Chuck is one of the only shows that keeps characters around who aren't part of the central storyline week-in and week-out. There are entire subplots centered around Ellie's laptop drama and Big Mike's musings about having a great big BM on his chest, and only about once or twice a season do they weave their way into the larger story. It's been a long time since these ancillary guys and gals have done anything to further their characters. Ellie is nosy to the requisite degree, Jeff and Lester are blinded by their interest in mayhem, and Awesome has a zinger or two at the ready, though he's really more neurotic than anything lately. At this point, anything not Chuck-Sarah-Casey-Morgan related is basically a game to kill time in the episodes.
It's obvious that these guys haven't developed along with the show, because they have so little to do week-to-week anyways. But has Chuck developed? Has he learned anything this season and adapted the way he looks at things? Tonight's episode found Chuck sliding into the commander slot for a mission, and the ensuing murder mystery tested his mettle and required him to think quickly on his feet. It's not surprising that his trials first involved confusion, followed by self-doubt but inevitably success, the same as they always have. What I don't understand is how, after so many missions, Chuck doesn't appear to be learning anything this season. Last year, especially with the presence of Shaw, Chuck was continually pushed in a direction he didn't want to be going—he was going to have to kill someone. Perhaps it's because this season was interrupted a few times (due to the producers being unaware of how many episodes they had to play with), but Chuck's journey hasn't been very pronounced this time around.
I still think "Chuck Versus The Muuurder" was decent fun. Basically, it was an excuse for Chuck to first geek out at finding some like-minded folks vying to be the next Intersect, then for Chuck to keep his cool in a high pressure, bomb-fueled situation. But while he continually brought up his failed leadership attempt the last time he played Dungeons & Dragons, I never got the sense that Chuck was completely out of control, that he wasn't inevitably going to figure things out. Chuck is a show that only got good when it let itself get completely out of control, throwing seemingly insurmountable things in Chuck's direction and developing the Intersect just as fast as Orion could explain them. "Muuurder" had so many new variables—specifically the four Intersect candidates, plus Bentley and the puppet master from Heroes—yet it was oddly very controlled.
Perhaps it's because the show is doing little to keep viewers invested on an emotional level, at least no more than it already has. Ellie was only in about three scenes tonight, yet Chuck's blind love for his sister was one of the hooks upon which the episode hung its drama. Every once in a while, it's nice to see the small moments play out between characters, and I don't feel like Chuck and Ellie got to have that scene in "Muuurder." Instead, mired in too much plot summary and random explosions, the episode blew right on past the details and once again played far too broadly to be super compelling.
Instead, the show has been relying more and more on last-minute reveals to summon viewer investment. Tonight, part of the story was Ellie's, in that she now has her dad's computer, is hiding it from Chuck even after he tries to procure its hard drive, and is discovering that it holds the secret to embedding information into someone's brain without them having to learn it. Hence, the Intersect. Then, at the end, the computer scans the room and identifies Ellie as Agent X. In the absence of much for Ellie to do this time around, the show has given us something to look forward to, Ellie-wise. It's a cheap trick that's starting to wear thin.
The best episodes this season have been the simplest. "Muuurder" took on a lot, and to its credit, it managed to make some sense of it all, even if it did resort to cheap, repetitive BM humor (not that I'm above a good BM joke). It's just that, at the end of the day, nothing much happened. Again. Oh well. There's always the imminent threat of Vivian Volkoff, despite not mentioning her the entire episode (until the very end, at least), to look forward to. Hmm, what a familiar little trick…