Hello Chuck-sters. If you missed last week’s mobsteriffic episode, “Chuck vs. the Fake Name,” here’s a recap.
“Chuck vs. the Beard” opens at Castle, where Sarah, Shaw and Casey are looking dour. The Ring is attempting to turn a CIA agent to the dark side, and the team can’t figure out who it is. When Chuck enters, he takes a look at the collection of CIA agent photos, but can’t flash on any of them. It seems Chuck hasn’t flashed in over a week, and as a result, Shaw declares Chuck is unfit for spy duty until he does. Chuck protests, saying that he already gave up everything in his old life to become a spy. The Intersect is just on the fritz because he’s too emotional. Between breaking up with Hannah and lying to Ellie and Morgan (and, of course, the unsaid “being in love with Sarah but she loves someone else” scenario), Chuck has too many emotions bottled up, and they are interfering with the Intersect. “I’m not a machine,” he exclaims. “Well, OK, I am a machine, but I’m also a person,” he admits. Sarah tries to tell Chuck that he can always talk to the team about what is bothering him, but for obvious reasons, that is not going to work for Chuck.
As is becoming something of a Chuck tradition, the show gives something to everyone, as Ellie and Devon are lounging poolside, only in bathing suits. The couple are in Malibu, trying to get away for the weekend. Chuck, upset that he’s been benched y Shaw, calls Devon so he can talk to someoneabout breaking up with Hannah, his spy status, and Sarah being with another guy. As sympathetic as Devon is to Chuck’s plight, he tells his brother-in-law that he and Ellie were vacationing specifically to escape Chuck’s spy life and the lies Devon has to tell Ellie. When Chuck asks Devon who he is supposed to talk to if not Devon, Devon responds as Chuck told him to, “I don’t know.”
In the Buy More, while carnival barker Lester is rousing interest in Jeff’s ability to put a whole apple in his mouth, Morgan calls Chuck over the public address system to come to his office for a “disciplinary action.” After dusting off his Big Mouth Billy Bass (which is a fantastic visual joke when compared to Big Mike’s huge stuffed marlin), Morgan tells Chuck that they have been together through their good years and their awkward years. In fact, almost all of the twenty-two years they’ve known each other have been awkward, but nevermind….Through that time, Morgan has been able to tell when something is bothering Chuck. Morgan knows that Chuck is keeping something from him, and he wants to know the truth. Chuck tries, desperately to tell his bearded best friend, but he can’t form the words. Fed up, Morgan climbs over his desk (remember, his “office” is actually the supply closet) to leave. On his way out, he stops, turns, and ruefully fires Chuck…as his best friend. Chuck is left speechless — his spy life has finally cost him something dear: his best bud.
At Castle, the spies are gearing up for their mission. They have discovered a Ring agent at a nearby hotel who is supposed to meet up with the targeted CIA agent. Despite The Ring knowing Shaw is alive, with Chuck out, Shaw has to go on the mission. He and Sarah will pose as a married couple and check into the hotel to set up surveillance. Casey will monitor the proceedings from the van outside. Chuck goes back to the Buy More, and finds Morgan, Jeff, and Lester peeking their heads around the corner and looking at Big Mike’s office. When Chuck asks what they are going, he is quickly hushed by Lester, “We’re on a spy mission, and you’re not qualified.” If only Lester knew the truth! Big Mike is meeting with employees of Cost Less, a large discount chain interested in purchasing Buy More. They are there to inspect the store, and interview the employees in advance of a possible purchase and take over. All employees will be evaluated, and any non-essentials will be fired. The guys agree that there is strength in numbers; if they stick together, none of them will be fired. Lester is the first called in for an interview, and, surprise!, he immediately flips on his co-workers. He will tell Cost Less whatever they want to know, but he wants immunity. While Lester is selling out his mates, Chuck tries to talk to Morgan, who is busy rehearsing his greeting. Chuck tells him to relax — it’s not the end of the world if he loses the Buy More. Morgan can just get another job. Morgan recoils. He didn’t go to college, like Chuck did. He has no other opportunity that resembles his position at the Buy More. Chuck should understand that. Before he can respond, the Cost Less guys call in Chuck. They wonder why a Stanford grad is working at the Buy More. Chuck insists that the Buy More has many more opportunities than meets the eye. For example, he gets to work with his best friend. The interviewers insists Chuck is clearly the “cream of the crop” at the store, but Chuck protests. The real cream of the crop is Morgan. After Chuck is dismissed, the Cost Less guys reveal that they are actually members of The Ring! They know Shaw has a base somewhere connected to the store, and believe Chuck to be Agent Carmichael, Ring nemesis. When one operative suggests they kill Chuck, the leader suggests otherwise. With Lester listening arriving at this moment equipped with a handheld sonic enhancement device, the Ring operative says they can use Chuck and Morgan to their advantage, and terminate the rest of the employees. Unbeknownst to Lester, unemployment is the least of his troubles.
