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Moscow Mules and Mama Bears: Killer Frost on the Season Premiere of Chuck

And that's how you kick off a brand new season.

Last night brought the fourth season premiere of NBC's action-comedy Chuck ("Chuck Versus the Anniversary") and I hope that the episode delivered all of the espionage-tinged goodness that I promised in my advance review of the season opener last week.

I had also teased readers via Twitter about the premiere ("Chuck premiere: sexting, skydiving, Seinfeld references, (Harry Dean) Stanton? Sensational. Very fun opener.") and the episode held up extremely well under a second viewing in the time between now and then.

For me, anyway, "Chuck Versus the Anniversary" was perhaps the perfect way to begin a new chapter in the life of Chuck Bartowski, a character who has slowly evolved over the course of three seasons from reluctant hero to tragic hero to, well, just plain hero. His decision to take hold of his own destiny, to set out with Morgan on a personal quest to track down his mother may have not lead him to the answers he sought but it did bring him back together with his old team and put him in position to rescue Sarah and Casey for a change.

As we all know that secrets between lovers is never, ever a good thing, the writers were wise to have Sarah find out about Chuck's globe-spanning secret mission before the episode was out... and to have her offer her help and support to tracking down Mama Bartowski.

But, this is Chuck, after all, so it's only fitting that Mary Elizabeth Bartowski--a.k.a. The Frost Queen--isn't some abducted housewife but rather a bad-ass spy herself, a dangerous woman with the ability to take down a man about four times her size without breaking a nail. While Chuck might think he's doing a good thing to find his mother--who now he knows didn't just walk out on them when they were children--he might be opening the door to even more danger in his life. After all, these are some powerful men who have Mary in their custody and, should she be able to make her escape after all this time, they're likely to be only too willing to track her down and take her in again. But Mary's made it clear that her motivations have less to do with escape and more to do with keeping her family safe. Especially Chuck.

So just who is Volkoff? That remains an intriguing mystery to be solved down the line, but suffice it to say that he's likely to be the big bad for the season. Does his involvement in international espionage and terrorism predate The Ring and Fulcrum? Certainly seems that way, which means that Volkoff must be quite dangerous indeed to have stayed off of the CIA and NSA's radar all this time.

But while the Mama Bartowski storyline cast a nicely dangerous shadow over the proceedings, the majority of the episode was pretty light and, well, light-hearted, a nice change of pace from the doom and gloom of Season Three. I absolutely loved the map of Chuck and Morgan traveling around the world in a random fashion, the sexting between Chuck and Sarah (and its very nice payoff at the end), Harry Dean Stanton's turn as a repo man after Morgan's car, the shout-out to Vandalay Industries from Seinfeld, Chuck's doom-ridden job interviews, General Beckman's new job at the Buy More, and the focus on the bromance between Chuck and Morgan.

And kudos too for not splitting up Chuck and Sarah but instead deepening their bond and having them come out the other side of a long-distance relationship all the more strong. I loved that Chuck defended his elision as not a lie but rather the fact that he was keeping a secret, leading the two to promise not to do either anymore. Some shows have serious difficulties keeping things interesting once the romantic leads give into temptation but so far Chuck has done a superb job keeping their relationship compelling and interesting.

The same holds true for the workplace element of the series. The Buy More has long been a source for comic relief amid the high-flying spy action and the romance and Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz have upped the ante further by pushing the CIA/NSA deeper into the Buy More infrastructure, revealing a new twist to the workplace setting that combines the disparate aspects of the series into a single location. The Buy More becomes both Chuck's cover story and his true identity, a real sense of danger and intrigue amid the X-Boxes and flat-screen televisions.

I love that Beckman is now in charge of the Buy More and that it's staffed with crack agents from the joint intelligence divisions. But I'm curious just how Big Mike, Jeff, and Lester--all three absent from the season opener but still series regulars--will fit into the new world order at the store. Is there a place for Nerd Herders amid a store that can transform into a fully functional war room with the flick of a switch? Especially when two of them happen to be under investigation for arson? Hmmm...

All in all, a fantastic installment that offered the very best of Chuck's winning combination of genre-busting elements and which offered a very exciting direction for the season to come.

What did you think of the season opener? Did it live up to your expectations? Head to the comments section to discuss, debate, and analyze.

Next week on Chuck ("Chuck Versus the Suitcase"), Chuck and Sarah infiltrate the catwalks of the Milan fashion world in order to uncover a deadly weapons plot; Morgan discovers a fatal flaw that compromises the new Buy More.


Unknown said…
Awesome. Simply awesome. My enjoyment of the season 4 premiere was made all the more intense by my new Sharp 60" LCD/LED TV. I'm now a high-def convert. And I like how the producers (sound engineers?) take advantage of the capabilities of 5.1 HD sound.


