The concept, not the episode.
We love our characters. We love to obsess over their inner lives, their hopes and fears, their conflicts and emotions, and how two characters in particular are getting along these days. Yes, here in our dysfunctional little corner of the Chuck-verse, we love our characters. Except maybe Shaw. Well, he seems to be taking over a bit much, messing with the dynamics of team B, but then that is his job, I think. I can’t take credit for the observation, but someone said they thought Shaw represented a Chuck who lost his Sarah. His dedication to his team’s safety, his willingness to bargain for Chuck’s safety, his dislike of guns and his more mental approach to the spy game all do seem to be a reflection of what Chuck is or could become. It’s always interesting when a new character or guest star is introduced into Chuck’s world. Will they show us a new way to look at Casey, or a bit of Sarah’s past, or even, as with Shaw, possibly a glimpse into the future. But this isn’t about Shaw. This post is about how a guest or recurring character can give you some insight into one of our favorite members of team B. This is about Carina and Sarah. And Chuck and Sarah. And Chuck. And Sarah. After the jump.
We first meet Carina all the way back in the early episodes of season 1. Her introduction is, well, interesting. What looks at first like a knock down drag out fight to the death between two trained assassins is apparently what she and Sarah do for fun. Bloody nose, bruises, no harm, no foul, as long as no goldfish are harmed. Carina is a bit of a whirlwind. Trying to seduce Chuck, apparently succeeding with Casey, going off mission and improvising, seemingly on a whim, just for the excitement it seems. But as Sarah says, she keeps it interesting. And the initial interactions between Sarah and Carina are interesting too. There is obviously some history, and some understanding of what life is like for spies, but with Carina there is something else. She seems surprised how much her old friend Sarah has settled in to her cover life. If a yawn could yawn. How do you stand it she asks Sarah. Carina is skeptical to hear Sarah answer “I’m good here.” And the two seem to exchange a knowing smile, perhaps about another time and place. Even though there is a mission Carina seems almost as interested in gathering intel on agent Walker’s new life as she is in the mission. She subtly interrogates Chuck while attempting to seduce him, seeing if there is a way to pry him free of team B if she needs to. Carina likes taking what Sarah wants. Chuck’s trust is Carina’s first victim. Sarah wants it desperately, and needs it for her to be able to protect Chuck, but she finds the seemingly most innocent of lies, one tossed off without a thought to protect Chuck’s feelings can come back to haunt her. Then Carina puts the nail in the coffin. “Trust me, a spy doesn’t want you to know anything about them that’s real. No matter who you are.” And with those words Chuck’s greatest fear is brought back into focus. You have no idea who Sarah Walker is or what she is capable of.
Who is Sarah Walker and what is she capable of? It seems that Sarah is having as much trouble figuring that out as Chuck is. You see it written on her face as she deals with Chuck and his anxieties. Starting at the end of Wookie you could see that she wanted to tell him something about herself, something real, but what? What about her was real? Even her names were like another piece of clothing as Carina put it, to be discarded as soon as it wasn’t convenient. It looks like Chuck isn’t the only one asking the question, who are you. And it appears we’re dealing with a moving target. Time to get another fix on it and see if the path becomes clear. Time for the one person who seems to be able to read the enigmatic Sarah Walker like a book to make another appearance.
Carina is back in Three Words, and she seems her old self, looking for some fun and excitement along with the job. But catching up with her old friend is on the agenda too. Like before she seems interested in this new life of Sarah’s, and one element in particular, one Charles Irving Bartowski. Just watching Sarah’s reaction Carina is able to tick through the possibilities as to where this “cover” has lead till she finds out that Agent Sarah Walker has broken the cardinal rule. Sarah Walker fell in love. A quick look at the two of them together and she’s read the rest of the story, he broke her heart, and he doesn’t even know it.
