Monday, December 3, 2007

Season 1 Episode 7
“Chuck Versus the Alma Mater”
Written by Anne Cofell Saunders
Directed by Patrick Norris

“So Sally can wait,
She knows it’s too late as she's walking on by
My soul slides away,
`But don't look back in anger,’ I heard you say.”
-- Oasis
“Don’t Look Back In Anger”

Okay, so despite the slightly awkward fit of the Buy More subplot in this episode (which involves Harry Tang’s rise to power as Assistant Manager), this is arguably the best episode since the Pilot, as it finally dives into Chuck’s Stanford years with a bunch of flashbacks—as I mentioned in my review of the pilot episode, something I’ve wanted to see since the whole premise of Chuck was established.

As it turns out, Chuck’s teacher, Prof. George Fleming (Philly’s Scott Alan Smith), the man responsible for kicking Chuck out of university, is a CIA asset, has been for a very long time. But Fleming is on the run now, hunted by crossbow-wielding Icelandic spy, Magnus, who wants a disc with top secret intel that the Professor has.
So despite Chuck’s trauma surrounding Stanford, he ends up helping Sarah and Casey, particularly since he also flashes on his old Stanford ID, which indicates that he’s in the Intersect, and he’d like to know why.
After Fleming is crossbowed and sent to hospital, Chuck finds the disc at Bryce’s old dead letter box in the library. On the disc are all the interviews Fleming conducted with Stanford students whom he recruited into the CIA, among them, Bryce.
Chuck’s name is in there, too, but he never interviewed to join the CIA, of course.

When Chuck finally gets to view the file, he sees Bryce talk to Fleming. Evidently, Chuck’s perfect score on a test indicates he’s a prime candidate for a military operation codenamed “The Omaha Project.” Bryce doesn’t want his friend to be recruited, thinks he’s “got too much heart” to be an operative, that being on the field would get Chuck killed.
So Bryce hatches a plan: if Chuck cheated on the test, that would invalidate his score, and thus invalidate his being a potential recruit for the spy life. So Bryce frames Chuck to save him. It’s a great little moment—in an episode filled with them—as Chuck realizes all that pain (he describes leaving Stanford as “the worst day of my life”) was because Bryce cared enough to keep him away from the espionage world.
It then dawns on both Chuck and Sarah, if Bryce had a good reason to get Chuck kicked out of Stanford, then maybe he had a good reason for breaking into the Intersect, and then emailing it to Chuck.

Though we don’t yet get to meet the mythical Jill (the girl Bryce supposedly stole away from Chuck), the flashbacks are effective and poignant, with the potent “Don’t Look Back In Anger” a crucial weapon in this episode’s arsenal, used in two key scenes: Chuck’s last day at Stanford in 2003, and his first meeting with Bryce in 1999.

Even with its ultimately extraneous subplot, this one’s still a great episode that manages to convey the hurt of a four-year friendship ending in apparent betrayal, and Chuck’s very real need to move on from that hurt. Finally discovering the whys and wherefores of it can at least help Chuck on that road.
Having said that, I’d really still love to see more of the Stanford years.
After all, we still have to meet Jill…

Parting shot: Seeing the new generation of Stanford super-spies was cool too.

“Don't look back in anger
Don't look back in anger
Don't look back in anger…
At least not today.”
-- Oasis
“Don’t Look Back In Anger”

(Images courtesy of; “Don’t Look Back In Anger” single sleeve cover art courtesy of [photography by Michael Spencer Jones; sleeve design and art direction by Brian Cannon for Microdot].)

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