review - chuck vs. the fake name (01 mar 2010)

To clarify: my issues with episode 8 of the third season has nothing to do whatsoever with the acting of Yvonne Strahovski, Zac Levi, Adam Baldwin, Sarah Lancaster, or even Ryan McPartlin. Notice that I left Brandon Routh off that list. There's a reason for that. Kristin Kreuk? Meh. Take her or leave her, I don't really care one way or the other. I'm not a fan of Smallville, so there's no pre-conceived notions about her. I mean, I did take siblings to see Street Fighter last year. I didn't like it (Chris Klein channeling a terrible John Wayne? Yeah. I wish I'd made that sentence up), but Kristin overall was okay.

But the aforementioned actors knocked the episode out of the park. Were any of them to get nominated for an Emmy, this would be an episode to submit.

So what were my issues?

1. The reveal of Sarah's real name. This is a moment fans have been waiting for since "Chuck Vs. the Wookie," and due to NBC being completely unwilling to promote Chuck during the overlong Olympics, there was absolutely NOTHING promoted about it. Fail Award #1 goes to the NBC promo department for that one.

And then two and a half years of Chuck scrambling to find out some tiny scrap of Sarah's past, taking whatever she'll give him, and Sarah just blurts it out to Shaw.

And oh crap, now that I'm thinking about it, it makes perfect sense. I hate it when my brain plays devil's advocate.

The rule of Season Three so far seems to be "All Roads Lead to Prague," where Chuck left Sarah in the lurch and instead of finding a diner, sitting down, and discussing it like rational adults, they left everybody (including each other) hanging and with resentful feelings. So far Prague has managed to make Chuck go into hibernation mode, break the Intersect, screw up the Carina mission, send Sarah into an emotional tailspin, give Shaw reason to be suspicious of Sarah... And now it's breaking Sarah little by little, combined with seeing Chuck go down a dark path. Again, the sensible adults go right out the window--Sarah's hiding from the reality by using Shaw instead of confronting Chuck about it. On the one hand, it IS mature (Chuck is, after all, an adult), but it's also a little cowardly not to face up to Chuck about it. You see your friend going down a dark path, the best thing you can do is let them know and be there for them even if they do blow up at you.

From an objective standpoint, I can even admire this plotline. It's in the mechanics that it breaks down. Strahovski could make reading a phone book dramatic. Routh, on the other hand, can make the dramatic look like reading a phone book. I know he's a major "geek get" for a lowish cost, but I'd much rather have an unknown who can act than a well-known that can't.

So to have her completely and totally sell the "my name is Sam" scene and to have Shaw just stand there like a lump...

A little disheartening, really.

I'm not 100% sold on the actual name itself, but I'm working myself around to it. Right now in my head, she's "Samsarah" or "Sarahsam," depending on how much I want her to sound like a hobbit. I do find it neat that they let Strahovski pick her name and that she's known since the pilot.

My personal bet? Samantha Lisa Ryder. Though I would take Watson, too. A little wink-wink-nudge-nudge to Sarah being Chuck's MJ (I'll cover those parallels in another post).

2. Shaw Stealing Sarah's Dessert

Seriously, do NOT take somebody else's chocolate. This is a cardinal rule in dealing with women, Shaw.

Wait, does Shaw have a first name? Oh, right. Daniel. Another common name for a spy vs. the irregular names for the non-spies (even when he goes into spy mode, Chuck becomes Charles).

3. Hannah

So far, kudos on not making her connected to the spy world. But wow, that girl is like two steps away from exhuming the dead Peaches II and boiling it on Chuck's stove. She meets this guy on a plane, moves to a new city to work a job with him, and spends her time stalking him. There's "moving quickly" and then there's "ludicrous speed." I appreciate her arc being wrapped up rapidly (or so it seems right now), but dang, that was fast.

4. The Assassin

He was so pretty, and so underused.

5. Shaw's "Nobility"

For the record, it's chivalrous to defend the girl you like, I get that. Sucker-punching a guy who can't hit back? Douche move, dude. Sarah's stunt with the ankle-cuffs was funnier and much more tasteful.

And now on to things I liked!

1. Zachary Levi

YOWZA, he sold every single scene he was in. Gruff assassin with just enough Chuck to make it funny, the heartbreaking scenes with Hannah, the start of the realization at the toast that although Hannah feels like she's exactly where she's supposed to be, he doesn't at all. And his reaction to Sarah just blurting out her real name to Shaw made my stomach hurt, it was so well done.

2. They broke the rule.

There's an unspoken rule in the Chuck universe--threatening Sarah automatically triggers the hero switch in Chuck. Point a screw driver at her head, tell Chuck you're going to kill her after you're done with him, try to abduct her outside the Buy More, and Chuck will set your guys against each other, pull off the biggest bluff of the century, or perform a flawless Tarzan to save the day. That's just the way it is.

But this episode? Sarah had a gun to her head and Chuck couldn't flash. Granted, he couldn't flash before that but he still tried to punch the assassin anyway! It was up to Casey to save the day.

My personal take on this? Perfect setup for next week's game-changing episode.

3. Return of Big Sister Ellie!

Title says it all. I adore Ellie. I'm so glad Lancaster got a better show and character than Everwood to be on.

4. Jeff

Should've known he was a Charah shipper. Welcome to the fold, buddy. We stocked the fridge up with your best friend Beer and the Juke Box has every Styx, Queen, and Supertramp hit all ready to go.

One final grievance to air and then I'm done.

Simply put, I miss the color. I don't know if it's just the sets they've been choosing or if it's Brandon Routh, but it feels like every time Shaw is on set, the color is just sucked out of everything. One of my favorite things about Season Two was the bright, vibrant colors in every scene--the reunion, the castle, the fair in "Gravitron," Awesome and Ellie's beach wedding. But every episode with Shaw in it seems to me to be predominantly brown/gray. Maybe I'm just reacting to his clothing, but the shots in his hotel room (shut your curtains, dude, you're wanted by a massive spy organization and you were in a room with somebody who could ID you last week) and of the hotel were just...blah. And the shot of the hotel looked like something post-apocalyptic, though that could just be LA.

Shaw even makes the castle seem colorless. What's up with that?

So I'll be back with more thoughts on next week's episode. I really, really hope it's the awesome game-changer they've been promising because these last two were good, but depressing.

- Frea

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