- I'm going to kick things off by talking about Monday's episode of CHUCK, aka one of the series' all-time best, and one of my single favorite episodes of any TV show in a long time. To me, Chuck has been pretty good this season, but at times has gotten a bit too bogged down in the neverending angst stemming from Chuck's leftover feelings for Sarah. It's felt like some of the real fun, excitement, and heart of Chuck at its best was missing. But, last night was an absolutely *awesome* episode. For nearly the entire duration, I was just watching with a goody grin on my face, and yeah, I'll admit, it even choked me up a bit as well. To sum up - Morgan's long-awaited discovery of Chuck's double-life as a spy was hilarious, heartfelt, and just plain fun. It really was the perfect payoff to a storyline that's now been years in the making.
The fact is, Morgan finally finding out about Chuck's secret could have been terrible. It was a moment I was anticipating but also dreading. But going into this episode, I didn't even know that such a huge game-changer would go down. It was a nice surprise, but it also didn't feel contrived - it felt like the time for this had come. But really, the episode brought back the old Chuck, the geeky Chuck, and reminded us how fun he and Morgan can be together. Morgan is one of those characters who can be annoying if overused, but the fact that he's been less prominent on the show this season made his part in this episode all the more satisfying. But hey - every hero needs a trusty sidekick, and yes, a best friend - and this episode finally featured the unlikely dynamic duo in action together.
I loved Morgan "firing" Chuck as his best friend. I loved Morgan's giddy reaction upon hearing that his best friend was a spy. I loved his triumphant entrance as he proudly told Walker and Casey to "bag 'em and tag 'em," after he and Chuck took down the villainous members of The Ring on their own. In fact, there were so many great little moments in this episode that it's hard to keep track. Everything came together in a perfect storm of awesome-sauce. Chuck "flashing" on Duck Hunt. JEFFSTER singing "Fortunate Son" to the bewilderment of The Ring agents. Big Mike's reaction to the Buy More being "saved." Jeff taking out the Ring agent with chloroform. Morgan taking out a Ring agent, and saving the day, with a Kendo Stick to the head! "Dancing with Myself" and Chuck's villain flashcards. Sarah coming through for Chuck and convincing Shaw that Morgan was the one man who'd never turn his back on Chuck and the team. Awesome getting his awesomeness back. Casey getting assaulted with Nerf guns. And did I mention JEFFSTER?
Seriously, this was one of those rare, classic TV episodes that makes even a hardened TV cynic want to stand up up and cheer. Awesome episode of Chuck, and seriously, thank you to all involved. I sat down to watch this one after a long and soul-crushing sort of day. I was tired, not feeling well, and not in the greatest of moods. This was some great TV entertainment - just what the doctor ordered.
My Grade: A
TWENTY by-gum FOUR!
- So Monday's 24 had some decidedly kickass moments. Moments of intensity. Moments of coolness. Moments of ... gravitas. Everything with Jack and the would-be suicide bomber in the hospital pretty much ruled it. Yes, we've been down this road before on 24, in which Jack tries to coerce information out of a target, but ultimately resorts to threatening to harm their friends or family in order to get the info he desperately needs. But, watching the kid squirm as Jack threatened to kill his poor mother slowly and painfully ... well, it was intense and yes, vintage Jack Bauer.
There were also a lot of other nice little touches that seemed to indicate that business had picked up. Chloe back in charge of ops at CTU and seeming to assume a larger role. Hastings continuing to become more likable and more take-charge. People actually listening to Jack, giving him free reign to save the world like only he can.
Even the reveal of the Head of Security guy as a terrorist conspirator, while not exactly shocking, at least gives some added intrigue to the otherwise boring Hassan subplots. In fact, I could have cared less about his daughter running off with her forbidden boy toy before, but now, there is definitely some potential there, especially given that Jack and CTU are on their way to their hotel for a big confrontation next episode. I do still think that this season is sorely in need of a great villain to serve as the ultimate badguy behind the terror plot, but hopefully such a worthy adversary will emerge in the coming weeks.
But, this episode was once again brought down a notch by the increasingly insufferable Dana Walsh storyline. I actually thought the seeming-resolution to this last week was fairly well-done, and it seemed to pave the way for a clean break away from what has easily been the lowpoint of the season so far. I was optimistic, too, that bringing in Stephen Root as a new foil for Katee Sackhoff could give her character a fun new direction. Afterall, Stephen Root is great, and he's shown in series like True Blood that his quirkiness can translate well to over-the-top drama. But, this week's new chapter in the ongoing Dana Walsh melodrama was handled in the same craptacular fashion as in previous episodes. It just feels so ... forced? As in, the entire conversation between Root and Sackhoff was terrible - like, it's 2 in the morning, Dana's in the middle of a national security crisis, and has just gotten reprimanded by her boss - she's on thin ice. There is NO WAY she agrees to meet her old stalker's parole office that night. No way. Now, if Root perhaps tracked her down and paid her a surprise visit, okay, MAYBE I'd buy it. But the scenario that the show presented to us was just totally unbelievable and lame. They need to do a slightly better job of making Dana, and in turn us, believably invested in this subplot. Or better yet, get rid of it altogether, or somehow fold it into the main terror threat (ie maybe it's all a calculated distraction by the powers that be to take Dana out of the game). Something. Anything. But please, no more annoying scenes of Dana clandestinely roaming the halls of CTU on her cell and making half-baked excuses to leave (because in CTU, it may be 2 am, but that's primetime for those guys).
