Chuck, Ep. 5.04, “Chuck Versus the Business Trip” is a step in the right direction
During its first three weeks, Chuck’s fifth season relegated many of its supporting characters to the sidelines. It also struggled with resolving the uneven story line of Morgan as the Intersect. Both of those issues disappear quickly in the fourth episode, which moves closer to a return to form. Last week’s cliffhanger had Morgan walking out to his car, unaware of the car bomb waiting for him. There was little tension, especially since NBC ruined the resolution in their previews. During this week’s opener, it is entertaining to watch Morgan perform one of the slowest walks ever to ensure Chuck could save him in time. Following this close call, he’s ready to get rid of the Intersect, and General Beckman is more than happy to oblige.
The Intersect’s removal is surprisingly easy (bring out the magic sunglasses!) and likely will receive a nonchalant shrug from many fans. It’s not a complete retcon, however, and still affects the team during this episode. Chuck poses as Morgan and joins Sarah at a Buy More Sales convention to draw out the last assassin (the Viper) still targeting his buddy. Their plan seems unwise, especially since the Viper has never failed a mission. Even with Sarah at his side, Chuck isn’t actually the world’s greatest spy. The Intersect is out of the picture, and a lie detector test on their fingers is clever but fallible. He seems to be way too vulnerable, even among the party animals of the Buy More. This group includes David Koechner (The Office’s Todd Packer) in his typical drunken role and The Shield’s Catherine Dent as Jane, a friendly face for Sarah. There are some twists about the Viper’s identity, but it seems pretty obvious from the start. After hearing many references to “he” when talking about the assassin, it’s clear that Jane is the only possibility.
Although its premise is fairly standard, this episode marks an improvement because it involves the entire main cast. The supporting appearances aren’t so forced and provide a fairly organic way to involve the whole group. One reason is bringing the assassination plot to the Buy More, so Lester’s failed attempts to bring back the old Jeff affect the A Plot. Even the quick moment of Sarah’s bewildered expression to Lester’s chicanery works because it flows naturally from the story. Awesome, Ellie, and Alex all receive more than cameos, which gives the leads a much-needed break from carrying too much weight. Jeff’s change to a straight-arrow guy is pretty obvious but works since it’s a small part of the story. Also, Scott Krinsky is having fun changing up the goofball persona he’s been honing for four years. Completely splitting the Buy More and spy stories is rarely wise because it makes the side plots feel unnecessary.
“Chuck Versus the Business Trip” is a step in the right direction but has some missteps that keep it from completely resurrecting the series. First of all, Morgan interrupts the Intersect’s removal to give Chuck and Sarah a chance to toss deadly throwing stars at him. This sounds like a fun scene, but it goes on for way too long and has more ridiculous stunt doubling for Joshua Gomez. Even in a lighter show like Chuck, the logical brain wonders if a CIA General would allow this type of dangerous exercise. Another issue remains Ellie and Awesome, who are refreshing but don’t really serve a purpose in the main story. His baby yoga class is a silly moment, yet watching their struggles to balance work and baby care feels out of place. It’s largely designed to give Jeff the chance to showcase his newly acquired skills of perception. Hopefully, future stories will give Ellie and Awesome more to do in the spy stories. Their screen time was the step in the right direction but should go further down this path.
The highlights occur near the end, where the twists pile up and actually deliver some surprises. The best scene reminds us why Casey is such a great character. When the Viper and her cohorts threaten him and his friends, Casey doesn’t hesitate and takes them out. This brutal, no-nonsense efficiency provides a reminder that he’s more than just a comic grumbler. Casey is definitely in the “shoot first, and ask questions later” camp, despite any future consequences. He spends much of the episode messing with Morgan’s inability to remember movies, so it’s refreshing to see Casey actually taking action as a spy. Another surprise from his action was the removal of another possible recurring enemy in the Viper. This show still really needs a Big Bad, and having Decker show up on a TV screen each week isn’t enough.
Nearly a third into its final season, Chuck is showing promise but still needs a few more tweaks. This week’s story was more fun and didn’t try too hard to offer convincing spy drama, which is the right move. The concern about the overall direction remains, but losing the Intersect from Morgan is a relief. It was an interesting attempt to change up the formula, but the result was more awkward than clever. Heading into the season’s middle act, shedding this story will hopefully lead to a fresh new direction to keep Chuck from hobbling to the finish line.