Recap – Chuck 3.07 “Chuck vs. the Mask”

Hello all. If you missed last week’s crunchy and cheesy episode of Chuck, “Chuck vs. Nacho Sampler,” please click here.

Tonight’s episode, “Chuck vs. the Mask,” begins with a mysterious man in black (no, not this one), descending on a zip line a la Ethan Hunt, and trying to retrieve a golden mask in the center of the room. The man seems to be too heavy for the beam holding him up, as a screw comes loose and falls to the floor below. This immediately sets off the vault’s sensors and seals the man inside, dangling from the ceiling. To make matters worse, the oxygen in the room is quickly depleting. The man removes his mask to reveal an exasperated Agent Shaw! “Is the Intersect busy?” Shaw inquires of Casey. “Busy for you? Never,” Chuck responds…to Hannah. Hannah has asked Chuck to teach her the ways of the Nerd Herd, and to go on Chuck’s next install. Chuck isn’t sure Hannah is ready for that, but when she wonders whether he’d rather be crammed in to a Nerdmobile with Jeff or her, Chuck sees her point and relents. Just as the two share their flirty moment, Sarah runs into the store to find Chuck. She informs him that Shaw is trapped in a museum vault and is quickly running out of air. Hannah asks Morgan who Chuck is talking to, and he explains that the blonde is Chuck’s ex who constantly comes into the Buy More to toy with Chuck’s heart. Chuck tells Hannah that he has to run to a “Nerd Herd Emergency.” Seeing her chance to get some much needed Nerd Herd experience, Hannah grabs her stuff and follows Chuck.

At the museum, Chuck needs to reboot the vault’s computer system so the security system can be disengaged and the doors opened. While Chuck is making his attempt. Casey and Sarah are preparing entry the old-fashioned way: explosives. With the museum curator yapping in Chuck’s ear, Hannah, much to Chuck’s surprise, arrives in the control room. With virtually no time (or air!) left for Shaw, Chuck asks Hannah to help. Shaw asks Casey just to blow up the hatch. “Don’t do that!” Chuck screams, having heard Shaw’s command in his hidden earpiece. When the curator and Hannah look quizzically at Chuck, he begins to pet his computer screen, explaining that he was just reprimanding the computer for not functioning properly. Chuck and Hannah are able to reboot the system, and Shaw is saved. Hannah celebrates by throwing her arms around Chuck. “Not bad for your first ‘mission,'” Chuck jokes. Having preserved the mask successfully, the curator asks Chuck and Hannah to return that evening for the mask’s unveiling. Chuck is very impressed by the invitation. Oh no, they aren’t invited as guests. Rather, the curator wants them to monitor the computers to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. As the team needs to secure the mask, Chuck dutifully accepts the “date” with is “new partner,” Hannah.

In Castle, Shaw brings Sarah a cup of coffee, along with a swizzle-stick, noting that Sarah likes to chew on them when she’s nervous. Sarah deliberately takes the stick and throws it in the garbage. Having been rebuffed, Shaw tells the team that the mask and other art pieces are being used by The Ring to smuggle weapons and other contraband into the country. Their mission is to replace the real mask with a replica. Shaw and Sarah will pose as guests at the gala unveiling of the mask, Casey will conduct surveillance from the van outside, and Chuck will take Hannah along per the curator’s request. Sarah voices concern over bringing a civilian along for the mission. “I have some new tranq darts I want to try out,” Casey (aka Tranqenstein) hopes. Chuck assures him that tranqs will not be needed. Chuck will keep Hannah safe: she’ll work on the computers and he’ll be ready if the team needs the “big guns.” “That would be me,” Chuck tells the unimpressed team.

With a rather elaborate knock, Morgan appears at Ellie’s door. Their own Operation Bartowski is under way, but has so far yielded no fruit. Morgan notes that Chuck is never at the Buy More. Instead, he’s always going out on weird Nerd Herd calls. Ellie presses for some more info (unsurprisingly, Jeff and Lester have turned up nothing), but Morgan thinks he knows what is going on with Chuck. Chuck is protecting them from a “dark place.” The same dark place Chuck went to when Jill dumped him years ago. The same dark place that resulted in Chuck playing Goldeneye for three months straight (let me jump in here to say I know exactly what Chuck was going through at that time. Goldeneye was more addictive than most substances available then. Well, except maybe Mario Kart 64). Now that he has broken up with Sarah, he has gone downhill again. Ellie is very concerned, so Morgan will continue snooping to find out for sure.

