Chuck started out as a show about a hapless nerd who gets the sum total of spy knowledge uploaded into his brain, but it's grown into a superspy action-drama-romance. We saw tomorrow's pivotal episode and talked to the creative team.
There are minor spoilers in this post, but we won't give away everything that happens in tomorrow night's "Chuck Vs. The Other Guy."
If you've been keeping track of Chuck, you'll know that NBC originally only ordered 13 episodes of the show's third season - which would have made tomorrow night's episode the season finale. Then the network came back at the last moment, and added an extra six episodes to the season. Instead of padding out the season they'd already mapped out, producers Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak decided to create a whole new six-episode mini-season, which starts April 26.
Tomorrow night's episode feels like a season finale, and shakes things up enough that you can easily imagine waiting six months or more to find out what happens after it. Almost every main castmember gets a status change of some sort, and the major threads of the season so far are addressed. It picks up right where last Monday's episode left off - with Shaw having learned that Sarah killed his wife. When Shaw goes off the grid on a non-existent "mission" with Sarah, everyone suspects the worst, especially Chuck. But are they right? And why did the Ring really just show Shaw the video of Sarah killing his wife - just to get Shaw to turn on Sarah, or for some more insidious, complex purpose? Is the Ring Director's plan sheer elegance in its draconian complexity?
You'll have to wait till tomorrow night to find out. But suffice to say, it's full of twists and turns and extreme silliness and betrayals and reversals - and it moves the show's storyline forward in a pretty decisive way.
We also got a chance to take part in press roundtables with stars Zachary Levi, Adam Baldwin and Joshua Gomez, plus Schwartz and Fedak.
Levi talked a lot about how the fans have been divided by the very different turn the show has taken this season, as the Intersect 2.0 turned Chuck into more of a superhero:
A lot of them haven't liked it, and a lot of them really have liked it. There's two schools of thought: Don't change, be the same show you were in the first season because that's what we liked, [or change over time.] If you're making a sitcom, I don't think you should change too much, because the whole point of the sitcom should be mindless laughter... We're part comedy, part action, part drama, part romance - this season has been more dramatic than the last seasons have been. You can't please everyone.. I kind of hope everyone goes with the journey. We've been building on the same stories and the same characters from the beginning.
Said Schwartz, "It would be more challenging, doing the same stories this year as we've done in years past. It's a fine line we've done in the show. If it gets too comic, the show can float away without having any stakes. To move the show into a darker, at times more dramatic storyline... helps to give the show gravitas." On the other hand, after tomorrow night's heavy episode, the show returns with two of its most comic episodes ever, says Fedak.
And the show definitely can't go backwards - like for Chuck and Sarah, "Once you see what's coming down the pike, there's no reset button powerful enough to undo what we've done," says Schwartz.
We asked Baldwin how he's enjoyed showcasing a new side to John Casey this season, what with Casey becoming a civilian and being out of the loop. "The opportunity to build my relationship with Big Mike is something I've always looked forward to. Mark Christopher Lawrence is a hilarious gentleman," says Baldwin. "My budding relationship with Morgan Grimes is another aspect of that, that I enjoy doing, in the intolerant, gruff and not-so-embracing way." Most of all, we've been seeing the "lonelier" side of Casey, as he's become more like "Chuck's dysfunctional friend."
Schwartz and Fedak said it was a great opportunity to have Casey spend more time in the Buy More, because that's the real-world setting in which the show's fantasy spy elements are grounded.
So we asked if the show would ever leave the Buy More behind - like if Chuck goes off to Rome or something. But Fedak said, "It would give me great anxiety to leave the Buy More behind," because it grounds the characters. "Chuck is a guy who does go back to his Buy More life. Maybe less so now in the show, but it's still a part of it." Maybe eventually Chuck will move past the Buy More, but the show may never reach that point.
Another thing that would give Fedak great anxiety? If Chuck's sister Ellie were to learn the truth about his career as a spy. She needs to be the one normal person he can talk to who doesn't know.
In the show's panel, someone asked about the dream guest stars that the producers would like to bring onto the show. Names which came up included William Shatner, Mr. T and the entire cast of Buckaroo Banzai, reunited for one episode.
And here's some slightly more spoilery stuff they mentioned on the panel:
Going forward, Casey and Morgan are going to be teaming up a lot more. You'll have to talk about Caseorgan or Corgan. You'll get to see Morgan struggling with the spy life, and there may even be a montage where Casey tries - and mostly fails - to train Morgan to fight. In fact, Baldwin jokes that shippers have a whole new couple to obsess about.
"I bring a certain side of Casey out, that's for sure," says Gomez.
Scott Bakula's return in the season's final two hours is a huge development, and a "wonderful father-son drama," says Fedak. Those last two episodes have amazing emotional moments. In the episode where Christopher Lloyd plays Chuck's therapist, Chuck actually gets to call Lloyd "Doc." Julia Ling will return as Anna, and Baldwin strongly hinted - well, pretty much admitted - that we'll get some resolution of Casey's ex and their daughter, whom we met recently.