Not a particularly festive offering this year, despite the appearance of the titular Santa suit and some elf costumes, but a wonderful follow-up to season 3's finale where Chuck (Zachary Levi) saved Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) from evil CIA spook Daniel Shaw (Brandon Routh), whom it's revealed has masterminded recent events from his jail cell. Routh's performance wasn't to everyone's taste because he has a tendency to act wooden occasionally, but he's much better playing the straight-forward bad guy. And when you stop to really think about it, Shaw's character and rich history (Sarah killed Shaw's wife when she was a rookie, he was Chuck's love-rival for awhile, he eventually murdered Chuck's father), means he's easily the show's most complex, despicable villain. I had fun with the likes of hammy Volkoff in season 4, but Shaw is less of a Bond villain pastiche, which I prefer, and his return here was handled very well.
"Chuck Versus The Santa Suit" boiled down to a high-stakes rescue mission, then, but it was incredibly enjoyable and didn't suffer from any slack or disappointing subplots. The way Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay) were involved, bribed to help decode The Omen virus, worked really well, and even Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) got a lovely moment to avenge the death of her father. It was also particularly fun to notice the many allusions to Superman II, here—with Chuck the powerless Clark Kent figure, to Shaw's powerful General Zod. Castle even become a kind of Fortress Of Solitude, after Shaw lowered the temperature to sub-zero, and Chuck ultimately defeated Shaw by tricking him into removing his own super-powers—which was very much how Superman II played out. The fact Routh once played Superman probably factored into writer Amanda Kate Shuman's thinking here, and it's great when Chuck finds way to pay homage to some "geek classics" without being so on-the-nose about it.
Overall, "... Versus The Santa Suit" was the best episode of season 5 so far, and one of the best 10 episodes of the past few years. I wanted nothing more than Chuck to rediscover itself in the final season (after a largely disappointing fourth year) and that appears to be happening. It's a little disappointing that so many of season 5's fresh changes (Morgan having the Intersect, the gang not being part of the CIA) have all been reneged on by episode 7, but hopefully that won't be too much of a problem going forward. We'll have to see what the remaining episodes bring, before we decide if returning the show to the status quo was a good idea or not. Will the Intersect be back before too long, too? Just don't make Jeff dumb again, please.
- A fun cameo from comic-book legend Stan Lee, playing himself, who's revealed to be a CIA agent. That joke reminds me of Men In Black, which likewise had celebrities as undercover agents.
- Subway. The only produce placement I can stand to bear on American shows, knowing the support they've given Chuck financially.