S03E01 – Chuck Versus the Pink Slip (Premiere Part 1 of 2)
Six months after the second season’s brilliant “I know kung-fu” cliffhanger, we open on Chuck stuck in a dangerous situation, with General Beckman talking in his ear, trying to obtain a briefcase from what looks to be a group of very unsavory fellows. Flashing on kung-fu moves, he disarms the men and, refusing to shoot them, beats them up a little, then takes the case and runs. With the chopper late to rendezvous with him on the roof, he’s told he needs to use a nearby telephone line to “zipline” away from the recovering baddies, but try as he might, he can’t make himself flash (remember, this is something that they established he could do in the episode where we first discovered the identity of Orion, as Chuck flashed on a pinpad and typed in the necessary code to access a restricted area), and just before the men he didn’t kill can pull the trigger, Beckman steps out to announce that the training exercise is terminated.
After a brief and none-too-pleasant conversation with Beckman, Chuck is told that six months is too long, that it’s just not working out because the Intersect 2.0 was designed to be imprinted on a “real spy,” and that she was firing him and wrapping up the “Human Intersect Project.” He protests that she “doesn’t know what he said no to” in order to take the job, an important stage-setting line even if Beckman breezes past it, and then he’s tranqed and starts flashing back to six months ago, when he and Casey are discussing his upcoming training at Castle.
Sarah is reserved about his being a “real” spy, to say the least, in this flashback, and suggests to him that they could run away together and skip out on his spy training. She tells him to go to the training facility in Prague for three weeks, but to meet her at the train station so they can run off and have a life together. He agrees, and then the flashback ends; he’s sitting on Ellie and Awesome’s couch, lamenting having lost Sarah. Ellie tells him to call her, which he does, but when Sarah’s phone rings, she’s at a resort with a handsome, European man and tosses the phone into the swimming pool instead of answering.
The next morning, Chuck wakes up, grabs an enormous package of cheese puffs and takes them to the couch. Working his way through the bucket of cheese puffs in his bathrobe, the show flashes forward a couple of weeks until Chuck has grown out a thick, gross beard and can barely retain consciousness for long enough to talk to Morgan, who’s come to visit him at Ellie’s request. When Ellie storms out, fed up with Chuck, and the others follow, Chuck reaches for the cheese puffs and discovers, to his horror, that the bucket is empty and that he has to go to Buy More to get more.
Still in his bathrobe, but now wearing a hat and sunglasses to (along with his beard) disguise himself, Chuck goes to the store where he had worked for the first two seasons of the show, and is almost immediately set-upon by a disturbingly well-groomed and courteous Jeff. Chuck does a quick double-take at this, but quickly makes his way to the cheese puffs, where he’s spotted and mistaken for a homeless man by Emmett Milbarge (still acting as the store manager after orchestrating Big Mike’s ouster last season), who calls security because he thinks Chuck may be “the one stealing toilet paper.” On his way to check out, Chuck is approached by both security and Milbarge, with the latter taking the opportunity to point out Chuck’s humiliating appearance to everyone present. With Milbarge poking at him, both physically and emotionally, Chuck keeps flashing—not regular flashes, mind you, but the new, season-three kind with little kung-fu figures in them. He manages to keep himself from hurting Milbarge, but barely, and then when Emmett leaves, telling Chuck that he’s just spared himself from an ass-kicking, Jeff and Lester beg him to come back and save them from Milbarge’s reign of corporate efficiency. He tells them that he can’t, and they attribute his unwillingness to the fact that he can’t be bothered to help them with their problems as long as he’s still got Sarah, who they’ve seen going in and out of the Orange Orange (her cover job) recently.
Hearing this, Chuck uses the key that he apparently never surrendered to the CIA or NSA to enter the yogurt shop, looking for Sarah. He wanders through the back and into Castle, where Casey is packing up the headquarters and preparing to resume his other work. While he’s there, Casey takes a phone call from Sarah, but refuses to give Chuck any information or respond to his questions. Ignoring Chuck’s requests for help, he goes back to preparing for their final night in Burbank, which apparently (based on a menu in his mission packet and a floor plan on the computer screen) has something to do with a Spanish restaurant. Chuck makes his exit, clearly plotting, and Casey grunts goodbye. Moments later, in his room, dramatic spy music is playing in the background as Chuck prepares to suit up for the night’s mission. Flipping through his closet, he finally comes upon something that makes him grin, and the viewers get, for the first time this season, the a dramatic reveal of Chuck in his old Buy More uniform.
