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Heartwarmed Yet?: More Thoughts on "Chuck Versus Santa Claus"

You've already read my advance review of the Christmas episode of Chuck, but I am curious to know just what you all thought of this week's episode ("Chuck Versus Santa Claus"), in which the Buy More gang is taken hostage on the day before Christmas and Sarah takes an action that could change her relationship with Chuck forever.

I thought that this week's episode, written by Scott Rosenbaum (who also wrote "Chuck Versus the Break-Up" and co-wrote Season One's "Chuck Versus the Imported Hard Salami"), offered up a tasty mix of the genre-busting elements we've come to know and love from Chuck, including a heady blend of romance, comedy, and action. And it was fantastic to have an episode that featured a single plot that involved each and every member of Chuck's talented cast (including, yes, Julia Ling's Anna Wu, who showed up now two weeks in a row for a change).

My review of "Chuck Versus Santa Claus" incited quite a lot of heated debate ahead of its premiere so I am extremely intrigued by what everyone's reactions will be to this episode.

I appreciated the way that Rosenbaum was able to work the entire cast into the action by having Devon and Ellie show up at the Buy More early to take advantage of the Friends & Family discount. I also loved the irony about how Devon wanted a "sense of danger" in his life, unaware that he was about to become a hostage in his future brother-in-law's secret world of espionage. (And I was extremely glad that Ellie and Devon didn't find out about Chuck being the Intersect or Sarah being a government operative. That's what sweeps episodes are for, after all.)

Loved that amateur criminal Ned wasn't quite the, er, amateur criminal that he seemed initially and was actually a Fulcrum agent with some kick-ass fight moves, a disarming way of gaining Chuck's trust, and a willingness to murder Ellie should Chuck not comply with Mauser's instructions. I can usually call a bait-and-switch a mile away but I could not have predicted that the entire hostage situation was a setup from the start, with both Ned and hostage negotiator Lt. Mauser both Fulcrum agents looking to kidnap Chuck.

I'm not entirely sure how Ned would have gotten away if Devon and the gang hadn't taken him down, but Fulcrum isn't exactly known for its generosity towards its employees. Was that crash into the Buy More intended to be a one-way ticket to prison for Ned? Or was he intending to go out in a blaze of glory once Mauser had gotten away with Chuck? Hmmm...

What I loved most of all was the way that "Chuck Versus Santa Claus" reaffirmed some of the main qualities of our beloved characters. The moment in which Chuck refused to follow Casey and Sarah's instructions about hiding in the Castle, thus leaving Sarah and Devon in harm's way, again reminded us that, as geeky and accident-prone as Chuck is, he's brave in the face of danger and always he's worried more about his loved ones than himself.

Chuck choosing to call Sarah during the hostage standoff proved the depths of his feelings for her and lead her to accept his invitation to Christmas ("I knew you could be heartwarmed"). And, even though in the midst of a hostage situation, Chuck decides to have a genuine emotional moment with Sarah and gives her his mother's charm bracelet. (The way he stroked her hand when she said he should give it to a "real girlfriend" broke my heart.) Plus, in true hero fashion, Chuck puts Ellie's life before his in agreeing to go with Mauser quietly, even though he knows he will never see her again.

And then there was Sarah quite literally following through on her promise to always protect Chuck... even if it means killing in order to achieve that end.

Chuck, for everything he's seen as the Intersect, still lives in a black and white world where morality is a rigid rather than a flexible thing. Sarah has been such a supportive and positive influence in Chuck's life, that it's easy sometimes to forget that this woman is a trained government agent and has killed many, many times before (remember Chuck's flash at the end of the pilot?). In killing Mauser to prevent Chuck's identity from leaking, Sarah crossed a moral line that Chuck had assumed was drawn in the sand: he, Sarah, and Casey are the Good Guys and part of that means not taking human life in order to take down their adversaries. After all, Chuck still believed until that point that Sarah was a regular girl ("Underneath that spy cover is a regular person just like the rest of us"), but now...?

The truth is that Sarah had a tough decision to make. She should have taken Mauser in for questioning and the team could have gained valuable intel about Fulcrum but there was no way that Fulcrum wouldn't have eventually learned that Chuck was the Intersect. Her primary mission is to protect Chuck at all costs. This time, the cost was Mauser's life. But she never for a second thought that (A) Chuck would find out about the fact that she murdered an unarmed man in cold blood, or (B) that Chuck had actually witnessed the killing and could not look at her the same way now.

Throughout the history of the series, Chuck and Sarah have had their romance derailed by external influences: rival lovers, governmental codes of conduct, timing. But this is the first time that the thing that may keep them apart is an internal dilemma. Can Chuck forgive Sarah for killing Mauser, even if it was to keep him safe? Can he ever look at her again and see the woman he loves and not a cold-blooded killer? It's an interesting change of pace and one that signals a greater dramatic tension between the two would-be lovers and well as a willingness to deal with greater issues of morality and responsibility.

