Episode of the Week: Chuck vs The Cubic Z (4.03)

NBC Synopsis: Chuck and Sarah’s past comes back to “hunt” them when a prison transfer delivers old foes to the Buy More – NICOLE RICHIE, STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN AND STACY KIEBLER GUEST STAR — Chuck (Zachary Levi) and Sarah’s (Yvonne Strahovski) romantic mission is canceled with the arrival of Hugo Panzer (guest star Stone Cold Steve Austin) and Heather Chandler (guest star Nicole Richie). But Chuck grows more interested when the manipulative Heather claims to know a secret about his mom. Meanwhile, as Morgan (Joshua Gomez) prepares the Buy More for a huge video game release, he gets a surprise from Big Mike (Mark Christopher Lawrence).

Chuck This Ranking: 62
Dave’s Ranking: A little better

First Impressions: Observation Post: Chuck vs The Cubic Z

Full Write Ups: Chuck vs The Cubic Z (4.03) by Dave and Joe
Thinkling and Ernie Crawl Inside Cubic Z by Thinkling and Ernie

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 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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51 Responses to Episode of the Week: Chuck vs The Cubic Z (4.03)

  1. authorguy says:

    One of my favorites from season 4, in spite of the glaring plot hole at the end..

    • Help me out, Marc. What glaring plot hole? (Five years of Chuck has trained me to ignore plot holes in favour of a generally good story.)

      • authorguy says:

        At the end of the episode, Hugo Panzer drops himself into a shaft that puts him in the middle of the riot and he gets captured. There was no reason for him to do that, when there was a helicopter waiting to pick him up. I guess they needed a quick and funny way to recapture him, but it makes no sense. Fortunately the main body of the story isn’t affected by this. I can even pass it off as Panzer deciding to go it alone.
        It’s not just Chuck, though. I see sloppy writing like this in every show i watch, which is probably why i don’t watch many shows. Knowing that a plane can’t land itself on autopilot really undercuts the plausibility of that episode of Alias where it had to happen. Nothing suits a lazy (or ignorant) scriptwriter more than the general dumbing-down of the American public.

      • Wilf says:

        AG, yes, it was a pointless thing for Panzer to do and that did occur to me before. But, as you say, it did lead to an amusing recapture scene. Overall I did really like this episode, even the final bit.

      • authorguy says:

        I wish I could have used it in the second season of nine2five, along with Coup d’Etat, but they were both purely proposal/wedding plot stories, and I had no use for them other than as background events to other stories.

  2. Martin Traynor says:

    Anything with Heather Chandler is good by me – I don’t claim to be a Nicole Ritchie fan, but she really does nail that role. And I like delving into Sarah’s past, and even though this episode technically doesn’t, Heather IS FROM Sarah’s past, so to me, it counts.

    I also very much enjoyed the Buy More story this go around. While I like Heather Chandler…I love Big Mike. And he really gets to shine here, along with a less-than-usually-annoying Morgan.

    Sarah’s whole “relationship apprehension” is getting tired by this point.

    • I have to agree on the Heather Chandler character. I think Nicole Ritchie did a fine job in both of her appearances on Chuck. As guest stars go, I liked her appearance a lot more than that of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, or the minimal role of Stacy Keibler for that matter.

      The hangups Sarah displays about marriage, children and domestic life are a bit tiresome, I agree, but I also think that there is a point to exploring this. If we remember that she is a career spy and assassin, and grew up as the child of a drifter/con artist, these anxieties are reasonable. Now, how they explored her apprehensions could have been tweaked, I suppose.

    • atcDave says:

      I’m hoping that turns out to be fun.
      So far I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by Astronaut Wives Club, it’s been a good summer series my wife and I have enjoyed together.

    • anthropocene says:

      Given the books it’s based on, that series is likely going to be at least as dark as “Dexter.”

      • atcDave says:

        Oh swell.

      • noblz says:

        Yeah, I read some reviews of Gilman’s books and they are all hyper violent. I hope it doesn’t kill the performances. Not a huge fan of Max Martini, but we’ll see. Can’t they find a guy her age to star with, I mean Martini is nearly my age (and that’s saying a lot and Statham, Eckhart, Hall and Sutherland were all way to old for her even though Sutherland wasn’t really a love interest).

    • authorguy says:

      Those had to be some of the worst celebrity photos I’ve ever seen.

  3. Martin Traynor says:

    I’m also enjoying AWC very much. In fact, I’ve parlayed it into watching (on DVD) the HBO docuseries, “From the Earth to the Moon,” and since I live in Central Florida, we took the kids to Kennedy Space Center a few days ago. Now I’m ready for Space Camp (both the movie and the actual camp!)!

