A review of tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I record a sweet demo...

"We always expect the best from the ones we love, and rarely get it." -Volkoff

Can I say again what a fantastic casting coup Timothy Dalton has been for this show?

Take the James Bond thing out of it, for a moment. Yes, it's really cool and fun that the big bad of this season is one of the handful of men who have played the most famous spy of all time, but by the time Volkoff had taken over the Buy More, any thoughts of 007-gone-rogue had faded into the background, and I was just watching a marvelous, classically-trained actor commanding the screen and finding that sweet spot in between silly and serious that exemplifies "Chuck" at its best. He's easily the strongest guest star the show has had since John Larroqutte early in season two, and arguably the best ever: great even more for what he can do than for what he represents.

Dalton was so fantastic throughout "Chuck vs. the Leftovers," in fact, that he was able to cover for number of flaws and or pieces of recycled material throughout the episode.

For instance, I shouldn't buy that Volkoff has been in love with Frost for 20 years without anything having happened (assuming Mary is telling Chuck the truth), and yet Dalton totally sold the supervillain-as-lovestruck-fool dancing on Frost's hook for decades.

I should roll my eyes at the umpteenth takeover of the Buy More, let alone the second time where it's turned into a blatant "Die Hard" homage (the first was with Reginald VelJohnson as Al Powell in "Chuck vs. the Santa Claus")... let alone the second time in a row such an episode has been directed by Zachary Levi. But, again, Dalton was so good at playing the menace of Volkoff ("That's how you threaten someone, Charles") that I enjoyed it.

(It helped that even though the riff overall was repetitive, putting Morgan in bare feet and an undershirt as John McClane was a great sight gag.)

I've also never been as fond of the "dinner party with Awesome and Ellie where spy world keeps threatening to intrude" device as the show's creative team is, but Volkoff doing charades? Hilarious.

I don't know how many more chances we're going to get to see Dalton on the show - the back 11 order came so late that I'm assuming the originally-planned Volkoff/Frost arc will be over and done with by episode 13 - but I'm going to relish every minute he's hanging around, because the guy is just tons of fun, and "Chuck vs. the Leftovers" ultimately was, too.

Some other thoughts:

• Didn't love the resolution of the Intersect No More arc. First, Mary's explanation for why she zapped him with the PSP doesn't really track with the line she said about how Steven never would have wanted Chuck to see this, since we know Steven never wanted Chuck to be a spy and was irked that he turned himself into the Intersect 2.0. (And, as Chuck pointed out, she put him in a lot of danger as he continued his spy career without the chuck fu.) Second, the business with the laptop doesn't make a lot of sense. Why send it to Ellie - and include a problem on there that only a doctor like Ellie can solve - if it's intended for Chuck to see once it's working again? Ellie knows "Aces, Charles" just as well as Chuck does (they talked about it in the pilot as he got dressed for his first date with Sarah); what if she had typed it in and said yes? Given that Steven wanted his son out of the spy game, why would he leave a portable Intersect to his sister? And how would he even know that Chuck would even have need of another Intersect? (or even just a device to reboot the malfunctioning one.) And beyond that, I don't feel like the episodes where Chuck was powerless took enough advantage of that fact - or, at least, they didn't give Chuck any opportunity to show off his non-Intersect gifts. Oh, well.

• Chuck and Morgan at strip kick class, trying to learn combat to Lady Gaga? Damn funny, and I loved that Chuck got to put his one move into action when Volkoff's assassins came after him.

• Someone want to set an over/under on the number of times (either for the rest of these original 13 episodes, or through the season) that Chuck is on the verge of proposing to Sarah just as spy business intrudes? Also, over/under on how many more episodes until Chuck winds up getting stabbed by his mom now that he's noted it's the one thing she hasn't done to him yet?

• The "Die Hard" references were flying fast and furious - the undershirt, the invading team having an African-American member in charge of hacking the computer system, the gun taped to Morgan's back (and too low down for him to reach, heh), Morgan having to step on the metal fasteners (ala McClane in the room with the broken glass), etc. - and Linda Hamilton finally getting to drop a "Terminator" line when she told Chuck, "Come with me if you want to live."

• Though she's been understandably upstaged by Dalton in her last two episodes, I thought Hamilton had a very nice moment when Mary allowed herself a little smile after Chuck said he trusts her.  

• It's not just nostalgia for the Save Chuck campaign; I think I genuinely enjoy hearing Mark Christopher Lawrence describe the ingredients of various Subway sandwiches. The company should absolutely hire him for commercials at some point.

• "Chuck vs. the Beard," Levi's directorial debut, looked pretty much like any other episode of the show (with the possible exception of some of the Buy More revolution shots). In this one, I thought he was trying too hard to do something different in that first scene in Awesome and Ellie's apartment with the extreme, askew close-ups and the dissonant sound effects. I would have understood that Chuck was on edge even without those.

• A good episode for Captain Awesome. "Wow. That is surprisingly soothing."

• This week in "Chuck" music: "Turn It Around" by Miss Eighty 6 (Chuck and Morgan enter the strip kick class), "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga (Chuck and Morgan strip-kicking), "Let It Snow" by Vaughn Monroe (Chuck and Sarah ambushed by the assassins) and "Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms (Volkoff having fun at Awesome and Ellie's apartment).

And that's it for "Chuck" in 2010. "The Singing Bee" "The Sing-Off" takes over the timeslot for the next few weeks, and we'll have new episodes starting January 17, as "Chuck" becomes one of the few stable pieces in NBC's ever-shifting schedule. As Fienberg and I talked about on a recent podcast, NBC is now so in turmoil - and, last week's unfortunately low rating opposite the "Dancing with the Stars" finale aside (cosing several hundred thousand viewers a chance to enjoy Giant Blonde She-Male's rampage), the "Chuck" ratings have been so consistent and, while low, stronger than almost any new show NBC has tried for a few years - that I would now no longer be shocked by a fifth season. I'm not banking on it, but I can actually see it happening. And that would be kind of remarkable - and hopefully fun, given how good this season has turned out to be. And also give the writers at least five or six more chances to have the Buy More turn out to be the world's least secret, least secure CIA sub-station(*).

(*) After Strahovski last week and Gomez this week, it's probably Adam Baldwin's turn to put on a grimy tank top, no? Or would Casey-as-McClane be too easy?

What did everybody else think?

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