'Chuck': The Christmas that almost wasn't, but then was awesome

chuck-vs-santa-suit2.jpgHere's how good this Christmas episode of "Chuck" was: The NBC promo department's unleashing a rather huge spoiler two weeks ago had only a negligible impact on how much we enjoyed it.

Would it have been better not to have seen Daniel Shaw before he was revealed to be the mysterious prisoner the Omen virus released? Sure. The show clearly wanted it that way -- we saw his feet and body in the breakout scene, but his face was out of frame until he surprised Sarah in Castle.

But it's a testament to the show that even though those of us who saw the promos could connect the dots and realize Shaw was the one pulling the strings, "Chuck vs. the Santa Suit" still managed to be full of holiday awesomeness.

Appropriately, the return of Shaw echoed the last episode with Brandon Routh in a lot of ways: He went through Sarah to get at Chuck, he once again underestimated Chuck's abilities as a spy, and it ended with a fight in an abandoned Buy More, which wasn't as thoroughly destroyed as it was in "Chuck vs. the Ring Part II" but ended up good and trashed anyway.

Your "Chuck" Plot Hole of the Week has to do with Shaw still having the Intersect despite having been in CIA custody for the past two years, and using it to blackmail Decker into doing his bidding. You could argue that maybe Decker didn't realize Shaw was Intersect-capable at the start, and after the first flash that gave Shaw all the dirt, it was over. But let's not think too hard on that, lest it impinge on how great the rest of the hour was.

Chuck's enlistment of Jeff and Lester to crack the virus while Sarah and Casey are incapacitated (more on that in a moment) was a brilliant stroke (and excellent opportunity Subway product placement), both because it reminded us that these guys, when motivated, actually do contribute something besides comic relief and '80s rock covers, and because the show is usually always better when the whole cast is involved.

Jeff and Lester find out that Shaw unleashed the Omen not to destroy the Internet, but to channel the CIA database into his head, creating Intersect 3.0 and bringing the agency to its knees. In the meantime, he'll use his other Intersect skills to subdue Sarah and take out Chuck.

Chuck, however, uses the week's MacGuffin to remove the Intersect from Shaw's head, thereby setting up a pretty fair fight in the Buy More -- and frankly, because it was just two guys who really hate each other fighting and not two guys with near-super powers, this fight actually played better than the one in "Ring Part II." They beat the snot out of each other, and it was great. Particularly when Ellie ended it with a well-placed blow to the back of Shaw's head.

We've been on the record in the past as liking Shaw as a character, if not his actions, and it was great to see Chuck's most hated nemesis return. The episode could have spent its entire running time on their mano-a-mano showdown, and that would have been good. But the fact that it found great notes for so many of the other regulars elevated it to great.

In particular, the Casey piece of the story featured stellar work from Adam Baldwin, both comedic -- his reaction to Chuck and Morgan finding out about his Christmas gift for Alex -- and dramatic. His recording of a final message for Alex was heart-wrenching, and the fact that he then got to deliver the message in person just made us feel warm and fuzzy. If Baldwin submits an Emmy episode this season, it should be this one.

And somehow we've gotten this far into the recap without even mentioning Gen. Beckman planting a huge kiss on Chuck at the CIA Christmas party. I know Beckman wishes never to speak of it again, but I see myself laughing at that moment for a good long time.

And then -- and then! -- Shaw drops one more bomb into Chuck and Sarah's life at the end of the episode, setting up next week's Sarah-centric episode by asking if Chuck knows "about the baby." Can't wait for that, but for now we'd like to thank "Chuck" for a great early Christmas present.

What did you think of "Chuck vs. the Santa Suit"?
Photo/Video credit: NBC