Chuck 5.04 “Chuck Vs. The Business Trip” Review

Chuck - Chuck Vs. The Business TripChuck season 5 zooms on its fourth entry with this week’s “Chuck Vs. The Business Trip” as Chuck goes undercover as Morgan Grimes himself to flush out a deadly CIA assassin hunting his best friend at a Buy More retreat. Definitely the strongest and funniest outing yet of Chuck season 5, “Chuck Vs. The Business Trip” will entertain, but deepen your sadness that only nine episodes remain for the plucky Carmichael Industries.

Expectation plays a funny role in the way we all perceive television, and ‘Chuck Vs. the Business Trip” provides a fine example of that. For instance, almost two years ago I found myself walking down the street listening to Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me'(come on, that’s an awesome song), and for whatever reason my brain made the connections to conjure that the song would make for a fine Jeffster performance, ably set during some kind of tropical Buy More retreat. I even tweeted at Zachary Levi as such, innocently thinking it might make for a laugh.

So you can imagine my eyebrow lifting once I learned that ‘Chuck Vs. The Business Trip was to feature Chuck and Sarah attending an island-themed Buy More retreat, and our audience long overdue for a new Jeffster performance in the wake of their recent upset. Of course none of this would come to fruition (and I certainly never saw Jeff having Lester arrested!), but it all plays into the idea of Chuck pleasantly subverting expectation. With the exception of the more familiarly toned ‘Chuck Vs. The Frosted Tips‘last week, Agent Bartowski’s ‘final’season has been hit & miss, which makes ‘The Business Trip’an all the more welcome surprise.

Chuck - Chuck Vs. The Business TripNear of every instance in which I found the story predictable took unexpected turns, which makes it all the more heartbreaking the series at large doesn’t have much life in it, even if our final Chuck episodes prove among the better. For one, it bothered me to think that by now Chuck or Sarah wouldn’t think twice about a supposedly unstoppable assassin* falling for their telegraphed vulnerability and making one measly attempt to garrote his target. Well, guess what! Mistake realized, and incorporated into the plot! I expected that Alex would come around on her feelings for Morgan by episode’s end. Nope! I even expected that the five assassins (Viper included) receiving kill orders on Casey, Morgan, Awesome, Ellie and Alex (but not Chuck or Sarah) would unfold over the next few episodes, but nope! Casey from the shadows, with a six-point kill! Brutal, unexpected, and not swept under the rug like poor Emmett Milbarge.

In typical Chuck fashion, the issue of the week lies in Chuck and Sarah’s dreams of sharing normal lives with normal friends, an especially poignant notion given the unstable foundation of Carmichael Industries (and the approaching series’end), though by the end its resolution landed far more elegantly than its trajectory. The thread weaves its way in and out of the plot somewhat awkwardly, as neither Chuck nor Sarah find organic ways to further the point made by their less than normal lives, using either casual reference or Sarah’s misplaced awkwardness developing a friend in Jane (The Shield‘s Catherine Dent). Instead of hammering the nail in the end, the resolution rather gradually slides in as the wonderfully warm (and stylistically shot*) ending scene of Chuck and Sarah realizing the relationships they’ve organically cultivated over the series, made much easier by the lack of forced spy-world secrecy. Fans of The O.C. will surely find some warm feelings resurfacing for scenes so casually sweet.

Chuck - Chuck Vs. The Business TripThe nerdier stories absolutely kill it this week as well, as removing Morgan’s Intersect leaves behind the side effect of Morgan remembering nothing about Star Wars, Indiana Jones or other pillars of his nerdy heritage. We can’t be sure how long the joke runs of Morgan having to re-learn all the greatest in sci-fi hits, but God bless the writers for playing with the concept of which Star Wars trilogy to watch first. Utterly ruining Star Wars for Morgan proved a hilariously cruel payback for Casey to inflict, made all the more funny by his sparing Morgan from ever knowing about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as a thank-you at the end. Elsewhere Jeff and Lester’s C-story (or is that a D, after Ellie and Devon?) made for a few great subtle physical comedy moments for Lester, peering through windows, or shrugging off Sarah as he hooked carbon monoxide into the Buy More break room, but otherwise still lead us on. Much like ‘Frosted Tips‘gave us a taste of the straight-edge Jeff to unfold next time, now we can look forward to Lester behind bars presumably when new Chuck episodes resume in December.

And speaking of cliffhangers, ‘The Business Trip’sure leaves us with a whopper, as the consequences of Casey’s brutal assassinations immediately bring Decker (Richard Burgi) and the CIA to arrest the former agent for non-licensed murders. It feels as if Chuck has increasingly come to rely on these cliffhanger lead-ins, but with such a limited run of episodes I’ve come to prefer that we avoid any episodes feeling too self-contained.

For me, ‘Chuck Vs. The Business Trip” has become the episode to beat for season 5, which continually seems to upswing. I like nothing more than to be surprised, and the writers’continued willingness to think on their feet sweeps me off of mine.

And Another Thing…

  • Obviously we were thrown a few red herrings as to the identity of The Viper, but for at least ten minutes I ran with the theory that the telling shot of Chuck and Sarah bookending their five new Buy More friends by the pool visually suggested that ALL five could be the assassins, team members V-I-P-E-R. Instead, they went with David Koechner as a Furry. And that’s fine too.
  • I’m going to miss Morgan having the Intersect. It may not have worked as well on a thematic level, but the ‘one last time’ninja star deflections reminded me that Morgan was much more willing to have fun with such a powerful tool. Now that neither Chuck nor Morgan has it, do you think it will play into the rest of the series at all?
  • Seriously, does NO ONE ELSE live in that block of apartments, that a baby yoga class can commandeer the entire courtyard?!
  • Awhile back, Michael Ausiello of TVLine tweeted a blind item that a lead character would die before the end of his/her series’finale episode, Chuck being one of the contenders. My mind first went to Casey, but was anyone else unnerved by The Viper’s kill list projecting the word ‘TERMINATED’onto only Morgan’s face?
  • A few months back I spoke with Robot Chicken co-creator Matthew Senreich, who faced a similar dilemma as Morgan in choosing which Star Wars trilogy to introduce his children to first, adding an extra laugh to the situation.
  • Aww, no Yvonne Strahovski in a wet Nerd Herd uniform shot?
  • As much fun as I found the sci-fi fingertip devices that served as lie detectors, I couldn’t help finding fault with some of the logic and questions that granted people a “pass.” After all, most people passed by validating very abstract statements which had nothing to do with their culpability. Or am I thinking too much?
  • Was anyone else taken aback that Alex couldn’t believe Morgan’s spy stories, after all she’s seen? I wonder what Mekenna Melvin would have to say about all this…

What did YOU think?

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