After last week’s semi-misfire, Chuck returned this week with an installment that was much stronger, but that might have been undone by its final thirty seconds. I’ll offer some more thoughts about “Business Trip” after the jump.

Even as Jeff and Lester became decreasingly funny over the course of seasons 3 and 4, I’ve always been a supporter of the Buy More’s continued presence on Chuck. The way I see it, asking the show to dispense with the Buy More would be like asking Parks and Recreation to dispense with the parks department or Fringe to get rid of Walter’s lab. The Buy More is an inalienable part of the show’s identity, and as far as I’m concerned, it should remain like that.

However, the show struggled to make the Buy More relevant during season 4, as Chuck’s globetrotting adventures took him farther and farther away from its confines. That was as much the fault of season 4’s spy arc as it was the fault of the Buy More’s continued presence. The first 3 seasons of this show were about the characters’ struggle to maintain normalcy amidst the chaos of the spy world. Even though the Buy More operated on a different plane of reality, it provided the characters with an anchor – at times comforting, at times limiting, at times humbling – to a “normal” life. During season 4, however, when the tension between spy life vs. normal life all but evaporated, the Buy More became little more than a source of comic relief.

“Business Trip” brought back the idea of Chuck and Sarah wanting to find normalcy in their lives. It has been the show’s most typical source of drama, but it has also been its most reliable. It doesn’t matter if Chuck and Sarah pack up, move to the suburbs, and buy a 2500 sq. ft. house with a pristine lawn and a minivan in the driveway; as long as they continue being spies, they’ll face the tension of having to balance the danger of their jobs with their desire for an ordinary existence. So, as they headed off to a Buy More convention in an attempt to lure a vicious assassin away from Morgan, they found themselves enjoying the company of the other salespeople, letting their desire to be “normal” blind them to what their spy senses were telling them.

Let’s face it: it was deadly obvious that Catherine Dent’s character was the assassin (though I didn’t see the twist about the bartender being involved coming). But because this episode aimed to demonstrate how Chuck and Sarah were letting their wish for normalcy blind them to what should have been obvious, “Business Trip” was able to turn this weakness into a strength. The fact that this all took place at a retreat for Buy More, the store where regular world and spy world collide, was fitting.

Speaking of the Buy More, I’m glad to see Jeff continuing to be the “sane” one. Jeff’s reactions to Lester’s increasingly crazy shenanigans got a few chuckles from me, and the fact that Jeff didn’t revert to being his braindead self when Lester tried to fill the break room with car exhaust took me by surprise. Plus, I might have done a little cheer when Lester got arrested. For all the crap he’s pulled over the years, he kind of deserves it.

Meanwhile, Morgan grappled with having the Intersect out of his brain and the ripple effects his douchey behaviour had caused. He had briefly flirted with “awesomeness,” and now he was being forced back into normalcy, relieved but at the same time not wanting to embrace it fully. Mostly, however, he was concerned with repairing the damage he had done, especially to his relationship with Alex. I’m pleased to see that there were actual consequences for Morgan’s brief time with the supercomputer and that everything’s not all hunky-dory with Alex. That’s not to say that their scenes were stupidly dramatic either. *gasp* Is this show actually handling romantic relationships maturely? I think so. It remains to be seen whether the way Morgan perceives the world and his place in it will be affected and whether that arc will carry him through the rest of the season. If so, then the three-episode arc that kicked off this season will have been worth it. If not, then, well, at least we got the relative awesomeness of “Chuck Versus the Zoom,” right?

The episode ended with Chuck’s “family” – he, Sarah, Morgan, Ellie, Devon, Casey, and Alex – sitting down to have a group dinner, and it provided a nice bookend to the episode, albeit with a dark twist. While the group enjoyed the normalcy of their dinner, Casey had just come from killing the assassin who had tried to kill Morgan. Sarah and Casey’s brief glance and nod of the head were all the episode needed in order to show that even though they and Chuck could find shreds of normalcy in their lives, they would always face the danger of the spy world. That would have been the perfect, subtle, slightly unsettling way to end the episode.

But subtlety hasn’t exactly been Chuck’s game as of late, and while I appreciate that the show doesn’t play coy or mistake unnecessary thematic ambiguity for nuance, if you took a shot for every time someone said the word “normal” in this episode, you’d probably have passed out. Furthermore, this episode didn’t need Decker barging in at the last second just for the sake of a cliffhanger. We didn’t need it spelled out for us that Casey would face charges for killing the assassin and her associates. Leaving the audience in the dark about what consequences his actions could have would have been enough of a cliffhanger. Decker actually pressing charges could have easily happened in next installment’s cold open.

That aside, though, I very much enjoyed “Business Trip,” and I’m glad to see the show find its footing again after a somewhat rocky arc.

Other random thoughts:

  • Ellie and Devon had a plot of their own this week. Devon realized that paternity leave wasn’t a good fit for him, and Ellie wanted to spend more time at home with Clara. In the end, Devon went back to work, Ellie went back on maternity leave, and everything went back to NORMAL. Get it? I suppose the kind of people who complain about gender issues will be up in arms over this. Oh well…
  • That sequence of Morgan catching ninja stars was completely unnecessary and not as cool as the show wanted me to think it was.
  • Loved Sarah’s reaction to Lester fiddling with hosepipe and the exhaust of the van: “Just keep walking.”
  • When I first saw the lie detector finger pads, I groaned. But when the fact that they could be fooled became a major plot point, I was relieved. If lie detectors were 100% reliable on this show, then it would be a plot hole that they didn’t just use them all the time.
  • Speaking of plot holes, I predict a lot of people are going to think the assassin’s actions in this episode were a major plot hole, seeing as she tried to kill Chuck-as-Morgan, despite having a real picture of Morgan on hand. But it’s not a plot hole at all. If someone poses as Morgan, that person is probably trying to protect him. Eliminating that protection makes sense.
  • This week in gratuitous references to the fact that Chuck and Sarah are married: Chuck and Sarah referring to themselves as a married couple at the retreat doesn’t count, considering that Chuck was posing as Morgan. But Chuck and Sarah referring to each other as husband and wife in that final scene? Totally gratuitous. Well done, show! You’ve managed to work these gratuitous references into every episode so far this season. (Just to be clear, this doesn’t actually bug me. I’m just having fun with it.)
  • Lester’s arrest for attempted homicide foreshadowing Casey’s arrest for actual homicide: again, not as cool as the show wanted me to think it was. But still, Lester’s arrest was awesome.

Overall, a pretty good week for Chuck, and I’m eager to see where this all leads after the Thanksgiving hiatus.