What else worked for me? Morgan talking about being an adult while wearing an elf costume; Emmett giving a sob story about his 86-year-old grandmother dying of a rare disease ("She needs me, her bobo") in order to escape the hostage standoff and then using the camera to talk about the store sale; Casey's band-aid covered fingers, all cut up from working the gift-wrap station; another secret entrance from the Castle to the Buy More behind the employee lockers; Ned shooting off Casey's toe (and Jeff revealing that he's gotten by with only eight for some time); the Buy More gang taking bets on the outcome of the police chase; Sarah getting nostalgic looking at the ad for eggnog yogurt; the Bartowskis' traditional Christmas plans ("eggnog, PJs, a fake gas fireplace, and a Twilight Zone marathon"); Anna missing Morgan's big heroic moment; Lester kissing Anna, who finds him utterly repulsive; Lester calling the "love chat line" and Jeff calling his mom in prison; Chuck blurting "NO!" when Ned says that Sarah can leave during the hostage standoff; Lester saying that his always coming up from behind is "awkward."

And, oh, learning that Casey's mom calls him "Johnny Boy." Classic.

Best line of the evening: "It's an electronics store, Major Casey, not Basra." - General Beckman

But enough about my views. I want to know what people thought of "Chuck Versus Santa Claus." Did it live up to your expectations? Did you gasp aloud when Sarah shot Mauser? Do you blame Chuck for looking at his cover girlfriend/handler differently now? And how will these two get past what happened? Talk back here.

Chuck returns with new episodes on Monday, February 2nd at 8 pm ET/PT on NBC.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I was little underwhelmed, honestly. Maybe the anticipation was too much; the realization couldn't have lived up to it. The ending was good, though. We'll see how the assassination (which is what it was, right?) affects their relationship. Chuck is now faced with his "real" life, and it can be dark and messy.
Anonymous said…
Same anon as above:

Still, I think this *is* a hurdle Chuck has to overcome. Because this is an element of Sarah's life. Better that he learn about it -- and deal with it now. It's also important for him to understand -- to the fullest extent -- the dangers of the world in which he now lives.
Anonymous said…
Jace - I loved this episode and thought your review was spot on. It really took the characters to a new level and allowed all of the cast to shine. It was funny, dramatic, action-packed...all of the things that make me love this show so much!
Anonymous said…
Great episode overall. Lots of laughs and Big Mike's cousin turning out to be Al the cop from the first Die Hard was a nice touch.

Nice fake-out about the incident. Turned out it was not just the execution but Sarah's bald face lie too. It all comes back to the trust issue again.

So Jace it's more than just Chuck witnessing Sarah's execution. It is also Sarah being totally disingenuous about the whole thing.

Love the parallel with Morgan and Anna too.

How long before Chuck calls Sarah on her lie? I'm betting it will be in the Suburbs episode.

Put this one up in the top two or three for the season.

Favourite nerd moment - Chuck including Twilight Zone reruns as part of the agenda.
Anonymous said…
Another good episode, giving us some real meat to chew on regarding Chuck & Sarah during hiatus. The use of "Silent Night" was exquisite, as was the remixing of other holiday classics throughout the episode. I also liked how Sarah had to shake off what she'd just done and put on Happy Girlfriend face to maintain her cover. That is one complicated woman.
Anonymous said…
Over all I thought the episode was pretty good, although it looks as though for an episode or two Chuck is going to be cool towards Sarah until she figures out why (1 step forward, 2 back). Eventually it is going to lead to Chuck once again saying that he was sorry and should have trusted Sarah. I also though Devon did some growing up by the end of the episode.
Anonymous said…
Awesome ep. I wasn't let down by your review which promised big stuff and this ep delivered. Don't think that Chuck will forgive Sarah easily.
Anonymous said…
I thought it was great - its an obstacle but not insurmountable, in fact, it is something he really has to face sooner or later. I like that they are addressing it. In fact, while I loved last week's episode, it glossed over the fact that Sarah and Casey killed the Shiek's bodyguards or at least injured them and nothing was ever addressed with her father about it. Did he think they just left them there to die? At that point he did not know she was "some sort of a cop" Not that it hurt the episode really, just a reality they ignored.

I like that they are totally truthful without saying it that they are in love - now Chuck just has to face up to the complicated person that he fell in love with.
memphish said…
This ran slow to me. I think the internet pre-hype did have me over-anticipating. I could see the twist coming, and before that it was very slow. I'm not a big fan of the Morgan misconstrue nor Chuck holding it against Sarah to kill and then lie to him about the guy. Sarah never should have waited that long to shoot. Yep, it if were me the movie Executive Decision would be about 3 minutes long (shoot that puppy down) and Chuck would have been 3 minutes shorter.
CL said…
I liked the episode. I guessed Mauser was the FULCRUM agent right of the bat, but Ned caught me by surprise.

