The missions on Chuck rarely feel all that tense to me; Chuck's name is the title of the show, so how much danger could he actually be in? But in this episode, everything feels like it's up in the air. No, Chuck probably isn't going to die, but he might really be taken to a detention facility staffed by evil Fulcrum agents. Or Ellie or Awesome could be hurt. Or even Sarah or Casey could go down.
Things really start to go poorly when Sarah and Casey break into the Buy More. They only have two choices: be their civilian selves, or blow Chuck's cover and end up with a whole bunch of new people to protect. They choose the civilian route, and then some quirky coincidences (Sarah being Chuck's "girlfriend," Casey getting his toe shot off) lead to their release while Chuck's still inside.
Of course, those aren't coincidences at all but evil actions Fulcrum takes to get Chuck alone. It's fascinating to see the tone switch from "hey, weird holiday shopping crime!" to "OMG, they know everything about Chuck, and they're totally after him." And just minutes after cautioning Awesome not to be a hero, Chuck decides to be one himself, telling the agent that the Intersect is in his brain. How heartbreaking is the look on Chuck's face when he hugs Ellie good-bye, knowing that in all likelihood, he's seeing her for the last time?
Casey and Sarah aren't going to give up that easily, though, and they do manage to spring Chuck free. But Chuck's never been good at doing what he's told, and so instead of running back to the Castle and being reunited with his family, he lurks in the background of the tree lot — and ends up seeing Sarah shoot the agent dead. I don't know if Chuck could hear their conversation, but either way, he's now seen Sarah at her most ruthless, and — like Morgan seeing Anna kiss Lester, but worse — that image is never going to leave his mind.
Some other thoughts:
This episode isn't all sad and somber. In fact, the stuff with Awesome and the Buy More crew (in elf uniforms!) staging a coup that instantly fails until Morgan pops up with a fake snowblower is pretty hysterical.
Emmett and Big Mike drive the same car! And have matching coffee thermoses!
Anna loves Lester! For like a second, until he does something gross that I don't even want to know the details of, but still.
How sad was it to see Sarah standing there while everyone's calling their loved ones, with nobody to call herself?
General Beckman to Casey: "It's an electronics store, major, not Basra. Get it under control."
Also, when I first saw Casey with the armload of wrapping paper, I hoped it was because he was secretly really into Christmas.