Now the Season Four finale arc really gets going. Vivian and Ellie both are searching for Agent X, while wedding preparations are nearing their climax. After the jump, we’ll discuss this episode and the start of the season’s final arc.
Agent X rated at about the middle of the pack on our rating the episodes poll. The rest of the arc will rate better, so over-all, a strong season finale arc with a decent start here. As is typical with these middling episodes there is plenty good, and a few shortcomings to mention. And as is so often the case with Chuck, an average episode is a ton of fun to watch, in spite of a few complaints.
This episode easily breaks into two segments; the bachelor/bachelorette parties, followed by an actual mission. Chuck and Sarah head off in different directions for their respective parties, so we get side by side stories that are mostly a lot of fun as the bad guys seek the Orion computer with the Agent X files. Sarah’s side of the story does not seem as interesting to me, although to be fair, that may be because I have zero interest in this sort of activity. It also seems very unlike Sarah, but again, that may be because I hate thinking of her as being so boring. I was mildly surprised that Ellie was interested either.
Chuck’s story however I found very entertaining. My own bias here, I would find the party Devon planned infinitely more fun than the party the Buy Morons thought they were getting. I’m no extreme sports buff like Devon, but a weekend camping with my friends sounds like a good time. I just love the way the misunderstanding plays out. “Vecas/Vegas” and all the bogus activities Devon comes up with is just an “awesome” set up for a joke. The arrival at the park is a great moment. I particularly like the varying reactions; Chuck, Casey and Morgan adapting to the misunderstanding with a good natured shrug; Lester and Big Mike irate, and Jeff apparently expecting the outcome as he heads off for mushrooms and marmots…
The party itself works well on a couple counts; I particularly like Jeff’s reactions to torture and truth serum, and the way Devon and Morgan are given a distraction while Casey and Chuck deal with the problem. Just a very entertaining few minutes.
This leads to a transition period of a few minutes centered around Ellie’s discovery of Chuck’s secrets. The good news is, Ellie needed to be “read in” long ago. I love that she is accepting of her brother doing important, and dangerous things. Its a nice relationship moment. Although I can’t help but think it sort of highlights the waste of keeping Ellie in the dark for much of the season. Unlike season 3.5 where the secrets and lies played nicely into a villain’s plans, and lead to a great reveal; in season 4 the big moment is anti-climax. Don’t get me wrong, I think its best that way, Ellie’s reaction was fitting. How can she not be proud to find her brother is involved in great things? But just like the central relationship “will they/won’t they” being dragged out a step too long, I think the same thing has happened here. It is impossible to repeat the same reveal two seasons in a row and have a satisfying story or exciting climax from it both times; worse, it makes both Ellie and Chuck look sort of stupid for drawing it out the way they did. Fortunately, the sibling relationship does not drive the emotional tone of the show in quite the same way the Chuck/Sarah relationship does. So this misstep is of fairly small consequence.
My other, fairly small, complaint with this part of the show, is that the Agent X story usurps Chuck’s Intersect story. Chuck does get his moment to show off a little for his sister, but I wish this moment had come much earlier in the season so some meaningful discussion could have been had about the nature of Orion’s work and what Ellie can do to make it better. I think we needed Ellie as an Intersect expert much earlier in the story. I think that also would have had the benefit of making more of the Agent X story. It could have had its own place as a big discovery late in the season. And I guess all of this is the sort of stuff I’ll get into again with the next “Alternatives” post. Its more tweaking the product than major criticism.
So its off to England. Mrs. Winterbottom is a wonderfully fun character, as is the final action sequence and the destruction of the Seaver house. Bonus points for Sarah’s British accent (kind of a different treatment than Devon will give one next season…) and Casey finding the Mom of his dreams.
