“I am a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me, to push you out of the light.”
–René Belloq (Paul Freeman), Raiders of the Lost Ark
Tonight’s very entertaining penultimate Season 4 episode of Chuck, “Chuck vs. the Last Details,” has given us a bit of everything we’ve always enjoyed about our favorite show. It had comedy in the form of Chuck helping Morgan get psyched up to impersonate an Italian arms smuggler (if you didn’t geek out when Morgan walked into that conference room with “The Imperial March” as accompaniment, you have no soul), Mary and Sarah’s brief mother-in-law/daughter-in-law tiff (“Failed? STUBBORN?”), and Lester’s bizarre attempt to create a montage video for Chuck and Sarah. It had action in the form of the mission to spring Mary from Vivian’s base in Colombia and Casey’s impossible (but extremely cool) feat of shooting Morgan’s attackers in the conference room using the video feed from Morgan’s glasses. It had geektastic pop-culture references like the aforementioned “Imperial March” accompaniment and Chuck’s Star Wars-esque approach to getting Mary out of imprisonment, as well as another Terminator shout-out with Mary doing pull-ups with her up-ended bed (was wondering when/if we’d see that). It had touching moments like Casey admitting that he had promised Alex that he’d keep Morgan safe, Mary’s toast praising Sarah and thanking her for “taking care of [her] Chuck,” and Jeff showing his true colors as a hopeless romantic with his version of Chuck and Sarah’s montage video (Ellie kissing Jeff…whodathunkit?). And last but not least, it had a gut-wrenching dramatic moment in the form of Vivian striking at Chuck with cold-hearted viciousness by triggering the second Norseman device and leaving Sarah hanging on to life by a thread in Chuck’s arms. (Yes, I know that Schwartz and Fedak would never actually kill Sarah off, but that’s beside the point: the scene was brutally effective and well-executed.)
Now, many fans have been critical of Vivian’s development as a villain, saying that it felt too rushed, or that her motivation for going after Chuck and his team and family didn’t make sense. I’ll admit, I believe that her “fall to the dark side” would have been better if it had been fleshed out in more detail over several episodes, but I’d like to offer some perspective on how I now see Vivian in comparison to Chuck. When Vivian was first introduced to us in “Chuck vs. the Masquerade” as Volkoff’s daughter and a possible (now confirmed) villain, parallels were drawn many times between her and Chuck, both in the episode itself and by people who reviewed and discussed it. It has been said that she was much like Chuck had been at the start of the series: young and intelligent, but unfocused and with no clear idea of what she wanted to do with her life. When I first heard and read those comparisons, I was able to see the similarities between Chuck and Vivian, but they only felt superficial to me at first. Having seen this episode–and after considering something that struck home with me about Chuck several weeks ago, I see a parallel involving Vivian that in a way makes her a very good example of a “dark side” version of Chuck.
What struck me about Chuck a few weeks back was how unlikely a hero he is in terms of his temperament and outlook on life at the start of the series. Let’s review the facts. Mary abandoned the family when Chuck and Ellie were both young children. Stephen was emotionally distant towards his children after Mary left, and then abandoned Chuck and Ellie himself as soon as Ellie was old enough to be Chuck’s legal guardian. Chuck worked hard to get into Stanford and succeed as a scholarship student, and then was framed by Bryce for cheating and subsequently expelled, and also found out that Jill had (apparently) cheated on him with the very same man who had framed him. Chuck then was forced to go through the humiliation of working as a computer technician at a retail store while living with his sister and her boyfriend, both of whom were successful doctors. Then, to top it all off, the first woman who had shown him any measure of interest for years turned out to–as far as he, or even she, knew at the time–only be doing it because she had been tasked by the CIA to retrieve information that had come into his possession. When you look objectively at all these things that had happened to Chuck up to and including the events of the Pilot, it’s very easy to imagine how someone who faced those experiences could have become a very bitter and angry individual, and could have even been spiteful enough to turn traitor. Chuck didn’t turn out that way for a very simple reason: he had solid sources of emotional support in Ellie and Morgan over the years, and had received love and guidance from Mary and Stephen for at least the first nine years of his life.
Now, let’s look objectively at Vivian’s situation. If you figure that Chuck and Vivian are roughly the same age, and that the Agent X Intersect project imprinted the Alexei Volkoff identity onto Hartley Winterbottom’s mind when Vivian was an infant or before she had even been born, then Vivian lived her entire life being raised by nannies on the Volkoff estate and being shuffled off to boarding schools and universities. In short, she was raised without any of the close, meaningful emotional support that Chuck was blessed with. Then, a man she trusted goes back on a promise to help her meet her father & come to terms with him; she realizes that her father had been coldly grooming her and manipulating her to be his successor for years; and she concludes that her entire life situation has been caused by the very parents of the man whom she sees as a betrayer. I’m not trying to make excuses for Vivian’s actions, but given that kind of life path, it makes perfect sense that she would turn out to be angry and vengeful, and would want to make Chuck suffer in the same way that she has.
In conclusion, I think this was a very enjoyable episode, and I think this has been a very enjoyable and fun season.
Let’s enjoy next week’s season finale, and whatever decision NBC makes about Chuck‘s future, we have helped this show last longer than many people thought it would, and we will always have these four seasons to enjoy!
Long Live Team Bartowski! Long Live Chuck!!! 😀