Narrative Nerve Pinch – Episode 4.08: Chuck Vs The Fear of Death

Written by Nicholas Wootton

Directed by Robert Duncan McNeil

Most frustrating episode ever.


Loved the guest stars. Loved the work of the cast, with one blameless exception. Loved the concept of Chuck being captured. Loved Sarah’s reaction to Chuck’s capture. Loved Casey and Morgan teaming up with Sarah to go find Chuck. Loved the action sequences.

Disappointed with the story narrative.

It is a given within the Chuckverse that fans have to relax their suspension of disbelief. We do it every week because the payoff is often worth it in terms of character moments and entertainment value. Each of us has our own subjective tipping point where the strain on credibility exceeds that disbelief threshold and disarms the entertainment payoff. For myself it revolves around whether or not the story beats being carried off feel honest to the characters or characters are made stupid to support the storyline.

In this episode we have Chuck unable to flash. In essence, an injured field agent with an indeterminate recovery period. So the notion that sending him in the field so injured, with minimal support, and gamble on the Pure Fear of Death restoring his flashing ability makes no sense. Even within the Chuckverse. This episode also reopens the series old question as to why Chuck is not being given traditional field training as a backup or supplement to his Intersect abilities.

It is illogical to put Chuck, a very unique and very valuable resource; an All Star if you will, in actual mortal danger. Beyond transparent dramatic ones. It is akin to sending a star injured baseball player out onto the outfield with a broken catching arm and telling him to perform the same duties with his other arm. Without a catching glove. It also makes General Beckman incompetent and makes her a transparent story device; harming the character in the process.

There are many less credibility straining story lines to get Chuck to a position where he ends up captured. Could not the same result been achieved by duping Chuck into thinking he was on a real mission instead as one example? Throw all these factors together and for me that suspension of disbelief tipping point is exceeded. If you were able to accept the storyline then obviously this episode will work much better for you.

What was really interesting about the episode was that the diagnosis for Chuck’s inability to flash seems to be a false one. That false assumption being that whatever the MamaB PSP Intersect Upgrade did to Chuck has suppressed the Intersect. Laboratory methods fail to work so Agent Rye’s Pure Fear of Death hypothesis is given a go. By now questions about Chuck’s character in terms of bravery and self-confidence have been answered several times over. So further exploration of these themes is redundant. Especially if the flashing problem turns out to simply a technical one. It may just be a matter of software incompatibility between Intersect 2.0, which PapaB did not work on, and the PSP update.

Based on what we saw in this episode it seems most probable that the suppression theory of the Intersect is wrong. Chuck faced multiple moments of danger but still was unable to flash.

PFOD as Intersect Cure? Don't Think So!

Episode Flashes: Add your own in the comments.

  • ‘What was the point of the water?’
  • ‘That sounds like candor.’
  • Summer Glau as Greta = hotness
  • Casey developing itchy trigger finger because he has not been on a mission for a month
  • Ninjas!
  • ‘Agent Rye. Jim Rye.’
  • ‘Physical. Psychological. Painful. Brutal.’ ‘Let’s get physical.’
  • Sarah ‘flashing’ on Spy School training Karate Kempo forms
  • ‘Mama….mia’
  • PFOD
  • Sarah’s exasperated, ‘Then there’s no safety net!’
  • You say GON-DOH-LA , I say GON-DOLA
  • ‘Sir. You are already the highest bidder.’
  • ‘Operation. Get A Greta’
  • Star Trek Neck Nerve Pinch Reference!
  • Chucksicle
  • Chuck takes an online gemology class. ‘Very convenient.’
  • Alex and Casey talking about friendship
  • ‘Just curious. Which one do you think is the pyschotic one?’
  • ‘Greta to the cage.’ lured by a Subway sub
  • Gstaad!
  • Casey rescuing Jeff & Lester
  • Casey dressing down Greta and calling on their history with previous crews
  • ‘Did I just get shot?’ Bye, bye, Rye.
  • Richard Chamberlain menacing as Chuck’s captor
  • Angry Sarah!
  • Casey and Morgan telling Sarah ‘We’ll go together,’ to find Chuck. Great family moment.