    • atcDave says:

      I’ve been to Houston Space Center a few times which is always fun.
      I’d recommend Right Stuff and Apollo 13 very highly; From the Earth to the Moon not so much…

      • Martin Traynor says:

        Yeah…forgot to mention that we watched those already as well. And Armageddon, Deep Impact… I’m a space geek – what can I say?

        In reference to Anthro’s comment…Not sure how much more dark it can get. I know most of the marriages end in divorce, but not sure about more deaths…

      • atcDave says:

        I’m not squeamish about graphic violence, that’s not an issue to me. But I am beyond tired of anti-heroes. I REQUIRE a protagonist who knows right from wrong and behaves accordingly. That’s typically the biggest issue in determining what I’ll watch.

      • thinkling says:

        I was assuming Anthro was talking about Yvonne’s upcoming series, not AWC. As far as dark, it depends on the source of the darkness. I have no interest in a serial killer protagonist who kills serial killers. Like Dave I want a protagonist with a strong moral compass. After that it depends, so whereas I didn’t watch YS in Dexter, I will probably try the new offering.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah, at least my initial thought is, I’ll give it a chance. As we’ve said before, Chuck cast is no guarantee of something I’m interested in, but I’m at least paying attention.
        Currently, Astronaut Wives Club and Last Ship are both a lot of fun. (Add in Mythbusters and that’s the entirety of my Summer viewing!)

  4. Martin Traynor says:

    I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed in the astronauts and their lack of “propriety” where it involves members of the opposite sex. I’m not judging, and it would be kind of hard to even blame them, but I was both surprised and disappointed to learn of all the philandering going on among those (early, at least) fly boys.

    I had seen “The Right Stuff” before, but it didn’t really even touch on it much, except for Cooper, if I remember correctly. So watching the Astronaut Wives Club really opened my eyes. And a lot of those astronauts remarried multiple times (I’ve discovered, as the show has encouraged in me much internet research on them).

    They’re still heroes and far braver than I, but were all too human, too, I guess…

    • atcDave says:

      Well, a movie like the Right Stuff doesn’t really need to be about all their private lives. That was somewhat incidental to the story. Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with seeing some of their human side; but they weren’t heroes for their home lives, so I see no need to spend too much time on it.
      While “Astronaut Wives Club” is clearly more about the domestic side of things, so its more likely to show such problems. In that sense it can be illuminating to see who were the scoundrels, but it all has little to do with what they were really known for.

  5. I want to put in a plug for the song “In the Valley,” by Chief. That’s the very California-vibe song that begins playing when Morgan offers Big Mike the Assistant Manager’s job and his approval to marry his mother, and finishes up as Chuck finds the ring and holds it as though he is proposing to Sarah. With respect to that final scene, I think I remember being quite excited about Chuck and Sarah getting onto that stage of their relationship, but I would have preferred a bit more subtlety in how they broached the subject of engagement.

    • atcDave says:

      I mostly like the end (continuing in to next week too). I found it amusing and was willing to play along.
      Of course I could have enjoyed an accidental engagement too. Imagine Chuck’s surprise if Sarah blurted out “yes” before he even explained…
      Then Chuck trying to convince Sarah she really needs a ring that was actually meant for her, instead of one they don’t even know where it came from.

      Could have worked well for the comic side of Chuck…

      I’m pleased with where the rest of the season heads from here too. But I like to imagine there are hundreds of ways they could have got there.

      • Justin says:

        I would have enjoyed an accidental engagement more than we got on the show. At least, it would be timely and to the point.

      • oldresorter says:

        the engagement issue was so over done, by the time it happened, much like season 3’s coupling – I couldn’t have cared less. this writing team didn’t know how to finish a story.

      • atcDave says:

        I think it was fun. Yes they dragged it out longer than they needed to, but apart from maybe one dumb line in Gobbler (“distance…”) they didn’t do anything I found bothersome. It was a good time every week.
        I think it’s a real strength of the show and characters that it’s so much fun to imagine all the different ways it still would have been a lot of fun.

  6. Martin Traynor says:

    It’s really about the small steps for Sarah this early in the season, which starts to wear a little thin, IMO. It’s not bad, per se, but I would have preferred less hesitation on her part for each of these relationship steps.

    I guess, in the end, it’s one small step for Sarah Waler (at a time), one giant leap for nerdkind!

