Contributor: Henry T.
Written by Amanda Kate Shuman and Nicholas Wootton
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill
What a boon it was for the producers of “Chuck” to land a prominent guest star this season. Surprisingly, I’m not talking about Linda Hamilton as Mama Bartowski, but rather Timothy Dalton as supervillain Alexei Volkoff. Hamilton has arguably been underused this season while Dalton has been having all of the fun. His character’s exit in “Chuck vs. The Push Mix” was a seminal defining moment for Chuck in addition to being the best episode of the season. It didn’t mean he was gone permanently, but in his place was his daughter Vivian, who is a less bright shadow of what Alexei brought to the table. It is proven here in this episode, with Alexei’s triumphant (and, at times, hilarious) return to the fold. The outcome at the end was never in doubt, but a thrilling journey to it nonetheless.
The primary mission starts out slowly with yet another attempt by Chuck to convince Vivian to join back onto the good guys’ side. That proved, as before, to be fruitless and the suspected double cross by Chuck and the gang cements Vivian’s bitterness towards them. It also sets into motion the plan to get more information out of Alexei, who has now been imprisoned. From the moment Dalton comes onscreen, it’s clear that he’s there to ham it up. This is the Volkoff patriarch, of course, so he’s always going to be dangerous. He tries multiple times to show that he’s a changed man (even with “entitlement issues”), but they’re all red herrings.
Chuck is usually one to see good in everyone, but Volkoff is a different animal. He has to know that Volkoff is playing him at every turn! Even when dealing with a dangerous Somali pirate (who has Uno, in one of the funniest scenes of the season). Or playing chess in a cave with machine guns pointed at them and a ticking clock, which had to be one of the best inventions of the series so far, in my opinion. Chuck is so good-willed and so pure that he can still mistrust Volkoff yet coach him and egg him on through some rather dicey moments.
In many ways, Chuck and Volkoff are the same kind of man, just twisted into diametric opposites. They have a blind spot for family and friends and they know who they are as people. So it does hurt that Vivian could go really Big Bad and betray her father in the end. This case did prove, though, that daughter is never going to measure up to father. I hope Dalton returns once again. He looked like he was just having too much fun playing the bad guy.
Everything else essentially fades into the background because Dalton so owned the episode. I thought that was a good thing. At least in the case of Chuck and Sarah’s pre-nuptial agreement subplot. I’ve had problems with Chuck’s various neuroses in his relationship with Sarah popping up needlessly during missions. Having Sarah be the one to address it instead of Chuck (since he has to deal with Volkoff most of the time) is a change, but it’s a much more likeable relationship when they discuss things quietly and without fuss. I welcomed the end scene on the couch at the end and the sweet resolution because it was the series tweaking the formula to make them less annoying as characters.
Included in that discussion is the fact that Casey and Morgan are just a freakier version of “The Odd Couple”, drinking and eating in unison while bickering like an old married couple. Casey does also get a nicely-handled subplot about his relationship with his daughter. It’s a complicated one involving a different set of lies to her mother about his being alive. Seeing Alex and Casey privately celebrate her graduation allowed for the stoic Casey to soften a bit and a part of me wished they didn’t have to tell Alex’s mother about their secret. It would mess up the one good thing they had going. Like all secrets however, they will eventually come out. That’s just the rule of law in television.
That does apply to Ellie’s seemingly elaborate deception about her activities on the Orion computer. This was, I thought, the worst-handled of all the subplots in the episode. It was yet another barrier to put between Chuck’s spy life and Ellie’s personal life, both of which are very entwined with each other now. The revelation of secrets is going to be put off until the season finale most likely so I suspect this will continue. The resolution of the Agent X mystery should figure very much into that plot.
Having a compelling villain for Chuck and the gang to combat gives meaning and purpose to the show. A reason to watch, for me at least. Volkoff gives them that. His daughter, despite numerous attempts at making her dangerous, is clearly not at that level. Dalton’s presence is a chip that I think the writers and producers will play again before or during the season finale. The buildup will continue and, like I said before, secrets will come leaking out. The fate of the show is still up in the air at this point, but I think the writers have left themselves with a way out if it survives to another year or if it’s gone forever. I do hope it’s the former option rather than the latter.