The Intersect (Chuck)
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The Intersect is a fictional secret technology appearing in the television series Chuck. Within the series, it is used to house and analyze large quantities of encoded data. The term refers to the computer in its manufactured form ("We built the Intersect") as well as its presence in a human brain ("He has the Intersect in his head"), and can also be used to refer to the human who has downloaded it ("The Intersect will observe and report on what he sees", "He's the human Intersect"). It was originally developed by the United States intelligence community.
- 1 History
- 2 Contributors
- 3 Human Intersects
- 4 Description
- 5 Additional Intersect Variants
- 6 "Flashes"
- 7 Disorientation
- 8 References
Following 9/11, the CIA and NSA were instructed to "play nice" and share their intelligence, in turn making it easier to track and identify threats to national security, and the manufactured Intersect is "how (they) did that". They put "every scrap of data (they) had" into the computer, and the Intersect "saw" patterns in the data that the agencies had not. For example, Chuck describes in "Chuck Versus the Intersect" that multiple agencies had picked up information suggesting a bombing attempt against General Stanfield during the speech he was due to give, but the CIA and NSA each only had part of the picture. The Intersect cross-checked and combined both groups' intelligence to determine the full nature of the threat. Dr. Howard Busgang (code name Perseus) was one of the technicians involved in its design and development, as was Dr. Jonas Zarnow. The chief designer is Stephen J. Bartowski (code name Orion), Chuck's father.
Stephen Bartowski was apparently unaware of what the government intended to do with the Intersect, and it is not entirely clear what he originally expected or if the government had designs for the Intersect beyond creating more powerful spies. His original intention was to use it as a learning device. Both he and Dr. Busgang refer ominously to Stephen learning about the government's plans for the Intersect. When Stephen did learn, after completing the original Cipher, he purged his personal records and went on the run. "Chuck Versus Agent X" later confirms that the use of the Intersect to empower government agents was present from an early stage in the computer's development: Stephen and the CIA used an early version of the system to implant a cover identity into his friend and colleague, Hartley Winterbottom. However this version of the Intersect subsequently malfunctioned, leading Winterbottom to permanently assume the cover identity as if it were his actual identity.
- Stephen J. Bartowski (code name Orion) — Intersect 1.0 chief designer; Intersect 2.0 technician
- Hartley Winterbottom - Intersect 1.0 technician
- Ted Roark - Intersect 1.0 technician
- Dr. Howard Busgang (code name Perseus) — Intersect 1.0 technician
- Dr. Jonas Zarnow — Intersect 1.0 technician
- Director Langston Graham — Supervisor of Beta Intersect
- Roark Instruments — Intersect 2.0 manufacturer
- Bryce Larkin — Technician for completed Intersect 2.0
- Manoosh Depak — Engineer of temporary Intersect 2.0
- Daniel Shaw (code name Blackbriar) — Provided stolen Intersect 2.0 data to the Ring.
Several humans have uploaded an Intersect in their brain:
- Chuck Bartowski - Intersect Prototype; Intersect 1.0; Intersect 1.0 Upgrade; Fulcrum Trial Intersect; Fulcrum Intersect; Intersect 2.0; Laptop Intersect (Intersect 2.0); Government Intersect 3.0
- Stephen J. Bartowski — Intersect Prototype
- Manoosh Depark — Temporary Intersect 2.0
- Daniel Shaw — Ring Intersect (Intersect 2.0)
- Captain Richard Noble — G.R.E.T.A. Intersect project (Intersect 2.0)
- Captain Victoria Dunwoody — G.R.E.T.A. Intersect project (Intersect 2.0)
- Hartley Winterbottom (code name Agent X; alias Alexei Volkoff) — Volkoff Intersect (Intersect Prototype)
- Morgan Grimes — Intersect 2.0 infected with a Trojan horse
- Sarah Bartowski — Intersect 2.0 infected with a Trojan horse
The completed system was originally housed in the "Directorate of National Intelligence" in Washington, DC, in an isolated chamber consisting of a single terminal (a very early generation beige Macintosh). The walls were completely lined with video monitors that, when the system was accessed, displayed the data contained within the computer in a massive rush of information. This data was encoded in seemingly innocuous images, which facilitated subliminal retention when viewed by those receptive to it. It has not been specified how the Intersect was originally intended to be used. Dr. Zarnow suggested subliminal retention was intended in "Chuck Versus the Helicopter", though he found it remarkable that one subject could retain all of the images. Dr. Busgang told Chuck in "Chuck Versus the Lethal Weapon" that he never expected that a Human Intersect was possible. Stephen Bartowski tested an early version on himself, suggesting that at least he intended visual retention from early on. In "Chuck Versus the Living Dead" Stephen describes the Intersect as making use of the brain's own electrical impulses to function, and Ellie Bartowski would determine over the course of the fourth season that her father was attempting to use this to map information to the human brain in a manner similar to a computer.
