CALLED IT! Okay, so it probably wasn't that hard to figure out: our mysterious Uchiha friend is a former Orochimaru experiment. That does not make it any less fantastic that Orochimaru and the Taka are being brought back into the fold. I thought one of the strongest aspects of early Shippuden was Sasuke assembling the Taka (which he called “Hebi,” at the time, I believe). Jugo, Suigetsu, and Karin are inherently interesting characters with unique abilities. More importantly, they all tie neatly together around a central character, Orochimaru, who is by far the most interesting villain in the entire series.
Kishimoto is showing his maturity as a writer both with his own characters and with his willingness to explore philosophically provoking themes while demonstrating that he is not afraid to inject humor to break up some of the tension. As I have said before, Naruto is nothing if not an exploration of older generations passing down a will and a purpose to the younger generations. Contemplating the austere, sort-of-depressing biological nature of genetics via the Shin clones provides a stellar contrast to the ever-present theme of lineage in Naruto.
And Chocho? Name me a better character than Chocho right now. You can't. A father and daughter are reunited for the first time in years and Chocho is trying to help one of the greatest Ninja of all time smooth things over by giving up her bag of BBQ chips. She meets Orochimaru and blabs about how she can't figure out whether he's a man or a woman, much like I could not figure out when I first started reading. I confess that I'm still not really sure. Since Naruto himself has to act like Hokage most of the time, it's nice to have some silly comic relief breaking up the already intense drama of these early chapters.