1.09.2011

mxpw vs. Frea - Chuck vs. the Sandworm

Chuck vs. the Sandworm
Season 1, Episode 6, air-date October 29, 2007

Chuck spots a man wanted by the government. He finds out the man worked for the government, and just desired a new life. Soon he has Chuck doubting his handlers. Chuck has to interview for Assistant Manager.

Something like three weeks late, mxpw finally drags Frea away from Photoshop to review another classic.  80s references abound!  And this time, we didn't even have to put a mustache on Yvonne Strahovski.  Our mothers would be so proud.


Frea: So, Maximus, would you like to play a game?

mxpw: I suggest a nice game of Global Thermonuclear War.

mxpw: Or would you prefer Tic-Tac-Toe?

Frea: Depends on if I get to be Soviet or not.

mxpw: Well, you are a tyrannical dictator, so I think the Soviets are all yours, Comrade.

Frea: Awesome, Tic-Tac-Toe it is! I'll have a fun time drawing red Xs over your eyes.

mxpw: I'd make a comment about Os, but we should keep this PG-13.

Frea: Wait, what do you mean there was more to Chuck vs. the Sandworm than the awesome War Games references?

mxpw: I know, it's really hard to believe, but there were cool James Bond cars, Chuck and Sarah getting it on, Sarah in a metal bikini, and Chuck and Morgan cementing their bromance while celebrating Shai-Hulud.

Frea: And also Morgan getting maturity lessons from the Captain of Awesome himself. Oh, and Harry Tang in a tiny hat!  Big Mike's body is a temple!  And Harry "Tiberius" Tang, God help us all.

Frea: Sandworm was the first episode we saw from Producer/Writer Phil Klemmer, veteran of the awesome Veronica Mars, and (cross your fingers) sole returnee from the S3 Writers' Exodus. I enjoyed the episode when it came out, and still enjoy it, but it's not without its problems.

mxpw: I too enjoyed it when it first came out, and still enjoy it today, but I agree, there are many problems. Most of them are plot based, which is a bit of a refreshing change from the last two years.

mxpw: But before we get into those problems, we thought it would be best to give a quick rundown of the plot and then move into the more analytical part of our review

Frea: Okay, so here goes: Bryce Larkin doesn't get Chuck kicked out of Stanford, and he gets put into a bunker for five years.

mxpw: After three years in the bunker, Bryce and his "kidnapped" partner and sort of girlfriend, drop in on Chuck for a little "Let me introduce my girlfriend to my best friend and oh yeah, how would you like to be our tech support guy?"

Frea: But then this guy Laszlo also shows up, and it turns out he's been in a bunker for ten years, and he's all "Quit yer bitchin'" whenever Chuck moans about the measly five years of alone time Frea subjects Chuck to.

Chuck's habit of answering his cell phone in extreme peril continues!
mxpw: So Chuck is all like, "Dude, you're right, I don't know what I was thinking." And then they eat pancakes and watch Bond movies and Laszlo almost turns into WOPR before Chuck proves that chucks also come equipped with anti-lock brakes.

Frea: Then Sarah and Casey prove that they can indeed play two-person Blurnsball with the Idiot Ball by chasing down a GPS tracker that their computer genius somehow didn't think to deactivate even though he designed the car, only, and here's a big shocker, it's attached to a "big rig" and they've been fooled by their bad guy. Curses, foiled again! But that's okay because this allows Chuck to figure out where the bomb is himself, and charge to save the day on his best friend's trusty (and stolen) steed. Surely enough, he disarms his second bomb by figuring out a crucial James Bond plotpoint, making him 2 for 2. Thank heavens we had Chuck there to save the day and not Sarah because the Santa Monica Pier would be underwater were it not for a love of pop culture.

mxpw: And then Chuck rushed to a party to confront his true love, Morgan. There they patched things up while the party goers gave homage to the Great Maker, Sarah showed up in an outfit out of most nerds' dreams, and then a lively discussion about sandwiches was had by all.


