So now Chuck has a real nemesis, and the CIA has ordered her death. Not surprisingly, Chuck will go to great lengths to avoid that outcome. Even if it means enlisting the aid of Alexei himself. Sarah surprises Chuck with a pre-nup, and Mary is trying to restrict Ellie’s Intersect research. So we have meaningful “B” and “C” plots this week.
After the jump, we’ll look at The Family Volkoff.
Our Chuck This poll had this episode at 73 out of 91, so we’ll call that the low end of average. That sounds about right to me; any average Chuck episode will be a ton of fun, and with another dynamite performance by Timothy Dalton and the story setting up the season finale arc there’s a lot to like here, even if it doesn’t quite rise to the level of very strong.
Let me start with that performance by Timothy Dalton. This may actually be my favorite appearance of Alexei Volkoff. Or it might not be, I don’t know; but I love what we get here. Alexei trying to “make amends” to all those he’s wronged, even though he is clearly still a bit twisted, a bit psychotic; is just tons of fun to watch. Right from confessing his entitlement issues with regards to the prison lunch line and anticipating a lot of fun when he sees Chuck and Sarah have come to visit this is something special to watch. He will even try to offer Chuck relationship advice, and make a rather frightening bid for forgiveness from a Somali pirate captain. All while apparently fighting his baser nature. We can’t really be surprised when he betrays the team in the end, or when he is, in turn, betrayed by his own daughter. Despondent Alexei is funny too, and doesn’t last long. He still manages to save the day, before making one last apology and issuing a moral warning as he is hauled off. Dynamite performance for my favorite Chuck villain.
Chuck himself is well served in this episode. He tries to “play it cool” when Sarah springs the pre-nup on him. Getting advice from Casey and Morgan is a very entertaining scene on several levels. Sarah’s role in this much less appealing, but I find it amusing that she apparently is just begging for Chuck to talk her out of it. Almost like she’s subconsciously testing Chuck; the pre-nup seems like a reasonable thing to her logical and cautious mind, yet she’s disappointed when Chuck plays it cool. I think she wants him to remind her how he, and their love, is different from what she’s known and now expects in life. So Chuck playing it cool causes her a bit of frustration. But between Chuck being Chuck, Volkoff providing a living example of distrust among family, and Casey’s struggles with openness and honestly in a family; Sarah reaches the right decision. Chuck’s pre-nup tease in the end leaves us in a perfectly sweet place to end this story.
I also really like how far Chuck will go to protect Vivian from the CIA. Even better, his moral heroics are completely lost on her. But I think the highlight of the “Norseman” plot is Chuck’s life or death Uno match. So much high tension, and cheating in an Uno match; I love it! A perfect bit of Chuck absurdism.
Along the way, Chuck will alternately have to talk Alexei up, and talk him back down. I love the interaction between Alexei and Chuck; a semi-penitent psychopath and his skeptical handler.
Since I sort of mashed together the “A” and “B” plots above, I’ll move on to the “C” plot of Mary trying to protect Ellie from the files on Orion’s computer. Ellie is making interesting discoveries that will play out in a couple weeks. Mary is, much like Chuck, trying to block her. Best of all, we get the mission of Hot Mama and Six Pack. Naturally Mary isn’t fooled even a little. Even she’s a good spy sometimes…
This episode is uncommon in also having a sort of “D” plot. Maybe too small to really count, but we do have a couple of scenes between Casey and Alex where they try to sort out disclosure and honesty. This will play out next week. It is good to see Casey growing and facing up to his past and his humanity. This is not a huge part of the story, but it is satisfying.
Until next week.
The Family McHugh. And The Family Burton. And The Families Bartowski. And…
Chuck vs. The Family Volkoff is all about families trying desperately to stick together despite everything. I’m big on families, but these guys are fighting each other and themselves about a long list of grievances.
Chuck has betrayed Vivian. Alexei did too when he left “tokens from a stranger” for her to find in a safety deposit box. How much more has Mary left Ellie, I wonder? Like Alexei, she abandoned her children for 20 years. Worse she now seems to be siding with one even while the late Stephen seems to be siding with the other. John Casey has done no better by Alex these past 20 years; he almost refuses to be part of her life now. The Burtons are not immune to this taking up of sides. Sarah has some money put aside strictly intended to bale her father out of prison when (not if, but when) he needs it. What would her mother say about that?
