Before this episode aired, I expected either to be wowed or disappointed by it. In the end, neither happened. “Chuck Versus the Leftovers” was a totally ordinary, unimpressive but still enjoyable episode of Chuck. In many ways, it was the opposite of the preceding episode, “Chuck Versus Phase Three.” While “Phase Three” had a fun plot with a lot of action, the character stuff was a little shaky. On the other hand, “Leftovers” was low on action but high on tension. It had some good moments for the characters (notably Chuck, who has been excessively whiny this season), but the plot had more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese.

“Chuck Versus the Leftovers” was a mythology-heavy episode. As such, it would be tempting for me to discuss at length how it fits into the larger picture. Nonetheless, I’ll refrain from such discussion here. Whenever I have time (which might not be for a while), I’m going to be doing midseason report cards for Chuck, Community, Cougar Town, White Collar*, and Fringe. I’ll talk more about continuing story lines and how I feel about them in the report card.

So, let’s get down to business. That was a fun episode, wasn’t it? We got a glimpse into Volkoff’s office, pole dance fighting, barefoot Morgan, Devon smuggling a gun in a sugar pot, and Volkoff playing charades, among other things. Speaking of Volkoff,  Timothy Dalton did a much better job here in than in his previous appearance. I still think that he’s receiving a lot of undue praise for overacting in a goofy role, but at least he wasn’t actively annoying this time. On the other hand, in the definite plus column, Linda Hamilton continues to be one of the best things that has ever happened to this show. Mary Bartowski is still an intriguing figure, and even though her motivations seem to be clear now, she still manages to generate an aura of mystery.

Various characters got a chance to shine last night. Big Mike continues to be a hoot every time he appears on screen, even if it is only to chastise Jeff and Lester (who really should be chastised more often). Barring the interrogation scene, Sarah was supportive and reassuring, and Chuck was a lot less whiny than he has been for the past three episodes. However, the real star of the episode was Devon. His reaction to finding out that Chuck was back in the spy game was perfect: a mixture of anger, fear, and acceptance. Given his past experiences with the spy world, I would have been disappointed to see that the revelation hadn’t generated any friction, so I was pleased with how it was handled here. Ryan McPartlin delivered his best performance since last season’s “Chuck Versus Operation Awesome.” He was particularly good in the scene where he went to retrieve the gun from Chuck’s apartment and in the scene where he confronted Chuck in the courtyard and gave him the computer.

Given that Zachary Levi directed this episode, and his last effort for the show, “Chuck Versus the Beard,” was nearly a directorial disaster that collapsed under the weight of its excesses, I was pleasantly surprised with how “Leftovers” turned out. The highest praise that I can give him is that while watching “Leftovers,” I forgot that he had directed it. “Leftovers” felt just like any other episode of the show (aside from the random Jeffster! rock-out moment). The flashy tendencies that Levi had displayed with “Beard” seem to have been reined in, and I’m no longer apprehensive about him directing future Chuck episodes.

Unfortunately, though there were a lot of fun bits in this episode, the plot stringing them together didn’t work very well. A lot of the plot seemed like a ripoff of “Beard.” Moreover, the resolutions of the various plot threads were too simple. Morgan and Casey’s subplot was over too suddenly without any real sense of danger (and without using Monet Mazur to do anything other sitting around and looking pretty), Mary’s revelation that Chuck was her son didn’t seem to have any consequences, and Chuck’s re-Intersection was too convenient. In fact, that whole plot thread was riddled with holes. How could Stephen know that Ellie didn’t know the origin of the phrase “Aces, Charles,” considering that she has used the phrase on occasion? How could Stephen guarantee that the computer would end up in Chuck’s hands? Why was the Intersect on the computer in the first place? Did Stephen anticipate that Chuck would want to re-Intersect at will? Also, why did Mary say that Stephen didn’t want Chuck to see the Intersect suppression device? It irritates me that the show hasn’t answered these questions and likely won’t.

In any case, it’s a good thing that Chuck is going on hiatus on the back of a relatively solid episode.** Hopefully, the hiatus is a chance for the writers to re-evaluate where they’ve taken the show this season and to shift to a more interesting direction.

 

* Yes, I know how late a White Collar midseason report card is at this point. I don’t care.

** “Leftovers” was a solid episode by Season 4 standards. It was mediocre compared to episodes in the first 3 seasons.

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