Chuck & Hannah and Shaw & Sarah simultaneously gather the equipment needed for their mission (screwdrivers for the Nerd Herders, repelling ropes for the agents). Shaw wants to make sure Sarah and he are on the same page, so he asks her how long they’ve been dating. Sarah is put off by this questioning, and becomes even more so when Shaw asks if they have slept together. The answers to these questions are important, Shaw tells her, to establish how they react to each other at the unveiling. “No. We have not slept together,” Sarah tells Shaw. This response, however, will not deter Shaw from portraying a convincing couple. At the museum, he puts his arm around Sarah’s waist, despite her retort that they are not at some middle school dance. Then, under the excuse that he is surreptitiously scanning for security cameras (and clearly enjoying pushing Sarah’s buttons), Shaw begins to kiss Sarah’s neck. This goes unnoticed by Chuck and Hannah in the museum’s control room, where, although they have a view of all the security cameras, Chuck is reading a museum pamphlet on the empire of Alexander the Great. Pulling Chuck’s gaze away from his reading, though, is Hannah’s question, “Can you keep a secret, Chuck?” “Yeah, it’s kinda my forte,” the accidental spy replies. “Do you want to know the real reason why I took this job?” “The snazzy outfits? The barely livable wage?” Chuck jokes. “You,” Hannah softly tells him. “I hope this isn’t too forward,” she says, as she leans into kiss Chuck. She kisses him, and he kisses her back. It is a very sweet moment…until Hannah sees Sarah on the security camera monitor. Hannah wants to know why Chuck’s ex is there, other than to make him “jealous with a ridiculously good-looking date.” Chuck bristles at the idea Shaw is good looking, you know, unless one is into the strong Superman(!) type. As he stares at the screen, indeed jealous at the sight of Shaw and Sarah together, Chuck sees another man, and flashes. The man is Vasili, a Ring operative and trafficker in black market goods. Chuck rushes out to warn Shaw and Sarah, leaving a perturbed Hannah in the control room. Upon learning this information, Shaw informs Chuck, Sarah and Casey that he has a history with Vasili, and that it’s probably best if he exit the museum so as to not blow their cover. Chuck assures them that he will handle retrieving the mask with Sarah. “Whaddya say partner?” Chuck asks Sarah. Her beaming smile shows her excitement to work with Chuck again. This smile, and the sight of Chuck and Sarah running off together, angers Hannah as well.

To occupy Hannah and the museum, Chuck crashes the museum’s computer system. At the ceiling hatch, Chuck prepares to lower Sarah into the vault, but can’t help his jealousy and remarks that Sarah and Shaw seem to be having fun this evening. They make a really cute couple. Sarah, unamused by the insinuation, notes that they are just playing their cover. Shaw, now in the van with Casey, is very intent on hearing exactly what Sarah has to say about their “cover,” but Casey does Chuck a solid by turning off their mics. When Shaw wonders what happened to the sound feed, Casey explains that when Chuck and Sarah work together, they “gab like little schoolgirls.” It’s just better to not listen. Chuck finds Sarah’s explanation ridiculous. Shaw can’t keep his hands off of her, and he brings her coffee every morning. Of course, Shaw’s into her! How could Sarah not see it? Sarah has had enough of the accusations: what about Chuck and Hannah? They are just as cute together as Sarah and Shaw. Chuck recoils at the suggestion. He and Hannah are just trying to be professional. “Does ‘professional’ mean her perfume lathered all over you?” Sarah snipes. Chuck sniffs his collar. Does he really smell like her perfume?

