REVIEW: Chuck vs the Beard (Episode 3.9) (SPOILERS)

Chuck vs. the Beard **** 3.9

Confession time. As much as I wax positive about character growth, interaction, complex emotional threads, and the more mature Chuck I haven’t once cheered or fist-pumped or belly-laughed during an episode this season.

That is I haven’t done all of those things until this episode.

A nice welcome return to just the visceral joy of the early seasons, “Chuck vs. the Beard” finally brought Morgan Grimes into the Team Bartowski loop.

The way it was done had some Die Hard, some Buymoria, and a lot of Chuck getting his groove back. The episode was just as streamlined and no-nonsense. Getting right to the point.

Picking up where the last one left off, a week has passed since Rafe attempted to kill Shaw and Sarah and Chuck still hasn’t flashed. After getting an interception of a Ring transmission, Sarah, Casey, and Shaw investigate. Chuck is benched.

Meanwhile, corporate bigwigs have come by to evaluate the Buy More staff. Morgan discusses with Chuck that he is “firing” Chuck as his best friend because of Chuck’s continued isolation. With this news, Chuck drifts further away into his own malfunctioning Intersect and his diminishing self-confidence. In a telling moment, even Awesome won’t come through for him as he basically blows Chuck off because he‘s on vacation with Ellie. Awesome is getting more uneasy with knowing Chuck’s secret and perhaps regrets ever really knowing it (or Chuck) in the first place.

Once the bigwigs interview everyone, ending with Chuck talking up Morgan, they get down to their real business. Infiltrating Castle to acquire what Team Bartowski knows about the Ring. They’re not the only ones to breach. Turns out Morgan discovers the underground lair as well when he tries to get rid of some contraband Jeff stowed away in his locker.

So for once this season both plot threads take place in the same vicinity. Chuck and Morgan try to thwart the Ring agents’ plans below ground while the Buymorians stage a revolt up top to save their store.

As for what’s left of Team Bartowski, they race back to Castle once they discover their mission was sham–to spy on Awesome no less. This has definite ramifications when Awesome impulsively asks Ellie to move to Africa with him. As far from the clutches of the Ring (and Chuck Bartowski) as possible.

“The Beard” reminds me of a similar tact that Smallville took with revealing Clark’s powers to his best friend, Pete Ross. What this did was open up the show a bit more and finally have someone Clark could be completely honest with.

It’s the same thing here. Morgan’s discovery leads to a lot of interesting story directions and dynamics between the characters.

It is fittingly genius then that in a fantasy celebrating geeks that Morgan proves to be worth his mettle more than Awesome, who as lovable as he is still at heart remains a jock. His complete acceptance of Chuck’s secret life and how psyched he felt discovering his friend was a secret spy was a joy to witness and Joshua Gomez played it perfectly.

In fact, Morgan seems primed to bring some fun back into the spy action. He reminds me of the little pipsqueak French guard mouse that constantly antagonizes Tom the cat. “Touche, pussycat!” And Jerry has to keep bailing him out.

So you have Morgan armed with electric knives ready to liberate Castle, unlike Awesome who would probably panic and stammer out “I don’t know” over and over again if he got caught. And this isn’t a knock on Awesome. As a matter of fact, you sympathize with the guy because as we’re reminded, he already has a responsibility to Ellie and to his marriage.

Speaking of marriages, after Sarah and Shaw successfully pose as being happily betrothed, when they arrive back they demonstrate how incompatible they are when it comes to Chuck. Shaw’s all for blowing up Castle, Buy More, and the Orange Orange if it means preserving Castle and the secrets within. And Sarah, predictably, wants to save as many lives as possible. Especially Chuck’s.

In fact, what’s interesting is the studs all fail in this episode. Casey, however, does get moments to shine. Once with a classic line about hypocrisy inherent in liberal idealists. The other a bit more of the kick-assing kind with a nice funny assist from Jeff. Yet despite this derring-do Casey also ultimately fails.

The story’s creed then is geeks are doing it for themselves. Once Chuck is finally honest with someone and freeing up the psychological blockage, the Intersect does its thing and liberation is accomplished. More importantly though, Chuck gets his mojo working. By the end he has both of his friends back. Morgan and the one in his head.

The geeks also rule in the above-ground enclosure as we see the BuyMorons in all of their anarchic glory. Barricading the door, their last stand becomes their own delusional (and clumsy) Iwo Jima. And at their zenith, the faithful warriors armed with nerf rifles even get their rock on courtesy of Jeffster. Never have we seen the Buy More with such abandon. And never has it seemed so triumphant a stand against the Man. All that said, it still takes the calmingly disguised voice of Shaw for V-Day to finally arrive and dramatic embraces and smooches to take place.

In terms of momentum, “Chuck vs. the Beard” was desperately needed and it’s a credit to the crew of Chuck to entrust the direction of this episode to Zachary Levi and he comes up aces. I haven’t seen the show directed this dynamically and inventively since the last two episodes of the second season, the creative highpoint of the show to this point. If anything, based off the Jeffster sequence, Levi should seriously consider directing music videos.

It also becomes apparent why, if he was given the option to, he decided to direct this episode. This is really a love letter of sorts to Chuck and Morgan’s friendship and was probably a gift to Joshua Gomez who hasn’t been given a whole heckuvalot to do this season. He responds admirably with his best acting of the season and because Morgan’s now in the inner circle he will be given even more stuff to do, which will make Gomez an even more featured player in the cast than he already is.

This is also a farewell of sorts for the episode’s writer, Scott Rosenbaum, who finished off his Chuck career with a bang of an episode. If this is any indication, then it looks like he’s going to bring a much needed urgency as the new showrunner for V.

But just because “Beard” is a nice throwback in a lot of ways, doesn’t mean the new season’s MO has been forgotten. Shaw and Sarah are left wondering why the Ring didn’t kill him off when they had the chance. And because of the Ring’s offensive, Shaw is more determined than ever to launch his own much to Sarah’s concern. One senses a huge tactical catastrophe coming up.

And for the first time, I actually considered the inconsiderable in Awesome evolving into a villain. It’s becoming more obvious now that he considers Chuck an obstacle to his life with Ellie, especially apparent with his Africa proposal. And I could definitely see a situation where Devon has to spill the goods or Ellie will die and he gives away Chuck to the Ring. Once that happens, he’s alienated Team Bartowski and Ellie permanently. All that’s left is the old super villain trope of biter resentment morphing to vindictive vengeance and you have Captain Awesome, super villain. But personally I think a lot of that is too many comic books.

And, finally, we have Casey getting a mysterious phone call. From the Ring. The plot thickens.

So call it a back-to-basics, cleaning of the slate. Buffy the Vampire Slayer did something similar with its episode “The Prom” which was a nice return to monster-of-the-week, good-guys-beat-bad-guys nostalgia. It was a bittersweet episode in that going forward Buffy would never have that kind of simplicity ever again. Things would just keep getting murkier and darker. And life would just keep getting harder.

Enjoy this respite now, because it ain’t gonna last.

But, yeah, it was nice to see the Chuck we love back.


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