REVIEW: Chuck vs. the Other Guy (Episode 3.13) (SPOILERS)

Chuck vs. The Other Guy 3.13 ****

Around this time I was eating Subway sandwiches fairly frequently. Not by choice. Well, that’s not exactly true. I made the choice to join in the uber-idealistic plan to save Chuck from cancellation. But, yeah, I would have preferred to have like Togo’s or Thundercloud or…well, just about any deli sandwich besides Subway.

But I felt it was a worthy cause because Chuck had reached that fabled place in TV fiefdom in hitting its stride. Reaching that point where a show just achieves complete effortlessness in its craft. That’s a rare thing.

For this one I had no intention of eating Subways or partaking in anything if Chuck did get cancelled. But it’s not because of disappointment, rather the opposite. You can probably guess that from my rating. But more than that this episode left a warmly satisfied smile on my face of appropriate closure of a show that succeeded at what it set out to do: provide pure, joyous entertainment. One that I’d be happy to revisit again and again.

Well, I would think all of these things if this were the series finale. But it wasn’t. That being said, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to go out. With Ellie and Awesome along for the ride, of course. Except that, well, they weren’t sadly.

But regardless Other Guy does what other great finales have done in not only showing how much a character has grown or changed throughout a series but how that same character changes and affects those around him. What’s great about Chuck is that eventually everyone is affected by his Chuckness, for good and ill.

Consider that Chuck basically demands that Casey help him find Sarah, and this was the same NSA stooge who tried to kill Chuck and later intimidated and put the fear of the Casey in Chuck. Now they’re partners and when push comes to shove they’re there fro each other. And not to get all Role Playey but having an Intersect filled with lethal combat moves probably inches the power points total a bit in Agent Bartowski’s favor. But thanks to Casey’s assistance and a lock on Sarah’s position from a GPS signal, Chuck has a rescue operation in place and a squad to do it with.

Not quite as ginormous as the one that stormed Normandy but pretty close. He even brought a tank. How thoughtful.

Apparently, Chuck’s overzealousness comes for naught as Shaw reveals the Red Test Tape to Sarah. But there is no seething malice or revenge, but merely a refortification of purpose. He tells Sarah that his resolve stands firm in his mission: to end the Ring. With her help, of course.

Chuck, meanwhile, learns the bitterest lesson in the government biz. Wasted lives is not the gravest sin. It’s wasted money.

General Beckman’s relationship with Chuck has been an interesting one. It’s gone from impersonal regard for a valuable tool for the United States Government to a kind of “Chief” to Maxwell Smart communication. Now it’s reached Chief Inspector Dreyfuss levels of contempt and she’s up to her wit’s end at Chuck’s Clousseuesque antics. At her wit’s end and subtly contemptuous. At least she doesn’t have Dreyfuss’s homicidal insanity. She won’t even call him Agent Bartwoski or even Mr. Bartowski. Now it’s a withering “Chuck” like the very effort gives her a migraine

Suffice it to say, Beckman believes that Shaw and Sarah should head the Ring unit in Washington D.C. saying quite diplomatically that she doesn’t know what to do with Chuck yet and orders him to remain in Burbank. But Chuck is still wary of Shaw after everything he’s learned about Sarah and the Red Test.

But Johnnie Walker and video games win out in the end, and he retreats to his lair to sulk and get shitfaced. Morgan tries to intercede but gets some Intersect-style calf roping for his trouble. Well, it might as well have been calf roping at any rate.

Chuck’s roommate Morgan, on the other hand, is all about taking the next step. He’s already quit the Buy More to join the CIA fulltime and in a particularly poignant moment says goodbye to Casey who has decided to accept his fate as a BuyMorian. Morgan in so many words accuses Casey of being a BuyMoron for wasting his time in something he was just not built for. The guy’s a soldier. He belongs in the field.

His partner. Sarah Walker, however belongs with Chuck…at least to see how he’s taking the news. Once again Chuck pours out his heart and finally asks the biggie about Sarah loving him.

