'Chuck' plays a familiar card, but plays it really well

chuck-sarah-dark-hair.jpgWe know Sarah hasn't really turned evil on "Chuck," and we also know that the show has gone down the Chuck-has-doubts-about-Sarah road several times before. So there were pieces of Monday's (Jan. 24) episode that felt a little been-there, done-that.

But one thing "Chuck vs. the Gobbler" absolutely got right was Chuck's emotional state after seeing what he believed to be Sarah's fully committed attempt to kill Casey.

This whole season (and remember, the "whole season" was initially only 13 episodes, so we're leading into what the show's creators conceived as a season, if not series, finale) has been about Chuck trying to pull his mother out of a life on the dark side -- and being frustrated every time he's tried, and wondering more than once whether Mary can actually be saved. So to see the woman he loves seemingly get pulled into the very same position that his mother is in breaks our hero a little bit. And with Casey not currently capable of setting him straight, he's left in a pretty dark place.

We'll forgive the slightly hurried setup for next week's episode because of all that "Chuck" did well this week, from the real loss Chuck felt to Chuck's jaw hitting the floor when he first saw Dark Sarah to more Timothy Dalton awesomeness and even the Awesome-Ellie subplot, which at least reminded us that the birth of Baby Awesome is imminent.

Some of the highlights:

  • One of the small (but growing) pleasures of this season has been watching the relationship between Morgan and Alex -- and by association, Casey's relationship with each of them -- develop. This week it gave us a bit of great comedy -- Chuck freaking out over Alex wearing Morgan's "Back to the Future" T-shirt, while Morgan himself is just fine with it -- along with a great moment at the end where Morgan relays to Alex just how much her dad loves her. Kudos to the writers for moving beyond what could have been just an excuse for Morgan-Casey comedy.
  • So we've mentioned that Timothy Dalton is fantastic, right? He continued to bring his charming-to-menacing A game this week, selling both Volkoff the painter of cheesy dog pictures and Volkoff the ruthless criminal who would shoot his heretofore most trusted bodyguard in the head. Fingers crossed really tightly that the show can find a way to involve Dalton some more beyond next week.
  • The show didn't employ any of its look-how-hot-Sarah-is slow-motion shots this week, but it didn't need to. Morgan probably put it best: Seeing her in a jet-black wig and skin-hugging black outfit was "evocative."
  • Not that this is a big change from previous "Chuck" rules, but it's nice to see that Chuck flash does not necessarily equal automatic win. Even with the Intersect, it wouldn't seem plausible for Chuck to take out a guy as massive as Yuri in just a couple of moves.
  • OK, so maybe the Awesome/Ellie story about his reluctance to settle on a baby name was extraneous, giving the high-stakes action going on elsewhere. But it was also really sweet, with Awesome confessing that while he knows he'll have to make hundreds of decisions that affect his daughter Clara's life, he wants to make sure he gets the first one right. Plus? It's fun to say Grünka (Grünke? Groonka?).

We're fired up for next week's not-finale, and excited about all that "Chuck vs. the Gobbler" set up. What did you think of the episode?
Photo/Video credit: NBC