Retention of data can be blocked by shielding the eyes, and even regular sunglasses appear to be sufficient for this purpose. It is strongly implied, but never stated, that once a person begins looking at the images, it is impossible to stop looking before the sequence is complete, even among those who are not especially receptive to them.
Despite the substantial amount of information stored within, it was still compact enough to be downloaded to a single UMPC device and sent via e-mail to a civilian personal computer system. New data can be added to the Intersect computer system and distributed to agents in the field via portable imaging devices or viewing over a computer terminal.
The original (manufactured) Intersect was destroyed by Bryce Larkin in an effort to protect it from capture by a CIA splinter group known as Fulcrum. Before destroying the Intersect, Larkin sent the only copy to Chuck Bartowski; the e-mail launched the string of images, causing Chuck to unwittingly download the full contents of the database into his brain. These events are recounted in the series pilot, "Chuck Versus the Intersect".
Although human Intersects show no outward sign of possessing the computer unless they are seen in the middle of a "flash," several episodes have indicated the Intersect has an ongoing physical effect on the host simply from its presence. When Stephen removed the computer from Chuck's brain in "Chuck Versus the Colonel" Chuck remarked that he felt "lighter." Furthermore, in "Chuck Versus the A-Team" Capt. Rick Noble expressed physical relief at having the Intersect removed, and declared his admiration for Chuck managing to handle the system's presence. The same episode also confirmed that, if so modified, the Intersect can directly alter the personalities of its hosts, as both Noble and Capt. Victoria Dunwoody were turned into what Chuck described as "Terminators" by the computer. This was further supported in "Chuck Versus Agent X," in which it was revealed that international arms dealer Alexei Volkoff was actually the product of a malfunctioning Intersect prototype, and was in truth a cover identity implanted by the Intersect into scientist Hartley Winterbottom. "Chuck Versus the Truth" revealed that prolonged use of the Intersect can cause damage to the host's brain, as well as used the host's subconscious mind to flash by means of vivid dreams. The detrimental effects of the Intersect on the human host's brain were most prominent in "Chuck Versus the Subway" and "Chuck Versus the Ring: Part II," in which Chuck experiences painful and debilitating flashes.
The Cipher was a critical component of the Intersect computer developed by Orion, which he stole when he chose to go into hiding and prevent further development by the government. After the destruction of the original Intersect, construction on the new system was delayed when its Cipher was stolen by mercenaries sometime shortly before the events of "Chuck Versus the First Date". It was retrieved by the team, stolen again by the mercenaries, then recovered again, and the device was installed in the new Intersect. However, the device recovered by the team was a forgery and exploded, killing Director Graham and several CIA agents, and destroying the rebuilt Intersect.
"Chuck Versus the Other Guy" revealed that the Ring managed to reverse-engineer their own Cipher, however the device was significantly flawed and required correction using stolen Intersect data provided by Daniel Shaw.
Early in the second season, in "Chuck Versus the Break-Up", Bryce leaves Chuck a pair of sunglasses as a gift "for a real spy". When Chuck puts them on to see how they look in the mirror, a chip in the side activates, scans Chuck's eye for identification, and starts uploading new encoded images, finishing the sequence with the words "Intersect Update Complete". The chip then self-destructs with a wisp of smoke.
Glasses are later used in the series, as a method to both download Intersects into people and suppress existing Intersects. In "Chuck Versus the Cliffhanger", Clyde Decker uses glasses to forcibly remove Chuck's Intersect and Hartley's Volkoff Intersect, and Morgan accidentally downloads an Intersect via glasses. By the end of season five, both Sarah and Chuck obtain Intersects via sunglasses. Using the glasses has the drawback of only being able to download one time, but they can be reloaded by connecting them to an Intersect computer, much like the handheld device Larkin used in the pilot.