The final big reveal of Agent X works well as a big moment for me. I was honestly quite surprised when it was Volkoff, I think it was a nice twist. There are certainly fans who had problems with it. I personally think it does more good than harm in the end; it provides some explanation for why Mary might have stuck with a failed mission for longer than sense would dictate. I’m assuming she (and Stephen) feel some responsibility for unleashing this monster on the world and are well motivated to see this through to the end. It does present a few minor continuity issues, its obvious in watching some older episodes that the writers had not conceived of this twist until right before they used it. But I think this is the sort of thing we all have seen from television many times over the years; and I think in dealing with this sort of serial story there is some responsibility on the part of the viewer to give a benefit of the doubt. I’m sure we will nit pick this some in comments, and that’s fine, but overall I rank this as a job well done.
And that wound up being a longer bunch of comments than I normally give. Yet another average episode that is an excellent hour of entertainment.
He Ain’t Heavy
That’s about right. This music is played while the mother Casey never had is defending the Winterbottom estate – with relish! I didn’t care for it at first, but it grew on me. It fits.
As does so much of this episode. Like usual, Dave’s got it absolutely right, especially about the hilarity of the Buy Morons celebrating the end of Chuck’s bachelorhood and simultaneously, Ellie failing miserably in her attempt to debauch Sarah. 😉
Sarah: Ooh. Is that a gun? No.
What’s better? Chuck dishonoring Morgan’s shirt, of course. Ya gotta laugh. But there’s something else too; it’s in the way Sarah looks at Chuck when he’s demonstrating the Intersect to Ellie. What do I see there? Is it – pride? You bet.
Even separated, Chuck and Sarah manage to work as a team, holding off the common enemy, who are, in this instance, the oily Riley (Ray Wise) and his female-assassin/minion, Jasmine (India de Beaufort). You just know I love it when Chuck and Sarah work together like that.
These aren’t even the best things about Chuck vs. Agent-X. In fact, I put them in a tie for third place. Third? What could possibly be better?
For the runner up position I nominate Millicent Martin who plays the redoubtable Mrs. Winterbottom. Marvelous. Maybe I have a thing for British actors this week, but even though I’d only seen her previously as Daphne Moon’s mother on Fraiser, she’s had a lustrous career spanning five decades. Her bouncing between gentile, tea-serving matron and fifty cal machine gun wielding warrior determined to protect her primroses makes me laugh every time.
Casey: You know how to feed one of these things?
Mrs. Winterbottom: Please. You’re feeding me.
That leaves my favorite thing about Chuck vs. Agent-X. But how to put this into words? After seeing it about ten times, there’s a sense that, here in this episode, many questions have been quietly answered. Many things considered to be loose ends, some of which were almost forgotten, were addressed, if subtly.
The big ones, the questions answered loudly, are the immediate ones about the identity of Agent-X and the questions about Chuck and Ellie’s trust in each other. Yes, I absolutely agree that the cast and crew and even the fans who might have known in advance were great in not spoiling the secret about Agent-X. I’ll admit that I had a feeling from the beginning (at least, from the time the episode’s title was known) that Chuck was not Agent-X. But if not Chuck, then who? I guessed Ellie. Who better to be Chuck’s next big foe, if not a sibling?
As my brother (with whom I fought like a brother, growing up!) would say, WRONG!
The issue of the secrets kept by the Bartowskis was, in those days, a big one. But perhaps that was because of the fans. We just hated the idea that any of these beloved characters kept secrets from the others.
Yes, we had seen the same issue come up many times already, especially between Chuck and Sarah before they decided “No more secrets, no more lies.” Clearly, this theme is a big thing to the writers and creators too.
But for me, that absolute, no exceptions stance is a very hard thing to do. It’s not a goal to be met, and put behind as we move onto the next. It’s more an ideal that we must constantly strive to achieve, like good health. You work for it, you take care of yourself, and you will still get a cold someday – count on it. It’s the afterward that counts – you can’t stop working at maintaining a healthy life-style.
That’s exactly how Chuck and Ellie see it. Like they always should have and mostly do, they communicate. It starts with Chuck coming clean about working for the CIA despite his promise at the end of S3.
Ellie: Of course you’re still work for the CIA. Sarah’s a spy. You’re clearly built for better things than the Buy More.
Chuck: You’re not mad?
Ellie: I’m not mad that you did it. I’m mad that you didn’t tell me.
