'Chuck': Piranhas and hack-offs and Abed, oh my

chuck-danny-pudi1.jpgFor about 55 minutes on Friday (Dec. 9), "Chuck" was rolling through a very satisfying, mostly stand-alone episode. And then the last five minutes changed that, a lot.

"Chuck vs. the Hack-Off" was still very satisfying. But the switch that flipped with those final scenes set up what feels like a great launching pad for the final episodes of the series -- which, incidentally, is not taking a break between now and the series finale on Jan. 27.

I say "stand-alone episode" because the mission Decker offered Chuck and Sarah, in exchange for clearing Casey's name, was a pretty straightforward one: Find virus, recover virus, hand over virus. Since Decker was involved, it was natural to expect something more might be in play, but the mechanics of the job weren't all that complicated.*

(*Given Decker's track record, though, Chuck and Sarah probably should have been a little prepared for his swerve at the end.)

That relative simplicity made room for a lot of great comedy involving nude cultists, drum circles and a rather befuddled Gertrude Verbanski. Carrie-Anne Moss has played the heck out of Verbanski in her episodes this season, and she showed here that her chemistry with Yvonne Strahovski and Zachary Levi is just as good as with Adam Baldwin.

Her distaste for what she views as Chuck and Sarah's overly touchy-feely approach (although, honestly, they've been way mushier than that in the past) was a joy to watch -- you could practically see Verbanski's skin crawling. And her final, "OK! I love Casey!" outburst -- in response to a completely unrelated question -- was expertly timed.

Levi's third time as "Chuck" director didn't have quite the massive, series-turning revelations of his past two episodes ("Chuck vs. the Beard" in Season 3 and last year's "vs. the Leftovers"), but "Hack-Off" showed he has a very good feel for pacing. The hour zipped along without ever feeling forced, and he also seems to be pretty good at directing himself. Watching Chuck in his chardonnay-fueled element as a hacker named The Piranha* was a blast.

(*But really? Almost five seasons in and we're just now learning Chuck was some kind of super-hacker? His IT skills have never been in question, but you'd think this would have come up before now.)


The B-story also moved crisply, as Casey tried to keep his head down in prison -- with a surprising assist from Lester, who used his Nerd Herd skills to get the run of the place. And the cameo by "Community's" Danny Pudi? Fantastic -- but it may have been topped by the previously unannounced appearance of Pudi's co-star, Yvette Nicole Brown, as a Buy More greenshirt who liked the looks of the new guy.

And then, those last few minutes. Dang. Decker had been playing the part of this season's big bad quite well, but apparently he's just middle management in this conspiracy to frame Chuck Bartowski as the most hunted terrorist since Osama bin Laden. And thanks to Verbanski, he's no longer around to offer up any clues as to who's really pulling the strings.

But that's one heck of a setup for the rest of the season. Verbanski is in the wind (though we hope the show found a way to get Moss back in the last episodes), and Chuck, Sarah and Casey have a monumental task of discovering their unseen enemy and setting things right. These last eight episodes are going to be a lot of fun.

What did you think of "Chuck" this week?
Photo/Video credit: NBC