By Kate Ward
Updated October 09, 2007 at 04:00 PM EDT

Chuck and his “stable of hos” were back full-force last night, in the series’ first show that did not rest completely on our title character’s newfound ability. And thank goodness, because Chuck’s stale second episode came close to turning off many a fan who thoroughly enjoyed the show’s pilot.

But luckily for us, Chuck officially lost his spy virginity last night, adopting a code name — the secret agent-appropriate Charles Carmichael — and trading in his Nerd Herd getup for a tuxedo in his search for an artistically minded, but elusive and dangerous, arms dealer named La Ciudad at an auction. And it was at this art auction that we saw Zachary Levi at his best, not only cooking up a mean tango (hello, Dancing with the Stars audition tape!), but delivering that perfect mix of comic timing and Everyman likability that made Chuck’s pilot so enjoyable.

Before we get into the action at the auction, let’s first address the episode’s most important revelation: that Chuck was expelled from Stanford sophomore senior year after Bryce found stolen tests under Chuck’s bed. Obviously, we can assume, as CIA agent Sarah did, that Chuck is “a decent person,” so something tells me Bryce planted the tests there himself, perhaps to win the affections of Chuck’s girlfriend, Jill. (Seriously, with all the trouble those two boys seemed to have gone through to get with Jill, I expect this girl to have Angelina Jolie’s looks, Marie Curie’s smarts, and Mother Teresa’s benevolence). But this still doesn’t explain why Bryce would resort to such dirty tactics, or why he would send all those encoded images to our guy. My bet is that much of this information will be saved for the season finale.

But back to the present. Sarah and NSA agent Casey drag Chuck to theart auction to identify La Ciudad using his computer/brain, which, welearned, can be fallible. While Sarah and Casey trail a British secretservice agent who the Nerd Herd-er confuses for La Cuidad, Chuck findshimself tango-ing (no, thank you, shirtless Captain Awesome!)with the target herself. Cut to La Cuidad’s discovery that CharlesCarmichael is not who he says he is, and Chuck soon finds himself tiedto a chair and threatened with death. Thanks to some quick thinking,Sarah and Casey realize their mistake, and save Chuck, but not beforeLa Ciudad manages to escape.

Of course, though Sarah claims that Chuck’s mission is complete, nogood spy show could end with the antagonist on the run. Nor would anygood villain neglect to complete an execution mission. Two of LaCiudad’s henchman tracked Chuck down at the Buy More, but wereoutsmarted by Casey and his talent for, well, throwing heavy objects(good thing Chuck doesn’t work at a pillow store). And La Ciudad,disguised in the most revealing delivery woman costume money can buy,was eventually defeated at the conclusion of the episode after aWienerlicious Sarah managed to take her down via a vicious blow to theface. Impressive as whole scene was, however, I couldn’t help butnotice it looked eerily similar to a drunken brawl at a sororityHalloween party, thanks to the opponents’ wardrobe.

In between saving the day and a Dark Crystalreference or two, Chuck also found time to contemplate a futureposition as an assistant manager at Buy More, a post that would onlygive the Nerd Herd-er a mere $2/hour raise (Don’t you think the CIA andNSA should be giving Chuck a small stipend as compensation for, youknow, almost having his cojones pinned to a chair?). Of course, CaptainAwesome had a solution to Chuck’s quarter life crisis: whitewaterrafting. (See? I told you all about this guy and extreme sports).Unfortunately, Chuck didn’t take the captain up on his offer, andinstead was given the task of fixing a large pile of broken computersin one night to prove he’s qualified for the job. Our main guy ended uppassing the buck to Morgan and his team because of his date/spymission, which allowed us viewers to learn a little about oursupporting characters: Jeff can get drunk in five minutes, Anna Wuapparently participated in some girl-on-girl action, and Morgan isfrightened of old computers. (Okay, I’ll buy Tyra Banks’ fear ofdolphins, but old computers?). Needless to say, with Morgan incharge, the repairs were still unfinished by the time Chuck returnedfrom his several near-death experiences, forcing him to pull anall-nighter to prove he’s assistant manager-worthy.

Morgan may have garnered much of the laughs last night, but when it comes to Chuck‘ssecondary characters, Adam Baldwin, as Casey, has become so hilariouslyover-the-top that he comes dangerously close to stealing the show. Comeon, how could you not laugh at the tough guy’s cheesy one-liners(“That’s what I call moving of merchandise,” after hitting a lackeywith a microwave) and questionable monitoring techniques (see: Caseypeering twice through Chuck’s shades)? He certainly outshines YvonneStrzechowski’s Sarah, who doesn’t seem to have much beyond herpretty-heartbroken-blonde- who-can-kick-ass exterior.

While we’re on the subject, we know that Chuck has developed quite acrush on his CIA babysitter/”girlfriend,” but there seems to be nary aspark between the two leads. Sure, they’ve flirted and their futurehookup is inevitable, but they certainly are no Ross and Rachel. Or Jimand Pam. Or, yes, even Summer and Seth. I’m far more a fan of thechemistry between Chuck and his sister Ellie (Commence your “ewwws”now). Okay, so I know it can’t happen (this is not Les Enfants Terriblesafter all), but every time Levi and Sarah Lancaster appear on screentogether — and deliver some of the most heartwarming scenes ontelevision today — I keep hoping that Chuck and Ellie will discoverthey’ve been secretly adopted from different families so they can justget it on already.

What do you think, Popwatchers? Do you, like me, prefer Chellie overShuck? Why do you think Bryce planted the stolen tests to get Chuckkicked out of Stanford? Do you have a fear as irrational as Morgan’s?And do you like your martinis shaken, stirred or — like Chuck — shaken and stirred?