Chuck is back.

After a slow start to the season that put the series through four of its worst episodes, “Chuck Versus the Couch Lock” finally got everything right. I laughed, I gasped, I cheered, and for the first time this season, I had a hell of a good time watching an episode of Chuck. More details after the jump.

One of the major ideas of season 3 was that actions have consequences; everything has a price. In “Couch Lock,” that idea made a comeback when Chuck discovered just how dangerous searching for his mother could be. He realized that he was jeopardizing the lives of Morgan, Sarah, and Casey, some of the people about whom he cares the most. This realization lent the show some of the dramatic weight that it has been missing for the past few weeks, and it was a welcome change from Chuck and Sarah worrying about the pace of their relationship.

Chuck’s whiny, neurotic tendencies were also notably absent this week, which I welcomed. It’s nice to have a competent hero who doesn’t get on my nerves. Plus, I liked that Chuck had enough confidence to command a tactical unit (at least until they found Casey’s tracking collar on a cat, which was hilarious, by the way).

Speaking of humour, this episode had it in spades. The “couch lock” gag was the gift that kept on giving, whether it illuminated Jeff and Lester’s illicit drug habits or caused Morgan to admit awkwardly to Casey that he was dating Alex. I also enjoyed seeing Mack and T.I. desecrating what they thought was Casey’s corpse. (Plus, how funny was it that their dissection of Casey by medical saw was interrupted by a pizza delivery?) When I’m laughing, that’s a good sign.

But the best thing about this episode was that it brought back the excitement. For the first time since “Anniversary,” I felt that Team Bartowski was genuinely in danger, especially when Casey, Chuck, and Sarah had been captured and Morgan had been shot. Casey had some great fight scenes, Morgan had a great moment with the electrical cable*, and though the episode was heavy on the Chuck/Sarah and Morgan/Casey pairings, I still felt as if the team was working as a cohesive unit; these people have each others’ backs. We also got a spy plot, that while relatively standalone, also tied into the larger mythology. We finally got some significant movement on the Mama Bartowski storyline, and though it’s progressing exactly as I expected, I’m interested to see where it goes next. (I’m almost certain that Mary either will be redeemed or will have been working undercover all along, but I want to find out how we come to that conclusion.) A spy plot that gave a meaty role to each of our heroes while tying into the larger mythology and giving Morgan his crowning moment of badassery? That’s a gold star in my books.

I have one minor quibble about this episode. I found that the soundtrack was a little too intrusive, especially during the fake funeral and Casey’s fight with his old team at the abandoned warehouse. Usually, Chuck does a good job of selecting the right needle drops, but here, they felt too noisy. I also didn’t appreciate the return of the Ring theme, which might be some of the most annoying, cheesy incidental music that I’ve ever heard. Also, one teensy-weensy nitpick: wasn’t Alex set to graduate from college at the end of last season? Why did she have to go to class in this episode? Fanwank 1: She’s in grad school. Fanwank 2: Because of the events of “Subway” and “Ring: Part II,” she missed her final exams and had to take an extra semester.

“Couch Lock” was Chuck at its best: the perfect mixture of humour, drama, and action that can only be described as TV magic. I’m never going to be too enthusiastic about the stretch of episodes from “Suitcase”** to “Coup d’Etat” (to which I will henceforth refer as “the pointless arc of boredom”), but if this is the kind of show that we’re going to get for the rest of the season, then BRING IT ON.


* I find it interesting that Sarah, Morgan, and Casey all had to deal with electrical wiring in this episode, which is normally in Chuck’s area of expertise, and they all failed to work with it successfully. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but I think it’s subtle irony: even if you know how to solve a problem, you might not be in a position to solve it.

** I’m not including “Anniversary” because it suffered from very different problems than the following three episodes. “Anniversary” had all the elements of a good Chuck episode, but it didn’t quite gel. In fact, I’d like to revise my original assessments of “Anniversary” and “Suitcase.” I’ve decided that I prefer the former.