Full marks to the cast, and guest stars, for doing yeoman’s work with the material. Yvonne Strahovski continues to nail it, week in and week out. Adam Baldwin has been a rock all season even while being under-utilized to an extent. The guest stars were fun and Richard Chamberlain’s brief turn in this one sets him up nicely as a force to be feared and reckoned with in the next one.

Summer Glau was fun to watch too even if the amount of screen time and storyline of the BuyMore took away precious screen time that could have been better used in the main storyline. With Jeff and Lester cluing into the constant succession of Gretas, does this spell the end of the Greta concept?

Robert Riggle was a hoot as a manic version of Crocodile Hunter mixed with Dr. Phil. His over the top zest for being a spy was entertaining to watch and his character will be missed. Too bad he was not used in a sensible storyline.

What saves this episode, that seems to be mostly smoke screen because everything that happened in it is based on a false assumption about the Intersect issue, is the last five minutes. Once Chuck is captured the story narrative really springs to life. Sarah has her best moments, angrily defiant to anyone that gets in her way of finding Chuck. Casey’s nonverbal reactions to her outburst spoke volumes and when he and Morgan showed up, not to confront Sarah, but to offer their aid and support; it is one of the serie’s great, ‘characters as a family,’ moments.

One of the story ideas fans having been waiting for awhile, Chuck or Sarah being captured for an extended length of time and being rescued by the other, is finally in play. While this episode did not generate the same level of tension and excitement that the end of Chuck Vs The Fat Lady did when Casey and Sarah thought Chuck had been captured by Jill, the promos for the next episode – Chuck Vs Phase 3 – look to fulfill, if not exceed, expectations as Sarah goes Rambo on a Chuck Rescue.

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  1. The promo where we see Sarah as a BAMF definately was the best part of this episode. By the way, I really liked the episode because it felt more like season 2 with season 4 elements in it. Than again I’ve like every episode expect of CHUCK except episodes 7 and 8 from the 3rd season and I think everyone knows why. I’m not going to even mention the bad actiong of He Who Must Not Be Named during those 3rd season episodes. UG! Happy thoughts happy thoughts Brandon Routh. Unhappy thoughts unhappy thoughts

  2. Not very often that I agree with you, but generally, while I did not have as big a heartache with the storyline, I came away feeling that it was the last few mintues of the show that turned it into a good episode.

    I have said in other places that this is like this season’s beefcake, and I’m expecting next week’s episode to be this season’s lethal weapon.

  3. Lou, I have to agree with you wholeheartedly with this one. I would like to add that they are running over the same old ground with Chuck being unable to flash. Been there done that last season when the payoff on the resolution was awesome. I hope they can promise the same level of awesomeness when the latest is resolved. I loved that Sarah copped to the fact that she doesn’t think Chuck is a real spy. This is a huge obstacle and blow to his ego. Maybe this will spur him on to become more self reliant and resourceful and less dependent on the intersect for his spy credibility. I am so uncomfortable with the fact that he is totally lost without it. He’s a brilliant guy and if he wants this bad enough, he needs to figure out how to get the confidence to go for it. The online gemology course was a start. I’d like to see more innovative situations like that. That being said, LOVE THE SHOW and can’t wait for Monday!

  4. I think that this entire episode is a stage to get Chuck back on track. The way that Beckman even approaches it gives me that impression. Also, the way that Rye gets shot… way he’d be speaking when shot through the lung area. It’s all a stage.

  5. Normally I don’t let faulty story lines hurt my enjoyment of a Chuck episode, but I must admit that the whole idea of Beckman going along with Rye’s bright idea of putting Chuck in peril with the hope of getting the Intersect to work seems very out of character and, okay I’ve said it, just stupid. Beckman may not have realized just how obsessed Rye was with the whole PFOD concept, but it was very disquieting when Rye revealed that he didn’t give a damn about an intersect-less Chuck, and was willing to let Chuck die if he couldn’t flash. I certainly hope the show runners explain in the future how Rye got so out of hand, but doubt that it will happen.

