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Saturday, 5 of December of 2020

Chuck – “Chuck vs The First Bank of Evil”

“Don’t lead with the beard. Let it be a pleasant surprise.”

Vivan acts tough for the bank executive.

She is so not happy to be on the Island.

Between the Devil from Reaper and Pierre Chang from Lost, this might be the most evil episode of Chuck we’ve ever seen.

That’s why I’m so glad it has been part of what has been an inspired run of of episodes. From the downfall of Alexei Volkoff to the reluctant rise of his daughter Vivian (played by Lauren Cohan — an electric presence on a show not lacking in that department), we’ve seen some imagination, some heart, and really sharp comedy. The kind we haven’t seen in such a long time.

I don’t know if someone cracked down on the writer’s room sometime after they crapped the bed on “vs The Balcony” but it’s refreshing to see characters behaving in the way you’ve been dying to see them behave, engaging in real problems, dealing with issues some characters have been having from the very beginning. Sarah’s detached mind finally has a chance to float in the opportunities afforded by her civilian friends (like getting excited about a wedding). Casey’s skills, handicapped by van surveillance and a string of debilitating injuries, finally gets noticed by higher ups so he’s given a mission. And Chuck — well, Chuck has his black hole of emotion that everyone gets sucked into (even the coldest hearts in the spy world seem to cave into their inside feelings more often lately) but he’s returned to being that affable, sometimes awkward character everyone probably misses. And how about someone realized there’s more to the Intersect than kung-fu. Lots of good stuff with all the characters.

But let’s get to the specifics of this episode, shall we?

The most interesting part about this great run is the fall of one Big Bad and the apparent rise of the next. Vivian, the striking and reluctant heir to the Volkoff throne will almost certainly assume her role of villain by season’s end (hopefully not to be ruined by Chuck’s tendency to rush through an arc), which will be the only time in the show’s history that we’ve had a change in Big Bad during the course of the season. You can maybe consider Shaw’s fake demise to be a changing of the guard, but The Ring was always the overall evil and Shaw was just an agent. You can say that Volkoff Industries is still the Big Bad here, too, but obviously, it’s different: this is a total change of leadership.

Watching the Devil (I know Ray Wise has an enormous career under his belt, but the comedy and manipulation of his role here most reminds me of Reaper, though he’s lacking his trademark confidence) pull the strings on Vivian in order to turn her against Chuck brings up a brilliant piece of politics for the show. Chuck has never really been good with the subterfuge part of the job when he’s not in the field, one of the constants of his character. But a theme built throughout this episode is how he should be good at that because he is a spy. Beckman expects him to lie when he has to and Riley the Devil uses the “Spiers are Liars” concept to infect Vivian against Chuck. Part of that is Chuck’s fault. He honestly wants to do good and tries to establish a connection to his asset but overpromises and underdelivers. What Vivian perceives as a clever deception is really just Chuck being a jackass.

Even Chuck has to see that bringing father and daughter together was going to be next to impossible, what with the heavy level of security necessary to detain such a well-connected criminal and Beckman’s hesitation. Instead he moves forward with what I suppose is supposed to be naivete but, by now, is just complicit ignorance. What is really great about this play in politics is that we, as an audience, can even feel like Chuck is being such a jackass and our heart breaks a little bit for Vivian, even if the set-up was a little ham-handed (mementos in a safe-deposit box? Really?).

The other part about this episode (and in the last episode, “vs The Masquerade”) are the flashes of brilliance Vivian displays through her lack of confidence. Though we don’t actively see Chuck and Sarah pushing her into “being a Volkoff,” the situation just seems to bring it out in her. Even though she seems like she’s constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown most of the time, she’s always very quick on her feet. Pulling the gun on Chuck after he was caught, being trusted to put the tag on the computer system (while Chuck and Sarah had their bank heist moment that probably should’ve been soundtracked by Propellerheads and not whatever indie band they featured). Shooting her would be murderer point blank with a shotgun. They’ve done a pretty bang-up job keeping Vivian vulnerable but maintaining that she could do the job asked of her if only she’d accept the role.

Something else they’ve done a bang-up job of recently is keeping the comedy very sharp, especially apparent in their teasers. Valentine’s Day (“vs The Masquerade”) was pretty hilarious (Sarah as an angel wasn’t lost on me, particularly with her passing resemblance to an actual Angel) as was Riley the Devil reading the letter from Alexei in his best Timothy Dalton accent. Even the Buy-Morians, who’ve had considerably decreased presence in the latter half of this season, have had spots that are less screwball than usual. The show hasn’t felt like the tale of two tones that it has in the recent past where we have the slapstick Buy More storyline competing with the action A-Plot. There’s balance here and it makes me feel at peace.

I’m trying to swallow my pessimism where I don’t think this will last, that the higher they lift me, the harder I’m going to fall when they give me something like “vs The Honeymooners” again. I’m trying to enjoy this ride and ignore the Cancellation Bear fast gaining on the show boasting 1.7 in a time slot unscripted fare earned much more in. But let’s appreciate what we have now, particularly the well-crafted minutiae:

  • Looks like Jack Donaghy and Alexei Volkoff run in the same circle.
  • It’s an interesting gag that Castle really does have everything around any corner at any given time, including a hologram-enabled wardrobe room. Which begs the question: if they can afford a mechanized outfit selection machine complete with projections of how people will look with a particular choice on, why are they storing wedding dresses from past missions, especially ones that look like someone died in it (bloody mortar blast to the shoulder — cripes)?
  • Please, please, please, please, please, please let Morgan and Casey moving in together be everything I’ve ever wanted it to be. I’m telling you. Morgan and Casey spin-off. We’re almost home.
  • They should stop trying to do Southern accents. For real. I’m sorry, Zach. It’s not in you.
  • “This is going to score us some serious Ren-Tang.” Do you think they start with the one-liner and build the sub-A plot around that?
  • They’ve already gone longer than Noel thought with the John-Casey-on-a-clandestine-mission-right-under-our-noses story but how long until we get to the conclusion of this? Two episodes? Three tops? Chuck gets a good arc going and it’s like the thing is burning a hole in the writers’ collective pocket.
  • Since I haven’t been around for the last few weeks, a small note on the fan-service Sarah costuming. I love that they addressed it in “vs The Seduction Impossible” and had her dress up as a belly dancer anyway. You can say the leather catsuit is more of the same since they were going for a Matrix theme but the Sarah playing dress-up in the wedding gowns was pretty priceless, even if I wasn’t totally sold on neither the dress she fell in love with (I might have actually liked the first dress more) nor the epiphany moment itself. But it was cute, modest (by comparison to her other costuming nonsense), story-driven, and endearing. With that in mind, I offer you Sarah’s obvious fan-service in the episodes I missed reviewing over the past couple weeks. Consider this a token of my appreciation and an apology for my absence.
Sarah attempts to seduce Chuck as a belly dancer. Carina attempts to seduce Morgan wrapped in his Star Wars sheets. Sarah surprises Chuck with her Valentine's Day angel outfit.
Sarah, in mid-bank-heist, surveys the scene. Sarah finds her wedding dress.

I know one of those is Carina but even Sarah Walker needs a week off.


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