Stephen Bartowski discovered the possibility of harmful side-effects early in the Intersect's development, which, in "Chuck Versus the Living Dead", he describes to Chuck as being akin to a computer overheating. He began experimenting with methods of correcting this flaw, and developed a prototype device called the Governor. The Governor regulated the electrical impulses generated by flashes. When he learned Chuck downloaded the upgraded Intersect 2.0, Stephen determined that the Governor, with modifications, could be used to regulate the new version of the computer. Stephen's Governor was destroyed in the fall after he died. The Governor he designed for Chuck was stolen by Shaw, but eventually Sarah returned it to Chuck. As shown in "Chuck Versus the Anniversary", Chuck had fabricated other Governors for his personal use.
Though the Intersect was designed as a learning device, Stephen Bartowski, Ted Roark, and Hartley Winterbottom designed a device called the Key, which could alter the Intersect's original function, grant it new abilities, even rewrite a person's memories. The Key was split into three pieces, given to Fulcrum, The Ring and General Beckman. Nicholas Quinn managed to reassemble the Key and finally perfect the faulty Intersect.
Additional Intersect Variants
Following the destruction of the first Intersect in the pilot a number of follow-up systems were developed over the course of the series both by the government and the series' chief antagonists, Fulcrum and the Ring.
There were at least three earlier prototypes of the Intersect shown in the series. Stephen Bartowski is revealed to possess an early version in "Chuck Versus the Ring". In "Chuck Versus the Ring: Part II" while fighting Shaw in the Buy More, Chuck's brain "reboots" itself and unlocks a memory of having previously viewed another early prototype long before the version Bryce sent him. In "Chuck Versus Agent X" another Intersect prototype was revealed to have been implanted into an English scientist named Hartley Winterbottom before Chuck was born. The date in which Stephen uploaded the Intersect into himself is unknown, but Chuck uploaded a prototype in 1991. Winterbottom was uploaded in 1980.
Stephen Bartowski's Intersect is only ever seen in use once, but that one use easily shows that the earlier model is far surpassed by Chuck's. The intelligence is accurate, but its retrieval seems much slower, flashing one picture or document at a time with a noticeable gap between the images, rather than the cascade Chuck is usually subjected to. It also visibly weakens or causes pain to Stephen, causing him to stagger and hold the wall to support himself once the flash has happened; whether this is due to a primitive Intersect, or the number of years Stephen been in possession of it, was not established.
In an interview with show creators Chris Fedak & Josh Schwartz, they state Chuck's Intersect Prototype "did not have spy information, that didn't have any skills" and was just the concept of the Intersect and shows Chuck's ability to be a human Intersect. They also joke that it was "like DOS". They elaborate on the following Intersect Chuck receives from Bryce, describing it "like uploading the original operating system" and each version after "kind of like [installing] patches".
The existence of another Intersect prototype is revealed in "Chuck Versus Agent X." The CIA and Stephen implanted an early Intersect version into an English scientist named Hartley Winterbottom in 1980 to create "Agent X." Part of this Intersect included a constructed personality to create a cover for Winterbottom. However, the Intersect malfunctioned, and it overwrote Winterbottom's actual personality to the point where he believed he really was the Russian arms dealer Alexei Volkoff. Stephen then spent much of the following 30 years attempting to undo the damage he caused, whereas the CIA chose to sweep it under the rug. The full capabilities of this Intersect were not disclosed in the series, or if Volkoff could consciously tap into the computer.
Shortly following Bryce Larkin's destruction of the original Intersect, the government began building another. It is currently unknown what differences existed between the first and second generation databases. The new system was nearing completion by the end of 2007; however, development may have been delayed by the theft of the Cipher by Fulcrum. The Cipher is described as "the brains of the Intersect, the most important piece". The module was installed and the system activated by Director Graham, who had brought in several of his agents to receive the subliminal imprinting. Fulcrum sabotage led to the Beta Intersect exploding, killing Graham and the agents with him.
Since then, Fulcrum agents revealed their belief that the CIA abandoned the Intersect project after the destruction of the second system and reverted to pre-existing methods to combat terrorism.
With the Destruction of the Beta Intersect (or possibly before), the rogue CIA group, Fulcrum, began constructing their own Intersect underneath the Meadow Branch suburb.
It is revealed at the aftermath of the episode that Fulcrum had almost completed a successful Intersect; however, the design was significantly flawed. Fulcrum began testing on human guinea pigs, but their Intersect had a devastating effect on the subjects, causing their brains to overload, resulting in brain-death or insanity. Rather than address the flaw, Fulcrum constructed a trial Intersect, which contained a small portion of the complete Intersect, and continued testing to find suitable candidates.
