Big Mike is my favourite character on Chuck.

I feel it necessary to lead off with that because I think a lot of people are going to hate this episode1 simply because so much of it took place at the Buy More. There might some valid reasons for hating this episode – which I’ll get to in a minute – but I, for one, enjoyed it.

Let’s start at the Buy More, shall we? Back in the good old days of early-to-mid season 2, shortly before Chuck reached its creative peak, the Buy More was a big part of the show. In a way, “Muuurder” was reminiscent of those days. Many of the better Buy More plots have given the audience a peek at Buy More culture, whether it be a look at the employees’ attitudes or a glance at their inter-store rivalries. But around the middle of season 3, whether driven by budgetary concerns, directorial decisions, or writing choices, the show stopped using so many extras as Buy More employees,2 turning to Jeff and Lester to drive Buy More plots instead. The unfortunate result was Jeffster overload. “Muuurder” put things back on the right track. Jeff and Lester weren’t the only ones fighting against Large Mart; all the Buy More employees, including Morgan and Big Mike, were involved to a certain degree. The plot didn’t need to be gut-bustingly funny. It was just fun to see Big Mike walking around in the most ridiculous costume ever, and it was fun to find out that Buy More’s idea of retaliating against Big Mike’s kidnapping was to steal Large Mart’s mascot. Arguably, the plot fizzled out into nothing towards the end, but Big Mike saved it. And that’s why I say that Big Mike is my favourite character; he makes things that would otherwise be lame, good. So, when Big Mike just walked back into the Buy More clad in an ugly green running suit and claimed that he left when he wanted to, I was actually happy, because Big Mike is awesome. End of story.

The rest of the episode was, as far as I can tell, a happy accident. Parodies are harder to pull off than they might appear,3 and I can’t shake the feeling that the central plot of “Muuurder” was supposed to play out in a much subtler fashion. But some very sitcommy writing4 and over-the-top acting from Karissa Vacker and James Francis Ginty pushed the episode into full-on wacky territory, which worked because the plot was a parody of the whodunit genre.5 And speaking of whodunits, I was pleased that this one was an actual mystery and not a cop-out. Props to you if you knew who the killer was right off the bat. I didn’t.6

Even if this episode did feature some colorful characters, its focus was squarely on Chuck, and that’s a good thing. I’ve complained about this ad nauseam, but trying to tell Chuck’s story through Sarah’s eyes, which is what the show did for the first half of this season, was a mistake, plain and simple.7 Now, we’re back to dealing with Chuck’s actions, and how he deals with their consequences, and I’m glad for it. What I’m not so glad about is how heavy-handed the show was with the concept of Chuck being or not being a leader. Part of that was the writing, which was a little too on the nose when it came to the subject of leadership, and part of that was Robin Givens’ performance, which reached new levels of, ahem, not very good. So I can see why people might not have been fond of “Muuurder,” but I don’t think that either of those problems sunk the episode.

As for how this episode fits into the bigger picture, I have mixed feelings. I’ve been pretty candid about how I’ve felt about the computer storyline (i.e. not very good), but if Ellie is going to get more heavily involved in the main plot of the show, then I’m all for it. The concept of Agent X has potential, whether it’s an indication that Ellie was supposed to be some sort of Intersect scientist or that she was being groomed for full-on CIA work. But the show needs to quit stalling. There are only so many ways that Chuck can show us Ellie working with a computer, and if she’s so absorbed with its contents that she’s losing track of time, then I need to know what the hell Ellie is doing. The show is dumbing itself down for its audience here, and I’d much rather Ellie spew some technical mumbo-jumbo that only computer scientists and neurologists would know is incorrect. That way, I’d at least feel that she’s doing something. But overall, I think that this storyline has potential. The show just hasn’t yet capitalized on it.

The other main storyline, the Vivian Volkoff plot line, also has potential. She’s a far more interesting adversary than her father.8 But I think the show is more likely to screw this one up, and to some extent it already has. I have a hard time believing that the CIA would just let Vivian go without surveilling her properly, giving her the opportunity to plot an attack against Chuck. Even if I accept that the CIA had its reasons for doing what it did, Vivian’s turn towards evil isn’t Chuck’s fault, but I get the sense that the show is pointing to the idea that it is. The CIA broke its promise to have Vivian visit her father, and the CIA failed to keep tabs on Vivian. Chuck isn’t guilty, and I’m not going to be pleased if everyone blames him and he just accepts it. If anything, Chuck and the rest of Team Bartowski should be pissed off at the CIA for screwing up.

But future concerns aside, I think that there might be a good story to tell here. Now we just have to hope that Chuck tells it.

1 I’ve been away from the Internet for a couple of days and haven’t actually read anyone’s reactions yet, so I might be way off base here.

2 No one should have to go so many weeks without seeing Skip Johnson’s awesome hairdo.

3 Just look at Community, a show that can’t figure out the difference between parody and satire.

4 Really? A woman who’s all weepy because her boyfriend knocked her up and dumped her? Come on, Chuck. *pops in old Friends DVDs to figure out what episode that was stolen from*

5 If you’ve ever read any old mystery novels, you’ll know that the suspects are often defined by weird quirks. Yes, sometimes there is a “British guy.”

6 Then again, I’m not always the sharpest tool in the shed. I often don’t notice plot holes, for instance.

7 I’ve yet to read any satisfying explanation for it. Sorry, “Sarah didn’t have a lot to do last season” doesn’t cut it. Two wrongs don’t make a right, or more precisely, you can’t correct a small wrong with a massive one.

8 Being driven by revenge is far more interesting than being driven by a desire to eradicate the memory of the husband of the woman for whom you lust.