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.