'Chuck': It's a Volkoff family affair

chuck-family-volkoff1-320.jpg Timothy Dalton was back on "Chuck" this time out, and anytime that happens it's a good thing. But "Chuck vs. the Family Volkoff" also saw the torch being passed -- or, more accurately, forcefully taken -- in his criminal empire, and that may not be the best thing.

Time will tell on that, but if you're having a slightly tough time buying the full dark-side turn by Vivian Volkoff, you're not alone.

Taking the elements of Monday's (April 11) episode piece by piece:

Chuck vs. Alexei and Vivian

The CIA has a kill order out on Vivian Volkoff (the returning Lauren Cohan), which Chuck wants to prevent from taking place: He still has some residual goodwill toward/identifies with her situation as an unwilling participant in this world, and he wants to prove that the bombs that went off in Castle in "Chuck vs. the Muuurder" weren't put there on her order.

They arrange a meet that goes sideways when someone (not Casey, who's in position just in case) starts shooting at them, but the CIA does get its hands on a heretofore unknown weapon. The only man who can tell them what it is just happens to be ... Alexei Volkoff.

Chuck correctly points out that letting Volkoff out of prison to give intel on the weapon (which can track a person's DNA and pick him or her out in a crowd) is a really bad idea. But Beckman (and her superiors) are insisting, so in comes Volkoff, Hannibal Lecter-style (minus the straitjacket and mask).

He insists he's trying to change, and Dalton sells it brilliantly, offering up self-help platitudes about "amends" to CIA agents, Somali pirates and Mary Bartowski. Whether he actually means any of it almost doesn't even matter -- the mix of malevolence and cheerfulness is just part of the character, and Dalton can flip the switch brilliantly. (See: the chess scene in his secret Swiss Alps bunker, with Chuck imploring him, "You are a villain, sir!")

The tracking down of the weapon's (codename: Norseman) components, though, turns out to be a con job by the Volkoffs; Vivian swoops in after they've accessed the final piece and grabs it for herself -- then double-crosses her dad by leaving him to die with Chuck, Sarah and Casey. She has a specific use in mind for it (more on that in a moment), and we're supposed to take from her actions that she's truly become her father's daughter. Her transformation from disillusioned and confused to eeevil has happened offscreen, though, and thus it's a little difficult to accept based on what we've seen of her.

Vivian has been positioned as kind of a female Chuck, in that she's been dragged into a world she doesn't really understand because of her family ties. It took Chuck a couple of years to process that and accept his place in the spy world; Vivian's learning curve could just be a lot faster, but the show hasn't really sold that yet.

Chuck vs. the pre-nup

While all this is happening, Chuck is also trying to process why Sarah gave him a pre-nuptial agreement to sign. Rather than wigging out in front of her, though, he goes to Casey and Morgan -- who have morphed from roommates into a creepily (but hilariously) in-sync, bickering couple -- for advice. Play it cool, Casey advises: Spies have secrets, and the pre-nup is just part of that game.

Lo and behold, Chuck does manage to play it cool, which in turn makes Sarah a little uncomfortable. She keeps prodding Chuck to open up and spill his neuroses like he always does, but he refuses (Sarah's discomfort, if anything, is a little underplayed. It would've been fun to see her become even more Chuck-like). He's so cool, in fact, that she tears up the agreement -- which had to do with her having money salted away in case her dad gets in more trouble -- and signs the one he offers up, which gives us our "awww" moment of the week. His pre-nup says only that they promise to love each other forever and ever.

Casey vs. graduation

Maybe the strongest of the subplots this week involved Casey and Alex. She's about to graduate from college and he wants to be there for her but can't, as her mom still doesn't know that Casey's alive. Alex offers to meet her dad between the ceremony and her dinner with mom (at the shooting range, no less), which not-so-secretly makes him happy. But he also realizes that he can't continue to ask Alex to lie to her mother.

So, it appears we're headed toward Casey meeting up with his past next week. Alex has been a very good addition to "Chuck"-world this season, both for helping Morgan grow up and for helping Casey open up. The big guy deserves someone like Alex in his life, and we're hopeful for the possibilities his reunion with Alex's mom can bring.

Ellie vs. Mom and Chuck

Ellie continues to make progress into her dad's work, even uncovering files on someone known only as "Agent X." That makes Mary uncomfortable, and not just out of maternal instinct. It turns out she's spying on Ellie for Beckman and her bosses, who still want to expand the Intersect program and need Ellie to keep cracking the code.

Ellie's onto her mom, though, and even tries to follow Mary to Castle, where she briefs Chuck on what's happening. She also encourages him to tell her sister what he really does, reasoning that it's better if he comes clean now than to have Ellie discover it herself later. He resolves to do just that, but then Ellie lies to him about the Agent X stuff, and he's so thrown that he doesn't go through with his confession. ("My sister just lied to me for the first time ever," he says. "Not cool.") "Chuck" has four episodes remaining in the season to get around to Ellie finding out the truth, and we're hoping that comes sooner rather than later.

It is coming, though, because we close the episode with Vivian Volkoff saying she's going to use the Norseman weapon to eliminate the only person her father was afraid of: Yep, Agent X.

A couple other notes from "Chuck vs. the Family Volkoff":

  • Apparently Chuck will be watching "Game of Thrones" when it premieres this weekend, because the first time we see him this week he says to the book he's reading, "Don't let your kids keep a direwolf -- that's a terrible idea!"
  • The sight of Chuck and the Somali pirate playing Uno for Volkoff's weapon: Comedy brilliance.
  • Loved Ellie and Awesome's codenames for one another: Hot Mama and Six-Pack.
  • Volkoff describes the pirate's compound for Chuck: "It's a rat's nest of a hellhole ... but the gambling's good. The buffet's decent. ... Tell them I sent you; it will scare the hell out of them. [Pause] It's sad, isn't it? Why do I always choose fear over love?" Casey: "OK, Oprah. Park it."
  • Sarah, outside Volkoff's cave: "Maybe it's not a trap after all." Casey: "Bah. Never trust a limey with good teeth."

What did you think of this week's "Chuck"? Are you buying Vivian's transformation? Who do you think is Agent X -- is it Ellie, or someone else?

Photo/Video credit: NBC
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