A review of tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I let the beard be a pleasant surprise...

"You're going to have to turn that girl into a Volkoff." -General Beckman

After last week's episode impressively balanced a bunch of different storylines for the large ensemble, "Chuck vs. the First Bank of Evil" was a more streamlined affair, focusing primarily on Vivan's slow transformation from Vivan McArthur to Vivian Volkoff. Unfortunately, Vivian was probably the least compelling part of last week's episode, and the expanded spotlight tonight didn't have me any more convinced that she's going to be a great villain (even if she's a conflicted one) moving forward.

As I said last week, I think the idea of Chuck inadvertently creating his opposite number on the evil side is a good one - not novel, but something that could work with the right actor and/or character. After Chuck has squared off against Superman and James Bond, might as well see how he reacts to someone with a similar backstory who wound up going down a much darker path. The problem is that actress Lauren Cohan and the writers haven't made Vivian particularly interesting beyond her obvious parallels to Chuck. Given the presence of the great Ray Wise(*) as a guest star, I'd much rather watch an arc about Volkoff's lawyer than Volkoff's daughter. Maybe we'll get there in time, but at the moment it's all about the daughter, and she's too bland.

(*) "Reaper" alum Ray Wise, no less, giving Team "Chuck" one more time to remind us that their "super powered slacker in a big box store" surpassed and outlasted the other one.  

The parallel subplot, in which the other Bartowski sibling inadvertently created her own monster by unleashing Sarah's inner bridezilla, was better. I don't know that they're getting as many laughs out of this running gag as I think they want to, but Yvonne Strahovski slouching her way through a parody of the wedding dress montage that's in every other romantic comedy of the last 20 years was pretty funny - and then Strahovski nicely sold the turn into Sarah being delighted by the right dress.

Chuck and Sarah robbing the evil bank as a cover for Vivian while talking about the wedding offered up a parallel of sorts of their fight in the middle of another bank robbery in the first Volkoff episode, but that whole sequence opened up one of the larger "Chuck Plot Holes of the Week we've had in a while: what are the chances that the bank manager wouldn't notice that the bank was being robbed, while Vivian was there, by two Americans who look exactly like Vivian's two security people from her earlier visit? How many giant blonde she-males visit this bank every day?

Oh, well. Last week was really strong, and it looks like we'll have Ray Wise around for a while. Show's off next week because of the return of "The Event," and hopefully the episode the week after that will be more on form.

Some other thoughts:

• Morgan's quest for housing did bring us some amusing gags with the supporting cast (Morgan's ongoing disgust with Big Mike sleeping with his mom, Jeffster's love of renaissance festival folk), but the resolution made only slightly more sense than the bank robbery. I get that it's an efficient use of available characters - and the Gomez/Baldwin chemistry - to turn Morgan and Casey into roommates, but why in the world would Morgan want to live with his girlfriend's homicidal dad?

• In addition to Ray Wise, we got Francois Chau - best known as Dr. Pierre Chang from "Lost" - as the bank manager.

• This week in "Chuck" pop culture references: the bank robbery was such a blatant riff on "The Matrix" that I'm surprised they missed the opportunity to have Chuck make a joke about it. Meanwhile, Morgan tries to cover for his presence in Castle by pretending to make a call about Sector 7-G, which is where Homer Simpson works at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. And the Volkoff bank card had a series of numbers on it that would be of great interest to "Lost" fans.

• This week in "Chuck" music: "El Capitan" by The Steelwells (Chuck and Big Mike talk to Morgan about his housing search), "Squealing Pigs" by Admiral Fallow (Sarah tries on wedding dresses), "Black Leaf" by The Cave Singers (Chuck and Sarah rob a bank) and "Breeze" by Alex Silverman (Morgan leverages Casey into giving him the spare room).

• This week in "Chuck" star music: in case you missed the fiasco that was the 2011 Oscar telecast last night, our man Levi had one of the few semi-bright moments when he dueted with Mandy Moore on the nominated song from "Tangled." Levi's one of those guys who takes any and every excuse to sing in public - if you're in a karaoke bar with him and he's your ride, you might want to call a cab if you want to get home before dawn - and it must have been a thrill for him to do it on such a big stage.

What did everybody else think?