Chuck vs The Family Volkoff (4.20)

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.

~ Dave


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 being 'cool'.

Chuck being ‘cool’.

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?

Vivian is a little angry at dad.

Vivian is a little angry at dad.

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.

Sign the prenup

Sign the prenup

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.

This is going to be fun.

This is going to be fun.

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.

– joe


About atcDave

I'm 54 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 31 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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28 Responses to Chuck vs The Family Volkoff (4.20)

  1. anthropocene says:

    Dave and joe, it can never be said too often—thank you for putting out these rich and enjoyable rematch analyses, right on time, every week!

  2. Wilf says:

    A really excellent write-up, guys. This is actually quite high up in my list of episodes. I particularly love the way Sarah glances at Chuck almost pleadingly/apologetically each time he says he’s “cool” about the prenup. And Volkoff is absolutely great in virtually every scene in which he appears.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah Wilf I like both of those. Volkoff is so much fun here, just a dynamite performance. And with Sarah, you just know she wants Chuck to be a little less cool about it! And I love Casey wondering where Chuck gets these ideas! Like I said, I think Sarah wanted to be talked out of it.

  3. resaw says:

    Allow me to add my appreciation to the thanks mentioned above. And, although I certainly see some weaknesses in this episode, I, too, enjoyed it quite a bit. On each of these season 4 rewatches, I seem to be discovering new reasons to enjoy the episodes that I had overlooked before.

    So what bothers me? In a word, Vivian. The meeting with Chuck and Sarah crashing and burning due to a sniper attack that turns out to have been staged by Vivian herself just makes no sense whatsoever. Has her mind been so thoroughly poisoned by Riley? And if it is because of Riley, who was Alexei Volkoff’s faithful council, why would she double cross her father? If anything, it would make sense that she would choose this evil path because she wanted to align herself with her father’s legacy, not to take over her own evil empire. Alexei Volkoff is a convincing sociopath. Vivian Volkoff, at least as portrayed, is not convincing as anything other than a confused young woman.

    In my view, the higher ups, in the person of Beckman, are equally confused. A few episodes ago they had an opportunity to gain the confidence of a solid asset in Vivian if they had merely arranged a meeting between Vivian and Alexei. Instead, they wait until they’ve turned Vivian against them before reaching out to Alexei. I suppose hindsight is 20/20, but still. I chalk it up to the writers trying to get from point A to point B, and unable to see anything but a very crooked path in between. Oh well.

    On the positive side, there was tension galore in this episode, and it is the tension and conflict that drives this episode forward quite “organically.” And once again, we get the message that lies and deceit do nothing but cause problems, if not outright harm, for everyone involved. At the end, when Chuck is going to finally tell the truth to Ellie, she lies to him, stopping him in his tracks, Chuck could have kept going and say something like, “Ellie, it’s okay. I know what you are really doing with Dad’s computer. And I need to tell you what I’ve really been doing, too….” Perhaps if they hadn’t been given a 24-episode season, it might’ve come out differently.

    The line of the episode for me: Casey, “Can’t trust a limey with good teeth.”

    An observation: In Castle, Volkoff calls Chuck’s mother “Mary.” If memory serves, previous to this episode, he had only called her “Frost.” Anyone care to confirm?

    • andereandre says:

      I always thought the sniper attack was another ruse by Riley to manipulate her to cross over to the dark side. However Volkoff states that the handing over of the norseman device was a message from Vivian so that was the purpose of the meeting. Which means that Vivian is already fully turned and that means that the sniper attack makes no sense.
      I have no problem with her double crossing her father (she hates the whole world now), less logical is that she and Riley stay partners afterwards (unless she has turned Riley).

      • atcDave says:

        No matter how we slice it, it seems Vivian is the weak link. Although I can imagine ways Riley’s loyalties might have switched, that also might explain why Vivian seems so very attached to him and unhinged by his death. And yeah, what I’m imagining is a little creepy!

    • joe says:

      Thanks, Resaw.

