Review: Chuck vs. First Class (Episode 3.5)

One thing I’ve appreciated this season is Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz’s willingness to break out of the show’s safety zone. Some fans don’t like that. Honestly, I feel I can never really respect a show unless it does break out. It shows ambition. And even if the show falls flat on its face (or gets canceled) at least it tried to stretch its boundaries.
Likewise, we have Chuck itching to get out of the metaphorical car. In First Class, thanks to Shaw, he finally gets his chance.
This episode does a real good job of packing a lot of action into a limited space as all the main spy action happens on an international flight bound for Paris. Turns out the real mission is on the plane (budget balancers, breathe a sigh of relief.) Chuck’s target is an imposing Ring operative named Hugo Panzer played by Stone Cold Steve Austin. Chuck’s mission: to nab a key needed to open up some intel on the Ring organization.

Chuck wears his James Bond suit well, and where would Bond Bartowski be without a Bo…artowski girl? That would come in the lovely form of Kristin Kreuk who plays Hannah, a high-tech IT wiz recently let go looking for a fresh start.

While Chuck is completely on his own in a physical sense he still has Shaw, Casey, and Sarah monitoring via earpiece and satellite. It’s a nice change of pace for the show as for all intents and purposes our nerdy newbie has nothing to rely on but his (limited) experience, intelligence, and the intersect, of course.

Then you have Chuck and his Chuckness. He kind of succeeds in putting out Panzer with the tranq pen, but nowhere near as gracefully as you would expect from a first class spy. He takes out Panzer again when he flashes and becomes an expert fencer, but a first class spy probably would have eliminated the threat with extreme prejudice. That’s a kill order, kids.

And that’s the real enemy here. Chuck’s determination to be a first class spy and who he thinks a first class spy should be. He tries for the suave charm of 007 with Hannah, even allowing himself to get drink that’s shaken not stirred. But when it comes to getting his hands messy he won’t go there. I like how the show is gingerly pushing Chuck into this direction. Even if you tranq a guy, they have ways to wake up. And you can’t account for the hidden accomplice. The one not detected in the dossier.

It also doesn’t help that your partner in spine advises to use your lack of one as a tool in defeating the bad guy. At one point Casey tells Chuck to scream as girlishly as possible to distract Panzer before he executes him, and there is a subtle moment of hurt that Zach Levi shows that adds some nice depth. Everything Chuck is trying to get past, everything that caused Casey to grunt in disgust he is now being asked–even after the intersect and training—to fall back on. Eventually, though, survival instinct wins out and scream like a terrified banshee Chuck does.

We also get a very nice overlap between Chuck’s spy life and the civil war threatening to break out in Buymoria between Lester and Morgan. This comes courtesy of Morgan’s secret weapon–his new bodyguard, John Casey. Once Morgan says the secret I-word (insurgence) Casey quells the attempted coup by Lester as only Colonel Casey can. Manchurian Candidate-flava and Lester LOVES big brother Morgan. Totally over the top hilarious brilliance and an organic subplot that flows from the main action. See? It can work!

Bringing up the gravitas, there’s some nice interaction between Shaw and Sarah as he gets to the root of Sarah’s reluctance about Chuck becoming a spy. Because she’s afraid of losing him. Shaw does a great job of guilting Sarah here. Does she stand in the way of Chuck’s potential just for her own selfish desires? But before she can dismiss him as just another spy stooge, she learns that it actually comes from a deep wounded place. He lost someone he cared about in the spy world, too. His wife. And with that a reluctant bond is formed.

Strangely enough, it’s this bond and understanding that allows Chuck to save the day, that and some aerial manipulation via remote by Sarah. The question is does it count as a successful solo mission? I think we’re going to see this play out this season. Chuck can only be a successful spy with his friends and family. On his own, he’s vulnerable. And he got the key and survived to fly back to LA. Call it a successful solo mission.

He also got Hannah as the newest member of the Nerd Herd as a bonus.

So it’s a win. Savor it now, Chuck. Because the thing about wins in the spy world is they don’t last long.

Rating: * * * *

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