This episode is the start of a brilliant seven episode run (through Tom Sawyer); possibly one of the longest streaks I’ve ever seen on any show of dynamite episodes. Chuck will have a few other strong runs in S2 and S4, but I don’t think any other streaks are thisstrong. My complaints and nitpicks for these next seven are pretty minor; the show seems to me to be firing on all cylinders at this point.
And I’m really excited that you all won’t see very many grumpy comments from me until almost Thanksgiving. So after the jump, we’ll take a look at S1’s Casey-centric episode, Undercover Lover.
This is really the first Casey/Chuck bonding episode. We’ve already seen some measure of respect build between these two very different characters, but now comes something closer to friendship. Just don’t tell Casey that! he will not be amused… But the status quo established here will continue, with only minor hiccups through season two. Early on, we see Chuck and Sarah have indeed settled into an easy sort of friendship after Crown Victoria. What lies seething below the surface for the two of them will boil over on occasion, but will not fundamentally change until the end of First Kill (2.20).
Chuck and Casey’s growing friendship is harder to define, and obviously different in several ways. We certainly won’t see any of the sort of grand gestures, or going against orders and protocol we see from Sarah; but then his willingness to bend rules and go against orders is far less than Sarah’s. But I think this episode could be the start of when Casey the agent is corrupted and Casey the man is redeemed. But this will develop fairly slowly. For example, could Casey actually have killed Chuck in First Date? I’m thinking Casey could have, with great difficulty and at shattering personal cost. But that’s sort of what Casey is all about.
I’m tempted to write a more thorough timeline of Chuck and Casey’s friendship here, but that would be filled with a lot of speculation, so just a couple thoughts. Next week, in Marlin, Casey will give Sarah “permission” to go rogue and rescue Chuck from the CIA. I would guess, after First Date Casey wouldn’t even consider a kill order against Chuck again. But that’s a perception, nothing I can prove. Although Casey will tease and needle Chuck to the very end, by Beefcake he actually seems to be rooting for Charah. In Colonel he will finally, clearly go against orders to help Chuck (what a huge episode that was!). You all know I have many, strong complaints against season three, but Casey is not among them. His steady friendship and support towards Chuck is one of the few highlights I see through the misery arc. And I think Casey’s final help in getting Chuck and Sarah together plays a big part in the strength of that relationship (by which I mean, if Casey hadn’t come clean about the shooting to Sarah it would have hung over Charah). By that point, and for the remainder of the series, there is no doubt Casey’s primary loyalty rests with Chuck and his team, not the government. And that all started right here, in Undercover Lover.
But as I’ve said many times, my primary evaluation of an episode is usually about how much fun it is. And Undercover Lover is a total blast. The Russian party, Casablanca references and Neil Diamond soundtrack all are part of the fun; but holy smokes what a great fight scene! It is no wonder that it lead to the first of Chuck’s Emmys. Casey “sticking to his strengths” and battling some rather large Russians with Chuck and furniture tied to his back is brilliantly staged and filmed.
As is the resulting fall to the swimming pool. That action serves to take an otherwise ordinary, stand alone episode and turn it into something extraordinary.
I think Undercover Lover also features one of my very favorite “B” plots. Naturally it features Ellie and Devon, not the Buy More. But the Buy More too serves a role, as Devon’s wake up call about life without Ellie! Tipsy Ellie is even better than Devon; first she has a good scene with Sarah, really the first time Ellie has tried to corner/talk to Sarah. Sarah, to her credit, is concerned about Ellie and tries to be a friend, but has far bigger concerns with a missing Chuck. Enter Morgan. Last week I described Morgan as being at his very worst. Now we see him at his very best. He proves to a good friend, a good guy, and only a little creepy. And Devon’s dealings with him the following day provide the best laugh out loud moments of the episode.
Significant firsts for this episode? Apart from the more vague idea of Chuck and Casey bonding, we also first meet Dr. Morgan! And as I mentioned, Ellie trying to have a talk with Sarah.
Joe’s Take – It’s ALIVE!!!
