Without Love, Where Would You Be Now?

NoWayOut asks a great question in the comments. If I may paraphrase: Given what we know about these fictional characters, why would Chuck love Sarah, and Sarah love Chuck?

Once you get past the obvious physical attractiveness of both Yvonne Strahovski (with an Adam Baldwin-like “Duh”) and Zachary Levi, you get into more difficult territory. If you approach the question correctly, first you have to separate the reasons YOU might have for being attracted to one or the other (or both as human beings, I suppose), from the characters’ reasons. Then you’d like to ignore the more generic, obvious and trivial reason.   Finally, you have to decide if this amounts to love.  If the characters are poorly drawn you’ll find that there’s nothing left at all.

These are characters we’ve known for less than 40 hours, and probably less than 30 if your subtract out Buy More time!  It’s not much to go on, and it’s brutal way to critique a show.  Regardless, lets play the game, and see if we can’t find reasonable answers.

Why Does Chuck Love Sarah?

Let’s start with Chuck and his POV.  In the Pilot we see Chuck reduced to firm jello when she walks in. And given the obvious come-on when Sarah leaves her phone number, Chuck insists to Morgan that calling her is probably foolish – she’s way out of his league. Or the way we used to put it, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” Yet despite his girlish screams, Chuck is no coward and asks this fantasy girl out on a date. What attracts him immediately? Sarah laughs at his jokes. She’s charming, bright, articulate, not a cannibal, and seems to be a very good, if unusual dancer.

The Fantasy Girl

So far, Sarah is Chuck’s idea of a standard hot date, the kind he’d think he was very lucky to have once. But nothing here says he’s “bringing her home to mother” and a second date is neither guaranteed nor necessarily desired. Rejection is hard, after all. But before that first evening ends, Sarah has shown some peculiar talents. She drives backwards, very fast. She tosses knives like a circus performer, and faces down a federal agent (Casey) with a loaded gun like she’s done that many times before.  Oh yeah – she’s also taken Chuck on an extreme adventure.  Sarah does not know the meaning of fear, and is adept at defending herself in all sorts of ways. She is, in a word, formidable in ways that Chuck has never seen in real life.

These are not attributes that might make you fall in love, but when they are brought to bear in your service, well, that’s a plus. Besides, Chuck has seen those skills, often, in his rich cyber-world of gaming.

Sarah has some obvious admirable qualities besides fearlessness. She expects the best from whomever she’s with, and knows when that’s not forthcoming. She’s decisive in her judgements. She holds the highest of standards without being elitist or conceited about them. All these things are revealed to Chuck at the start.

Sarah regards “her mission” as a higher calling. We see some of that and more as early as Alma Mater, which is the 7th episode. Sarah first covers Chuck when the fire-fight begins, then guides him out of danger while she faces it with Casey. In fact, they are out of ammo and about to die for Chuck’s sake. She is not self-centered.  At the end of that episode, Sarah has learned why Chuck was kicked out of Stanford – it was both a very raw deal perpetrated by her co-workers, organization, friends and former lover, and it both destroyed and saved his life. What we see in her eyes as she hears his story about Bryce’s betrayal, and again as she leaves Chuck’s room, is both empathy and a sense that she now feels personally responsible for his safety, and for him. Sarah’s mission becomes personal.

Even before this Chuck notices how Sarah pays attention; she focuses on him when Chuck feels responsible for the capture of Mei Ling’s (the Chinese spy) brother. In Sizzling Shrimp Chuck is seriously torn between helping Morgan (who’s about to get fired and asks for Chuck’s help), his commitment to Ellie and their Mother’s Day tradition, to Mei Ling for the mess he’s created and to the team. She knows it’s a lot to bear. Sarah doesn’t just order him to choose between them, but listens to him, confident that Chuck will do the right thing. She’s also there at the end as a friend when she doesn’t have to be, to help him celebrate.

