"Chuck" is in the process of turning a corner these days. Or, at the very least, "Chuck" is in the process of giving the impression that it's turning a corner. And, as those of us who have occasionally been known to operate automobiles know, you can't turn a corner too quickly or else you're going to end up flipping over and over again as "Rocket Man" over the sound of crunching metal*.

[* I think that was a reference to the classic Steve Prefontaine biopic "Without Limits," but sometimes the references get all jumbled up in your head and you end up referencing half of one thing and half of another thing and it becomes sufficiently unlike either thing that nobody knows what you were talking about. That's the sort of experience Quentin Tarantin calls, "an original thought."]

Monday (Feb. 1) night's "Chuck," titled "Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler" was the third or fourth consecutive "Look Papa, I'm a Real Little Spy" episode of the Chuck-as-Espionage-Pinocchio third season. And that means the third or fourth episode in a row of Chuck uncovering the dramatic responsibilities of being a real spy and the third episode out of four where we've had "Chuck Is Becoming Sarah, Leaving Sarah Missing Her Chuck" undertones (or, in this case, overtones).

But the episode had Sarah in a "Frak Off" belly t-shirt, Weap-Con, a Mexican cantina called Two-and-a-Half Amigos and Kristin Kreuk in a jaunty tie. So there were myriad pleasures to be found...

More on "Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler after the break...

So this week's episode found Chuck dealing with his Persian Non-Union Equivalent, Manoosh. Like Chuck, Manoosh was a lonely, elite-university drop-out being manipulated by a shadowy intelligence cabal for his intellectual gifts. And, just as Chuck had to play Sarah to Captain Awesome's Chuck in two previous episodes, Chuck had to play Sarah to Manoosh's Chuck, cultivating Manoosh as an asset and attempting to bring him into the fold. In case we didn't see just how much the Chuck-Manoosh storyline was meant to mirror the original Sarah-Chuck storyline, the episode was bookended by a pair of scenes from the timeframe of the pilot.

Of course, Chuck and Manoosh were more alike even that the hair, posture, comedic nervousness and isolation. We learned that Manoosh had successfully reverse-engineered Intersect 2.0 in handy sunglasses form, meaning Manoosh had actually dramatically improved on the Intersect technology, making it easily operable and removable in a way that Chuck's dad never really mastered. [I'm not sure why nobody on the CIA-NSA side properly appreciated how much Manoosh seems to have advanced the tech.]

So with Sarah stuck in her increasingly familiar wet blanket role -- "Chuck's not ready for an asset. We're advancing him too quickly." -- Chuck first attempted to cultivate Manoosh almost as a romantic conquest, before realizing that what the guy really needed was a wingman, opening the door for Sarah's arrival in the aforementioned "Frak Off" t-shirt, one of those outfits that can only be exposed in slow-motion and, ideally, with the use of a wind-machine. As Chuck watched Sarah manipulate Manoosh, we were supposed to see, through his eyes, how easily any sexually repressed geek -- including sexually repressed geeks sitting in their living rooms watching "Chuck" -- can be manipulated by a hottie in a novelty shirt and a well-designed bra. In that moment, Chuck's eyes were clear, his romantic idealism stripped away. Perhaps we need Chuck with clear eyes (and a full heart?) before he and Sarah can embark on a relationship that feels like real love more than Stockholm Syndrome. Or else the writers just decided we needed two or three episodes without any Chuck/Sarah flirtation so that we don't feel outraged when sparks either do or don't actually fly with Kreuk's Hannah over the next week or two.

Speaking of Hannah, she was the centerpiece of the the B-story, as Morgan decided to cultivate her assets, if you know what I mean. No? Well, Morgan saw Hannah enter the Buy More and she got her own slow-motion/wind-machine entrance, a walk-on of the sort she was denied last week. Morgan, instantly smitten, entrusted Jeff and Lester to stalk her to glean the knowledge that she enjoys sushi, appreciates classy movies (Lester: "She likes French cinema." Jeff: "And foreign films.") and classical music. But Morgan's attempted flirtations with Hannah, leading to a contrived meeting in his redecorated office (supply closet) only worked to cause Hannah to slip up and mention Chuck's trip to Paris, which raised Morgan's suspicions, leading to a conversation with Ellie, suddenly experiencing suspicions of her own, thanks to Devon's awkward behaviors.

