A review of tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I find a baby encyclopedia...

"Why does she keep doing this to us?" -Ellie
"Because she's a spy." -Chuck


Since the series began, Chuck has had a hard time balancing his personal life with his spy life, whether being forced to lie to his sister, miss important events on missions, or ruin promising relationships. What we're seeing this year is that this problem isn't a new one for the Bartowski family - that both mom and dad, at different points, decided that the best thing they could do for their kids was stay the hell away from them.

With Steven, we know his intentions were entirely pure, if muddled by whatever those early Intersect prototypes did to his brain. With Mary, on the other hand? That's an open question, and one that "Chuck vs. the Aisle of Terror" brings us no closer to answering.

The easy, feel-good move is for Mary's story to be on the level: she went deep undercover (whatever paperwork Casey's NSA pal found was planted to keep Volkoff's people off the scent), and she really does have Chuck and Ellie's best interests at heart. The messier, possibly more interesting, route is that Frost is exactly the rogue spy the NSA file says she is, and that Chuck developed all of his sweet, trusting instincts in spite of having a bad, bad mama.

"Chuck vs. the Aisle of Terror" was designed to keep things ambiguous, so we'll have to wait for a real answer. But in the interim, it was a strong dramatic showcase for Zachary Levi (I particularly like the look on his face early on when he says he just talked to a ghost). Chuck's self-aware enough to acknowledge his blind spot to Sarah, but still so earnest (or naive) that he lets himself get sucked into the idea that Mary is a hero with a secret identity, just like him.

This episode was our first prolonged exposure to Linda Hamilton as Mary, and one of the downsides to the episode's ambiguous portrait of the character is that Hamilton doesn't really get to define the character. I still think the idea of casting her as Chuck and Ellie's mom was great, and I look forward to seeing what she can do as the story moves along, but it felt like she was mainly doing exposition here.

And the various Chuck/Ellie/Mary angst was paired with a fairly silly - sometimes intentionally, sometimes not - Halloween-themed story with Robert Englund (the original Freddie Krueger for you youngins) as the inventor of a fear toxin.

I liked the FX work for the POV of people who have used the toxin (it fit in well with the show's usual style of extreme first-person POV shots for comedy's sake), and though the payoff of Jeff and Lester's Aisle of Terror saving the day was predictable, I still couldn't help laughing at the various mundane, slightly weird things that Jeff and Dr. Wheelwright both found so scary. ("Black licorice! Man feet! Otters!")

On the other hand, the whole business with Wheelwright's boobie-trapped device, the Castle lockdown, etc., was just goofy even by the relatively lax standards of "Chuck" plot logistics. Chuck and Sarah seemingly had forever until the gas released itself, yet they never bothered putting/keeping their masks on, nor did they think to step outside the lockdown area and just seal the gizmo in, instead choosing to foolishly let Wheelwright out of his cell. (Maybe Morgan would make that mistake, or Chuck and Morgan on their own, but Chuck and Sarah?) And on top of that, what's the point of having a lockdown situation that allows the people in the quarantined area to get on an elevator and take a trip up to the Buy More home theater room? The payoff with the video, and Sarah getting to clothesline Wheelwright, were just entertaining enough to make me stop rolling my eyes, but only just.

Some other thoughts:

• Looks like my early fears about Morgan being relegated back to Buy Moria were unfounded. This is several episodes in a row now of Morgan doing spy work, and being partnered with Casey, and it continues to work well. (I especially liked Morgan declaring their chemistry as like Ross and Rachel.) "The Magnet" seems as good a nickname as ever for Morgan Guillermo Grimes, international spy, no?

• This week in "Chuck" music: "One Life Stand" by Hot Chip (Chuck's mom shoots him), "The Boogie Monster" by Gnarls Barkley (Jeffster introduce Chuck and Morgan to the Aisle of Terror) and "Dead Hearts" by Stars (the final sequence).

What did everybody else think?

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