By Ken Tucker
Updated May 04, 2010 at 05:04 AM EDT

These next few weeks will help determine whether Chuck survives to take on a new set of missions. It’s a good thing, therefore, that the series gave us one of its trickiest, most intricately-arranged editions this week. Or not. What I mean is, this was a very good hour, but probably not a Chuck for newbies, and new viewers — or at least a lot more of the viewers that used to watch and have been sucked into that maelstrom of madness that is Dancing With the Stars — are what Chuck needs.

The hour played off the series’ current major plot: Chuck and Sarah not only together romantically, but taking the relationship to the next level, while testing whether romance can survive the spy life. This was contrasted with a veteran married CIA couple, the Turners, played by Fred Willard and Swoosie Kurtz. Two pros at snippy sniping, Willard and Kurtz were good at playing their roles as espionage experts, and at being devious squabblers. The mission needed to be a simple one, so that it didn’t get in the way of the relationship. Thus this bagatelle: The two couples had to secure some software harmful to CIA security designed by bad-guy Otto Von Vogel. The challenge was that the software was located around the neck of Otto’s snarling Bengal tiger.

Subplots? You bet. Morgan and Casey had some fun bumbling through Morgan’s field training, while, over in Africa, Ellie and Devon took care of ailing locals in the pouring rain.

It took some finesse to keep these very different stories moving along, but director Fred Toye, who’s also done some key episodes of Fringe, maintained quick, zippy rhythms. The hour expanded sufficiently in the right places for Willard and Kurtz to establish their own comic pace and commit a triple-cross, and contracted in the Ellie-Awesome moments to make us (well, me, at least) think this story line was superfluous. (Silly me.)

A few concluding thoughts:

• I thought Chuck and Sarah were very convincing as both a couple in the throes of new intimacy and scared that they’d eventually, if they stayed together for another couple of decades, turn into their badgering “role models,” the Turners.

• I like the “30-foot rule” about a spy’s proximity to a weapon. Anyone know if this has any basis in fact?

• I loved the final twist: Devon’s illness cutting short his and Ellie’s African adventure (instead of Ellie, who was the homesick one). It featured baddie Justin Sullivan (Scott Holroyd), who got to utter the fine, comic-sinister line, “I made it look like malaria; she doesn’t suspect a thing.”

Where do you think Chuck goes from here? And by that I mean, please speculate both on this week’s episode, next week’s, and the future of the series itself. Thanks.

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