      About Vivian, I must have a different perspective – I rather like her and Lauren Cohan, the actress who plays her. [Trivia time! Despite the British accent, she was born in Philly and lived in New Jersey as a child, but moved to the UK while still very young.] Her transformation from “little girl lost” to cutthroat business woman (uh, cutthroat in both the literal and metaphorical sense) is well done in my estimation. She carries off both parts of that role. Besides, you all know that I have a thing for brunettes (and thank you, Annette Funicello).

      I sort of explain the hazy motivations more to her pseudo-insanity than to either Riley or mediocre script writing. The character is ripe to be manipulated but only if she doesn’t believe she’s being manipulated, which I take it, is Riley forte. Works for me!

      • andereandre says:

        That is the way I look at it too, Joe. I like the actress, I like the way she plays the role(s) and I like the concept.
        Your explanation works for me but I must say that I had never had real problems with the Vivian character so one more plus for her.

      • oldresorter says:

        I liked Vivian too.

        I felt Riley manipulated her.

        I enjoyed her role on the show.

        I thought the show was hitting on all cylinders, every week, the last half of s4, and most all of S4.

        Only flaw was benching Sarah for the last ep. But that’s for another week.

  4. dkd says:

    One disagreement about your recap is how you say Sarah reached the “right decision” about dropping the pre-nup. It was “a” decision. Not necessarily a “right decision”.

    I know Chuck is basically a fantasy world and there is a lot of wish fulfillment and romanticizing going on for fans in the events that occur on screen.

    But, in the real world, there’s nothing wrong with a woman–or man for that matter–having a pre-nuptial agreement.

    • Wilf says:

      True, but you might have expected them to have discussed it before it was typed.

    • atcDave says:

      Well you know I completely disagree with that. Obviously its a matter of personal import, but I’d categorically call a pre-nup a mistake. If you feel the need, you aren’t ready to marry. Anyone is free to disagree, but I’d never marry with such a thing involved. I’d call it giving up before you start.
      So there’s only one acceptable outcome to the story from my perspective. Chuck’s “pre-nup” is exactly it, there’s no need for any other sort.

    • andereandre says:

      And there would also have been nothing wrong with them being partners for life instead of getting married.
      I am Dutch and the whole concept of how American TV and movies portray weddings (and marriage) irks me. (Wouldn’t bother me so much if our idiots didn’t copy your idiots, people finding it necessary to waste their life savings because impressing the Joneses is needed for having that perfect day).
      “Chuck” did it very well by having Ellie’s perfect wedding on the beach instead of the original materialistic one, Chucks and Sarah’s wedding was very small and intimate; the actual proposal was just between the man and the woman.
      Marriage is a useful social construct but people should really think about it before they go into it, with the divorce rates as they are.
      I am married myself but the only reason we did that was because it was fiscally the easiest thing to do with the house and such. No prenups though, I would not need any money anymore if she would leave.

      • atcDave says:

        Well I’ll need to be careful here; this discussion could easily go off topic and become quite hostile. But Hollywood is absolutely, categorically not marriage friendly. I think there is some vague understanding that much of the country, especially the mid-west and south, takes marriage more seriously than the coasts do, so they honor it (or pander to it) to some degree.
        But a show like Chuck actually highlights some of the schizophrenic aspects of American culture. They try to have it both ways with both a co-habitation phase and a marriage later. Yet seriously, I know so many people, both friends and family, young and old, that I could only ever recommend S5 to. If I were doing it myself, I would have had Chuck and Sarah marry, elope, in Paris; so Honeymooners would have been literally what they were. But such is the disconnect today between middle America and Hollywood, that if I’m going to enjoy much television, I simply have to overlook a lot of behavior I can not quite endorse.

        The marriage issue remains very important to me. I don’t particularly care about a big fancy wedding (although I don’t really object either as long as the couple or families involved can afford it). But I am “traditional” enough to still believe a couple should get married. And I tend to just conclude a couple isn’t really very serious about each other or their relationship until they do. Things like pre-nups just say they still aren’t really serious and have entered into a sham marriage.
        Don’t get me wrong, that’s always the business of the involved parties, not me. But when I’m watching a show or reading a book, I’m just not going to take a romantic coupling seriously if they don’t marry. To me, that defines the commitment and is the ultimate expression of romantic affection. Anything less is a cop out.

