What? You thought he was DEAD?

Over the past two weeks, "Chuck" has become an embarrassment of riches for fans of Ryan McPartlin's Devon "Captain Awesome" Woodcomb, who is no longer just a convenient punchline for his ripped abs and his boundless enthusiasm.

Calling Captain Awesome the new heart of "Chuck" would be an overstatement, but he had been a key lynchpin for the main character's transition from "Stay in the Car, Chuck" Chuck to a proactive fledgling spy. When I originally reviewed the start of the "Chuck" season, I expressed particular pleasure in the two-part Devon mini-arc and I still feel that way after watching the episode, even though very little in "Chuck vs. Operation Awesome" actually made any sense.

[Recap of Monday's (Jan. 18) "Chuck" after the break...]

When we left "Chuck" last week, Devon had apparently just had an unfortunate run-in with the Ring assassin we met trying to kill Generalissimo Goya. Sarah was whispering something in Chuck's ear and we were lead to wonder if Devon had been killed, which obviously he hadn't been and nobody really could have been worried for Devon, could we have? Didn't think so.

Instead of being killed, Devon was taken to the top of an LA skyscraper and dangled over the edge by Angie Harmon's Sydney, who somehow decided that Devon was a CIA. On what basis? I don't know and she didn't say. This bothered me, because I felt like there was probably a line of exposition that was cut for time and as much as I normally hate exposition, I'd gladly have taken a little monologuing to explain this absurdity. Instead we had to take Casey's word for things.

"That's an understandable mistake. One of them looks like a spy and one of them looks like Chuck."

That's not really good enough, since Zachary Levi has long since ceased to look as awkward and fish-out-of-water-y as he did in the earlier seasons. He's fitter. He dresses better. He has a better haircut. If you didn't know that he was a great comedic actor and you just dropped Zachary Levi onto a show like this as a gun-toting spy, he'd no longer seem out of place. This isn't like Season One when the "Chuck" team introduced Matthew Bomer's Bryce Larkin as a clear and evident contrast to the more Nerd Herd-y version of Chuck. It's not like Devon did anything so suave last week anyway, so why would one make the assumption that he was anything other than a buff cardiac surgeon?

Plus, "Chuck" already introduced a viable Chuck contrast in this episode in the form of Brandon Routh's Shaw, the ultra-intense, longer G-man who's been leading the CIA investigations into The Ring. That's why Sydney wanted Devon, or the man she thought Devon to be, to kill Shaw.

Shaw's motto?

"You start things on your own, you'd better be prepared to finish them on your own."

And...

"Families and friends make us vulnerable. Make us unable to pull the trigger. And that puts everyone in even greater danger."

As we know by now, Chuck isn't so great doing things on his own and even if he were, why would we want for him to be?

But even if Chuck is looking spy-like, Shaw still looks more spy-like still and not just because he's played by Superman and not just because he devised a badass strategy for faking his own death and fooling Sydney (whose imbecilic failure to follow-up on the disposal of a key kill mirrors a plotpoint in "Sherlock Holmes," but isn't nearly as acceptable outside of Victorian medicine). He also waves around multiple guns at once without the help of Intersect 2.0 intervention and he isn't afraid to use those guns, taking out Sydney at the end.

Shaw would be a poster-boy for longer, secret agent austerity, except that we ended the episode with him twirling an engagement ring on his finger and getting all "Sliver"-y observing our heroes.

Fortunately, things were more comedic in the Buy More subplot, back after a one-week hiatus. In that side of things we saw Morgan elevated by Big Mike to the title of Ass Man (assistant manager, if you prefer). In that position of authority, he ran into conflict after Chuck flashed and roundhoused Lester in the face (the result of a debate over the supremacy of Steven Seagal or Jean Claude Van Damme).

"It made me feel like a man. Maybe for the first time since my bar mitzvah," Lester said, pulling humor from unexpected Judaism references as only Lester can.

Lester's takeaway from the elation of getting kicked in the fact? Start a fight club, duh.

Now, "Fight Club" references aren't fresh, but we credit "Chuck" for never doing anything half-way. Not only were there the usual dialogue references, but the show also borrowed musical cues and a garish pair of red-tinted shades from the David Fincher cult favorite. If you're going to do a bit, commit to the bit. "Chuck" did.

It was an extended reference, but it rapidly spun out of pop cultural control, culminating in Morgan having to assert his power over Lester in a two minute sequence that started at "Fight Club" and transitioned into "The Warriors," "An Officer and a Gentleman" and then a quick nod to "Animal House" in seconds. "Chuck" knows how to cover a lot of terrain in a short period.

In the end of the episode, it appeared that Morgan and Chuck had made different decisions. Morgan had learned, with the help of Big Mike, that "You can't be afraid to pull the trigger" and that one of the things about authority is that you sometimes have to treat the people under you as less-than-friends. That was the lesson Shaw was trying to teach Chuck with his "Families and friends make us vulnerable" lecture. Instead, Chuck ended the episode at dinner with Awesome, Ellie, Morgan and Sarah the four people he loves most in the world, the four people who serve as an inspiration for his work.

Expect both Chuck and Morgan's respective conflicts to continue in upcoming episodes.

As always, time for a slew of thoughts on this week's episode:

*** Not to go on at too great a length about illogical things: It was important that Shaw kill Sydney because Sydney was the only person linked to the Devon-as-Spy screw-up. But what about the Ring assassin with the black eye who drugged Devon at the end of the last episode? The one who we assume tipped Sydney off to Devon as a spy in the first place? He's still out there, isn't he? Even if Shaw didn't know about the spy with the black eye, wouldn't Devon have mentioned him in a debrief? Or wouldn't Casey have mentioned him? Given a description to add to the database? And why the heck would the Ring assassin with the black eye have fingered Devon as a CIA agent anyway? Just last week, the Ring assassin would have seen Devon take out John Casey in public view.

*** Sorry to keep harping on the plotholes and structural oddities of the episode, but not only was the episode based on a plot hole, but the catalyst for most of the action -- A fancy-schmancy Ring communication device -- was a red herring.

*** Also, do we really figure Casey would pull a gun on a commanding officer? Even one who pulled a gun on him first? And for Chuck?

*** I actually didn't mind Brandon Routh in "Superman Returns" and I liked him here. For the life of me, I can't figure out who he sounds like, but he sounds exactly like... somebody.

*** Now Angie Harmon has never interested me, but she was a good "Chuck" baddie and her storage room fight with Sarah was good action.

*** The two bad guys who beat Chuck up when he fails to flash -- "Now I'm angry. I'm angry and in a great deal of pain..." -- were named Ian and Glenn. A reference to Scottish actor Iain Glen? I can't instantly figure out why. Was somebody a big fan of... Dunno. Iain Glen's a good actor, but I'm really guessing the nod was to something or somebody else.

*** My favorite scene of the episode? Chuck and Devon attempting to lie to Ellie about Devon's whereabouts, with Devon poorly interpreting Chuck's pantomime. It ended up somehow being a story about going out to run, encountering a cat in a tree, discovering the cat was a bear, getting attacked by the bear and decapitating the bear.

*** Last week's line-of-the-week was indisputable. "Es Muy Awesome," hands down. This week there are more candidates. I'm going with "Bad guys don't count carbs." Put that slogan on a t-shirt and I'd wear it.

 

What did y'all think of "Chuck vs. Operation Awesome"? Are you intrigued by Brandon Routh's character?