The fact that Sarah and Casey have been able to keep a guy like Chuck under wraps all this time shows you just how good they are at their jobs. FULCRUM knows they're protecting someone but can't figure out who? Wow. This kind of strains believability for me, to tell you the truth. (Who is Sarah going out with? Who lives right next door to Casey?)

Chuck's known what Sarah was capable of, but he's never actually seen her kill before. This time it was in cold blood and he's not sure he can handle it. It's a good, solid barrier for their budding romance, but I think it should have been addressed before now. Bryce was a trained CIA assassin. Sarah was too, no? They've killed plenty of unharmed, helpless-at-the-time-yet-evil people, right?

Another thing that's bugging me: Where did Casey disappear to? One moment, he was right there with Sarah chasing after Mauser and then after that he vanished for the rest of the episode. A minor quibble. It's easy enough to guess what he was doing, but honestly, we shouldn't have to guess!

Despite some obvious flaws in its story-telling, it's all the little quirks of this series that brings a smile to my face. Jace already named all the ones for this particular episode. All except Big Al, who looked like he walked straight off the set of Die Hard.

I love this show, and I'm looking forward to the next episode in...ah, crap...February? You're kidding me, right?!
Anonymous said…
I'm with Chris on this one, if they had already identified Casey and Sarah as operatives it would be simple to make the assumption they are protecting Chuck. Which also goes to the fact that even if Mauser is dead, Fulcrum has already outed the spys, the General has no choice but to bring Chuck in for good to protect the intersect so Chuck's life is over no matter what and Sarah murdered Mause for nothing.

Like everyone else, I oved Al the cop showing up as another Die Hard reference, isn't that two weeks in a row with the Namaguchi building featured last week? This season has been a feast of '80s movie/TV references, keep'em coming!
Anonymous said…
Has anyone here ever gone to his webiste? It claims to have the full episode of "Best Friend" up, but when I click on the link, my Spy Sweeper activates. Obviously I don't want to load any malware onto my computer, but I'm curious about the claim that Best Friend is up.

http://tv-show-movie-online.blogspot.com/search/label/Watch%20Chuck%20Season%202%20Episode%2012%3A%20Chuck%20Versus%20the%20Best%20Friend%20-%20Full%20Online
Anonymous said…
Holy Crap!
That is now my favorite episode. Even though I have a few issues with Chuck.

Great cliff hanger for the 49 days we have to wait for a new episode.

Good point Mel about Sarah having to shake off the emotion and switch to happy girlfriend in front of Chuck. She will probably notice something is up with Chuck in the next episode...Feb 2nd!!! UGH!

Was it the fact that she killed Mauser or that she lied to Chuck about it??? Both?

About time the writers really pointed out that Sarah a trained killer just like Casey. She does what she needs to do to protect her country and Chuck. This time Chuck actually witnessed it. “I won’t let anybody hurt you.”

Rickfromillinois...Yes it will AGAIN lead to Chuck saying he was sorry.

This leads me to a problem I’ve noticed. Every episode Chuck ignores what Sarah and Casey tell him to do. Stay in the car, don't leave Castle, Don't go see Casey in Castle. This episode... leave through the secret Castle exit in the Buy More, and when Sarah finds him in the Christmas sorry "Holiday" trees she tells him to run towards Castle. What does Chuck do he turns around and goes looking for Sarah AGAIN.

Yeah these are all plot building moments, but it is really starting to get annoying when he ignores Sarah and Casey every episode! "BUT it shows he cares and has emotion." If he does it everyday he is a dumba$$.

When is it going to turn around a bite Chuck hard and have bad consequences?

Speaking of Chuck being a DumbA$$. Telling Ned that he knows people that can help. Government people that can help. They’re here protecting me. Idiot! Why don’t you just walk up to the TV camera outside and say “Hi, I’m Chuck Bartowski, I have the Intersect in my head.”

My favorite line is "Mother it's Johnny Boy." GREAT. Casey loves his family too!
Will we ever see or hear about Casey’s family?

Chris, I also wondered where Casey disappeared to.

