November 15, 2010

Episode Review: CHUCK, "Chuck vs. the Fear of Death"

Thanks to President Bush and his book, Chuck was off last week, and it came back with a passable episode in the form of "Chuck vs. the Fear of Death". What made this installment successful was the fact that it was a fairly interesting stand alone episode that was still able to build off of the narrative that's been established this season.

The last time we saw Chuck, he was left Intersect-less thanks to Mommy Dearest and her magic Playstation Portable device, but we quickly learned that the computer wasn't erased from his brain. It was merely suppressed under psychological baggage. Overturning the mental rock that was hiding the Intersect was only the catalyst for a more emotionally complicated story.

After a very Clockwork Orange series of test administered by some CIA scientists which failed to yield any results, General Beckman called in a specialist in the form of Agent Rye (played by Rob Riggle), and he figured out that the key to Chuck's flashes was the fear of dying. Rye decided the only way to get the Intersect back online was to make Chuck so scared for his life that he had no choice but to flash, and so he accompanied Agent Carmichael on his first solo mission sans super computer. While on the assignment in Switzerland, we met yet another bad guy in the form of the Belgian (Richard Chamberlain) who was selling top secret information to the highest bidder.

The Swiss Mission was the start of the more compelling story that took Chuck out of his comfort zone and away from Sarah, and we started to see if he could be a real spy without his safety nets. It also created some tension between Chuck and Sarah because he wanted to prove that he's more than the Intersect, but Sarah wasn't sure he could survive on his own, and we got a well played fight between the two where she pretty much said he's not a spy. Rye dropped some harsh truth on Chuck by telling him that his relationship with Sarah was the mental block keeping him from being the spy he could be, which led to Chuck trying to take down the Belgian and to his ultimate capture.

As you can see, the A-plot of "Fear of Death" had a lot going on, and it was able to keep my attention throughout. What started out as a story about the Intersect became an exploration of Chuck's worth as a spy and how that impacts his relationships. What was great about this storyline was the fact that we were reminded that Chuck has value beyond the images in his head. While the Intersect helped Chuck learn information about missions, and later led to him being able to hold his own in a fight, it didn't turn him into the person we've grown to love. Chuck's always been a smart guy who's quick on his feet, and we got to see him use his natural talents during this particular mission. Sometimes it's easy to get distracted by the flashiness of the Intersect (pun intended), and we forget that Chuck can bring a lot to the table on his own.

While everything was going on with Chuck, there was some trademarked zaniness going on in the Buy More. This time around the B-plot focused on Jeff and Lester's obsession with the new Greta played by Summer Glau. The two Buy Morons amped up their creepiness and stalkerish behavior up to eleven, which was not a good thing. Since Greta's a spy, she figured out what was going on, and demanded that Morgan fix the situation or she'll take them out herself. Morgan even asked Casey for help, but was denied because the Colonel was too busy pushing everyone away because he figured he'd be shipped abroad once Operation Bartowski was shut down once and for all. Things came to a head, Greta was about to cut Jeff and Lester, but Casey came to his senses and saved the day.

While the Chuck storyline brought some well-timed action and tension, the Buy More B-plot didn't contribute anything substantial, and was pretty disappointing. In my opinion, Jeffster only works in small doses, and the fact that they dominated so much of the secondary story was a bummer because they just weren't funny. Also, having Summer Glau play a Greta that actually had something to do, but was a part of a throwaway scenario was a letdown. The only upside of the Buy More plot was getting to see Casey become more human as he realized that having a team, and more importantly friends, was a good thing.

Other Odds and Ends:
  • Having Adam Baldwin and Summer Glau on the same show, but limiting their interactions to two small scenes was almost criminal. The lack of obvious Firefly callbacks also made me sad.
  • That being said, the fact that Casey and Greta had a growling contest almost made up for it.
  • I'm so tired of the Subway tie-ins. Yes, some believe that the Five Dollar Footlong campaign saved the show, but we need to move on.
  • Early on in the season I was tried of watching Chuck and Sarah fight because the tension felt forced, but recently they've had two major dust-ups that were convincing and had me caring about their relationship again.
"Fear of Death" didn't push the larger Volkoff storyline forward, but it did kick off an interesting mini-arc about Chuck not having the Intersect and how that will affect his relationship with Sarah and the rest of Team Bartowski. Annoying Buy More stuff aside, "Chuck vs. the Fear of Death" wasn't the best episode of Season 4, but it was still an acceptable effort.


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