'Chuck': You're not alone, Sarah Walker
A couple of plot holes prevented it from being quite as awesome as it might have been, but Yvonne Strahovski anchored the show with a fantastic performance that was enough to paper over some of those nitpicks.
The baby Shaw mentioned at the end of "Chuck vs. the Santa Suit" turns out not to be related to Sarah in any way but was the "package" in an assignment led by her old handler, Kieran Ryker (a much-more-menacing-than-usual Tim DeKay). The child is the heir to a huge fortune, which Ryker intends to keep for himself, but Sarah upends those plans, shoots Ryker in the shoulder and delivers the child to her mom, whom the CIA doesn't know about and who Sarah knows will watch over little Molly and give her a normal, happy childhood.
Ryker now knows the child is still alive, and Sarah, despite the trust she and Chuck have built up over the last few years, reverts to her loner ways and starts on a solo mission to confront Ryker. Even after Chuck convinces her to let him and Casey come along, it's still basically a solo effort, as she fakes out her team to go after Ryker herself.
Things go sideways, Chuck and Casey come to the rescue, things seem OK -- and then, thanks to a bug planted in Sarah's hair, Ryker comes after Sarah's mom and Molly. Sarah and Ryker have a fantastic fight scene -- this one on top of Shaw and Chuck's battle last week makes two top-notch fights in a row -- that ends with her putting a knife through Ryker's chest and ensuring her family's safety.
If all that sounds like I'm rushing through the plot mechanics rather quickly, it's because that's not where the greatness of the episode lived. It was instead in Sarah's emotional journey.
We've seen Sarah grow from the somewhat cold, distrustful agent she was at the start of the series to a woman who really can trust and love a guy like Chuck, and the flashbacks here give us both a hint to where that journey may have started and how far she's come.
It also filled in a big piece of Sarah's family history. I still would like to know a little more about why she chose to live with her dad rather than her mom as a kid, but among my favorite parts of the episode was its explanation of why Sarah refused to be in contact with her mother during the course of the series. Most of us had assumed it was because of something bad, but in fact it's because she wanted to protect her mom and Molly all this time.
The flashbacks also contained the biggest plot hole* of the week: After Sarah finishes her mission with Ryker, she goes to director Graham to say she's done with handlers, and he hands her Chuck's file. Although there's an allusion to her time with Bryce Larkin -- the gray box on Graham's desk is the hard drive Bryce used to steal the Intersect -- the timeline is, at best, a little bit fuzzy.
(*The others: Ryker's use of the crying baby tape fooling Sarah in the present. So, OK, Sarah might have had a momentary emotional reaction to hearing crying in that setting, but it doesn't seem like it should throw her off that much. And also, maybe Sarah has just trained her mom to use "Sarah," but isn't her real name Sam?)
But just about every scene with Cheryl Ladd worked fantastically, and the extended scene to close the episode was just a lovely piece of family life. It's almost sad that Chuck and Co. will have to face new perils in the final five episodes.
Other notes on "Chuck vs. the Baby":
- The scenes with Ellie and Awesome trying to keep their toes in the spy life (minus the danger) were the comedic highlights of the episode. It's probably best that they keep it to things like this, though, given Awesome's spectacularly bad British accent and Ellie catching her earring in his vest.
- Given that DeKay now stars with Matt Bomer on "White Collar," I was figuring on at least a nod to that by having Ryker or Sarah mention Bryce. No such luck.
- The "Chuck" homage of the week was to "The Crow," as Sarah's decimation of the Hungarians was a pretty great re-creation of Brandon Lee's bravura moment.
- Spy games aside, Ellie and Awesome also gave Morgan a nice assist in his effort to win back Alex. That, plus his natural affinity for kids, helps him get her back. Aww.
What did you think of "Chuck vs. the Baby"?