If you missed last week’s frightening episode of Chuck, read a recap here.
This week’s excellent episode, “Chuck vs the First Fight,” begins with Mary Elizabeth Bartowski being held in a cell in Castle. General Beckman tells Casey and Sarah that the file Casey received on Project Isis is correct: Mary began as a double agent working for the CIA in Volkoff Industries, but twenty years ago she flipped. Mary will be moved to a black site in the morning, so Sarah and Casey must make sure no one speaks to her, including most importantly, Chuck. The General asks Sarah how Chuck has been handling the situation, but Sarah is lost in thought about Mary. Casey responds for her, saying that Chuck is calm, very very calm.
Cut to Chuck yelling about he is not calm. Why is it so hard for Sarah to believe in him?, he demands. He then drops his anger and turns to Morgan to ask if his monologue was good. He’s never had a fight with Sarah before so he wants to make sure he has the tone right. Morgan knows what Chuck is going through because he’s currently in a fight. No, not with Alex, but with Casey. Chuck really has no time for Morgan’s Casey problem. They walk deeper into the room they are in — it’s Stephen Bartowski’s basement. Chuck says that they seem to be at a dead end with all of the information Stephen left him. They’ve pored over all of Stephen’s files, and even searched his Phalanx computer that only takes special triangular computer disks, but have turned up nothing more on Mary. Morgan wonders, however, if Stephen left Ellie anything. Chuck goes to Ellie’s apartment and asks her that very question. She reminds him that she used to get coded messages from their father in the classified ads, but they dried up just prior to his death. Another dead end. Ellie rues the fact that the one person who can probably help them is stuck in a CIA cell, their mother, and Chuck can’t just walk in and talk to her.
At Castle, Chuck walks by a couple of government agents, voicing a few pleasantries to them and Casey. Casey is uninterested and moves to take care of his guns. Meanwhile, Sarah heads home, looking for Chuck, but is greeted by Morgan hiding behind the door. Sarah, startled, whips around and presses her stiletto heel into Morgan’s neck. She releases him when she realizes it’s just Morgan. He explains that Chuck isn’t there because he and Sarah’s relationship is in crisis. Chuck told Morgan about Chuck and Sarah’s fight? Sure did, and Ellie too. Sarah has had enough and wants to know where Chuck is.
Back in Castle, Chuck uses a computer to scramble the security camera feed watching Mary’s cell. He tells her that he is going to prove that she is innocent, but first, he needs to know the truth. Chuck asks Mary if the information about Project Isis is true. She confirms that it is true, but that she only left the CIA because Volkoff found out she had a family. She had to admit to being a CIA agent and say she wanted to join Volkoff to protect Chuck and Ellie. Once she broke off ties with the CIA, she contacted Britain’s MI6 and has been working as a double agent for them ever since. Mary tells Chuck that he can’t reveal this information to Sarah because of its secret nature. Chuck says it doesn’t matter anyway because he and Sarah are not on speaking terms. Mary, seeing that his fight with Sarah is a sore spot, asks if he wants to talk about it. He begins to, but shuts himself up to get to the matter at hand. Mary has a handler at MI6 named Gregory Tuttle. She is supposed to meet him today at a local tavern. Chuck should go meet him, and give him the password “per fas et nefas.” He will be able to confirm her story, but Chuck should not tell him that he, Chuck, is Mary’s son.
At their apartment, Devon finds Ellie searching through newspapers. She tells him that although Stephen is dead, Chuck said their father may have left her something, so she is looking where he used to leave her his coded messages. Ellie has found that every day since Stephen died, the same ad for a 1968 Mustang has appeared. There must be something to that! Meanwhile, at the Buy More, Morgan approaches Casey to tell him that they are in a fight. Casey lied to him about the information in the Project Isis file, and he is only ever used as a decoy or magnet. How can he be a real spy if he’s always left in the van? (Note: I loved this dialogue because it hearkened back to Chuck’s constant complaints of being left in the van in early seasons of the show.) Casey dismisses Morgan’s complaints and leaves. Chuck bounds up immediately, though, and asks Morgan if he wants to go on a mission. Morgan isn’t interested at first, but when Chuck mentions that Morgan will get to wear an earpiece, he is aboard.