(Comic Related readers can see what this looks like by referring to my Halloween costume, pictured here.)
Upon entering the restaurant, Chuck is immediately seen by Casey and Sarah, neither of whom seems too happy to see him at first…but Sarah’s first order to Chuck is, bizarrely, to kiss her. He does, and after about three seconds of that, she slaps him, sending him to the floor, and when her European beau asks who he is, she says it’s her ex, who’s having some trouble letting go. In the kitchen, Casey and Sarah are talking to Chuck, and tell him to go home after he tries to convince them that he was only there to help and to prove himself. Casey tells Chuck to go home, that there’s nothing he can do because it’s a simple courier exchange and they’re just waiting on a man called Javier Cruz to arrive. Then, Chuck flashes on Cruz’s name, realizing that he’s not a courier but an assassin, and that Sarah’s date is likely a target for murder, not the recipient of whatever The Ring was supposed to be sending with Cruz. Locked in an alley behind the restaurant, Chuck is trying desperately to get back in through the door he was just thrown out of; when he finally flashes on the necessary martial arts expertise to break it down, though, a man in a mariachi outfit, holding a guitar, approaches him to ask a question and Chuck inadvertently kicks him in the face, knocking him out.
Seizing the opportunity, Chuck re-enters the restaurant wearing the man’s jacket and carrying his guitar, but before he can pass along the information to Casey or Sarah, he’s whisked onstage. While it looks for a moment like his cover might be blown, Chuck quickly flashes on the guitar and starts playing more or less on autopilot. Sarah explains it away to her date as her ex being “a bit of a show-off,” and while Chuck finally gets the message to Casey that there’s an assassin, he doesn’t know where.
Cut to the unconscious guitar player outside, who tears off his toupee and fake moustache and runs inside. As Casey’s people try and fail to shoot Chuck with a tranquilizer gun, a laser sight appears on the head of Sarah’s date. Chuck dives off the stage to protect Sarah, spooking Javier and creating a scene in the restaurant; outside, Javier picks up Chuck’s Buy More nametag.
Back at home, Chuck is on the couch with his new bucket of cheese puffs, and Awesome approaches him to talk about “spy stuff,” congratulating him on nailing his characterization of the loser cover. Chuck admits that he’s not a spy anymore, and Awesome asks if the CIA really just lets its people leave or if Chuck’s life might be in danger.
That night, curled up on the couch with his cheese balls, Chuck hears a sound behind him and jumps, fearing for his life. It’s Morgan, though, and while things look pretty bad for Chuck, his lifelong best friend has some words of wisdom for him—he tells Chuck to follow him to the Buy More, where he admits he’s been fired from Benihana, and that Anna had left him. He’s been sleeping and living in the Buy More’s entertainment room (where Sarah, Casey and Chuck used to meet until too many people gained access to the Buy More and Castle was built). How he got a key, given that he no longer works at the Buy More, is ambiguous but whatever. Milbarge is there, watching security tapes; given that the first thing he says upon discovering Morgan is “So he’s the one who’s been stealing the TP,” it’s safe to assume that’s why he was at work overnight. He’s pleased with himself for discovering this and decides that he’ll “let the authorities” deal with Morgan the next day.
Back at Castle, Sarah is looking longingly at security footage of Chuck in the Buy More, and Casey comes out from behind her, saying, “I’m going to miss this.” Thinking that’s awful sentimental and out-of-character for Casey, Sarah asks him what, and turns to see him carrying a big freaking gun. Casey identifies the gun as an M-134 minigun, which he never got to use, and then looks at the security screens and tells Sarah that Casey is torturing Chuck, and that now that she’s no longer responsible for handling him, he deserves at least to be “put out of his misery” before she leaves Burbank forever.
In his car, Milbarge is just about to leave the Buy More for the night when he sees someone skulking around the loading dock area. When the man (Javier) shows him Chuck’s ID and asks where he might find Chuck, Milbarge tells him to “walk out front, and follow the smell,” and that Chuck no longer works at the Buy More. When Javier stands there, staring at him, Emmett starts to get mouthy and rude, much like he did with Chuck at the beginning of the episode, and threatens him with Mace; although clearly affronted, Javier composes himself and just walks away until Milbarge calls him a “pussy,” and Javier spins around and shoots him in the face.
