A review of tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I wear my teeth-bleaching system in front of you(*)...

"We're all about to die over basically just one big relationship problem?" -Chuck

I assumed, based on the return of Armand Assante as Generalissimo Goya and promo photos like the one above, that "Chuck vs. the Coup D'Etat" was going to be a very Awesome (and Ellie)-heavy episode. And it wasn't quite that, though Devon and Ellie did get some nice showcase moments. Then I saw the end of last week's episode, and the opening scenes of this one, and thought this was going to be another episode highlighted by Chuck and Sarah's relationship bleeding over into their work. And while there was certainly a lot of that - much of it funny - that wasn't what I imagine I'll look back on this episode and remembering.

No, the best part of Goya's return was the best part of his debut appearance last season: the Angel De La Muerte himself, John Casey.

Though Casey is understandably a fan favorite, actual Casey-centric episodes have been kind of a mixed bag for the series. Last year's "Chuck vs. the Tic-Tac" was a dark highlight, but "Chuck vs. the Sensei" was one of the few weak spots in the fantastic season two, and "Chuck vs. the Undercover Lover" was a bit ragged, as it was one of the last episodes written before the strike shut down season one.

Casey does, on the other hand, have an excellent track record for walking away with episodes in which he's only partly featured. "Chuck vs. the Angel De La Muerte" was at least as much a Devon episode, if not more, yet the most memorable moments involved Casey. Here, he was arguably even lower on the totem pole, after Chuck/Sarah and Devon/Ellie, yet once Goya decides that only John Casey can protect him, Adam Baldwin owns the remainder of the episode, whether it's Casey being bad-ass both in and out of the wheelchair in the courtyard, Casey complaining of "the stench of tyranny" or Casey revealing some of what he learned during the two weeks he spent inside the wall ("He used to watch you sleep"). And even earlier than that, of course, there was all the tension between Casey and Morgan over the inevitable Morgan/Alex relationship, which ought to take us to some very amusing places in the coming weeks.

Of course, Casey's ascension in the second half did put Awesome and Ellie on the sidelines pretty quickly, but at least we got the Captain Awesome statue (Michaelangelo's David in scrubs) serving as an aphrodisiac during the babymoon, and from an emotional/story point, Ellie finally go to see Chuck in action, realize that he knows what he's doing (and likes doing it), and learn a little bit about Chuck's search for their mom. I hope the show has a good plan for the moment we all know is coming when Ellie discovers the full truth, but this one tiptoed up to the line nicely.

And as for Chuck and Sarah, I like how Morgan has now become a kind of audience surrogate, mocking them for how many fo their problems are caused by their inability to have an actual conversation. So then the episode proceeded to give them nothing but conversations - awkward, funny conversations that again played well to Yvonne Strahovski's impatient comic strengths.

I know some of you have complained that the show is pushing Chuck/Sarah too much this year. And I could certainly do with an episode or two where the mission isn't a referendum on their relationship. But on the other hand, the show did put them together after three years of building up to it, and I think it would be unfair - both from a storytelling point of view and simply for the Chuck/Sarah fans - if we came out of the gate acting like it was no big deal. I've liked these stories so far. There's been tension, but in a way that fits into what the show is about, rather than the "all shows are ruined when the couple finally hooks up" fallacy. And here they managed to give us a lot of Chuck/Sarah in an episode that also, as mentioned above, showcased Casey, and Devon and Ellie, and Morgan and even Big Mike. (Jeffster had the week off.) So I'm good.

Plus, Armand Assante was just as much hammy fun this time as last.

Some other thoughts:

• The NBC promo department couldn't find it in their hearts to allot 5 or 10 seconds to showing Sarah in her underwear two weeks ago, but I hear (though I did not see) that there was a commercial during football featuring the Sarah bikini fashion show. Sooner or later, you put Yvonne Strahovski in enough skimpy outfits and good things are going to happen. (And by "good things," I of course mean "promotion for 'Chuck.'") 

• This week in "Chuck" music: "Laura" by Girls (Chuck and Morgan watch the surveillance footage), "Tropicana" by La Tropicana Orchestra (the music for Goya's invitation video), "Sleep Walk" by Santo & Johnny (Morgan, Casey and Alex talk), "Rebulu" by Jesus Alejandro Nino (Chuck and company arrive at Goya's party), "Without You" by Lewis LaMedica (Alex kisses Morgan) and "She Brings Me the Music" by RPA and The United Nations of Sound (Chuck learns about his mom through Goya, talks to Ellie about mom, and Sarah tells Chuck she loves him).

• Costa Gravas now has a Subway franchise. Of course. Heh. (A much funnier bit of product integration than Awesome's plug for a certain minivan.)

• Been a long time since I saw "The Mambo Kings." Does Assante sing "Besame Mucho" in that? Or was that scene just a riff on "Besame Mucho" as a cliche?

• It's a well the show has gone to before, but I never tire of Chuck being horrified by Ellie and Awesome's sex life.

• No Greta this week.

What did everybody else think?

(*) I should note that this was maybe the hardest "just as soon as" decision I've had to make in quite a while, as "just as soon as I follow the stink of commie" was also damned tempting, but I already used a commie line in my "Chuck vs. the Angel De La Muerte" review.