    That being said, I agree with Lew that the last five minutes saves this episode. Yvonne was splendid with her portrayal of Sarah’s agitation and frustration with Rye’s insistence of putting Chuck in danger, culminated by her determination to rescue her one true love once he has been captured.

    Unlike some, who tend to punctuate every comment with how much they hated certain Season 3 episodes, I will now put my initial dissatisfaction with parts of this episode aside and move on to enjoy what is becoming the best Chuck season ever.

  6. At one point during viewing I recall thinking that the only way for the storyline to make sense (Rye wants to scare the Intersect into fuctioning again) was for him to be a double agent for de Smet and to have lured Chuck into the vault where he was going to capture him and turn him over. Now THAT at least might have made everything else make sense without damage to Beckman’s character, for example. So I was disappointed, in a way, when it turned out that Rye was just being enthusiastic about his job, if a bit psycho. Don’t they do psych profiles on their psych agents at the CIA? Just askin’ 😉

    Having said that, Rye was a hoot and it’s too bad he’s been killed off. As with “Tuttle”, the character was just pure fun.

    Could there be such a thing as a “Greta characterization” forming here? Every once in a while we get a one-off character full of zany joy and wild-eyed enthusiasm? Could be fun.

    Good review, Lou. I feel your pain. I also feel the pain of all the other Canadians who HAD THE END OF THE EPISODE CUT OFF and now have to wait for the DVDs to see it, as apparently that was the best part of the hour. *sigh*

    • You can watch this episode again on Sunday the 21st at 7 pm, on Space channel, available across Canada 🙂
      That’s what I’ll do, still frustrated about missing the last few minutes…

    • You might want to remember two things: 1. Rye is Psy-Ops, and 2. Casey’s line in “Suburbs”: “CIA Psy-Ops. Agency shrinks. Real bunch of weirdos.”

  7. I have to disagree with you Lou on a point of your observation within this episode. You compare Chuck as being the “All Star” of the spy world and that with the intersect not working that it was “illogical to put Chuck, a very unique and very valuable resource; an All Star if you will, in actual mortal danger.”

    Chuck was willing to do anything it took to get the intersect back after a month of getting no where. Casey frustrated at him, Morgan too (Sarah not so much). In telling the General he was willing to try anything Chuck backed himself into a very difficult corner of his own making when Rye was brought in to help. No one volunteered him, he accepted the mission himself.

    I’m sorry bud but these spies are in mortal danger “every week”. It’s their jobs to take insane risks in the face of death for the agencies and governments they work for and for the mission. This is what they get paid to do. Chuck is no different. When you fall off a horse, you have to get back on quickly. Chuck didn’t want to lose the intersect forever and perhaps Sarah too in the process and made the decision to accept Agent Rye’s insane mortal fear rehabilitation to bring it back online.

    I will agree that Chuck should have had more of a team with him. However Agent Rye was given complete authority in his rehabilitation and Chuck got sucked into believing Rye was correct in his diagnosis of how to re-engage the intersect. Don’t forget that angry exchange from Sarah telling him he’s “not” a spy. Your own woman verbally beating you down in front of your boss and peers… wouldn’t that leave you with something to prove intersect or not? Perhaps the fact you’re still a man… 😉

    • Good analysis. I would say you’ve hit the nail on the head. I know specualation is fun, but just once, wouldn’t it be nice to know what was actually in the writer’s head when he/she penned the episode? Maybe we could get one of them to do a post mortem here on Mel could have us send in questions and then we’d know for for sure what was the plan. Interesting idea for a one-off maybe? Mel?

