Chuck: Season 4, Episode 16
Chuck vs. The Masquerade
I know you're not supposed to switch horses mid-stream, but I hope the RTBN faithful won't mind if I jump into the middle of a season of Chuck to start reviews. For those of you who haven't had the opportunity to revel in the ridiculousness that is Chuck, here's the skinny: the titular Chuck is a geek-turned spy who has fallen into his place with the CIA after accidently being exposed to a supercomputer program called the Intercept, which has given him the ability to recall all types of confidential information and spy training when triggered ("flashing"). His now-girlfriend Sarah started as the agent tasked to protect him, and the lovable curmudgeon Casey is their muscle. Chuck's former haunt, the Buy More (think Best Buy) is peopled with delightfully awkward nerds. Hilarity ensues. Now to the episode.

It's Valentine's Day in the Chuck-o-verse (ok, it's a week late, but whatever), and Morgan and Chuck are pulling out all the sappy Hallmark stops. But this is Chuck we're talking about, so, of course, nothing really goes according to plan. While the roommates have carefully coordinated plans, the team soon gets called into a mission: crashing a fancy masquerade party to find a counter intelligence agent on a murdering spree. It provides ample opportunity for the smoking hot Sarah to wear a delightfully revealing dress (although, considering the earlier scene of Sarah decked out in skimpy V-Day lingerie, complete with wings, it isn't as stunning as usual). The typical scene unfolds: hot girl, hot dress, big gun.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Chuck's sister Ellie and her husband, Captain Awesome (also known as Devon) are desperately searching for ways to get their new daughter to sleep so they can sleep together (literally and figuratively). A stuffed sheep that plays "Send Me On My Way" seems to do the trick, but only for a while. When the team returns from their mission (in apparently no time), Casey does his best to throw a major monkey wrench in Morgan's sexy-time Valentine's Day plans with his girlfriend Alex, who happens to be Casey's daughter. So he trades paperwork with damage control, and Sarah decides it's time to spend some quality time with her fiancée's best friend. Sarah the automaton fails to grasp the difference between toys and collectible action figures, sending Morgan into a tailspin on whether or not he's just a child, (worries that Casey planted earlier) inspiring him to move out of the apartment he shares with Chuck as a means of instant maturation.

Chuck, meanwhile, attempts to turn Vivienne, the newly discovered daughter of the evil Alexei Volkoff, the villain extraordinaire who is this season's main target. They bond over being the unwitting children of spies, as Casey is wooed by the NSA, which appeals to his aloof juggernaut nature. A plan is hatched to lure out the evil psycho picking off Volkoff lieutenants, Boris, by using Vivienne as bait. Chuck has to juggle the mission with his Morgan issues, which are made all the more moving by the use of an Alexi Murdoch track to play up their nostalgia, embodied in the splitting up of the accumulated trappings of their geekery.

Sarah is sent in as a double for Vivienne to draw out Boris, but when the plan backfires and Sarah is ambushed and identified, Vivienne decides to take the reins (actual reins. She's on a horse.) of her own life for the first time and become more than just a pawn. Chuck induces a flash so that Vivienne can help the (tranquilized) Sarah and Casey escape. But when Vivienne returns to the stable, Boris is waiting for her, and points out how her father, who, on the surface, made it seem like he was trying to protect her from the hard life of a terrorist, has actually been grooming her to takeover his company. And she proves him right when she shoots him in the chest with a rifle hidden in her saddle. She then covers up the information Boris gave her about "the Key" to keeping Volkoff industries together, feigning ignorance when Chuck asks.

Chuck returns from Castle, the team's headquarters beneath the Buy More, the find Morgan all packed up. Blah blah blah, profession of bromance love. They decide to give their Han Solo and Chewbacca action figures to baby Clara, so they don't have to split up the dynamic duo. Under their watchful eyes, Clara finally falls asleep and Ellie and Awesome hit the sack (and promptly pass out).

In a twist, Casey, who originally turned down the NSA because of his ties to Burbank and the team, learns that the agency is creating their own headquarters at Castle, leaving enough room for split loyalties and dilemmas to grow in upcoming episodes. Then we cut to Vivienne at Volkoff headquarters in Moscow, using her necklace to open the doors to a secret compartment as she takes up the mantle of her father. And a new villain is born.

The heart of show is Chuck's ongoing struggle to balance his personal life with his burgeoning career as a spy. He desperately tries to protect and help everyone he knows, holding them all together. His overly emotive nature has melted the cold, cold heart of Sarah, and it's nice to see her coming into her own emotions. And Casey's growing fatherly instincts are charming, when juxtaposed with his typically surly nature.

But my problem with this episode is the same problem I've been having for most of this season. It's just nothing special. There's a cold open about an evil-doer juxtaposed with a scene of domestic tranquility, followed by the planning phases, diluted with a B-plot. Then comes mission, regrouping, new mission, narrow escape, and a return to the home front, where the personal issues of the characters are made out to be just as complex as the covert operations they engage in. While the delightful Timothy Dalton as Volkoff provided a bit of a respite from the wrought story line, with his surprisingly well-timed humor and alternating sociopathic/hilarious behavior, his arrest three episodes ago has left a bit of an action vacuum. But it was an arrest, not an assassination, so here's hoping for an escape.

I'll keep watching, because Zachary Levi is adorable and Yvonne Strahovski is a babe, but I hope that the writers pick up the banter, get a good villain, and do something to distract us from the fact that our main couple is now together, which makes for some relatively boring television, even if they're spies.

Overall Grade: C

Stray Observations

-Children eat all time previously dedicated to sex. Who knew?

-"It's like our souls are so close, they're vibrating."

-"Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Kubrick Fan."

-"I've been to those kinds of parties and they look nothing like this."
Tags: Chuck
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