Chuck, under the guise of an unfaithful husband, uploaded the Intersect trial; this act singled him out as a suitable candidate as he survived and escaped near capture. The upload included intel identifying the Meadow Branch Corporation as a front for Fulcrum and the residents as Fulcrum agents/scientists.
Chuck was then captured in an attempt to rescue Sarah and Casey. Upon capture, he was forcibly uploaded with the Intersect; the upload has been the most devastating upload to date, causing Chuck to retreat into a state of catatonic shock. Mistaking Chuck's state for brain-death, the scientists prepared to dispose of the body, but Chuck suddenly comes to and is able to function, branding the upload a success. Chuck uses the intelligence contained in this upload for the remainder of the season, and the intelligence is differentiated from the original Intersect's by a red tinting.
The Fulcrum Intersect is also suspected of including some form of brainwashing with the encoded images. The scientists joked that the upload "should help [Chuck] get over [Sarah]". This suspicion is further confirmed with the ease that Chuck is able to convince the Fulcrum scientists that he has betrayed "Agent Walker", and allows them to test Sarah. It also explains why Fulcrum was willing to test on a candidate believed to be CIA or candidates that were not confirmed loyal to Fulcrum. Chuck, however, is able to resist any brainwashing contained in the upload and signals Casey to run the Fulcrum Intersect and expose the scientists to the same fate intended for Sarah.
Whether due to their failure to capture the original Intersect or independently early in its original development, Fulcrum attempted to reconstruct their own Intersect device. The earliest direct reference to this may be traced to "Chuck Versus the First Date", after the organization attempts to steal the Cipher.
"Chuck Versus the Dream Job" reveals that the Fulcrum Intersect project is being headed up by Ted Roark. Stephen identifies this version of the Intersect as "Intersect 2.0", and calls it his baby. The device is significantly more advanced in appearance than the original Intersect and Beta Intersect, which used a traditional PC (a modified Macintosh Classic) as its interface. Roark has been unable to complete the project, but at the end of the episode, Fulcrum captures Stephen and forces him to complete the Intersect Cube.
In "Chuck Versus the Colonel", Stephen reveals that he secretly did what he originally intended to do before being captured and successfully reconfigured the Cube to erase the Intersect images from Chuck's head, and is apparently successful after getting Chuck to watch the images. Operation Bartowski rescues Stephen Bartowski and captures Intersect 2.0 from Fulcrum.
In "Chuck Versus the Ring", Stephen reveals that he has made yet more modifications from his original design, using a new architecture as requested by the government as part of a deal. When Stephen asks Bryce Larkin what the new Intersect is for, Bryce says, "You don't want to know." Bryce was slated to receive an upload from the new Intersect, though he also brought along a device made to destroy the new Intersect along with the terminal and chamber. Bryce was mortally wounded in an ambush while entering the Intersect chamber and ordered Chuck to destroy it. However, Chuck downloaded the new system into his brain before doing so.
In addition to its intelligence data, one of the modifications to Intersect 2.0 "flashed" Chuck's memory with the knowledge of new skills; his first flash gave him the ability to do highly-advanced martial arts. As Chuck failed after six months of spy training, General Beckman told Chuck that the changes Stephen added at the government's request were designed specifically for "a real spy, like Bryce Larkin", who was cold, calculating and in total control of his emotions. Chuck's emotional nature has a direct effect on the functionality of the Intersect and makes its behavior both unpredictable and potentially dangerous to those around him; he struggles to activate the Intersect when he wants to use it, and he has trouble restraining himself from attacking Emmett Milbarge in public when provoked, as he involuntarily flashes on choking and martial arts skills.
In "Chuck Versus the Tooth" it is revealed that Intersect 2.0 is beginning to have the same effect on Chuck as the Fulcrum prototype had on the unfortunate subjects on whom it was tested. Chuck began to experience vivid nightmares that were eventually traced back to the Intersect itself, and Chuck's psychiatrist expressed concern that the Intersect may soon overwhelm Chuck's mind entirely. During the final two episodes of the third season, the condition has worsened while Chuck flashes on information or skills, causing him to suffer random flashes of information and a lingering ringing noise in his head. This prevents him from recovering from the flashes, leaving him vulnerable. Chuck's father has been working on a device he calls "the Governor", which governs his Intersect and acts as a pacemaker would to the heart. He stated in "Chuck Versus the Living Dead" that he would create one compatible to the Intersect 2.0, and he fulfilled this promise in "Chuck Versus the Subway". After being stolen by Shaw, it is returned to Chuck by Sarah and the damage healed.