Breaking away from the recap for a second and putting on my reviewer’s hat, I was pretty surprised when Tony Hale came back as Milbarge at the beginning of this season, as I thought he was an unqualified disaster and my experience in talking to Chuck fans is that most of them agreed with me on the point. While I was very happy to see them drop a bridge on him so soon this season, it all felt a little too dark for the show, and slightly out of place.
Back inside the store, Chuck and Morgan are getting ready to leave, Morgan’s things all bound up inside of his Star Wars sheets, when Sarah shows up. Morgan excuses himself so that the pair can talk, leaving for Chuck’s bedroom where he’s apparently going to stay. Sarah tells Chuck that she just wanted to say “a proper goodbye,” and while Chuck starts telling her his feelings, he’s knocked out from behind by Javier and a couple of gunmen, who capture Chuck and Sarah.
When he wakes up, Chuck is in a cell in what, lighting, dust levels and cinema convention tells us has to be Mexico. Apparently still upset that Chuck got the drop on him outside the club, Javier comes in and challenges him to a fight, putting a small, handheld electronic device in his shirt pocket on the table before he does so. Unable to flash and thus defend himself (apparently, whereas most information stays with Chuck after a flash, combat skills are entirely fleeting), Chuck gets slapped around and passes out against a wall, where he resumes his earlier unconsciousness-inspired flashback.
A little more than five months ago, I guess, Sarah and Chuck meet at a train station in Prague where, as you could guess from the first scene, Chuck tells Sarah that he wants to stop living a meaningless, underachieving life and wants to do something great and make the world a better place. He can’t run away with her. And in spite of the hundred or so times that she chose work over Chuck in the first couple of seasons, this is what’s broken Sarah’s heart to such an extent that it’s driven a huge wedge between the pair this season.
Back at Castle, a few redshirt agents who have shown up to help Casey move are milling around behind him while he looks for Walker. One of them tells him that the last they knew, she was at the Buy More, and he starts checking the surveillance cameras to see where she is; finding Emmett’s body, he orders a satellite trace on every car in the Buy More parking lot over the last six hours.
Back in his cell, Chuck is staring at the door, trying to flash on kung-fu to get out. He starts to collapse on his bunk and Sarah calls to him through the walls. She encourages him through the wall, and with Sarah’s support he manages to flash, beat Javier down, take the keys and the mysterious handheld device from his pockets and break Sarah out. They exit the building but are almost immediately seen by gun-wielding henchmen, trapped on the roof. Chuck flashes on a cable, and uses it as a zipline to get he and Sarah away from the shooters; they come alight on the ground behind a school bus, which they then use as cover when Casey’s chopper shows up, and he uses the M-134, cackling like a maniac the whole time, to empty the badguys out of the scene and rescue the pair.
Back at Castle, Beckman tells the team that the device Chuck intercepted is a custom smartphone designed for operatives of The Ring, and that it’s the first time they’ve ever captured one intact. She then tells Casey and Sarah to stop unpacking Castle—Project Bartowski is back online! Chuck leaps up, delighted by the news, and asks them what his new cover is going to be, throwing out a few ideas for “something cool” before the scene changes and he and Casey are both walking into the Buy More in their uniforms, Casey telling Chuck that Milbarge had taken a job at a Large Mart in Anchorage and seeming more than a little happy, if I do say so myself, to be lying to Chuck again. Behind them, Morgan approaches the pair and tells them that he was called by someone from corporate who more or less begged him to take his job back.
At Castle, Beckman tells Sarah that she needs her to keep Chuck in check—that his emotions make him unpredictable and the Intersect makes him dangerous. In what was obviously constructed to be a tagline or promo for the season, Beckman tells her, “For the last two years, we’ve protected Chuck from the world. Now, we have to protect the world from Chuck.”
Back at the apartment, Ellie and Awesome are moving across the courtyard to a bigger unit that’s opened up and leaving Chuck in their old place. To Ellie’s horror, of course, Morgan is right there to step in as Chuck’s roommate. He runs inside to start unpacking his belongings in Ellie’s old room, and Sarah comes to talk to Chuck, who tells her that he was tired of being a loser and that he’d left her behind because really important people had told him he could change the world. She stops him cold, and puts on her “professional Sarah” face, telling him, “You’re a spy now, Chuck. You have to keep your feelings to yourself,” and leaving,” at which point Casey takes him to Castle for more training.