Sure enuf, Dave. This one is all about Casey. And after seeing Undercover Lover can anyone really say that Chuck or Sarah changed as much in our eyes so quickly as he?
Ah, I can tell by the eye-blinks that many are saying “What do you mean, Buckley? Casey is the same lovable assassin we met at the beginning.” To which, I opine, “No way, José.” Casey came in, as Graham so memorably told us, as a “cold-school” killer, deftly combining Tony Soprano like “old-school” motives and dare I say, objectives, with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin like indifference to pain and suffering (either his or yours, especially if you happen to be Bryce Larkin or Chuck Bartowski).
But Casey is not, as Chuck memorably puts it, merely a “Ken doll” any longer. Dave, you said this is the start of Casey, the agent, being corrupted. I think that isn’t quite it. Instead, let’s think of it as the start of Casey being seen as more of a 3-D character. Indeed, we can finally see Casey as a man, complete with passions, flaws and – guess what – a past.
What. I wasn’t hatched!
Yes, I know. That comes later. But he wasn’t, and now, thanks to Ilsa Trinchina (Ivana Milcievic), we can believe it.
For that, I absolutely agree with you that this is the point at which we all started to trust him. Casey may have shot Bryce and he’s going to come awfully close to taking a shot at Chuck, we know. But from the moment Chuck confronts Casey in the Buy More break room about the name he flashed on, from the moment that Casey actually relates the tale and from the moment we see Casey enjoying “a little scotch and a little Neil” (Diamond), we trust him to come through and do the right thing. Now we can understand him, at least a little.
Casey: Here’s to John Casey dodging another bullet. It’s not like I want the wife and kids and the Little League practice and the minivan and the Costco runs.
Chuck: Heh – heh … Yeah, really? You don’t? ‘Cause I – it seems to me that you’d kind of be into the whole American Dream.
Casey: Nah. I do what I do so all those other slobs out there can have it.
Well, maybe Casey-the-agent being corrupted and Casey-the-man being redeemed is a pretty good way to look at it after all, Dave! 😉
Undercover Lover is primarily about Casey; that much is obvious. But as you pointed out, not completely. After all, Casey isn’t the only one to get drunk here! Poor Ellie, with both feet in while Devon has only one foot in and no one to talk to but CIA agents deep undercover and Morgan. So much for the no-touch policy they implemented in ’98. Great stuff! It’s also the moment Sarah first becomes aware that something is missing in her life, family. She will become acutely aware of that lack shortly.
Sarah also has a growing feeling in the pit of of stomach that, just like it did for Casey, a decision point is coming. Personal life or professional life. Choose one. No right decision, no wrong decision, just a decision that changes everything. Have no doubt that Chuck will see that coming for him also. He’s just not aware of it yet. But when it does, will Casey’s decision influence him? Does it influence Sarah? There are no answers here, but the questions are looming larger now.
Sarah shows me one other thing too in this episode that’s very much about her and Chuck, even though it’s a very small part of this episode. Did you notice how Sarah treats the one Russian who gets inappropriate with her?
Sarah does not suffer fools at all, much less lightly. She breaks his thumb, dents a serving tray over his head to gain access to Federov’s room later, and leaves him unconscious at the wedding scene (Seen in Variety: “Casting call for one punching bag!”). That’s how she treats men for whom she has no respect. Sarah was every bit as angry with Chuck just one episode earlier, but never, ever lost her respect for him. Even this early in the series, it’s clear that when their Face Book status is “just friends”, the word “just” doesn’t mean “merely” to Chuck and Sarah.
I honestly don’t remember if I worried that Chuck was not going to be renewed by NBC after season 1. I think I didn’t. There was just no way this story could have Chuck and Sarah going their separate ways, I knew, or even end with them in the state they were in – something less than a full-blown romantic involvement. The question remained, how would they get to a place where I believed they would get there? Could they do that with one episode left to air?
Call me a fool for not even being concerned. But I wasn’t. Chuck and Sarah were headed for something special and by this point, even I could tell.