'Chuck' Season 3 Premiere: Chuck, Sarah and Casey are back in action

chuck-s3-011009.jpgAt long last, our favorite adorably reluctant spy is back as "Chuck," bouncing back from the brink being cancelled, finally returns for season 3. But as NBC's "No More Mr. Nice Spy" ads suggest, he's a little less reluctant this time around. And that's not all that's changed.

As you may recall from the season 2 finale (way, way back when), Chuck knows kung fu. Unfortunately, it's not quite as innate in Chuck as it was in Keanu - he needs to flash every time a skill is required, and emotions can get in the way of those flashes. And god knows Chuck is about as unemotional as Halle Berry when she won the Oscar (yeah, okay, that reference might be a little dated). So six months from when we left him, Chuck flunks out of Intersect 2.0 training in Prague and can finally live the dream of being a normal guy.

Or not so much, it turns out. Chuck's depression leaves him a bathrobe-wearing, beard-growing slob, gobbling down cheese puffs and refusing to leave Ellie and Awesome's couch. And can we talk about that beard? Wow. They really went all-out on that sucker. It looks like it's trying to eat Zachary Levi's face. Anyway, the depression might possibly be linked to the fact that he destroyed his relationship with Sarah by choosing to go become a superspy instead of running away with her so that they could be real people. Because he's crazy like that.

And honestly, though they do try to explain his motivation, I'm not sure that choice is true to the character of Chuck as we've known him so far. But hey, watching Chuck and Sarah drink fruity drinks on the beach probably wouldn't be the most exciting show, so I'll roll with it.

As it happens, Sarah and Casey are still hanging around town on a mission, which is enough to inspire Chuck to shave, suit up, and totally torpedo said mission while saving Sarah from an assassin only he saw. Wah-waaaaah. And we learn here that Intersect 2.0 isn't just for fighting skills - it can also play Spanish guitar! At any rate, Sarah's pissed about the failed mission specifically, and about their failed relationship generally. Luckily, they get to spend some quality time together in captivity in Mexico when the assassin comes to the Buy More looking for Chuck and kidnaps both of them. After killing Emmet. Yeah. That happens. I'm not sure how to feel about it, honestly. He was pretty entertaining.

The Intersect 2.0 seriously isn't as useful as you'd think, since Chuck can't flash fast enough to keep his captor from kicking his butt - at least, not until Sarah is threatened. Apparently, threatening Sarah is like the spinach to Chuck's Popeye, if that makes any sense. He knocks the dude out with one punch, allowing them to escape and capture the assassin as Casey comes to the rescue in a helicopter. Since the assassin was a top operative for the Ring, Operation Bartowski is officially back in business with the aim of bringing down the Ring. Yay!

Chuck finally has the second chance he wanted so badly, at being a spy and at a relationship with Sarah. Sarah, though, is instructed to keep Chuck's emotions in check - she's now protecting the world from Chuck, instead of the other way around. That's quite the 180, but I'll believe it when I see it. He tries to explain to Sarah that he chose spying to make a difference, so he wouldn't be a loser, and that it wasn't about her. All she says in return is that it was a mistake for her to act impulsively, and it won't happen again. And now that he's a spy he needs to keep his feelings to himself. Awww...

And now we begin the second half of our "two-hour" premiere, which is actually just two back-to-back episodes. I assume we can thank the Olympics for NBC burning three episodes of "Chuck" off in two nights. But hey, it's been such a long drought that I'll happily drink it all up.

Carina, Sarah's undercover DEA agent friend, is in town and in fact out on the town with Sarah, who's busy insisting on how professional her relationship is with Chuck. Carina intuits that she's really into him, so much so that she "broke the cardinal rule of spying." Never drink a Big Gulp during a stakeout? Always have a cool alter-ego spy name? Oh, never fall in love. Coincidentally, Morgan and Chuck are at that very same club, and Chuck flashes on Carina's fiancé (or rather her mark, it turns out), an arms dealer who's killed someone for some kind of weapon kept in a gold briefcase.  

Their mission: to steal the weapon during Carina and Karl's engagement party. Chuck seems to think this is the appropriate time to spill out his feelings to Sarah. Dude, I feel for you (even though I think it was a mistake to leave Sarah at that train station six months ago), but now isn't the time! I mean, I guess it's good to tell someone how you feel before they're killed, but you don't want them to get killed because you were busy telling them how you feel, right? Carina sets Chuck straight that Sara's being so cold because she still loves him, but that he needs to man up and be a spy.

zachary-levi-chuck-s3-320.jpgAnd so while Casey (who is now officially my favorite character) gives a hilariously drawn-out toast, Chuck and Sarah break into Karl's vault, where Chuck uses the Intersect 2.0 to do some crazy monkey acrobatics around a series of lasers guarding the briefcase. And seriously, if Sarah isn't turned on by seeing all his new mad skills in action, she's hardly human. Of course, Chuck wouldn't be Chuck if he didn't demand to have their relationship talk as soon as he retrieves the briefcase, distractedly swinging it back into one of the lasers and triggering a security system that traps him in the vault and releases poisonous gas. Oh, Chuck. I missed you so much.

