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Chucking the Summer Away: The Chuck Versus the Alma Mater recap


I really care about Chuck and feel for what he’s going through in these early days of Life With the Intersect.

That shouldn’t be a surprising realization at this point, but it’s the kind of thing that crosses my mind as I watch episodes like “Chuck Versus the Alma Mater.”

All of us have moments or periods in our past that we’d rather not revisit. I think that’s why I felt so much sympathy for Chuck on his return to Stanford, to the scene of his most ignominious moments. His reluctance and discomfort was so palpable.

And the way they weaved in those almost sepia-toned flashbacks was extremely effective. From Bryce callously shooting pool while Chuck is making his green mile walk to the door to Chuck’s meeting with Prof. Fleming where he was accused of cheating, they filled in some big gaps in our background knowledge to that point.

Sarah is still surprisingly withdrawn from Chuck’s emotional distress, offering occasional words of support but mainly still leaving it to Ellie to offer the proverbial crying shoulder. I loved the brother-sister interaction in this one, which really seemed to find a groove by this point.

And of course, Awesome regressing to his frat-boy days was, well, awesome, as was Morgan’s quest for the One Remote. Sauron had nothing on Harry Tang.

Jumping right in, it seems Chuck still had no clue to that point that the CIA’s involvement in his life dated all the way back to college. So when an old professor turns up missing, half the shock is that Stanford would resurface to play any kind of role in his life again.

A little too coincidentally, Ellie and Awesome were roadtripping up there anyway to cheer on UCLA (where we learn they both attended). Chuck actually balks at making the trip initially, both to the General and to Ellie.

Ellie: Listen, I know that Stanford doesn’t hold a lot of good memories for you…

Chuck: Look Ellie. They kicked me out for something I didn’t do. So that’s it. Me and Stanford, we’re officially done.

Soundtrack-wise, Oasis took me back to 1995, personally, but “Don’t Look Back in Anger” was a great choice. The way young Bryce so coldly tells him, “You did it to yourself” was harsh, but true in a sense we couldn’t suspect at that point.

It was Chuck’s intellect, specifically his innate ability to decode embedded images, that put him in the CIA’s sights. What’s weird is when Chuck decides to junk his box of old UCLA mementos, he flashes on his own ID card.

Seriously, how does that work? He has all this information in his brain, but he doesn’t really “know” it unless something triggers a flash. OK, but it’s still strange that he could flash on an item so he knows so personally and trigger a flash of knowledge he wouldn’t otherwise “know”? Yeah, I’m overthinking it. But still, weird.

Anyway, Sarah and Casey are tracking Fleming without Chuck’s help and they recruit them to at least reel in the professor. That puts Chuck in the sites of a crossbow-wielding, freelance Icelandic spy of few words. (Really, did he say anything at all?)

In the process, Chuck picks up a handy spy code phrase and a cryptic message for Bryce, who the professor still believes is alive.

So Ellie eventually puts the squeeze on Chuck to join along for “five hours in a car with Awesome and his brahs.” Along the way, she found Chuck’s old copy of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, five years overdue from the Stanford library. That could get him expelled.

The book triggers a memory of him and Bryce playing Assassin in the library. Soon enough, he normal-flashes on — i.e. just kind of realizes the significance of — the Dewey Decimal code on the book, which is the same as the note Fleming gave him. That’s where the professor hid the data. So it’s off to Stanford.

The Stanford scenes look like Hollywood’s image of a typical college campus — on steroids, maybe. This is not Casey’s crowd.

Casey: You want to save the environment, huh? Take a shower, hippie.

Way to blend.

It’s tougher on Chuck than he’d expected. This was one of those scenes where Sarah was sympathetic but didn’t say much. Hindsight makes it obvious that she’s got a past of her own she’s dealing with.

I loved that Chuck’s ID badge triggered the library’s late fee alert system. That’s a high-tech library. Anyway, the book is gone, but Chuck apparently has a photographic memory for subtle hand motions and immediately checks for the secret compartment Bryce accessed during that game of Assassin. Voila! The disc.

Soon enough, the Icelanics (Icelandians? Icers?) give chase, but not before Chuck snoops into the disc and sees his own name among the lists of CIA recruitment videos. He has to make a fast exit, and I almost thought Ellie and Awesome would get pulled into the melee, but he goes right back to snooping around on the disc the first chance he gets.

This time at least he’s got a plan and calls in the cavalry in the form of recruited students, who respond perfectly to Prof. Fleming’s code phrase: “Are you coming to the Toga party?” Very Animal House.

Back home Chuck all but opened up to Ellie, leaving out a few details but thanking her for pushing him to go back to Stanford. I liked that scene a lot.

His first order of business is to fully explore that disc, but Sarah has other plans for it. She does let him get a glimpse of his own entry on it. And that’s the big reveal of the episode. Bryce didn’t ruin his life after all; he saved it. Chuck was being recruited, and Bryce knew that would kill him.

Of course, it was Bryce who ultimately wouldn’t survive. Still, he saved his friend. He just couldn’t tell him how or why.

There’s a reference on there to the “Omaha project,” which I’m guessing is the Intersect because “Omaha” is what Bryce says to Sarah in “Chuck Versus the Nemesis.”

And now we know why Bryce chose to send him the Intersect in the first place. When things got hot, Bryce had to bring Chuck into the life he’d worked so hard to keep him out of.

In the end, Chuck is left to remember the friend he met that day on a park bench at Stanford, the one who shared his interest in Everquest and Zork and who knew a girl named Jill on his floor who thought such things were pretty cool too. And Bryce drops the prescient line: “The next millennium belongs to the geek.”

Some people don’t love the Buy More storylines the show employs to break up the drama/suspense. Those people are crazy, and this episode is a good argument why.

Morgan’s valiant efforts to lead the crew out from under the oppressive reign of Harry Tang is inspiring. The Lord of the Rings parallels are stellar. Tang’s minions? The Quest for the One Remote? Frodo? Awesome.

Seriously, though, no fornicating in the breakroom? No Red Bull? I’d rather live in Mordor.

Anna had a couple of great scenes, too. She uses her feminine wiles well to charm Harry’s keys away, and she knows a guy who could give Harry Tang an accident.

Harry, for his part, is typically insufferable, with his repulsive belly pudding gesture and lines like this:

Harry: “I’m sorry, fellas. Is this the Talk More?”

As with all important aspects of life, the solution comes back to Van Halen. That is, the code to Harry’s universal remote is OU812#, a play on the title of VH’s eighth album. Thus, the dark lord Tang is rendered powerless.

Couldn’t he have just gotten another remote?

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 15th, 2009 at 12:19 pm by Brian Howard. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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