With the life of a spy well within his grasp, Chuck risks it all for the love of a good woman who's taken up with another man. Who might want to kill that good woman. Oops.
Hi, my name is Marc and I'll be your Chuck recapper from here on out. I seem to be coming in while the show is in progress, so maybe a little catch up is in order. Chuck's an agent and his girl is rolling with super-spy Superman. Okay, we're all caught up, right? Good.
Oh, and Chuck is now an official scifi show because Mark Sheppard made a guest appearance — and he's the barometer of quality genre TV. He's like the blue ribbon that makes Pabst more than just "any old beer."
Anyway, "Chuck Versus the American Hero" opens with our curly-headed pseudo-spy (I say pseudo because he actually failed his "Red Test" and didn't kill his assigned target, Hunter Perry, Casey did) bumbling his way through the Directorate of National Intelligence Headquarters in DC — and bumbling right past a nefarious Ring infiltrator (Roger R. Cross, Curtis from 24), who's busting in to swipe a tech-doohickey from Perry's skull.
Finally in General Beckman's office, Agent Carmichael gets his first real assignment. A long-term stint In Rome for the CIA. Rolling like Bond, or George Clooney: a villa, luxury cars, fine clothes, yearly stipend — basically the standard spy package. But Chuck's on the fence: Is he ready to give up his old life, give up on Sarah, in favor of this new one? But when Gen. Beckman gives him the option to build his own team, Chuck knows what he must do. He's gotta put on his Big Boy Pants and get Sarah back.
It seems like everyone but Chuck is ready to move on. Sarah's in it to hit it with Agent Shaw. Awesome and Ellie are ready to go to Africa. Casey and Morgan are ready to not work at the Buy More and join Chuck's Italian special force. All that needs to happen is for Chuck to make Sarah love him again.
Most of the time I can forget that Chuck is, essentially, a soap opera that has occasional kung fu. Not that I think there's anything wrong with a soap — essentially, Buffy was a soap, as was Highlander and Oz (yes, HBO's rapey, rapey Oz). But Chuck has a way of ladling that soapiness on so thick, complete with hushed tones and sappy music... I don't mind that Chuck is a show about two people who are so right for each other but keep finding obstacles separating them; I just wish that, sometimes, it wasn't so brazen about it.
Sorry, where was I? Ah, yes. Chuck unloads his feelings on Sarah, only to be interrupted, for the 87 billionth time, by the dashing Shaw. Leave it to, well, everyone else to get Chuck back on the ball. Morgan, Awesome, and Casey kidnap the wayward soul right off the street, slap him in a suit, and prep to crash Shaw and Sarah's romantic dinner. Too bad the Ring's also got their sights on Shaw.
After invoking "the freakish bubble of handsomeness" to keep Awesome in the van, Morgan lures Shaw away from dinner with a little voice-disguised decoy. And while Shaw chases a wild Morgan, Chuck moves in for yet another heartfelt confession. (Which is sweet. Zachary Levi can sell the sweet. But did we really need three of the same scene, over and over?) The Ring moves on Shaw, they tase Morgan, Curtis (I don't know his character's name, so I'm calling him Curtis) gets the drop on Shaw, Awesome tackles Shaw into a window, and they land on Sarah's lap.
Shaw volunteers to hand himself over to the Ring — if he hides a transponder in his tummy so that Beckman can launch an air strike when Shaw gets within close proximity of the Ring's head honcho, the Director, the man responsible for the murder of Shaw's wife. Mission accomplished, revenge achieved, posthumous +2 to charisma.
The rest of "American Hero" is just a sprint to the end: Chuck traps Sarah in Castle to keep her safe before racing to Shaw's aid; the Ring nabs Shaw as planned, but with Jeffster on their tail; Casey let's Sarah out of Castle so she can make it to the missile impact just in time to see Chuck carry an unconscious Shaw from the Ring's safehouse. Oh, and Shaw meets the Lord of the Ring (the aforementioned Mark Sheppard), who reveals that Sarah was the person who killed Shaw's wife on her Red Test.
Literally, "snap." Learning that the death of his beloved came at the hands of the girl he's currently beloving sends Shaw over the cliff into an Oldboy-level danger zone. So just as Chuck and Sarah are finally, FINALLY on the same love page (thanks to Casey's coming clean about his role in Chuck's Red Test), Shaw takes Sarah for a last-minute ride into the desert. Where people sometimes get dead.
One thing I've always liked about Chuck is how each episode would end with a little emotional nudge, pushing the character stories forward. And while some very important things happened in "Chuck Versus the American Hero," it felt like a whole lot of emotional nudge. The tightrope that Chuck's walked since episode one, the carefully modulated balance felt a little bit off.
But it's still a hundred times better than The Marriage Ref. So we win.