While Sarah works to rescue him, he spills out his feelings for her and about the Prague situation. She, of course, misses it all save the grand finale as the vault opens: "I love you." Unfortunately, it looks like Chuck's confession backfires as Sarah immediately tells the General that she's part of the problem with Chuck's emotions, and that another agent might be better for the job. The General pretty much gives her the same advice Carina gave Chuck: Get over it and do your job.

As they practice bo, Sarah drills Chuck to bury his feelings deep inside, since feelings only get you killed. She tries to force him to flash, but he can't. Won't, really, because "I don't want to hurt you." Sarah: "Don't worry, Chuck. You can't." Ouch. If Chuck is Chuck 2.0, Sarah is definitely a return to Sarah 1.0.

Carina, pursued by Karl, gives Morgan the briefcase with instructions to give it to Chuck. Man, she couldn't have just stashed it someplace? Morgan, as it happens, has thrown a housewarming party for himself with the sole purpose of getting into Carina's pants and saving face in front of Jester. But when she actually shows up, his high hopes are quickly dashed by the presence of Karl and his men, turning the party into a "sausage fest." In fact, he's so infuriated that he hilariously tries to kick them all out, preemptively rejecting Carina and giving her the briefcase back, telling her to give it to Chuck herself. Whoops. I actually really loved Morgan in this scene, and I'm not typically a Morgan fan (I was actually kind of hoping he'd stay in Hawaii).

Casey is totally, amusingly believable as the angry neighbor trying to sleep as he not unhappily hoses off the party-goers to clear the place out. Commence predictable gun standoff, less predictable combusting fountain (that must be some seriously strong jungle juice), and inevitable saving of the day by Chuck, who empathizes with a broken-hearted Karl: 

"I get it man, I get it, okay? You took a chance. You loved someone, maybe for the first time in your life. All you've ever done before is shut off your feelings, you've buried them deep down inside. Because in your profession, in your life of work, it's a liability, right? It can certainly be a liability. And I know that you think that you messed up your life because you opened up your heart, buy maybe you helped her open up her heart in the process. Maybe because you loved her, she's learned how to love, too."

Aww. Sarah listens with interest. And Carina, of course, quickly agrees that she fell in love with Karl, pacifying him long enough for her to knock him out and take his weapon. Sarah: "Spies don't fall in love." But the next day, Sarah is ready to hear what Chuck has to say, saying that she's good with sticking around for now, despite an offer from Carina to do her spying in more exotic locales.

Chuck agrees that he's not a real spy, and that his emotions make him a liability. Sarah reminds him that if it weren't for his emotions, Karl would've killed Carina. Well, to be fair, if it weren't for his emotions maybe he would've flashed and been able to save her in some more ass-kicking way. Sarah, looking at the trashed courtyard: "It's quite a mess we've made." Chuck: "Yeah, but I'm really hoping we can clean it up." Sarah: "Maybe. But you're on your own with the courtyard."

And holy swear word, Carina actually slept with Morgan. MORGAN. She tells him it's because no one's ever said no to her before, and she found it sexy. And that she's had better...but not many. I'm really not sure what to say to all that.

When Sarah confirms that she's sticking around Burbank, Carina gifts her with the security tape of Chuck confessing his love for her in the vault and apologizing for Prague. It's a really, really sweet speech about why he chose to be a spy: namely, to help people like she taught him. For his family, for his friends, for her...because he loves her. She watches with tears in her eyes.

Odds and Ends:

  • Looks like we've got a new plot arc developing! The General wouldn't let them look at the weapon, but then pleaded with a "Shaw" to tell the agents something, so that they can be prepared. She got no response. Hmmmm.
  • Time it took into the new season to show Sarah (and Carina, bonus) in sexy underwear: 1 hour, 13 minutes. And there was a swimsuit shot right at the beginning, too. Well, if that's what it takes to keep "Chuck" on the air...
  • The Buy More sells cheese puffs? Really? And on a related note, if I hadn't seen my ex-girlfriend in ages, I wouldn't show up in a bathrobe and baseball cap. And mountain man beard.
  • I love Casey. He totally blows Chuck off and calls him "the Lemon," but then turns around and does sweet stuff secretly, like getting Morgan his job back.
  • Not really sure how I feel about Morgan and Chuck living together, due to the aforementioned non-loving of Morgan. Can't we just have more Ellie and Awesome time instead?
  • Big Mike is back! I can't wait to find out what else he learned at El Segundo School of Finance.
  • So...yeah. Those Honda/Olympics ads with Morgan, Ellie and Captain Awesome? I'm finding them a little weird. But hey, again, if that's what it takes to keep "Chuck" on the air...I guess they're more entertaining than a regular Honda ad. A regular ad probably wouldn't have a "Monument to the Lost Curler."

 

So overall, after all the "Chuck Bartowski: Superspy" buildup, I expected Chuck to be a lot more badass than he actually is. And honestly, I'm pretty glad he's not. I'm very grateful that "Chuck" wasn't cancelled, but NBC's ad campaign had me worried that the vibe of the show would be completely changed. Thankfully, Chuck is still very much Chuck - he's got some kung fu skills, yes...but he still needs plenty of help from his team. And that's definitely how it should be. It would just be wrong if he were a better spy than Casey and Sarah, right?

How did you like the premiere? What do you think about the new direction the show is taking? Were you surprised that Chuck chose spying over Sarah? 

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