Chuck, Ep. 5.06, “Chuck Versus the Curse” feels like old times

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Chuck Review, Season 5, Episode 6, “Chuck Versus the Curse”
Written by Alex Katsnelson
Directed by Michael Schultz
Airs Fridays at 8pm (ET) on NBC

Near the end of this season’s first great episode, General Beckman asks a telling question, “It was a bit like old times, wasn’t it?” This may be true for the characters, but it’s even more telling for Chuck as a series. The previous five episodes had strong moments, but they lacked the consistent entertainment of its heyday. This week, the entire main cast is directly involved in the story, even nearly forgotten characters like Ellie and Alex. It’s a welcome return to form and doesn’t strand half the characters in unnecessary subplots. They work together to defeat a dangerous enemy in a refreshingly cohesive story from Writer Alex Katsnelson, who co-wrote “Chuck Versus the Muurder” last season. Both his writing and the directing from Michael Schultz are sharp and find the right balance between the comic and dramatic moments.

“Chuck Versus the Curse” picks up at the end of last week’s episode with Chuck and Sarah on the run from the CIA. Their only leverage is the Omen virus, a nasty device that can basically destroy the Internet. Of course, it also makes them a target for rogue agents (there are a lot of them) like Robin Cunnings, played by Rebecca Romijn. She’s a sadistic enemy skilled in the art of torture, which can’t be a good sign. Cunnings’ sights are set on Chuck, but Ellie and Awesome inadvertently get involved while celebrating a rare night away from the baby. Watching the couple bumble their way through a potentially deadly situation is one of the episode’s highlights. Ryan McPartlin and Sarah Lancaster have great chemistry and rarely get the chance to join the main stories. It’s a reminder of how entertaining both characters can be when placed in the right situation.

The episode title refers to Chuck’s belief that placing family and friends in jeopardy is in the Bartowski genes. While Sarah tries to convince him that it’s not true, there’s plenty of evidence to support his theory, especially with his mom and dad. Speaking of that topic, it’s strange that Mary Bartowski hasn’t even been mentioned during this crisis. Is Linda Hamilton unavailable? Her story line does seem played out, but a few throwaway lines would likely cover this hole. Chuck’s feelings are understandable when Ellie and Awesome are captured, and his decision could jeopardize computers everywhere. It also may finally reveal the person behind the conspiracy to take down Chuck and the gang. This figure’s identity remains a mystery, but NBC couldn’t resist spoiling it in their promos.

Although Chuck’s dealing with a difficult situation, there’s still plenty of silliness in this episode. The difference is that the comedy works within the context of the story. The Buy More characters are nowhere to be seen, and they’re not really missed. Morgan and Alex share a few touching moments at Casey’s apartment while they try to outwit a few heavies. Unlike many of the emotional scenes from this season, they underplay the connection and completely succeed. The joke of finding Chuck’s “PANTS” is obvious, yet Joshua Gomez plays it straight and sells the gag. Like McPartlin and Lancaster, Mekenna McKelvin takes Alex’s few scenes and hits them out of the park.

There are plenty of things to like with this episode, but there are still a few issues that keep it from becoming a classic. Rebecca Romijn fails to strike the right tone as the villain, despite a few good scenes. The menace is never really there, even when she brings out “The Toy” to torture Chuck. There’s still an awkward through line for the season, which still needs a more predominant arc. This story’s a step in the right direction, but it still resolves most of the conflicts a bit too neatly at the end. It seems likely this concern will remain until the series finale barring a surprise revelation in the next few weeks.

Despite these minor issues, “Chuck Versus the Curse” stands apart from the rest of the season and finds just the right tone for the spy material. Even the obvious product placement for Open Table is played for laughs (“She knows how I love the points!”) and doesn’t halt the momentum. The story moves at a rapid pace and includes plenty of enjoyable moments. It’s possible the writers have found their groove and are setting up the pieces for a great run to end the show. With seven hours remaining, there’s a much better chance for a strong finale if they can build on the success of this standout episode.

Dan Heaton

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