Chuck, Ep. 5.07, “Chuck Versus the Santa Suit” brings the holiday cheer

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Chuck Review, Season 5, Episode 7, “Chuck Versus the Santa Suit”
Written by Amanda Shuman
Directed by Peter Lauer
Airs Fridays at 8pm (ET) on NBC

It’s rare to see brand-new episodes from the networks during the week before Christmas, especially only two days before the big event. Given Chuck’s weak ratings since its move to Fridays, NBC appears to be plowing through the remaining episodes as quickly as possible. The benefit for fans is the chance to watch fresh content during a pretty dead zone for television. This week’s theme also centers on Christmas, so it makes sense to air the story right before the holiday. It’s a great time to catch up with a show that’s starting to find its legs again during its final run.

Coming on the heels of the first great episode of the season, “Chuck Versus the Santa Suit” arrives with high expectations. There’s the promise of finally revealing the architect behind all the villainous plans, which is long overdue. This person’s identity is quickly revealed, and the fact that it’s Daniel Shaw (Brandon Routh) raises the personal stakes to a surprising level. Routh can be a stiff actor, and he struggled to find the right tone during his early appearances back in the third season. Returning as a villain, he’s actually very convincing and one of Chuck’s few capable opponents. Shaw’s connection to Sarah (who unwittingly murdered his wife) adds depth to his venom towards her, which goes well beyond just the typical malice.

This week, the Omen Virus is causing problems at the Buy More since it’s basically killed the Internet. Heading to a local superstore seems like a strange response to this problem, but the customers have decided the Nerd Herd is to blame. Meanwhile, Shaw uses the Omen to escape from prison and enact his daring plan. With the Intersect in his head, he’s basically unstoppable. After capturing Sarah in Castle, he uses this leverage to force Chuck to steal a CIA device. This seems to happen a lot. Thankfully, General Beckman is around to help him, which gives the team a fighting chance against Shaw.

Once again, all the main characters play a role in saving the day, which leads to another strong episode. Even Jeff and Lester get a chance to unwittingly help by thwarting the Omen Virus. Ellie also plays a pivotal role in fighting Shaw, and her involvement is never a bad thing. The key factor that makes the story work is the stakes, which feel much higher than the typical mission. Shaw’s history with the entire team brings a familiarity that keeps the fights unpredictable. Since Chuck doesn’t have the Intersect, he’s at a major disadvantage but takes a shot anyway. All three main characters face serious jeopardy, and the battle scenes avoid the typical cartoon violence that can bring down the show’s intensity. It’s the right episode to appear in the final season because it uses their history to add depth to the present-day conflict.

Although it has serious drama, this story never feels too heavy because it contains great comedy. Chuck uses the “Santa Suit” from the title at a ridiculous CIA Christmas party along with Beckman. Zachary Levi and Bonita Friedericy have wonderful chemistry and rarely get the chance to work together in this fashion. Watching them bumble their way into a secure government office is one of the silliest moments of the season. There’s also a great cameo from Stan Lee as himself that’s another fun surprise. These scenes reveal a comic originality that was missing from the overly familiar earlier shows. The last two episodes have raised hopes that the finale might actually live up to expectations.

“Chuck Versus the Santa Suit” maintains just the right balance between the silliness and the drama, which makes it a gripping episode. The one downside is the quick resolution to Shaw’s arc and yet another restart in a different direction. The final scenes introduce revelations out of left field that could provide an interesting story but raise some warning bells. Sarah’s past is largely unexplored, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Uncovering a surprise twist could deliver convincing drama, but it also feels unnecessary at this late stage. This concern might be totally unfounded once the secrets are revealed, yet it leaves a strange feeling after such a powerful story. Regardless, this highly entertaining episode is great to see at this late stage and an excellent gift for the holiday season.

Dan Heaton

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