Just When You Think You Know Somebody…
I always wince when somebody asks Who ARE you? in the manner of an interrogation, where the question means much more than What is your name? It’s an awful question. It demands not just a sharing of information, but a kind of confession and exposure that goes beyond being personal. It’s a demand to reveal vulnerabilities. The last time I saw that question posed seriously was in Babylon 5, where it was asked to great effect. Nearly as awful is the question that always seems to follow: What do you want?
It’s easy to see that Chuck and Sarah have been thinking about that second question for most of Season 2.
You can have whatever you want, Chuck.
… A normal life, with the girl I love.
I don’t want to save the world! I want…
Through the first four episodes of season 3, it looks very much like both of them have a better handle on what it is they want, and it’s not different from what they told us long ago. Not that either knows exactly how to go about getting that, mind you. Remember how Chuck told Devon in The Colonel that the Buy More job was real? Now, he says to Sydney I am the spy you are looking for. Good for him. Without the spy work (and more specifically, without Sarah and Casey), he’s less motivated than Jeff and Lester in the Buy More world. He’s no longer the de-facto leader there, either, and it seems far less important to him. Funny that he’s not leaving, though, like he started to. Chuck knows more about what he wants, but the answer isn’t quite there yet.
Sarah, on the other hand, isn’t trying to get out of the spy world or trying to find anything like the house in the suburbs with three children and a Labrador. She’s not going to the Caribbean with Carina, either. If she knows more about what she wants than does Chuck, she knows less about how to get it. Both Chuck and Sarah are, for the moment, standing pat, semi-satisfied with their situation. If it doesn’t measure up to their dreams, well, their dreams were sort of vague, and besides, they can still both make use of their God-given talents.
And they can still be around each other. It’s not 100% satisfactory for them, and it certainly seems that they’ve come to this resting spot knowing it’s temporary. But for now, the positions Chuck and Sarah hold in the spy world, and with each other as well, are relatively stable and not uncomfortable. But despite the fact that their dreams seem frustrated at the moment, Chuck and Sarah do seem to know what they want much more than they did. At least, they seem to know that have to figure this out if they are to move forward.
Chuck and Sarah are frozen in place. There are two big problems with this stasis. One is that awful question, Who ARE you?. Chuck’s answer used to be “I’m not a spy.”, but we heard something different in Operation Awesome. “I am the spy you are looking for.” Then he cowers behind the counter as Sydney, Glen and Ian come into the Buy More. Oops! Maybe you’re not completely a spy yet, Chuck. He may never be, but he’s moving in that direction.
Sarah has buried herself in her work. Ever since Prague she’s been seducing and fighting and planning and hiding behind her covers like the professional spy she is. But she decides to stay in Burbank when Carina invites her to go galivanting. And did you notice? When she has to tell Chuck the bad news about Devon at the end of Angel, she doesn’t exactly give him a briefing on the situation. I don’t believe CIA Agents are trained to brief each other with hugs like that, even in this fictional world. Like Chuck, she’s trying to keep one foot in both of her worlds. She’s not a housewife (and may never be), but moving in that direction? Already in S3, she’s asked about “having a normal life” more than she did during the entirety of S1 and S2.
Ah, they are growing up, facing the reality called “compromise” everywhere they turn. Everyone (including Ellie, Morgan, Devon, THE FANS!) is asking the same question about Chuck and Sarah – Why aren’t they together already! They should be adults and talk, for Pete’s sake. Then they should admit they love each other and get on with it! Put plainly, Chuck and Sarah are going to have a hard time doing that, I think, when they are so much in transition, so much being swept along by the currents, caught between their desires and their talents. They may be in a tolerable place at the moment, but it can’t stay that way.
Chuck and Sarah can only begin to answer the second question – “What do you want?” until they answer the first – “Who ARE you?”
They can’t even decide who’s in charge.
What I mean is that the power-dynamic is all different! It used to be Sarah came up with a plan, Casey enforced it and Chuck stayed in the car. Except it never worked out that way. Like in Predator, Casey’s plan did indeed have a gun involved, even though Chuck’s plan didn’t. In First Date and Friends it was Sarah who came to fight. Chuck, of course, never stayed in the car. Well, at least the roles were clear, even if they didn’t follow them. Now, who is it that Devon looks to for assurance? Is it Chuck or is it Sarah? Sarah is the one who says that they will be right there to protect him when he has to face Sydney. Yet Sarah turns to Chuck, who provides the assurance Devon needs. And in the van, when Devon asks in a state of panic, “Wait for what???” Casey looks to Chuck with a grimace that says I have no idea! This is your plan, newbie. What are you going to do next? And right away, Chuck takes charge to answer “Wait for ME.” It’s more than the right answer, it’s a power shift.
And there’s another power shift to be perceived, but I’ll come back to that. First I have to return to the second reason Chuck and Sarah can’t stay in this spot very long – Shaw. He’s not going to let them.
Has Shaw been slated with the task of making Team Bartowski an effective CIA/NSA asset? If that’s the case, he’s chosen an odd way to go about it. Casey’s strength is, well, his strength. He’s the muscle, forget thinking about it too much. Sarah is the shrewd one, picking locks where Casey would just blast them, seducing and manipulating when she can. Chuck has been, of course, the heart, choosing friends and family over secrets, but using his geeky gaming strategies and puzzle solutions to get both, and forget about the guns! Now Shaw seems to be forcing each of them to tackle what each does terribly. He forces Casey to sit still, Sarah to question whether or not keeping emotions out of it is the best way to go, and Chuck to go it alone, acting as muscle, brains and heart. Casey becomes frustrated, Sarah acts impulsively, Chuck becomes helpless and the new guy is going to get them all killed. They are having a hard time admitting he’s in charge, and a harder time not reverting to type.
The fact that Shaw had to save them from Sydney shows that he may have already failed.
Except for one thing: Who’s really in charge? When Casey looks to Chuck, and when Sarah looks to Chuck, he doesn’t exactly take over. It’s more like what the kids today say; He stepped up. There’s no “I’m the boss.” for any of them – they all are. When Sarah comes storming in shouting “What the hell do you think you’re doing???”, her very next action is to be “…waaayyy ahead of you.”, and join in the plan. In the van, Casey isn’t for a moment throwing his weight around to unseat Chuck. There’s not a put-down in sight.
And when Sarah sits at the dinner table she looks back at Chuck and smiles. There was a time when it was easy to say she was in charge of the relationship she has with Chuck, but no more. The smile and her greeting was a sincere show of gratitude to be inside that circle, to be an equal part of Chuck’s family. Chuck has always shown her his vulnerability (as if he was ever capable of concealing it). Now she too has “something to lose.” We have to know the hug she gave Chuck when telling him about Devon’s plight was not saying “I’m sorry.” so much as it was saying “Our friend is in terrible danger.” (emphasis on the “our”). Sarah is not in complete charge of this relationship any longer, and that’s the biggest shift of all.
Chuck is about to step up.