In "Chuck Versus the First Fight", Chuck's mother betrays him and uses a device resembling a PlayStation Portable to neutralize the Intersect 2.0. Various methods are used to cause Chuck to flash in "Chuck Versus the Fear of Death". The strongest incentive was the knowledge that if he didn't flash, he might die. However, even this did not work. In "Chuck Versus Phase Three", evil scientists believe the information is still there, and when nothing they tried succeeded in making Chuck flash, they intended to give Chuck a lobotomy to retrieve the data. As of "Chuck Versus the Leftovers", one of Stephen's laptops restored the 2.0 or perhaps a new version into Chuck's brain.
Temporary Intersect 2.0
"Chuck Versus the Nacho Sampler" revealed that the Ring was attempting to reverse-engineer the Intersect from damaged components of Intersect 2.0 they stole from the CIA after its destruction by Chuck. As part of this effort, they contracted a software engineer named Manoosh to develop a new Intersect. The results of the project were a pair of sunglasses that could "flash" an agent with Intersect 2.0 skills. Unlike the full Intersect, the portable version did not download into an agent's brain and was entirely self-contained within the device, however the extent of its capabilities are unknown, as the only flashes they have been seen to produce are on martial arts. The images during flashes were also grainier and not as clean as Chuck's. Manoosh ultimately destroyed his glasses when cornered, hoping that without a functional prototype, the Ring agents he was attempting to cheat would consider him too valuable to kill.
The Ring Intersect
"Chuck Versus the Other Guy" revealed that the Ring has made substantial headway into redeveloping the Intersect by building their own prototype for the Cipher. Chuck, Sarah and Shaw managed to take possession of the Ring's Cipher during an attempt to apprehend the Director. Analysis of the component by the team later indicated numerous flaws in the design. Shaw later betrayed the team by turning over a substantial amount of data on the Intersect to the Ring to refine their prototype. Although Casey captured the Director, it is unknown how much Intersect technical data escaped. Recently, Ring agent Justin Sullivan is trying to convince Ellie Bartowski to lead him to her father. "Chuck Versus the Living Dead" reveals that they want the Governor Stephen has developed to control the harmful electrical surges that gradually eat away at the host's brain during flashes.
The Ring completed development of their own Intersect following the apparent death of Shaw, who was later revealed to have survived his wounds. Despite the Ring's failure in securing the Governor to manage the dangerous system flaws, Shaw uploaded the system into his brain.
As with the original Intersect and Intersect 2.0, the Ring's system was housed in a chamber completely lined with video terminals, which uploads the contents of the computer into the host's brain. The Ring's Intersect is activated by means of a hand-print scanner, which confirms the identity of the user before activation. It lacks the Cube present in Intersect 2.0, and the PC terminal interface of the original, Beta, and 2.0 systems. Upon activation, a burst of green energy fires from the control console into the floor, which triggers the actual activation of the monitors. It is unknown if the Ring Intersect causes the same post-upload disorientation of the previous versions, however Shaw appears to enter the same semi-trance state Chuck is seen in while the Intersect uploads. "Chuck Versus the Subway" and "Chuck Versus the Ring: Part II" confirm that Shaw is subject to the same moment of disorientation during a flash that Chuck experiences. It is revealed in "Chuck Versus the Subway" that Shaw suffers the same neurological damage as Chuck and Stephen, when he steals Chuck's Governor. Sarah retrieved it from Shaw after he was knocked out. In "Chuck Versus the Santa Suit", Shaw's mental state has severely diminished, though whether this was caused by the absence of a Governor or his desire for revenge is unclear.
The Laptop Intersect
In "Chuck Versus the Leftovers", a backup of the Intersect is stored on one of Stephen's laptops that is found in Ellie's car. After it is fixed by the Buy More employees, in return for medical help from Devon, Ellie activates it and it asks her "Knock, Knock". She responds with "I'm Here" and the laptop activates. It presents her a memory problem which she solves by doing MRIs on herself. She saw that Stephen was trying to store information in the brain but was going about it the way of an engineer, and not how the brain actually stores information. She uploads this information into the computer and it prompts for another password "1 or 11". She doesn't know the answer to this question. Later after they have had dinner with Frost and Volkoff, Devon gives the laptop to Chuck. Realizing the question is a reference to blackjack, Chuck inputs as a password "Aces, Charles" and the laptop activates again, and flashes (essentially repeats the original process from Bryce's email) Chuck with a version of the Intersect.