Morgan, clad in a suit and sunglasses, sidles into the tavern for the meet with Tuttle, and whips off the glasses a la David Caruso. Chuck warns him that the key to being a spy is subtlety, and instructs him to sit at the bar and just listen. The spies take their positions, but Morgan immediately starts gabbing, mentioning that he spoke to Sarah about her and Chuck’s fight. Morgan told Sarah that he and Chuck had spoken about the fight?? Morgan replies that he explained to Sarah that her not believing in Chuck betrayed Chuck and his family. Chuck is perturbed that Morgan would tell Sarah this, but he’s more perturbed that Morgan isn’t going “unnoticed” as Chuck instructed him. Morgan apologizes, but he just finds the earpiece to be so cool. He takes out the device to look at it, but accidentally drops it into his water glass. Morgan quickly swallows the water to try to get at the device, but while trying to be nonchalant by looking away, the bartender refills his glass. Unwilling to be deterred, Morgan grabs the glass and takes it to the bathroom.
Chuck watches Morgan go, but before he can stop him, a man presses a plastic fork into Chuck’s neck, warning that if Chuck moves, the man will rip his throat out. The man sits. Chuck asks if he is Gregory Tuttle, but the man points the fork again. Chuck quickly utters “per fas et nefas.” The man relaxes, introduces himself as Tuttle (played by the inimitable Timothy Dalton), and apologizes for the whole “ripping out your throat” thing. See, he is not a “field ready” MI6 agent, so this whole meet makes him nervous. Tuttle then remembers that he is supposed to be meeting with Frost; where is she? Chuck explains that Frost is in CIA custody and that he needs to get evidence that Frost is working for MI6 to clear her name. Tuttle accepts the explanation, but as he responds, a “thhhhfft!” is heard, and Tuttle falls forward, revealing a waitress holding a gun under her tray. Before Chuck can make a move, another “thhhhfft!” is heard, and a tranquilizer dart sticks into Chuck’s neck. He, too, falls onto the table. Morgan, who has been waiting to use the automatic hand dryer, finally emerges from the bathroom, only to find the tavern empty. He’s lost Chuck!
Chuck awakens on an airplane, next to Tuttle. They have been kidnapped by Volkoff’s operatives, including the waitress, Dasha (played by Ana Gasteyer). Dasha pushes a cart with rather benign torture tools up in between the two men, and gets in Chuck’s face with a pair of tweezers. Chuck can’t stop staring at her face, but he swears that he’s not staring at the two large scars or the mole he finds there. She demands to know where Frost is, but Tuttle garners her attention by saying she could use the tweezers on the hair coming out of her mole. She does not take kindly to this suggestion, but Tuttle saves it by remarking how beautiful she actually is. Dasha returns to her cart, and Chuck asks what Tuttle is doing. He explains that the MI6 manual instructs that a spy play on his mark’s emotions to gain power (this is doubly funny because Dalton was, famously, MI6 agent James Bond, who often played on women’s emotions to gain power, whether informationally or sexually).
Dasha returns with another torture implement, but Tuttle begins to speaking very rapidly and freaking out. Chuck, to distract Dasha from Tuttle, kicks over her cart of torture implements. Tuttle excitedly utilizes the Swedish Slip technique from the MI6 manual to free himself from his bonds. He frees Chuck, who moves toward Dasha while she picks up the tools Chuck knocked over. Chuck grabs a dentist’s mirror, while Dasha arms herself with the tweezers. “Oooh, a tiny weapons standoff!” Tuttle gleefully cheers. Dasha switches out her tweezers for a large knife. She and Chuck fight, with Chuck disarming the female Volkoff operative. A large Volkoff guard emerges from the front of the plane to join the fight. Chuck flashes his Chuck Fu and takes on the guard. The guard eventually gains the upper hand and begins to choke Chuck. Chuck yells for help, but is able to clap the guard’s ears to shake free. Tuttle grabs Dasha’s knife and throws it to Chuck. Fortunately, the knife lodges in the guard’s back, and he falls.
Back in Castle, Morgan tells Sarah and Casey about his and Chuck’s operation and how he lost Chuck and Tuttle. “That’s why we keep you in the van,” Casey pointedly tells the bearded one, before entering Mary’s cell to question her. Mary says that she will only say where Chuck is if she gets to see Ellie. Sarah wants to know why Chuck hasn’t called in if he is alright. Mary suggests that perhaps Chuck didn’t call her because of their fight. Mary says that she only trusts Chuck and therefore won’t help Casey and Sarah. Morgan enters the cell, and Mary recognizes him, despite the fact that she last saw him when he was nine years old. He promises her that she can trust him. She relents, but still says that she needs to see Ellie before she will reveal Chuck’s whereabouts.