Vasili gathers his men to make their own attempt at retrieving the mask. Above the vault, Chuck begins to lower Sarah, but is discovered by one of Vasili’s men. The henchman kicks Chuck into the hole, which causes Sarah to fly skyward. Back above the vault, Sarah takes out the henchman and uses him as an anchor for Chuck’s repelling wires. A second goon jumps out and strangles Sarah with a cord. While they fight, and Chuck dangles midair in the vault, Hannah cracks the computer bug and the vault begins to open. With Chuck about to be discovered, Shaw is able to crash the computer again. He and Hannah battle via computer for control of the vault door, resulting in it opening and closing comically. Sarah finally gains the upper hand against her assailant and dispatches him. She throws Chuck the replica mask, he makes the switch, and is raised back up into the ceiling just before the vault doors open to the public. Their mission accomplished, Chuck runs back to the control room to get Hannah. Upon his arrival, Hannah asks how Chuck could have abandoned her. She saw him run off with Sarah. Chuck tries to assuage her fears, telling her that it’s not what she thinks. He and Sarah just have a very “unique relationship.” Hannah replies that she is an ass, she shouldn’t have kissed Chuck. Chuck tries to take the blame, “No, I’m the ass.” Hannah wants nothing more to do with this evening. She tells Chuck they’ll just keep their relationship professional. Hannah departs, “See you at work. Weirdo.”

The next morning, Morgan is eating breakfast when he hears a knock (albeit a not very complicated one) at the door. It’s Ellie. Although she couldn’t remember the whole secret knock(much to Morgan’s chagrin), he lets her in. Morgan tells her that he got an angry call from the museum. Chuck abandoned his partner on their job, and was out to all hours. Morgan has had an epiphany though. “What’s that?” Ellie asks. “It’s a sudden intuitive realization…” “I know what an epiphany is, Morgan! I’m asking what epiphany you had,” Ellie retorts. He thinks they should just sit down Chuck and have an intervention. When Chuck emerges from his bedroom with Rock Band guitar in hand, Ellie encourages Morgan to speak up. He doesn’t, and Chuck leaves for work. “Coward!” Ellie chides Morgan. The intervention will have to wait.

Back at the museum, Vasili is reviewing the security tapes to find out who stole the real mask. He sees Chuck kissing Hannah on one screen and going off with Sarah on another. Vasili isimpressed with this agent, “He’s a real Casanova.” He used the blonde to access the vault and the brunette to override the security system. Very impressive, but he sees that Hannah works for the Buy More and concocts a plan. Cut to the store and Morgan telling Hannah about the angry phone call he received from the museum curator. He didn’t fully understand the complaint as Morgan has trouble with British accents. They all end up sounding like Mrs. Doubtfire to him. Morgan can see that something is upsetting Hannah, so he tells her that he wants her to think of him as a friend. She can tell him anything. As she might be about to open up, Vasili calls the store and Morgan picks up. As Vasili has an accent (although one not close to a British accent), Morgan thinks it’s the curator. Vasili asks for Hannah to return to the museum for some more computer work. Sensing an opportunity to score some points, Morgan tells Hannah she’s ready to handle the job by herself. “Thank you, Morgan. You’re a great friend.” She leaves Morgan to bask in the attention of a beautiful woman.

At Castle, Shaw brings Sarah another cup of coffee. She goes off on him, informing him that they are just colleagues, and that is all they will everbe. “Keep your coffee and cheesy come-ons to yourself.” Casey then enters, thanking Shaw for his cup of coffee, “Just how I like it: black and bitter.” Sarah smiles back at Shaw weakly and clearly embarrassed. Meanwhile, Hannah makes her way to the museum. When she arrives, Vasili, posing as the assistant curator, shows her to the vault. He locks her in and begins to suck the oxygen out of the room. Vasili calls Chuck on the Buy More floor to tell him he has locked his girlfriend in the vault. He wants Chuck to bring the mask back, and to do it alone. “First of all, I don’t have a girlfriend,” Chuck begins his reply, but quickly agrees to the meet. Chuck has to leave on an emergency install, but Morgan, seeing Chuck’s weird behavior continue, wants to talk. Chuck hustles off to Castle via the home theater suite. Morgan, is too slow to see Chuck disappear through a trap door in the suite’s floor.