Chuck’s perceptive enough to pick up on Sarah’s empathy, but it’s not clear he understands her commitment to him. Chuck is kept in the dark about that even in The Truth, and he stays ignorant, believing that it’s just wishful thinking, until Carina tells him otherwise in Season 3’s The Three Words. But clearly, by The Truth, Chuck “is crazy” about her, and he understands that Sarah is committed to him in some respect, even if she insists that it’s just her job. This is one of the main reasons Chuck knows Sarah is remarkable; a commitment to something larger than yourself is always attractive.

And there are little things. Sarah greets him wearing her O-O or Weinerliscious outfit, clearly under cover, and she’s quite liable to adjust Chuck’s tie, or remove a speck of lint from his shirt, or adjust his hair. Chuck notices this and can’t help but think that, for a cover, this is above and beyond. It’s so very thoughtful and unconsciously done that these little actions become the main reason that Chuck wants to believe that there’s something “underneath the cover.”  Chuck is in love with Sarah because of the way she treats him when they’re not on a mission.

So in total, Sarah is physically graceful and strong, fearless, adept to the point of being talented, attentive to and focused on Chuck. There is one other thing – Sarah also embodies a strong sense of justice. She is realistic when she states that “they” (meaning Chuck, but herself and Casey also), can’t save everybody. But she has a low tolerance for injustice when she sees it. Sarah is neither a guardian angel nor avenging angel to Chuck, but comes close to that at times.

Why Does Sarah Love Chuck?

It’s easier to check off the reasons Sarah would not be attracted to him. He’s a loser. Without a complete makeover and attitude adjustment, he’s going nowhere. It’s not that he can’t; it’s that Chuck won’t budge from his comfort zone, whether that’s the Buy More or Ellie’s apartment. Despite Zachary Levi, Chuck Bartowski is not physically attractive. He’s gauky and lanky, not very coordinated and screams like a little girl when startled. Which is often.

The Articulate Schnook

But Chuck is funny, and can make Sarah laugh (which she does subtly, mostly when Chuck and Casey are verbally sparing). Despite appearances, Chuck is brave, willing to put himself in danger (or not run from it) when he has to.  Sarah sees Chuck is very intelligent and intuitive, often pulling answers from the most unexpected places, almost the way the intersect retrieves disparate data and combines them when a pattern is recognized. For her, Chuck has a way of achieving in reality the heights reached by his gaming characters, as if living vicariously in fantasy land has trained him for the real thing. Charles Carmichael is physically attractive, and has an engaging self-confidence that does show up in the way he carries himself and speaks. Is that imposing? I was going for imposing.” and It would be unprofessional not to.” are examples of this.

But most of all, Sarah loves him because he always strives to do the right thing, which he defines most rigorously as “the right thing by his family and friends.”  Chuck may be naive, but Sarah knows from the start he is willing to give up his life for them.  As much as Sarah wants Chuck to see the bigger picture, she wants to be included in that circle.  She loves him for the price he willing to pay for their happiness.

Chuck has focused on Sarah and the details of her life, but has given her the space she needs, which is substantial. Chuck is not a stalker and not clingy (usually), but does know how she likes her pizza, hamburgers and privacy. His respect for that part of her personna is something she finds admirable.

Chuck is also respectful of her in general, to the point of being chaste. At minimum, Sarah finds this to be a balm against the things that have made her cynical. Chuck has seen into her heart, getting to her core at times with his words. “Sarah, I’m not like you, able to turn my emotions on and off like a robot.”

Finally, although Chuck has told her some painful truths, he has displayed a constant gentleness that Sarah sees nowhere else. In Best Friends, the most hurtful thing he can say to her is “I hear you say the words, but I don’t think you get it.” In Colonel she sees the most anger he has directed at his father – “I’ve seen what you can’t do.” – and recognizes it as gentle and honest. These are not “low blows”, and neither are they pulled punches.