Why doesn’t Chuck have a panic alarm in his watch? If it is a GPS locator, a microphone, and “LASER” why can’t it have a panic alarm that sends a message to Casey and Sarah?
Anonymous said…
I think Casey took care of the ambulance driver. Mauser came out the back so another fulcrum agent had to be driving and Casey must have had to capture/arrest him. Makes sense he would do that while Sarah went after Mauser since she had two good wheels and Casey only one. He could handle a banged up driver.
Anonymous said…
Execution, not assassination.
Anonymous said…
I loved this ep. Definitely lived up to your review and the ending was awesome. I agree that Casey took care of the Fulcrum agent who was driving the ambulance and we can't forget that after losing a toe he couldn't really run too fast. That didn't bother me in the ep though. I loved the shot of Chuck's mom's bracelet when Sarah killed Mauser and don't think that he'll be trusting her for a while after she lied to his face. The Jill arc showed him that he's too trusting of the women he loves and they always betray him even Sarah now too.
Anonymous said…
Highest overnight ratings of the season! 7.45 million live viewers. Tied with Heroes!

Hopefully the Feb 2 episode gets a huge backing from the Super Bowl and CHUCK hits the 10 Million mark!

Hopefully the ratings keep this up and continue to grow for the rest of this season so we get a season 3, 4, 5...
Anonymous said…
Now this was good storytelling. The characters that we have seen develop over the last season were totally believable and true to type, the plot had been crafted to fit them to perfection. The strong feeling between chuck and Sarah was so sweetly told. I can put up with any amount of internal conflict between these two if it is like this, real barriers to overcome.
Anonymous said…
Great episode! Thanks for writing about it to remind me to watch it. I also really enjoy reading your blog everyday.
Anonymous said…
I did enjoy this episode but upon further thought I would have enjoyed an alternant ending much more. When sarah was on the groound being choked to death I really wanted chuck to pick up one of the discarded guns and save sarah. This would have accomplished the same idea...chuck being thrust into the gravity of his situation. He would have been terribly upset and had a very difficult time dealing with his decision. All in all I think I would have enjoyed this ending much more. I love the show. Absolutely my favorite but I am a little tired of seeing the neive chuck all the time.
Anonymous said…
@chuckwhat: No, that would have been awful if they had done that. Once they have Chuck killing people even to save Sarah they have crossed a line that they can't undo later. Very happy that Chuck is still holding onto a moral code and would not have been happy if he did kill Mauser. Besides his naivete is somewhat lessened now that he saw what Sarah is capable of and that she lied to him about it on top of that.
Page48 said…
Would Chuck be more pissed that Sarah killed a guy or that she lied about it?

Either way, he wouldn't want to go all self-righteous on Sarah, since she was, after all, responding to threats against Chuck himself (and by extension, his sister), not to mention national security.

And let's face it, she did tell Chuck to take a hike before she splashed Mr. Fulcrum's DNA all over the landscape. What a guy witnesses after his hottie tells him to get lost is like what a guy sees when he cracks open his honey's diary...he can stew about it all he likes, he just can't use it.

Face it Chuck, your girl takes out the trash, and looks great doing it.
Unknown said…
Very disappointing ending. The only plot device I hate more than "{blank} hours earlier" is the "Three's Company" misunderstanding. And in this case, it's completely unnecessary. Chuck should know Sarah well enough by now to simply ask, "Hey, why'd you kill him?" She'd tell him, and Chuck'd do some hand-wringing over it. Then it'd be resolved...the same way it's going to be resolved anyway, but my version is more natural. This show deserves a less hackneyed device.

Otherwise, I thought the script squandered some real opportunities with the cast all together. Two aborted awesome plans to take out the bad guy? Please. Far too many dead wandering-around scenes in the Buy More. Let's see more Devon and Ellie.

By far, not the writers' best efforts. Still, looking forward to February. One bad ep doesn't come close to erasing all the great ones. I'll watch reruns until Feb 2009.
Anonymous said…
Nice to see Chuck getting some well deserved publicity! I don't remember seeing any last season.

http://www.observer.com/2008/o2/omfg-top-ten-television-shows-2008#comment-1160983


http://www.time.com/time/specials/2008/top10/article/0,30583,1855948_1863395_1863405,00.html
Anonymous said…
LOVED this episode. Absolutely loved it.

Enough comments here already, but I am shocked that no one picked up on my favorite throwaway 80s shoutout.

Emmett says his mom is suffering from Lukaplakia, which, of course, was what the bullies in "Lucas" used to call Lucas, due to his constant running off at the mouth.
Anonymous said…
As much as I enjoyed this show I will have a real problem if the issue of the shooting is not tackled in future episodes.

It is the plot holes in this show that keep bringing it down and stop it from being totally fantastic.

Every now and then they hit the jackpot and tie in the characters and the storyline together with the humour, romance and drama...Chuck v the Delorean, Chuck v the seduction are cases in point.

The Jill arcs were totally out of character and the story did not tie in. I think it was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was rushed. I do not want to have to have to go through that again.

If the writers do not tackle the issue of the shooting it will show the lack of story integrity that we keep seeing. I know they have to balance a lot in this show but in the end it is about good storytelling not just creating angst for ratings...

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