This also addresses an issue from the very first episode – Ellie’s concern for her brother’s lack of ambition. We can’t forget that Chuck’s descent and reversion to slacker-dom was no small thing in their relationship.
For her part, Ellie confesses that she still has Orion’s computer. They feel guilty about hiding these secrets from each other, but Chuck and Ellie did it for the best reasons – to keep each other safe and to do the right thing by everyone else. Life’s full of compromises, especially when we care about the consequences.
What? You thought life would be easy and without compromise? Of course not. I appreciate that the writers and creators didn’t flinch from that, even when addressing the difficulties in talking to people who are important in your life. That’s reality. What’s great is the way Chuck and Ellie can let that part of their past go, giving their indiscretions no more weight than they deserve.
I haven’t yet mentioned my favorite thing about this episode. As Dave mentioned, we’ve had one question hanging over us from the very beginning – why were Chuck and Ellie orphaned? For four years (well, three – I don’t think anyone thought about it much during S1), people wanted to know what possible reason would account for that. The explanation given in S2 and S3 that Stephen was the inventor of the Intersect and a rogue spy being pursued by Fulcrum, the CIA and The Ring did not satisfy remaining questions about Mary. Up to now, Mary’s 20 year absence has been – well – weird. Why would a supposedly devoted mother consider such a thing as reasonable? Was there no opportunity to change things in 20 years? We were almost forced to think of Mary as merely a spy. Sound familiar? That’s not a compliment and Sarah was headed that way, you know.
Chuck vs. Agent-X provides an explanation that I can accept for Mary’s decisions. Stephen created a monster, Alexei Volkoff. Worse, he effectively killed his best friend, Hartley Winterbottom, in the process. All he could do was search for a way to undo the effects of the Intersect (beta release, I suspect, after the alpha he foolishly used on himself), which most likely meant perfecting it first. That means Mary’s mission wasn’t to “get” Hartley/Volkoff for the CIA, but to save him and allow Stephen a chance to redeem himself. Her mission was one of redemption for Stephen’s sake, a mission with no expiration date and maybe no chance of success.
Best friends are brothers of a sort, and Hartley was like a brother to Stephen. You fight brothers, you fight for brothers. Always a compromise. It fits.
Ellie: So dad’s original Intersect created one of the world’s most dangerous criminals for the CIA? We should talk to mom.
Chuck: Maybe she was trying to fix him too, you know. – In her own way.
There’s one more thing too, to top off this surprising episode. When Casey understands that the CIA sponsored this early, misguided and failed effort to create an Intersect, he realizes that there’s a reason this secret has been kept quiet for 30 years.
Sarah: We need to call Beckman, see what our next step is.
Casey: No. We tell no one. Interrogation room. Now.
It ends here. We’re all gonna pretend we never saw this.
Ellie: John, my dad wanted Chuck and me to figure this out. There must be a reason…
Casey: Look. The CIA created one of the most murderous men in the history of the world. Powerful people spent an enormous amount of energy covering that up. What happens if they find out we know? They order a guy like me to put a bullet in each one of our heads.
Pretty sure your dad didn’t want this to end that way.
In a few weeks I’m going to complain that the writers and creators dropped the ball on this particular thread, but not now. The Ring seemed a mediocre opponent for Chuck after Fulcrum and such people as Ted Roark and Vincent. The Volkoffs were far better, but this new threat is even more ominous now. Very ominous.
Ellie: So we’re just supposed to sweep this thing under the rug.
Chuck: Ellie, we’re talking about the CIA. There are rules.
Ellie: What about Dad?
Chuck: What about dad? What – What if his plan was just to get us to search together? You know – we haven’t exactly been the most honest siblings the past couple of years.
Ellie: No, we haven’t.
Chuck: But this search, it made us rely on each other. Be honest. Work together.
Ellie: What if that was only half of it? I – I don’t think that we’re supposed to stop here, Chuck. I don’t think we’re supposed to just find the Agent-X. We’re supposed to fix him. [sighs] This isn’t for the CIA to solve, Chuck. I think this is for us.
Yes, it is.