We'll see if the writers are able to keep the romance fresh. As you say, too many romantic leads have fallen prey to the jumping shark after they get together. I hope Sarah and Chuck can, of course.

Harry Dean Stanton's guest appearance was hilarious. I look forward to more of this fun casting.

I also enjoyed Sarah pointing out that Casey missed Chuck too (twice). Heh.

I wonder if Olivia Munn is there as a love-interest for Morgan or is she a monkey-wrench in Chuck & Sarah's relationship? Chuck certainly seemed to appreciate her entrance, but Morgan was chatting her up.

Ellie's pregnancy will no doubt factor into the season's arc. Are there 9 months of eps?
Tempest said…
Ahhh, Chuck on Mondays. Life is good!

Lovin' the return. Too much goodness to enumerate, but how cool is Linda Hamilton? Wow.

And yes, please, Chuck writers, keep Chuck and Sarah together. It can be done. (See Nick and Nora Charles. Please don't mention Moonlighting.)

I'm also curious about how Jeffster and Big Mike are going to fit into the new mix. (Not a big fan of Olivia Munn right now. Something about her feels off.)

But, overall -- Woo Hoo! Chuck is back!
gretchen e. said…
I'm scared to share my $0.02 since I wasn't super thrilled. I loved the episode, don't get me wrong. But as a season opener, not so much. It would have been a quality mid-season episode. As it stands, I think it's a weak start (and yes, it pains me to say that).

Not a huge fan of Olivia Munn's character yet. She smells like trouble for Chuck.
Keira said…
Olivia Munn's character will be a one-time thing, so don't worry about that.

I enjoyed the episode very much, but my main nitpick is sometimes the show gets just too goofy and off-the-rails. Morgan is funny in smaller doses and the show works better when Chuck/Sarah/Casey are all together and they spent too much of the episdoe apart. The sexting was funny, but a touch creepy that Morgan was attempting to do it with Sarah.

I am not a huge fan of the Buy More and would have liked it gone, but maybe the new version will work ok.

Love how they developed the relationship between Chuck and Sarah, loved Casey's contributions, and am hopeful that Volkoff will be a real threat.

An aside, what does 6/9 anniversary mean? Anyone?
Kyle Garret said…
Wasn't entirely thrilled. It was fun, but it was the same basic move as last year, starting with everything torn apart and then getting it all back together in one episode. It feels like a waste of precious episodes.
My biggest complaint, however, was the whole "Sarah would stop me" bit. She wouldn't. She really, really wouldn't. And Chuck only believes she would so they can keep them apart for this episode. The fact that she even agrees with him is completely out of character. Why would she try to stop him from looking for his mom? How is that even close to something she would do? It's not. It was forced so they could service the plot.
I did enjoy the scenes in Russia and the preview for the rest of the season was fantastic.
But I hate it when I can feel the mechanics of the show, when it doesn't seem natural, and I felt that last night.
oldspiceguy said…
I thought it was a nice episode, but not great. It was rather choppy, especially in the beginning. One of the things that makes Chuck great is that the show is very fluid and everything fits together, but this episode seemed more like a random collage of humor and action. I don't know about other people, but I really do miss the buymore and the buymorons. It was such an integral part of the first three seasons that I couldn't imagine Chuck without it. And lastly, did anyone else think Sarah looked a lot older? Maybe its the makeup, but Yvonne looked like she aged a few years!
rockauteur said…
I know some people had a problem with this episode, but I loved every minute of it, craving more the second the tiny credits rolled by. Super fun, really enjoyable, lots of action and comedy.

Loved that Morgan and Chuck's missions around the world were inferred rather than seen, which easily helped move the time frame along. Loved that the bad guys were actually hunting for them (they expertly used public transportation to not be tracked) and not Sarah and Casey. Hopefully the government will reimburse Morgan and Chuck on their rogue mission now that it led to some additional intel and recovery of the EMP device!

Can't wait to see what the season unfolds. Could Sarah's baby be a new future intersect? Is Mama good or evil? Was she being held captive or is she working/running the organization?

Love Beckman at the Buy More!
Hadley said…
I like it when Chuck focuses more on the action and comedy rather than the romance and drama, so I thought this was a great episode. And I agree with "Tempest" that Chuck and Sarah follow the path of Nick and Nora Charles, rather than a sappy on-again-off-again romance scenario.

Linda Hamilton? Great. Harry Dean Stanton? Brilliant.
Kat said…
I thought it was great start to the new season. I laughed out loud when they showed the surveillance pictures of Chuck and Morgan during their trip.
HH1Fan said…
@Keira--It's their six month anniversary that they're celebrating three months late because of 'mission mishegas'. :)

Source: Josh Schwartz Twitter.

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