Chuck’s Triumphant Return: An Advance Review of Season 5

Here we are, at the cusp of the final season of Chuck, in varying degrees of anticipation, excitement, nostalgia, and sadness. It’s an odd time to be a Chuck fan; on the one hand, we can’t wait to see our old friends again, but on the other hand we know that every episode takes us one step closer to the end. But here’s the thing: I’ve seen the first three episodes, and you know what? I am excited!Before I get to the review, let me impart a minor SPOILER WARNING. I’m mostly giving you my impression of the three episodes, particularly the season premiere, but inevitably there will be a few minor spoilers. If you’ve read any of our other coverage or seen the promos running on NBC, you should be safe, but if you’re trying to stay totally spoiler-free, then here’s the gist: Chuck is back and it’s gonna be gooooood.

(Don’t worry, spoiler fans, treats will be coming your way over the next three weeks.)

A couple of things stand out after watching the first three episodes. First, it feels like everyone involved is enjoying themselves. Like, they’re really happy to have the chance to come back and finish the story on their own terms. It’s a difficult impression to illustrate in print, but I think you’ll agree after watching.

Second, this season feels like more of an ensemble show than ever before. It’s still mostly about Chuck, and Zachary Levi has some new depths to mine as Chuck adjusts to life post-Intersect, but we’re seeing the impact of knowing him as other characters interact. Sarah and Morgan have a several scenes together in the first episode, and two of them in particular are comedy gold. As Chuck’s significant other and best friend, respectively, they’ve reached a level of comfort and familiarity with each other that could not have happened until now. Casey and Sarah’s friendship has also improved dramatically compared to even two seasons ago, and we get to see it! Now that Sarah is married, happy, and feeling secure, there’s an openness about her that is a delight to see. Yvonne Strahovski has been able to do so much with just a look from Sarah all this time, that now to see her able to communicate freely, to stand up for what she wants and who she loves, and to just have fun is almost an embarrassment of riches.

The supporting players – Ellie, Awesome, Jeff, Lester, Big Mike, Alex, and Beckman – are all present and accounted for, although not in every episode, with some potentially expanded roles for at least two of the characters. I was pleased to see that production was able to work around Sarah Lancaster’s maternity leave and include a lovely scene between Ellie and Chuck in the premiere. He needed an Ellie speech, and the viewers did, too.

In “Chuck vs. the Zoom”, written by Chris Fedak & Nicholas Wootton and directed by Robert Duncan McNeill (the same team from the season 4 finale), it’s a whole new world. Mr. and Mrs. Bartowski are glowing newlyweds, with “honeys” and “sweethearts” peppering their conversations and frequent references to their marital state. It’s cute, it’s endearing, and fortunately it tapers off by episode 3 so we don’t go into a sugar coma. Carmichael Industries is getting off the ground, and the start up costs for an independent espionage firm have certain team members concerned about cash flow. Turns out, you can spend nearly a billion dollars pretty easily in that line of work. Still, Chuck has big plans to create the perfect life. He has the woman of his dreams, they’re building the company of their dreams, and now he’s looking for the house of her dreams. At the same time, he’s struggling with no longer being the Intersect.

After years of trying to remove the Intersect, then embracing it and trying to harness its full potential, Chuck feels a bit at sea now that it’s gone. Well, not completely gone – it’s in Morgan’s brain. Watching Chuck try to handle Morgan, I couldn’t help but think about the parents whose teenager gives them heartburn while the grandparents smile smugly and say, “Karma!” Think back to when Chuck was first figuring out what the Intersect could do, and was so excited about going on missions. Then remember how excited Morgan was when he found out his best friend was a spy. Are you getting the picture? An Intersected Morgan is a gleeful Morgan. But he’s still  Morgan, as we find out immediately in the premiere’s cold open. As eager as he is to be a super spy, Morgan’s storyline takes an unexpected turn in the next episode, “Chuck vs. the Bearded Bandit.”