But at least Chuck and Ellie are good, right? I wouldn’t make book on that. By the end, Chuck is still trying to withhold information from Ellie and Ellie is lying to Chuck. Tell me they’ve done better than Alexei and Vivian and I’ll tell you you’re wrong.
That list of wrongs is not complete, of course, until we consider what Sarah presents to Chuck, that infamous prenup. Is this a sign that Sarah doesn’t trust Chuck? Or is it a sign that she’s withholding something of her own from Chuck? Whatever it is, the prenup is not something we want to see this close to Chuck and Sarah’s wedding. Things are, in a word, a mess.
These are families I like, and people who I thought were on the right track. Seeing them so lost and confused by the “complicated” situations they’re in makes me particularly sad, even if I do understand.
It’s hard to measure time in a city without seasons
The smog makes gorgeous light, but you can never let the breeze in
I’ve been waiting for so long that I forgot the reason.
It’s hard to measure time in a city you don’t believe in
This being Chuck, we’re looking for a way out and I found one in the strangest of places. You see, I’ve been writing forever that I like Chuck the character most when he’s handling the situation. I like the way he rose to the occasion in First Date with Luther Colt on the roof and when he faced down Alexei Volkoff in his father’s cabin. I like the way he took Sarah’s hand in Best Friends and tells her he’s someone who cares. It’s the opposite of “whiny Chuck,” the character we saw at length in Wookiee, Imported Hard Salami and even in The Break Up.
What strikes me in Chuck vs. The Family Volkoff is that, when Chuck is faced with something that threatens his relationship with Sarah, he is exactly as he should be. Chuck doesn’t panic, Chuck doesn’t whine and he doesn’t fret. He is, like Sarah keeps telling us, “cool” and doing everything he can to take it in stride.
Casey: That’s what you would’ve done.
Sarah: Exactly. But now I see what Chuck’s side of it would have been like. Flipping out about our relationship boiled down to the contents of an envelope. Seeing the end before we’ve even started.
As much as I might like Chuck being “cool” and not whiny, it doesn’t mean that this is how Sarah likes him. Of course not. Sarah has been in love with Chuck from the first, even after she’s seen the worst of him. It’s Sarah who’s different now.
Casey: So why the prenup?
Sarah: I have some money socked away in case my dad gets arrested again.
Casey: Well, I’m sure Bartowski could handle it. Any excuse to weep and hug.
Sarah: Yeah, well, it’s more about what it dredges up for me. My relationship with my family and having to take sides.
Casey: Caught between your parents, huh? Tough place to be.
Sarah: Hardest place for a kid is right in the middle.
Casey: Roger that.
Families. Ya can’t live with ’em…
Yes, this is a mess, and we’re not going to get out of it this week. Casey won’t talk to Alex’s mom, Vivian is trying to kill Alexei and Chuck, Mary has no idea what to do about Volkoff, Chuck or Ellie and Sarah is lost in her emotions about her family’s history.
The smartest guy around is also the most dangerous. He is the one who gives the right advice when confronted with all his shortcomings.
Mary: What is it you wanted to say?
Alexei: I’ve done terrible things. I’ve been evil. But I was drawn to the goodness in you.
Mary: Alexei, this is not necessary.
Alexei: Yes, it is. I was not worthy of your love, like Orion was. Please accept my apology, and know that I’m doing my best to improve.
Thank you, Charles.
Remember, family and friends are everything. Money, greed and power are a dance with Satan. And he looks like me.
Fortunately, Chuck’s not trying to find a way out. He is determined, however to make the best of the situation as it is.
And that prenup? Like me, Chuck doesn’t take it to be a test so much as it is a necessary precaution, necessary that is, if you’re going it alone. Together, not so much.
We’re by no means out of the woods, but the future starts to look much brighter for Chuck and Sarah. That makes me want to rate this episode higher than you might expect.