"Are you suggesting Chuck is stuck in a big giant web of conspiracy and deception?" Morgan asked Ellie at the end of the episode.

Uh-oh? Dunno.

Thus, the episode ended with everybody in the B-story wondering what's up with Chuck and with everybody in the A-story feeling uncomfortable with Chuck's "I'm a Real Little Spy" status. Well, everybody except for Casey.

"He's turning into a spy. That's a good thing," Casey tells Sarah, as they surveil Chuck drowning his sorrows in whiskey after containing Manoosh and sending him off to a secure location.

"Is it?" responds Sarah.

The show is, at this point, setting up the concern that viewers coming into this season, that Chuck might become too capable and might not need Sarah and Casey anymore. That fear is built into the story, because it makes Casey happy and makes Sarah worried. Either we're gonna play with that happiness and that concern in future episodes, or else I start to get worried. Fortunately, I'm not worried.

Other thoughts on "Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler":

*** We went through more than three-quarters of the episode without "Chuck" flashing. I'm not sure, but I'm thinking that was probably a "Chuck" record. And when he finally did flash, it was a different kind of flashing, a sort of lateral-learning flashing. He flashed on a ninja throwing star and that allowed him to throw a knife. He flashed on a nacho platter and somehow got the knowledge to throw a discuss. Previously, the Intersect 2.0 flashing was of a very literal sort. That's new. And interesting.

*** Weap-Con was a bit of a rip-off of the too-angry-to-be-funny John Cusack movie "War, Inc." Nobody saw "War, Inc." For good reason. I guess the "Chuck" team figured we wouldn't notice. By the way, that's *exactly* how I imagine Dubai looks and feels. EXACTLY. [That's not true. My images of Dubai actually come from "The Amazing Race" and they all include water slides and terrified, wailing country singers.]

*** Were we supposed to find Manoosh's initial bidding demands for his Intersect glasses to be quaint in a Dr. Evil sort of way? You've got glasses that turn nerds into super-soldiers? You start the bidding at a billion dollars, none of this $50 million stuff.

*** This week's dialogue I'd wear on a t-shirt includes Jeff's "It's my constitutional right to fornicate" and Sarah's "Secrets turn me on."

*** Line of the Week: Lester's edict, "Next hire, I want you to find me a wife. A woman of color, preferably Padma Lakshmi." [I'm not sure if Lester was referencing how "Chuck" has now lost two women of color in the show's short run. Everybody remembers poor Julia Ling's Anna, but only die-hard fans know that Natalie Martinez was cast at the beginning of the series as a regular character, only to have the character axed without ever appearing.]

*** Are we going to see those two sleepovers per week that Jeff negotiated with Morgan in exchange for turning his romantic attentions away from Hannah? Might be funny. Then again, we didn't see any of the stalking that Jeff and Lester did this week. It's like they were off on their own show. As ever, I'd watch that show.

*** Not a worthwhile use of Kristin Kreuk's cuteness this week. Shouldn't there be a New Herd hierarchy that distinguishes between salespeople and the more technically adept assistants? I'd been under the impression that Hannah was being hired for a more important job than one could be filled by the husky guy with the red afro who's always in the Buy More background. [Fernando, I believe his name is.]

*** We still haven't built The Ring into a workable organization. It feels like every week's Ring activity has been something of a Macguffin. We know they have their fingers in a lot of different pies, but that's about it. But it's a gradual thing and at least The Ring has been more successfully pervasive than Fulcrum.

*** Brandon Routh's Shaw was off on a covert mission all his own this week. Was he running an operation with Big Mike? Because he was also absent.

*** That was Fahim Anwar as Manoosh. He seemed funny enough. He's like a slightly-more-ethnic Paolo Costanzo. I'm sure there's a niche market for that sort of thing.

What'd you think of "Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler"?