It is revealed in "Chuck Versus the A-Team" that laptop has come into the possession of Director Jane Bentley. It is then uploaded to agents Richard Noble and Victoria Dunwoody who are members of the Greta program. When the Gretas are found to be less effective Intersects than Chuck, their Intersects are removed from their brains. Noble expresses relief at having it out, suggesting that the Intersect causes discomfort to those whose brains are not well-suited for it. After failed attempts to decode the laptop, Bentley returns it to Ellie in the hopes that she will be more successful.
In the first episodes of the fifth season, the Intersect Morgan downloaded provided intel and abilities, but it came at a cost. Morgan's personality became much more self-serving, egotistical and reckless, driving him to join a rival company and betray Carmichael Industries. However, it was later discovered that this version of Intersect was created to erase the recipient's personality and memories, much in the way the Intersect used on Hartley Winterbottom overwrote the scientist's personality and created Alexei Volkoff. While the Intersect was removed later on, Morgan's long-term memories - especially regarding his fondness for movies - were not restored, requiring him to relearn everything.
Nicholas Quinn had acquired similar Trojan Intersect glasses, but Morgan stole them and hid them at the Buy More located in Vail, Colorado. Team Bartowski later retrieved these glasses to keep Quinn from locating them. Sarah later uploads the Intersect into herself to save Chuck from Quinn. In "Chuck Versus the Bullet Train", since Sarah flashed forty times within two days, Ellie theorizes that the constant flashes are what causes memory loss. Quinn uses it to his advantage when he captures Sarah and forces her to view Intersect images, brainwashing her into believing that he's her handler and Chuck is her enemy. He has her steal a new Intersect, which he modifies with The Key contained in Beckman's badge. Chuck then uploads the new Intersect after Quinn's death.
In "Chuck Versus the Santa Suit", Daniel Shaw intended to use the Omen virus to clear all of the data out of CIA computers and put it in his head using the Macao device. The government would therefore be dependent on him for all intelligence. Chuck infected the Intersect with the Omen virus, causing it to wipe The Ring's Intersect from Shaw's mind.
Revealed in Chuck Versus the Goodbye, The Intersect 3.0 was to be designed much the way Stephen Bartowski originally intended the Intersect to be used: as a teaching tool. It was created so that some one may not only get the benefits of the current Intersect but could also learn new abilities and information. This revelation was the key to restoring Sarah's memory; Ellie was convinced that she could reprogram the Intersect 3.0 to include most, if not all, of Sarah's memories with Chuck using their wedding footage, Sarah's spy log and other hard data personal information Chuck's family and friend could acquire. Whether or not this would have been successful is uncertain, as Chuck had to use the single download of the Intersect 3.0 into his own mind in order to save General Beckman.
The Intersect 3.0 is believed to be the final version of the Intersect.
A user who has subliminally retained the Intersect data receives feedback from it in the form of what have been labeled "flashes" by Operation Bartowski. In "Chuck Versus the Zoom", Morgan Grimes refers to the flash as a zoom.
In each case, the flash itself is virtually instantaneous; however, the user experiences brief disorientation as he flashes. Chuck's handlers have learned to spot the subtle indicators (with spotty accuracy, so they frequently ask him if he has flashed), such as Chuck briefly going slightly cross-eyed and fluttering his eyelids, rapid wide-eyed blinking or suddenly exhaling and catching his breath. Another clue is Chuck suddenly showing fear as a result of passively flashing (see below) on something dangerous, something that has become less common as Chuck has progressed as a spy. Otherwise, there is little external indication that such an event has occurred. Having several flashes in a row results in greater disorientation, and Chuck believes after the first such occurrence he will have a headache.
"Chuck Versus the Ring" revealed Stephen Bartowski has an early version of the Intersect in his head, which is apparently inferior to the finished product. His flashes apparently take longer than Chuck's, and the flash makes him momentarily go weak.