Frea: You know, I think you're right, Max. See, Max here, when I suggested that we should maybe summarize the plot objectively just in case, was like, "I don't know if this is our strong point." And looking back over our rundown, I think he may have been right.

mxpw: I don't know, Frea, I'd say our plot, while somewhat nonsensical and incomplete, was fairly entertaining. So basically just like the show.

Frea: Well, at the end of the day, the point is to entertain people, possibly at the expense of reason. Which makes it a Klemmer episode, through and through. There were a lot of things that needed to be hand-waved this episode.

mxpw: For one thing, what I want to know, is how does a mostly crazy nerd that has been locked in a bunker for half his life disable a bunch of fully trained CIA agents? Better question, if he's so dangerous, why isn't that listed in his file in the Intersect?

Frea: Well, his file in the Intersect listed him as "Considered Dangerous," but didn't say why. You'd think it would have a more complete look at it, though. I mean, he had to have escaped after Chuck downloaded the Intersect, given the freshness of Agent Scary's shiner (don't look at me, I didn't pick the name), but you would think that the Intersect would have included things like a psych profile, or something that told specifically why Laszlo had to be kept away from society.

mxpw: That's mostly what I meant.

mxpw: But thank you for making it more clear.

Frea: No problem, Maxy. I live to serve. I will say this for the show: this is one of the times I didn't mind the Buy More being there at all.

mxpw: I think the biggest plot problem I had with this episode was the Buy More scene between Chuck and Laszlo. We see Agent Scary talking to Sarah at the Wiernerlicious about how dangerous Laszlo is, but instead of them going immediately to get Chuck, they...leave? Where did they go? It was like they had to leave the area inexplicably and stay away for some indeterminate time just so that the scene in the Nerd Herder could happen.

Frea: I guess you could handwave it as they had to drive to Chuck's apartment and look for him there?

mxpw: But he has a GPS watch. Even more curious, why don't Sarah and Casey immediately rush to his last known position as soon as his signal cuts out?

Frea: But I want to know is why Chuck chose to check his messages instead of calling Sarah and Casey straightaway and letting them know he was with a cold-blooded thermonuclear war player.

Frea: I mean, we got the hilarious gag of Casey threatening to tie something of Chuck's in a knot, but really, I was like, are you kidding?

mxpw: Yeah, the whole middle of the episode kinda just falls apart.

Frea: To me, it felt like this episode had to go through a lot of on-set rewrites.

Frea: For instance, when Casey confronts Chuck at the beginning about what he told Laszlo, Chuck says that he told Laszlo he'd gotten the watch from his girlfriend, which we didn't see happen in the arcade scene.

mxpw: And the trust issue between the three of them came up again, but just like in Wookie, I ended up leaving the episode wondering why Chuck had to apologize for not trusting Sarah and Casey when they yet again gave him no reason to.

Frea: Well, Sarah's putting the slave costume on to take a real picture with him was an apology, I think. And Chuck did get his revenge on Casey. Me, I'd put on headphones, put the Complete Works of Alvin and the Chipmunks on the stereo, and spend several hours a day blasting that, but Chuck's apparently nicer than I am.

mxpw: You bring up a lot of good points, Frea.

Frea: That's because it's me, Max. But the way I comb my hair covers them up. It was a very amusing episode, I'll give it props for that, but I don't know, it just feels...sloppy. On the other hand, I thought Yvonne and Zac and Josh did some of their best work. Zac is a fantastic comedic actor and he really got to play quite a few things this episode: reacting to Laszlo, awkward interactions with Sarah, friendship scenes with Morgan, being the straight man to both spy and Buy More antics alike.

