Watching the Chuck season four premiere felt odd. After wanting that third season so badly and then having to wait until January to get it, the season three premiere felt much bigger and more anticipated. Having the series back so soon with relatively little fanfare (nearly every other series on Monday, returning or new, seemed to get more promotion than Chuck) made for less excitement up-front.
However, detached from the external circumstances that led up to season three, it’s apparent that the season four premiere, “Chuck Versus the Anniversary” is a better episode than either effort delivered as part of the two-part premiere this past January. Finally stripped of the elements of romantic melodrama, this season starts with a fully confident Chuck, one that’s willing to spend more time on Chuck and Morgan than Chuck and Sarah. Though this vibe is basically an extension of the final six episodes of season three, it’s nice to see that there are not any instances of false drama put between the lead characters that will have to be resolved in somewhat annoying fashion like last season’s issues between Chuck and Sarah.*
*Yes, Chuck does lie to Ellie at the episode’s end, but A.) I’m willing to go with it if it means Chuck gets back in the spy game (and thus avoids the distance issues with Sarah) and B.) preview clips suggest he’s going to tell her soon, anyway.
In a sense, “Anniversary” zooms through a number of plot points that could have existed as long-term dramatic stories, but would have ultimately been not what fans of the series want to see. First of all, we have Chuck’s life post-spy world. In the immediate moments after learning about his mother, he’s able to get wrapped up in the search for her, which apparently takes Chuck and Morgan all across the world in a multiple-month-long journey. Though the search ends back in Los Angeles and ultimately derails (and costs Chuck and Morgan $43K), it allows Chuck to get his mind off of not being a spy. Said events also allow him to avoid dealing with Sarah still being a spy, and thus being in danger and far away for long stretches.
But once the search for mom ceases, the real-life job hunt begins and he’s left with lots of debt and lots of time with Morgan, Chuck begins to recognize that his old life had its positives as well. Sarah’s back, but only for a few, fleeting moments and they can’t even celebrate their six/nine-month anniversary. Thankfully, like all Chuck plots, Sarah and Casey’s search for a Russian crime boss coalesces with Chuck and Morgan’s search for Mama Bartowski (in Russia, of course), allowing Chuck to dust off the Intersect-Fu and force him to tell both Sarah and Casey about his mom search (and thus avoiding another sub-plot of secrets and lies).
By episode’s end, most of the big changes made at the end of season three are reset in a way that creates a slightly new equilibrium. Compare that to last season’s openers, which took the promising developments from the end of season two and used it to as a way to disrupt many of the things that make the series so great. We still have a number of issues that can last 12 (or more) episodes, including the search for Chuck’s mother, Ellie’s pregnancy and how Chuck and Sarah really move into the next phase of their relationship, but none of those issues is weighed down too heavily. Chuck is at its best when it mixes the somewhat slapstick-y humor with some heartfelt poignancy that doesn’t get too sappy. And it seems as though this episode sets the season up to deliver just that.
- Sarah deciding to sext Chuck on the airplane is definitely Yvonne Strahovski’s finest comedic moment yet. Kudos to the series for making sexting funny in general.
- Other hilarious moments: The old, grouchy repo man (new recurring character?) and Dolph Lundgren’s character insisting that Chuck and Morgan are the greatest spies around because of their cunning use of public transportation.
- Linda Hamilton is her steely, but somehow warm self here as Chuck’s mom, but I’m ready to learn a little bit more about her and how it may or may not apply to Russians.
- Anytime John Casey is on my television screen AND ranting about killing Russians, I am a very happy man. Say what you will about me because of that fact, but I don’t care.