The Sum Total

We’ve noted often that these characters are damaged. Sarah sees first how lousy is the deal that Chuck’s gotten both from the CIA and life. It’s left him uncertain (of himself), unmotivated and directionless. Later, Chuck finds that Sarah is every bit as damaged by life. She’s uncommunicative about her feelings and walled off from everybody, including herself. At the start, Sarah lacks both stable friendships and family ties, and she’s become manipulative because of it. Cold reality has left her nearly as cynical as Casey.

Both find something in each other that they don’t have separately. Because of Chuck, Sarah thinks of her talents to manipulate and her cynical, clinical coldness as false and wants no more of it. When she says “Nothing about the spy life is real.”, she’s speaking about herself. With Chuck, Sarah believes in the world again.

Because of Sarah, Chuck not only has her sense of “mission” and a truer picture of the larger world, but a new measuring stick by which to gauge his life and himself. He sees himself reflected in her smile. With Sarah, Chuck believes in himself again.

A ‘Shipper’s Dream

What I’ve done here is totally unwarranted. I’ve psychoanalysed two fictional characters that I’ve known for less than 30 hours, and I feel comfortable doing so! I also realize I’m projecting my own psychic foibles on them, not to mention my own dreams and desires. That’s inevitable. I invite you to project yours the same way!

– joe


About joe

In my life I've been a professor, martial artist, rock 'n roller, rocket scientist, lover, poet and brain surgeon. I'm lying about the brain surgery.
This entry was posted in Fan Base, Inside Chuck, Inside Sarah, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Without Love, Where Would You Be Now?

  1. Rick Holy says:

    This is short and to the point as “weekends” for me are not exactly weekends. And as much as I hate to quote anything from a Tom Cruise movie, here goes:

    “You complete me.”

    For Chuck and Sarah, it’s not just a gooshy, romantic statement, it’s real life.

    They’re both “damaged,” yes – as you’ve noted and as we’ve discussed before. And I think the salve that will heal the wounds that each of them has is found in each other. Chuck is searching for meaning for his life (even though he’s a “normal guy who wants a normal life”), and Sarah is searching for wholeness and the kind of love that she’s never experienced. They find that in each other – all angst aside!

    To get a little “religious” here, there is a quote from St. Augustine that goes, “You have made us for yourself, O’ Lord. And our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

    In a way that’s a kind of description of the Chuck and Sarah “thing” for me. Until they truly come to the conclusion that they’ve “found” the wholensss/completeness that each of them is seeking mselves IN EACH OTHER, they’ll continue to muddle their way through the relationship angst.

    From Chuck’s perspective, I think that perhaps he didn’t feel worthy of Sarah until he could feel that he had made something of his life (thus the choice to be a spy). From Sarah’s perspective, I don’t think she feels truly worthy of Chuck because she doesn’t really know love in its truest and deepest sense/meaning.

    But put the two pieces together, and you come up with something that IS both beautiful and complete.

    Perhaps an oversimplification – so I’ll leave it to those of you who are much more eloquent than I to provide deeper insight.

    • Gord says:

      There will be an episode in the not to distant future in which Sarah will walk into the room wearing the Charm bracelet, and we will all know that she has finally figured it out.

      For the moment, I can accept this one last round of PLI’s with Shaw and Hannah, however they play out, because I am confident that this will be the last time we will see the writers use this.
      I rewatched eps 1 to 3 again and every time I see them the heartbreak gets a little less hard to swallow and I see a lot more humour. Especially in Ep 1. Its there if you put aside the angst there are some very funny scenes.

    • joe says:

      “Restless” is a great word to describe them, Fr. Rick.

      I always get a sense that, more than completing each other, Chuck & Sarah make each other better than they are.

      There was an episode of The Wonder Years, near the end of the series, where the obnoxious and fairly useless older brother Wayne falls in love. In the course of the story, Kevin gets in a fight with him, something we’d seen a hundred times already, about their respective girlfriends. Just when you expect Wayne to verbally demolish his younger brother with an acid quip, instead, Wayne softens, looks at Kevin and says “She makes me better than I am. You know?”

      That’s definitely the vibe I get with C&S, ever since Morgan told Ellie nearly the same thing in S1.