Frea: You know, it's things like that that have really saved the show, over the years. I mean, take a look at Sarah in this episode. They don't give her a lot of lines, but man, does Yvonne put a lot of subtext into everything she does or what? They didn't have to use dialogue to show us that the picture Sarah takes at the end is her apology; Sarah's shyness and awkwardness does that for her. Zac, and even Adam, both do the same thing, and even though we complain about the writing and the plotholes, their efforts and the directors' efforts really do keeping us coming back for more.

mxpw: Yeah, again, good points. Actually, the photograph is one of my favorite subplots of S1. You talk about Yvonne's subtle acting at the end, but I think the best moment is when she's in his bedroom and sees the first photograph in the trash. You can see her just kind of pause for a second and her disappointment is noticeable.

mxpw: Casey too has his own moments in the plot (I tie the photograph and eavesdropping together most of the time), especially at the end. Despite how unapologetic he was about the whole thing, you kinda feel sympathetic toward Casey at the end when you see his face as you realize what Chuck and Morgan are talking about. Good, simple comedic acting on Baldwin's part.


Frea: This episode served as further confirmation that Morgan and I would never work, despite being well-matched in height and geekiness. I, too, would take a roast beef sandwich to a desert island. And au jus dipping sauce. You, Maximus?

mxpw: I'm gonna have to second that roast beef. Maybe a ham and cheese on rye, but the roast beef would be best.

Frea: Morgan Grimes is disappointed in both of us.

mxpw: Of course, there's also the fact that Morgan eats weeks old food out of the breakroom fridge and sexually harasses customers. That might be another reason why you wouldn't work. At least they give Morgan a bunch of great scenes with Awesome and then the scene with the corporate dude.

mxpw: Man, just reading what I wrote makes me realize how incredibly far Morgan has come as a character.

Frea: That's true. Awesome really was quite awesome in this, and I love how sensible and kind of great Ellie was in this episode, too. The scene in the beginning when Awesome's like, "Wait til you see my snake," you can totally tell Ellie knows where Chuck's mind is, but she just laughs and is all, "My boyfriend's so fun." Stuff like that was one of the reasons I just couldn't help but adore Ellie from the beginning. Her resume is just as awesome as Awesome's, and yet she's so down to earth and fun.


mxpw: Well, she was until they... Never mind, I probably shouldn't get into that here. This is supposed to be about S1, after all.

Frea: Right.

Frea: Gotta watch out for Ellie, though. She will completely take over everything if you let her, for the record. Twenty chapters later, and I'm not bitter about that at all, nooooo....

mxpw: Yeah, and this is totally the first time I'm hearing about it too.

Frea: So this was an incredibly busy episode.

mxpw: It really was.

Frea: You had a lot going on, not just with multiple characters and moving parts. You had three villains: Laszlo, his handler, and Harry Tang. Multiple plotlines and every cast character had a purpose in this episode.

mxpw: Except for Sarah. She didn't really do anything.

Frea: Sarah was there for emotional support. It's the best we can expect from a Klemmer—oh, I'm not going to finish that sentence.

Frea: But on top of that, this is also one of the busiest episodes, musically. Music is used for humor a lot in this show, but this episode really went everywhere: Halloween music, wild west music for the Harry Tang/Chuck confrontation, a heroic, patriotic march while Chuck rode the bike to the rescue and Morgan defended his best friend, Georgian chanting to bring us from the tension at the Pier to the famous montage of this episode.

mxpw: The OC homage, yes, one of the reasons why I like this episode so much. I remember when I first saw this episode, I cracked up at that. It was a nice bit of meta on behalf of Schwartz and crew and the whole rush to Morgan was executed really well.

Frea: I have to take your word on that, having only seen two episodes of The OC.

Frea: My whole experience with Rachel Bilson is Jumper and Lou. Isn't everybody excited for our reviews of Truth and Hard Salami now?

mxpw: I know that I'm excited.

mxpw: I can't wait to see you talk about the trunk scene.

Frea: BEST. SCENE. EVER.

Frea: What was that, sir? Sandworm? On it!

mxpw: Oh, speaking of the Sandworm, we must talk about Sarah's costume.

mxpw: I'm going to say something that may shock most of you: I don't like it.

Frea: I think she should've been a Bond girl.

mxpw: They managed to achieve something that should frankly be impossible: made Yvonne look bad while wearing an outfit like that. But they did it, because that costume was so ill-fitting and awkward looking on her, I feel bad for Yvonne. How do you screw something like that up? I mean, it should be like pressing the EASY button from those Staples commercials, but no.

