Chuck is at the point now where everything is painted in broad strokes. Sarah's not just infiltrating Volkoff for some vaguely nefarious/righteous purpose; she's going in to pull Chuck's mom out. And there's not some loose fear of Sarah discovering something in Volkoff's organization that won't sit well with her; everyone, including Sarah herself, is afraid Sarah will lose herself entirely. Actions on Chuck have direct consequences and are explained thusly. There's very little mystery left on this show, no cognitive fuzziness.
It's not immediately a bad thing. I mean, the show's always been pretty blunt about everything. Chuck spent a ton of time calibrating his Intersect. He was either going to be dating Sarah or not. The problem now is that the relationship drama is no longer as simple as a will-they-won't-they. Chuck and Sarah are dating, and the show hurls all sorts of obstacles in their way, like the idea of marriage or a deep concern for each other that can't be best expressed over bleeps and bloops in an iPhone app. The connection between Chuck and Sarah is way more complicated now, yet the show still reduces it to its most basic elements. Thus, we get "Chuck Vs. The Gobbler," a wobbly episode caught between joyful camp and high-stakes ruminations on the mental capacity of Sarah Walker.
Here's my thinking on how to move Chuck forward: We've all figured out the rules of the universe (Intersect, Orion, Frost, whathaveyous), so do away with anything super serious. Embrace the camp. Chuck used to be a hell of a lot of fun—a comedy, if you will. Under the show's recent straightforward tone, many, many jokes are lost.
Take just the first few minutes of tonight's episode. Sarah has left, and Casey comments to Morgan that she's been running all around Europe, doing rogue missions in the hopes of attracting Volkoff's attention. It's a throwaway line to establish Sarah's story for those just tuning in, but it's a little ridiculous when thinking of the bigger Chuck picture. How much time has passed—three days, at this point? Certainly these sorts of delicate operations take, what, years? Later, Sarah enters Volkoff's office, giant emblem of Volkoff's company blazing in the background. That's just what super secret spy organizations need: more blazing emblems of their company (with names written using English characters, mind you). Also, later, I become suspicious that Volkoff has a stand built into his desk just so he can read people's secret eyeball data. At what point did he notice he was doing too many eyeball data downloads to warrant some sort of plug-in attachment, and decide a permanent fixture was necessary?
These are obviously very tiny things I've noticed, but given all the talk about Sarah emerging from Volkoff as an "unrecognizable person," they're the kinds of things I'm noticing as jokes on Chuck. Or they could be, if the show would embrace its campiness and make fun of the tropes. You know, "Nice eyeball scanner, Volkoff." Just call out these silly things. Like, sure, the snow in the back of Volkoff's window is clearly the worst CGI imaginable, but how much better would it be if Sarah'd just say, "Man, the snow in Russia sure does fall right straight down—no wind whatsoever over here"?
I feel like I've gone off on a major tangent, but that's only because the plot of "The Gobbler" had me wishing the show wasn't taking itself so seriously lately. So Sarah is trying to infiltrate Volkoff, and he asks her to carry out two missions to prove her loyalty. The first is to bust The Gobbler out of prison—a man who, quite literally, gobbles people (and has earned the sick respect of John Casey). She does this by enlisting the help of the Castle crew to go into the prison, knock out The Gobbler, and distract the guards with a surprise birthday party. Yep, that doesn't say much about our country's crack team of prison guards, that's for sure. Later, she's tasked with killing Casey, and even though the two of them have an understanding—she secretly passed the eye data to him—Chuck still sees it and gets all weepy. Casey, meanwhile, tries to stage his death and inadvertently nearly causes his death for real. Morgan wrestles with saying he loves Alex (a move pushed by Chuck, the most needy think-way-ahead-of-where-he-should-be relationship guy known to man). Ellie stages a ploy to get Awesome to agree to her baby name choice, and that ploy involves the fake name Grünka.
On the surface, these plot points are ridiculous. And the only humor to balance it out comes from the outside, like a scene where Awesome enlists Jeff, Lester, and Big Mike to say terrible things about women named Grünka in the hopes Ellie will reconsider. The drama has totally taken over, and it's zooming by as an unrecognizable blur.