, an average episode. It often scores poorly in fan poles, it is a stand alone episode that gives us a little more character development, it is funny in places, has some good action sequences and was the highlight of my television week when it first ran. So in hindsight, pretty average for Chuck. After the jump we’ll remember this mid season one episode.
I think the most enduring legacy of this episode is that we learn a little something about Chuck’s mom. Funny, since that is not the main plot. The really good news is that there is no grounds for crying retcon here, nothing about the tiny amount of information we get is ever contradicted. Although as a humorous aside, this is the first time the “official spy files” that were at NBC.com would be contradicted (maybe not directly, but by way of suggesting mom’s departure was separate from dad’s) .
Those files claimed both Bartowski parents were killed in a traffic accident. I believe they were dropped from the official site late in S2, but I know one scrap of info from them has remained in fanon (quasi-canon?), the idea that Sarah went to Harvard. But this early bit of mom’s story is a part of the “B” plot that involves Ellie and Morgan missing Chuck badly and bonding, a little. They aren’t quite the good friends yet they will be by series’ end, but I believe we already have a series “last”; Ellie will not tell Morgan to just go away again. Or maybe its just the Sizzling Shrimp itself that is the enduring legacy…
Chuck learns a little something about stake outs and tailing someone. He also repeats his tendency to push Sarah and Casey into missions not of their choosing or orders, but because its the right thing to do. Although very interesting in this case, Chuck thinks he can excuse himself from the rescue mission once Sarah and Casey have committed. I don’t believe we will ever see Chuck try that again! And of course, once the pros get in trouble, Chuck will use his creativity to save the day.
Sarah learns a little more about what friends and family mean to Chuck. Although she is always a good sport about her involvement in Chuck’s life (and we know her later admission to already being a little smitten with him), and I enjoy seeing the first signs of her having fun with Morgan, but it will be quite sometime yet before the real barriers start to come down.
The main plot here strikes me as fairly unremarkable. I do enjoy the kitchen fight scene at the end; and of course James Hong reprising his role from Big Trouble in Little China as Lo Pan (true to Chuck’s tendency to mine the same material over, the hero of Big Trouble in Little China was Jack Burton. Too bad Chuck never said he was feeling “kind of invincible”).
I always enjoy re-watching this episode. Even an unremarkable episode of Chuck is great entertainment. And I think Sizzling Shrimp is the case study for that.
Team Building and Character Building – Joe’s Take
Dave, I get what you mean about Sizzling Shrimp being an “average” episode. It’s not one where “the bad guys” (Ben Lo Pan, as played by actor James Hong) come off as terrible, deadly threats. Even “the good guy” (Mei-Ling, actress Gwendoline Yeo) is more imposing!
But several things in Chuck vs. The Sizzling Shrimp are absolutely unique. I’m most surprised that I hadn’t noticed before.
For instance, right from the start, before the credits are run, Chuck and Morgan – and then Chuck and Sarah – have a conversation about “An evening of Morgan.” There’s something that seems much more “unscripted” than their usual dialog. It’s in the timing and in the way Chuck and Morgan interact spontaneously. I always think it’s the way Zach and Josh interact. It’s the same between Chuck and Sarah also.
Morgan: [To Sarah] An evening of Morgan will begin at 7 sharp. Bring your A game. Love you, pal.
Sarah: [To Chuck] An evening of Morgan.
Chuck: Okay. So here’s the thing. Uh, he’s my best friend. And I haven’t gotten to spend any time with him or Ellie this week. And so he really wanted the whole bunch of us to hang out tonight.
Sarah: For an evening of Morgan?
Casey: [Interrupting] I thought being stationed in the Khyber Pass for six months was brutal.
Chuck: If you’re so sad about not being included, Casey, you could just say so.
Casey: Dinner with you and Morgan. I’d rather Afghani warlords bleed me from my liver. [walks away]
Chuck: [to Sarah] He’s a happy person.
We’ve been talking a lot about “firsts”. For my money, this is the first time we see Chuck acting like a team member. It’s the first time we see Sarah and even Casey treat Chuck like something other than a complete outsider to the spy world. They may even be starting to bond.
Chuck already has a strong bond with Morgan, of course. But we do get to see the strength of this bond when Chuck shows his concern over Morgan’s addiction – to Chinese made fireworks… (darn. My sarcasm key is stuck again!)
