Another excellently twisty Chuck this week: Bartowski tackled his first solo asset-gathering mission — not that Sarah and Casey weren’t right behind him. Still, the episode was loaded with both up-front action (the asset, Manoosh, had created his own version of The Intersect and was dealing over it with The Ring) and the kind of cultural references that make the series such a snappy pleasure. Sure, I enjoyed seeing Sarah in a (small) “Frak Off” t-shirt, but even better was Chuck reading a trade paperback of Brian K. Vaughan’s Y :The Last Man and having our hero refer to it as “the greatest literary achievement of our generation.”

This episode was so full of prime Chuck material that it could afford to push guest star Kristin Kreuk’s character Hannah into the B-subplot with Morgan. (And, hey, the whole Morgan-Ellie alliance is a nice development, isn’t it?)

But here’s the problem: Ratings for Chuck haven’t perked up all that much. Our favorite clever-spy show is having a difficult time going up against powerhouse House and a revitalized season of The Bachelor that’s got the buzz Chuck needs. (I know, it’s hard to believe as far as my taste-buds are concerned, too, but Kristen Baldwin’s witty TV Watch and Bachelor host Chris Harrison’s well-written blog always explains it all to you, and me.)

Call it the Conan Complex: Like the droves of supporters that came out after O’Brien was being evicted from The Tonight Show, Chuck had a huge surge of fan chatter when cancellation threatened last season. But that rabid following hasn’t produced big numbers for the show so far this season. I’ll update this post when the numbers come in tomorrow, but it’s unlikely that Chuck will do much damage to its time-period competition, as good as it was this week. Equally troubling, to my mind, is that I don’t really hear or read much about Chuck‘s new season from many other sources, do you?

UPDATE: As promised, here’s this morning’s update: Chuck came in fourth in the overnight ratings (6.7 million, 2.4), as has been the case most weeks this season, behind House, The Bachelor, and the CBS combo of How I Met Your Mother and Accidentally On Purpose. Articulate commenter SteveStrifeX below argues that Chuck ranks third among NBC’s own scripted shows, behind The Office and 30 Rock, and is therefore a good candidate for renewal on a network that’s doing very poorly in the scripted area. Good point. But then he goes on to write, “Maybe you wrote this article to get more fire going in the ratings for the series. Or maybe you wrote it to give the impression it’s doing poorly and people will stop watching… It’s doing fine. Stop trying to make waves.”

SteveStrifeX: Believe me, I’m coming from a positive place. It’s the first goal — to “get more fire in the ratings” — for which I’m aiming. As for “Stop trying to make waves,” well, sorry: Making waves is part of my job, if you define “making waves” as stirring up reader interest in a subject. I want readers to be thinking about Chuck on this day, as they also talk about last night’s House, tonight’s Lost, today’s Oscar noms: I don’t want Chuck to get lost in the media shuffle.

What do you think? Is there any way to make Chuck a mainstream hit, or is it destined to be a perennially underrated cult item?

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