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Chucking the Summer Away: The Chuck Versus the Sandworm recap


I’m really enjoying and appreciating Season 1 of Chuck much more than I expected I would.

I used to consider it a fun ride, a half-season of cool action-comedy that didn’t quite have the depth of character development that the second season would bring. I’m deciding I was off-base in that assessment. After last night’s viewing of “Chuck Versus the Sandworm,” it struck me that the writers did a really great job of slowly and deliberately laying the foundation of the characters, their backgrounds and motivations, in such a way that perfectly set up the heavier dramatic depth of Season 2.

So while I was a little surprised by how little Chuck-Sarah interaction there was — a couple of slightly awkward bedroom scenes, really — I was really impressed by the lengths the show went to establish what Chuck and Morgan mean to each other. They’re more than just goofball buddies but more like brothers who rely on one another.

Jumping right to the end (as I’m wont to do), the way Chuck jetted back home in time to join a depressed Morgan for the sandworm dance was pretty cool. He knew he had let his friend down and had come down way too hard on him after Big Mike’s warning not to let Morgan bring him down. And he made things right.

OK, that’s the mushy stuff that I liked about this installment of Chuck Me Mondays. Less serious but equally notable were Harry Tang’s reference to the sandworm as a space penis and, of course, Sarah’s and Ellie’s respective costumes.

Princess Leia and Eve? Chuck me, indeed.

Near as I can tell, the purpose of this episode — and I think every episode had a purpose — was to show Chuck (and us viewers) what life could have been and still might be like for him if he’s ever taken into lockdown. It’s the ongoing threat he faces, that life on the outside with handlers could come to a halt and “the asset” would be taken into a higher level of protection.

Laszlo never got the chance to live life on the outside. Recruited at 11 for his Tetris skills, he grew up on the inside, developing gizmos for “the company” and never seeing much sunshine. Whether he became unbalanced as a result of this upbringing or whether he was always a little off-kilter isn’t clear.

What’s clear is that he’s a desperate soul, trusting no one and as dangerous as his handler suggests. In that way, he’s the anti-Chuck, who trusts implicitly and is as well-adjusted a brainy do-gooder as you’d ever hope to meet.

I didn’t get a strong sense of parallel storylines in this episode. Morgan’s and Chuck’s issues didn’t really seem to reflect the dilemma with Laszlo, which is actually impressive since they’re both hefty storylines to explore simultaneously without much connection.

We’re still at a stage where Chuck is pondering life at the Buy More. Big Mike wants him for the AssMan job (always going to love that abbreviation), but it’s corporate’s call. Last thing anyone wants is Harry Tang in their face every day barking orders. Tang, as Big Mike reminds us, has all the charm of a prostate exam. And a 5-year-old’s taste in Halloween costumes, apparently.

A lot of the B-story dialogue between Chuck and Ellie surrounds the big interview. She encourages him, I guess, because she’s still at a point where she just wants to see him get over his past and move forward, even if it means a career in retail.

But it’s his secret spy career that derails the interview and sets up Morgan to go to bat for him. I loved Morgan’s plea to the corporate interviewer, obviously inspired by Tang’s space penis comment and slap at Chuck.

Morgan: Chuck and I may have our differences, but I can tell you this about him: Chuck is brave. Chuck is loyal. Chuck can quote Wrath of Kahn word for word. And Chuck is courageous. Chuck’s got a wicked vinyl collection. And Chuck has the wisdom to not eat garbage from the break room crisper. If you want my open and honest and direct opinion, the best man for this job is a man named Chuck Bartowski.

Of course it doesn’t work and Tang gets the job, but it was a great moment for Morgan to realize what Chuck means to him even if it’s obvious Chuck has grown up a lot since they were 12 and Morgan really hasn’t.

He’s still the type to blow off a double shift for a day at the boardwalk arcade. He’s also the guy who’ll eat whatever’s in the breakroom crisper. That scene is still making me feel oogy.

Of course, Awesome deserves a lot of credit for getting Morgan to man up. Tucking, honesty and a little product is all it takes. That tidbit about hiding under Ellie’s bed and watching her change went over well, huh?

Morgan: I don’t know. I kind of feel like my junk’s out there for the whole world to see.

Awesome: Maybe that’s the point, Morgan. Maybe that’s the point.

One aspect of the Chuck-Laszlo storyline that I thought could have used more screen time had to do with the seeds of distrust Laszlo planted with him. He gets Chuck to go looking for bugs in his apartment, which he of course finds. It was a bit like Carina making him think twice about Sarah’s loyalties in “The Wookie.”

So Chuck ignores Sarah’s and Casey’s calls and lets Lazslo smash his GPS watch — which Laszlo invented — and ends up botching the mission (for the second straight episode, mind you). Or as he put it, pooching the Laszlo situation and aiding and abetting the next Ted Kaczynski.

The episode climax left me scratching my head slightly. It was set up really well that Laszlo would eventually go off the deep end. And the way Chuck flashed on Laszlo’s napkin doodles, cluing him in to the fact that Laszlo would target the boardwalk where he was first recruited, was very cool.

But their final face-off was just a little puzzling. There was only a minute on the bomb clock. Laszlo clearly wanted it to go off. And he wanted to make some kind of point to Chuck in the process, but I’m not sure what that was. He had Chuck inadvertently arm the bomb, and he told him the wrong wires to cut to disarm it. But I had to give it some thought to reach my own conclusions as to why.

My take is that he was channeling the ethos of the typical James Bond villain, seeking to create mayhem without reason or justification. If so, mission accomplished. That’s some deep stuff.

As usual, here’s some random observations I cant’ leave out

  • The opening scene was reminiscent of Bryce Larkin’s escape in the pilot.
  • Something about the Sandworm costume reminded me of Ross from Friends showing up at a costume party as Spud-Nik.
  • Great line, from Chuck to Awesome, “I don’t want to see your snake.”
  • Arcade Fire’s first album is an auditory afrodisiac.
  • We got another foreshadow/early reference to Casey feeling left out, like the fat kid picked last.
  • Rerouting nuclear bombers from the home theater reminded me a little of the movie War Games for some reason. Or maybe Real Genius, to which the name Laszlo could be a reference.
  • Sarah was already sporting the Leia hairdo well before the party.
  • Jeffster’s costume: American Gothic. Lovery.
  • Anna loved Morgan’s willingness to eat anything, and she was the one who made sure Chuck knew Morgan stood up for him. Some foreshadowing right there.
  • The 36:30 mark is worth cueing up at Hulu. Just saying.
  • Another great line: Laszlo turning to Chuck in the NerdMobile and saying, “Everything is not going to be cool.”

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 7th, 2009 at 10:54 am by Brian Howard. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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