Saturday, 19 November 2011

CHUCK, 5.4 – "Chuck Versus The Business Trip"

Saturday, 19 November 2011

I love unexpected surprises. This was probably one of the best episodes Chuck's done in years. For the first time in ages there was enough story, twists, jokes, action and character moments to completely fill 43-minutes. It gave me a warm feeling I haven't felt from the show in a very long time, and intriguingly it occurred in an episode where there was no Intersect to provide some easy thrills. It was just the characters, on a mission that played fair and entertained, ably assisted by subplots that didn't detract, bore or frustrate.

This week, Morgan (Joshua Gomez) had the Intersect removed by a visiting General Beckman (Bonita Fiedericy), as a somewhat implausible measure to prevent him being assassinated by CIA agents under orders to kill him as an unacceptable security leak. Unfortunately, the villainous Agent Decker (Richard Burgi) wasn't so easily dissuaded from orders and a hitman known as "The Viper" was still very much on the hunt. This lead to Chuck (Zachary Levi) posing as "Morgan Grimes" and attending the Buy More's annual National Salesperson of the Year event in beautiful Riverdale, with Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) along to try and lure The Viper out into the open to annul the threat.

I enjoyed a great deal of this episode. Chuck and Sarah enjoying themselves at the Buy More event (where it seems the rest of the company's employees aren't anything like the moronic Burbank branch) was entertaining to me, although the show's definitely covered the idea of two spies exploring a "normal life" before now. But it made sense to me that Sarah would be so taken with making a friend in Buy More employee Jane (Catherine Dent), seeing as the show always has to quickly invents friends and bridesmaids for Sarah because she's socially disadvantaged. It would also have been very easy for the show to give us a whole party full of Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay) freaks, but I thought it was more interesting to go the opposite way.

Speaking of the Buy Morons, I'm relieved the show hasn't ignored the events of last week with Jeff—who's now cleared his head of carbon monoxide fumes and is a sensible bookworm that Lester can't tempt into fooling around at work. He even gave Devon (Ryan McPartlin) some intuitive advice about letting Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) return to a full-time role as Clara's mother and ease off being a house-husband. There was even some comedy that worked very well, with Casey (Adam Baldwin) giving Morgan bad advice about repopulating his memory gaps (like beginning a Star Wars marathon with The Phantom Menace) to teach him a lesson over dumping his daughter, before eventually coming around and giving him the Indiana Jones saga (minus the Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull).

It's fair to criticize the central mystery of The Viper's identity (which boiled down to two guest stars), but I've seen Chuck do a far worse job with similar setups. And while it's impossible to feel anxious about anyone's safety on this show because Chuck just isn't going to kill one of its four leads, or even severely injure anyone too permanently, I've come to accept that as one of the show's quirks. I'd love Chuck to be a show where the week's villains may actually succeed in killing someone, but such moments are understandably reserved for special occasions (like the memorable murder of Chuck's dad). But I've made my peace with this, because Chuck's in the mould of '80s TV shows where the heroes were likewise protected from harm.

Second of Strahotness: eyes ahead, Chuck!
But even if you didn't enjoy what "Chuck Versus The Business Trip" was doing for the majority of the episode, I can't see anyone disliking the final ten minutes. It's here that Decker gave the order for the exposed Viper to continue going after the team (with the exception of Chuck and Sarah), before she was ruthlessly and unexpectedly assassinated by Casey, together with all her accomplices. After an episode spent musing on how the bad guys rarely pose a genuine threat to the good guys, it was as if writer Kristin Newman wanted to prove that Chuck could still have a certain amount of grit. The last act's dinner party scene was also great, with practically every character laughing and joking at a relaxed social occasion, with half the group keeping secrets (Sarah knowing she sent Casey to kill people, Casey knowing the deed was done, Devon giving up his paternity leave to please his wife, lovebirds Morgan and Alex on their recent split)

So now Casey's been arrested by Decker's men for murder, and I don't see how they'll get out of that tight spot. He really did murder a handful of CIA agents, and I'm guessing there's evidence for that. Are we headed towards a murder trial? Will Casey be forced on the run at some point? I'm guessing they'll have to prove that Decker and The Viper are rogue government agents somehow, to receive a pardon?

Overall, "... Versus The Business Trip" felt more like an old-school episode of Chuck to me. It had some faults and problems, but much of that's down to the fact Chuck's been around so long we can predict most of its moves, or remember instances when the show did something similar in a better way. I'm just glad this episode appears to have really punched season 5 up a gear, now that Carmichael Industries has no Intersect to rely on, and one of their team's just been arrested for murder. Decker is also going to be a tough season villain to beat, seeing as he's a "good guy" and is in many ways untouchable.

written by Kristin Newman / directed by Allan Kroeker / 18 November 2011 / NBC