Oh, really! It’s a cute scene. Sarah’s eyes show concern, at first, that Chuck’s friend has a real problem. But then, a split second later, Sarah’s smile shows us that she’s becoming ever more endeared to Chuck and his ways. And so are we.
Love is easy to fake on television; actors do it all the time. Real comraderie is something else. It carries through. It has the effect of somehow making the characters much less cartoon-ish, and therefore, much more real, than I expected at this point in the series.
That can’t be accidental – not in this show with these actors. For the first time, Chuck is not exactly thrown into a situation by forces outside his control. No, he flashes on Mei-Ling’s tattoo, brings it to Sarah’s attention and then gets involved. That’s inadvertent, at first because allowed Ben Lo Pan to kidnap Mei-Lings brother. But then he stays involved quite intentionally by insisting that Team B do something about it.
Team Bartowski. Yes, they’re a team now. Sarah and Casey follow his lead in this one, participating in a mission that Chuck started. Of course, Chuck still has much to learn (like, about the 30 yard rule for tails. Or is it 30 feet?). So he’s still told to stay in the car to play with his sizzling shrimp. But we all know Chuck’s not going to stay there. In fact, he proves his worth early on with his understanding of the TKX-50 security cameras used by Ben Lo Pan. No Intersect necessary.
Chuck’s understanding of the equipment here is not the only way his “real life” is intertwined with his spy-life now. In fact, the more serious entanglement is with his sister Ellie. Chuck’s been busy with Sarah and as much as she appreciates that, Ellie, of course, doesn’t know the half of it. It’s all good, except that when Chuck seems to prefer yet anther date with Sarah over their once a year “Mother’s Day”, it borders on too much. Chuck crosses the line when Chuck lies about being at Casey’s.
Ellie: I went to Casey’s, Chuck. No one was there.
Ellie: When did we start keeping secrets from one another?
Chuck helped Mei-Ling save her brother precisely because that’s what he’d do for Ellie. And he’s protecting her now. It’s heartbreaking that Chuck cannot tell her anything, especially now that he’s taken a very definite step into the spy world.
We learn something very important about Ellie, though. She’s not immature or vindictive. More than anyone (including Sarah, right now), Ellie is the one who knows where Chuck’s heart is. She’s the one who trusts him to do the right thing.
Ellie: I figured it out. I know.
Chuck: You do?
Ellie: You haven’t had a girlfriend for a long time, and you’re in love.
Chuck: [Chuckles] Heh. Yeah. – I am?
Chuck hasn’t wanted to put that to words just yet. He’s been avoiding the issue as much as he can. But Ellie knows and we know. Never underestimate Ellie’s perceptiveness.
And never underestimate the big sister. Chuck dropped the ball with Morgan’s little problem. He’s been coming in dead last in Big Mike’s sales contest (third place gets to keep his job). But of all the characters, Ellie shows us that we should never sweat the small stuff and saves Morgan’s job easily. “It’s a Mother’s Day miracle!” and just a little bonding. From now on it’s all going to be small stuff in the Buy More.
Now when I watch Chuck vs. The Sizzling Shrimp I see an episode that goes a long way to cementing the relationships between characters while Chuck takes a small but definite step into his new life as a spy.
Great point Joe about the team building here. I think that whole cast chemistry was always special about Chuck, and I do love several scenes in this episode that show it. Pretty much everything before the credits, and again at the final scene. Of course those type of interactions were always a huge part of this show’s appeal for me; whether its the brother sister relationship, Chuck and Morgan’s friendship, Chuck and Sarah’s under the undercover thing, or even the Chuck/Sarah/Casey friendly antagonism. For me, that dynamic is the key to the show; and much later, when that dynamic is fractured, the entire show suffers for it, badly. But here it is satisfying to see the relationships functioning well in an early status quo sort of episode.
And of course, how funny is it that Ellie sums up the major hook of the entire series, at a time when Chuck himself isn’t so sure (“…you’re in love.”) Chuck won’t really admit that for a couple years yet, and Sarah won’t for a little longer. But we all know its already true.
Dave, you’re right that Sizzling Shrimp never ranks very high on people’s lists. Though it may seem like just an average episode for Chuck, I really love the undercurrents and intangibles running through it.
I’ll get a running start, because I’m enjoying seeing how Chuck and Sarah’s story unfolds. There’s the Collision of their two worlds, followed by Chaos, at least for Chuck. In Tango things settle into an unorthodox rhythm, but Wookiee brings Confusion for both Chuck and Sarah as to how you dance the dance or play the game in the other’s world.
