If you missed Chuck last week, you weren’t the only one — the show wasn’t on! Need to remember what happened two weeks ago? Read my recap here.
“Chuck vs the Fear of Death” begins in Castle with General Beckman berating Chuck for trusting Agent Frost, which was a major error. Chuck apologizes: this never would have happened if Frost wasn’t his mother. The General agrees, hence, he hasn’t been ejected from the CIA. Beckman orders Sarah to pick up the trail of Frost and Volkoff in Istanbul while Chuck tries to recover the Intersect. Casey, much to his chagrin, is ordered to shadow Chuck in Burbank. Chuck ignores Casey’s grunt of disapproval to ask if he heard the General correctly: the Intersect isn’t gone? Chuck can get it back? General Beckman explains that it is believed the Intersect is just suppressed, and not taken from him, but she isn’t sure. She isn’t a scientist, but Chuck will be meeting enough of those soon.
Cut to Chuck with a crew of scientists. The lead scientist explains that the Intersect is really a catalog of memories, and currently, a psychological rock is sitting on top of those memories. Their goal is to remove that rock, so they put Chuck through a number of experiments ranging from video of skaters getting hit in the nuts to Rorschach Tests to waterboarding to electric shocks. After thirty-one days, none of the experiments have worked, unless Chuck passing out is the goal.
Upstairs in the Buy More, a new Greta (played by NBC’s The Cape‘s Summer Glau — network synergy!) brings Morgan the file he requested. When she leaves, Lester finds it weird that all of the new Buy More employees are named Greta. More weird than that though, he finds Chuck’s recent sad sack ways to be even more disturbing. “Do you ever wonder if this is all life is going to be? … That the best part of life is behind us?” Chuck asks Jeff and Lester. “Whoa, whoa. That sounds like candor!” Jeff replies. They never think that way, and Chuck shouldn’t either, especially when he’s dating her. Cue Sarah’s entrance in super-slo-mo and wind machines. Chuck and Sarah kiss, but she has bad news: there is no trace of Frost and Volkoff, but they will continue to look for them. Casey overhears Sarah and wants to know when exactly that will be. He hasn’t been on a mission in forever and his trigger finger is starting to get itchy. Sarah tells Chuck not to pressure himself into getting the Intersect back, no matter Casey’s pleas. Casey departs and Morgan arrives. He tells Chuck that the pressure is on to get the Intersect back because Casey is such a disaster, Alex has even noticed. Chuck assures him that he is trying; in fact, a CIA specialist should be arriving any moment.
Chuck goes down into Castle, but finds no one. Out of nowhere, a throwing star sticks into the wall, mere inches from Chuck’s head. Three ninjas jump out and attack Chuck. As he moves to take them on, the Intersect tries to fire, but shorts out. Chuck roundly gets his ass kicked before a bearded man orders the ninjas to stop. The man introduces himself as Agent Jim Rye, and he is tasked with getting the Intersect back for Chuck. He is very impressed that Chuck tried to take on three ninjas without the Intersect. This makes him believe that Chuck will be up for the physical, mental and emotional strain his methods entail. Is Chuck ready for such brutality? “Let’s get physical!” Chuck responds.
In Castle’s combat ring, Rye asks Chuck to visualize the rock that is weighing down the Intersect. Is it a large rock? A small one? “It’s kind of largely small,” Chuck says. Rye slaps Chuck in response, saying that was what it takes to remove a small rock. Rye slaps Chuck harder, illustrating the strength needed to remove a medium rock. Sarah, who has been watching the proceedings, wonders if the next step is hitting Chuck with a car. Rye asks Sarah when the last time she practiced kempo. When she replies not since the CIA academy, Rye starts throwing punches and kicks. Sarah successfully blocks all of them without thinking. To Rye’s point, Sarah was able to recall her forgotten kempo under the right stimulus; that is what Chuck needs to recover the Intersect.