Written by Lauren LeFranc & Rafe Judkins and directed by Patrick Norris, the second episode feels a little disjointed in the first half. After such an excellent premiere, and written by LeJudkins, I was expecting another homerun, so I was surprised to realize about halfway through that I was more bemused than anything. Maybe I was just distracted by the Halloween decorations, subtle though they are, now that NBC bumped the season premiere back a week so this episode will air after Halloween instead of before. That bemusement soon turned to appreciation, however, when certain clues began to add up to a cliffhanger that left my jaw on the floor. Joshua Gomez has been turning in solid performances for the last four years, but as the Intersect portion of Carmichael Industries, he’s given a chance to really show us what he can do. Color me impressed.

That cliffhanger requires a strong follow up episode, and “Chuck vs. the Frosted Tips” is more than up for the challenge. Written by Phil Klemmer and directed by Paul Marks, the third episode of the season is a knockout with strong performances and an unexpected moment that feels much bigger than it looks. Captain Awesome begins paternity leave with Baby Clara and, well, it’s not quite as exciting as he expected, which leads to him to the Buy More. Casey fans will be delighted with his storyline as Carrie-Anne Moss makes a case for a ranking among the best guest stars this show has ever had, and not just for giving Adam Baldwin the perfect sparring partner. Gertrude Verbanski ends up with a finger in almost every storyline by the time this episode is over, and it’s done so organically, so seamlessly, my only wish is that she’d joined the story sooner.

Speaking of recurring guest stars, we haven’t seen the last of Decker, not by a long shot. The conspiracy bombshell from last season’s finale is a driving story this season, although the writers are ramping it up slowly, serving up a just a few clues at a time. By the end of this set of episodes, I have theories but little actual evidence to back them up. Yet.

Our Chuck is back, and he’s kicking off his final chapter with all the action, humor, romance, and joyfulness that define the series. Closer to the finale, I’ll probably be getting emotional, but for now, I’m celebrating the opportunity to spend (at least) 13 more episodes with Team Bartowski.

Chuck season 5 premieres Friday, October 28 at 8/7c on NBC.

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  1. Thanks for sharing Mel reads like the start of S4 with exception 5.03 sounds better than 4.03 performed. Do you feel last seasons new writers have a better understanding characters were grown fond of.

  2. Thanks for the reviews ! i expected for the show to take a little focus from Zach Levi (Chuck) and its nice to see a confirmation
    I am very happy Sarah and Morgan are having many scenes together, they are very entertaining and i think its obvious for everyone that at this time Yvonne Strahovski and Joshua Gomez have the best chemistry together
    SO EXCITED FOR SEASON 5 ! i am very happy for Joshua Gomez after four years of playing a supportive character he gets the chance to shine and i am sure he is going to deliver strong performances

  3. Awesome review. I can’t wait!

  4. mel,i love the way you put at least in brackets as im a person who is still living in hope 🙂

  5. “At least”, huh?

    So, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that as Aardvark suggests here:, USA wanted to come along after the finale, and pick up the series.

    What practical obstacles would they find themselves with?

    • My ‘at least’ is in reference to NBC’s option to pick up additional episodes for this season. USA Network develops their own original series for first run episodes; they will not pick up Chuck unless it’s to air reruns.

  6. ya,mel,i was refering to what you said,additional episodes for this from ireland,and i only became a fan towards the end of the usa airing of season 3,as i had just gotten a recordable sky digital box/dvr,and i wanted to record the programs that i wouldnt normally have time to see,because im in school,anyway,i decided to record chuck which aired every day on virgin media channel.i remember that the first ever episode that i watched was season 2,s the seduction .i loved it,but wasnt obsessed til around the predator.then once season 2 ended i wanted more,so i got season 1 on dvd,and watched every season 3 episode in a week just in time for the season 3 finale.wowww.its a fantastic show and certainly deserves to reach 100 episdoes more then many shows that have even reached 200th.this is in my opinion anyway

  7. So bummed about this being the last season.. pushing Joshua Gomez forward can make a difference and extend the show.
    with a new and exciting duo Josh (Morgan) and Yvonne (Sarah) they can capture the critics attention again and regain the fresh,good chemistry feeling
    I hope the new and improved show dynamic can get better ratings and NBC will give Chuck an episode extension

  8. To be honest, I’m a bit worried about intersect Morgan. I’m excited about Carmichael Industries and seeing them venture out on their own. But having a Morgan intersect when Chuck has been the focal point for 4 seasons as the intersect is going to be hard to digest. I noticed Mel used the words bemused and bemusement in describing Morgan in episode 2. This suggests utter confusion with the episode and I don’t like where that is going unless it was just the wrong choice of words.

