Chuck, Ep. 5.09, “Chuck Versus the Kept Man” is uneven, despite the fun character development

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Chuck Review, Season 5, Episode 9, “Chuck Versus the Kept Man”
Written by Craig DiGregorio and Phil Klemmer
Directed by Fred Toye
Airs Fridays at 8pm (ET) on NBC

Nearing the end of its final season, Chuck has focused more on solidifying its relationships than delivering a knockout conclusion. The missions and action scenes remain in place, but they’re designed to help the characters better understand their lives. Chuck and Sarah use each new conflict to fine-tune their feelings about their future as spies. After losing Alex because of the false Intersect, Morgan doesn’t give up and proves he’s worth another chance. Their reunion was more exciting than many of the over-the-top action scenes. Even the loner Casey has started dating Gertrude Verbanski (Carrie Anne-Moss), though he’s struggling to figure out whether they share a long-term connection. These bonds keep the show interesting, even when the main plots fall short.

Casey’s feelings about Verbanski are center stage during “Chuck Versus the Kept Man” as she uses inventive tactics to woo the big guy. Casey joins Chuck and Sarah to provide back-up for Verbanski’s arms deal in Miami. It seems like a dangerous mission, but she’s more interested in having fun and being romantic. This might not be the best way to woo a professional like Casey. All is not as it seems, and Verbanski’s back-up plan turns the Carmichael Industries gang into harmless decoys. That’s another strike with Casey, and it seems like their relationship is nearing its expiration date. Adam Baldwin conveys more with a grunt than many actors can say in a long monologue, and it’s on full display this week. Let’s just say that buying Casey a cashmere sweater might not be the smartest move for a long-term romance.

This episode’s first half includes multiple scenes of Verbanski seducing Casey, and while the actors are likable, these moments are pretty painful. They seem forced into the story, especially since there were similar scenes between the couple in past episodes. Meanwhile, Sarah may be pregnant, and Chuck’s inability to catch the signs (nausea, no alcohol) provides some good fun. He’s preoccupied with the Jerry Maguire-like mission statement called “Things We Feel but Do Not Share” for Carmichael Industries. Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski do a great job with the awkwardness when the test comes back negative. They’ve worked together so long that the actors can underplay the scene and still convey the right emotions. This type of moment is so common on TV that it could easily reach mind-numbing territory in lesser hands.

The possible pregnancy connects to the major theme running throughout the entire season. Is it possible for Chuck and Sarah to live as spies and have a family? Their final destination is still unclear, but combining dangerous missions with a normal home life seems impossible. The other question is whether they’d be happy apart from the excitement. This week, they’re hanging out in Miami at a fancy resort, but there’s little joy with this adventure. Casey’s also trying to balance his growing interest in Verbanski with his loyalty to Chuck and Sarah. He’s uncomfortable even taking a day off, so her offer to spend a few months in cold, wonderful Dresden is a stretch. His growing bond with Alex is also a factor, and the two share a cute moment watching Downton Abbey. When he finally calls Verbanski his girlfriend to Alex, it shows an acceptance of a different future away from the lonely spy life.

This episode’s highlight involves Jeff and Lester actually figuring out that spy work is happening inside the Buy More. They even develop the big wall of photos and connections that is needed for any serious investigation. Working with Awesome, Morgan develops a clever scheme to throw them off the scent. It nearly works, but a clear-minded Jeff is a dangerous individual. Seeing Jeffster actually look into Castle is classic and sets up wonderful comic potential for next week. Will any crazy explanations turn off their curiosity? It seems unlikely given Jeff’s surprising brilliance, so a few more darts may be required to keep them out of it. It’s easy to write off the Buy More subplots as unnecessary, but this example shows how they can help to save a clunky A plot.

There are few interesting moments in the main story, which includes conflicts with several one-note baddies. This is becoming far too common in the world of Chuck. The show’s at its best when it combines the characters’ ongoing arcs with fun battles with one-time villains. It’s a tricky balance to pull off, especially after more than 80 episodes. Although NBC’s promo department might try to say differently, I’m not sure getting Bo Derek is the right solution. Judging by the episode title “Chuck Versus the Bo”, she’s the main attraction for next week. It’s possible that it will work out perfectly, though the smart money’s on a less positive result. This week’s closing scenes with Jeff and Lester show promise and could deliver good laughs. Building on that silliness to deliver a complete success might be too large a hurdle at this point.

Dan Heaton

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