Chuck is one of those series that has trouble with season premieres, or at least it has been recently. Because the seasons two and three finales have suggested big changes for characters and for the narrative as a whole, the subsequent S3 and S4 premiere have been forced to deal with those changes. And because Chuck is a relatively formulaic series that only pretends to embrace change, the last two premiere have struggled with how to explore the aftermath of major cliffhangers and ultimately, those episodes have been rushed, sloppy messes. The episode order issues certainly played a role in those instances, but still.
This is all a way to say that I’m actually really happy with how the season five premiere, “Chuck Versus the Zoom,” turned out. “Zoom” isn’t fantastic by any sense of the word, but it gets the job done and does so in a coherent, straightforward manner that refuses to get bogged down in backing away or skirting around cliffhangers. As I wrote last week, I would prefer that Chuck keep things simple in the final 13 episodes and this premiere is a wonderful step towards that direction.
Chuck works best when it isn’t an overly complex series. I’m sure that Chris Fedak and his team will complicate matters in the future and I’ll reserve judgment for that when it comes. However, “Zoom” succeeds because it hits the obvious beats well, revels in the slight changes and complications to the team equilibrium and gives many characters quality things to do. If you told me last week to give you three things that would and probably should be in the premiere episode, I would say that we need to see Morgan work out his Intersect kinks, we need to see Chuck deal with the loss of the Intersect and we need to see how the team works with the new roles for both of them and with all their resources. “Chuck Versus the Zoom” presents all those things and I’d argue, presents them quite well.
Morgan as the Intersect is always going to be a controversial story point. I don’t really understand what the point of it is for Morgan. I get that we are supposed to see how the lack of Intersect impacts Chuck and I appreciate that character beat (I’ll discuss it more momentarily). But in the final season of 13 episodes, I’m not sure the series really has the time to explain what having the Intersect means for Morgan. He’s already grown from pure comic relief fool into a more competent comic relief goofball and that feels like enough for me. No offense, but the series isn’t called Morgan.
So although I’m still skeptical of how Morgan’s role will develop as the season progresses, “Zoom” handled his new role just fine. Just like Chuck, Morgan has issues, even with the Intersect in play. He’s still not that athletic and he’s still a bit dense, but he’s doing the best he can. His entrance into the villain’s compound in the teaser was quite enjoyable, particularly the bit where he through what looked to be rocks to distract the guards. Classic Morgan.
As I said, this is all more important for Chuck. I imagine that a lot of this season will be about exploring how much of a real hero Chuck is, with or without the Intersect, and I think that makes a fitting thematic ending for the series. Chuck has spent many an episode building up Chuck as destined to be a hero and exploring how he was always skilled enough to be in an important role – whether he was always going to be a spy or not doesn’t really matter – and there’s no way that the series is going to abandon that thread now.
I was somewhat worried that the series would make Chuck’s longing for the days of the Intersect more wrenching and dramatic, so I was definitely happy to see “Zoom” play it relatively low-key and straightforward. There’s no question that Chuck is somewhat lost and marginalized, but he’s mature enough to express his frustrations with Morgan and in the episode’s best scene, with Ellie. Chuck isn’t mad at Morgan and he’s not mad at Casey saying things like “Thank god for the Intersect,” he’s just unsure of what the changes mean for him as member of the team. Thankfully, Ellie reminded him of all the greatness he’s capable of and eloquently noted that the Intersect was basically just a tool and an opportunity to show off what was already inside Chuck all along. I have to say that it is so much better having Ellie in on all Chuck’s secrets. That was probably the best Chuck-Ellie scene in three seasons.
And ultimately, “Zoom” doesn’t let Chuck get down too far. Ellie props him up, Morgan’s always good for some positive thinking and Sarah reminds him that his role is actually quite clear: He’s the leader. Without the Intersect, Chuck comes up with a smart, yet dangerous plan and somehow saves the day anyway. So, yeah, he’s a hero. I have to imagine that Fedak and the writers won’t be able to resist forcing Chuck into more crises of confidence, but this was as solid of a start as I could have hoped for from a premiere.
I’m less sold on what is actually happening with Carmichael Industries and how it relates to whatever Decker is planning. As I said in that piece last week, the series hasn’t had a solid track-record when it comes to overarching mysteries and conspiracies and the Decker character isn’t that compelling to begin with. However, I do like that “Zoom” closed off the team’s financial backing because I was fearful that every week would lead to a last-second bail-out with something they just bought at the beginning of the episode. I assume that Chuck and his team will start taking contracts from the government soon and Chuck will feel like Chuck. I’m fine with that.
“Chuck Versus the Zoom” isn’t a great episode, but it’s confident, well-executed and streamlined in a way last season was not. The stakes are lower, but the series works better in that arena anyway. If all of season five is at least this good, I’ll be one happy viewer.