Chuck 3.11 Review (spoilers)

I love Chuck. It's the show I look forward to the most every week. It has the blend of comedy, drama, and even some action that I like in my TV shows. Even at its worst, there are elements of every episode that I enjoy, which means I have a hard time imaging what it would take for me to stop watching the show all together...

...other than cancellation, of course.

And Chuck is, once again, running the risk of that. This most recent episode dropped it down to a 1.9/5 (people smarter than I can explain that, I just know that it's not good). Chuck had been dropping slowly up until the Olympics, but managed to jump up again when it returned, only to plummet very quickly. On the plus side, all ratings are down, so many are pointing to Spring Break as the source of the drop.

Still, I have a feeling that Chuck will be late renewal as a mid-season replacement for 11 episodes, and that's only because NBC is a god awful network.

So why is this happening? Why are so many people bailing on Chuck? And how was this episode emblematic of what's happening?

Allow me to explain it in two points:

1) There's no forward momentum.

By this point in the season last year, Chuck had some semblance of an bigger storyline. We'd already dug into Chuck's past and met Jill in a multi-episode story that had real impact on Chuck, and on the show as a whole. It also set the seeds for what was to come during the course of the season. For that matter, we'd also seen the return of Brice, yet another character who would return later in the season. All of this went to establishing the season, while also suggesting that we needed to stay alert, because anything could happen. Chuck -- and the audience -- had no idea who they could trust and who was connected to the spy world.

So far this season, we've had no real multi-episode story lines, aside from a cliffhanger that lead to the Awesome-centric episode. We've also been given absolutely no sense of urgency. Sarah and Chuck's will they/won't they story line has never been the focus of the show and never should be. We shouldn't keep watching for that; it should be an added bonus. But a show that had so many twists and turns last year has had surprisingly few of them this year. Chuck and Sarah breaking up isn't a plot twist given their history. Morgan finding out? Entertaining, yes, but it does nothing to create a sense of urgency -- neither does Casey losing his job.

What's particularly frustrating about this is that they've danced around a main storyline: how the new Intersect works. But they've danced around it so much that they've managed to water it down. Last week, they introduced an experimental drug that kills emotions which would, in theory, be the ultimate weapon for Chuck. But as quickly as it was introduced, it's been forgotten, not unlike Chuck's near murder of a Ring agent.

For as much as Chuck talks about wanting to be a spy, he's either been completely dense about it or they're cutting important scenes. It's been made clear to him on multiple occasions what the criteria is for him to be a spy, yet every week he seems to be surprised by it. From the start of the season, he knew that controlling his emotions to access the Intersect was job 1 for being a spy, yet we've never seen him agonize over this or even make decisions about it. We're TOLD it plenty, but we never SEE it.

Even more frustrating is the fact that Chuck continually claims he wants to be a spy, but he never explains how he can rationalize that. For a man who is so concerned about his sister, he never flinches when there's talk about sending him to Rome to assume a new identity so he can be a spy. How does he justify that?

I understand that they want it to seem like Chuck has changed, but he's still Chuck. At the very least, we should see the battle between who he is and what he's becoming, and it would be nice to see the part the new Intersect is playing amplified. That would unify the season and create some sense of suspense. I want to go into each week wondering what is going to happen in that head of Chuck's, but I don't, because I've never been given a reason to believe he'll act any differently than he normally does.

For a show about spies, there's been very little intrigue. I don't feel like the stakes are raised from week to week. I don't feel like there's any real drama.

2) Shaw.

I've noticed that most fans of this show kind of hate Shaw. My problem with that is that I think the character -- or at least the idea of him -- is entirely necessary for the show at this juncture. He is, in fact, essential.

Chuck has a desire to be a real spy and Shaw isn't just a real spy, but an expert on the Ring. He can push Chuck in ways that Sarah and Casey can't. He's also completely shut off and unemotional. He's all business, which is what Chuck is trying to be. Shaw, more so even than Bryce, should have gotten the Intersect.

But all the things that make Shaw a great addition also make him a horrible addition when they decided to create some kind of strange romantic connection between him and Sarah. While I appreciate the idea that Sarah, hurt by Chuck, would look to his polar opposite for comfort, she's also spent all season trying to make sure that Chuck doesn't become Shaw.

In the trailer for next week's episode, Sarah asks Chuck why he's going to go after Shaw by himself. He responds by saying "because I know how much he means to you." To which I responded: "How?"

We have been told fairly regularly over the course of this season that Sarah has feelings for Shaw, yet we never, ever see it. In fact, most of the time we see Shaw doing pretty shitty things to Sarah, like using her to set up Chuck's Red Test. There is absolutely no chemistry between Sarah and Shaw and, to be perfectly honest, there shouldn't be. Shaw, as a character, shouldn't be engaged in any kind of romantic entanglements, least of all with Sarah. Yet for some reason the writers decided it was a good idea, when it continually fails week after week.

Shaw has become to Chuck what Oliver was to the OC, and that's a shame because that didn't need to happen.

I am hoping to god that the upcoming episode squashes the Shaw/Sarah proposed relationship, and I'm even going so far as to hope that it's revealed that it never really existed to begin with, but was a wall that Sarah fabricated to keep Chuck at bay. That's an explanation that makes sense across the board and would actually save the characters and the storyline.

Let's hope for better ratings this week.

As critical as I might be about some of the things that have gone on this season, I still think Chuck is a great show, and I also think it still has a great deal of potential. I'm just desperate to see it live up to it.