Zoom on the second episode of Chuck's final season, "Chuck Versus the Bearded Bandit," behind the cut.
There's always something to be said for a strong antagonist in any action-adventure story – there's a reason that Buffy's second and third seasons are usually regarded as its best, and those reasons are Angelus and the Mayor – and the presence of Jeff Fahey as the villainous Karl Schneider is one of the things that makes "Chuck Versus the Bearded Bandit" an immediate, tangible improvement over the season premiere. Fahey may be best known to TV fans today as Lost's Frank Lapidus, but he was also a lot of fun as one of the bad guys in Machete, and he carries that into Chuck with raspy-voiced panache.
Of course, the reveal of him as the villain was pretty easy to see coming – the beard, the voice, the African diamond mines, come on – but Chuck isn't really a show that relies on gobsmacking you in the manner of a 24, so that's fine. The more interesting thing going on here was the way the episode started exploring the repercussions of losing the Intersect on Chuck's self-esteem and place in the group, kicking him down a rung to backup despite being the nominal head of the company and forcing him to find new ways to contribute. This is good!
But the episode's best aspect is in how it starts what feels like the season's serialized arc in earnest. I spent the summer hiatus concerned about what Morgan being the new Intersect was going to entail, thinking that we might be in for basically just seeing the first season again with Chuck swapped out for his best friend. But the notion of the Intersect gradually cooking Morgan's personality and morality from inside and making him go bad isn't something I'd even begun to consider, and it's a great twist. Chuck, Sarah, and Casey finding themselves on the other side of the Intersect is just loaded with potential, and gives me plenty of hope about what the next eleven episodes may entail.
And it's also worth mentioning Carrie-Anne Moss (not really looking any older than she did twelve years ago in The Matrix) as the not-evil-but-still-antagonistic Gertrude Verbanski. Very solid new character in my opinion, mixing a bit of Beckman and a bit of Casey and bit of a sinister edge. Looking forward to seeing more of her. Just one episode into her run and I'd already rather have her in the opening credits than Jeff and Lester.
Which brings us to this week's Buy More shenanigans: Big Mike makes a new commercial for the store and casts Captain Awesome in it. No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to muster up much enthusiasm for this storyline (and, like most commercials made by characters within TV shows, the end result bears little resemblance to an actual commercial). I think in future reviews I might just skip entirely over discussing the Buy More subplots unless one is really, really notable for some reason. I'm firmly in the camp that this appendage should have been hacked off the show at the end of season three, and nothing since has changed my mind. Big Mike put it best: "Man, I am so over this whole Jeffster thing." (Lester: "Me too.")
But, Team Buy More aside, this was a fun little episode that feels like its kicked off the season in a way the actual premiere didn't. It's nice to be at the edge of my seat wondering what might happen next on Chuck once again.
Final Grade: B+