If Chuck isn’t going to take many risks or strive for its season two levels of awesome, fine. I’m over it. I guess it’s just time to watch the series, enjoy it for what it is and move on. With that in mind, “Chuck Versus the Aisle of Terror” still feels like an improvement over the rest of season four and perhaps suggests the series might be willing to ramp things up in the future.
See, I’m just like an abused spouse who keeps coming back for more. Sigh.
But seriously, “Terror” is a fine episode, one that finally gets the plot with Chuck’s mother moving forward and one that implements one of the best weapons in the Chuck arsenal: Creating conflict between the characters by having them all believe they’re doing the right thing, even when they are not. The best execution of this approach happened at the end of season two when Casey was ordered to take down Chuck and Sarah. Here, no one’s quite sure what Mary Bartowski is up to, and by the end, Chuck’s on one side of the fence while Sarah and Casey are on the other. Hey, real conflict!
To get to that point, the episode keeps twisting and turning until Chuck’s confusion is our confusion. Mary Bartowski finally organizes a meet with Chuck, but then says she can’t know anything about him because she’s deep undercover with Volkov and any real information about her kids could only come back to haunt them. Then, she shows up at the mission she organized for Chuck and shoots him. THEN she picks up Chuck, tells him the shooting was all part of her plan AND THEN she plans to meet up with Ellie before she leaves, but Casey finds out Mary’s been lying the whole time. Sarah leads the extraction of Mary from outside the restaurant, leaving Chuck shocked and Ellie disappointed yet again.
Now, the lines are drawn and no one is really sure what’s going on. Chuck thinks his mother is just a secretive, heroic spy like him and in many ways, like his father. It’s something of the perfect picture for Chuck, one that makes all the pain from his childhood feel better. Sarah and Casey are just trying to do the right thing to protect their friend, but I can’t imagine Chuck will see it that. I suspect he’ll be trying to get into the interrogation room so he can prove his mother’s innocence, while Casey and Sarah continuously tell Chuck he’s wrong and blinded.
This is a simple set-up for conflict, but at least it’s one that seems real and feels like it has some sort of value. After multiple episodes arguing about nothing, Chuck and Sarah are now oppositionally positioned in a way that will lead to issues, but not ones that should damage their relationship in unrealistic and stupid ways.
“Aisle of Terror” also featured a number of great Chuck-ian gags and a wonderful use of the typically-annoying-this-season Jeff and Lester. Jeff’s Aisle of Terror with all the safe, yet totally creepy images was an obvious set-up for the episode’s endgame that involved some sort of fear toxin, but damn if it wasn’t hilarious to watch both Jeff and later Chuck and Robert Englund’s character react to them. It is one of those goofy bits that shouldn’t really work at all, particularly as the climax to a spy story with nerve gas, but it does, and that’s what makes Chuck good when it wants to be.
Moreover, this episode continued to put Casey and Morgan together and they’ve officially become the best part of the series, without question. Here, Casey pumps Morgan up with a new nickname in “The Magnet,” only for Morgan to find out that means he’s typically going to be put in danger so then Casey and swoop in with the element of surprise. Morgan undressing Casey and his insensitivity with a gun to his head is a glorious moment, even if the agreeing from the bad guy seemed a little much.
Like I’ve said numerous times this season, Chuck isn’t what it used to be. However, “Aisle of Terror” suggests that the series is at least interested in maybe, kind of-sort of, getting back to that place. Here’s to hoping this the first episode on that journey.