        I want emphasize again, the reason I said this, relates to the entertainment product. Whatever decisions others make for their lives are their own business. But when I’m watching a television show, movie, or reading a book, it has bearing on how I see that relationship. That is all.

      • andereandre says:

        Dave, I read your reply just before getting to bed (CET timezone) and I thought I would reply tomorrow. And I got out of bed and it is all Chucks fault if I am not fit in the morning.

        First of all you will get no hostility from me. I have enjoyed reading everything you wrote as articles here. And parts of it I didn’t agree with and that is ok.
        The thing is we are from very different cultures. You already mention that “especially the mid-west and south takes marriage more seriously than the coasts do”.
        Within your country perceptions are already so different, think about it how that is around the world.
        American movies and TV are all about explicit violence in all gory details with as much blood they can get away with, and people have sex with their clothes on (Dutch movies are the opposite but they are boring because everyone who can act goes to the US).
        Really that is really ridiculous
        In the Netherlands (and probably for all the North West countries of Europe) most parents would not condone their children marrying without living together first.
        Oh and Dutch parents let their children sleep with their friends in their house because that is “gezellig” (cozy, but that doesn’t really catch the feeling).

        “I’m just not going to take a romantic coupling seriously if they don’t marry”;
        It would be so bad if they would not fit sexually”.

        Man, Dave, we are in totally different worlds. We will never agree, but we both love Chuck.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah Andre I know the culture difference is big. I mainly wanted to be clear that they are already at one extreme of the comfort zone for many of us. Any further and they will loose many viewers (I mean that for all television. They’ve already alienated much of the country, and could easily alienate many more).

  5. mr2686 says:

    I agree that this one is lower average, but still a fun romp. One word can sum up this one though…Dalton. He really makes the episode and almost makes the rest of the episode bland when he’s not in it. A couple of favorite moments in this one was Chuck playing UNO with a warlord, and Volkoff’s comment about how he got his hands on Thorium originally “Volkoff jokes that to mine said thorium, he had to wage war with natives and destroy their Hometree, only to reveal that he and the other prisoners had recently watched Avatar. That was funny!

  6. Wilf says:

    Totally OT … I just watched the final ever episode of Borgen (the Danish political series with subtitles). Don’t know if any of you has seen that great series? Incomprehensibly, the writers allowed Birgitte’s progress through the three seasons to come to a decent and logical culmination. She didn’t lose her memory or her mind and have to start again right at the very bottom of the political ladder, although, surely, it would have been much more exciting and wonderful had something like that happened. 😉

    The writing team evidently did not include JS or CF.

  7. Dave says:

    I liked this episode. This was another of those that was…meh…when first aired but I liked better each time I watched it.

    What was really good was Dalton as the caricature of a crazy villain and the interaction of Chuck and Sarah (with Casey thrown in, “I don’t know where Chuck gets those ideas!”) with respect to the prenup. I found that stuff to be very, very good.

    All in all solid, but Vivian’s premiere as a villain was kind of a fail. She never was a “good” villain.

  8. candm3407 says:

    I just have to say that my view of this episode has become one of my favorite episodes because of the role reversal if you will of Sarah and Chuck, The last time I saw the face expression Sarah gives when Chuck hands her the signed prenup was when Jill kissed Chuck at the hotel. It was a shock and awe and it has as Sarah says took her by surprise.

    This episode also showed me how much Alexei and Chuck’s relationship albeit a strange one was some what of respect. No one has challenged Alexei as much as Charles has and that includes Orion. You can see this with the scene where Alexei says looks like I am going to have some fun. Clearly here we have a madman who respects a agent. It would be interesting to see in Season 5 if Alexei would of been a silent partner for Carmichael Indusries.

    The whole Vivian Character annoys me because at times she seems believable and other times I can see she is acting. The scene where she gets the final component is something I like she took control, but the scene on the hill made me scratch my head bad acting if you ask me.

  9. Pingback: Episode of the Week: Chuck vs The Family Volkoff (4.20) | Chuck This

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