Maybe it was the new British James Bond-esque character, the sexy torturer villain, or just rose-colored nostalgia brought on by watching Heroes immediately afterwards, but last night's Chuck was very enjoyable indeed. Explosions! Seduction! Indecision!
Following on, weirdly, from the episode before last ("Chuck Vs. The Suburbs"), we start the episode with Chuck avoiding Sarah's calls, and Ellie offering the kind of ill-considered advice fictional characters always offer in situations like this: Dump her.
As soon as she's said it - and given the traditional "If she's not The One, then you shouldn't waste either of your times" speech - it's only a matter of time before she changes her mind (which she does, midway through the episode and on the advice of Morgan, whose judgement is as questionable as his fruitbowl-genitalia slapstick). The damage is done, though, and Chuck and Sarah faux-split-up just in time for this week's bad guy, a smooth, be-stubbled British spy called Cole Barker, to show up, turn out to be a good guy after all, do some James Bond stuff like shooting down a helicopter with a gun in each hand, and doing his best to engage in some bondage with Sarah (All in the name of being undercover and getting ratings, of course).
Cole is clearly meant to be the latest Jill or Bryce - a momentary distraction standing between Chuck and Sarah's true love - and, as such, has less of a personality than a collection of familiar quirks meant to distinguish himself from Chuck but not be interesting enough to make you want Sarah to fall for him for too long. Weirdly enough, despite the British accent and obvious shout-outs to Bond, he seemed as if he'd stepped out of an episode of Alias, especially when he was getting whipped by a Fulcrum bad girl and refusing to spill secrets. Not that Chuck had any problem revealing that he was the Intersect when faced with the possibility of pain but, in true Superman style, no-one believed that someone that puny could be the hero of the hour. Even if they had, they would have ended up dead, anyway, when Casey saved the day with a convenient SWAT team rescue at the right moment.
After all of that, the end of the episode - Fulcrum kidnapped Cole when he least expected it, and Chuck's identity is so potentially compromised that he has to go into 24 hour protection under the cover of he and Sarah moving in together, just as he's agreed to move in with Morgan - seemed curiously tacked on (Why kill the badguys if Cole was going to end up recaptured anyway?), but satisfying, nonetheless; again, Chuck's life gets derailed by the intersect, and again, it appears to everyone who isn't in on his secret that he's unable to do anything with his life.
I admit, I felt as if earlier episodes of this season were lacking in any forward motion and just repeating moments from the first; it wasn't that it wasn't enjoyable to see Chuck as the fish out of water in an over-the-top spy world, but we'd already seen it last year. Thankfully, that's changed since and by this point in the season, we're not only seeing Chuck and Sarah addressing their fake/real relationship (along with some snark from Casey, who's increasingly come to act as an audience surrogate at times like that), but also the way that the spy stuff is slowly ruining Chuck's life, which has become a quiet running theme of this season, turning the comedic misunderstandings of the first into something darker and more worrying. Is it all heading somewhere? It seems to be... Here's hoping that the "gamechanging" finale lives up to its promise.