Up in the air, Tuttle finds a couple parachutes. As he and Chuck put them on, Tuttle is veritably giddy with delight. “The reminds me of Alias. I love that show!” he exclaims. Dasha rises from the plane’s floor, but Chuck and Tuttle jump from the plane. Chuck wakes in the back of a sheep truck. Tuttle informs him that they are going to Los Angeles to gather the information that will exonerate Frost. He asks why Chuck is so interested in Frost. “Are you giving her one?” he asks. When Chuck figures out that “Giving her one” is a euphemism for sex, he assures Tuttle that he is not “giving her one.” Besides, he has a girlfriend, not that it’s working out that well. Tuttle voices his interest in Chuck’s girlfriend, so Chuck tells him all about their relationship as they motor toward L.A.
Sarah, Casey and Morgan bring Mary, in chains, to Ellie’s apartment. Ellie fusses with some lemonade when there is a knock on the door. Sarah brings Mary in, and apologizes that she has to stay. Sarah moves to the kitchen as Mary sits down in front of her daughter. She apologizes to Ellie that she has to see her mother in handcuffs, but she wanted it to be just the two of them so badly. Ellie fumbles with some coasters, and wonders why she even has coasters out as she never uses coasters. Mary takes her hand, and eases her worry. Mary tells Ellie that although Ellie is a beautiful woman, she stills sees her as the gangly kid she and Stephen used to take for rides in their ’68 Mustang. Mary liked watching Ellie sleep in the back seat as they would return from their adventures. Ellie tells her mother that she wants to know the truth. Mary takes a sip of lemonade, and the begins the story. Time passes as Mary is shown, but not heard, relaying her story to Ellie. Mary says that she wishes Ellie knowing that everything Mary did was for Ellie and Chuck would make a difference, but it doesn’t. Casey then pops in to say that they need to leave. Mary can say nothing more, and she, Casey and Sarah leave. Outside Ellie’s apartment, Sarah orders Mary to call Tuttle. Mary says that she is supposed to meet at a relay station — if Tuttle knows where Chuck is, he will have left a message for Frost there. Further, if the spies show up with her, Tuttle will trust them.
Chuck and Tuttle sit in a bank. A customer service rep brings them a safe deposit box which contains the evidence needed to clear Mary’s name. Meanwhile, Devon rushes home after a call from Ellie. She tells him about her meeting with her mom and how they spoke about her father’s ’68 Mustang. The ad for the car must be for a real car! Back in the bank, Sarah and Mary enter and find Tuttle and Chuck. Tuttle explains that although they have the information necessary to prove Mary is working for MI6, the triangular computer discs on which that information is contained can only be played on a computer in London. Chuck remembers the Phalanx computer in his father’s basement. Sarah says that Mary has to go back to Castle and can’t accompany them. Chuck protests, but their argument is cut short when Dasha and her goons enter the bank and start shooting up the place. Chuck, Sarah, Mary and Tuttle dive for cover.
Sarah wonders how they were found, and figures Mary led them there. Chuck says not to automatically blame his mother. Sarah wants to reply, but Tuttle sticks up for Chuck, saying that he and Chuck must have been followed, but she should just let Chuck explain. “It’ll make this fight you’re having seem like nothing, a little blip on the radar,” Tuttle instructs. Sarah is flabbergasted that Chuck told yet another person about their fight. Outside in the van, Morgan informs Casey about Dasha and her men. Casey says that the plan will be to sneak in the back of the bank to surprise Volkoff’s men. “Sweet. Goie ’em hell, sir,” Morgan tells the Colonel. Casey looks at Morgan, sizes him up, and replies, “You coming?” “I figured you want me to stay in the van,” Morgan says. “You’re never going to learn anything if you stay in here,” Casey responds, handing Morgan a tech vest. Morgan beams with the thought of his big spy break.
Inside the bank, the four spies move from hiding spot to hiding spot, all while Chuck and Sarah bicker about their fight. She can’t believe he has told everyone about their fight except her. Chuck explains that he was nervous about this being their first fight, which sets the tone for all future fights. “Well, you may as well have just posted about our fight on Friendster,” she says. “Honey, people stopped using Friendster like five years ago,” Chuck geekily replies. “You know what I mean,” Sarah shoots back before wondering why Chuck would tell Tuttle everything about them; how does Chuck know he can trust Tuttle? Chuck retorts that he isn’t wrong to trust Tuttle just because Sarah can’t trust anyone unless General Beckman tells her it’s okay. Chuck says at least she could have told him that she was going to arrest Mary. Sarah is practically apoplectic, “What, and watch you commit treason and go to prison?!?” Mary ends the fight telling them that they need to stop the bickering and do something about Dasha and her men.