  8. For me the illogical (granted) decision of Beckman to send Chuck out on a dangerous mission didn’t bother me one bit. They had been trying for a month to get things to work, and the CIA was running out of “intersect experts”. Yes, it was a crazy way to do things, and to lead things we have crazy agent Rye (I agree, he was fantastic, and will be missed). Sarah shouting the obvious “then there is no safety net” was right on, and brought home the point that this approach was absurd. That just made me smile—especially Rye’s crazy reactions to potential (and actual) danger. Chuck showed his worth without the intersect twice, by pointing out that they wouldn’t be able to move the diamond right away, and then by realizing that the value of the diamonds was the info hidden within. For me the good far far outweighed any potential bad, mainly because character interactions and humor are much more important for me than specific plot points. This is another great episode in a series of great episodes this season (Not a bad one yet for me) and I can’t wait for next week’s conclusion.

  9. Like some of the others I had more concerns over Chuck’s apparent helplessness in not having a working Intersect. Other than his smart move in bringing the gem scope from Castle and taking the online gemology class Chuck seems to have reverted to less than his normal abilities that he had back in seasons 1 & 2. I still remember Casey’s comment to Chuck on vs. The Other Guy when he said, “Before the Intersect, before being a spy you were smart.” I would have liked to have seen more of that Chuck than the helpless and uncoordinated Chuck that we saw.

    I also initially felt that the Buy More tension between Jeff, Lester and Greta was more interesting than the spy side of the equation. Yet as I thought about the episode after it was done I realized that the bigger theme was how Chuck, Sarah, Casey and Morgan are now feeling more like a family than ever before. Sarah calling the apartment “our home” and Casey borrowing Morgan’s line to Carina in vs. Three Words (don’t let the door hit you on the __) and applying them to Greta spoke volumes about how they are no longer the same people we first meet four years ago. Clearly there is a lesson that needs to be learned by all including Chuck) about the risks they are willing to take individually now that they are family.

    • “Chuck seems to have reverted to less than his normal abilities that he had back in seasons 1 & 2.” Yes! Yes! Yes! This has bothered me since last season. It seems ever since he acquired skill flashes (Kung Fu), he is unable to handle situations without the intersect. I would like to see him be a little more resourceful.

  10. That was a shocking cliffhanger. Jim Rye was hilarious, and so was Jeff and Lester. Holy cow. See y’all next week.

  11. I thought this was a pretty weak episode. After the last episode 4.07 was homerun I was expecting a little bit more from team Bartowski. A cover-up of Chuck’s intersect problems with Beckman while the team searches for a solution? Causing the team to go on missions without the intersect and Chuck having to compensate by using other spy techniques? On one of those missions Chuck could be captured? That way Sara could go all Laura Croft on the criminal underworld scum? It looks like next weeks could be Awesome! I cann’t wait! Speaking of Awesome, where were they?

  12. Bad news: This episode was a total dud. Easily in the bottom 5, if not the bottom 3, of the series.

    Good news: The dud episodes this season have been 4.02, 4.04, and 4.08, so if the pattern continues, we’re not due for another dud until 4.16. 🙂

  13. While I definitely agree that this episode was one of my least favorites, I am very curious why you seem to have thought that what Momma B gave Chuck was an upgrade. I was certainly following the assumption that she had tried to take the Intersect away, even if suppression was the only way for her to do this. So while I agree that it could be possible that she showed Chuck an incompatible upgrade, I think it is still too early to rule out completely the possibility that the team was right in thinking the intersect had been suppressed.

    That being said, it was still a pretty poor story line, only made up for by some amazing Greta antics and the last five minutes.

  14. he is a valuable weapon, but more so with the intersect and it had been a month of not having this weapon, when u think about really insane risks had to be taken b all and Chuck full accepted the mission he was on

    this episode wasn’t a blow u away episode, but what it hopefully did was set up one, and in my opinion there is no bad episode of chuck. the worst chuck does far exceeds the best of many other shows

  15. Well, you folks have pretty much covered the ground. I think we can all agree with alex in that a weaker episode of CHUCK is still better than the best episode of ‘Dancing With The Stars!’ We can all look forward to the payoff on Monday. As a stand-alone episode maybe this wasn’t the BEST of the series, but the set up looks to pay off big! I’m pumped to see Sarah fight for her man. Bring on Monday!