"Chuck Versus the Tooth" revealed that the Intersect is capable of interacting directly with the host's subconscious rather than merely residing in it, creating vivid dreams that can provide much of the same information as a typical passive flash. However due to the nature of how this information is processed, the resulting imagery is highly disjointed, surreal and confusing. CIA psychiatrist Dr. Leo Dreyfus has indicated the government is aware of the possibility of side effects, however too little is known about the science behind the Intersect to draw definite conclusions on the meaning of this interaction. Stephen Bartowski reveals in "Chuck Versus the Living Dead" that flashes make use of the brain's own electrical impulses and synaptic processes, and that a flash is simply a large electrical surge in the brain. It is this surge which poses a danger of overloading and damaging the Intersect host's brain. At the beginning of "Chuck Versus the Subway", Chuck experiences pain as he flashes on a voice recognition, and further flashes cause longer durations of pain where Chuck is vulnerable, leading up to Chuck's attempt to recover the Governor, where Chuck is completely defenseless and bordering on either a coma or death.
Additionally, the Intersect is fully capable of functioning even if the host's senses are impaired. Chuck successfully flashed on martial arts while heavily drugged in "Chuck Versus the Tooth" and was able to physically perform the stored techniques. However some degree of control is still required from the host's senses to successfully use these skill flashes, as Chuck proved unable to connect against any of his assailants.
Passive Flashes (Intelligence)
Until the end of the second season, flashes were always passive events. The human Intersect, upon seeing or hearing something related to intelligence in the Intersect database, quickly recalls the related information (e.g., Chuck sees a face, and suddenly knows things about the person that were known to the NSA and/or CIA). Once the subject has retrieved the data, it remains accessible without needing an additional flash to pull it up a second time.
The intelligence revealed through passive flashes is not always completely clear and can be open to interpretation, or potentially even error. As a result, actions based on the flash alone may be prone to mistakes, so depending on how imminent the threat is, Chuck typically reports his flashes to his handlers and they report that information to their supervisors to get secondary intelligence and work out a plan for addressing the threat.
Passive flashes can be triggered by a broad spectrum of stimuli, including both visual and auditory cues, which includes both in-context keywords and full voice-recognition. Visual triggers include personal distinguishing characteristics such as scars, tattoos, fingerprints and full faces. Another major class of visual trigger is objects, from tiny devices to buildings. In one case, Chuck detects counterfeit currency by its serial number. He can even recall intelligence by looking at the innocuous picture in which it was originally encoded in the Intersect.
"Chuck Versus the First Kill" introduces a new passive capability of the Intersect, in which Chuck can gather information from multiple sources and combine them in one flash. This is demonstrated when he and Casey infiltrate a Fulcrum recruiting office. He begins to flash on one of the Fulcrum operatives, but before retrieving the data on him checks several other people in the room and pulls their files as well. Previously, when flashing on multiple people, he only flashed on them one at a time.
In "Chuck Versus the Dream Job", Stephen Bartowski orders Chuck to use the Intersect in his head to perform a task, namely cracking a Feistel cipher to open a door in the Roark Instruments campus, which was shown to be beyond Sarah and Casey's technical ability earlier in the episode. Chuck protests that unless the data is already inside his head, he can't flash. Stephen explains that as a designer of the Intersect, he knows its capabilities, and he tells Chuck to flash intentionally, which Chuck is able to do almost immediately with a little concentration. This is the first clue that the Intersect is more than a database, and can grant abilities as well. Chuck repeats this feat on various safes and code-protected doors after downloading the Intersect 2.0.
In "Chuck Versus the Ring", Chuck activates the modified Intersect 2.0. Flashes from Intersect 2.0 can grant Chuck entirely new abilities in addition to the old ones, such as suddenly knowing kung fu, a foreign language or how to play the guitar. He flashes on these skills just as they become useful for solving problems, which in "Chuck Versus the Ring" occurred just as Sarah was put in mortal danger. Actor Zachary Levi has confirmed that the new abilities provided by the Intersect will have a glitch and won't last. Part of the third season will therefore focus on Chuck learning to use and control the new abilities of Intersect 2.0.
In early episodes of the third season, these skill flashes are shown to be able to directly control Chuck, or cause him to react automatically to the source of the flash. In "Chuck Versus the Pink Slip" he had to make a concerted effort to resist throttling Emmett, while in "Chuck Versus Operation Awesome" he launched into an angry tirade against a customer berating her in Thai after she complained to him in the same language and reflexively kicked Lester in the face as Lester attempted to imitate Steven Seagal. Chuck was also concerned that if he allowed himself to access the Intersect while sparring with Sarah, it would lead him to hurt her.