Shaw and Sarah check into the hotel (with the check-in girl noting that they are a “beautiful couple”), and set up their surveillance equipment. Casey, in the van, intercepts a Ring phone call coming from the hotel. The caller says the intended target is poolside, wearing a blue and white bathing suit. Sarah grabs her binoculars and scans the deck area. She finds the man in the blue and white bathing suit. Panning up his bare torso, Sarah discovers, the target is…Devon! Sarah and Shaw tell Casey that they will secure Devon, while Casey finds the room form which the Ring call is being made. Chuck, tire of looking at CIA agent photos and trying to flash (with Billy Idol’s “Dancin’ with Myself” quite funnily playing over the scene), calls Casey to check in on the mission. Casey has no time for Chuck, leaving an exasperated Chuck to note, “I’m only as good as my last flush, huh?” Casey grunts and hangs up. Devon gets up to get he and Ellie some pina coladas, but is grabbed en route to the bar. It’s Sarah and Shaw. He wants to know why the spies are interfering in his vacation, noting this is not a good time because “I just recovered my awesomeness!” He wants to know if he and Ellie are in danger, but Sarah and Shaw honestly don’t know.
Back at the Buy More, Jeff is worried about what the Cost Less interviewers might find, so he pleads with Morgan to go into his locker and hide the “contraband” he has there. Morgan agrees, and discovers a bottle of chemicals in Jeff’s locker. Meanwhile, Casey finds the Ring’s hotel room, opens the door, and drops a flash grenade. As the disorienting flash clears, Casey sees that he is all alone. The message was a decoy set up to play into the phone via Ring communicator. He calls Sarah and Shaw to say that they have been set up; there is no danger at the hotel. Sara apologizes to Devon, but when they leave, Devon confides that he and Ellie need to get away from all of this spy stuff. Morgan, thinking the Cost Less guys are coming to inspect the break room, hides atop a set of lockers. The Ring operatives scan the room and find a tunnel behind the lockers. They open the passage, and enter the tunnel. Morgan sees and hears all of this, and follows them in! As he does his best tip-toeing spy routine, a bewildered Morgan winds up in the CIA base. He overhears the Ring team leader order all of the gathered information on The Ring be destroyed, and then blow the place sky high.
Gathered in the Ring hotel room, the team realizes that the Ring has succeeded in getting them away from Castle, and now Chuck and Castle are in danger. Morgan emerges back into the Buy More and finds Chuck. He tells Chuck about the CIA base and some group called “The Ring,” which he notes is not a scary name at all. Chuck, with the implications of what he is hearing wash over him (his lie being discovered, Morgan in danger, Castle infiltrated, etc.), looks like he wants to throw up. Morgan warns Chuck not to freak out. He knows Chuck is scared, but it is their duty to protect the store and the country by taking on the operatives. Chuck, unable to talk Morgan out of his plans of resistance, tells Morgan to get everyone out of the Buy More and not. tell. anyone. about what he saw. This may be easier said than done as the employees, planning their own resistance to the evil powers of corporate take-over, have barricaded the store, Les Miserables-style, to prevent their ouster. Chuck finally gets hold of Sarah via his watch phone (The Ring had knocked out Castle’s communications) and tells her what is happening. The team will be there as soon as possible. When Morgan returns, Chuck tells him that they don’t have to do this. Morgan assures him that he wants to be a hero, and leads the duo toward the secret passage. They are immediately captured by two Ring operatives.
Tied up in Castle, the Ring leader (hehehe), questions “Agent Carmichael” where Shaw’s files on The Ring are hidden. Morgan wonders aloud who is Agent Carmichael. He and Chuck are just Buy More employees. They threaten Chuck with torture by razor, but Chuck insists, that if he was a spy, he’d be trained to resist torture. Precisely, that’s why they are going to torture Morgan, Chuck’s admitted best friend, instead. Seeing no other way out, Chuck admits that he is a spy, that he is Level 6 security clearance, and that his alias is Charles Carmichael. During his admission, Sarah, Shaw and Casey try to enter Castle through the Orange Orange, but are unsuccessful. Casey decides to try to get in via the Buy More front door. When he tries to enter, he is stopped by Buy More employees armed with Nerf guns. They question his loyalty (in another great Les Mis allusion, with Casey as Javert. Note: I could go on and on all day about the comparisons to Les Mis as I used to work on the Broadway show, but I’ll stop here.), but he assures them he is on their side. “The only thing I hate more than hippy, neo-liberal fascists and anarchists, are the hypocrite fat cat suits they grow up to become.” They let him in.