Back in the Buy More, Lester watches as Greta enters the Home Entertainment display, and then disappears, which he finds suspicious. She quickly returns with a Subway sandwich and drink in hand (Blatant Product Placement! It’s been almost too long since we had a good ol’ BPP!), and heads to the break room. Of course, Jeff and Lester follow her and watch her through the window. There, they (and the audience) get a nice tracking shot up her bare legs to a knife she deftly deploys to cut her sandwich in half. The boys can hardly contain themselves, but are discovered watching the unknown special agent. Greta’s withering stare causes her oglers to disperse.
Chuck arrives home to Sarah sore all over. Sarah informs him that she knows how to make him feel better, and leads him to the bedroom for a massage. She asks him to swear that he’s not going through this for her or for “us.” He promises that he is trying to get the Intersect back for the team, and so he can continue to do great things. Sarah replies that he doesn’t need the Intersect to do great things, but Chuck cuts her off — he needs the Intersect if he wants to be a spy. She reassures him that she can be a spy without the Intersect: he’ll simply be Chuck Bartowski, whom she loves. With that nice note, Sarah excuses herself to go get some massage oil. Chuck rolls onto his back, but doesn’t see the ninja that has entered through the window until the assailant draws two sais, and presses them towards Chuck’s neck. Chuck calls for Sarah, and tries to flash, but again, the Intersect will not function. The intruder removes the sais and takes off his mask. It’s Rye. He believes he may have figured out what stimulus will retrieve the Intersect: fear. They need to up the ante on Chuck’s recovery and Rye thinks the pure fear of death will reignite the Intersect.
If there is anyone who should fear death, it’s Jeff and Lester. Greta goes to Morgan to tell him that two “civilians” are constantly following her around, and if he doesn’t deal with them, it will be rather unpleasant when she does. As if he needs to, Morgan asks her which two employees are harassing her. She indicates Jeff and Lester (who are spying on her through Morgan’s office window). When she leaves the office, Morgan orders that the two guys just go home. Meanwhile, in Castle, Sarah tells General Beckman that it is too dangerous for Chuck to go on a mission without the Intersect.
Chuck insists he can, especially when he will do whatever it takes to get the Intersect back. The General informs the team (including Casey and Rye) that there is an auction in Switzerland which will be attended by some of the world’s most notorious bad guys. They are there to bid on a rare diamond, that besides its great value, is useful in black market activities like money laundering, weapons sales, etc. Sarah and Casey ask to go along, but Rye says Chuck can’t have them there as a safety net or he will never be scared enough for the Intersect to return. When dismissed, Sarah and Chuck embrace, with her telling him, “Don’t be a hero. Just come home safe to me.” They kiss, and he leaves for…
…Switzerland. Chuck and Rye ride a gondola up to the location of the auction. Rye is awed at the scenery, “Isn’t it amazing being a spy?” Chuck can only respond that he wishes Sarah was there enjoying it with him. Not as a spy, of course, but rather just his girlfriend. Back in Burbank, Casey tells Sarah to relax; Chuck will try to do his best. That is exactly of what Sarah is afraid. She calls Chuck for a sixth time. He and Rye have just arrived at the auction. Chuck tells her how fantastic Switzerland is, including how milky the chocolates are. When he hangs up, he worries to Rye that he might be recognized. Rye this that would be great! All the better to scare the Intersect out of hiding. Rye continues, showing Chuck all of the European baddies present, including The Belgian (played by famed actor Richard Chamberlain). Chuck is to win the diamond at auction. When he does, the bad guys will likely try to kill Chuck, which should scare him sufficiently for the Intersect to resurface.
When the diamond is up for bid, Chuck pushes the price higher and higher, until someone puts a gun in his back and tells him to stop bidding. Chuck, believing it to be Rye (since he hasn’t turned around), taunts the gunman and continues to bid higher. The gunman warns Chuck one last time, so Chuck stops bidding, and loses out on the diamond. When Chuck finally does turn, he sees that the gunman is not Rye. The Intersect tries to fire, but again shorts. Rye retrieves Chuck and asks about the Intersect. Chuck sheepishly tells Rye the negative results, lamenting the fact that he’s such a poor spy he can’t even be scared properly. Chuck does figure that no one has millions of Swiss francs on them, so the diamond will be present for the night. At least, they can find it and examine it. Rye will do Chuck one better: they can steal the diamond!
