"Is there anything your brother-in-law can't do?" -SarahOne of the most promising developments from the end of last season was Captain Awesome's discovery of Chuck's double life. It had the potential to make a very funny but peripheral character more central to the story (as the one link between Chuck's two worlds), and to give Ryan McPartlin something to play other than supreme manly confidence. (Though he's certainly swell at that.)
"Chuck vs. the Angel De La Muerte" did a good job of living up to that promise, with Devon accidentally becoming part of a mission, then screwing it up, then finding a way to save the day. (And then apparently falling victim to The Ring's poisoner, but that's an issue for next week, and I'll remind you of the usual No Spoiler policy, which includes not talking about the content of the previews for next week's episode.)
After spending the early part of the episode trying to latch onto Operation Bartowski because of boredom at home, Devon finally winds up in what he thinks is a position to help the team, but which instead lands Casey in a whole mess of trouble. But because Devon spends every day of his life living up to the derogatory nickname Chuck gave him, he gets the team back into the embassy to liberate Casey, saves the reforming dictator's life, and even plays the role of Sarah and helps Chuck calm down enough to access the Intersect 2.0's surgical skills.
(Devon doesn't know about that last part, of course, but he has such faith in his brother-in-law - whom he assumes is a regular, highly-trained spy - that he believes a few words of encouragement are all Chuck needs to attain awesomeness.)
Though "Angel De La Muerte" is primarily about putting Awesome on Chuck's turf, it's also a nice secondary showcase for commie-hating Casey (the angel of the title), and an opportunity for Adam Baldwin to be badass while tied to a chair. And it provides us with another terrific piece of "Chuck" guest casting, with Armand Assante taking great pleasure in the role of every single "r" in his performance as dictator Alejandro Goya. Assante's performances often turn into canned ham, but in a "Chuck" guest role - and this one in particular - a little trafe is exactly what's called for. With Goya still alive at the episode's end - and with The Ring interested in the status quo of his country - I'd love to see Assante turn up again before the end of the season.
Maybe not as funny or action-packed as the ones from last night, but a very strong episode, nonetheless.
Some other thoughts
• Tonight, it's the Buy More gang's turn to take an episode off for budgetary reasons, though Morgan at least gets mentioned in passing while Chuck suggests some things he and Sarah might do as "friends."
• Speaking of which, this episode was much lighter on Chuck/Sarah angst than the two from last night, but we did get that scene at the embassy where Awesome and Ellie confront each of them about their feelings for the other, and we again get a character (Carina last night, Ellie here) explaining (in case we somehow haven't figured it out yet) that Sarah really loves Chuck.
• While talking to Sarah Lancaster at last night's NBC press tour party, she lit up when talking about this episode, saying it was nice to get out of the apartment set for once, and to get to dress fancy instead of always wearing Ellie's hospital scrubs.
• The fictional nation of Costa Gavras is named after the director of the same name.
• Nice meta moment where Chuck begins describing a mission to Devon that sounds like the plot of every other episode of the series, only to dismiss it all as "blah blah blah." Maybe that's how I need to respond to the usual plot holes, like why nobody seems to care that Sarah the "nurse" singlehandedly knocked out a couple of Goya's security guards.
• Why does Sarah's version of every kind of undercover uniform (Nerd Herd last year, nurse this year) look like the stripper version of that uniform? Well, aside from the obvious, non-fictional reasons, I mean.
Finally, the ratings. Breathe a sigh of relief, because they were good. In third place in the 18-49 demo for the first hour, and a solid second for the second hour. It was the show's best performance since the post-Super Bowl 3D episode (before the Obama pre-emption the following week derailed any ratings momentum and forced us all to buy Subway sandwiches).
For another, more successful network, those numbers would be just okay. For NBC, struggling in fourth place and suddenly with five extra hours of primetime to fill, they're practically a godsend. Competition's going to be tougher tonight (Fox schedule a new "House," and of course next week there's night two of the "24" premiere to deal with), but if the show can stick close to those numbers, life will be good.
The downside to being on a struggling network is that "Chuck" can never become the broader hit it arguably deserves to be. The upside is that NBC has to hang onto any bit of good news it can get, and those "Chuck" numbers last night definitely qualify as good news.
Viva Buy Moria!
What did everybody else think?