Confession time: I underestimated Chuck and Sarah this season, much as I’ve also championed them. Along with the apprehension with Chuck getting the Intersect enhancements was also a lascivious anticipation for some decidedly heated moments between Chuck and Sarah. It made perfect sense to me that while Season 1 and 2 showed Sarah falling for Chuck’s sweet side, the third season would bring out the stud in Chuck and the lust in Sarah. You can take whatever doe-eyed looks or long adoring sighs you want. At the end of the day, Sarah is in a career of high adventure, excitement, action and it’s a given that she’s got a boatload of adrenaline running through her system. So I’m sure a lot of letting off steam comes with it. She had her big release with Bryce Larkin way back when. And she did get hot and heavy with Cole briefly and, in the end, chastely. And, yeah, she did also get kind of passionate with Chuck in the hotel room while they were both on the run. But Sarah Walker is a healthy, vibrant, and confident individual who knows exactly what she’s got and that many men desire all that she’s got. Baggage and all.

So I expected a bunch of angsty kisses and angry love-making and Chuck putting the kung in fu and rescuing Sarah with the nice reward of her planting the mother of all kisses on Chuck’s mug and both of them going at it like Sawyer and Kate and Buffy and Spike only wished they went at it like.

I really wanted that.

But as Sarah so beautifully explains it was never about any of that when it comes to Chuck. She loved him right from the start when he was a lowly Buy More nerd with charm and bashful humor to spare. Particularly after he performed the heroic service of fixing her phone and before the no-big-deal task of disabling a bomb with a computer virus. It’s never about the big stuff for Sarah. It’s the small stuff. The blink and you’ll miss it stuff. She’s a spy. She sees grand heroic gestures all the time.

What she doesn’t experience are dates with genuinely sweet guys who make her laugh and smile or guys who create a mock ballet for heartbroken little girls. Go with whatever one you like or something else completely, but don’t just call this a raging hormones romance. So I was sufficiently chastened, but shoot, it’s hard to be bitter with Sarah’s smile beaming off her face. And Yvonne Strahovski sure is pretty.

The smile beams a bit brighter when she tells Chuck–her Chuck–that she knows about Casey and the Red Test. So there you go. Happiness abounds. Except it’s not quite a social visit. Shaw found a lead. Chuck has to sober and suit up.

Enter Morgan Grimes, Spy Assistant.

Talk about defining moment. Sarah Walker admits love for Chuck in her Walker way and grins when Morgan takes control of getting Chuck back in the Chuck way. In the first season she would have been awkward at best and pulling her gun and ordering Morgan to step away from the asset at worst. How love changes people.

Well, not too much. Sarah, Chuck, and Shaw successfully infiltrate Ring Headquarters and Shaw finally gets some cathartic closure. Meanwhile, it looks like Sarah and Chuck are on to smooth sailing for S.S. Charah.

Most. Anti-climactic. Finale. Ev–

But Morgan spots something suspicious after Shaw and Sarah go to Paris to stop the Ring intersect from being completed. Turns out Shaw is in cahoots with the Ring. The entire infiltration, fistfight and gunfight was a setup. Shaw is working for the Ring.

Morgan Grimes, Surveillance Analyst (and kung-fu movie buff).

Chuck tries to get in touch with Beckman, but Chuck cries wolf one time too many and is told promptly to consider his brief sojourn as a spy officially in the past tense. Permanently. And he can take the bearded buffoon with him. That just leaves Chuck and his faithful assistant–his woefully inexperienced and overmatched assistant.

Time to bring in the big guns. This calls for the Casey.

He’s just not taking any right now. And maybe ever. That’s the thing with Casey. He’s a government man through and through. He believes in the government, devoted his life to it, and ended up betraying it. So as far as he’s concerned he deserves eternal unhappiness at the Buy More. Death is a mercy compared to having your soul crushed day after day after day. Now that is punishment.

Chuck tries for the positive reinforcement. Come on, you’re Casey! We need you! Dammit, John! I need you!

But Morgan goes for the negative. Nope, Casey’s right. He’s washed up. Nothing. Less than nothing. He lives among the navel lint and the molecules that make up said lint. If he feels comfortable wallowing in the meaningless void of nothingness that his life has become, hey, props to you for that!

Yeah. Casey may be a company man but don’t piss him off. Or, maybe, do piss him off that way you get him back on Team Bartowski. And now I’m confused.

In any case: Morgan Grimes, Chief Morale Officer.

