Chuck, Ep. 5.02, “Chuck Versus the Bearded Bandit”: A surprising turn nearly saves a weak episode

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Chuck Ep. 5.02, “Chuck Versus the Bearded Bandit”
Written by Lauren LeFranc and Rafe Judkins
Directed by Patrick Norris
Airs Fridays at 8pm (ET) on NBC

Over the past few seasons of Chuck, key revelations have clarified that Chuck Bartowski was more than just the guy who accidentally received the Intersect. His brain has the unique ability to handle the tremendous volume of information and special skills injected by the device. Chuck’s personality also remains intact, which keeps him from becoming too power-hungry. In last season’s “Chuck Versus the A-Team,” top CIA stars couldn’t handle this power with the same even-handed approach. Now that Morgan inadvertently has the Intersect in his head, will he face similar problems as those agents? The premiere mostly played his new role for laughs, but its follow-up shows that life isn’t so rosy for the lovable sidekick.

The majority of “Chuck Versus the Bearded Bandit” is light-hearted and surprisingly uninteresting, despite a few laughs here and there. The show’s heart usually balances out the silliness to deliver the fun while keeping us engaged with the characters. This season’s early episodes are risking a move towards an entertaining but more forgettable romp. Thankfully, the changes in Morgan could be the saving grace to mesh better with the comedy. The Intersect becomes a drug that only grows more addictive when he’s fighting off hordes of villains. He’s no longer the adorable geek who’s constantly referencing movies and TV shows to his friends. This new Morgan is all business and doesn’t even see the obvious connection to Raiders of the Lost Ark when he shoots down a knife-wielding baddie. He even dons a mask as the Brown Bandit to battle a convenience store robber and nearly gets killed in the process. While that moment is pretty silly, it also shows Morgan’s inability to recognize when he’s gone too far.

The main story involves Carmichael Industries’ job to save the son of Karl Sneijder (Jeff Fahey) from some ruthless kidnappers. They’re also dealing with competition from the massive rival security company of Gertrude Verbanski (Carrie Anne-Moss), a former KGB agent with ties to Casey. The story is fairly predictable and mostly just a set-up to reveal the changes in Morgan. It is great to see the excellent character actor Jeff Fahey (The Lawnmower Man, Planet Terror) ham it up with a ridiculous beard and hairpiece. He receives limited screen time but has fun with the guest role. Carrie Anne-Moss doesn’t make any references to The Matrix (yet), but she does fine as the foil to the new company. Her role at least extends to next week, where she reaches the center of the action. Maybe she can give the show’s stunt coordinators a few tips about shooting a more believable action scene. It’s not Joshua Gomez’s fault, but watching Morgan perform the aerodynamic fights is getting a bit too ridiculous.

The premiere didn’t find time for appearances from Mark Christopher Lawrence’s Big Mike and Ryan McPartlin’s Devin “Awesome” Woodcomb, so it’s refreshing to see both appearing this week. One of the funniest moments is a disco-era Buy More commercial for Beta-Max starring Big Mike with an afro surrounded by a group of ladies. Hoping to recreate the excitement of that ad, he enlists Awesome to help with a new video. The Buy More segment barely connects to the main story, but it works this time because it isn’t forced into a packed story. This episode has room for a few silly interludes, especially as it goes down a darker path with Morgan’s plight. The Buy More scenes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they remain an entertaining way to boost even the show’s mediocre episodes like this one. The next step is getting Ellie Bartowski (Sarah Lancaster) back into the main story where she belongs.

Another major story line is Chuck becoming Morgan’s handler to show him the ropes of being the Intersect. This move hearkens back to the first season, when Sarah played this role for a green Chuck. This idea doesn’t work so well this time and keeps sending the duo into unnecessary danger. Morgan saves the day but fails to see the issues with acting in such a foolhardy way. Unlike Chuck, who makes mistakes but understands the ramifications, Morgan cares little for the consequences and can’t be controlled. His approach contrasts sharply with his friend’s cautious role and threatens to split up the essential team dynamic. Casey and Sarah will only have so much patience for Morgan’s careless screw-ups going forward.

“Chuck Versus the Bearded Bandit” has some excellent moments and provides an intriguing set-up for the upcoming episodes. The “job of the week” is easily forgotten beyond the Fahey appearance, but there is great potential for the conflicts with Morgan to take off. It is unlikely that he’ll remain the Intersect for the entire season, so that storyline may wrap up by mid-season. However, it should lead to interesting drama that helps the series reach its past heights. Chuck’s characters always steal the show and are the reason that dedicated fans keep watching today. Zachary Levi, Adam Baldwin, Yvonne Strahovski, and the entire cast make the best of even the rougher material because they’re so darn likable. This episode raises questions about their ability to keep the story interesting over this final season. However, the twists near the end chart a surprising path that could pay off well during the next few episodes.

Dan Heaton

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