The show alerts the viewer to what a human Intersect is flashing on with a distinct visual and audio cue. In addition to the brief effects on the subject's face as noted above, there are distinct sounds played throughout the flash.
The first operational Intersect showed a generally unrelated "key image" - apparently the image in which the data was encoded when transferred to the brain—at the beginning and end of the flash. In between are a quick and uninterrupted series of pictures that show information such as photos, documents and legible text related to the data. The flash may also contain surveillance video or animated graphics illustrating voice recognition and the like.
In "Chuck Versus the Suburbs", a new whooshing sound is placed at the beginning of Chuck's flash. The sound was used for the rest of Season 2, and in Season 3, the whooshing starts off every flash, but still has the regular flash sounds in the middle of the flash.
The Fulcrum Intersect is similar, but the images are distinguished from the original Intersect by red tinting. It also sometimes includes the Fulcrum symbol/logo.
The prototype Intersect that Stephen Bartowski tested on himself has passive flashes consisting of images that appear one at a time, with gaps in between, in a slower fashion than Chuck's flashes.
With the introduction of Intersect 2.0 in the Season 2 finale, "Chuck Versus the Ring", the visual style of Chuck's new flashes is a zoom-through the pupil of his eye, with images related to the skill being learned. A modified version of the effect was used in Season 3, with clearer images symbolizing the new skill. The Ring Intersect differs only in the color of the images of the skill set Shaw is flashing on.
Uploading the Intersect to one's brain has a powerful physiological effect. Those who are not capable of retaining Intersect data are usually overloaded and rendered catatonic; even those who are capable register a significant experience of disorientation or unconsciousness.
- When Chuck unwittingly uploads the first Intersect in the pilot, which takes all night due to the enormous amount of data, he passes out and still sees floating Intersect images when he is awoken later in the morning. Chuck likens the feeling in his head to a hangover and doesn't feel up to driving. (As this is the first time he's experienced the Intersect upload, this is the reason why other uploads haven't had as drastic an effect on Chuck, with the exception of the Fulcrum Intersect.)
- When Chuck unwittingly uploads the small Intersect update via a pair of sunglasses that Bryce Larkin gives him in "Chuck Versus the Break-Up", the short burst of new information is enough that Chuck falls straight on his back again, but he is still conscious and can speak clearly.
- About halfway into the second season, when Chuck is forced to upload the testbed Fulcrum Intersect, which was still working out a number of bugs, he becomes catatonic and unresponsive for a short time such that the Fulcrum agents present think he has died like previous subjects, but seconds later he wakes up with a start and is immediately able to function again.
- Prior to the Fulcrum Intersect upload, Chuck uploaded a Trial Intersect, a small fraction of the complete Fulcrum Intersect. Chuck is rendered unconscious for an extended period, long enough to only narrowly escape capture.
- At the end of the second season, Chuck intentionally uploads Intersect 2.0, causing him to go weak for a minute, but this time he doesn't lose consciousness or even fall all the way to the floor.
- Manoosh's Intersect 2.0 glasses, which only flash the brain with temporary knowledge of one skill (kung fu), do not appear to cause disorientation in the user at all.
- Daniel Shaw did not appear disoriented, but did look uneasy on his feet when uploading the Ring Intersect, but the episode ended before the upload finished.
- When Chuck uploads the Intersect via Stephen's laptop in "Chuck Versus the Leftovers", the new information is enough that Chuck falls straight on his back again, but he is still conscious and flashes to jump back up.
- When Morgan uploads the Intersect via sunglasses in "Chuck Versus the Cliffhanger", he instantly falls on his back, though he is still conscious and alert.
- When Sarah Bartowski uploads the Intersect via stolen glasses while under fire in "Chuck Versus Bo", she experiences no disorientation at all as she immediately uses her skills to defeat Nicholas Quinn's team almost singlehandedly. This could be an improvement on the design, the fact she was full of adrenaline or sheer willpower alone.
- When Chuck uploads the Intersect 3.0 in "Chuck Versus the Goodbye", he seems slightly disoriented upon completion, but does not fall down.
- Chuck's Chart: NBC.com
- Listen: Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 55 with 'Chuck' creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak: Hitfix.com
- Star-Ledger: Chuck Co-creator Chris Fedak Q&A
- What's Alan Watching? Chuck: Chris Fedak vs. the finale
- SCI FI Wire:"Chuck star Zachary Levi reveals a few season-three hints"
- Development Update: July 25, 2009: Chuck superpowers to have glitch