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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Chuck: "Chuck Vs. The Sensei"

Illustration for article titled Chuck: "Chuck Vs. The Sensei"
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Illustration for article titled Chuck: "Chuck Vs. The Sensei"

After this season's Sarah-centric episode, it was only a matter of time until Josh Schwartz and company set their sights on John Casey, one of my favorite characters on television today. He's just so…mysterious, full of cynicism and humor; plus, as my buddy Margaret Lyons puts it, he gets all the best lines. But I found tonight's episode to be quite a disappointment–it wasn't so much what was said about Casey, but how it was said.

First: what we know now. Casey trained with a sensei in 1994, one who saw potential in an unfortunately hair-cutted 23-year-old, though not enough to admit him to the master's program. As it turns out, that's how he turns CIA agents away from the greater good, using them for his own diabolical ends (of which I'm still not quite clear). Casey runs into him in the present day, and fails to thwart his missile accessory–stealing heist because Chuck was in the way. As a matter of fact, he's always in the way–he's caught tailing the sensei later on, and as a result, Casey's forced to let his former master go; then he mouths off to Casey's superiors, and gets him placed in lockdown. Casey angry.

Next comes how Chuck handles the rest. Remember, Chuck also lost someone he trusted, see? So he and Casey have so much in common, if only Casey would just let down his guard and see it. Casey immediately recognizes Chuck's desire for bonding, and lures the unsuspecting Buy More employee to the Orange Orange under the guise that he needs to pour his heart out. Then, while Casey's facing down his master in the secret dojo lair, Chuck asserts that Casey actually, truly, cares about people, and that the whole anger thing is just a defensive strategy. Casey angrier.

Most of the episode is dominated by this labored back-and-forth between Chuck's desire for connection and Casey's fear of it. Numerous times, in fact, I flashed to recent episodes of Scrubs and the now-incessant whine of J.D. vs. the cold sarcasm of Dr. Cox. That whole relationship bothers me as well, mostly because–I guess?–I don't find J.D. all that believable when he acts like that. Nor did I buy Chuck's desperation to be close to Casey, a guy who, one scene earlier, threatened to kill him. We do get a bit of a sense as to where Chuck's behavior comes from near the end: Ellie tells Chuck that her greatest wish is to have her father walk her down the aisle at her wedding, and we're reminded that Mr. Bartowski has never really been in the picture. Still, the majority wasn't the savviest writing this season so far.

While we're talking about Ellie, I really appreciated her freak-out scene: She's long overdue for something–anything–to push her over the edge. The Awesomes certainly played their catalyst part nicely, though I found myself wanting to see more than a fleshed-out bridal book and insistence on Buy More registry items. Same goes for the Buy More segments, which took the form of Lester, Jeff and Morgan throwing the new Employee of the Month contest by shooting for the lowest customer service scores: I wanted more. Morgan and Lester's apathy was funny, but could have built into Jeff-yelling territory (fine work on Scott Krinsky's part). Plus, where was Anna? She would have fit perfectly into this subplot.

But even when Chuck has an off week, it's still one of the more consistently funny shows on television. There's Chuck's realization that "seven years of McGuyver finally paid off," the discovery that the tradition of "Commando Wednesday" never stopped and Casey's assertion that Sarah "can't keep [her] chocolate out of Bartowski's peanut butter." Yeah, he gets all the best lines.

Grade: B-

Stray observations:

- The owner of Buy More is Moses Finkelstein. Ha!

- "I'll tell them to service themselves…in the retail sense…"

- My first thought upon seeing Morgan Fairchild grace the screen: Hmm…that's great the show got 30 Rock's Jane Krakowski for the part.

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