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah I’ve argued before that really any time after Honeymooners Sarah could have been written as “all in” and I think it would have played just fine. Drawing the relationship steps out for a season was sort of silly television writing 101. But it was mostly all in fun, so I don’t really consider it a serious problem.
      And even right here, Sarah is saying she needs to take things slow, and yet next episode she tells sleeping Chuck she’ll say yes if he asks.

      • Justin says:

        Never was a fan of Sarah’s back-and-forth character development in the first half of Season 4.

  7. Martin Traynor says:

    I noticed that they tended to write Sarah as a paradox (and I don’t think that was done intentionally). One minute she wants a normal life, the next, she wants to be a spy. Another minute she wants a family, then the next, it petrifies her. It seems earlier in the show, Sarah wanted less to be a spy and more to be normal. After she got Chuck and could have the normal, she seemed to want more to be a spy again. But it wasn’t even that organized or patterned. They really had her all over the place, seemingly to fit t he current situation, plot or arc.

    I’m not complaining, but it just makes it hard to gauge her. And it’s not as though she were written as mysterious or intentionally enigmatic. I just think it’s poor continuity and storytelling. (It’s still better than I could do, though…)

    I’m really enjoying some of the FanFiction you recommend, and Sarah is a much more defined and intentional character in ALL of those stories, which I very much prefer.

    • atcDave says:

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the fan fiction! No doubt, at this point, it is a much bigger thing to me than the show itself.
      Some of Sarah’s inconsistency was built right into the DNA of the show. As I understand it, in the original script for the Pilot, she was shown as a serious professional who was yearning for the normal life. Over the corse of the series there was a certain duality to her about that. But I think just the number of different staff writers led to many different interpretations of her character. To some extent we can say that about several characters on the show, including Chuck himself, but I think it’s most pronounced with Sarah.
      And I think late S3 and S4 were just all about drawing relationship growth out into as many little steps as possible. I think many FF writers have shown a more complete shift. I just re-read Sound of Music for the umpteenth time and there we see a very concise version of Sarah’s conflict of interest that is resolved clearly and completely in one intense chapter. I like that on so many levels. Not least is that the major resolution actually means something, once it’s done it’s done. Not like; “she agreed to move in, but never agreed to unpack…” That is pretty silly!

    • oldresorter says:

      Yep – not just Sarah either – the entire show was written all over the place – every season, right up to the end.

  8. Martin Traynor says:

    Good points, Dave and Old. Yeah, I’m not sure how I feel about mega-confident Chuck, either, who emerges in season 4. One of the charms of the show, at least early on, was that Chuck was so unsure of himself, despite his obvious and not-so-obvious capabilities. Although I like him very much, I think a little too much Zach came out in the later seasons…

    And I get character development and all that. I think I just preferred him as (a little) less confident. Not inept, like in Beefcake, but still a bit unsure of himself.

    Even in this episode, he comes off a bit cocky in relation to Panzer, and when he and Sarah talk at the end, he’s so…I’m not even sure what it is, but he’s much more sure of himself than he used to be. I would think I’d like that, actually, but the way Zach plays it, I don’t. Not sure why…

    • atcDave says:

      In a way, I think it was a mistake to ever make him an agent. And I’m certainly no big fan of the 2.0. I think we lost a lot of the ordinary nerd feel that was so big in the first two seasons. Chuck became too much of a super hero.
      I always think it would have played better for me if he’d become the all-star analyst and tech guy. Let him stay a little more “normal”. Maybe not as helpless as he was in the first two seasons, but never quite comfortable with the physical parts of the job. Let Sarah and Casey remain the muscle, while Chuck is the brains. That way we’d still get the occasional girlish screams of terror, and Chuck would have to get more creative. It also would have built in more drama with Chuck always needing his whole team.

      But I always need to add this is mostly small stuff. I find this season a ton of fun, and I think even S2 had more, and bigger missteps along the way than S4 did (Ex, Third Dimension, Beefcake). I enjoyed every single week, every single episode of S4, it is the only season I can say that about with no reservation.

      • Martin Traynor says:

        Dave, my thoughts are pretty much aligned with yours on the above. And I agree that while season 2 was epic, it definitely had more and bigger missteps than anything we saw in S4…or season 1 (I’m thinking Wookie, Nemesis, and Crown Vic, to varying degrees, and they all ended well, except for Nemesis). I might add the entire Jill arc in S2, though.

        I see that in a lot of the fan fiction I’ve read and enjoyed, Chuck does NOT have the 2.0 in most of it, and rarely uses it in stories he does have it. I tend to vacillate between taking or leaving the 2.0 – right now, I’d leave it.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah I think the basic set up for S5 was my favorite of the whole series, it sort of conforms to what we’re talking about. It’s marred somewhat by a couple of weaker episodes and a downer of an ending, but easily my favorite overall “premise” of the whole series.