Frea: I remember watching the Behind the Scenes video on the NBC website right before this episode aired, and they interviewed Sarah Lancaster about her costume. She was like, "I'm wearing a bikini made out of leaves. My parents must be so proud. Hi, Mom!"

mxpw: Now see, her costume rocked.

Frea: Agreed.

mxpw: Why couldn't they have done the same for Yvonne? Poor Yvonne, and stupid costume department for screwing up a nerd icon.

Frea: Ellie and Awesome would be awesome enough to have awesomely matching costumes.

Frea: I do have to give the props department props for this episode, though.

mxpw: The car?

mxpw: The Nerd Herder was very nicely done.

Frea: See what I did there? Sheer brilliance. You can tell they had a lot of fun going all out on the cheesy Halloween decorations, both at the Buy More and the apartment. It's not easy to do background props on that sort of busy set without just making it look busier, but they added just the right freaky touches. My favorite being the incredibly creepy staring mummy dude in the media room that you can just see at the edges of some of the shots of Chuck.

Frea: And yes, the Herder was definitely well done.

mxpw: I thought the Sandworm was a pretty nice prop as well. Fairly well done.

Frea: Definitely. I also loved Jeff and Lester's costumes.

mxpw: Haha.

Frea: Also, that was just the right amount of Jeff and Lester if you feel they must be in an episode. A couple of lines each, and buh-bam, you're good.

mxpw: Heh. Well, we are talking back when the Buy More was still mostly well handled. It's in S3 where they really start to go off the rails.

Frea: With symptoms showing up in S2.

mxpw: Yeah. Jeffster really reach their peak in Ring 1. Everything else has been downhill from there.

mxpw: But back to Sandworm, okay, so what is your favorite part of the episode?


Frea: The second scene with Chuck and Sarah in the bedroom. I love the first scene, even though in the reaction shots of Yvonne, it looks like they're sitting very strangely, but the second scene is where the Charah fairy-tale was alive and well. Sarah's split-second pause of pain when she sees the picture in the trash, Sarah being reassuring and nice to Chuck, and their connection, all stuff we unfortunately lost after Ring 1. I mean, all of the Laszlo stuff is great and funny, but I don't know, that scene always stands out for me when I think back about this episode.

Frea: Also, Sarah's jacket is really, really cute, and I covet it.

mxpw: This may shock you, may not shock you, but I agree, actually. That second scene is my favorite too, though I love the first scene between them if nothing more than for the sheer awkwardness they both display. They were both cute, especially Sarah. But the second scene is the one with all the emotional weight behind it. Oh, and I dig the car chase for its total "WTF" nature.

Frea: Chuck's, "Ladies" at the end was fantastic.


mxpw: I think it's a very solid episode that's kind of haphazard and messily put together. It has some great comedic parts anchored by Zac's great acting, and some great emotional stuff between Chuck and Sarah. Morgan was annoying at first, but improved, and Laszlo was a pretty entertaining bad guy.

Frea: Definitely agreed on all of that. Loved the Bond humor, the fact that the bomb stopped on 00:07, the Sandworm, so on and so forth. But "haphazard" really describes it well, unfortunately. However, we're Chuck fans, we wear our plotholes proudly on our sleeves. Even with lines dubbed in later to try and make scenes make sense, I can't fault this for being a very entertaining hour.

Frea: So... *robotic voice* how about a nice game of chess?

Ratings:

Frea: 6.5 Single Stacks at the Continental Hut of Pancakes out of 10.

mxpw: 3 Wienerlicious Sarahs out of 5.


So, thoughts?  Are we too harsh?  Not harsh enough?  How do you feel about Klemmer's return?

14 comments:

  1. Ayefah10.1.11

    I'm a veteran of RTD Who, so plot holes have to be more like craters for me to notice when I'm fond of a show. And I was fond of Chuck when I watched this, so that's the impression that sticks with me - that it's a cute episode, and the first one that struck a good spy/Buy more/home life balance for me and made me feel like the show had fully found its ideal structure.

