Tonight is the night when out long, national nightmare finally comes to an end. Chuck is back for it’s fifth and final(?) season tonight at 8:00pm ET/PT on NBC. The show, with a small, but intensely devoted fanbase, has managed to propel it to a 13-episode fifth season, a fact that would have been roundly derided and laughed at had someone propsed such a thing during the first couple seasons. Nonetheless, we Chucksters have thirteen more hours to enjoy the exploits of our favorite accidental spy and his coterie of spies, villains, and wonderfully cheesy musician sidekicks.
When we last left Chuck, our hero married Sarah, Volkoff was defeated, Vivian Volkoff gave Chuck all of Volkoff Industries’ holdings, Chuck & Sarah bought the Buy More and Castle to start their own private espionage business, Ellie and Captain Awesome knew Chuck was a spy, and….there was something else…….oh yeah, Morgan is the Intersect! It is against this backdrop and major changes to the series that the show returns in “Chuck vs the Zoom.” Do these changes pay off? Unfortunately, not in this episode.
“Chuck vs the Zoom” concerns Chuck’s adjustment to his new life as a private spy, a husband, but perhaps most importantly, not the Intersect. As one could imagine, this isn’t the easiest adjustment to make for Chuck who has defined his previous four years, but also, to a certain extent, his worth, by the fact that he was an ass-kicking, world-saving super spy. It is when dealing with Chuck’s feelings that the season premiere is its strongest. Where it falls short, however, is in the world Chuck now finds himself in.
After last season’s finale, I was concerned with Morgan receiving the Intersect and the show shifting from being Chuck-centric to Morgan-centric. My concerns did not lie in the execution of the storyline as Josh Gomez has been great in the series and the writers have always had a great handle on whatever craziness they have created. If this first episode of the final season is typical of what is to come this season, my concerns have now been reversed. As I described above, the episode was still, thankfully, focused on Chuck. It was in the execution of Morgan-as-Intersect that it failed. This isn’t a criticism of Josh Gomez’ performance. Not at all. He’s still as good as he always was. There is just something about the tone that seems off.
As Alan Sepinwall points out, perhaps it is a matter of the difficulty in stunt doubling for Josh Gomez as opposed to Zachary Levi, or an attempt to make sure Morgan stays “goofy” despite having Intersect skills, but most of the Morgan scenes seem like the creative team felt they had painted themselves into a corner, and are now working to quickly extricate themselves from their predicament. This feeling bleeds over into other areas as well as storylines left over from last season are quickly dealt with, and not always well.
This all sounds like I hated the episode. I did not. It is an episode of Chuck after all, and I always enjoy Chuck’s flailing (lotion hands!), Sarah in lingerie (!) and Casey’s grunting (even if it is over a denigration of Rush Limbaugh). Perhaps the creators really only have a 10-episode end-story that needs to be stretched into thirteen episodes. Perhaps, and this is the most likely, I just have too high expectations for one of my favorite shows that every one of its final episodes will be in the series’ pantheon of great episodes. I haven’t seen the next two episodes yet, but Sepinwall assures his readers that all is right with the Chuck universe come episode three. I sincerely hope so, because I want this show to go out on a high note. Chuck Bartowski deserves nothing less.
Grade for this episode: B-