  16. Yesterday I saw the new Harry Potter-movie and as you all know, the seventh book-adapatation is split in two parts. Some friends of mine were disappointed somehow, but I thought it was great.
    Though I really think is that to get the best picture you have to see the second part too (which is coming up next summer :(). And that’s also the way I see it with these two Chuck episodes. I think ‘Fear of Death’ was funny and maybe together with Phase Three together, they both will be great.

  17. FYI: Just wanted to mention the writer’s name is Nicholas Wootton, not Matthew.

  18. Just watched Fear of Death again after listening to CNN and reading the reviews. Maybe because I knew how things would turn out, I actually found myself enjoying it much more. At first, I thought the premise was rather bogus, that Beckman would allow Chuck to put his life in danger, without a safety net, to get the intersect back. But as others have pointed out, she felt she had run out of options. Unfortunately, she put waaaaaaaaaay to much faith in Rye and his crazy theories.

    Until it was pointed out by a previous post, I had totally forgotten about Casey’s assessment of Psy-Ops. With that in mind, Rye’s obsessive behavior is now totally understandable. I also have concluded that Beckman did not realize Rye’s willingness to let Chuck die if he couldn’t flash.

    One big question I have about the last few minutes… why did Beckman tell Sarah to go home and wait? After all, if anyone would be super motivated to find Chuck, it would be Sarah. She had to have known Sarah would go rogue and go after Chuck herself. But, then, maybe that was her intention.

    Also, because the Intersect is a collection of the nation’s intelligence secrets and was now in the possession of a criminal mastermind, I would think she would have called out an army to go after Chuck, not only send Casey and Morgan.

  19. Let me get this straight, this whole show is about a guy, who’s got a computer embedded in his brain, who then he becomes the top spy in the top spy agency in the world; and then you complain that it wasn’t realistic when the leader of that agency sends him on a mission whereby he gets captured because he wasn’t fully prepared. The basis of your complaint is that the suspension of disbelief is being strained here. Its TV, Lou, its not real. Repeat after me, Chuck is a TV character, Sarah Walker is a TV character, none of this is real, none of this is real.
    Take it for what it was worth, an episode where Sarah and Chuck had to be tested not as spies but as a couple, and after this they will have to decide as to where their relationship is going to go. They have talked about their future together and this is a glimpse of that future.

  20. Hello, What leads you to believe that what Mama B did to Chuck with the
    PSP is an Upgrade or UPdate ??


  21. Hi KK.

    Logical deduction. MamaB entered the OrionCave knowing that the endgame was for Volkoff to blow it up. Therefore the PSP Flash has to be a way to retain all of PapaB’s Intel that he collected over the years.

    • Hello Darth,, Whats in papa B’s laptop that is under the seat in ellies new mustang?? could all of papa B’s intel
      be stored it it ??? Just a thot ?

      • Pretty sure it is an Intersect Maintenance Manual so that Ellie can look after Chuck’s mental health.

  22. I have to disagree with your conclusions regarding the PFOD.

    Beckman has shown little compunction to get rid of Chuck, one way or another, when she feels his usefulness to the agency is gone. Without the Intersect he is more of a distraction (to Sarah) then a benefit. Therefore ‘science’ having failed the next and perhaps last resort was PFOD. As Rye said just before he died it was Chuck’s last chance to flash (or die). In other words if he couldn’t get the Intersect back he was expendible!

    Whether the problem with the Intersect is technical or something more is irrelevant if Beckman doesn’t believe he can get it back then she believes the agency is better off without him. She is willing to put up with Chuck and his effect on Sarah (distraction, insubordination) while he can flash, but not otherwise.

  23. Well I guess I’m in the minority here when I say that I liked the storyline. it answered questions about Greta, Casey’s character (how he feels about the team), Chuck and Sarah’s rocky road relationship. Like all episodes of Chuck they get better when you watch them more then once.

  24. I pretty much agree 100% on your review (assessment) of this episode. Half way through it, I was wishing it was over already.

    I would add one thing to your review. The episode developed incredibly slow. It just seemed to drag on and on and on.

    This is the 1st episode this season, I will probably not look at again. The only redeeming value of it, is the final few minutes when Sarah starts going off.

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