Sarah and Shaw are investigating the mask, trying to figure out what is hidden inside it. Shaw finds a button on the base that opens a door, and out rolls an aluminum canister. Before they can figure out what it is, the canister begins to emit smoke. Castle begins an immediate shut down and containment, locking Chuck outside the main room. Castle’s computer begins to analyze the gas. It’s cyclosarin, a deadly poison. Chuck flashes on the name and realizes there is a counter agent (oddly containing norpseudoephedrine, a psychotropic drug. Maybe they’ll get a nice high off the antidote?). The cyclosarin will take an hour to kill them, whereas Hannah has only a few minutes. Plus, they figure the counter agent must be in one of the other artifacts at the museum, as it was likely shipped with the poison. Chuck calls Casey, “Gear up! We’re heading back to the museum.” Chuck looks right into Sarah’s eyes and nods that he will save them, and leaves. Sarah looks longingly after him.

On the way to the museum, Casey and Chuck hatch a plan to give Vasili another fake mask (they had two replicas?!?), but release a smoke grenade to make Vasili think the poison gas has been released. Fearing he’s been poisoned, Vasili will reveal the whereabouts of the counter agent. While they continue on their way to the museum, Shaw and Sarah are fading. Figuring they are likely about to die, Shaw admits to Sarah that he hasn’t been honest about the coffee. He has been hitting on her. Sarah smiles and admits she overreacted. She enjoyed his manner during the museum gala, including his kisses. The agree that it was good they had this talk, but Sarah (I guess because she’s smaller than Shaw?) passes out. The Castle computer informs Shaw that the poison has been contained, so he blasts open the door, throws Sarah over his shoulder, and carries her out of the room.

At the museum, and with Hannah succumbing quickly, Chuck shows Vasili he has the (fake) mask. When his demand to free Hannah goes unanswered, Chuck releases the posion. Vasili and his men, obviously, freak out. Chuck knows that there must be a counter agent somewhere in the museum, but all Vasili knows is that it is in a vase, but there are dozens of vases in the room! In a nice homage to Indiana Jones trying to choose the Holy Grail, Chuck stares at multiple vases trying to flash on one of them. He does flash on an old, plain vase, and smashes it over Vasili’s head. Chuck has chosen wisely. With the counter agent recovered, Chuck moves to release Hannah. In a double of an earlier scene, Casey has planted explosives on the vault ceiling hatch and is ready to detonate them to free Hannah. Chuck stops him and says he is able to fix the computer and open the vault door, much to Casey’s lament, “When do I get to blow something up?” Casey meets Chuck in the control room. Chuck, clearly concerned for Sarah, is worried that they don’t have any more time. Casey grabs the counter agent to take to Shaw and Sarah, and reminds Chuck to stay focused. They still have a civilian in the vault. Casey rushes out and finds Shaw carrying Sarah in the museum lobby. Shaw administers the antidote to Sarah and to himself. Chuck runs into the lobby just in time to see Shaw cradle Sarah in his arms as she comes to. He turns to the now opening vault doors and rushes in to Hannah. He cradles her in his arms as she sputters awake. Chuck tries to apologize for abandoning her, but she tells him to forget the other night. He just saved her life. As the two couples recover (in a beautifully frames shot with Shaw and Sarah in the right foreground, and Chuck and Hannah over his shoulder in the left background), Vasili peers around a podium and sees Shaw, his old nemesis.

Back at Castle, Shaw and Casey let Chuck know what a great job he did. Chuck insists he has a great team. That’s what Shaw actually wants to talk to Chuck about. He explains that the Intersect was designed to make an agent autonomous. The team is acting like training wheels for Chuck. It’s time for the big boy bike, Casey tells Chuck. A bit crestfallen, Chuck takes the news in stride, but Sarah can see something is wrong. She pulls him aside to see if he is OK. She tells him that the change isn’t happening now, but eventually they will be in his way, and not just professionally. Chuck asks Sarah if she’s OK with him being with Hannah. She is, although her expression says she might not. Chuck says that, anyway, she and Shaw are disgusting together, but in a very heart-warming way. “If I had to see you with someone else, it may as well be a hero, right?” Chuck asks Sarah. “I do have a type,” she wistfully replies. Chuck realizes that her type is not him, but he smiles warmly anyway. “See ya, Sarah.” “Bye, Chuck.”

