Chuck, “Chuck Versus The Balcony”

“Chuck Versus The Balcony” is a weird episode. It’s built around the most anticipated moment of the season, but seems interested in sucking most, if not all of the tension out of that moment. This is an episode and moment that the fans have been waiting for and even though the first half of “Balcony” is tepid in its attempts to create a mission or any sort of spy-related narrative, the episode almost nails this moment. Until it randomly pulls the rug out from underneath its characters and the fans.

This paragraph, much like “Chuck Versus The Balcony,” probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The moment I’m referring to is of course Chuck’s proposal to Sarah. And like I said, during the 8:35-8:55 p.m. range, this episode completely nails it. Chuck is finishing a pointless mission (or so he assumes), but can barely think because he wants to nail this proposal that’s been ruminating around in his head for a long time. He’s nervous, he’s a mess, he’s Chuck Bartowski. On the flip side, Sarah is already aware of Chuck’s plans in hopes of making sure they go off without a hitch, but now she is even getting a bit nervous. It’s all so very cute. Meanwhile, Morgan is back at Castle, cheering him on, grinning from ear-to-ear. Hell, even Casey seems legitimately excited that Chuck and Sarah are going to make it official. There’s a lot of goofy smiling and nervous fumbling, but it’s charming. And in that moment, when Chuck proposes and all seems right in the world, I see why Max Denby’s script was approved for shooting.

But there’s a problem: Those minutes are only a third of “Balcony'”s running time. The sequences and plot leading up to it and the ridiculously hackneyed twist after it are some of the weakest storytelling Chuck has ever offered up. There’s another mission at a swanky party, this time a French wine tasting. There are faceless bad guys. There is a MacGuffin. It’s all normal Chuck stuff, only executed in such a loose and kind of poor way. It’s as if Denby, Fedak and Schwartz knew they wanted this great moment near the end of the script, but didn’t really care how they got there. Mission accomplished.

It’s all just so sloppy. First of all, the last few episodes of the fall run spent a lot of time losing the Intersect and then getting it back. And yet, here we are, presumably a few months later and there’s barely any discussion about how Chuck is feeling, what happened with the Intersect or anything else of that nature. It’s just back to normal Chuck status quo. Therefore, I would really love for someone to tell me what the point of Chuck losing the Intersect was in the first place? Was it just so we could have that awesome Sarah-centric episode? I mean I loved “Phase Three,” but you can’t present a possible shift in the mythology just because you want your female lead to have more to do in one episode. And you especially can’t do that and then present the story with no aftermath of those events. Chuck’s fine, Sarah’s fine, EVERYONE IS JUST FREAKING FINE, OKAY.

Even though it ended up being kind of cute, I still think the series is trying to get too much mileage out of the engagement. Fedak and Schwartz are smart enough not to break Chuck and Sarah up at this point, both for their own sake from fan attack and because it just seems dumb storytelling-wise at this point. We’re 64 episodes in to this story and contrary to whatever belief those folks over at Bones are working off of, it’s okay to put your romantic leads together and keep them there. I’m not saying Chuck and Sarah need to be completely happy all the time, but the engagement has been hanging over them for something like eight episodes and they’re both fully aware it’s happening, so the writers’ attempts to draw it out as this supremely intense thing just doesn’t work. It doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. Chuck and Sarah are great together, so just let them be.

With that in mind, I take Chuck’s nerves. I get that. And I can even deal with Sarah butting in to get all Morgan’s intel on how the engagement is going to happen. It totally makes sense in the scheme of how Chuck and Sarah operate as individuals and as a couple. But the ending to this episode is shockingly awful. Stupidly dreadful. I cannot believe that this passes for a good idea.

Again, I understand the concept in theory. This season — again, in theory — has been about Chuck’s search for his mother and how her personal choices affect their relationship. At this point, Chuck has decided to let his mother go, but — again, in theory, I think — he still wants to help her in the end. I think. So now Sarah is going to go undercover in Volkov’s operation in hopes of both bringing it down and saving Chuck’s mother. I appreciate the attempts at symmetry with Sarah and Chuck’s mother, but this is just stupid. Not only should Volkov kill Sarah on spot, but he should then probably hunt Chuck down just for good measure. There is absolutely no way that Volkov should ever trust Sarah or think that she’s not there for some alternate reasons.

But Volkov won’t kill Sarah, or Chuck. He’ll begrudgingly believe her because Chuck’s mom will sell it and Sarah will have to do some questionable stuff to hammer home her loyalty. This will make Chuck a bit dark and twisty on the inside. Melodrama will ensue.

That’s the problem with Chuck these days: It’s just sloppy. Fedak, Schwartz and company have some great big ideas, but they’ve failed to figure out how to execute the smaller beats that build up to those ideas this season. So of course this episode includes no real discussion about Chuck’s updated Intersect because that story doesn’t matter anymore. And of course the team can fly back and forth to France with just one scene at Castle in between them, because the plot needs them so badly to be back there. And of course Volkov will take Sarah in because the writers need another reason to delay a proposal that should be one of the seminal moments in a pretty darn good series’ run. There were a lot of people who wanted to keep Chuck on the air 20 months ago, but I’m not sure they signed up for this. Just because we really care about the series doesn’t mean we’re blind. Fedak and Schwartz just hope we are.

If you want another great take on last night’s episode, check out friend of the blog Louis Peitzman’s similar rant.

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