Maybe the secret to great Chuck episodes is bringing back a character’s old team. The last time Chuck was this much fun was ten episodes ago, in “Chuck Versus the Couch Lock.” But “Cat Squad” wasn’t a “Couch Lock” redo. Whereas “Couch Lock” was more about family, “Cat Squad” was more about friends.

“Cat Squad” focused on Sarah’s old team, a group of Charlie’s-Angels-esque spies, comprised of: tough-as-nails Zondra; ditsy Amy; fan favourite Carina; and of course, Sarah herself. Back in the day, they were a pretty tight-knit bunch, but suspicion of treachery broke the team apart. Zondra and Sarah suspected each other of being the mole, and their friendship disintegrated.

Given that this episode unfolded against the backdrop of a storyline focused on Sarah’s past, the outcome was predictable. Of course Carina wasn’t the mole; we already know she’s one of Sarah’s friends. Of course Zondra didn’t do it; there needed to be a reconciliation between her and Sarah. So that left Amy, and it was obvious that her cutesiness was just an act. (I loved her line about “wearing stupid, sexed-up costumes to fight world crime.”1) But I didn’t really care how predictable the plot was. In fact, any other outcome would have been subverting audience expectations for the sake of subversion, which would have ultimately been self-defeating. (Besides, who would want Sarah to befriend an airhead?)

More on the spy side of things, Chuck villains have often been nameless faces, but Lou Diamond Phillips did a great job in this episode playing the slimy Augusto Gaez. It’s kind of unfortunate that he was captured; he’d have made an excellent recurring villain. There was also a lot of action in this episode. Explosions are always a plus, and the numerous fight scenes played to one of this show’s strengths: it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch people beat the crap out of each other.

The spy plot finally gave Chuck a chance to be useful in more subtle ways than masterminding a plot to take down an evil organization, and that’s the kind of Chuck I’d like to see going forward. He had a couple of great action sequences – I particularly liked the one where he was dangling from a rope and firing his tranq guns – and he actually succeeded in taking down one of the bad guys at the end.2 He also displayed some remarkable ingenuity, using a waffle iron to break a DVD into pieces to use as throwing stars.3

I have a few nitpicks. (Yes, nitpicks, not outright criticisms. It’s pleasant to be able to nitpick rather than criticize.) Firstly, the spy plot didn’t really kick in until about a third of the way through the episode, so the episode could have felt a little slow to start. However, there was enough going on in the first third to keep my interest. Secondly, the Ellie/Sarah scenes felt a little awkward. That might be because Yvonne Strahovski is purposely playing them that way to demonstrate that Sarah has trouble with “real” friendships, or it might be because Strahovski doesn’t have a good acting rapport with Sarah Lancaster. In any case, it’s not a big deal. What’s more important is the implication of those scenes: Sarah will be sharing some secrets with Ellie that she won’t be sharing with Chuck. In principle, I’m fine with this as long as Sarah has a good reason for keeping those secrets from Chuck and it isn’t an arbitrary way of forcing an Ellie/Sarah friendship. Finally, when considered in the wider picture, I’m a little worried about what this episode could mean for the continuing storyline about Sarah’s friends and family. In the first half of the season, the writers made a (series of) major misstep(s) by having Sarah drive too much of what should have been Chuck’s storyline. I fear that they’re mirroring that here, with Chuck driving Sarah’s storyline. However, I think I should wait a few more episodes before jumping to conclusions about story trends.

Before I wrap up this review, I have a couple of random thoughts. First off, are we to assume that Mary has gone back to living off the grid or that she’s still living with Devon and Ellie? The previous episode wasn’t exactly clear on that, and we didn’t get any clarification here either. Secondly, I think that this episode dispels the myth that Chuck and Casey shouldn’t work together. Though their dynamic is no longer a significant source of humour, Casey can provide a lot of wise insights for Chuck, and if nothing else, when they work together, they move the plot along nicely.

So, altogether, this was a fun, very funny episode of Chuck. I don’t think that every episode should be a lighthearted romp like this one, and I certainly don’t want to see any more clunkers like “Coup d’Etat” and “Balcony,” but I enjoyed “Cat Squad” immensely.

Any chance we can bring back Beckman’s old team? Just kidding.

 

1 Another line I loved: Casey’s line about hunting for unicorns.

2 Weirdly enough, he still has an aversion to fighting women. As it stands, the only woman he has beaten up is his fiancée.

3 When it comes to showing how smart Chuck is supposed to be, it sure beats online gemology classes.

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