  2. ChuckNewbie8 says:

    where do I begin?

  3. OldDarth says:

    Super write up Joe.

    “What we see in her eyes as she hears his story about Bryce’s betrayal, and again as she leaves Chuck’s room, is both empathy and a sense that she now feels personally responsible for his safety, and for him. Sarah’s mission becomes personal.”

    Took her reaction outside Chuck’s room to be more about finding out what Bryce had done than anything to do with Chuck.

    S1 Chuck and Chuck were attracted to high level fantasy version of each other; Chuck digging the cool,hot spy thing and Sarah the sweet, honest, vulnerable and caring boy who was real.

    In S2 both continued to grow and by Chuck Vs the Cougars came the mutual realization that they were soul mates. By the time they got to the end of S2 their attraction was built on real elements and the fantasy pieces had been virtually eliminated. If there had been no Intersect 2.0 they could have been a real couple together.

    Now with Intersect 2.0 the landscape has been flipped and requires further growth before the two can be together.

    The bad news is that it is going to take longer to get there. The good news is that it is going to be a heckuva entertaining roller coaster this Season.

  4. herder says:

    One of the things that I am looking forward to is Casey’s reaction to all this. I get the impression that he is quietly supportive of Chuck and Sarah as a couple. When Shaw arrives I expect that he will rub Casey the wrong way but initially Shaw will have the support of Chuck (he gives him more resposibility) and Sarah (she likes his professionalism). As Chuck and Shaw’s relationship turns more antagonistic I would expect that Chuck and Casey get more on the same page and I can see Casey, in big brother mode, taking the point of view that while it is ok for him to give Chuck a hard time, it is not ok for somebody else to do so, especially Shaw. I can see some funny scenes of Chuck and Casey subverting Shaw. Maybe that’s why he ulitmately leaves, he has lost his team that he is supposed to be leading.

    • joe says:

      Heh! I’ve spent hundreds of hours dwelling on this show, but I have to admit, I haven’t spent 2 minutes thinking about Casey’s reaction to Charah. Oh boy. Now you got me going, Herder. This could be fun.

      • herder says:

        I get the impression that Casey sees what we see, that together Chuck and Sarah are better than the sum of their individual strengths. While he may not say anything, because that would involve dealing with lady feelings, he will act in a way that he sees as the best interests of the team.

    • weaselone says:

      I’ve actually given this some thought. We know from an interview their will be a period when Chuck treats Shaw to a fair amount of snark. I’m sensing a Chuck and Casey tag team here, targeting Shaw together as opposed to dishing it out to each other.

      Also, what do you put the odds at that Casey doesn’t make some sort of reference to Sarah once more falling for a coworker?

    • joe says:

      Herder – Now that I’ve seen Operation Awesome, it’s clear that Casey’s reaction to Chuck & Sarah as a couple is even more interesting!

  5. lou federico says:

    super write up joe..

    I can respond by saying one simple phase

    They each strength each other weaknesses and weaken each other strength bring the ying back to the yang. Harmony!!

  6. Ernie Davis says:

    Joe this is a great character study. I can’t find anything I disagree with, so I’ll just say thanks for this. It’s one of the fun parts of the show, seeing the two of them interact (usually). I’m hoping we’ll get a lot more of the fun stuff now that Major Angst has been (mostly) resolved.

  7. joe says:

    I’m blushing – You are all very generous in your praise! Thanks. And since most of my thoughts have come from reading all those comments here and on the NBC Boards, believe me when I say “Right back at ya!”

    Ernie, your latest, (“How Chuck slipped Up…”) is the definitive character study, as far as I’m concerned.

    Writing about these characters is like eating potato chips. Once you get started…

  8. Josh says:

    There is a well written point of view that brings together all the great aspects of the show and I could not agree with you more.

    • joe says:

      Hi, Josh. And thanks!

      Always glad to have someone agree with me, but that’s never a requirement here! We all enjoy a good discussion, even when we get silly ;> Please consider this a personal invite to join in with your thoughts too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s