It's never really bothered me that Chuck is formulaic, because even though the overall framework of episodes are similar, the ride changes. There are enough jokes and fights to keep things interesting and enough details about the overarching mythology that the plot continues to move forward. Chuck just isn't a show that needs to constantly surprise its audience, and that's fine. It's good at what it does.
Still, it's nice to be taken for a loop every now and then, and "Chuck Vs. First Class" is a great example of how the show can use a little unpredictability to great effect. And we can thank Shaw for most of it. I wasn't quite sure what to make of him when they introduced him last week, but it seems he's going to be the catalyst for pushing Chuck forward and shaking up the comfortable, familiar dynamic shared by Chuck, Sarah, and Casey. For one thing, he sends a worried Chuck off on his first solo mission, then purposely fails to mention that the mission itself isn't in Paris, but on the plane on the way over. (Also failing to mention that the plane's pressure change would wreak havoc on Chuck's tranquilizer pen.) Then when Chuck falls into the hands of the Ring operatives on the plane (the muscly guy and that one flight attendant, who are able to discern quickly that this is Chuck's first mission), he puts Plan B into action and remotely takes over control of the plane thanks to government satellite technology ("suprisingly, it actually works"). He also seems to know the identity of the stewardess from past missions and uses that information to throw her off guard. The man is full of surprises.
(Also in a short amount of time, the show has managed to make Shaw seem sympathetic. He was apparently married to another agent who was deep under Ring cover, he failed to protect her because his feelings got in the way, and now she's gone. I'm glad they wasted no time; it's a lot easier for me to forgive his hardassery when I know the motivations behind it, and his story also gives Sarah a fresh perspective on her feelings for Chuck. I was getting really sick of her acting all self-righteous about the whole thing.)
I was also thrown by the simple fact that this episode's red herring turned out to be alright—at least for now. As soon as Chuck sat down next to Hannah (Kristin Kreuk), I immediately started to wonder if she was going to turn on him. Every new woman in Chuck's life does, and it's become standard practice to introduce a seemingly innocent character early in an episode only to have them turn out to be the real bad guy. But I was amazed that the episode just had her talk to Chuck for a bit, see him for who he really is, and have this sweet courtship that ends with her eager to see him again. The early episodes this season were a bit too eager to get plot points out of the way; it's nice that we're past those and at the point where it's time to dig into multiple episode story arcs, and it seems like she's going to be playing an important role in the next few. I'm not totally convinced she's not evil—and if she turns out to be, it's an incredible liability that she knows Chuck's real last name and place of employment—but I'm kind of hoping she's just a normal girl. Maybe even a normal girl that everyone, due to supreme paranoia, thinks is evil. You know, a little of Chuck's new spy life bleeding out and affecting other relationships.
Speaking of, tonight's Buy More stuff worked really well because, again, it was a little unpredictable. I've been waiting for a long time for Casey to let his real strength take over the weak Buy More persona he's cultivated, and Morgan—who's struggling with the rest of the store turning on him and "pulls rank" on Casey in the most wonderful way—gives Casey the perfect excuse to step up. Lester's sort of become the main anti-authority figure, and Casey uses his spy training to infiltrate Lester's home, set up a creepy red hypnotizing hologram, and convince Lester that Morgan is a good guy who's deserving of his respect. The awkward Buy More employees make great test subjects for the rest of the team; it's pretty entertaining to watch Lester blankly respond to Jeff that Morgan Grimes is the greatest manager on the face of the earth. And to watch Morgan fall face-first from Chuck's tranquilizer pen, then later be caught in a claw game. I guess what I'm saying is, I like to watch those guys feel pain.
And with Shaw in the driver's seat, it seems there'll be a lot more pain around the corner.
- I wonder if the rest of the Buy More staff ever wonders who Chuck is talking to all the time in the store. From their perspective, he gets all the oddest visitors.
- "Sometimes he's like Bond, sometimes like a Jerry Lewis movie."
- "I'll have that key back before they serve the lobster… and by the way, I'm very much looking forward to that." Chuck's giddiness about being in first class was much warranted: full sit-down bar!
- "You might remember Casey from the volleyball incident at the employee picnic." Flashback, please.