Season five of Chuck got off to a good start with last week's season premiere. It keeps rolling this week, with a second episode that starts to lay out where the final year is headed.
This week, we meet the competition: Verbanski Corp, led by Gertrude Verbanski (that's The Matrix star Carrie-Anne Moss, sounding like she's narrating a Cyberdyne advert). She used to work for the KGB, and Casey really doesn't like her, having had a nasty run-in (and subsequent fling) with her in 1995. Since then, she's put together a whole compound of minions, and is out to recruit a few more from Team Bartowski. She does, however, come to their rescue - for a high price.
At the same time that Verbanski rolls onto the scene, a former not-so-good guy (Jeff Fahey) hires Carmichael Industries to rescue his brother Wesley (Smallville's Justin Hartley), who's been kidnapped by one of his also not-so-good former business associates. At least that's what our heroes think, until they show up to rescue Wesley and find out that his brother is actually trying to kill him. This is not a surprise on TV (or on Chuck, which has used that device a few times), but it works. The appearance of Hartley, who was the best part of Smallville's later seasons, is a particular pleasure.
Things are a little more tense around the office because Morgan is having growing pains - getting himself into the papers when he foils a robbery at a local convenience store - and Casey and Sarah aren't thrilled. Chuck tries to become Morgan's handler, but it doesn't really go well. As usual, Morgan's heart is in the right place but his brain isn't exactly up to speed. It's nice to see Chuck show Morgan some tough love, because he honestly needs it now more than ever, and it also shows how much Chuck has learned from his time as the Intersect. Rather than just recycling the early premise of the show, the Chuck writers are instead using the Morgan-as-Intersect idea to continue to let the characters grow.
The idea of the Intersect malfunctioning is an interesting one - because we know Morgan would not seriously betray his friends, I'm wondering how much suspense can be gotten out of it, but I think it will be more about what happens to Morgan rather than the whole Morgan vs. Team Bartowski angle (no matter how the promos try and spin it).
There's a very scant comedic subplot here as well. Big Mike (Mark Christopher Lawrence) returns to the Buy More determined to re-energize the sagging sales, and sets his sights on Awesome as the new face of the store. It's so brief that it's almost an afterthought, but it's certainly nice to see Big Mike. Every time Mark Christopher Lawrence turns up, he brings a whole lot of energy with him, and Big Mike's presence gives the Buy More someone else to rely on other than Jeff and Lester. A little bit of Jeff and Lester can sometimes go a long way.
"Chuck Versus The Bearded Bandit" shows us some of the direction that season five is headed in. There's the changing relationship between Chuck and Morgan, as Chuck now has to step into the role that Sarah and Casey filled years ago. There's whatever will happen with Casey and Verbanski, which I'm not quite sold on, but we'll see. The characters are all "growing up," per se, and hopefully getting to places in their lives where we can comfortably leave them. Knowing our time with them is running out, as a fan, I want to see all of them get to their happy endings - and they're well on that road. Let's hope it's not too bumpy along the way!
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.