Sarah says she will take the bigger of the two guys, but Chuck says he wants to take him. He wills a flash of Chuck Fu, and the two lover spies jump out to take on Volkoff’s men. As they fight the henchmen, Sarah tells Chuck that fighting is exhausting. “Maybe that’s because you always take the big guy,” Chuck replies. No, fighting with Chuck is exhausting, to which Chuck agrees. He needs Sarah to believe in him, not just try to protect him. Even when he’s flat out wrong, he needs Sarah to believe in him. They successfully take out all the men, but Chuck doesn’t see Dasha raising her gun. She aims at Chuck’s chest and fires. Tuttle, however, leaps through the air and takes the bullet. Sarah takes out Dasha as they rush to Tuttle’s side. He hands over the triangle disks to Chuck. Chuck orders a medical team to come take care of Tuttle, but Sarah says they need to leave Tuttle there and head over to Stephen’s lab. She doesn’t want to fight with Chuck anymore, so if Chuck trusts Mary, she will too. If they wait with Tuttle, the CIA is going to take Mary with them, so they need to go now.
At the old Bartowski home, Chuck and Sarah make their way to the Phalanx while Mary wanders the rows of case files and information Stephen had gathered through the years. Back at the bank, Casey and Morgan enter, with Morgan waving his guns around, much to Casey’s chagrin. Unfortunately, they’ve missed all the action, bit something is strange…Tuttle is missing. As Chuck and Sarah wait for the first disk to be read (and yes, kiddies, it really did take that long for floppy disks to be read back in the day), Mary finds a file marked “Eurybia” (who was a Greek goddess with command of the seas, and said to have “a heart of flint in her.”) and withdraws a device (actually a modified PSP) from its contents. The disk Chuck has been loading is empty, so he tries another. Sarah, wary of what is transpiring, draws her gun to search for Mary. The second disk is empty, too. Mary approaches her son and shows him the device. It springs to life as moving white and blue light up the screen. Chuck gets his “flash” face until it stops.
Sarah continues to look for Mary, but is knocked out by Tuttle. Chuck sees the scene and wants to know why Tuttle did that, and moreover, why he is there in perfect health. “There is no Tuttle, Charles. My name is Alexi Volkoff! I believe you were looking for me,” Volkoff says before punching Chuck and knocking him out. Chuck and Sarah are tied up as they awaken. Vokoff plants bombs around Stephen’s lab, and places one on Chuck’s lap. He mocks Chuck because Orion (Stephen) spent his whole life searching for the wife he knew, but she wasn’t that woman anymore. Volkoff wonders what Orion was to Charles that Orion entrusted his life’s work to him. A mentor perhaps? Chuck responds that Orion was a good man. “He was a fool,” Volkoff spits, “just like you, Charles.”
Volkof continues, saying that Chuck (who he keeps referring to as Charles because he only knows Chuck as CIA spy Charles Carmichael) should have just let Mary go and listened to Sarah, as she was the only one Frost wasn’t able to fool. He thanks Chuck for leading him to Orion’s lab so he could destroy it. Chuck pleads with Mary, saying that he trusted her, but Volkoff says Chuck shouldn’t die with regrets. He asks Mary to check their bonds one more time so they can escape. As she bends to look at Sarah’s ropes, she places a razor blade in Sarah’s hand and whispers, “Protect him,” before leaving with Volkoff. Once the bad guys leave, Sarah starts cutting through her bonds. Chuck apologizes for not believing Sarah about Mary. He tries to flash, but can’t. Sarah works her way free, and moves to free Chuck. He tells her that his mother used a device on him, but Sarah says that for some reason, Mary doesn’t want them to dies right now. Chuck says that they need to save Orion’s work, but Sarah says there is no time. They run out of the house and escape just before it explodes. Now safe, Chuck tells Sarah that the Intersect is gone, and now all of his father’s research is destroyed. “Everything he ever created is now gone,” Chuck ruefully says.
Elsewhere in L.A., Devon and Ellie acquire the ’68 Mustang. Ellie finds a card with her name on it lying on the center panel. It’s from Stephen, and it tells her that he knows their family had a lot of secrets, but they were kept to protect her and Chuck. This is the final gift he gives to her, and he figures she will know what to do with it. As Ellie and Devon drive away, the camera pulls down to the underneath the car. There, hidden, is a black device with green lights…another Intersect!
Since I finish these recaps the morning after an episode airs, I often catch headlines and Tweets about how an episode is received by the critical community at large (including Brittany’s reviews). Everything I read about “Chuck vs. the First Fight” said that this was the best episode of the season, by far, so my expectations going into the episode were high. I have to be honest, every one of my expectations were surpassed. This truly was the best episode of the season, so far, and is probably a Top 5 episode or higher for the series in general. How much did I love the episode? Let me count the ways (going from smaller to larger elements).
