Chuck vs. The Fake Name 3.8 ***½
After the volatile reaction from the last episode before Olympics hiatus, Fake Name is a nice return to form that provides more depth to some of the issues fans had with the Mask.
Front and center are the Chuck/Hannah and Sarah/Shaw relationships. Both awkward with Sarah trying to back out of hers as gently as she can, and Chuck inching his way towards a connection with Hannah. Though I suppose making whoopee would give you the proverbial twelve inches to progress you to add feet to the inches.
Interestingly, each of the episodes have been like steps in Chuck’s journey to spydom. First Class had the no-nonsense solo mission to intercept a key from the Ring. Nacho Sampler had Chuck successfully using an asset. In this one, we get Chuck impersonating an assassin named Rafe. What’s frightening is how easily adept he is at assuming the role. And it was a nice fakeout by writer Ali Adler, setting it up like Chuck was going to overdo the nuances with character motivation and so forth, but once he got the voice and attitude down he was off and running.
Each mission successfully completed and each one leaving some kind of collateral damage. The external stuff, of course: Hannah, Manoosh, his family. But Chuck is losing what makes him Chuck. What made Sarah fall for Chuck in the first place. This episode finally wakes Chuck up to that.
It’s probably why the episode was renamed at the last minute. For one, it shamelessly pulls in the Chuck/Sarah fans. This is the moment they’ve all been waiting for (besides ILY and shag city). But I think it’s also the moment of realization for Chuck. For the one she ends up telling is Shaw not him.
And the reason is obvious as you’re watching it. Because Chuck is not available anymore. Not for his friends. Not for his family. The lie is just getting bigger and bigger…and more dangerous. As Rafe, Chuck isn’t afraid to punch Casey, or take out his tooth, or even judo kick Sarah. It’s no wonder Sarah eventually retreats to Shaw. Because he’s there. He listens to her and understands her. And she can be honest to him in a way she just can’t with Chuck anymore. As far as Sarah is concerned, the Chuck she loves no longer exists. She reveals her name–says it out loud–because she doesn’t want to lose who she really is. In her mind, Chuck has made his choice, taken his path. And she wants no part of it.
I love how flawed everyone here is. I know it’s what most Chuck fans don’t want to see. We like our heroes stalwart and true. But it’s not as satisfying, really. You need conflict. And you need reminders that nobody’s perfect. Therefore, I understand where Sarah is coming from. At a certain point, it comes back to yourself. It doesn’t matter how much you love someone; if they’re on a course you can’t abide by and know it will end badly you just have to save yourself. And that’s what Sarah’s doing here. She’s saving her soul, because Chuck is so close to losing his.
Wow. I thought this was Chuck. Where’s the hilarity?
Adler uses the Buy More gang in the most obvious hilarious way, the Greek Chorus. Commenting on Chuck being the most underground babe magnet in Burbank when they see Hannah clinging to him with uber-PDA. I really liked how Adler did that, and I’m surprised that the BuyMorons haven’t been used in this way sooner. Also, it’s fair to point out that Chuck as Rafe still does some pretty Chucky things, and it’s only when Sarah kind of refocuses Chuck that he kicks her ass. But this was definitely an episode where Sarah and Chuck fans’ worst fears were realized. At least, it looks that way right now. Kudos to both Zach Levi and Yvonne Strahovski for their performances here. Levi especially reminded me that he’s an actor not just a comic actor with the occasional angsty stares.
With such effusive praise then why not the four stars? Unfortunately, while the character development has advanced, even if it’s been incremental all season, the overall plot hasn’t. I would have liked to have seen something out of Shaw besides Sarah’s new beau. Even if it was something like speaking into a Dick Tracy watch and saying “Operation: Divide and Conquer is a go.” Just to leave the suggestion. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop on our fearless leader and it still remains dangling on the toe. For me the implication is he wants to make Chuck more solitary so he can be molded to become the ultimate spy weapon. Turned on and off like a machine without having the emotional (human) baggage. But no hard evidence as of yet. He still remains a wild card, though. He seemed a bit more committed in beating the crap out of Chuck than was necessary to fool the mobsters at the end. Definite tool-measuring subtext for a possible tool. It would be a shame to see moments like that unexplored.
Which leads me to Hannah. Real shame that Kristin Kreuk was so underutilized. Hannah was a rich, engaging character with just tons of potential in her back story. With her computer know-how maybe she could have been like Oracle to Team Bartowski. Kind of silly suggestion for a show about a guy with a computer in his head, but I’m talking more surveillance-type stuff like scoping out approaching bad guys or tracing the heat signature to the power source. More on the fly kind of stuff. Not a total wash, though. Josh Schwartz was smart enough to cast her in his upcoming sitcom. That will be a nice change of pace from “What’s your secret, Chu…er, Clark?”
And from the strictly annoyed angle, I hope Tony Sirico isn’t typecast as the lovable hothead mafia buffoon. Everyone tends to forget that Paulie Walnuts could be a murderous mama’s boy when he wanted to be.
And maybe this is kind of a holdover from my love for Serenity and Adam Baldwin’s character Jayne Cobb. But I really liked how things seemed so dire for the Serenity crew that even the amoral Jayne had finally reached his limit and chose a side because it was the right thing to do. I’m getting kind of tired of Casey and Sarah being at opposing ends of Chuck’s development. If you want to get melodramatic about it, they’re both competing for Chuck’s soul. So it would be nice if Casey finally sees how cold-blooded Chuck really is. Like, “You do remember you are a good guy, right, Bartowski?” or he points out how Chuck’s behavior is pushing Sarah away. “Got news for you, Bartowski. She’s not in love with you anymore. She doesn’t even know who you are anymore. Can you blame her?”
On the other hand, dude’s a hell of a shot. No question about that.
One other thing to mention is how great the Chuck fandom looked after this episode. There was even a posting on a blog from some advanced screening kind of begging Chuck fans not to overreact. And they didn’t. Because now everything has been provided context. We understand Sarah’s pain now and quest for something authentic. And we’re there with Chuck when he receives probably the best bitching out of his life when Hannah tells Chuck that, no, he’s not nice. It doesn’t matter what his intentions with breaking up with her are. It’s the act itself. How it was done. Insensitively. Meaning that he has lost his sensitivity and by extension his humanity.
He has lost Chuck.
It’s time to get him back.