That sucked.

Let me elaborate. “Chuck Versus the Balcony” was just flat-out awful. It’s one thing for an episode to be weak; it’s quite another for an episode to dick around with its audience, throw logic out the window, and end with a twist that falls flat because of all the prior stupidity. More annoyed ranting follows after the jump.

There were some brief moments of “Balcony” that I did enjoy. I liked Lester’s subplot, where the episode mixed cultural stereotypes with reckless abandon before delivering an hilarious Jeffster! performance. The subplot also used Jeff and Lester in different roles for a change, which I welcomed. I also enjoyed the fight sequences, even though the one with the glass was a little ridiculous.

I wish that the rest of “Balcony” had been as much fun. The skeleton of a decent episode was there. I might have enjoyed an episode where Chuck tried to propose to Sarah, then went on a spy mission, then tried to propose again before being interrupted by Sarah’s arrest. What we got instead was a series of interrupted proposal attempts that interfered with the flow of the mission, making the episode seem as if it were proceeding by stops and starts.

Basing an entire episode around the notion of the perfect proposal was a terrible idea for several reasons. Firstly, at this stage in the season, a proposal is nearly meaningless. The audience has known that Chuck and Sarah want to marry each other since the ending of “Coup d’Etat,” and both of them have known the other’s desire to get married since “Phase Three.” There was no point in dragging out an event that won’t change the dynamics of the show in any way other than putting a ring on Sarah’s finger.

Moreover, the proposal plot made an absolute farce of the spy world. Chuck and Sarah are supposed to be competent agents. I don’t believe for a second that Sarah would think that a proposal “sub-mission” would be a good idea. It’s difficult to take Chuck and Sarah’s job seriously if they can be more concerned about proposal plans while they’re doing it, and this version of the spy world stands in sharp contrast to the version with which we’ve been presented for most of the series. The spy world is supposed to be a dangerous place, and one would think that Chuck would show a little more professionalism after seeing his father gunned down in front of him last season. Because the proposal plot took up so much of the episode’s time, the spy plot suffered. It felt like an afterthought. Chuck makes no effort to portray the spy world realistically, and I like it that way, but it is at least internally consistent. Usually, spies on Chuck are discreet when talking on their watches or using espionage devices. But in “Balcony,” Chuck just walked around with the signal detector, stole a glass of wine from a party attendee, and then fought a bunch of bad guys not more than a few metres away from the party. Suspension of disbelief can only go so far. Even worse, the episode’s opening and ending made the spy world seem far more serious than the rest of the episode portrayed, and these attempts at seriousness fell flat because of all the goofiness in between.

All of this would have been forgivable if the proposal plot had been funny or heartwarming, but it was too ridiculous and cloying. It played like a saccharine-sweet ode to Chuck and Sarah’s relationship, without giving me any reason to care about their romance. If the show had made some effort to explain why an engagement would change things for Chuck and Sarah, then I might have been more invested in it. But as it stands, I felt as if I were expected to care simply because it’s Chuck and Sarah, Greatest TV Couple Of All Time™. By the time Morgan was directing the engagement with his dual microphones and Casey joined in to help, the episode had piled on so much syrupy sweetness that I had gotten a toothache. (To be fair, that toothache might have resulted from me gnashing my teeth at all the stupidity in this episode.)

And then, to add insult to injury, the proposal didn’t even happen. The entire basis of “Balcony” was scuttled in a twist that, while admirable for its ambition, fell flat because of the lack of logic behind it. After Casey’s speech about the nonexistence of perfect moments, the logical thing for the show to do would have been to let Chuck and Sarah have their quiet romantic moment in the holding cell. Instead the entire point of the speech was lost in the final twist of Sarah having to leave. And really, was there no time for Chuck and Sarah to have a one-minute proposal? Then, the ending might have played like Chuck sending his fiancée off to war instead of like a stupid obstacle designed to create drama out of something meaningless in a vain attempt to tug at the audience’s heartstrings.

Now, I’ll give the writers credit for putting in a twist that could push the plot forward in an interesting way. I’ll even give them credit for foreshadowing the twist by hinting at the parallels between Sarah and Mary. But even then, the twist leaves too many open questions. Why is photo surveillance of one illicit exchange considered proof of a change in loyalties? Won’t Volkoff be able to smell a setup? Furthermore, won’t Volkoff be suspicious of a CIA agent’s girlfriend? I’d also like to know why Beckman didn’t explain to Chuck and Sarah what she was planning to do. Presumably, Chuck could have Intersected the hell out of the agents who came to arrest Sarah, and then the plan might have failed. Finally, what makes Beckman so sure that Sarah would be able to take down Volkoff swiftly? If Mary is indeed working against Volkoff and wasn’t able to do it in twenty years, it would make no sense if Sarah could do it in a couple of episodes.*

The other thing that bugs me about the twist is that Sarah is going undercover to get Chuck’s mother back, but even then, it’s too extreme. She went behind Chuck’s back to talk to Beckman about something that the series keeps telling us is important to Chuck, but keeps showing us is far less important to him than the pace of his relationship with Sarah. Chuck’s line in the restaurant scene about how he hadn’t been thinking about his relationship with Sarah felt silly, given that he had spent most of the season worrying about it. I don’t see how Sarah could make the mental jump from there to wanting to eliminate Volkoff at all costs. Taking down Volkoff is important for practical reasons – he knows too much about Team Bartowski, as explained in the previous episode – but “Balcony” emphasized the personal aspects of Sarah’s decision and suffered as a result.

It’s no exaggeration to say that “Chuck Versus the Balcony” was by far the worst episode of the entire series. A decent Buy More subplot wasn’t enough to rescue the rest of this episode from the trash heap. Perhaps this week’s twist ending will push the season onto a more interesting track, but that’s about the only positive thing that can be taken away from this awful installment of Chuck.

 

*Of course, Mary could actually be evil, which might be a fun twist.

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