Chuck, Ep. 5.08, “Chuck Versus the Baby” is a slight misstep, despite the charming moments

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Chuck Review, Season 5, Episode 8, “Chuck Versus the Baby”
Written by Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFrac
Directed by Matt Barber
Airs Fridays at 8pm (ET) on NBC

From the beginning, the relationship between Chuck Bartowski and Sarah Walker has been the driving force behind Chuck. She began as his CIA handler, they started dating, and she ultimately fell for him. Their relationship has pushed Chuck to become more confident on missions and at home. As they’ve grown closer and become a couple, Chuck and Sarah have become a stable force. It’s a positive change for their lives, but it doesn’t always lead to fascinating television. This situation has hindered Sarah during this season and pushed her to the sidelines far too often. She’s playing a necessary role in Chuck’s life but seems less essential to the ongoing story. This has nothing to do with Yvonne Stahovski’s acting; the writing is letting her down.

Thankfully, “Chuck Versus the Baby” puts Sarah on center stage and focuses on a past mission before she met Chuck. Five years ago, a dangerous outing to locate “the package” reveals that it’s actually an innocent baby girl. Her CIA handler Kieran Ryker (Tim Dekay) is not on the level, which forces Sarah to take a risky move and save the baby. In the present day, an ominous message from Daniel Shaw (Brandon Routh) sends her scrambling to make sure the girl is still safe. Worrying that any knowledge will put Chuck and the gang in danger, she tells them little and tries to face the situation alone. This might not be a wise idea, and Chuck and Casey convince her to let them lend a hand. The team heads to Budapest to contact the villainous Ryker with little knowledge of what’s ahead.

Although it’s refreshing to learn about Sarah’s past, the conflict with Ryker isn’t very interesting. She does have a bruising Kill Bill-style fight against him in a suburban home with serious destruction, but that’s a rare highlight. It’s disappointing that Sarah’s secret isn’t more intriguing, even if the baby and her older self are super cute. This is also the first appearance of Sarah’s mom Emma, who she hadn’t seen in five years. Cheryl Ladd is believable in this role, though she’s not given much to do. Hopefully she’ll get a chance to expand the character before the season finale in late January. There are interesting possibilities introduced with Emma, but there’s limited time remaining.

One of the primary issues is Ryker, who lacks even the mustache-twirling silliness of Chuck’s less memorable villains. Tim Dekay (Bizarro Jerry!) does his best with the character, but he’s forgettable and just a tool to spur Sarah’s big decision. It’s surprising to see Sarah spurn the CIA job offer after worrying just a few weeks earlier about her future role in Carmichael Industries. It makes sense in the context of this episode and the CIA’s negative effect on her past, but it still raises questions about her future. Without the Intersect or support from the government, can this company truly succeed and get the Bartowskis their dream home? Settling down into a normal life doesn’t seem like the right fit for Sarah or Chuck, so it’s curious that it’s being presented as the show’s happy ending. The show’s revealed in the past that they live for spy missions, so a quiet job seems like a weird choice if it goes that way.

While the A story isn’t amazing, there are some warm and fuzzy emotional moments from the main cast that induce chills. Morgan is trying to make up with Alex but having a tough time, and Ellie and Awesome provide just the right help for the duo. Their approach may be obvious, but Sarah Lancaster and Ryan McPartlin once again sell it. They remain Chuck’s quiet heroes and epitomize why even the lesser material is still enjoyable. The final scenes are surprisingly heart-warming for everyone and end the story on just the right note. After spending five years with these characters, seeing them connect with each other is all that’s really needed.

Where will Chuck go from here? Five episodes remain, and there’s no clear Big Bad to battle. Who is the show’s Man in Black or The First? It’s likely a major villain from an earlier season will make an appearance, but there’s no obvious choice. Shaw was a great option, but his story seems finished after last week. The ultimate fate of Carmichael Industries is still unresolved, but the CIA is always a back-up for them if this venture fails. The absence of an obvious conclusion is sort of intriguing and could lead to a strong last run, but it also reflects the lack of a clear direction during the final season. This episode gives the right closure to Morgan and Alex and develops Chuck and Sarah’s plans, yet it still feels slight this close to the end. At this point, it might be wise to keep expectations in check and just hope for an enjoyable finale.

Dan Heaton

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