    I’m staying positive but wished I’d avoided this first three eps summary in order to reserve judgment until the episodes start airing next week.

    • It wasn’t Morgan in particular I was referring to, gqdaddy, it was the episode as a whole. Bemused also means “to cause to have feelings of wry or tolerant amusement”, which is more in line with my feelings. And as I said above, by the end of episode 2, it all comes together. Also, did you miss the part where I said this more of an ensemble show this season? Morgan has more to do, but so do the rest of Carmichael Industries.

  9. I like hearing about how the Decker conspiracy plot is going to be central in this season. I’m not sure how much this is treading in the waters of spoilers, but would you say Decker/the CIA are the “big bads” of this season (like Fulcrum/Ring/Volkoff)?

    • Like I said above, I have theories but nothing to back them up with yet. I’ll be interested to hear what you all think after each episode airs.

  10. Thanks for such a great piece, Mel! Friday can’t get here fast enough! 🙂

  11. i cant freakin wait! bring it on 😀

  12. All three episodes sound AWESOME so far. The premiere is the day after my 15th birthday and I couldn’t imagine a better present. Mel, you just made the week before my birthday AWESOME! Thanks for posting that because now I’m all excited and stuff!

  13. Normally i can’t stand this word because of its’ over use but it seems the only apt description of Chuck: EPIC!!! Thankyou mel for you review. You’ve got me even more excited for the season premiere.

  14. 7 days till C-day and counting

  15. I don’t mind a sugar fact I’d be more than ok with it 🙂
    Great review, can’t wait for Chuck to start!
    Thank You..

  16. MEL like the song:

    You are simply the best.

  17. Wel, I am excited to see what happens.

    I do like the “at least”, as it is the first time I have heard you mention even a possibility of an extention, and if the first 3 were that good, there might just be a shot!

  18. Mel,

    I have lot’s of questions… but I’ll stick to ones that you might actually answer, lol.

    Any sign of Alex in the first 3? If not, any reference?

    • Alex is in episodes 2 & 3.

      • Okay, Thanks.

        Here is one that you’re probably not going to answer. It’s plain from other reports that Morgan having the intersect affects his personallity. Does that affect the Morgan/Alex dynamic?

        Hey, I tried. 🙂

  19. Thanks for the review. I am looking forward to seeing how the season starts. The only issue form me is the fact Morgan is being pushed into a more prominent position and I have never been able to stand the character. The more I see him the less I am interested in the story. However, I promised myself I would see how the writers deal with him and so I will. Thanks again.

    • That’s my problem too. I have no problem with Morgan when he’s more of a side character, and he has his funny moments. But I prefer him in smaller increments. He’s the goofy sidekick, not the hero. Messing with that formula, especially in the last season, annoys me to no end. I like the idea of an ensemble cast, to a point. But at the end of the day the show is called Chuck. Not Morgan. Not Sarah. Not even Chuck and Sarah. Just Chuck. I kinda like the focus to be on him.

      I just hope that come Friday I’ll be eating my words. I really want to enjoy this season but so far I’m still skeptical.

  20. I’ll start with saying that I believe at the last episode, Papa Bartowski shows up and helps the “whole family” save the day. Mark my word.

  21. What about Linda Hamilton? Will she be returning in Season 5?

  22. I just saw the first episode in season 5 and I loved it. But I really didn’ t like Morgan as the intersect and it was cheap that 99% of the time they used a stuntdouble for the fightscenes. Chuck was far better as the intersect, so I hope that he gets it back SOON! Maybe Intersect 3.0 with no flashes needed for the actionsequences.