Saturday, 12 November 2011

Television - Chuck 'Chuck vs The Frosted Tips' review

After last week's struggle to balance Morgan's move to the dark side with presenting a version of the character who the audience didn't end up keen to see the back of (good characters turning bad is fine; doing so through constant moaning, not so much), 'Chuck vs The Frosted Tips' put a lot of effort into reminding us of the personal stakes of Morgan's treacherous intentions. The affection shared between Chuck's main characters is what has kept it going through thick and thin, leading to this unlikely situation where it has managed to get to this fifth and final season even while never being anything close to a ratings hit, so grounding Morgan's story in his friendship with Chuck was one of many intelligent moves which the episode pulled off very well.

'Frosted Tips' also succeeded in doing something that Chuck has not managed in a while: being genuinely unpredictable. I'm sure that everyone who watches the series - and going by the latest set of ratings, our numbers are shrinking by the week - loves its characters, but probably doesn't reserve the same enthusiasm for its often rote storytelling. This episode threw in a number of well-timed twists, though, raising the tension both towards the end of the hour and to see how the rest of the season will play out.
The first of these occurred early on, when Morgan's treachery was revealed considerably earlier than expected. After Casey staged a chance meeting with Gertrude Verbanski on the street and planted a miniature camera on her - via a particularly contrived means, it has to be said - the team witness Morgan laying out the terms for his crossover from Carmichael Industries to Verbanski Corp. Naturally, this presents a major conflict for Chuck: not only does he risk losing his company's big advantage in the private security game (the Intersect), but he has to handle the idea of his best friend betraying him.
Would Chuck normally have been so willing to accept Morgan selling out - and getting his highlights done in a spectacularly sleazy 'do that gave the episode its title and screamed 'villain' - without wondering if the Intersect were having some degenerative effect on his mind? Possibly not, but the impact of what Chuck had seen mustn't be underestimated. The scene where he realised that Morgan had stolen the data key from the Castle safe and armed up to go after him was a powerful demonstration of how badly the usually loyal-to-the-end Chuck felt he had been treated by his former best friend.

The break-in at Verbanski HQ also allowed for a number of terrific scenes between the lead characters, even if it is a situation that the series seems to engineer weekly - how many times now has the team had a mission go awry and have to break into enemy territory to salvage it? Casey's foreplay fight with Gertrude was both hilarious and sexy, with Adam Baldwin and Carrie Ann Moss playing the characters' intense attraction to each other to the hilt. It looks as though Casey has abandoned all thoughts of getting back together with Alex's mother, but these two have much more striking - literally - chemistry, so all is forgiven. I suppose there could have been a love triangle, but that would risk overcomplicating things.
Meanwhile, a disguised Chuck was called out with a team of Verbanski's men to have a lesson in fighting from Morgan. An interesting development was that, once Chuck was the last man standing and had revealed himself, he succeeded in blocking several of Morgan's Intersect moves. All those years of having the kung-fu essentials digitally flashing through his brain must have left some residual information lying around and it will be interesting to see whether there is any ongoing hint that perhaps Chuck merged with the Intersect in a more profound way than could be removed by CIA technology.
More importantly, it gave he and Morgan some time to talk, showing how much of the old Morgan had been lost. Josh Gomez played the scene very nicely, putting just a touch of the character's vulnerability into the new, heartless man he had become. That he ended up coming undone in a very Morgan-esque way (trousers down!) showed that there are some personal foibles even the Intersect can't iron out. The Matrix parody could have been ditched, though, or at least moved to the later scene on the rooftop, where the staging would have echoed the original movie (helicopter included) and placed Carrie Ann Moss on the scene.
A recurring theme through the first three episodes of the season has been the characters struggling to come to terms with the fact that they are more than just the roles their jobs place them in. In the first episode, Chuck had to realise he still had a place on the team, even without the Intersect in his head. These past two weeks have seen Morgan being overwhelmed by his new position as a badass fighting machine, which turned out to have literally been deleting his old self.
Awesome (in one of two fun, but largely superfluous, subplots) warned Morgan not to confuse his job with his life and at this stage, that looks to be the best advice any of these characters could receive. As much as Chuck loves his spy life, he needs to recognise that all it has done is cause his family untold grief over the years - he won Sarah, but at what cost? The Bartowskis have been defined by their involvement with dirty CIA business for too long. If he and Sarah are ever going to walk through the door of their dream house, it will surely require a clean break for both of them from a way of life that has been consuming both of their lives.


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