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.
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.
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.
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!