A review of tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as the CIA brings me wine...

"You ever wonder what it would be like if we lived a life of mystery and adventure like that?" -Captain Awesome

Leaving the Buy More gang off to the side for the week, "Chuck vs. the Curse" wound up going 2-for-3 with stories featuring the rest of the cast.

Ellie and Awesome's spy role playing turning into a night of real spy action was a fun story for the two, and the kind of thing a show like "Chuck" tries out in its later years. (If there were to be a sixth season, I imagine Smart Jeff would eventually wind up going on a mission.) It's been clear that these two aren't cut out for full-fledged spy careers - the few times in the past that Devon has stumbled into spy world, he's been afraid and only useful for his good right hook - but for a night's adventure in their new, wearying lives as parents, and on an adventure where they don't actually have to do anything too outlandish, why not? I especially enjoyed how the danger wound up as an aphrodisiac for them - though, of course, when you put Ellie(*) into one of Sarah's dresses and have Awesome take his shirt off, the danger only has to do so much work. A very nice showcase for Sarah Lancaster and Ryan McPartlin, though in hindsight I think we could have gotten a bit of mileage out of the mistaken identity thing, since those two in those outfits so clearly looked like they could be the dashing spies in charge of Carmichael Industries.

(*) Sarah Lancaster has spent most of this series wearing hospital scrubs and moderate makeup, so it's almost funny when someone remembers, "Oh, yeah, she's gorgeous!" and play that up for an hour. McPartlin is shirtless nearly as often as he is fully-clothed, so he's always been treated as the eye candy in that couple.   
Morgan and Alex taking tentative steps towards reconciliation - which, as much as Alex wants to protest, we know is coming - was also charming, even if their "mission" to secure Chuck's P.A.N.T.S. (or "Private Artifacts Never To Share") was slight and largely an excuse to make them work together. "Pants" is just a funny word, and also as an acronym, it turns out.

The Chuck/Sarah story, unfortunately, was a disappointment on a few levels. First, while Chuck's emotions and his feelings for his friends and family have always been his most vulnerable point, I had hoped he had gotten better at working around that over the years - at finding a way to make sure he saved his sister and brother-in-law without letting the bad guys get anywhere near The Omen. I know the shadow conspiracy had to release the big computer virus in order for the major story arc to move forward, but I hate that Chuck would have put such a dangerous weapon into enemy hands - and that Sarah, Beckman and Casey, for that matter, would have gone along with even a version of that plan. And the idea that Chuck obsessing over the "curse" made him yet another Bartowski participating in it (by running away from Sarah) didn't feel like it was explored enough. Most of the time, Chuck's neuroses are what make him endearing. Every now and then, though, they make him kind of annoying, and this was one of those blessedly rare occasions.

I also felt like the final sequence with Robin Cunnings at Castle made a couple of missteps. First, it wrapped up the idea of the government hunting Chuck, Casey and Sarah waaaay too easily. I can see the show not having the time to devote multiple episodes to a fugitive arc in this 13-episode final season, but the problem got solved so speedily it's as if it never happened. And second, I don't like that it was implied Beckman and Casey tortured Robin to get the information they needed. On lots of shows, sure, absolutely. (Just to stay with Adam Baldwin characters, I think of Jayne in the "Firefly" pilot being told to scare someone and replying, "Pain is scary.") But "Chuck" has always been an oddly innocent kind of show, befitting the main character. Casey and Sarah will do things that Chuck won't, and the bad guys will torture people, but having two of our heroes do it - even if we don't see it, and even if they're the hardened, cynical NSA veterans Casey and Beckman - feels tonally off. I don't know. Maybe that's just me.

There's a big story going on here, and a lot of steps have to be taken quickly to get from here to there by the end of these 13 episodes. Last week's episode was a very strong step on that journey, where the best parts of "Curse" had little or nothing to do with it.

Some other thoughts:

* This week in "Chuck" music: Apologies for getting the song list much too late to include it last week. I now have the next several song sheets already, so we're good on this front at least until January. This week's songs included "Kiss Me" by Joie de Vivre (Ellie and Awesome prep for their date), "All My Ex's Live in Texas" by George Strait (Casey and Beckman at the roadhouse), "All Around the World" by Theophilus London (Sarah and Casey come to everyone's rescue) and "I Want the Lights on After Dark" by Memphis (the final montage).

* Don't know if this was Open Table product integration, but either way, did it feel intrusive, or like the sort of thing a techie like Chuck would do?

* Question: would burly Agent Simms have been killed if Ellie and Awesome hadn't jumped out of the car, forcing him to stop and get out and look for them? Or would Robin have stumbled on him no matter what?

* Rebecca Romijn is the kind of guest star it's almost surprising it took them 5 seasons to get around to. Then again, she was on "Ugly Betty" for a few of those and therefore not available.

* Casey: "Rescuing Bartowskis is our business." Heh.

Finally, several of you noted that the previews at the end of last week's episode gave away a big guest star who's in next week's Christmas episode (which I've seen, and which is outstanding), and I'm going to ask you to again abide by the blog rules and DO NOT DISCUSS ANYTHING YOU'VE SEEN IN PREVIEWS FOR UPCOMING EPISODES, or anything else you know about what's coming. I imagine it's pretty easy to speculate on who's in that mysterious prison cell we see at the end of the episode, but for those who try to avoid watching those promos, let's just keep it to ourselves for another week, please. Any comment giving that away will be deleted. Period. Thanks for playing along.

What did everybody else think?