A review of tonight’s “Chuck” coming up just as soon as I take an online gemology class…
“It’s what I do. I’m a spy.” -Chuck
“No, Chuck! You’re not… not right now” -Sarah
How I feel about “Chuck vs. the Fear of Death” is going to depend largely, I think, on next week’s episode, or however long it takes for this Chuck-sans-Intersect mini-arc to play itself out.
Most of the episode is about Chuck’s fear not of real death, but the death of his spy career, because he thinks he can’t (or won’t be allowed to) function as a spy without the Intersect powers. But Chuck did pretty darned well for himself without Chuck Fu in the show’s first two seasons, and the Intersect database itself rarely helped out in finishing missions; it usually just started them. Obviously, he was more of an asset than a full-fledged agent then, and he needed Sarah as his handler. And obviously, the CIA – even the forgiving version of it on this show that allows Chuck to use the “Sorry, my mom made me do it” excuse to avoid punishment on the Frost thing – wouldn’t let a semi-trained guy with limited natural combat skills be a field agent in the way he’s been treated for the last season and a half.
But Chuck had his uses in the first few years beyond the Intersect data, and some of the show’s more memorable plot resolutions involved Chuck saving the day in spite of his utter lack of training, whether stopping a bomb with a porn spam virus or bluffing Michael Clarke Duncan with his battle plan from Call of Duty. The one thing the show and/or Chuck himself lost with the addition of the Chuck Fu was that – not just the comedy of it, but the idea that Chuck had things to contribute beyond the computer in his head. And once the series finally went down the “superhero loses his powers” well, I hoped we might get reminded of that.
But outside the brief gag about Chuck learning gemology on the flight to Gstaad, the episode’s equation was very simple: No Intersect = No Spy Chuck.
That’s not an unreasonable place to start over a story that’s going to run at least one more episode. Of course Chuck would want to get the Intersect back online, and the government would only care about that and not other applications for his video game skills. But if this story resolves itself without Chuck proving his worth without the Chuck Fu, I’m going to be disappointed.
But regardless of where we go next week, “Chuck vs. the Fear of Death” still likely won’t stand out as one of this season’s strongest episodes. I like the idea of the Rob Riggle character, but I think the execution fell somewhere in the nether region between the show’s goofy and sweet sides – too silly for the crisis to be taken totally seriously, yet not not quite funny enough to work as a pure comic character. I enjoy seeing guys get slapped in the face, but the set-up and/or reactions to Chuck’s various punishments at the hands of Rye never entirely clicked. (Conversely, Zachary Levi’s delivery of “What was the point of the water? I was just wondering” helped sell the earlier sequence of the tests from before Rye showed up.)
This was a week where the Buy More stuff felt stronger than the spy stuff, even if the show still hasn’t really justified (or even explained) the Greta gimmick. We get it that it’s been an excuse for cameos, and The Man Your Man Could Smell Like was funny, and Olivia Munn and Stacy Keibler looked good in the Nerd Herd skirts, and here Summer Glau got to do her usual sexy-but-strange thing that she did so well on “Terminator,” but it’s still not clear what the point is of having all these undercover CIA employees with the same cover name shuttling in and out of the joint, why the population of CIA agents in the store (or in Castle) seems to wax and wane depending on the needs of the story, etc.
Still pitting Jeffster up against an angry CIA agent with little patience for them led to some good laughs, provided an excuse for some Subway plugs (the Save “Chuck” campaign was so successful at making me associate the sandwiches with the show that I’m at the point where I start to feel sad if we go too many episodes without hearing someone describe the ingredients), and also tied in nicely to a good subplot about Casey trying to re-erect the emotional walls he’s dropped over the last few years in Burbank.
Good cliffhanger, and we’ll see where it goes next week.
Some other thoughts:
• This week in “Chuck” guest stars: Rob Riggle you probably know from “The Daily Show,” or his brief stint on “SNL.” Summer Glau’s going to be on NBC’s mid-season superhero show “The Cape” (and, as Fienberg pointed out on Twitter earlier today, NBC’s mid-season schedule is so bananas that “Chuck” has now become one of the few stable rocks in the lineup), and I was glad she got a few moments with her old “Firefly” co-star Adam Baldwin. And as The Belgian, the show got ’70s and ’80s TV icon Richard Chamberlain, who once had the nickname King of the Miniseries for his work in “Shogun,” “The Thorn Birds” and “Centennial.” His style of ham should suit him well in what I assume will be an expanded role next week.
• This week in “Chuck” music: “Zero Zero” by Operator Please (the opening scientist montage), “Perfect Day” by The Constellations (Jeffster stalk Greta), “Towards the Sun” by Alexi Murdoch (Casey has lunch with Alex), “Hiding Place” by Aushua (final montage).
• This week in “Chuck” pop culture references: among others, Chuck quotes Olivia Newton-John when he tells Rye “Let’s get physical,” and of course Chuck and Rye talk about the Vulcan nerve pinch from the original “Star Trek.”
• I was amused by Chuck and Rye’s shared love of the milkiness of Swiss chocolate.
• “Why does she transmogrify into a woodland creature? Why does she have a tail?” Oh, Jeff. The view from in there must be marvelous.
• At what point did the knowledge that Charles Carmichael and “the human intersect” were one and the same become more widely-known outside the core members of Operation Bartowski? For a long time, Chris Fedak would explain that it was okay for people to learn that Chuck was really a spy, code-name Carmichael, so long as they didn’t learn about the Intersect. But De Smet obviously knows both. Did all the people helping train him at the start of season 3 know?
What did everybody else think?