Morgan can’t believe what he is hearing. Chuck is a spy, and so are Sarah and Casey. As the noise form the Buy More uprising grows louder, the Ring guys leave Chuck and Morgan to investigate. Chuck apologizes to Morgan for lying to him, but he did it for his friend’s protection. Morgan looks forlorn as he process what he is hearing. This news is unbelievable. Actually, it’s the best news he’s heard! He thought he was losing his best friend, but really, Chuck is a spy! Morgan wants to know how Chuck fell into this line of work. Was he recruited at the Buy More? At Stanford? Chuck begins to tell Morgan the whole story as the ruckus builds upstairs. It’s the return of Jeffster! who rock the Vietnam anthem “Unfortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival (and a nice thematic song for Chuck explaining how he accidentally became a spy). With the “sound of liberty” blaring, Casey makes is way into the break room. He is met there by two Ring operatives. Casey takes one out, but the other chokes him from behind. Jeff enters huffing chloroform (the bottle of liquid in his locker). Whacked out, he sees someone attacking Casey. He covers the attacker’s mouth and nose with his chloroform-soaked rag, and knocks the guy out.
Shaw, still in the yogurt shop, wants to initiate Castle’s self-destruct mode. Sarah pleads with him to give Chuck five more minutes, for her. Shaw tells her that she can’t think of Chuck at a time like this; she needs to think like a spy. She replies that she is thinking like a spy: Chuck is a member of the team who has served his country well, and she wants to protect him. Chuck finishes explaining his spy life to Morgan, concluding that the Intersect isn’t working. Morgan asks if Sarah is his beard, if their relationship is just fake. If so, that’s just awful. “It’s awful because we’ve never had sex?” Chuck asks. Morgan responds, but is stopped, “wait, you never had sex with that girl?!?” He continues that it sucks that their relationship is fake because Chuck is so clearly in love with Sarah. Chuck insists that anything between he and Sarah is over, but Morgan protests. He has seen the way Chuck looks at Sarah. Chuck loves her. Chuck ponders this confrontation to his feelings. “Yes, I do love Sarah,” he admits, as a sense of relief washed over him. Chuck really had to get that off his chest, and now feels better. He feels so good that when the Ring operatives re-enter the room, he flashes his kung fu expertise, and proceeds to take on his captors. When Chuck is attacked by a guy with a short bamboo sword, Morgan throws Chuck a bamboo rod (which he refused to master in “Chuck vs. the Three Words“), and takes out the last henchman with the retort, “Mine’s bigger than yours.” The group’s leader grabs a real sword and readies an attack against Chuck. Chuck gets into his best Matrix fighting position and prepares for the showdown. The bad guy is quickly taken out, however, by a blow to the head. Sparing not the rod, Morgan has defeated the Ring and helped his best friend.
Casey, unable to get into Castle through the break room, rejoins Shaw and Sarah at the Orange Orange. The freezer entrance to Castle begins to open, and the agents draw their weapons awaiting what comes out. Through a haze of freezer smoke, out walks Morgan. “Bag ’em and tag ’em Sarah. I mean, Agent Walker,” Morgan says, with a wink. The agents, realizing Morgan is now in on their secret, look to Chuck, who can do nothing but throw up his hands and smile. With Morgan in Castle’s holding room, Shaw tells Chuck that he can get Morgan into the witness protection program immediately. Chuck answers that they didn’t send Devon away when he found out. “Yeah, because Awesome’s awesome, and Grimes is a moron.” That may be so but Chuck has known Morgan for twenty-two years and he is the most loyal person Chuck knows. Morgan will never betray Chuck and will keep his secret. Sarah concurs. Shaw relents and releases Morgan from holding. Morgan assures them that their secret is safe and wonders whether he gets to join the team. Chuck suggests they take the night off and get some Subway sandwiches (our first Subway reference of the season!). Upstairs in the Buy More, the employees await their fate. Big Mike receives a phone call. The voice on the other end of the line tells him that Cost Less has reconsidered, and that they will not be purchasing the Buy More. “Victory!” shouts Big Mike, as the crowd cheers, and one lucky Buy More couple reenacts the end of World War II celebration in Times Square.
