'Chuck' Season 4, Episode 17 Recap
by Ryan McGee, posted Mar 1st 2011 1:00AM
How you feel about the back end of this fourth season of 'Chuck' all depends on how much you like having it center around the moral dilemmas of a character that we only met last week. Introducing new characters into 'Chuck' has often led to an infusion of new energy, but to date these characters have existed either to complement our main ones or to create tension between them. But aside from perhaps Shaw (and really, the less said about him the better), we've never had to really invest in the inner workings of these figures.
With Vivian Volkoff, the show's drawing up a physical manifestation of a previously metaphorical question: What if Chuck had used the Intersect for evil, not good? What if he took the power available to him and used it not to doggedly pursue the girl of his dreams, but hoarded goods, services, and a plethora of women like a sci-fi Tony Montana? Vivian isn't quite there just yet (and yes, she doesn't have the one-to-one equivalent of an Intersect at her disposal), but she's currently at a fork in the road, without a solid base upon which she can make an informed decision. To sum up the problem that lies ahead: "There but for the grace of Grimes go I ..."
Thing is, this worked better as a story line back on 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' in which Faith came on the scene to tempt Buffy over to the darker side of slayerdom. Not yet a Slayer at the height of her powers or, more crucially, maturity, there was real tension as to whether or not Buffy would leave behind Giles and The Scooby Gang in order to take advantage of power-without-consequence. But on 'Chuck'? There's no contrast as there was between Buffy and Faith. There's simply the sequel: With Chuck fully set in his identity, both personal and professional, there's no real correlation between the two at this moment in time. Vivian is starting from the beginning; Chuck has already essentially finished the journey.
There's a certain satisfaction in knowing that Vivian isn't going to cause a hiccup in the wedding plans of Chuck and Sarah. (At least, romantically.) But had this story line come in earlier in the show's overall run, this could have provided a much more compelling wedge for our favorite spy couple than Shaw ever did. Yes, I realize that Volkoff came in this year, but I'm talking about the overall story line of two people with missing parents thrust into a spy world and gradually making decisions for the same reasons, but with drastically different results. As it stands now, Chuck isn't a peer with Vivian: he's as much an advisor as Volkoff's lawyer, Riley. Maybe this story line will pan out as it progresses, but for now, it's just taking up valuable show real estate that could be spent better elsewhere.
Like, for instance, on Sarah's journey from "scared witless about walking down the aisle" to "renting out private islands for her wedding." Yvonne Strahovski once again demonstrated a variety of modes tonight, from the adorably dorky grimace while trying out ill-fitting wedding dresses to effortlessly bantering about feeling like a princess while clad in black leather during a bank heist. Did the back half of the season need any more of a narrative through line than the wedding? Doing an homage to 'The Matrix' will pretty much result in a heaping helping of awesome sauce regardless of context, so I'm confident in saying that no, I didn't need Vivian upstairs uploading a computer virus to make that scene compelling fun.
Now, about that banter: I've bemoaned the way in which Chuck and Sarah tend to prattle on about emo stuff at inappropriate times during missions. And early on, during Chuck's first undercover foray into the bank, they did exactly that. But their "Neo/Trinity mixed with Pumpkin/Honey Bunny" act worked like gangbusters because it wasn't whiny drivel: it was sharp banter. "Sharp banter" always has a place mid-mission, and if the show did it well, and did it more often, it could more easily cover up the gaps that come from 1) lack of overall show budget, and 2) their general inability to write up a serious spy mission. 'Chuck' writers know how to write funny, emotional interactions between characters we love. But I never, ever want to pull off a mission using one of their scripts as the basis for my battle plan.
Morgan and Casey largely sat on the sidelines tonight, with the former's mission to find a roommate an excuse to find some Jeffster time for the show and get the pair living together by hour's end. Here's hoping that Casey's mission for the NCS somehow eventually connects with the Vivian mission, otherwise this exercise in splitting the team apart will be fairly meaningless. The Morgan/Casey 'Bosom Buddies' routine should yield some good humor, although I wonder how Alex is going to feel about spending the night there.
Other bullets (in bullet-time, no less!) about tonight's episode ...
*** 'Lost' fans, you had a lot to love tonight, between The Numbers being on Volkoff's bank card to Pierre Chang himself, François Chau, as an employee of the bank. Too bad the vault for Volkoff's cash wasn't in Room 23.
*** Had Sarah Walker said, "HUZZAH!" at one point, I could have let the renaissance festival stuff slide. But since it didn't, I wanted to go Medieval (Manor) on this unfunny plot.
*** I'm not sure how we never saw the whole Insta-Wardrobe part of Castle before, but since it yielded Sarah's wedding dress montage, I guess we can let that slide. (Also, proposed spin-off series: Project Spyway. Tim Gunn outfits agents for sexy missions around the world. I'd watch.)
*** "Fabulously bearded man seeks ..." sounds like the start of a personal ad for the Dos Equis guy, not an ad by Morgan looking for a roommate. Actually, can 'Chuck' get the Dos Equis guy to be a villain? Please?
'Chuck' airs Mondays at 8PM ET on NBC.
How is the Vivian Volkoff story line working for you? Just what the show needs now, or too much distraction from characters we love? How exactly will Casey's side project link up to the main plot? How does Sarah Walker: Bridezilla sound? Leave your thoughts below!
Watch the full episode here: