Wednesday, 27 October 2010

'CHUCK' 4.6 - "Chuck Versus The Aisle Of Terror"

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A somewhat premature Halloween episode, giving us the first extensive look at Mary Bartowski (Linda Hamilton) as a "ghost from the past", a toxic gas that causes frightening hallucinations, and Buy More shenanigans with Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay) given free reign to decorate the store with a spooky theme. It was another hour that passed the time, but there's still something remiss about season 4 for me.

Maybe it's because Chuck has become tangled in its family backdrop, which has resulted in less episodes of fun untainted by melodrama or moralizing? It's great the show is developing its character's lives and relationships, but now that everyone's caught in the intricate web of Chuck's social life, the show has lost its nimble footing. I'd just like a few simple, energetic, funny spy missions, embellished by the winning chemistry of Levi, Strahovski and Adam Baldwin. Instead, the espionage is being slowly drowned in a sea of domestic syrup.

This week, a scientist called Dr Wheelwright (Robert Englund) steals the Atroxium gas he's developed for Volkoff Industries, intending to sell his powerful hallucinogen to the highest bidder on the black market. Meanwhile, Chuck's mother contacted her son to arrange a meeting, revealing she's deep undercover at Volkoff as part of Project Isis, but all the paperwork proving her story has been expunged. Chuck also goes on a mission to reaquire the dangerous Atroxium, posing as a buyer for Dr Wheelwright, which is an operation Mary takes advantage of to get her hands on the chemical. Elsewhere, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) struggled to stay convivial with her meddling mother-in-law (Morgan Fairchild) while lamenting the absence of her own mother, and the Buy More was installed with Jeff and Lester's "Aisle Of Terror" feature -- intended to scare shoppers by giving them a taste of what haunts Jeff's psyche.

For me, there was too much going on that sucked the drama from what would have been a better hour if it hadn't split focus from Mary and Chuck. It was a marvelous idea to cast Robert Englund (famous for playing dream master Freddy Krueger) as this episode's version of Batman villain The Scarecrow, considering the obvious link with nightmares, but he wasn't given enough screentime. The Atroxium storyline wasn't as central as it might have been in other weeks, or particularly sharp in its execution. The return of Mary was too much of a distraction, preventing you from really engaging with Wheelwright's scheme. And that's a shame, because Englund definitely registered as one of Chuck's most unnerving villains, so I wish he'd been given more prominence.

Second of Strahotness: the hostess with the mostest
As for Mary Bartowski, I remain unconvinced by the whole idea behind her character. She's a very unlikeable person, by design, and Linda Hamilton's acting appears to be rusty. Or else she just can't strike the right note for a blithe spy-comedy like Chuck. The actress isn't known for her comedic skills, so it's a shame the producers couldn't find someone to bring more humour and spirit to the role.

The show has also spent the past five weeks pushing the idea Chuck's on a big secret mission to find his mother, only for her to just walk back into his life on her own terms? It all felt very anticlimactic, given the groundwork. To her credit, Hamilton's performance improved as the story unfolded, with a nice scene of her eavesdropping on pregnant daughter Ellie in a shop, but I'm still unconvinced she's the casting masterstroke the writers would have us believe. Hamilton perhaps just sounded great on paper, given her connections to The Terminator and consequent status in geek culture, but they really needed someone with a lighter touch.

The Buy More subplot promised things it couldn't deliver with the underwhelming Aisle Of Terror "experience", which only existed to provide a means for a hallucinating Chuck to defeat psycho Wheelwright with imagery of old people, costumed babies and black liquorice, to cause a mental breakdown. I won't regurgitate the usual Buy More complaints, as you know my position there.

Overall, "... Versus The Aisle Of Terror" at least ended on a promising note, with Sarah and Casey having discovered Mary's been lying and is actually an enemy Volkoff agent, forced to kidnap her seconds before Chuck could reacquaint her with his sister. This will certainly provide some drama between Chuck and Sarah next week, and Mary's allegiance is still nicelt ambivalent. Is she undercover? Is she a double-agent? Is she a villain? Is she plain crazy? Can she be trusted over the damning evidence?

What are your thoughts? Am I being too harsh on this season, or has Chuck lost some of its flair this year? Is it just natural to grow a little weary of a show's formula by its fourth season?

  • If you haven't heard, NBC have picked up Chuck for a whopping 24 episodes. Whether that's a good thing is down to personal opinion, as I usually find the show starts to drag around mid-season. 13-16 is more than enough.
  • This episode guest-starred Roland Kickinger, a body-builder who often doubles for Arnold Schwarzenegger in movies. Given Linda Hamilton's obvious link to Schwarzenegger's career, I can't help thinking this was intentional.
  • The camera trickery to show people's hallucinations were handled well, and genuinely frightening in a few instances (such as Englund's face morphing into a demonic visage).
  • Morgan Fairchild made a forgettable reappearance as Honey Woodcombe, minus her screen husband Bruce Boxleitner (whom I assume was busy filming mega-budget Tron Legacy, or some crappy Syfy Original Movie, such is his seesawing career).
  • Project Isis? Isis was the Egyptian goddess of motherhood, magic and fertility. Oooh, relevance.
WRITER: Craig DiGregorio
DIRECTOR: John Scott
GUEST CAST: Linda Hamilton, Robert Englund, Morgan Fairchild & John Griffin
TRANSMISSION: 25 October 2010, NBC, 8/7c