Ellie and Morgan have snuck into the Buy More to have their intervention with Chuck. They see a light on in the home theater suite and move to confront him. When they open the door, they see Chuck and Hannah making out. Chuck’s secret is that he has a new girlfriend! Ellie is thrilled, but Morgan, having fallen for the new Nerd Herder, is heartbroken, and feeling not a little bit betrayed. He turns to walk back to the suite to say something to Chuck, but gives up and leaves. Meanwhile, down in Castle, Shaw and Sarah are going over some paperwork. They share a few stolen glances, but are interrupted by Casey. He’s heading out and wants to know if they are leaving too. They demur, citing the paperwork, but Casey’s grunt notes he knows what is going on. His expression belies a bit of sympathy for Chuck, and perhaps some foresight of the tenson ahead for the team? Shaw moves behind her to massage her shoulders. “You know how dangerous this is,” Sarah warns Shaw about what is starting between them. “Don’t worry, Sarah, I’m the safest guy in the world.” But what is that look he gives right at the end? I she hiding something more? Cut to Vasili entering a spotlight in a dark room. He is appearing before the Ring’s leaders, all of whom are shrouded in shadows. He asks what they are going to do about Agent Shaw. The center Ring leader (Ha, Ha! Get it? Ringleader? Thank you, I’ll be here all week.), tells Vasili, “The same thing we are going to do to you.” A gun rises out of the shadow, and shoots Vasili dead.

Commentary

I really enjoyed this episode, for the most part. (I’ll get to the negative in a second). There was a lot for me to love in “Chuck vs. the Mask.” There was some beautiful direction, as noted above, with the framing of the two couples as the they recovered from the ordeal, and the doubling of the “about to blow up the vault ceiling hatch” scene. Also, as an Indiana Jones fan, I loved the Last Crusade homage. Great work by Michael Schulz. Further, I lovedthe fact that Chuck didn’t flash any super physical skills. It was a nice throw-back to the first two seasons. It’s OK that Chuck doesn’t do kung fu every week — we’ll still love him. In fact, I wonder what an episode without flashes would be like. Lastly, on the positive, I liked how the series left off for its break during the Olympics. I know the show was originally supposed to premiere in March after the Olympics, but this episode ended in a nice place anyway. There’s no big action cliffhanger, but instead, we were given two emotional cliffhangers. We have the two couples (Chuck/Hannah and Sarah/Shaw) and how their relationships will effect the team, but we also have Morgan’s disappointment with Chuck. His look back to the home theater suite where Chuck was making out with Hannah was gut-wrenching. Morgan feels truly betrayed by his best friend for the first time we have seen. How will this effect their relationship? How will it effect work at the Buy More? I hope the show really lets this play a while, and not just have Morgan forget the whole thing when they return in three weeks.

On the (very small) negative side, we do have the one aspect of the two couples that bothers me. I have spoken in this space before about how the barriers to Chuck and Sarah need to be natural, and not artificial like on most TV shows, or the series will suffer for it. Chuck has done a great job avoiding that artifice, and they should be applauded for it. However, how many more times can we see Chuck and Sarah say “goodbye” to each other and their relationship. They literally said goodbye tonight, but that has to be the fifth or sixth time the two have “broken up.” I just don’t see a need to keep going back to this well. The audience knows there is sexual tension between them, and that there always will be. We don’t need to see it every week! Just let the two of them get into their sure-to-be-doomed relationships and let those breathe a little. We’re not going to forget that Chuck and Sarah are meant to be together. Don’t worry creators!

One other note, after Shaw said he is the “safest guy in the world,” and he gave that look, I immediately thought he was a Ring mole of some sort. Then there was an immediate cut to the Ring boardroom, or whatever. This just reinforced my belief. Then Vasili was killed and it was said that they are going to kill Shaw as well. So, now, I don’t know. Anyone else think it’s possible Shaw is a double agent? A triple agent? Please leave your thoughts, comments, and theories below. Remember, Chuck will not air the next two Mondays as NBC will be carrying the Olympics. Chuck returns March 1. If there is any news about Chuck during the break, we will be sure to carry it, and all other TV news, here at TVOvermind. I’ll see you here in three weeks. Until then, I’m off to get some swizzle-sticks.

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