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September 2, 2015

'Chuck' Season 4, Episode 16 Recap

by Ryan McGee, posted Feb 22nd 2011 3:00AM
['Chuck' – 'Chuck versus the Masquerade']

I'm usually a fan of the titles that 'Chuck' gives to its episodes. But 'Chuck versus the Masquerade' barely hinted at what this episode was really about. Perhaps 'Chuck versus the Third Wheel' might have been more appropriate, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek way. A more accurate title? 'Chuck versus the Incredibly Heavy Lifting,' a title that describes the incredible amount of story and plot thrown into this hour. Did all of it work? Not really. But what didn't work isn't entirely the show's fault.

Before getting to what worked (and let's be clear up front, a lot of tonight's episode worked), let's get into Volkoff 2 (Electric Buckshot Boogaloo). Going back to that world? And going back there with a character heretofore unknown and never hinted at before? Slightly weak. Introducing a big bad for the final and unanticipated back half of the fourth season was a good idea, but the daughter of the best villain in the show's history? In some ways, it's pointless to fault the show, as the previous arc didn't have room for a missing daughter. Had Vivian been shoehorned into an already full arc involving Chuck's mother, fans might have revolted. So introducing her now when the story has room to breathe might make sense, but doesn't make it feel any less improvised than reality necessitated that it actually be.

In addition, having an essential newbie (albeit one trained her whole life for this job) suddenly take over a credible threat for Team Bartowski seems a bit of a stretch. While having a female Big Bad will breathe some fresh air into the show, it does stand in stark contrast to previous organizations that had decades of experience under its belt before their introduction. In some ways, she's been set up to be Chuck had he veered left instead of right: his pep talk inside Castle inadvertently started her down the path to bad-assery. But Chuck had four years to get to the limited point that he's at: we're supposed to believe she can pick up right where Daddy left off?

Perhaps the proof of that question lies in subsequent episodes of narrative pudding. Because while that part of the episode left me cold, almost everything else left me warm and/or fuzzy. At the top of Mount Fuzzy? The Chuck/Morgan bromance, which was not only sweet but actually showed a great deal of maturity on Morgan's part. His recognition of the ways in which the pair has acted like nothing has fundamentally changed contextualized the opening act's silliness in a way that the show infrequently does. It's all perfectly silly for Chuck and Sarah to tiptoe around the apartment while Morgan and Alex engage in blindfolded energy exchanges, but most of that scene was also silly in a lesser way: there's simply no reason for such a scenario to exist except for the sole purpose of creating a comedic set-piece on a television show.

So by calling out that ludicrous scenario through Morgan, the show gets major props for allowing the characters to recognize that life has changed since the season 1 photograph briefly seen as the two divvy up their belongings. Moreover, it dealt with change in a way that eschews histrionics for the simultaneous pain/pleasure of realizing that people move on to different phases in their lives. In some ways, it was like the film 'Superbad,' in which the bromance at the center of the movie had to yield/adjust in order to let others into their lives. Chuck and Morgan had only done that half-heartedly before tonight, but finally made great strides towards truly forging something new now.

Third wheels existed in two other story lines tonight. In the first, Casey's increased feelings of isolation within the team led to a chance to join a covert ops team working inside Castle itself. This gives 'Chuck' the best of both worlds: A chance to temporarily split up the team while keeping Adam Baldwin on the small screen each week. And while it's kind of harsh to call Clara a third wheel, her presence in Ellie and Awesome's lives certainly has affected their overall happiness (or, at the very least, their sleeping habits). I'm not quite sure which writer on the 'Chuck' staff loves Rusted Root so much, but after name dropping them in 'Chuck versus the Push Mix,' they got the full Jeffster treatment tonight. I'm guessing more than a few people will have "Send Me on My Way" in their heads as much as Mrs. And Mrs. Woodcomb did tonight.

A few bullets about tonight's episode...

*** Loved Sarah trying in vain to bond with Morgan over his 'Star Wars' collectibles, and liked even more how Morgan's horror at her calling them "toys" not only led to his panic attack about the state of his life but also eventually tied into the Clara story line. Really simple, but really effective.

*** Not sure I bought the NCS building a secret tunnel without anyone's knowledge, but then again, it's no less believable than Andy Dufresne building a tunnel behind his Rita Hayworth poster in Shawshank Prison, I suppose.

*** Yup, that was the ex-Mrs. Mike Tyson herself, Robin Givens, as NCS Agent Jane Bentley. I'm guessing that, like Vivian, she'll be around a little longer.

*** My wife pointed this out to me: The name "Vivian" itself tied into Chuck's throwaway joke about 'Pretty Woman' earlier in the episode. If this one sings Prince's 'Kiss' as well as the former did, I might warm up to her character.

'Chuck' airs Mondays at 8PM ET on NBC.

What did you think of tonight's episode? A good start to a new arc, or did it get off on the wrong foot? Is there such a thing as "too much Volkoff"? Which of the third wheel story lines did you like the best? Leave your thoughts below!

Watch the full episode here:

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