I really, really liked the next scene a lot with Chuck and Casey together in the jet. Chuck is perusing through Shaw’s dossier trying to flash but nothing comes. He’s panicking. The thing that has come to define Chuck and his role as a hero isn’t coming through for him in his darkest time. So it’s Casey of all people who reminds Chuck that the hero was never the intersect. It was him. Before anything else, Chuck is one thing. The thing that has really saved his bacon and other slices time and time again. His intelligence.

Meanwhile, in not-so gay Paree, Sarah realizes that Shaw’s mission includes a detour to unpleasant memory lane. He takes her back to the spot of her first Red Test. It’s a trap. Ring agents in all directions shoot paralyzing darts into her leaving her immobilized and very frightened. The Ring Director steps out of the shadows flanking Shaw.

It’s a shame that Shaw was so reviled this season because I really love what Brandon Routh does here not making Shaw a clear-cut turncoat. There’s a definite self-loathing there for how he betrayed Sarah. But he can’t let go of his wife. He can’t let go of vengeance. Trading one ring for another. He’s trapped by them. The ring symbolizing his unquenchable loyalty and love for his wife and the organization that he has now given his soul.

The Ring Director lets Shaw be to finish his business and make an example out of Sarah for what he now sees as the CIA’s betrayal in allowing his wife to be killed. Sarah’s eyes are frozen in despair until they light up when she realizes who the waiter is behind them. Just in the nick of time, Chuck Bartowski makes his hero’s entrance. Sarah wasn’t the only one who was happy, although my happy was accentuated with a fist pump.

Such an interesting reaction from Shaw. Not surprise, not anger, but resignation. And maybe relief. If Chuck is any spy, he’d put two bullets in his miserable head and put him out of his despair and misery. But Chuck is a different spy. The kind that spares his enemies and bring them to justice.

Not quite Shaw’s plan. And that gives him even more incentive to begin his revenge.

Chris Fedak wrote the episode so it makes sense he would be more aware of this than anyone, but I really like the parameters for how the Intersect works in relation with Chuck. The Intersect 2.0 is contingent on Chuck’s ability to absorb lots of information. That’s why he kicks so much ass when he flashes kung-fu. That’s all him. That’s all the information about kung-fu getting accessed by Chuck’s brain and then being implemented into action almost instantaneously. That’s how special Chuck Bartowski is.

That being said, experience will always trump knowledge any day of the week. Shaw’s been in the field longer than Chuck, is more adept at fighting skills, and is coldly efficient when it comes to dispatching opponents. So it makes total sense that Chuck would have his ass handed to him. But he’s also resourceful and I really don’t get the impression that Shaw wants to kill Chuck. He still likes him. Maybe even envies him a little.

But guy’s got to complete the mission. Even if the mission is to kill Sarah.

Yep. A guy’s got to complete the mission. Especially if the mission is to save Sarah. So as Shaw is about to shoot Sarah and dump her in the Seine, Chuck aims a gun at him warning him not to do it. And this ain’t no tranq. It’s a shoot-to-kill gun with real killing bullets.

Shaw’s not too worried, though. But I did like that Chuck was getting through to him but then he thinks back to losing his wife and then reverts back to revenge mode.

Love is a strong force. It even forces those who wouldn’t to kill. Just ask Chuck. I should have known the writers would make Chuck’s first kill mean something. And it does. He kills for the first time to protect the one he loves.

It wouldn’t be Chuck without the iconic nod and in this case it’s with Die Hard in the climactic scene where Hans Gruber is trying to pull McClane’s wife to her death. Along with him. But it’s significant in that it showed an ordinary guy elevating to adventure hero status. And I think this is that moment for Chuck. He’s been a hero before but with this moment with the epic hug and long shot of Chuck and Sarah clinging to each other on the bridge, Chuck is elevated to Jack Bauer and Jason Borne ranks. And, yes, even John McClane.

But what’s happened with the others? Well, John Casey has captured an unconscious Ring Director and calls Beckman up. Negotiations to discuss. Casey’s back on board with one little caveat.

The disgust in Beckman’s voice is just delicious when she recruits Morgan as a full-blown member of Team Bartowski. And just like his best friend he has his Buy More Assistant Manager role as a cover. Thanks to Pappy Mike not having the heart to turn in Morgan’s uniform.

