Tuned In

Chuck Watch: Chuck Vs. the Game-Changer

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Brief spoilers for last night’s episode of Chuck coming up after the jump:

It was a double-consummation night for Chuck Bartowski last night. He finally got together with Sarah, with a nice allusion to the closing scene of Moonraker as he turned the laptop away from their long-awaited bout of Parisian amour. And in what has been an equally big will-he-won’t-he tease, he finally popped his big-time violence cherry, killing Shaw in a big, bloody, movie-style shooting.

That one, I suspect, is the consummation with bigger implications for the show.

I won’t bother with a whole recap of “Chuck vs. The Other Guy”; you can see Alan Sepinwall for that, and Mo Ryan for an interview with Chris Fedak on where the show goes now. Taken as an episode in itself, this was probably the best of the (uneven) season, satisfying and funny and hitting all the right character notes. Instead, I’ll ask the Chuck fans in the audience: how does the show work with Chuck as a bad-ass (if reluctant) killer?

The thrill, and the potential liability, of Chuck has always been its balance of dark and light elements, but for two seasons at least, the light usually prevailed. That the show was a frothy good time gave it license to be unrealistic, and while it always took Chuck’s relationships seriously, it was understood that the spy elements existed in a kind of ’60s-spy-show sphere of unreality, which made their various plot holes forgiveable.

But because the show has, admirably, tried to be emotionally realistic, it has to become something different once it’s made Chuck into a killer. That’s not to say that it can’t still be fun and funny. But the shooting establishes that we’re now in a world where Chuck is a real spy, and there won’t always be convenient escapes that allow him to avoid shedding blood. Does that force the show to live up to a more serious-spy-story standard? And is the bigger danger if it fails to meet that standard, or if it does meet that standard, and in so doing loses the lightness that made it such an escape?

Now, I know there’s a flip side to this argument, which is that you couldn’t sustain Chuck on the premise of “loveable nerd tries to be a spy and suffers unrequited love” for too many seasons. Chuck probably had to change to stay alive. The question is whether it can sustain itself for season after season—ratings permitting—as a different kind of show, or if its premise was always better suited to a more limited run. (Which, by the way, is no failing: a lot of great series had short runs and were better for it.)

In any case, I’m curious to see how it meets the challenge—and since NBC’s order of six extra episodes means this was not the season finale, we’ll find out sooner rather than later. Last night, Chuck assured Sarah that he was still the same Chuck. Do you think he is? And do you want him to be?