The last episode to air before the Christmas break in 2010. This brings the most productive year of the show to an end, and yet we’re not even to the mid-point of the longest season yet! But talk about some extremes, from Pink Slip to Honeymooners to Phase Three all in one calender year.
So how does Leftovers measure up, and what sort of note do we end the year on? After the jump, this week’s discussion.
I’ll cautiously say Leftovers doesn’t really measure up very well. I don’t think its a terrible episode; there are some wonderful moments, but there are also some pretty annoying moments, and way too much whiny Chuck. That’s enough to put it in my lower tier of watchable episodes. I’ll start with what does work, I like the Die Hardesque siege of Castle. And I like Team B’s growing realization that Volkoff is a nut-burger. Even better, the discovery he is infatuated with Frost. The interplay here of Volkoff, Frost and Sarah is terrific. The Buy Morons have a small but meaningful part to play here, and I find that part was quite amusing. Especially Morgan trying to channel John McClane, right up until he can’t reach his gun.
But Timothy Dalton really owns this episode. This is the first episode where we get Alexi Volkoff full blast. He is psychotic, delusional, and very funny. From out-threatening Chuck, to “kids love me”, to playing charades with family. He is a delight to watch, and we still have several even bigger Volkoff performances ahead. This is always my favorite sort of guest character on Chuck; larger than life, a bit absurd, and likable from a distance.
We also have a few enjoyable Charah scenes; the talk before the ambush (nice tease with the jewelry store), some good teamwork moments even when Chuck isn’t quite at his best, and holding hands while armed for a fight.
But a couple of problems are present too. I don’t find the “strip kick” thing very funny, just not my sort of humor. But not a really big deal either. The staging of a couple scenes is awkward in unflattering ways; specifically the ambush fight with assassins, Volkoff getting Chuck and Sarah to yield in the Buy More, and the final show down in the courtyard. These all seem like situations Chuck and Sarah, in particular Sarah should have been able to deal with more easily. And especially with more passion towards protecting each other. That lack of passion may be the issue that rubs me wrong; after seeing how far they will go for each other the last few weeks, its almost like they’re bored with it all this week. These scenes just fall flat. They all hang on a big moment for Mary to intervene and save the day. I suppose the point is Mary winning the trust of Chuck, but its at the expense of making both Chuck and Sarah look bad. Just poorly staged I think.
The most bothersome thing about this episode to me though is quite ironic. In an episode directed by Zac Levi we see a very unflattering portrayal of Chuck himself. I get that he still hasn’t found his rhythm without the Intersect (and he really won’t until Season Five), and that he’s reacting very strongly to his Mom. I know nobody can push my buttons quite like Mom. So maybe he gets a little pass. Certainly my complaints never rise to misery arc sort of levels. But I find several scenes, especially the interrogation of Mary in Castle to be an unpleasant sort of thing to watch.
Leftovers ends with Chuck using the Orion Computer to regain his super powers. And that brings the Intersect-less arc to a close. In real time we now had over a month off to wait for Balcony. But we’ll get right to it next week. See you then!
Knock-Knock. – I’m here!
If you knock, knock, knock
And if you knock, knock, knock
And if you call me I’ll be free
And if you ring for me
This is getting monotonous! Once again, Dave has captured my thoughts, this time about Chuck vs. The Leftovers, perfectly. So, what’s to add?
Well, only a couple of stray things. The episode is extremely well named. We’re dealing with leftovers, not only from Thanksgiving dinner (hum… I think I was too, IRL, when I first saw this episode), but with the leftovers from the season’s story-arcs.
Most specifically, mom, who was not at all a part of Phase Three or even of Fear of Death. Along with mom comes Volkoff, who is seemingly attached to Mary at the hip. The relationship between Chuck and Sarah is as solid as ever; Chuck doesn’t have the Intersect back, but he’s going to be important to the CIA, if only because of that tie between the world’s most dangerous arms dealer and his mother. His fears about how Sarah views him are allayed.
But there’s one more left-over, one that’s the tiniest scrap left on the plate – Orion’s ghost.
I’ll echo Dave’s sentiments; the strip-kick stuff was a chuckle, but it lasted not one second too long. The Die Hard homage was well done (“Yip-ee Kai-aiii!”), and perfect in Josh Gomez’s hands. Tim Dalton really did “chew up the scenery” this time, and man, that was fun.
Lester: This is not stealing. This is pre-buying with funds we do not have yet… which we will post-pay, when we sell these phones on e-bay!
But you gotta love the cleverness. The answer to Alexei’s charade was inspired by the story he told weeks earlier, as Tuttle, about how he lost his virginity. Jeff and Lester appropriating (liberating?) “7-G” cell phones for their own nefarious purposes was a hoot. Volkoff showing Chuck how to make a real threat was simple incredible, as was Mary’s demonstration.