  9. Martin Traynor says:

    Forgot to mention that the family and I, when we rewatch seasons 1 and especially season 2, often comment on the lack of training Sarah and Casey seem to impart on Chuck. I mean, he’s THE most valuable national asset, and they don’t train him for any kind of hand-to-hand combat!? I know that the idea is that they are there to protect him ALL THE TIME, but you would think some training would be well advised.

    Heck, he has to ASK for some of that minty knock-out breath spray in Bet Friend.

    • atcDave says:

      Part of what I love about S5 is that we are told and shown how Sarah helps Chuck with his training. But that seems to be a post-2.0 development.

    • authorguy says:

      Since he was at that time ‘just an asset’, by the normal rules maybe he couldn’t be given that training. If ‘assets’ are normally viewed as potentially hostile, they wouldn’t want them to be made capable of resisting.

      • Martin Traynor says:

        Point taken, AG. I guess I could see in the Chuckverse that “a dependent Chuck is a controlled Chuck” – that seems the way Beckman would play it.

        And yeah, Dave, they discuss in late S5 about how Sarah trained Chuck, which is pretty cool. Just thought they would have done that sooner. But like AG says, maybe as as asset it wasn’t protocol…

      • authorguy says:

        I don’t think they ever said that specifically, but it seemed logical to me when I used that argument in my story. I got the idea from a number of other stories where Chuck was trained and promptly used that training to escape or otherwise circumvent his handlers. There are many where his natural brilliance with computers does the same thing, something not much explored on the show until the Hackoff. I guess they didn’t think flashing in a secure bunker was sexy enough for their Hero’s journey. Also in the fanfics is the idea that assets are normally enemies of the state who must be controlled, not independent and willing allies. There are many fanfics coming out which have him recognized as an ally much sooner than he was in canon.

  10. noblz says:

    Here we go.

    What really worked for me:
    All of the C&S interactions just fantastic, like the supply closet reveal.
    The interrogation of Heather Chandler, great.
    Casey and the automated voice, “Where is it, or you die!”
    Sarah thumping Casey in the dojo.
    The shootout on the roof and Sarah telling off Heather.
    Oddly enough, Steve Austin and Nicole Ritchie were very good.

    What didn’t work for me: The whole Buy More story line, poetry slam and all. I just ff through that stuff.

    Rating is about right for me based on how much time they blew on the BM story.

    A word about Sarah’s relationship angst. If you pay close attention to the “Sarah thumps Casey” scene, Sarah is clearly afraid but she’s afraid of having kids not marrying Chuck. She never once in that whole scene mentions being scared of marrying Chuck. I think she is ready to marry but needs to go slow on kids. Even in the final scene it appears that kids are her issue.

    • atcDave says:

      Very good point on what’s bugging Sarah.

      I agree completely on the whole poetry slam thing. The worst part about the Buy More scenes is I was briefly excited by the idea of a “worlds collide” sort of story, and disappointed when it didn’t unfold that way.

  11. anthropocene says:

    I’m starting a totally different conversation thread here, but I wanted to mention that my wife and I just finished binge-reading the two recent best-selling spy novels by Jason Matthews, “Red Sparrow” and “Palace of Treason.” They are very entertaining, and they delve more deeply and—I would presume—more authentically (as Matthews really was CIA) into some of the key issues that show up in “Chuck” and “Chuck” FF: what life trajectories turn normal people into spies, love between operatives, seduction as a weapon. Imagine Chuck and Sarah as case officers for two different (and hostile) nations’ intelligence services when they first meet, and go on from there. These books will be made into movies someday, no question. I don’t know if Matthews’s fiction has come up on this blog before, but I highly recommend both books.

  12. mr2686 says:

    As a big fan of all of the Buy More stories, I have to admit that this one really drags the rest of the episode down. Probably the worst of the BM stories IMHO, and I really dislike the poetry slam.

    • atcDave says:

      Hah, yeah, the poetry slam is no favorite of mine either.

    • Wilf says:

      Well I didn’t like the poetry slam but I actually quite liked the rest of the BM plot

      • atcDave says:

        Big Mike taking charge at the end is a hoot!
        But I guess it always gets marked down a little for me just because I imagined some epic confusion between spy world and Buy More that never quite happened. More like the end of Pink Panther or Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World sort of confusion. I was underwhelmed.

      • Wilf says:

        Yeah, but Chuck did underwhelming so, so well sometimes 😉

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