In Burbank, Lester gathers the other Buy More nerds for a mission: Operation Get-a-Greta. He needs a fact-finding mob to figure out why someone so hot would be working at the Buy More. Morgan and Casey observe the operation planning. Morgan wants to break up the gathering, but Casey tells him to let Greta handle it. Morgan asks what her role at the CIA is. Casey responds that she is an assassin. Morgan insists that they can’t let an assassin take care of Jeff and Lester, but Casey wants no part of it; Morgan is on his own. Morgan says that they need to do it for the team, but Casey replies that without Chuck possessing the Intersect, there is no team.
Back in Switzerland, Chuck and Rye move toward the vault holding the diamond. Rye approaches the guard and applies the Vulcan Death Grip to knock him out. Chuck is amazed that such a move worked. “Where did you learn to do that?” Chuck asks. “Star Trek, of course,” Rye replies. “Really?” “No, not really. I learned it Bangladesh,” Rye informs Chuck. The spies enter the vault, but the doors lock, trapping them inside. Security measures are enacted and cold air begins to fill the vault, dropping the temperature rapidly. Rye tells Chuck that if h doesn’t flash, they are going to die.
As the temperature plummets below zero, Chuck tries to flash, but the Intersect continues to short out. Chuck tries to call Sarah, but his phone doesn’t get any service. Chuck pleads with Rye to do something, but Rye wants Chuck to flash in the face of certain death. He tries to flash again, but can’t. With the spies nearly frozen, Rye steps up to the computer and inputs the combination. The air stops and compartments in the vault open, revealing numerous copies of the diamond. Chuck removes a jeweler’s loop from his pocket: fortunately, when he learned the mission would concern a diamond, he grabbed a loop from Castle and took an online gemology course on the plane. Since the diamond in question is supposed to be internally flawless, Chuck studies the copies, but finds them all to be made of glass. He does, however, find a microdot inside each one. They decide to take one and analyze it further. Before they leave, Rye tells Chuck that he may need more intense fear therapy to regain the Intersect. He believes that Chuck’s rock is tied to Chuck’s deepest anxiety: Sarah.
Casey and Alex dine at their favorite pie place. Alex remarks that their lunch has been rather quiet. Morgan said that Casey has been so ornery at work that he is going to have to stage an intervention. She knows that he hasn’t been on a mission in a while, but there must be something more going on that an itchy trigger finger. Casey says that he’s distancing himself from his friends in case he is ordered back to Iraq or Afghanistan now that Chuck no longer has the Intersect. Alex thinks on this, and asks her father that if he does end up leaving, wouldn’t he rather be nice to his friends then push them away?
At the Buy More, Morgan finds a Subway sandwich (BPP #2!) placed precariously on the Nerd Herd desk. He brings the sub to Jeff and Lester who admonish him for removing their Greta bait. Morgan tells them that they need to stop messing with Greta, but Lester insists that they won’t be stopped! They leave to try to find Greta, who silently appears behind Morgan. She says that Jeff and Lester are a risk to the CIA’s mission at the Buy More, and if they don’t stop, she will have to neutralize the risk. “If they bother me again,” Greta says, pulling out her knife, “they are going to meet my best friend.”
As Rye sets up a computer to analyze the fake diamond, he asks Chuck why he always calls out for Sarah before he flashes. “Are you a spy, or a guy with a spy girlfriend?” Chuck insists that he is a spy. The guys link up with General Beckman, Sarah and Casey. They determine that the microdot contains intelligence The Belgian is selling to the bad guys of the world. Sarah asks if she can go to Switzerland to assist in retrieving all of the fake diamonds, but Chuck says no. He can handle it without her. Sarah insists, stating that it isn’t safe for him to face the bad guys alone. The two of them squabble, their fight escalating until Chuck says he is a spy, and Sarah yelling, “No, Chuck, you’re not!” Chuck is stunned. Sarah quickly adds, “Not right now,” but the damage is done. Beckman orders Sarah to Switzerland. Sarah tells Chuck that they will talk when she gets there; she can’t let him risk his life alone.
