Meet Chuck. He’s a changed man. With the promise of a spy-free life looming on the horizon, he finds himself eager to build a future anew. What’s more, he’s finally got the confidence to make it happen. Take, for instance, the smooth manner in which he convinces Sarah to go out with him, or the fortitude it must have taken for him to turn down a promotion to assistant manager at the Buy More. Unfortunately, the rug is about to be pulled out from under our hero again. Fulcrum has stolen a piece of his salvation in the form of the pocket-sized MacGuffin called “Cipher”, and Casey has orders to kill him as soon as the new Intersect is operational.
Here’s the thing: very few people watched the first season of Chuck back when it originally aired. The show only got renewed because NBC had already financed a whole batch of episodes that got put on hold during the writers’ strike. This gives “Chuck versus the First Date” the awkward task of introducing every character to a new audience while resuming a story in mid progress. Cue the perfunctory cold open in which our hero explains the premise to the baddies while waiting for his supporting cast, whom he then describes at length with the help of voiceover narration and clunky freeze frames.
The device helps get newcomers up to speed, sure, but it hardly resolves the matter of continuing a story in which they haven’t been invested. Two obvious solutions come to mind: go on with business as usual and hope new viewers will follow along, or reboot Chuck’s progress and risk alienating your old fans. Ever the creative thinkers, the Chuck show runners have opted for door number three: conclude the hero’s initial arc and invert his journey so that, while season one pertains to a lost soul gaining his mojo back through espionage, season two tells of a rebuilt man having his future stolen by the spy world.
Of course, the secret we’re all keeping from Chuck is that the spy world is his future. Consider how much courage and cunning he displays in “Chuck versus the Fist Date” when dealing with the human tank known as Colt (portrayed by the amazing Michael Clarke Duncan). Did anyone else laugh out loud when our hero asked Morgan to describe his Call of Duty strategy on speakerphone? Mind you, this raises the question of why Colonel Beckman would want to execute such a resourceful asset instead of giving him a secure job out of the way. After all, you never know when you might need an extra Intersect.
This lapse of logic is, I suppose, typical of Chuck, which has always favoured humour over plot consistency. When Colt threatens to throw our hero off a rooftop if he doesn’t surrender the Cipher, we’re meant to chuckle rather than ask why the baddie didn’t just take the doohickey from his hands. By the same token, I’m sure it would’ve made more sense for Casey to activate the same tracker he used two scenes ago than for Sarah to call Morgan and inquire as to Chuck’s whereabouts, but then we’d have missed the awesome reveal of the Buy More cage fight designed to determine Big Mike’s new assistant manager.
Sarah versus the Weinerlicious Objectification
One of the most contentious aspects of Chuck has always been the objectification of Sarah as our hero’s generically perfect dream girl, or “prize” if you will. To complicate matters, the character’s hyper-sexualised appearance was specifically designed to mock James Bond’s disposable love interests, who, in twenty-three movies, have never passed the Bechdel test. The tawdry Weinerlicious outfit played to this joke in a way that its more sensible yogurt shop counterpart does not, and I can’t help feeling like the show runners have made the inherent sexism even more pronounced by trying to diminish it.
Whereas, in season one, I could dismiss every instance of cheesecake as genre parody, sort of like macho Casey blocking a punch with his noggin, season two leaves me with a slight feeling of guilt every time Sarah prances about half naked (which happens a lot). Take, for example, the scene in “Chuck versus the First Date” that shows her putting makeup in her underwear. Did we need this? Is it in any way funnier than her pulling Lester on the Weinerlicious counter in “Chuck versus the Imported Hard Salami”? Thankfully, Casey remains unchanged, curing himself of a deadly poison all on his lonesome and throwing homoerotic winks at his picture of Reagan. Good stuff.