But it was Orion’s puzzles that had me going. I didn’t solve “1 or 11” riddle until Chuck told us, despite the fact that I’ve been an avid Blackjack player with the losses to prove it. 😉 Oh yeah, AND we’ve heard “Aces, Charles” since the pilot.
The episode did serve to bring in those lose ends even if it did not tie them up. We do still have leftover mysteries to mull over. Mary’s safe, and Chuck knows that “Frost” really is a deep cover. She’s still “mom”, even if he doesn’t agree with her methods and decisions.
Frost: I didn’t have a choice!
Chuck: [shouting] There’s always a choice! You could choose to let me know what your plan is!
You can see by Sarah’s reaction to that how much Sarah is affected. That is one of the things she’s learned from Chuck that’s made her life so different.
Another leftover; it’s clear that Stephen had created the tools that both blocked and restored Chuck’s Intersect, but it’s not clear when or why. I have an inclination to think that he, as a matter of course, always intended to have a way to undo any damage caused by his creations. So if Orion always seems prescient, it’s only because Stephen was cautious.
One thing that I’m sure will come up in comments is the validity of Frost/Mary suppressing Chuck’s Intersect. Was that a self-serving, traitorous move, meant to get Chuck out of the picture? Or was it a reflexive motherly twitch, meant to get Chuck out of danger? Mary tells us. It was to keep her family out of danger. Sarah has to explain to him. Inside Volkoff’s organization, Mary had become a major intelligence asset. Her mission never was to take Volkoff out; it was to bring down his organization. Her reasoning may not strike everyone as strong enough, but I’ll accept it. Chuck’s on the fence himself.
Chuck: How can I trust anything she says? Every time I do, I end up getting shot or almost blown up. I haven’t been stabbed, yet.
Sarah: Chuck, going undercover for so long and staying well is an extremely hard thing to do as a spy. I mean, I got lucky – I was assigned to you. Your mom got Volkoff.
When Chuck vs. The Leftovers aired the first time, I was left with the same feeling I had this time. There’s more coming. There’s going to be more Volkoff and Chuck&Sarah have not reached the end point of their relationship. I knew the six weeks wait for the next episode was going to be excruciating, and it was. Shakespearean references and hints coming from The Balcony were in everyone’s mind. This episode was only supposed to tide us over past the Holidays, and it did, if only just barely.
Wow, Dave, so little love for Leftovers. I know that the lower tier of Chuck is still better than much of TV, but I put it much higher in my Chuck tiers and find that it’s rewatch value is quite high. (So, mark this down as an anomaly at ChuckThis: Dave and Thinkling don’t quite see eye to eye.) Disclaimer. I know I’m probably in the minority: I like the mom story and will buy it, even though I know the exposition is a bit thin; I like the intersectless arc and find it serves a purpose in Chuck’s (and Chuck and Sarah’s) journey; and I really, really like Leftovers. It pulls us down into the undertow of the spy world and shows us with bone chilling clarity why the two worlds don’t mix.
I’ll start with what I like the least: one, pole training … not at all funny to me; and two (minority view, I know), the Die Hard parody … meh. I’ll agree that Chuck came off a bit whiny, but I’ll give him a pass, and I’ll get to why in a bit. My only other complaint was that the filming angles of the dinner were a little too creative for me (but not nearly as bad as the rehearsal dinner).
Timothy Dalton does indeed own the episode. His character swings from a thread and shows all of us just how crazy he is … and gives us a glimpse of the tight rope Mary has had to walk all these years. Volkoff is ready to incinerate everybody (even his beloved Frost) one minute, then baffled that Mary never invited him over to meet her family, an oversight that he quickly and decisively remedies. I mean kids love him (one of my favorite lines in all of Chuck). Riiight. At the dinner he is a two-faced Janus, alternating between his charming side and his chilling side. If he was endearing and funny as Tuttle, he is absolutely hilarious as the World’s Biggest Psychopath (WBP) ingratiating himself with his new family.
TD not only owned the episode, but also told us its theme. Families come first. That’s what Mary keeps telling an unbelieving son and an unsympathetic audience. Unfortunately, she has had to put her family first in extremely unusual, probably misguided, and utterly unconvincing ways. Until now.
This is her episode and a window into her world. So we begin in Mary’s world, where she has been summoned by the WBP, and we can see by the look on her face that a summons from His Craziness is not anything she looks forward to.
She was doing really well protecting her family by staying away and keeping them a secret. The one thing she was determined to avoid was leading Volkoff to her family. But then Chuck came looking for her and ended up in Volkoff’s cross-hairs. That’s where we enter her story. So, Mary staged Carmichael’s death. Twice. But now he is back on Volkoff’s radar and the focus of his considerable wrath. Thus Mary embarks on another mission to protect her family, keep them a secret, maintain her cover, and satisfy an insatiable psychopath. Staying alive would be a plus, but as the story unfolds, we see it’s not her top priority.