Back at the Buy More, Lester pages Greta over the P.A. system to come to the storage cage for a Subway sandwich (BPP #3!). Morgan, hearing the announcement, mutters that he is going to kill Jeff and Lester if Greta doesn’t. With Casey watching on a screen in Castle, Greta enters the cage. Morgan tries to stop Jeff and Lester’s interrogation, but they remain unbowed. Lester finally demands, “What do you know? Who are you?!?” Greta pulls out her knife and replies, “Do you want to die with your wig on or off?” “Are you talking about my hair?” Lester, hurt, responds. Before Greta can knife Lester, Casey appears and orders her to stand down. Casey tells Jeff and Lester that Greta was acting shady because she was stealing head massagers. Morgan leads Greta off to “fire” her, and Casey thanks Jeff and Lester for their service to the Buy More. Crisis averted.
Chuck receives a text message from Sarah that she has landed in Switzerland, so he should call her. He ignores the message and views The Belgian in the vault; he is going to leave with the diamonds. Rye suggests that they should arrest The Belgian in the gondola he needs to get back down the mountain. They can wait for Sarah, or they can be heroes. Chuck chooses the latter. Sarah calls Chuck while driving to the auction house, but only gets his voicemail. She says she’s on her way, and that she loves him. Meanwhile, in Castle, Greta tells Casey that she used to admire his work, but she is disappointed in the Buy More outpost, and in Casey himself. Casey doesn’t appreciate the insult, so he tells Greta to not let the door hit her ass on the way out. Greta gives a perfect Casey-style grunt, which Casey matches in return, and she leaves (this double grunt was my favorite part of the episode). Morgan enters and notices that one of Castle’s screens is flashing a picture of Chuck. This is not good news. Chuck’s being the Intersect is on the microdot — The Belgian knows Chuck is the Intersect!
Sarah calls Chuck, who finally picks up, and tries to tell him that The Belgian knows his identity, but Rye grabs the phone and hangs up before she can finish. The spies get on the gondola with The Belgian. Rye pulls his gun, as do The Belgian’s henchmen. Rye says The Belgian is coming with him, but The Belgian insists Agent Carmichael is coming with him, or he will die. Rye asks if Chuck is scared, which he is. So is Rye. Chuck tries to flash, and gets closer to his Chuck Fu, but the Intersect continues to short. Rye whispers that the Intersect might return if they are in a fight. “Let’s find out!” he says before attacking the henchmen. During the ensuing fight, the gondola door is opened, and Chuck is pushed out of it. Fortunately, he grabs the bottom of the gondola car, but is dangling hundreds of feet in the air.
Rye dispatched the henchmen and knocks down The Belgian. He approaches Chuck and tells him to flash, as he is certainly in store for certain death if he doesn’t. Chuck tries, but to no avail. “Focus, Chuck,” Rye orders. “Tell yourself you don’t need Sarah.” Chuck replies that he does need her, and that he’d gladly give up the Intersect for Sarah’s love. With Chuck still hanging out of the gondola, Rye responds that the CIA sent him to make sure Chuck gets the Intersect back. Chuck needs to get the rock off and be a real spy like him. Just then, a bullet rips through Rye’s chest. “Did I just get shot? I certainly did,” Rye says, amazed, before falling out of the gondola to his death. The Belgian replaces his smoking gun and helps Chuck back up into the gondola. Sarah’s phone rings. She answers and asks Chuck if he is OK, but it is The Belgian on the line. “Pursue Agent Carmichael and we’ll kill him…slowly,” the bad guy tells Sarah before hanging up.
