By Ken Tucker
Updated May 11, 2010 at 12:54 PM EDT

It’s funny how life doesn’t exactly imitate art — er, TV — but sometimes echoes it. No sooner does my colleague Michael Ausiello report that shaky-ratings-plagued Chuck seems on the verge of renewal than the series airs a rich episode about a shakily emotional Chuck that gave us renewed reasons for why it should stay on the air.

A whole lot happened last night. Maybe too much for the hour’s own good. Ranging from a psychiatric exploration of what the Intersect is doing to Chuck’s head to yanking Ellie into the show’s ever-expanding spy world, Chuck found little time to use the return of Julia Ling’s Anna Wu as more than a few comic scenes at the Buy More. It was the opposite of closure for a character.

The show continued to have Chuck and Sarah exploring their new closeness (he’ll say “I love you”; she can’t bring herself to do it… until the end of the hour) even as Chuck is plagued with bad dreams including visions of an undead Shaw (Brandon Routh back, it seems, now as a villain). The idea that dreams, visions, and the stuff the Intersect does to Chuck’s mind would combine to mix and take a toll on his mental health is both interesting and realistic in a show that’s usually so whimsical.

The CIA sent Chuck to see a therapist for his rattling brain, and Christopher Lloyd was an excellent choice for the tone of this episode, since he can blend comic exaggeration with a grim intensity. Plus, Chuck found it no problem to immediately start referring to him as “Doc.” He had Chuck removed from field duty for a little r&r, but our man had to get back into the action as only he can.

The tooth in the title was an info-impacted one housed in the mouth of a baddie who accompanied a visiting dignitary (played by the under-used Welcome Back Kotter’s Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs). Chuck flashed on the notion that the tooth was the mission’s goal, but Sarah and Casey thought it was just their boy being paranoid — over-stressed.

Meanwhile, Ellie and Awesome are back from Africa. That didn’t take long, did it? All that build-up in previous Chucks, just to get them back home with a villain, Justin, who’ll work on Ellie’s own mind and emotions? Oh, well…

There were a number of nice moments with Morgan, but not so much with Anna as with Casey. I’m thinking of the way Casey used the tranquilizer in Morgan’s jacket on the “little elf” himself as they sat in the crowded orchestra hall.

The episode was crammed with references both explicit (Chuck and Sarah watching the Chevy Chase movie Spies Like Us as Chuck remarks that Monday-night TV is a wasteland) and implied (scenes that quoted from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much).

It led up to the cliffhanger of Ellie choosing to believe Justin that there’s danger ahead unless she gives up info as to the whereabouts of her father.

You know, now that I write this all out, it seems less of an excessively loaded-up episode than one that was simply bursting with ideas and concepts. I like it more upon further reflection. So I ask you: Did you find this episode of Chuck a bit over-stuffed, or simply jam-packed with the stuff you like about the series?

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