What begins with moderate success goes sideways and turns into Mary’s worst nightmare, piece by unavoidable piece, and she finds herself fighting for any shred of control.
Back in Castle: How do you convince CIA agents that their base is no match for the World’s Biggest Psychopath? How do you explain yourself to a son who doesn’t trust you (albeit with good reason, based on his limited evidence)?
The second question, like much of Chuck’s journey and this arc, revolves around the Intersect. So I’ll put on my hindsight goggles and open an Intersect parenthesis.
Finally, at the end of the series, Chuck himself will see the Intersect as more of a curse than a blessing and conclude that the only way his family can be safe is to destroy the Intersect. But he’s not there, yet.
He’s here, and he’s a little whiny. But hey, in a flash, or a non-flash, his mom, the source of his abandonment issues, took away his Intersect crutch and stripped him of his confidence. Thus one set of insecurities joins another to turn Chuck’s life upside-down … again. So, I give him a pass. (I admit it may have been a bit overplayed, as was sometimes the case with Chuck.)
The first question is answered up close and scary, by the man himself. Timothy Dalton’s Volkoff storming the Castle is all win and pulls the curtain back on Mary’s 20 year nightmare. From the moment Alexei begins talking to Mary, the story takes a turn … toward the twilight zone … and the things I really love about this episode. So here’s what I love about Leftovers.
I love that the real story is shown in subtleties and facial expressions more than what’s being said. I can’t really think of another episode that does this like Leftovers. In Chuck and Sarah and Mary’s faces we see the direness of the situation. I particularly like watching Sarah’s face (so what’s new, right?), as the Bartowski threat level rises from yellow to red … to redder than red.
Mary’s face shows us several important things: her love and concern for her family and her fear of Alexei … that his affection for her is an unwelcome burden and is in no way returned. Volkoff is not someone she is with in any sense of the word.
I love the Mary and Sarah dynamic. Only Sarah has a context to understand Mary, and we see the light begin to dawn as Alexei talks to Frost. When Mary says Alexei is in love with her, Chuck and Sarah’s faces display two different types of horror. Sarah identifies with Mary. It shows in her face and is revealed in her words, “that would make me a major intelligence asset.” And then of course she tells Chuck that she was lucky but his mom got Volkoff. Worst. Assignment. Ever.
The Mary/Sarah bond rooted in the desire to protect the man they both love has become something more. Sarah gains an aching empathy for Mary. For Mary’s part she sees Sarah for who she really is to Chuck.
I love the dinner. It’s heart breaking: revisiting their last Thanksgiving. It’s poignant: glimpses of a normal that might have been. And above all it’s tense. Beneath the surface of simple conversation and a happy family evening is a tension that is coiled and ready to strike.
I love the courtyard, another TD win for the two faces of Volkoff. The courtyard scene sets the stage for Gobbler and the Volkoff takedown.
I’ll venture into potentially mined territory to talk about Mary’s hero moments. I don’t really see them as coming at the expense of Chuck and Sarah. As I watch those scenes, I see a hair trigger psychopath with his finger on the hair trigger of a gun pointed first at Chuck, then Sarah. I am convinced that any sudden move on Sarah or Chuck’s part would result in death for one or both of them. Not that they might not try something in another beat or two, but their immediate response seemed reasonable. And I personally liked that Mary got to run the play this time. It let us know where she stands, and it set up the bizarre hostage situation that necessitated a change in the status quo. To me they were great moments that gave Chuck some healing and sealed the Mary/Sarah bond that was so critical to the events of the coming arc Balconey/Gobbler/Push Mix. Just my take on a controversial topic.
The episode ends with Mary going back to her world after a mission gone awry. She protected her family (by the barest), but they are no longer a secret, and their location is now on Volkoff’s map of world domination. Her cover is blown, and she probably has some fences to mend and some splaining to do to her besotted psychopath. She and her family are alive for now, but it’s anybody’s guess as to how long can she hold the mad man at bay. Leftovers really leaves things balanced on a razor’s edge for Clan Bartowski.
Leftovers following on the heals of Phase 3 is a real head snapper. Both episodes are way outside of the box of what we would describe as a typical Chuck episode (is there such a beast?). And they are outside of the box at extreme opposite ends … no two shows could be farther apart in feel and tone. But I loved the subtleties and coiled tension of Leftovers, just as I loved the explosive, larger than life rampage of Phase 3. Both vehicles delivered drama, humor, and poignancy … and new glimpses into characters we’ve come to love. How can I not love a show that can do that?