Like so many other geeks, I'm a huge fan of Chuck for its characters and its humor. As much as I enjoyed watching Season 3, I could never shake this nagging feeling that something was wrong. After this week's wrap-up of the Ring arc in "Chuck Versus The Other Guy," I realized that things didn't feel right because the villains have been limp and uninteresting the entire season.
The Director, played by Mark Sheppard (also known as "That guy with the British accent who always plays villains"), was especially disappointing after three years of buildup about the shadowy Fulcrum and Ring organizations. He might as well have been a target in a shooting gallery, since his only defining trait was a general sense of smugness and a fancy accent. Compare him to Chevy Chase's larger-than-life Ted Roark from last season and it's pretty clear what the Director lacked: motivation, history, and persistence.
At times, The Ring has been portrayed as committing villainy for villainy's sake - none of their actions, from trying to keep Costa Gravas' borders closed in "Chuck Versus the Angel de la Muerte" to their plot to destroy the CIA, have been explained at all. There's no definite drive or direction to their actions, unlike Fulcrum's drive to steal the Intersect for its secrets, or Roark's spicy cocktail of greed and overwhelming arrogance.
The Ring is also too shadowy for its own good - even though Brandon Routh's Shaw was added to the show to provide information about The Ring, you never find out what they want and why. You just have to accept at face value that every action The Ring takes is part of some bigger, more sinister plan, but nothing ever materializes that convinces you that The Ring has any real plan at all. Even when the big bad Director shows up to give The Ring a face and a voice, it's more of a personal Shaw story and a convenient resolution to the Chuck-Sarah romance than anything that ties up the loose ends of The Ring. He's there, he says "hello, I'm evil," and then an episode later, he's a convenient resolution to the Casey-as-a-civilian storyline. He's convenient to move the story along, but what he isn't is interesting.
Who knows - maybe the six-episode extension to Season 3 will clean up after the bumbling mess that was The Ring in the previous thirteen episodes (seriously, Diedrich Bader finds out who Chuck is and doesn't tell anyone before running underground and cutting off his own communications?), but it doesn't look like they'll be doing much to resolve all of my questions about The Ring over the rest of the season, with the return of Anna and Steve heralding the start of a new storyline.
All this complaining about paper villains doesn't change the fact that I love Chuck for the comedy and the characters. But I really wish that this season had spent more time building a credible and memorable villain, instead of having Director Ex Machina come out and fix the heroes' problems in one neat episode.
I know there are a lot of Chuck fans who love the latest season, so please, convince me - did the writers handle the resolution of The Ring right? Have we not seen the last of The Director, and his getting caught and beaten like a punk was just an act? I'd like to keep my faith in Chuck, and I'm tickled pink that it's been doing well, but I also worry about how long they can sustain the show if they can't build up credible opposition for our heroes.