Chuck: “Forget it, Ben. It’s Chinatown. You ever see that movie?”
Meet Morgan. He’s kind of a goofball: mocked by his colleagues, despised by Ellie, and incapable of making a sale. Most look at him the way Casey and his associates look at Chuck, a correlation the writers regularly use to emphasise their weekly metaphor or plain spell it out. Morgan is also Chuck’s best bud, though you wouldn’t know it of late, seeing as our hero routinely bails on his loved ones to save the free world or, in this case, a kidnapped Chinese diplomat.
Boy, this one’s got a lot going on. First, there’s the weekly spy adventure, in which Team Bartowski helps a rogue spy named Mai Ling rescue her sibling. Then we have Morgan’s attempt to save his job by winning a sales competition and finally Ellie’s disappointment over Chuck ditching their special holiday. It’s worth noting all these threads relate to our hero’s strong sense of family, even the Buy More B-plot. After all, Ellie wouldn’t have come to Morgan’s aid if he hadn’t shown such appreciation for her relationship with her baby brother.
“Chuck versus the Sizzling Shrimp” draws a lot of parallels between Chuck and Morgan, emphasising both their kindness and uncanny lack of focus. The joke, at its core, is that the two are similarly perceptive and well-meaning, but they deal with stress in a way neither spies nor the world at large can really grasp: by embracing their inner fanboy. That’s why Morgan, who demonstrates tremendous insight and empathy with Ellie, finds himself a social pariah even at the Buy More and how Chuck ends up helping a criminal in a wheelchair.
This, I think, is my favourite take on Chuck. Last week, the writers had our hero behave like an emotionally stunted jerk-face, which made it impossible to root for the guy. In this episode, he’s still gloriously immature, what with the takeout on a stakeout, but his motives are pure. Moreover, we got to see him have fun with Morgan instead of treating his pal like a burden. I love that Chuck ultimately saves the day using his “Morganness”, which is to say his unlikely knowledge of illegal fireworks and hidden restaurant keys.
I also dug all the Hong Kong cinema references, from Mei Ling executing a John Woo leap with two guns blazing to the way the screen froze during action scenes like in seventies kung fu flicks. At first, I thought maybe something was wrong with the DVD, but I caught on when they revealed the bad guy to be a triad gangster. In terms of all-purpose villainy, that’s the Hong Kong equivalent to a Nazi mad scientist, except the Chinese don’t call their head of state a crime lord every time they disagree with proposed legislation.
Chuck versus Zac Efron
A super-hero yarn masquerading as a spy comedy, Chuck often borrows from the time-honoured Spider-Man tradition of having the well-meaning protagonist disappoint his friends and family to keep his secret identity intact. Here, though, the writers have added a layer of clever by linking the formula to the awkward way one tends to adjust his or her priorities when getting out of a rut.
The neat thing is, unlike, say, High School Musical 2 (2007), “Chuck versus the Sizzling Shrimp” doesn’t argue you should cave to peer pressure and sacrifice any sense of accomplishment to appease your needy friends. Rather it makes the sensible argument that, as long as you make an effort, those who truly care will forgive your mistakes and see you through the transition. After all, your loved ones ought to want the best for you, right?
Bits and Pieces
- Is it just me or is every embassy in the Chuckiverse the same building?
- Lo Pan is the name of the villain in Big Trouble in Little China (1986), who was also wheelchair-bound and played by James Hong.
- Chuck is supposed to be in his twenties, but his taste in music puts him squarely past thirty.
- Mother’s Day with Ellie is one of those made-up holidays TV characters spend an episode insisting is terribly important to them, and then we never hear of it again. Gilmore Girls used to have one of those every other week.
We got lots of non-sequitur rants from Morgan this week and, of course, this gem:
Casey: “Dinner with you and Morgan. I’d rather Afghani warlords bleed me from my liver.”
Chuck: “Spastic colon? What the fff–”
Morgan: “Don’t even say small pizza, all right, because that’s not a prize. That’s a punishment. I eat a small pizza, and not only am I still hungry, I’m angry. And you wouldn’t like me angry and hungry, all right, because then I get kind of cranky. Then I get a little mean. Then I kind of get sleepy.”
Mei Ling: “That old man was triad, Chinese mafia.”
Did the word “triad” really need explaining? I’m guessing Chuck fans have seen their share of Chow Yun Fat movies.
Morgan: “I’ll starve on the soup line. I hate soup. All right, soup is not a meal. It’s hardly an appetiser, for God’s sake.”
Chuck: “What are we doing for tunes tonight? I can make a stakeout mix.”
Morgan: “I’m going up to Big Mike and do the only honourable thing left to do […] What every respectable warrior like Bruce Lee would do: fall on my sword, harakiri […] fire myself.”
Ellie: “You mean resign.”
This one’s even funnier when you consider Bruce Lee never played a swordsman and harikiri is a distinctly Japanese thing.
Chuck: “Please tell me that’s not real. The gun, not the board.”
Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, I plan on having referenced the entire Disney Channel catalogue by this time next year.