And as for Chuck and Sarah? They are in a hotel room where Sarah regains mobility and consciousness. I really like how Chuck tells Sarah the truth. That he killed Shaw because there was no other way and her life was in danger. But it doesn’t change who he is.

I had the coolest flashes to one of the most unlikely shows, Kim Possible. Basically, Kim Possible is Sarah Walker as a teenager with her best friend Ron Stoppable as Chuck Bartowski without the intersect. In the final season, Kim and Ron are finally together as a couple and in the last episode they had to defeat alien invaders. In the pivotal moment, Kim is unconscious and hurt as Ron stares on helplessly. In that moment where Kim’s life is on the line that’s when his inner courage and power comes out as he takes out the aliens (well, some timely martial art mastery also played a factor.) After Kim comes to she has an incredibly powerful reaction. She stares in disbelief and awe at this geeky guy whom she always kind of loved but never really knew she could count on, and then she just collapses, spent, into his arms. Now she knows Ron can be someone she can have a life with.

I get the same feeling here. Sarah has this look of awe that Chuck Bartowski was the one who saved her. I also think it’s funny how a lot of fans thought it was inconsistent with Sarah being so afraid of Chuck becoming a killer. But what she meant was Chuck killing for missions because “it’s for the good of the country.” Killing in cold blood for abstractions and ideologies. An assassin, in other words. Sarah gets that Chuck killed to save a life: hers. And if ever that terrible decision has to be made, it’s a comfort to Sarah that it will be rare and he will only do it to save lives.

But like Kim now she knows he can handle it. He’s self-sufficient now. No longer handler and asset. No longer protector and charge. Now they’re equals. Agents. Heroes.

And with the simple sweet and longing smooch, finally together as lovers.

Well, they will be as soon as Beckman gets off the line with them. Seems that another mission is afoot. But Chuck and Sarah have other intimate ideas. Darn those unreliable laptop connections!

And with the final sexy words from Chuck‘s Yes, yes, yes, yes girl, “Shut up and kiss me.” Our would-be finale comes to a triumphant, whooping, and cheering close.

What marvels me (and worries me) is how fitting a conclusion  this turned out to be . What it lacks in epic scope it makes up for in epic and personal stakes. Chuck finally comes into his own as a spy hero and finally gets the girl. Casey is restored and redeemed. And Morgan finally gets out of the Buy More in spirit if not in body. So in a sense he’s become the next Chuck as he begins the next stage in becoming his own hero. Oh, and for those who keep score, the Ring Director is apprehended which we can extrapolate to mean that the Ring is no more or at the least in massive disarray.

Because no one else in the fandomis willing to do so, I’m gonna give props to Brandon Routh. Mostly because of taking on the full hatred from the fans for daring to come between Chuck and Sarah and also because of his impressively stoic (wooden) nature. Other Guy, though, makes Shaw into a tragic antagonist, not even necessarily villain. And I loved how conflicted and self-loathing Routh made him when it came to shifting his allegiance. And I just love the fact that the creators had this mapped out from the start. This didn’t happen due to a panicky revision due to fans jumping ship. This was all part of the plan. Further evidence that these guys know their show and know what they’re doing. And that television viewers seem to be rapidly forgetting the basics and joy of good old-fashioned storytelling. So bravo to Chris Fedak for bringing this part of Chuck’s complex journey to a satisfying close. Every hero has a dark night of the soul. Even the bumbling ones.

“The Other Guy” shows the necessity of letting go. Because Shaw doesn’t let go of his past he is consumed with vengeance and it leads to his death. Sarah lets go of her preconceptions and desires for Chuck and accepts the man that Chuck has now become. And Chuck lets go of his aversion to the dark side of the spy world. Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. But sometimes there is righteous purpose in the hard acts. Heroes have to make the hard decisions. That just comes with the job. But if you stay connected to your family and your friends and to those you love, you’re not lost to the darkness. They can pull you back into the light.

Ultimately, that’s what this 13-episode arc of angsty hell has been about. Shaw isn’t the real “other guy” of the title. It’s the guy who emerges after Chuck’s immersion in the spy world. Chuck and Sarah learn that, no, he’s not the same Chuck. He’s better.

TallGent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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