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Chucking the Summer away: Recapping Chuck Versus the Pilot


Don’t freak out? How could you not freak out if you were a part of last night’s Chuck Me Mondays kick-off?

The blur of tweets flew by a dozen at a time until #chuckmemondays trended to Twitter’s top five topics. It’s an imperfect forum for such a mass conversation, but it’s the hip platform and therefore the best stage right now for making a big splash.

Me, I’m just glad I watched the pilot episode over the weekend to prep for this recap because last night was a bad case of Short Attention Span Theater.

Anywho, this will be the first of at least 13 episode recaps that will last the summer and span the entire first season of Chuck. Chuck Me Mondays will continue after that, and so may my recaps. One step at a time.

It’s amazing to look back and see how much of the story was laid out in the very first episode.

I know, that’s what a pilot is supposed to do. Still, a lot goes on in this show, and it’s impressive how much is right there in the pilot. Of course there’s Bryce, a few Jill references and the Intersect. But even Chuck’s dad gets a mention.

Still, no single scene established what Chuck is all about for me better than when Chuck saved the day for that sad little ballerina whose dad didn’t know digital camcorders still require digital tapes.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. The quasi-Mexican stand-off on the roof painted the main characters vividly. Chuck and Sarah contemplating an LA sunset on the beach established their relationship in all its tangled frustration. And that dance floor scene was a thing of violent beauty.

But the look on Sarah’s face as Chuck took the time to whisper a few words of encouragement into that little girl’s ear told you all you needed to know about this confidence-shattered everyman with the weight of the nation’s intelligence literally on his shoulders.

Even Sarah didn’t know it at that point, but he’d already won her, and us, over.

I guess the reason that scene stands out for me is that this is a show first and foremost with a heart. The characters drive the action, of course (with the help of the occasional McGuffin, i.e. Fulcrum), but it’s that these characters re relatable and more than a little sympathetic that keeps me glued at every turn.

I loved seeing Chuck and Sarah before they were so familiar with one another. The way she saunters up to the Nerd Herd counter only to catch Chuck mid-Vick-Vick-Vicky Vale is classic. But it’s her half-snarky retorts that make the scene. “Because that makes it better?” she asks before busting on his and Morgan’s names.

And she doesn’t give up, returning the next day with the dreamy pickup line “I’m not sure if I’m able to receive calls because I never got one for you.” At that point, I probably would have burst into flames on the spot. Chuck, though, ends up with a date.

And he’s a pretty cool guy on that date. The nerd vibe they were trying to establish went out the window for me because he was almost too charming, aside from that hilariously uncomfortable baggage handler line. Either that or his chemistry with Sarah was already just that good.

Meanwhile, the scene on the bridge where he flashes on the motorcade just as she makes a self-deprecating joke about what a bad date she is left her in a vulnerable spot that was surprising because we don’t get to see her in less than confident situations very often.

Vulnerable, though, defines Chuck. He’s a damaged guy at this stage. If anything, the Intersect was a lifeline for him. It gave him purpose, which he sorely lacked. The montage at his birthday party, thrown generously by Ellie but populated by her non-Call of Duty-playing doctor friends was reminiscent of just about any guy’s worst experiences with the opposite sex.

Bryce, by the way, is “Not an Accountant.” The cuts back and forth from the party to him made this a lively sequence, as he steals the Intersect, ships it off to Chuck and takes a bullet in the chest from Casey, but only after kicking some serious CIA butt along the way.

Plausibility took a back seat right from the start (and I’m not complaining). Not only does the Intersect contain and analyze all of the nation’s intelligence, but that data fits on a handheld device and can be e-mailed in about the same time it takes to e-mail a thumbnail-sized jpeg. The writers signaled from the start that you just have to roll with it.

And a word about Bryce. I liked the guy. I know his motivations remained in question for a long, long time, but it just never seemed like he could be a bad guy. Yeah, he damaged his friend. That was clear and made clearer in “Chuck Versus the Alma Mater.” Still, Bryce just looked like a good guy. Maybe I expected a twist.

