What a difference a week can make. Last week, Chuck delivered one of its worst episodes ever, “Chuck Versus the Curse.” (I’d place it in the bottom 5 episodes of the series, if not the bottom 3.) This week, the show bounced back with a much stronger installment, albeit one that left me feeling apprehensive about where the show goes from here.
One of the problems Chuck has faced since the end of season 3 is creating a sense of danger. Once Chuck mastered the Intersect 2.0, there was really no way to make missions seem more dangerous, aside from creating a series of ever more formidable foes for him to face. Volkoff Industries wasn’t up to the task; it was more adept at killing its own employees than CIA agents.
So, what better way to create some danger and tension than by bringing back an old, pre-season-4 foe? “Santa Suit” brought Daniel Shaw back onto the show in all his smug, creepy, deranged glory and gave him some sort of torture fetish to boot. Now, there are narrative reasons why this may not have been such a good idea – which I’ll get to in a minute – but as a way of creating some much-needed tension? Brilliant. I haven’t been on the edge of my seat watching a Chuck episode since maybe “Chuck Versus the Gobbler,” but this one definitely got my heart racing.
It also tickled my funny bone, with Jeff and Lester providing a few good laughs. Lester’s throwaway line about fish having sex in water was particularly amusing. The Buy Morians seem to be better integrated in the show this season, and it’s paying off. If nothing else, season 5 is going to be remembered as the season where Jeff and Lester became funny again.
The highlight of the episode, though, was its climax, featuring an Intersect-less fight between Chuck and Shaw, and it was probably the most brutal, visceral fight ever featured on this show. And damn, it was good. Usually, the fight scenes on this show involve a lot of wacky, elaborate, unrealistic moves – and those kinds of fights are all well and good – but it was smart of the show to switch it up this time around, just to demonstrate how much hatred Chuck and Shaw had for each other. There was a lot of really nice stunt work here – kudos to the stunt coordinator – and it was capped off with a great moment for Ellie as she finally got her revenge on Shaw for killing her father. (Plus, she used some sort of small appliance to do it, continuing her string of knocking people out with kitchenware.) There hasn’t been a fight this good on the show since Sarah’s pit fight in “Chuck Versus Phase Three.” I think I might have even liked this one better. (Shhh…don’t tell anyone.)
All in all, this was a very strong episode of Chuck, but it did leave me with a few concerns. While I can see that the writers would want to bring Shaw back for the sake of generating tension, I’m not sure what was gained, narratively speaking, by doing so. As far as I’m concerned, his story was over when he was defeated in the season 3 finale. We didn’t learn anything new about Shaw this time around – other than that he had become even more deranged while locked up in jail for a year and a half – and we didn’t really learn anything new about our heroes.
My second concern is about where the show goes from here. The conspiracy is apparently over, and Chuck, Sarah, and Casey are back with the CIA. Great. So what the hell is the second half of the season going to be about? It will probably have something to do with the “baby” mentioned at the end of the episode, but that’s almost certainly a misdirect. I mean, who honestly believes that Sarah is secretly a mother? So, I have no clue what the show looks like going from here, and I’m not confident that it can build up a plot worthy of a series finale in just six episodes. That being said, if it all goes to shit from here, I’m perfectly content ignoring the last six episodes and considering this the series finale. I mean, Beckman kissing Chuck dressed in a Santa suit seems very season-finale-ish, no?