Friday, July 31, 2015

Chuck versus Tom Sawyer

WWCD indeed. What would Chuck do? That's the question that was on the mind of Lester Patel during his interview with Efficiency expert Emmett Milbarge in the break-room of the Buy More. What would Chuck do? He'd save the world, that's what he'd do! Wow, what an episode. One of my favorites because of the way the weight of what Chuck does kind of passes you by and then you realize it's true, Chuck prevented World War 3. Now it's possible Casey could have shot down the Satellite but that didn't guarantee success, in fact it didn't guarantee that there wouldn't be casualties. What was it the General Beckman said? "Acceptable Civilian Casualties", but not acceptable to Chuck.

Now much of this episode Chuck has his sister Ellie on his case about the things that he said recently. Chuck said he wanted more than the Buy More, he wanted to Backpack and get a Euro-pass. He wanted to do more with his life. Ellie and Devon are wondering what happened to all of the things he said. Chuck can't explain to them that the Intersect was not removed from his head so he is still obligated to serve his country. All Chuck can do is assure her that he is alright and that everything he said he wanted to do, he still wants to do. He does want more but the Intersect and his life as a Spy seem to want to steer him in another direction.

As for Jeff Barnes Buy More employee, he steered his life into binge drinking and taking it easy a long time ago, but a remnant from his old life has crept up. I love the opening of the episode where Jeff has two bikini-clad ladies on his arms ala Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Another call back to Fast Times right after the use of Mark Ratner in Chuck versus The Cougars. I'm thinking that the Chuck writers really love that movie, and who wouldn't? I watch it every single time it's on television. ("I hope you had a hell of a piss, Arnold!") Jeff is asked what he's going to do next and he has no answer, he has too many tasty options. So instead he chose to do nothing.

I think what's interesting about Chuck's dilemma is that it looks like he's doing nothing too, but as Sarah says, Chuck is like a Duck, it looks like he's just gliding along the water but underneath his little feet are paddling away. Chuck wants to do so many things but the Intersect is keeping him from doing them but at the same time because of the Intersect, Chuck is doing so many things. Heroic things. Is Chuck a hero because of the Intersect or is he a hero because of the way he uses the Intersect? We know that Chuck is a good person, all of the Buy More employees look up to him. Emmet Milbarge wants to know what makes Chuck so special. By the way, Tony Hale as Emmett is fantastic. I love what a brown-nosing creep he is and I love his reaction to the Missle Command exhibition in the Buy More, "This is an abomination."

I think it's safe to say I'm a sucker for an 80's flashback with a retro arcade game front and center, the use of Missile Command was ingenious. The creator of Missile Command once built a Military Satellite that controlled missiles. I love it! He even hid the code to arm the satellite in the very game he created, Missle Command. The only way to retrieve the code would be to beat the game and unlock the Kill Screen. To learn more about Kill Screens, watch the documentary called, The King of Kong: a Fistfull of Quarters, it's filled with 80's Arcade Game greatness and it obviously influenced this episode. Also Missle Command is actually a really fun but very hard game to play. I even remember enjoying the Atari 2600 version. How great was it when Chuck, Casey and Sarah infiltrated Atari Headquarters? I loved the snobby programmers not wanting Chuck's help. Jerks. Sarah's moment of distraction was perfect as Chuck was soon shoved into Morimoto's office. Whoever did the set design did a great job with all of the robots and dinosaurs etc.

Listen to the Podcast Episode: S2Ep5 Vs Tom Sawyer

                                                         She's my muse

I can't forget to mention one of the best parts of the episode is when Chuck has to hang out with Jeff. Jeff shows Chuck his video he made that shows his appreciation for Anna Wu while All out of Love by Air Supply plays in the background. His Muse. Hilarious. I love when Jeff puts in his old VHS tape and Chuck prays that it's not a porno. So funny and we can't soon forget 'My Name is Jeff and I'm Lost'.

Again we had some great use of music, Tom Sawyer by Rush turns out to not only be the way to beat Missile Command because of the underlying math involved, it's also the "Music of the Universe" as Morimoto says. He even makes Chuck a believer. The music that sent this episode over the top though was The Touch by Stan Bush, now that just brings a smile to my face whenever I hear it with it's cheesy 80's goodness. The Touch was in Transformers The (animated) Movie from 1986 and it rocks. We also get a great song at the end of the episode when Chuck and Sarah watch the satellite burn in earth's atmosphere and Sarah explains to Chuck that he earned his degree from Stanford with all of the hard work he's done with her and Casey, Sleep Driving by Grand Archives.

Here is Alan Sepinwall's recap of Tom Sawyer and also check out Eric Goldman's recap, they both really seemed to enjoy the episode except for Sepinwall having a problem with Chuck being able to carry Jeff in his arms because Chuck is supposed to be a weakling. Ookay. My favorite part of recaps though comes from the comment sections. Be sure and check those out for the historical documents that they are.