What seems a bit cliched in retrospect is Sarah’s relationship with Bryce. It was a little too predictable. Then again, the idea that he appeared to go rogue and yet never clued her in fascinated me. Some combination of Fulcrum and Orion pushed himin the direction he chose to go, and yet he didn’t tell his partner and the love of his life?

The Buy More crew got barely a cameo outside of Morgan, not surprisingly. He really is a good guy. He encourages Chuck to call Sarah and cheers him on when he lands the date. The very first sight we see of the show is him helping Chuck escape an uncomfortable situation, the party. And it’s Morgan who finds Chuck after the Intersect fried his brain.

I loved this exchange…

Chuck: If I could only remember what was in my secret satchel…the weapons that I would use to kill the terrible troll.”

Morgan: “Yeah, you know what? You’re still really cool.”

I’m always amazed at how the writers tie things up every week so that disparate plot points all contribute to the final resolution. Morgan’s often at the center of that, as he was here with his ill-timed phone call — that Chuck chose to answer while defusing a bomb. That was a stretch, but if you buy that he wouldn’t blow off his friend’s call, you can appreciate that it’s Morgan’s Serbian porn addiction that clues Chuck in to how to stop the bomb from exploding.

Irene Demova, with whom Casey was surprisingly familiar, ultimately saves the day. For a climactic scene, this one was a little weak, at least by comparison to the scenes that bracket it, the rooftop and the beach. That general hightailed it out of there so fast he never realized what imminent danger he faced and what a minor character he’d turn out to be.

We see a more hardened, scarier Casey in the pilot, which is explainable because he doesn’t know Chuck or much care for Sarah at this point. That’s a mutual disdain on her part, by the way, judging from her burnout remark. He’s pretty much just a killer, though he defends his role by saying they’re the ones who stop bad guys from blowing up buildings. Then again he also said this…

Casey: “You shoot him, I shoot you, leave both of your bodies here and I go out for a late-night snack. I’m thinking maybe pancakes.”

I’m glad they softened him up a bit, but it was cool to see this version of him again.

A few random observations I had about this episode…

  • Awesome was always awesome.
  • The Intersect always seemed an odd combination of an old mac and walls full of photos no one person could see all of at once. Still, the first glimpse of it was as cool as the last we saw. I love the entire effect they went for with it, with the photos and archival looking videos. I like how he explains his flash on the rooftop, too. They should emphasize that aspect of the Intersect mythology more.
  • When Chuck flashed on the traffic report in the shower, it was a good preview of how his flashes would work. A lot of apple pies in his early flashes, though, don’t you think?
  • I have the same alarm clock as Chuck. It’s the same model Sarah puts a knife through later in the season.
  • That was a very different Buy More then, no?
  • Would you believe I totally forgot about Harry Tang by Season 2? It was like watching old Battlestar Galactica episodes and remembering Billy was a character on that show.
  • The Ninja fight was cool, but no way that was Sarah in that suit. I read somewhere that was a kind of homage to old kung fu movies that used women actors to pass for men in ninja garb. Haven’t fact-checked that, but it’s a cool theory.
  • Sarah getting dressed for the date was, well, awesome. It was awesome.
  • She’s a good reverse driver. I’m more impressed at that than her fighting skills. Chase scenes can be lame, but this was a nice amalgam of Casey’s rage, Chuck’s confusion and fear and Sarah’s mad skillz. (Her crouching in front of the crash poles was ridiculous and excellent all at once.)
  • The earlier mentioned beach scene really set things up in terms of the larger story between Chuck and Sarah. It’s an early example of the vibe that persists between them. She tells him he has to trust her, but she doesn’t tell him what Bryce meant to her. On the other hand, she doesn’t know what Bryce did to him.
  • The episode could have ended right there, but instead, we see Chuck go for the AssMan job. Extraneous? I don’t think so. Big Mike expects more from him than he does of himself. And it’s worth it to hang around a little longer to see Casey in his new work duds and the flash of Sarah as a trained killer.

Like the man said, don’t freak out.

For a complete listing of songs featured in this episode, check out ChuckTV.net’s Season 1 music page.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 at 10:00 am by Brian Howard. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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