Chuck, Ep. 5.03, “Chuck Versus the Frosted Tips” struggles to find creative focus, despite laughs
Chuck Review, Season 5, Episode 3, “Chuck Versus the Frosted Tips”
Written by Phil Klemmer
Directed by Paul Marks
Airs Fridays at 8pm (ET) on NBC
There comes a point in many shows when long-time fans have to decide what they expect from new episodes. Is it enough to just enjoy hanging out with favorite characters, even if the story lets them down? This question has likely been on the minds of Chuck’s dedicated (if limited) audience during the early fifth season. Putting the Intersect in Morgan hasn’t worked, even with the surprising conflict that’s come out of it. This move has changed the focus and left many characters lurking outside the frame. Involving such a large cast in each episode is tricky, and it grows even tougher when the tone is all over the map.
This week’s mission has Carmichael Industries helping General Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) apprehend a fugitive, but this is just a set-up for some battles with Morgan 2.0. He renounces Chuck as his friend and even breaks up with Casey’s daughter Alex (Mekenna Melvin) by text message. It seems that Morgan’s ego has spun out of control because of the Intersect. This is an interesting concept, especially when you combine it with the fun of seeing Joshua Gomez go way over the top- he struts around the Buy More like he owns the place, and his futuristic single-seat car is a great touch. This goofiness is entertaining, but it removes any real menace from the situation. Even when Morgan’s arrogance threatens their lives near the end, it’s hard to worry too much about their fates.
The possible end of Chuck and Morgan’s friendship is unfortunate, especially given their long history. Besides showing that demise, this episode also presents the sad loss of an expert pop-culture brain. Morgan was the guy who once spent all his money to buy a used Delorean; last week, he didn’t even care about Trilogy Night, which offered the tough choice between the Die Hard or Star Wars movies (the correct answer is Star Wars’ original trilogy). These changes are nothing compared to his fall towards the worst type of yuppie spy, however. Morgan wears lifts, piles on loads of cologne, and adds ridiculous frosted tips to his hair. Apparently, the Intersect leads to bad style choices if placed in the wrong brain.
Looking beyond the main plot, it’s becoming clear that Chuck may have a “lady problem” this season. The first issue is the nonexistence of Sarah Lancaster as Chuck’s sister Ellie. This week, she appears for one scene to give Sarah a pep talk about saving Morgan. This mirrors a conversation from the premiere where she reassured her brother about his concerns over missing The Intersect. These moments stand out more than if Ellie was completely missing because they’re so random. Alex was a good addition last year because of her relationships with both Casey and Morgan. Mekenna Melvin wasn’t a key player, but seemed comfortable among the long-running cast. Her appearance this week is her first of the season, and her only role is to be sad about the break-up.
Another telling example occurs in the climax, where Morgan and Gertrude Verbanski (Carrie Anne-Moss) face imminent death. Both Chuck and Casey move to save them, while Sarah stands outside the flames in fright. This doesn’t fit with her character and is designed solely to fix the other duo’s relationships. It makes sense to bring Casey and Gertrude together romantically, but cutting several times to Sarah looking worried seems really out of place. She’s usually the most active member of the team, willing to fight through anyone. Now that Morgan’s problems are getting better, the next step is finding a way to involve the entire group in a mission. Sidelining these characters feels more like lazy writing than a necessary sacrifice for the ongoing stories.
This episode’s unrelated side story has Awesome taking care of baby Clara while Ellie’s at work. Predictably, he ends up at the Buy More to learn more about the eerie lives of Jeff and Lester. His medical examination of Jeff provides some fun laughs, though it’s completely separate from the main plot. The Buy More sidebars work best when they end up connecting to the main story. A good example is season one’s “Chuck Versus the Nemesis”, which uses a Black Friday sale as the backdrop for the spy events. While it’s silly to watch Awesome getting inspired to visit the Buy More by checking out his own commercial, these scenes would be even better if they didn’t feel like a random interlude.
The big revelations in “Chuck Versus the Frosted Tips” do advance the season’s main arc and make the upcoming episodes more promising. Since this Intersect is a “Trojan Horse” actually designed to take down Chuck, it brings the evil Decker back into the picture. He’s likely working for a more sinister villain, so that mystery remains at the forefront. The cliffhanger shows how Decker’s ready to do a lot more than just taunt the team. This season could use a Big Bad and needs to raise the stakes to keep us engaged in the overall story. Bringing in clever guest stars only goes so far if the tension is gone. This episode is a step up from last week and hopefully will keep the momentum going as the story moves forward.