Nightmare on Chuck Street
By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Stegall
Mondays on NBC at 9/8
“Chuck vs. the Tooth”
Written by Zev Borow & Max Denby
Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer
This show is messing with my head. In the opening scene of tonight’s episode, Chuck and Sarah are curled up on the couch, channel surfing. They come across a broadcast of the movie Spies Like Us, starring Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase. Which is when my head ‘sploded a bit, since Chevy Chase has been a guest star on Chuck. It was a moment when the TV universe turned into a Möbius strip. But then, it’s happened before—Chuck’s bedroom is decorated with a poster from the movie Tron, which starred Awesome’s father, Bruce Boxleitner. The geekness, I love it.
Chuck and Sarah, settling into cozy domesticity, are now working out subtle nuances of cohabitation, such as when it is and is not the right time to say “I love you.” Sarah is still struggling with this whole new way of being open with someone else; Chuck is still a little too needy for a really grown-up relationship. But his real problem is increasing sleep deprivation—and not for the reason we’d all like. Rather, he is plagued with nightmares, most of them involving the late (?) Daniel Shaw (Brandon Routh). Chuck is convinced he is being warned of an imminent attack on the visiting President of Zamibia. Everyone else thinks he’s slipping a cog. It’s not a hard conclusion to reach, given that Chuck is usually a pretty neurotic guy to start with. General Beckman sends him to a therapist (Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future), who believes the Intersect is affecting his brain.
I’ve been wondering if there would ever be any consequences from that unnatural liaison between database and brain. Chuck is essentially an experiment in brain chemistry gone amok. It is perfectly plausible that he is now beginning to experience some disturbing side effects. Lack of sleep can lead to delusions, paranoia, hysteria—just about all the symptoms Chuck evinces. Much of this season has been spent telling us that Chuck’s use of the Intersect is limited when his emotions (re: Sarah) are blocked or repressed; it only makes sense that this is a two-way street, and Chuck’s emotions can be manipulated by the Intersect. Who knows? Chuck may be on his way to becoming a real cyborg. And if there is one guy on this planet who can handle that, it is Chuck.
Chuck is still adjusting to his newfound closeness with Sarah. He lies to her about the results of his interview with “Doc”. He deceives her and Casey when he enlists Morgan’s help to infiltrate the concert where the Zamibian president will be in attendance. When he confronts the Zamibian president’s advisor, Dr. Kowambe (Allan Louis, Privileged), the Intersect finally flashes for him. Dr. Kowambe has a false tooth, in which valuable Ring data is stored. Chuck throws a manly right cross, which knocks out Kowambe’s tooth. Sarah and Casey show up in time to restrain Chuck, who winds up in the local mental ward reserved for ex-spies. Although Nurse Ratched doesn’t appear, there is at least one call-back to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—a tall, long-haired Indian pushing a broom back and forth. I could almost have believed it was the late Will Sampson.
Sarah wants to believe all is right with Chuck, but it’s hard to do that when all the evidence speaks against him. The tooth he knocked out of Kowambe’s mouth proves to be just that—a tooth. No one else has seen Daniel Shaw. The therapist is convinced he’s going around the bend. But all the many weeks and months that Chuck has been working with Team Bartowski now pay off in trust dividends—not only Sarah but Casey go to the therapist and beg for access to Chuck. They arrive just as Kowambe and his henchmen inject Chuck with something green, something which throws off his coordination just enough for his Chuck-fu moves to go hilariously wrong. He calls on his fellow spies for help, and they also go hilariously wrong. It falls to Casey and Sarah to save the day, retrieve the real data tooth (Oh, please, someone has a bluetooth joke here, surely!), and rehabilitate Chuck’s reputation.
The thing I liked best about this story was the believability of the brain damage the Intersect may be doing to Chuck. There have been some outrageous plot devices in this series, calling not just for suspension of disbelief, but for discarding it altogether. This idea, however, rings very true. A database forcibly crammed into a guy’s head has got to have some ramifications, and there is just enough plausibility in that idea to make Chuck’s concern for his future very real. Maybe it’s an echo of the producers’ (and fans!) anxiety over renewal, but this episode left me feeling a little uneasy for Chuck, and for Chuck.
Other high points in this episode include the secondary story between Anna Wu (Julia Ling) and Morgan. I loved Morgan in a tux—the hairy little man looked suave, and the slow strut and the breeze as he passed his co-workers was just cute enough to take any pretentiousness out of that moment. Best of all, when Anna tries to recapture their earlier relationship by giving him back a box of discarded video game controllers, Morgan politely turns her down and walks away. Bravo, little man! You have moved past childish games into the Great Game, as Kipling called it.
Another development I particularly like is what is happening to Ellie. She’s the only person now out of the loop, the only one who does not know Chuck is a spy. This is grossly unfair to the woman who practically raised him, who loved and supported him through thick and thin. And the Ring, being apparently much smarter than General Beckman (granted, not a hard task) sends Justin (Scott Holroyd, One Tree Hill) to recruit Ellie to spy on her own brother. Justin’s clever manipulation was just sinister enough to send a chill down my spine.
Chuck‘s fate continues to hang by a thread. Its 1.9 rating with the 18-49 demographic was a series low, and overall the show pulled in only 5.3 million viewers. This put NBC in fourth place for the 8:00PM hour. There is still a chance for it, as NBC has been scrambling to replace Jay Leno; even Chuck himself acknowledges in the opening to this episode that “Monday night is a wasteland”. The so-called “upfronts” next week will probably see the renewal or cancellation of this series. If NBC is relying solely on ratings for this decision (and what network doesn’t?), then the future for Chuck looks very short. This is the end of its third year, and it still has a tiny fan base. Expecting a fan base to start growing now is, well, a bit of a delusion. One worthy of Chuck in the middle of an Intersect dream.