It seems inevitable that after two relatively light-hearted, standalone episodes, Chuck would have to return to a darker, multi-episode plotline format for the final few episodes of the season, and it also seems appropriate that the groundwork for that plotline would be a focus on Chuck’s mind. The ultimate goals of this show have always been about that uncomfortable computer lodged in Chuck’s brain – either he wants it out, or he needs to put it back in, or he can’t control it. It makes sense that now Chuck is finally in a place where the Intersect is almost fully integrated into his life, it becomes a threat to his mental stability. And, as it’s nearing the end of this season, the rhythms of this show dictate that we return to Chuck’s brain as the primary battleground. The premise of the plotline is also respectably plausible inside of a show where plausibility has remarkably little traction. I can well believe that the presence of an incredibly powerful computer that can control both your thoughts and physical actions would eventually require some serious mental gymnastics to try to stay sane.
Still, the lead up to this revelation about the potentially threatening Intersect seems way too sudden, and I’m sure it’s a result of this bizarre, abbreviated season arc. Maybe a minute or two of Chuck waking up from a disturbing dream would have been a better use of time in the previous episode than watching Ellie and Awesome hang out with Evil Justin in Africa. The tone of “Chuck vs. the Tooth” also felt oddly equivocal – this is scary, and the moment when Chuck walks into that mental institution is meant to be honestly frightening. But as soon as we begin to actually worry that Chuck is going crazy, we get a jolt of funny from Merlin or the other spy-crazies. The conversation with Casey and Sarah was a great example of this unevenness. When they sit down to talk with Chuck at the hospital, he immediately launches into his whole spiel about the tooth, and plays the Insane Conspiracy Theorist role for laughs. The gravelly voice, the desperate request for Sarah to give him her hand, the silliness of hacking up the tooth, “the truth…is in the tooth” – all of these are meant to be funny, and they are funny as long as we believe that Chuck isn’t actually unbalanced. Except, as Sarah’s subsequent concern and Christopher Lloyd’s dour therapist make clear, we are supposed to be worried for Chuck. Either we can laugh at the hilarity of Chuck playing the role of a crazy spy, or our fear that Chuck is in danger of losing himself is legitimate, but it’s hard to keep them working at the same time. “Chuck vs. the Tooth” tried to have it both ways, and I don’t think it really clicked.
All that said, when tuxedo-clad Morgan was the recipient of the objectifying Buy More slo-walk, I almost spit out my iced tea.