    Your two are totally right about the gaping plot holes, though. Heh. I won't be able to rewatch without thinking of that, but that's okay. There are still ingenious little touches like the Buy More crew's Halloween costumes, the stupid fun of Awesome's snake, "space penis", Chuck's lolarious idea of what constitutes and auditory aphrodisiac*...it was never really Laszlo or the A-plot I cared about in this episode. The S1 spy stories are about 80% idiocy anyway. :P


    *Look, I like Funeral as much as the next girl, but really, Chuck? Really?

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  2. I think both of you are right on target - haphazard is an apt descriptor. Not my favorite episode of S1, although it's fun to go back to since I've seen it so seldom.

    There are definitely iconic scenes from the series embedded in this ep: I'm thinking specifically of the first bedroom scene with the awkward Comicon pic moment (I thought Yvonne looked sublime here) and Chuck's rush back to Morgan at the party given emotional heft by Finley Quaye's "Dice". And, of course, the Chuck-Sarah photo moment at the end.

    What this episode does right is that, as a filler episode, it's *fun*. I mean, if you're not going to contribute significantly to the season arc story, at least be entertaining and don't tear down what's been built up elsewhere. On these two counts the episode succeeds, I think. After what comes in future seasons, it almost makes me nostalgic, even. :)

    As for Klemmer's return, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt for now. Sure, it's possible he's just using Chuck as a port in a storm til he finds a better gig, but it could also be that he got a cold splash of seawater in the face when his new ship (Undercovers) abruptly turned turtle and sank into the briny deep and he's returned determined to redeem himself (how's *that* for extending a metaphor?). :D

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  3. Oh, and one more thing: Mxpw is right about the Princess Leia costume, it pains me to say, because I really, really wanted to love it. The sad truth is, though, that I just don't.

    Perhaps this was the right moment for the Tatiana Romanova costume? ;)

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  4. alladinsgenie4u10.1.11

    Really glad to see you guys continuing with the reviews of episodes past. I agree with both of you when you talk about the strong emotional undercurrents in the C/S fledgling relationship. And the second bedroom scene where Sarah is sort of crushed that the photo ended up in the trash is also my favorite scene of the episode. Overall, a fun episode. :)

    Phil Klemmer? Hmmm. Twice bitten (3x07 and 3x12), thrice wary.Very, very Wary :)

    Really looking forward to the Truth and Salami reviews -they are my favorite episodes from Season 1. :)

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  5. Have to echo everyone else about the Leia costume, it just didn't work. At the time I thought Super Girl or Wonder Woman would have been a better choice. But after last season probably not.

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  6. Ayefah10.1.11

    Correct me if I'm completely wrong on this, everyone, but the show just...isn't as geeky as it used to be, is it? We don't get stuff like the Sandworm costume anymore - I mean, there are always pop culture references, but Chuck doesn't seem to do geeky things anymore. I kinda miss that.

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  7. @Ayefah the First - I am kind of like you in that if I enjoy something, I DO notice a lot of the plot holes, I just don't care very much. I think that was the problem with S3. I wasn't enjoying myself, so all the plot holes became glaringly obvious. Not so in S1, though. This episode was mostly just plain enjoyable, even with all the holes. I think that's a testament to its strength and the fun I had while watching it. And 80%, really? What's so idiotic about an episode's plot hinging on an Italian sausage smuggling storyline?

    @Aardie - I think where Sandworm fits is in the season long team development arc, which as I briefly mentioned in the review, is about creating a level of trust between the three members of Team B, but in particular Chuck and Sarah. This episode does do quite a bit toward furthering that goal, with the great photograph scenes. That's one of the reasons why I enjoy it.

    Frea's and my view on Klemmer are pretty well documented by this point, but the man lost most of his goodwill with me after S3. I'm not really interested in giving him the benefit of the doubt. That is not to say I'm hoping he won't impress me, because I do think he has the potential to write good episodes, it's just been a while since he wowed me.

