‘Chuck’ is a fun show, but it’s also a frustrating one that too often relies on cheap gags and erratic, illogical plotting as narrative shortcuts. This past Friday’s episode featured some of both the best and the worst of the show’s qualities.
‘Chuck vs. the Hack-Off’ (the title doesn’t mean what it sounds like) feels like three different episodes crammed together. In the first, Casey is in prison for murdering the team of CIA assassins that Decker hired to wipe out Team Bartowski. (I don’t believe I recapped that episode, sorry.) Chuck and Sarah want to break him out, but Casey is determined to keep his head low until the situation blows over. Of course, that isn’t as easy as he thinks it will be.
In what seems like a funny twist at first, Lester is also serving time in the same prison, for trying to poison the now cleaned-up Jeff with carbon monoxide fumes. (He wasn’t trying to kill him; he just wanted his old, brain-addled friend back.) Jeff is willing to drop the charges if only Lester will apologize and promise not to poison him again, but Lester refuses. He then surprisingly takes very well to prison. Lester sets himself up as a “shot-caller” by wielding the power of giving and taking away cable and internet service for the other prisoners. Jeff and Morgan concoct a plan where they hire a new Indian-Canadian guy (Danny Pudi from ‘Community’) to take Lester’s place at the Buy More and scare the real Lester straight. Eventually, Lester apologizes and Jeff drops the charges.
Now, while this storyline is kind of amusing, you don’t have to be a lawyer to know that this isn’t how the penal or judicial systems work. You don’t go to prison without being convicted at a trial, and once you’re in prison, you don’t get let out just because someone drops the charges. It’s lazy writing.
In the second story thread, Chuck and Sarah are kidnapped by Decker, who strangely hires them for a mission to recover a computer super-virus called “The Omen” from its creator, who has joined a wacko religious cult at a nudist colony. If they’re successful, Decker will release Casey from prison. Sarah and Chuck go undercover at the “Church of the Eternal Wind” while Verbanski (Carrie-Anne Moss), who has decided to admit that she’s in love with Casey, tags along as a sniper.
Wait a second. This episode features Sarah (who as we all know is played by the hottest woman on television, Yvonne Strahovski) at a nudist colony? On network television? Yes, but of course everything at the colony is jokingly blocked out with big, ugly pixelation. Ha ha.
Although they get the virus code from the original programmer, Chuck and Sarah then have to steal the delivery device from a group of techno-terrorists called the Collective. This launches us into the third act, in which we learn that Chuck has all along been a super hacker known as “The Piranha.” (Uh, since when?) He claims that the movie ‘Swordfish’ was based on him, which he isn’t very proud of, since ‘Swordfish’ is a pretty crappy movie. The episode then turns into a parody of ‘Swordfish’ and ‘The Matrix’. Chuck pretends to apply for a job with the Collective, where he’s given 30 seconds to hack into the Federal Reserve while simultaneously disabling the Collective’s security defenses. He does this by absent-mindedly mashing away at a computer keyboard and cracking jokes. Oh, those wacky nerds; put them in front of a computer and they can do anything…
Anyway, the Bartowskis get the virus and the delivery device, but Decker of course tries to stab them in the backs. In short order, Verbanski steals the virus back from Decker, swaps it out for a bomb, and then blows Decker up. Really. Little chunks of him everywhere. Verbanski then breaks Casey out of prison and tells him that she has to go on the run for a while. I guess that’s the last we’ll be seeing of Moss on the show.
I don’t know. Parts of this episode are really entertaining. When the jokes work, they’re great. But the whole thing is very scattershot and filled with a lot of ridiculous nonsense that isn’t as funny as the writers seem to think. I have been hoping that this final season of ‘Chuck’ would be more consistent than the last couple, but so far that unfortunately hasn’t been the case.