My word for Sizzling Shrimp is Cost: the cost of the spy world to families. Up until now the spy world has been an intrusion and an inconvenience in Chuck’s life. He had to lie to Ellie and Morgan. But they were small lies, mostly of omission. They didn’t do any real damage. This time, though, his spy life and the lies cost him. To do his spy job, he had to hurt his sister and his best friend, and he couldn’t tell them why. It’s a whole new level of spy pain for Chuck.
The cost of the spy world to family is mirrored in Mei Ling’s situation with her brother. She will move heaven and earth, go rogue, and give up everything to save her brother. Sound familiar? In the end Mei Ling’s kidnapped brother trumps Chuck’s date with Ellie, and Chuck pays the price for being a hero. He disappoints his sister, who can’t know that he really is doing something worthwhile with his life, that he is the most valuable intelligence asset on the planet and a hero to boot. Ellie’s words sting, “You’re life isn’t going anywhere, and your job isn’t either, and you’re not superman out there saving the day, but …” and voice the warning of the ultimate cost of being a spy, “you’re a good person, Chuck. You’re a good brother, and you’re a good friend. Don’t lose that.” (As a side note, it is here that Ellie reminds Chuck that he can come to him about anything. Only much later does he take her up on her offer … when he feels like he has lost himself (the good person Ellie told him not to lose).)
This theme, the cost of heroism and the spy world, continues to play the bass notes throughout the series. As their story unfolds, we learn just how much the spy life, or being a hero, has cost the Bartowskis and Chuck and Sarah, individually and ultimately as a couple.
In spite of the overtone of cost, there is a strong note of hope, at least for Sarah. Sarah didn’t grow up having what Chuck and Ellie have. What chance does a girl like her have at a normal life … family, children. Whatever glimmer of hope she might have secretly held was extinguished after the Ryker/ Baby mission. I can’t help thinking that this evening with Chuck and Ellie, and the mother’s day reveal, may have rekindled that hope. Chuck and Ellie had a normal life, but it was taken from them. Like Sarah’s was taken from her. Then in spite of being abandoned by their parents, in spite of their abnormal circumstances, they found a way to rebuild it. Maybe there’s hope for Sarah.
Fun Moments: Heh, Dave, you mentioned the gradual (maybe glacial is a better word) development of Sarah’s friendship with Morgan. We also see the contrast of Casey’s relationship with Morgan. In Sizzling Shrimp, Casey would rather Afghani war lords bleed him from his liver than spend an evening with Morgan (his future roommate and possibly son-in-law/father of his grandchildren). I had to laugh.
Another thing that appears here that we will see again and again is Sarah’s bemused affection at Chuck’s … umm, Chuck-ness. Look at her face as he leans forward to get his take-out. She’s smitten, or at the very least finds his Chuck-ness endearing. Sarah’s looks of amused affection always make me smile. I think this look is the precursor to the open adoration we see on her face in S5, Hack Off, in particular.
As for Chuck, his overprotective concern for Sarah surfaces again (and always will anytime she’s in trouble). When he sees that Casey and Sarah are taken, his thought is pretty much only for Sarah. Obviously he would also save Casey, but Sarah is the one he thinks about … again. The other thing I like is that he remains open with Sarah, even though he knows she can’t be open with him.
Dave Just Can’t Shut Up
I really appreciate two things you bring up here Thinkling. The cost issue is huge, but I think it’s informative that the cost was diminished (changed?) somewhat later in the series when Chuck started coming clean with everyone. Much as everyone knows I love Sarah as the hero, I’m a little disappointed that she became the instigator for much that. I think the ball was dropped a little in that after Chuck bottomed out in S3, he remained “truth challenged” until Sarah was hurt by it in Subway and she insisted on more honesty and openness in Anniversary. I wish we’d seen Chuck as the one to push for honesty with Sarah, Ellie and Morgan. Oh well, I like where things wound up by S4. We finally saw everyone in on Chuck’s “secret” life.
I also appreciate your extra insights on Casey’s relationship with Morgan. It really is funny to think about that odd couple. We’ll see more of Casey almost killing Morgan before things start to change some in S3. Truly my favorite part of the main arc for that season is the growth for Casey and Morgan.
Chuck firsts in Chuck Versus The Sizzling Shrimp
Sizzling shrimp and stakeout mixes will be very important to our heroes at some time in the future.
The Nerd Herd call as cover for Chuck’s absence will haunt Chuck in the Emmet Milbarge era.