The penultimate episode of the third season brings lots of revelation, awesomeness, evil portent, and Yvonne Strahovski in tanktops. Too bad it came wrapped in a Chuck's-a-moron shell.
Listen, we could go through the plot hurdles of this week's episode, "Chuck Versus the Living Dead" — Chuck's dad is back, Ellie is a confused spy who leads the Ring right to Papa Bartowski, Jeffster splits up, Chuck and Sarah bust into Shaw's old penthouse and steal his "spy will" — and we'll hit the biggies towards the end, but there was a bigger theme I want to talk about.
There's a term that gets bandied around writers rooms all over Hollywood — usually in sitcoms, but it applies here: the Idiot Ball. As in, "who's gonna carry the Idiot Ball this week?" Basically, it means who's gonna act entirely, ridiculously, uncharacteristically stupid this week for the sake of having a plot to hang an episode on? You'll find evidence of the Idiot Ball in shows from Friends or Seinfeld to Warehouse 13. Some shows invented characters whose sole purpose was to carry the idiot ball (see: Reginald Barclay). The true genius of the Simpsons is that they made the Idiot Ball carrier the lead.
This week, it seems, Chuck drew the Idiot Ball short straw. Now Chuck might not be the most experienced relationshipper, but you've gotta know that lying to your new girlfriend — a girlfriend who knows her way around a lie — will not end well. Never does. And then bald-face lying to your father? Chuck has gone a long way towards evolving Chuck from the bumbling idiot to a man who understands a decent amount about the way the world works — and understands the people in his life. Chuck's persistence, insistence on slinging those untruths is stupid. Too stupid for a smart man.
Plot should come from character, not the other way around. It'd be catastrophically unforgivable...if the second half of the episode wasn't so damned good. Full of emotional revelation, plot advancement...full of everything you want from an episode of Chuck. Papa Bartowski knows that the intersect is damaging his son's brain, and despite his misgivings about the spy-biz, he agrees to build a Governor for the Intersect. Sarah gives Chuck her spy will, as he's the person she's been closest to. Ellie is now, officially, in deep with the Ring.
Oh, and Shaw is back from the dead — and possessor of his Own Damned Intersect. BATTLE OF THE INTERSECT, BEECHES.
I'm great with all of those things. I just wish that Chuck Bartowski didn't have to, essentially, emasculate himself to get there.