We finally meet the main villain for the back arc, and Chuck and Morgan have a bit of relationship crisis. That’s a welcome change!
After the jump, we’ll discuss Season Four’s Valentine’s episode.
I have to admit an odd thing, I love this episode. It scored way down at 82 on our ranking the episodes survey, so it is certainly no “fan favorite”. And I’m not sure I’d call it a favorite of mine either, more like “average” in my usual “its Chuck so average becomes awesome” sense of the word.
I do see a few reasons for ranking it down. I would guess the major things to hold against it are a fairly boring character in Vivian Volkoff and a completely underwhelming final action sequence with the spooked horse (and an eerie blotted out face for Yvonne’s stunt woman) and Casey the highly visible sniper. I’m no apologist for either of those things, I think they absolutely do bring down an otherwise enjoyable episode.
But the things I love about Masquerade, I really love. That pretty much means the first 25 minutes of the episode. And nothing about the end ruins those first 25 minutes, it just underwhelms. Two sequences in particular stand out to me; the first is the Valentine’s Day from heck (yes, I mean heck, its a milder version of the other place…). I think this sequence is so funny, so sweet, and so funny (YES, twice!) it almost makes the whole episode. Chuck and Morgan celebrating their mutual good fortune, Sarah giving Chuck a hard time about socks on doorknobs and “Pretty Woman” references, Morgan and Alex and their beyond strange activities with chocolate, Sarah good naturedly playing along with all of it and being just impossibly adorable as a tempting angel; and Casey walking in on the chaos. The episode may not rise to “favorite” status, but this chain of events does.
The second stand out scene is briefer, but even more favored for me. That is Sarah choosing to “hang” with Morgan. It seems a Chuckiversal constant that Sarah/Morgan scenes are always entertaining. And this one is truly something special. Sarah tries so hard to connect with Morgan. Can any of us honestly say we expected to see Sarah Walker of the first couple seasons making growling sounds while playing with action figures?! This is such an unexpected and happy event I smile just thinking about it. But wait, there’s more… Morgan’s revelation that he is, indeed, a child; worse, he’s Chuck and Sarah’s child, is almost as satisfying.
Of course this has fall out. But I think the fall out here is all good. I’m not a Morgan hater, really. I think he is often funny, and is a big part of the show’s humor. But it pleases me that he is moving out. I think that’s only appropriate. I appreciate that this is a big and melancholy event for both Chuck and Morgan. So I like how it plays out with a fitting level of seriousness, and I like that Sarah is sympathetic and supports Chuck throughout. This is what adult relationships ought to look like. And I even mean that for the bromance.
I’m not sure how much to get into Vivian’s character here. Most of the problems I have with her will start to develop next week. In Masquerade I really do find her mostly boring. Chuck connects with her some through shared experiences with absent parents. Chuck and Sarah protect her, at considerable risk to Sarah. And the episode ends with a pretty heavy hint of Vivian taking up her father’s mantle. Next week I expect to get into how inadequate her switch to the dark side seems. Vivian does not undo this, or any other episode completely. But she clearly isn’t even in the ball game with some of the fun and outlandish characters and villains we’ve enjoyed during the course of the series.
This is another episode with a very minimal “B” plot. It is funny to see how grotesquely disheveled Ellie and Devon can become. And I don’t believe it stretches the truth too terribly far (!). It ties back into the “A” plot pretty indirectly, but it is a sweet moment. Morgan is such a softy!
We also see Casey being seduced away for a new assignment. It is funny to listen to the dialogue of the bar tending scene from the masquerade and see how, while talking to Morgan, Casey convinces himself its time to move on. This will play out over the next couple weeks. I like how even Casey needs to feel needed.
So I know this isn’t a greatly loved episode. But I find it a completely enjoyable re-watch regardless. And a couple of scenes here I can happily watch any time.
At Childhood’s End
After contemplating Dave’s write-up, Chuck vs. The Masquerade starts to get my vote for most underrated Chuck episode ever. Sarah in Victoria Secret Angel Wings? Oh my. Sarah feigning ignorance about the meaning of the sock on the door knob? Zounds! Sarah teasing Chuck that she’s been to “those” kinds of parties …and they don’t look anything like this…
Take me, I’m yours, Sarah Walker!
[Mrs. Joe impatiently taps her foot in irked silence.]
Sorry, dear. Oh yeah, this one is fun and I haven’t even gotten to the wonderful Sarah-Morgan scene yet. That’s okay. Dave covered it well. But that’s not at all the reason I find this episode to be a bit better than the bottom 10%, where it’s been placed. There’s a certain tightness and even forethought in the script that deserves some notice.
Oh, put those eyebrows down, guys, and let me give you two examples. The first is in the way Alexei is kept in the story line without being present. In the A plot, Boris Kaminsky (David S. Lee) (who cleverly speaks at least four languages before the credits are given) is after a key. Whatever it is, the key seems to be important to the heirs of Alexei Volkoff’s shattered empire. Boris seems to be determined to be the only surviving heir, too.
The CIA (and therefore, Boris) knows about one other heir, the reclusive Vivian McArthur (Lauren Cohan) of Somerset, England. She’s Alexei’s daughter and has been trained in equestrian, the martial arts, skeet shooting and not to be forgotten, business – the perfect skill set to run Volkoff Industries. The key, Vivian’s surreptitious training, her swaddled upbringing and innocence – it’s understated enough and a bit clever.
It’s a shame that Vivian, the innocent child of Alexei, has no idea what Volkoff Industries is and what it means for her. She will start to by the end of the episode. It represents a very important turning point, in fact, one that will define who she is.
And that is the second interesting knot in the thread that I see, one that endows a certain gravitas. Morgan faces a similar turning point, of course. It’s his turn now to define himself separate and distinct from his life-long buddy, Chuck. Is it time to break up Han and Chewy? Yes, it is. Chuck himself knows that this decision is painful for both of them and I can’t help but think he also knows it’s inevitable. As childish as he’s been, I do have some sympathy for Morgan because facing adulthood is never the easiest thing. It’s final and irrevocable and that makes it both painful and important.
Casey is not to be spared this. He’s clearly the grownup-spy in the group, but being adult does not make anyone immune from the need to grow and change. It’s pointed out to him (by Actress Robin Givens, no less) that, as a spy at least, it may be time to move on.
Casey: You were at the bar. What are you doing in Castle?
Bentley: Director Jane Bentley, NCS. I was in England to observe.
You see, I’m not like Agents Bartowski or Walker, or even General Beckman. I see your true potential. You started working for the NSA because you were America’s best sharpshooter, and now, you’re so much more than this, Colonel. It seems your team doesn’t need you anymore.
Of course, baby Clara needs to grow up a bit also. That’s her job! It’s time to put away the Jeffster music and move onto better things, like her own room, so that mommy and daddy can get some sleep.
Vivian’s key fits the lock every bit as much as the Intersect fits Chuck’s brain; her future path is to be determined by the choice she makes. Chuck and Morgan have decided to grow up a little, make room for each others’ adulthood and nobody can know what that might mean for them. Casey sees a fork in the road as clearly as the others and his choice means everything to Team B. It’s only because none of their destinations are knowable that this episode seems so unimportant at first viewing. It’s not.
Chuck vs. The Masquerade is all about the end of childhood and innocence. That’s never unimportant.