Chuck and Morgan, Subway sandwiches in hand, return home, where Devon is waiting for Chuck. Chuck assures his brother-in-law that he and the team are doing everything they can to make sure Devon and Ellie are safe. Devon is relieved, but as he turns to go home, his face belies his worry. When he finds Ellie, Devon tells his wife that they need to go away. She tells him that they just did go away. He knows, but they need to leave for an extended time, and, after seeing a National Geographic-type magazine, suggests Africa. They can join Doctors Without Borders. “But what about Chuck?” Ellie asks. This is about them, Devon insists. Eventually, Ellie agrees!
Back in Castle, Shaw informs Sarah that the Ring operatives, since they had shut down Castle’s communications, were unable to upload the CIA’s information to Ring headquarters, so there is no need to move the base. However, they can’t wait any longer. They need to take the fight to The Ring and wipe them out. Sarah wonders, if they are safe for now, why is Shaw so agitated? The Ring had him dead to rights in Malibu, Shaw explains. They could have easily taken him out, so why didn’t they kill him? With that question up in the air, Casey, at home, hears a phone ring. It is the Ring communicator he recovered at the hotel. Casey is a bit startled, but picks up the phone. The voice on the other end says, “Hello, Colonel Casey. It’s been a while.” Is Casey the agent The Ring is trying to flip? Is Casey a…double agent?!?!
Well, that’s quite the cliffhanger, is it not? Color me intrigued, but let me be on the record saying that there is no way Casey is actually a bad guy. Adam Baldwin is waaaaay too important to the show and Chuck’s team to have him go bad. Will we get a couple episodes where we’re not sure his loyalty? Absolutely? Could it be that Casey is actually a triple agent? Sure. But I will be absolutely gobsmacked if Casey turns out to be a true bad guy.
There has been a little bit of disagreement amongst critics, already, about whether this was a great episode, or a complete misfire. Not to be wishy-washy, but I actually fall in the middle. This was the first episode directed by series star Zachary Levi, and I thought it was clear that this was his first effort. Now, I’d never jump on a guy for his first directing gig — it’s a hard job, especially when you’re also in most of the scenes. But, if I’m going to praise or criticize the direction of other episodes, I need to do so here too. I agree with Dan Fineberg that the pacing and “broadness” of the episode may have gotten away from Zach Levi. I’m all for wacky episodes, like “Chuck vs. Santa Claus,” but the wackiness involving the Buy More uprising just seemed cranked to 11 without any kind of containment or framing (despite my stated love for all things Les Mis). The Buy More employees leap off the page as it is; they need something to hold them down into reality. On the opposite side of the broad action were the interactions between Sarah and Chuck. They were so muted that you’d never know that there actually was some heat between them, or at least used to be between them. I know she’s with Shaw now, but even there the mood felt wrong. With the exception of the comment made by the hotel employee, you’d never know these two were interested in wach other. Now, this wasn’t all Levi’s fault. The script was lacking in that it retread over the “Chuck realizes he loves Sarah” story, again. We get it, let’s move past this and have him deal with this realization, instead of realizing it for a third, fourth or fifth time.
I said I fell in the middle, because there was a lot of stuff I liked about the episode. First, Levi did have some great directing moments. Morgan emerging from the freezer shrouded in smoke, and the point of view shot from Morgan’s vantage point as the Ring guys found the tunnel to Castle were definitely high points. Even once the show went as far as it did with the Buy More uprising, I thought the Iwo Jim flag planting was brilliant. Plus, we had the return of Jeffster!, which is always a treat (although I would have like to see them perform the song longer). Lastly, the whole team did a great job with Chuck’s revelation to Morgan about his life. From a story standpoint, it was time for Morgan to know so Chuck had someone to share his life with. You can only lie to your best friend for so long. Directorally, I liked that we saw Chuck tell Morgan the beginning, but then the meat of the story was off-camera (though a quick, unbelievable summary like Hurley gave his mother on Lost could have been fun too). Lastly, three cheers for Josh Gomez, who is an unheralded member of the cast. I totally believed that Morgan would love the fact Chuck was a spy and he had been lied to all this time, and it’s because of Gomez’s performance. So all in all, I liked the episode, but did see some flaws, that will undoubtedly be fixed the next time Zach Levi gets behind the camera. And he should.
OK folks. That’s it. What did you think about the episode. Whose camp do you fall in? Alan Sepinwall’s, mine, or Dan Fineberg’s (I won’t get offended if you don’t pick me, I swear!)? Please drop your questions, comments and theories below. Be sure to come back for next week’s episode, “Chuck vs. the Tic Tac.” When we get some promos, you will be sure to find them here on TVOvermind.com. I’m off to play some Duck Hunt.