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Chuck: "Chuck Versus The Balcony"

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There were a couple of moments in "The Balcony" that brought some good ol' fashioned Chuck-style fast-and-looseness. One happened when Lester, rather than reveal the "real" Lester, tore off his clothing down to leather pants and sang "Is This Love." I don't think any of us expected that to happen. Then there was the actual proposal, or, part of it. As sappy as this show can be, it still gets me when it counts. And: Lester's menorah. But after a shaky first part of a season, I'm not optimistic with the tone "The Balcony" laid out for the coming weeks. The episode, like the season, was very uneven, relying far too much on fabricated moments that should come easy on—what has been up until season four—a breezy show.

The mostly forgettable first half simply led to the conclusion, so let's start there. Chuck is about to go down on one knee and finish his proposal. He's picked the perfect spot, he's gotten the perfect ring, and he has the perfect girl. Suddenly, Sarah is whisked away by a CIA team. There is much confusion. See, Sarah wants to infiltrate Volkoff's organization. In order to do that, she must create the false impression that she's a double agent. So, I guess, she and Beckman set up this whole operation to make her look like the bad guy, then she can "break free" (or something) and be accepted into Volkoff's group with open arms.

Spies on Chuck are far too trusting. There is no part of this plan that won't make Sarah look like someone who falsely claimed to be a double agent, just so she can infiltrate an enemy organization. Yet I'm sure Volkoff will bring her in, without so much as questioning why she was acting as a double agent when she wasn't even officially working for Volkoff yet. Every mission involving a sting operation requires the government to go through "back channels" to set it up—yet nary a back channeler has been harmed (that we know of) in the process. It was easy to ignore the flimsy spy plot when there were more dynamic relationships being showcased. "The Balcony" shoved the notion of spy politics in all our faces, and raised more questions than it actually raised. Such as: Wait, why was Sarah actively pushing for this perfect engagement to happen if she knew she was about to go even deeper undercover? How heartless can she be?

I'm still not quite clear what story is being told this season. The far stronger seasons two and three were very clear in how they were laid out; from the top, we knew who the enemy was and how they needed to be taken out. Season four is about Volkoff and Chuck's mom, sure. It's also about Chuck and Sarah's relationship and how it's finding its way into their spy lives. Yes. But the two have rarely been helping one another this season. There were times when, for example, Sarah was covering up Chuck's true intentions (infiltrating Volkoff so he can find the whereabouts of his mom), letting her feelings for him get in the way of her job; it was resolved quickly. There were times when Chuck's deep desire to trust his mom wound up putting Sarah in danger, then she promptly got out of it. Now, Sarah is ostensibly going into Volkoff, and away from Chuck, precisely because she thinks it's the right thing for both her relationship and her job. I don't have much faith it'll last.

And, frankly, I'm getting really tired of Chuck's sap story. So he didn't get that perfect proposal. You know, Chuck goes for perfection pretty much all the time. He's got a lot of ideas in his head—he gets way ahead of himself—and the show makes much hay out of the times when things don't go according to plan. You know how often that happens? It's every week, and it's what's known as "plot" on TV's Chuck. This show was meant to be better than those Diet Coke action shows like Burn Notice (though I do like parts of that show). Maybe this could have been the show where Chuck finally sees that things will never be perfect, acknowledges it, and grows. It's not flattering to Chuck that in its fourth season, it continues to reflect the image Chuck first projected to the world on marketing posters: Zachary Levi, bewilderedly shrugging.

Stray observations:

  • The Lester stuff (while trying to avoid the woman he's arranged to marry, he learns she's hot and decides to pursue her, then screws it up) was mildly entertaining, even on top of the Jeffster stuff. I mentioned the menorah, but I also liked how quickly Lester changed his opinion of online dating from "I've had three dates already… today" to "I've gotta go break up with three fat girls."
  • How many Chuck episodes start by having a guy run vaguely away from a thing?
  • And…deep breath. OK. Off to go futz around with something else.