Chuck, I gotta hand it to ya. There was a point tonight, right around where Ned let all the trapped Buy More employees call their loved ones, where I found myself thinking, This is pretty stupid. But as quickly as the idea entered my brain, it left, because "Chuck Vs. Santa Claus" was a deftly written episode that honestly had me surprised for the first time in the show's recent history.
Last week, I wondered about the way Chuck tells its stories–Chuck's missions and spy stuff is, by default, the main attraction each week, with the Buy More shenanigans taking a back seat. This pretty much always has to be the case, as much of Chuck's life is secret to every character other than Sarah and Casey. But kudos to Josh Schwartz and company for figuring out a workaround: one story, two layers of danger. On the surface, Chuck can remain present for the periphery characters; in tonight's case, it was the story of gun-wielding parent Ned, desperate for gifts (awww ), who takes the store hostage after crashing his car through its front entrance. Yeah, he's got a gun, so of course Chuck can mope around with Morgan and outwardly fear for Ellie's safety. (The future Awesomes came to the store early to avoid the madness–oops!) Underneath, Chuck discovers that the hostage negotiator and the maniac himself–which is where the surprise set in for me–are Fulcrum agents tracking down the intersect's location. This way, everyone can feel the conflict.
And ooh, how it burns, as this Very Special Christmas episode finds every character dealing with the stress, revealing sides of who they really are. Emmitt is outed as a self-serving bastard right off the bat–though it's hardly shocking–demanding he be the first hostage to go. (His frantic look to Chuck just before exiting is priceless.) Chuck's immediately thrust into the nice-guy role–he's happy to work closely with Ned and meet his demands, if it means his friends and family will later leave safely. Casey, as we know, is a man of action, and he's all ready to barge in, guns blazing–"Unleash the Casey," as it were. But Sarah takes a step back, and sees that protecting Chuck is key. Meaning, the man, but also his loved ones and his cover; barging in would draw too much attention to who they are protecting. She posits that the best thing to do would be to slip in unnoticed, extract Chuck, then send in the cavalry. Chuck's safe, and the rest of his associates remain oblivious. I suppose. I found most of that logic confusing.
But thankfully, the episode clears up some other confusion. See, Casey and Sarah get themselves caught, then are released by Ned in exchange for the hostage negotiator. He and Ned go off to "work out their plan" (aka scheme), and return to tell Chuck everyone's free to go. Only caveat is, he's gotta go with them. Sarah and Casey wise up, and track down the negotiator in a Christmas tree lot. Then, when Sarah's got him cornered, he spouts some other vague thing about how imprisoning him will actually lead to Chuck's downfall, because the other Fulcrum agents will track him down and discover what he knows. But Sarah ends it, with one bullet to the head; and just like that, the waffling of the last few episodes is over, and we know that Sarah definitely cares for Chuck. Again.
I don't know if the writers are planning on finally getting those two love birds together–other than the bullet, the heirloom bracelet Chuck gives her is another big hint. But I say, the sooner the better. The tension between sponsor and sponsee has been one of the clunkier parts of the show. It's time to move on, as Jim and Pam did, and find something new to play with.
But speaking of, Santa Claus certainly delivered (character) goodies to everyone tonight. Morgan gets to be a hero, even if no one notices, taking down Ned with a fake snow machine. Jeff calls his mother–in prison–then finds the time to break up a mistletoe makeout session. Lester sneaks a smooch from Anna, and isn't even remotely fazed when it causes her to run for the hills. And Big Mike's embrace of cousin Big Al is a keeper. I'm certainly going to miss this rich comedy over the extended break (it returns in February), and look forward to more Chuck 2.0 in 2009.
- The Buy More's reaction to hearing Chuck's hesitancy to let Sarah go is priceless. Yet another example of a great blend of the secret stuff (keeping Sarah around is his best chance for survival) with the stuff everyone sees (he doesn't want his own girlfriend saved).
- I also believe this is the first time Chuck blatantly tells someone that the intersect is in his brain.