First, the script itself, from the dialogue to the staging, were in fine form. There was rather witty dialogue, and Sarah and Chuck’s banter during the bank crisis was superb. Further, the direction of the Chuck and Sarah fight, Morgan’s sunglasses/earpiece/gun-waving antics, and the final reveal were all well-directed. Second, any time we can have Morgan and Casey working together on a mission it is a treat. I appreciated that their partnership is moving forward, as evidenced by Casey purposefully including Morgan in the bank incursion. Yes, the duo could just be a laugh break each week as Morgan continually screws things up due to his amateur status, but it is much more interesting if Casey actually tries to improve Morgan’s skills so he can be a productive member of the team.
Third, how awesome is Timothy Dalton? Seriously, I’m asking, because the answer is “Very awesome.” Recapping, as above, makes it hard to truly describe the brilliant performance Dalton gave as the bumbling, yet joyous, Tuttle, nor the fantastic heel turn he made as Volkoff. Both roles, in different ways, played excellently off of Dalton’s famous portrayal of James Bond. To see Bond as a dithering, unskilled secret agent was very funny, but to see Bond actually be a ruthless villain was a masterstroke of casting. Let me add, that I did not see the twist coming. I did notice that the blood from Tuttle’s gunshot wound looked really fake, but I chalked that up to Chuck‘s budget. I should have taken that, and a few other pieces of dialogue I rewatched, as a sign. Kudos to the writers for surprising this Chuck fan.
Fourth, I enjoyed the parallels to the “early Chuck” that were at work in the episode because of where they led. Since Morgan was told about Chuck’s spy life, and his addition to the team, Morgan has been a proto-Chuck. He bumbles, he has problems with firearms, etc. This angle was at work again in this episode, but it was brought into stark relief with the discussion about how he is always “left in the van,” a common Chuck complaint in the first two seasons. This theme was moved forward, however, as Casey decided to let Morgan assist in infiltrating the bank; Casey is beginning to trust Morgan just as he did Chuck. Similarly, Tuttle took on a bit of a proto-Chuck role as he, too, bumbled through the mission, but was accidentally successful when he knifed the guard on the plane. Further, he showed his joy of spy work (parachuting from the plane) and bravery (when he took the bullet), just as Chuck had shown early as a spy. These parallels were made more interesting by the fact that Chuck ended the episode back where he started in the first episode of Season One…as a guy without an Intersect in his head.
Taking the Intersect from Chuck is a brilliant plot twist, and another I did not see coming (well, until Mary put the device in front of Chuck). This move resets the action to a time when Chuck wasn’t a spy at all, but with a twist. He actually has learned how to be a spy over the past three-and-a-half years, Intersect or not. Will he be the bumbling, accidental spy he was before, or can he actually function deftly as a secret agent? Will he be a liability on missions, so that Sarah and Casey need to carry him, or will he able to protect himself? Can Chuck still be Chuck without the Intersect? These are very interesting questions that I think give the series, now well into its fourth season, a jump start.
Of course, we have no idea how long Intersectless Chuck will last, as it appears there was another Intersect device underneath the Mustang, but it will be fun to see if he can develop the confidence and skill necessary to remain an asset to the team. What is also interesting about the way this occurred, is the context in which Chuck lost the powers of the Intersect. Had this happened in any of the previous seasons, Chuck would have been pulled out of the CIA immediately, and Casey and Sarah would have been reassigned. Since Chuck is on the search for his mother (and the establishment of her and Volkoff as continuing enemies was well-executed), he has a reason to stay in the CIA, as his knowledge of Mary will be paramount to capturing her. This may be a small point, but having that dose of reality and reason will give the story proper footing moving forward.
Lastly, I don’t think the show is going this way, but I really hope they don’t turn Ellie into a spy. I know she has an Intersect device under the Mustang, but hopefully when she finds it, she will just hand it over to Chuck and Sarah. Chuck needs to have non-spy people in his life. Thankfully, Devon has been taken out of the spy world, but Ellie should remain there, too. He, and us, need that relief from the tension of being a spy, so it would be a shame if he lost that refuge in his sister.
Alright, so that’s what I’ve got for “Chuck vs. the First Fight.” What did you think of the episode? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Was this the best episode of the season so far? How long do you think Chuck will be powerless? Does he need the powers of the Intersect to be an effective spy? How do you feel about Morgan becoming a more adept member of the team? Do you think the first fight sets the tone for all future fights? And I’ll ask it again: How awesome was Timothy Dalton? Guest Emmy anyone? Please leave your questions, comments, and theories below. I’ll be back in two weeks with another recap (the show is off the air next week). Until then, I’m off to get a decent Rice Krispie Treat.