    Oh, and thank you, I do like it when people agree with me. Especially on something as important as Sarah's wardrobe choices. Heh.

    @Genie - Just you wait, this upcoming week (keep your fingers crossed) looks to be THE week of mxpw vs. Frea. Look for all of our reviews and maybe a special edition version of mxpw vs. Frea as well.

    @JC - I'm thinking putting Sarah in a Wonder Woman costume in the same episode as the "Dice" song, while awesome, would have been pushing the OC references a little too far (for those of you who never saw the show, Rachel Bilson's character dresses up as Wonder Woman in the first season).

    @Ayefah the Second - You are not wrong, the show is very much light on pop culture and geek references lately. Other than the guest stars, it rarely ever does overt stuff anymore. I miss it, that was part of what gave the show its charm and appeal. I'm hoping with the new batch of episodes, they'll spread their wings a bit more and get more creative again.

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  8. This episode really did make me wish for more EBP, and again the Leia costume really was a lousy for or something cause it just didn't work.

    Also Chuck's "Ladies" was easily the most Lol worthy line of the episode.

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  9. Anonymous10.1.11

    As always, thanks for the reviews. I think the playfulness that carried this episode over its many plot holes has been hard for the show to continue in, especially post S3. I defintely miss it. Re-watching these S1 episodes really does make me nostalgic. In the same way, I too really enjoy the bedroom scenes between Chuck and Sarah, especially the second one. The challenge in dramtically developing a relationship is striking just the right balance between the possibility of love, and the risk that one of them is mis-reading (mis-leading)the other. That is a much easier balance to strike early on in a relationship. I'm not saying I wish that they were still dragging out the angst, I just miss the shy, hopeful, awkwardness that accompanied the "early years." It's nice to go back and visit. - jwr

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  10. I was looking at the episodes of Veronica Mars Klemmer wrote and I can't believe he's the same guy. I haven't disliked all the stuff he's written for Chuck but it's nowhere near what he was doing before.

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  11. Alaster11.1.11

    An entertaining review as always. You guys brought up some things that I missed in my previous watches. Despite the plot holes and the unflattering slave costume Yvonne Strahovshi had to wear I thought that this episode was a fun one, and I enjoyed the re-watch. The actors really did a good job and I throughly enjoyed Jonathan Sadowski's character.

    The only thing that I have a nit-pick about was that the Goldfinger reference was wrong. But the clock timer was a fun homage.

    I know that they have nothing to do with each other but I found Lazlo's quote, "But first, I could really use some pancakes," funny because it reminded me of Casey's episode one quote "You shoot him, I shoot you, I leave both your bodies here and go out for a late night snack. I'm thinking, maybe pancakes."

    Also, I totally agree with Ayefah's two points on the humorous little touched throughout the episode and that "Chuck" is losing it's nerdiness. And intersectedlightly's review that although there was no significant contribution to a seasonal arc that the episode was "fun" and and did not hinder nor tear anything for the plot line so far.

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  12. Alaster11.1.11

    Also Frea, congrats on the episode one reference.

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  13. Uh, Alastar, do you mean my Xerox machines thing, or did I somehow unknowingly reference Episode I? Because if it's the latter, I'm a little worried, I try to give that movie as little thought as humanly possible.

    You know, I don't view this episode as a standalone because I do think it has significant contribution to the seasonal arc. The arc itself was about the human relationships behind the spy life, and this episode gave us a major step forward, in which Chuck learned to accept some of the measures Casey would use to protect him, and there was forward momentum on the Sarah/Chuck relationship. The first season is actually like the first stages of putting a puzzle together, in which everything seems really mismatched and jagged and like nothing fits together, but given enough time and clarity, it...does. Wow, that was deep.

    I should go put that on a poster or something. Maybe I'll put a picture of sky-divers on it, make it a really motivational thing. Of course, since me, they'll be being eaten by sharks, but who are we to quibble over the details?

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  14. *since it's me. Wow, English, Frea. Learn how to use it sometime.

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