After a string of rock-solid episodes, “Chuck Versus the Fear of Death” feels more in-step with the earlier episodes of season four. Despite the episode’s attempts to keep the stakes high after the Mama Bartowski stuff from the last few efforts, the value of the plot movement found within “Fear of Death” won’t really be found until we see how the cliffhangers work out.
So in case you forgot during the week off, Chuck is now without the Intersect. And because the series has basically abandoned the idea that Chuck was remotely worthy to work for the CIA before the Kung-Fu upgrade, this whole episode is about trying to get that dastardly hibernating Intersect to wake up.* While it’s fairly disappointing that Chuck, Sarah and everyone else seem to think that Chuck is absolutely worthless without the Intersect even when he’s proved that’s not really the case, bringing in the Rye character worked well enough to make me forget those frustrations throughout the episode. I like the idea of Rob Riggle’s Rye, and thankfully, Riggle doesn’t play him to the goofiest extent possible and instead works in a nice combination of humor and seriousness.
*I guess we’re just not going to worry about WHY or HOW this happened or be concerned with Mary right now? That was a little unbelievable.
However, the inner-workings of the Intersect are so convoluted at this point that the overall impact of Rye’s lessons for Chuck are weakened. I thought we reached a point in season three where we decided that Chuck had to be absolutely calm and not scared to control the combat upgrades, there could be no emotion involved. Then there was a point where he could use it if he was thinking about helping Sarah. And now with the Intersect dormant, it seems that fear is supposed to wake it back up, but that doesn’t work either. I imagine we’ll get to a point next week where Chuck and everyone realizes that Sarah isn’t holding him back, but helping him, which of course just reinforces whatever the hell it is I just said. Convoluted!
Moreover, I’m not sure how I feel about Sarah’s admission that she doesn’t think Chuck can handle himself at all without the Intersect. I understand that he’s less prepared, but for her to outwardly say that he’s “NOT A SPY,” seems a little harsh and like another way to create some drama between these two when it isn’t completely necessary. I’m sure that Sarah enables Chuck’s confidence a lot of the times and she’s just trying to keep him safe, but she’s smart enough to know that saying something like that is only going to create issues she doesn’t need. She also knows that the whole reason he didn’t go on that stupid train with her in season three was so that he could become a real spy, so being a spy is A.) important to Chuck and B.) generally true for him. The series seems to want to play it both ways in having Chuck be a spy most of the time, but then call that into question when they need some drama and it’s slightly grating, particularly in an episode that isn’t that great to begin with.
Like I said though, this episode could be saved with a nice execution of the conclusion to the story it started here. Chuck’s been kidnapped because someone else wants the Intersect and Sarah is on a mission to save him. By the looks of next week’s episode, we could have a great Sarah-centric piece that would be a desperately needed change of pace from Chuck’s consistent whining. If the upcoming episode focuses on Sarah’s journey to get Chuck back, only to have him save her, we’ll be in business. That would be a nice cap to this three-episode arc.
“Fear of Death” had some other things going for it that kept things from being too boring, most notably Summer Glau as a steely, Subway-loving Greta and some good material for Casey. It makes no sense why he’s been benched while Sarah gets to continue doing missions, but his final speech about how great the people at the Buy More are was, by far, the best moment of the episode. I love John Casey, so much more than this episode as a whole.