Wednesday, 17 November 2010

'CHUCK' 4.8 - "Chuck Versus The Fear Of Death"

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Inevitably, this follow-up to the rousing "... The First Fight" was a noticeable downer; surprisingly the first of a two-part story that also didn't feel justified. It wasn't a total dud, it just wasn't much beyond a perfunctory adventure we've seen many variations of before.

It transpires that Chuck (Zachary Levi) hasn't lost the Intersect, following its apparent erasure by his mother, but it's been suppressed. To "reboot" it, General Beckman (Bonita Fiedericy) calls in various scientists, who try using visual stimuli to trigger its return. Their efforts fail, leaving the CIA to rely on psi-ops Agent Jim Rye (Rob Riggle), who has a controversial method he guarantees will be a success: place Chuck in genuine life-or-death danger, so his fight-of-flight instinct reinstates the Intersect. To test his theory, Chuck and Rye are given a mission to retrieve a valuable diamond from an auction in Switzerland, attended by a mix of European underworld bigwigs.

At the Buy More, Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay) finally became suspicious of the fact there's a constant alternation of a new employee named "Greta" (Summer Glau) at the store, when the latest calls attention to herself by regularly vanishing through one of the workplace's concealed exits to the CIA outpost underground. Their investigation of Greta is noticed by Morgan (Joshua Gomez) and Casey (Adam Baldwin), who are forced to find a way to take the heat off Greta before her identity's exposed, or knife-expert Greta becomes so enraged by the attention that she becomes violent.

There was actually a decent theme for this episode, which revolved around Chuck having to prove himself capable as spy without the Intersect to help him, and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) having faith in her boyfriend's innate abilities. For long-term fans, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense -- as earlier seasons didn't require the "Chuck Fu" aspect of the updated Intersect, and the standardized "information flash" was rarely integral to solving missions in the first two seasons. Logically, Chuck's adventure with Rye in Switzerland shouldn't have been much more dangerous than the missions he used to accompany Sarah and Casey on back in season 1. However, for the purposes of this story, it's inferred that Chuck's almost a liability if he has no Intersect powers, which is a viewpoint Sarah agrees with, much to her boyfriend's shock and disappointment.

Seconds of Strahotness & Summerness

The kernel of this idea is certainly worth exploring (unspoken inequality), but it's a shame the actual mission wasn't more creative or interesting. Rye's attempts to scare Chuck back to 100% competence had its amusing moments, as his tactics involved Kato-like surprise attacks with ninjas, or staging "inescapable" trap scenarios and convincing Chuck they're real, but there was something about the whole story that didn’t click. Maybe it's that Rye simply wasn't that fun as a temporary partner for Chuck, as the show often struggles if the Chuck/Sarah/Casey triumvirate are separated, or maybe it's because the plot itself felt like reheated leftovers. That said, it was definitely an eye-opener to see Rye become one of the show's rare fatalities (shot dead during a cable car action sequence), and the cliffhanger, with Chuck captured by villain The Belgian (Richard Chamberlain) and about to be tortured into relinquishing the Intersect (er, how exactly?) was a strong note to end on.

The Buy More subplot could have been fun, but it quickly deflated after promising early scenes of Jeff and Lester trying to keep tabs on the mysterious Greta. The whole of idea of "Greta" felt funnier on paper than it's been in practice, as it doesn't really make any sense that the CIA would keep replacing undercover agents and giving them the same codename. As an easy way to involve an attractive guest star on the show, I'm just frustrated the role of Greta has been so boring and redundant. It's actually just a monumental waste of celebrities like Olivia Munn and Stacy Keibler, who both didn't get the chance to do anything of value. In previous seasons they may have found themselves playing seductive villains, treacherous wives, sexy agents, or geeky experts, but now they're all stuck playing the same one-note "joke". As an exercise in getting lithe young ladies into tight black skirts, it has its virtues (Glau's legs were several kinds of incredible), but wouldn't you have rather seen Glau playing Agent Rye?

Overall, "Chuck Versus The Fear Of Death" was okay, but still more underwhelming than exciting and interesting. It just about salvaged itself thanks to an unexpected cliffhanger, Sarah's tongue-slip that she doesn't see Chuck as a "real spy", the idea that Chuck's lost the one thing that (apparently) made him special, and the wonder that is Summer Glau's legs. I suspect this episode will be retrospectively improved or ruined by how next week's episode concludes the story.

  • Does anyone else feel like Adam Baldwin's been given short shrift this season? He seems to have been stuck at the Buy More a lot more than usual. Still, I liked his brief scene with daughter Alex (Mekenna Melvin), admitting he feels like he's made real friends in Burbank and doesn't want to leave. Awww.
  • It's a shame Chuck's budget doesn't stretch to involving all the regulars these days. Ellie and Devon should really have been involved in this story, given what was going on with Chuck's life and mental state. Are they still driving around in Stephen Bartowski's car, then? The events of this story take place ONE MONTH after we last saw them drive away.
  • Adam Baldwin and Summer Glau were regulars on the short-lived sci-fi series Firefly, which is vaguely referred to when Casey tells Greta he doesn't care what crew she served on (ahem, the Serenity). But given the possibilities for in-jokes (and the fact additional Glau/Firefly fans would have been tuning into this episode), I felt there was a missed opportunity for something funnier, don't you? Maybe the script was written before Glau was cast, so there was no time to do something better?
  • Oh, Sarah made a slow motion entrance into the Buy More. How I've missed those. I have a theory director Robert Duncan McNeill is more wiling to worship Yvonne Strahovski with his camera.
  • It's a long shot, but do you think the entire mission in Switzerland, including Chuck's capture, is all being staged by Rye?
  • The Subway product placement came back in force, but I actually don't mind. It's become a reminder that a big multinational company helped save Chuck a few years back, so if it means characters sometimes stop to wax lyrical about a sub's fillings, so be it.
  • A convincing explanation must surely be given to Jeff and Lester about the "Greta gimmick", if another one turns up soon.
WRITER: Nicholas Wootton
DIRECTOR: Robert Duncan McNeill
TRANSMISSION: 15 November 2010, NBC, 8/7c