Back at Castle, Sarah tells General Beckman that she wants to follow The Belgian back to Belgium. The General tells her that they have no intelligence that says Chuck is there, or anywhere for that matter. Sarah pleads her case, but Beckman orders her to go home and rest. Casey (who was given an unnamed mission by the General) tells Sarah not to worry. Chuck is a smart guy, Intersect or no. Sarah blames herself for Chuck’s capture: if she hadn’t said what she did, Chuck wouldn’t have tried to prove that he’s a spy. Chuck awakes strapped to a chair. The Belgian informs him that he wants the Intersect. Cut back to Sarah packing guns into a bag at home. Casey and Morgan enter and tell her that she won’t be going alone. They are going to go with her to find Chuck. The Belgian prepares a hypodermic needle and asks again for the Intersect, but Chuck insists he no longer has it. The Belgian doesn’t believe him and brings the needle closer. “The less you resist, the less painful this is going to be.” To be continued….
It may seem a little obvious, but “Chuck vs the Fear of Death” was clearly a set-up episode. The entire thing felt like one long exposition, and therefore, wasn’t the best of Chuck episodes. This isn’t to say that the episode was poor in any way, but compared with the last couple episodes, this one just fell a little flat. Surprisingly, the best part was the Buy More stuff, as they actually gave the Greta something to do instead of just look hot in a Nerd Herd uniform (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that). Otherwise, the main plot just felt like an excuse to build the story to what looks to be like a kick-ass episode next week.
To me, it felt like the “Sarah worries about Chuck’s spy ability” story has been done over and over again, especially during the lackluster first two-thirds of last year’s Season Three. Alan Sepinwall describes my feeling well, when he mentions that the show missed an opportunity, at least so far, for Chuck to prove his spy worth by using his natural intelligence to succeed in the mission. This was a main thrust of Chuck‘s first two seasons: that despite his lack of true spy skills, Chuck was still an asset due to his computer/video game/nerd tendencies. With the introduction of Chuck Fu and Intersect 2.0, Chuck hasn’t had to rely on those faculties at all. With the Intersect now suppressed, it would be nice to see Chuck rely on his given talents to get himself out of trouble. Perhaps that will occur next week when the story continues, but as far as this week’s episode was concerned, that opportunity was missed.
Sarah’s doubt of Chuck’s skills did lead to the very well played moment when Sarah blurts that Chuck isn’t a spy. Yes, it’s ground that has been covered before, but Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski are so skilled and have such great chemistry that even though they were acting across video screens, the moment felt honest and earned. Bravo once again to these two.
The Casey subplot was good. I believe that Casey, as gruff as he is, would try to push his friends away if he thought he was going to be sent back overseas after Operation Bartowski had concluded. This season has done a great job humanizing Casey and making him appreciate the fact that he does, in fact, have friends and family in Burbank and the Buy More, despite his possible desires to the contrary. This is a man that since he became John Casey (and Alexander Coburn “died”) hasn’t had any family or friends at all. Such people were liabilities that could be used against him. So, he may have been reluctant at first, but Casey is beginning to realize the value in having people close to him. This creates nice moments for the show, as they can parallel the Chuck-Sarah relationship, and lets Adam Baldwin stretch himself, a task he is more than capable of tackling.
So, all in all, this was an OK episode of Chuck. It set up what looks like an excellent, Sarah-centric episode where Yvonne Strahovski’s martial arts skills will be fully put to the test. Color me intrigued. What did you think of “Chuck vs the Fear of Death”? Where would you rank it in this fourth season? What did you think of guest stars Rob Riggle and Richard Chamberlain (Personally, I thought they were both great. I’ve loved Riggle since his The Daily Show days, and Chamberlain is just a class act)? Did you catch the Marathon Man homage at the end? Are you as psyched for Sarah kicking some ass next week as I am? Please leave your thoughts, questions and comments below. For another TVOvermind take on “Chuck vs the Fear of Death,” check out Emma’s review. I’ll be back next week with a recap of “Chuck vs Phase Three.” Until then, I’m off to smell like grapefruit.