I'm complaining about the Dana Walsh stuff, but overall this was a darn good episode of 24. Everything with Jack pretty much ruled it, from Jack's first over-the-intercom convo with the kid to the kid's harrowing (and quite messy) demise. And overall I do feel like the season is gaining momentum, enough that I'm genuinely excited to see next week's promised huge surprises and twists.
My Grade: B+
- On paper, I don't know if this week's Ben Linus-focused episode of Lost was all that much better than the last couple of week's worth of eps. Again, we got a kind of greatest-hits style look at one of the series' key characters, flashing sideways to an alternate, island-free version in which many of the key character-defining traits and issues are reiterated and reemphasized in an off-island setting.
But, in practice, this episode was a step up. And the reason is simple: Michael Emerson is and always has been amazing as Ben Linus.
There was a great LA Times article the other day that sort of summed it up - Ben could easily have been one of TV's all-time most annoying characters. He lies so much that even Emerson likely has no idea how much of what his character says is truthful. He's a character who is manipulated by the writers to divulge or withhold information on a whim. At times he seems to hold all the answers, at other times he seems to be in the dark. But Emerson has made him fascinating - endlessly captivating and entertaining. He's made Ben into this creepy, pathetic bastard who somehow, you can't help but root for ever so slightly, if only because he takes so much abuse from everyone else. And yet - we know he's a mass-murderer, a liar, selfish, and pretty much irredeemably evil. But again, Emerson has made the character work - almost too well - to the point where he's often overshadowed some of Lost's other central characters.
In this ep, seeing Ben's flash-sideways, in which he evolves from merely creepy into downright treacherous (in a somewhat compressed version of his previously-established origin story), was interesting and disturbing to watch. Interesting to see Ben as a teacher, plotting (as usual) to bring down the school principal via blackmail, so that he can usurp him and gain power. Interesting, sure, but again, it's basically just a "what-if" version of character arcs we've already seen. Although, I guess the twist here was that, perhaps surprisingly, Ben does NOT go through with his plan. When the principal counters Ben's blackmail scheme by threatening Ben's prize student (his on-island adoptive daughter, Alex Rousseau), Ben decides not to harm her and gives up. This contrasts, of course, to Ben having done the reverse back on the island, getting his daughter killed after refusing to turn himself in to Keamy and the rest of Widmore's invading army. At the end of the episode, Ben does something similar. After plotting to escape Ilana and the rest of the castaways and go off to join The Smoke Monster and his makeshift legion of doom, Ben has a change of heart. When he gains the upper hand on Ilana, he decides not to kill her. He drops his weapon and decides to go back with her to the beach, to turn a corner and try to fit in not with Not-Locke, but with the likes of Sun and Jack and Miles.
To be honest, not sure how I feel about this. I think Ben is too far gone for redemption, and too evil and creepy to be some sort of convert to the side of good. From a narrative perspective, I think it makes much more sense for Ben's story to end not with heroism or benevolance, but with hellfire and brimstone, so to speak. Whether or not Ben has one last bout of treachery in him remains to be seen. But I wouldn't be surprised.
And I will say this - I was very excited with this episode's ending. After weeks of mystical mumbo-jumbo and plot progression that's amounted to "character A walks to the temple, character B leaves the temple", etc., it was awesome, that - finally! - business is about to pick up. Since, what - two seasons if not more of Lost have basically been building to Widmore's attempts to regain control of the island - it was a big, huge, "ABOUT TIME!" moment when we ended on a sinister-looking sub approaching, as, inside, Widmore and his crew braced for battle. Now that's what I'm talking about. Enough Jacob and Smoke Monster (and by the way - can the character have a NAME already?! I mean come on!). Enough with wheels and candidates and temples and such. We have 9 episode left. I want WAR, baby.
This ep also had more with Jack, Hurley, and Mr. Guyliner himself, Richard Alpert. The Richard stuff to me is a bi frustrating. We know there's a Richard-centric ep on the way, so it felt like something of a time-waster to have even more teases from him as relates to his true identity, origin, etc. Similarly, there was a lot of Jack doing that passive-aggressive nodding-and-smiling thing, convinced that he could not die because Jacob wouldn't let him. I don't know, I liked the tension of the dynamite scene and such, but at the same time it feels a little cheap when they do these sort of "I believe this is true! How do you know? I just do!" moments. I feel like if you want to dramatically convey the fact that Jack can't die due to Jacob's protection, there are cooler and less contrived ways to do it aside from him risking suicide, all of a sudden and at the drop of a hat.
Overall though, this episode of Locke was a notch above other episodes this season thanks to one more stellar performance from Mr. Michael Emerson. In addition, there was a killer cliffhanger that gave me a lot of hope for next week and beyond.
My Grade: B+
- Okay, I'll include a quick MODERN FAMILY review as well. Last night's ep was very funny. I'm a huge fan of Judy Greer - loved her on Arrested Development, loved her on the underrated Miss/Guided - so it was great to see her guest star here as an old girlfriend of Phil's looking to rekindle the old flame. Phil's naive attitude towards the whole thing was hilarious - and even funnier was his frenzied reaction when Greer comes to visit, and he realizes that she is, in fact, into him - bigtime. Just great physical comedy from Phil as he tries to escape his old flame's lusty intentions. And more Greer on TV, please! Meanwhile, the other subplots were decent, but not quite on the same level. I enjoyed Mitch quitting his job - it was an interesting wrinkle to the show dynamic and made for some nice, funny moments of freaking out between Mitchell and Cameron. Manny was also good for a few laughs, and some "aww, shucks" style moments - when Jay accidentally kills his pet turtle and tries to cover it up. Standard sitcom-y stuff, but still done well thanks to Modern Family's unique take on these kinds of things. Phil and Greer made this episode though.
My Grade: B+