Boy Meets Reel: Chuck, The Ring, and Cardboard Villains

Like so many other geeks, I'm a huge fan of Chuck for its characters and its humor. As much as I enjoyed watching Season 3, I could never shake this nagging feeling that something was wrong. After this week's wrap-up of the Ring arc in "Chuck Versus The Other Guy," I realized that things didn't feel right because the villains have been limp and uninteresting the entire season.

The Director, played by Mark Sheppard (also known as "That guy with the British accent who always plays villains"), was especially disappointing after three years of buildup about the shadowy Fulcrum and Ring organizations. He might as well have been a target in a shooting gallery, since his only defining trait was a general sense of smugness and a fancy accent. Compare him to Chevy Chase's larger-than-life Ted Roark from last season and it's pretty clear what the Director lacked: motivation, history, and persistence.

At times, The Ring has been portrayed as committing villainy for villainy's sake - none of their actions, from trying to keep Costa Gravas' borders closed in "Chuck Versus the Angel de la Muerte" to their plot to destroy the CIA, have been explained at all. There's no definite drive or direction to their actions, unlike Fulcrum's drive to steal the Intersect for its secrets, or Roark's spicy cocktail of greed and overwhelming arrogance.

The Ring is also too shadowy for its own good - even though Brandon Routh's Shaw was added to the show to provide information about The Ring, you never find out what they want and why. You just have to accept at face value that every action The Ring takes is part of some bigger, more sinister plan, but nothing ever materializes that convinces you that The Ring has any real plan at all. Even when the big bad Director shows up to give The Ring a face and a voice, it's more of a personal Shaw story and a convenient resolution to the Chuck-Sarah romance than anything that ties up the loose ends of The Ring. He's there, he says "hello, I'm evil," and then an episode later, he's a convenient resolution to the Casey-as-a-civilian storyline. He's convenient to move the story along, but what he isn't is interesting.

Who knows - maybe the six-episode extension to Season 3 will clean up after the bumbling mess that was The Ring in the previous thirteen episodes (seriously, Diedrich Bader finds out who Chuck is and doesn't tell anyone before running underground and cutting off his own communications?), but it doesn't look like they'll be doing much to resolve all of my questions about The Ring over the rest of the season, with the return of Anna and Steve heralding the start of a new storyline.

All this complaining about paper villains doesn't change the fact that I love Chuck for the comedy and the characters. But I really wish that this season had spent more time building a credible and memorable villain, instead of having Director Ex Machina come out and fix the heroes' problems in one neat episode.

I know there are a lot of Chuck fans who love the latest season, so please, convince me - did the writers handle the resolution of The Ring right? Have we not seen the last of The Director, and his getting caught and beaten like a punk was just an act? I'd like to keep my faith in Chuck, and I'm tickled pink that it's been doing well, but I also worry about how long they can sustain the show if they can't build up credible opposition for our heroes.



Apr 8, 2010 7:04PM EDT

To be honest I agree with you, but I still do believe things aren't finished with the ring. It seemed a lot rushed, I expect more. Maybe even the return of Shaw's wife (I dont think Sarah's red test was just an accident). Also with the whole director been captured that easily. It seems like the story took a bad turn. Although the fact Shaw went rogue and Chuck killing him was brilliant. Chuck had to be a hero to get Sarah back, not just a spy. Awesomeness :)
mohamed (from MakTv follow @maktv on twitter)

Default avatar cat
Apr 8, 2010 7:08PM EDT

I do agree with a lot of what you're saying here. The Ring has not been managed well by the writers this season and has, as a result, fallen far short of the standard of villainy we've come to expect from Chuck. Where I disagree slightly is, I believe the weakness of The Ring as an antagonistic force is mostly due to the fact that it never really got established, even poorly. "The Ring" has just been a name dropped here and there across the season - no major players ever had named, there was rarely a multi-episode arc, and, as you say, the greater-scale nefarious plan we expect such an organization to have has never been the point where we begin to wonder whether or not there even is one.
Because there are more episodes left in the season and because I'm choosing to believe that the writers of Chuck have not completely lost their skills, I'm going to go ahead and assume that something larger will be coming. Maybe not from The Director or The Ring, but from somewhere.
Here's hoping.

Default avatar cat
Apr 8, 2010 7:10PM EDT

Oh, and great column! I forgot the compliment part of that response. Good times!

Apr 8, 2010 7:22PM EDT

Oh that reminds me too, great column. Good stuff am expecting more now!

Default avatar cat
Apr 8, 2010 8:05PM EDT

Good column! I really don't think that this schmuck was the real director. Is not the last episode of season three called 'Chuck v. The Ring p. 2' or something along those lines? I suspect that little Ex Machina with his suits and delicious accent was just a pawn, along with everyone else in the Ring we have met thus far... At least, I hope so, otherwise the Ring is nothing but a bunch of arrogant, clumsy pansies.

Default avatar cat
Apr 13, 2010 11:34PM EDT

Well put! I do agree with your comments, but I would like to advance a possible reason for why the storyline progressed as it did. Maybe the show's writers were worried about turning the show into too much of a drama by overstating the role of villains. And maybe, by understating "evilness" of The Director, they created a sort of comedic irony that could easily be missed. So, maybe there was a reason for The Director to turn out not so sinister after all that build up. It's as if Chuck's big moment is intentionally trivialized to remind us all that this show is a comedy. If villain after villain continue to turn out to be nothing more than sideshow characters, then I could see some real potential for comedic parody. It would be an interesting (and possibly hilarious) social commentary on how our secret services think of and treat terrorists. It would be nice to think of terrorists as bumbling idiots being chased down by an over-anxious and over-the-top spy agency. I hope that this is the direction the show is going. Moving the show in the direction away from slapstick (as it appears on the surface to be going) toward intelligent, thoughtful comedy would make for a better show. But, I don't see why we had to wait so many episodes for such a transformation. Thus, I share your concern that The Ring, after all that build up, was simply (and unfortunately) just a way to advance the (simplistic) romantic (side-) storyline. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what the rest of the season brings.

Default avatar cat
Apr 15, 2010 1:02PM EDT

Yes but what about the little intersect thing that Shaw gives over to the said Director... Was that recovered by Casey too? Because if not, it makes for further etching out of the plot. Just that it would get repeatative.

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