Wednesday, 23 March 2011

'CHUCK' 4.19 - "Chuck Versus The Muuurder"

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

We're approaching the season finale, but Chuck's spinning its wheels a little, and after this episode it appears recent events with Director Bentley (Robin Givens) were just mini-arc that's not going to play a major part of the brewing Vivian Volkoff situation. "Chuck Versus The Muuurder" was yet another "bottle episode" (taking place entirely on the standing sets, to save cash), which seem to appear with increasing regularity these days. The basic concept of "Chuck-does-Cluedo" wasn't too bad, but I found myself largely bored until the story started to tighten towards the end and gave us a strong finish that rescued the entire episode.

This week, General Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) allied Director Bentley with Chuck (Zachary Levi), Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) and Casey (Adam Baldwin), in order to continue her project to find new Intersect agents. Four candidates were duly interviewed and tested at Castle, under Chuck's management: gifted hacker Lewis (James Francis Ginty), who has developed an English accent after a semester in the UK; genius Josie (Karissa Vacker), a woman with excellent intuition; swarthy Damian (Mousa Kraish), an agent who resembles a stereotypical Arab terrorist because of years spent undercover in the Middle East; and Brody (Stephen Pollack), a young man with many physical and psychological similarities to Chuck already.

At the Buy More, Morgan (Joshua Gomez) had to deal with the kidnapping of Big Mike (Mark Christopher Lawrence) by rivals Large Mart, in retaliation for Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay) stealing their store's piglet mascot, Kevin Bacon. Elsewhere, Devon (Ryan McPartlin) found himself conflicted over Ellie's (Sarah Lancaster) interest in her father's super-laptop and neural research, as it's proving to be a joyous distraction for his wife, but one that might contain a dangerous surprise.

Forgiving the fact that being an Intersect is supposed to send you insane (something Chuck's protected against because he has a unique "governor" his father made him), which calls into question the concept of turning agents into Intersects, it was a fairly amusing idea to have Chuck try to find a likeminded comrade. It's just a shame the four candidates were underwritten and caricatured (another terrible English accent, an almost offensive racial scaremonger), and I'm confused about how the CIA are going to create more Intersects anyway. Isn't that technology beyond them? Bentley only managed it last week because Orion's all-purpose laptop was apparently capable of embedding an Intersect, but they're not in possession of that device now. So what was the plan here, exactly? It seems that Chuck's losing the grasp on its own lore these days, in the pursuit of plots that haven't been told yet.

Second of Strahotness: cool in a crisis

The bulk of "... Versus The Muuurder" was an Agatha Christie-esque murder-mystery scenario, with various candidates turning up dead, with the eye of suspicion passing over the remaining few. There were only five viable suspects from eight, but Alex Katsnelson and Kristin Newman's script did a surprisingly good job keeping you guessing about the culprit's identity. This was a necessity of any murder-mystery tale, and I was relieved to see this episode managed a few twists and surprises that worked and, more importantly, made sense. In some ways, this was probably the best plotted episode of Chuck in a long time, as the show isn't really known for its intricacy. I'm not saying "... Versus The Muuurder" was a mystery worthy of Hercule Poirot, but in the context of Chuck it was put together with some skill.

Sadly, the subplots were a yawn. The Buy More story about a rivalry over kidnapped mascots was so tonally at odds with the murderous events in Castle that it just felt annoying. The episode should have had the courage to focus on the murder storyline, rather than provide light relief with a cute pig. The guest stars could have done with the extra time to build their characters, and the sense of claustrophobia would have been helped.

And the situation with Ellie just doesn't make much sense to me still. I can suspend my disbelief over many things, but quite how she's somehow able to access and understand her father's research into neural programming is beyond me? Is she a brain neurologist? No. Has she ever shown herself to be particularly computer literate? No. In this subplot she discovers that her father was working on a way to have knowledge implanted straight into a human brain. Well, what's new? It's evident he succeeded because that's exactly what the Intersect is -- all the government's top secrets burned onto a human mind. I'm not sure what they're getting at here, although the concluding scene with the laptop scanning Ellie as she slept, identifying her as "Agent X", got my attention. Are we about to see Ellie become even more powerful than her brother? But if so, there's not much threat there. I still suspect Vivian Volkoff is destined to become an Intersect, seeing as how she's been setup as the "twin" of Chuck whose own father is leading her down a very different path.

Overall, this wasn't a terrible episode, just underwhelming for the most part, although the reveal of the Castle killer was handled so well it glossed over some weaknesses. It was also fun seeing Chuck step up to become a leader in his team's eyes, and eventually win the respect and approval of Bentley (who, it turns out, was a pretty redundant character this season.) But a disappointing bunch of wannabe-Chuck's and a tedious Buy More subplot drained a lot of goodwill. I just hope the remainder of this season starts getting a move on with the Vivian Volkoff storyline, now Chuck's aware she's stepped up to become his nemesis.

written by Alex Katsnelson & Kristin Newman / directed by Allan Kroeker / 21 March 2011 / NBC