Well that's it, Chuck saved the day, Sarah believes in him and Ellie is off his back. Jeff seems to be fine with Chuck having the Missile Command record, in fact I'm pretty sure he saw the kill screen himself that night, he doesn't need to hold the record anymore, he doesn't care about that, he even says, "When you're on top, everyone is gunning for you." Chuck couldn't agree more but I think Jeff just wants to take it easy. Don't we all. This is one of those episodes of Chuck that makes me giddy, it has everything you'd want. A good example of what makes an episode of Chuck great is when Jeff passes out from the pressure being put on him and Chuck worries that World War 3 is about to start, he urges his sister to leave town to no avail. It's a serious moment that conveys Chuck's desperation but then caps it off with Ellie and Devon suspecting he may be on drugs and then what do we do? We laugh. The way this show balances drama and humor is one of the reasons that I love it so much. Damn, I really love this show.

Until then...

The Jastrom


  1. The spy mission storyline in this episode is so preposterous, but works for me because it is grandly over the top, and cleverly weaves together the Jeff backstory with the present and the Missile Command game with the threat of a real missile launching satellite. (Contrast that to vs the Alma Mater which fell flat for me because it was preposterous in the details of what seemed like a run of the mill spy story.)

    Is vs Cougars and vs Tom Sawyer the stretch where Chuck embraces being a spy and no longer wants the Intersect out of his head? He enjoys being mistaken for a kickass agent in Cougars and then this episode starts with him having clearly been undercover the night before, no complaints from him about being involved with the Morimoto/Atari mission, and him quickly volunteering the plan to infiltrate Atari HQ. Later, after returning from Atari and with Morimoto dead, General Beckman tells Chuck his services are no longer needed but he stays engaged when hearing civilian lives are in danger. He clearly relishes the moment when the satellite is disarmed and Sarah asks him how it feels to be a hero. I wonder if after this episode there are any more statements by Chuck that he wants the Intersect out of his head.

    The Jeff backstory gives that character some nice depth and makes him sympathetic, which he lacked before. Jeff sitting with Chuck at the loading dock at the end of the episode, telling Chuck he was glad it was Chuck who surpassed him at Missile Command, and then heading into the empty Buy More to play Missile Command is probably the most heartwarming moment tied to Jeff in the series, aside from one that I can think of in S4.

    Introduction of Emmett! Tony Hale is wonderful in the series.

    Casey’s “Not polite to spy, Chuck” line when he turns off the camera on the Sarah and Ellie Orange Orange conversation tickles me, since it is coming from the guy who eats his meals while listening in on Chuck’s every conversation.

    This episode does a nice job of using a large portion of the extended cast well. Jeff, of course. Lester and Morgan threatened by the apparent budding friendship between Jeff and Chuck is humorous. Ellie getting to interact with Sarah in a meaningful way and some good scenes with Chuck. And new character Emmett with a strong start. Even Anna to a degree as the object of Jeff’s infatuation and Awesome with a couple good lines in his brief onscreen time. Back to Lester, Vik Sahay was, as usual, stellar in his scenes. Another reminder that I wish the Lester character got more screen time during the series (and that I’d also like to see the version of “Chuck” from a parallel universe in which everything is the same except Vik got to play the character Morgan).

    Sarah as Plan B. *sigh* :-) Forgive me as I take a moment and talk about the stunning Yvonne. This episode keeps up the streak of Sarah hotness for S2. E1: her in front of mirror dressing for date with Chuck; E2: the fantasy cartwheel and crawl; E3: Sarah in the red (or is it salmon :-) ) dress; E4: the shower fight.

    On rewatch of S2 I find myself spotting where the show’s bigger budget seems to reveal itself. Here, the CGI for the satellite, the Morimoto office explosion and dented elevator door effect, and what seems to be several on location filmings (boardwalk, building for Atari HQ, radio station) come to mind. To the credit of the show runners, it never struck me that the later seasons were done on smaller budgets, something I learned only as I was nearing completion of watching the series the first time through.


  2. (Had to split into two. The rest of my thoughts.)

    Although there are many better Chuck and Sarah moments, the episode ends with a solid one: Chuck, wishing for whatever he wants as the satellite burns up in the atmosphere, glances at what his heart desires (Sarah).

    I haven't gone beyond identifying what I think are my three favorite episodes. I'm guessing this episode might not crack my top ten, but would be close. If there's a personal knock I'd make on the episode is its Chuck and Sarah moments are weaker in my opinion than what some other episodes have. I’m a huge mush with the characters on this show and the episodes that affect me the most are those that have big Chuck and Sarah relationship moments, and there are several of those that would probably claw ahead of this episode.

    Again, thanks for what you've done to put together the podcasts and blogs. They continue to be a treat for me to listen and read.