Here’s where things get both delicate and interesting. Sarah has a bit of a reputation. It isn’t just Casey’s snide remarks, Carina also talks about Sarah’s tendency to mix business and pleasure, and I think that goes deeper than just Bryce and Chuck. Also, that reputation is similar to what we actually see about Carina. Carina’s surprise in both Wookie and Three Words about Sarah’s situation, and Chuck points to something else, a trajectory backwards in time to when perhaps Sarah Walker and Carina were a lot more alike than they are now.
Before anyone gets offended let me just point out that I don’t think Carina is an unsympathetic character. She is who she is, unapologetically. The barbs Casey throws her way don’t even seem to register, as opposed to the rise he can always count on from Sarah. She has her own way of dealing with her spy life, and apparently her own set of rules. In Wookie Carina doesn’t go after Chuck until she has a crucial bit of information (she thinks). Chuck’s knowledge of her past missions means he’s a player in the game, and he looked her up. Sarah’s quick glance aside at Chuck’s inadvertent disclosure of that bit of info can be read two ways. The first I thought of was that she suddenly saw the possibility that Chuck could know or find out a lot more about Sarah Walker if he knew who Sarah Walker really was. The second that I hadn’t really thought of until I was re-watching scenes for this post was that she realizes Chuck just put himself in play in Carina’s game. Cheers to spying is the toast Carina gives as she starts her seduction attempt with Chuck. Chuck is in on the game as far as she’s concerned, and he knows the rules. Carina can take Chuck from Sarah just for kicks because everyone involved is in the spy world, and they all know the cardinal rule, don’t fall in love. Since there aren’t real feelings involved it’s no rougher than her sparring session with Sarah at the beginning. A bloody nose, a few bruises, no permanent damage, and it keeps them all sharp. In the end Carina sees that Sarah has chosen another path, and it isn’t hers. She offers Sarah a last chance, come with me, you can forget the heartbreak and we’ll go back to the way it was. But Sarah is past the game, she’s already decided she’s going to try to stick it out and change. Carina does the only thing a real friend could do, she gives her the gift that shows her it might just be worth it.
Sarah is not Carina, clearly, but watching some of those earlier season 1 episodes showed me something else about Sarah that has changed. She had a certain edge back then. She seemed more dangerous, even when it came to Chuck. She was more enigmatic back then, especially when it came to Chuck. Sarah Walker is changing, and I think it is a fair assumption that it is a journey that started before we met her. Where she started that journey is pure speculation, but more like Carina is as far as I’m going to try to go so we can keep it civil. Why did she start? We don’t know, you can read it as part of her journey to redemption of a sort, from treating emotions and love like a game to learning what love really is and how it could be redeeming. Clearly her childhood left her unprepared to understand some of what she may have done as a spy. People were marks to her long before she became a spy, and maybe some of the pain we see now is payment for past sins. But that isn’t what this is about either. This is about Sarah and Chuck, and a certain discomfort on the part of Chuck with who Sarah Walker is and what she is capable of.
The whole first season was about trust. Could Chuck trust Sarah, could Sarah trust Casey, could any of them trust Carina, or Bryce? Carina was sort of a plot pivot because she was the first female spy Chuck met other than Sarah, and Carina clued him in to the spy rules. Nothing is real, you don’t ever know a spy. This is Chuck’s great fear, he’ll never know Sarah in any meaningful way. Gradually they do learn to trust each other and a bond forms that seems to take a compromise midpoint. Sarah will let Chuck in, but only so far, and in return Chuck gives Sarah his trust and a bit of what she needs to feel real. But there is a certain situation that arises about once a season that tests this arrangement. Seduction missions. And we appear to be headed for another.
Carina not only clued Chuck in on the spy life, she became a focus of his fear, expressed more than once, what if Sarah is like Carina. What if she really can turn her emotions on and off. What if she too sees it as a big game. Who is Sarah Walker, and what is she capable of. If the answer points in some directions, like the end of Santa Claus, he doesn’t want to know. Seduction missions bring up another scenario where Chuck is afraid he might find out something about Sarah he’d rather not know. So as we watch Chuck and how he reacts keep this in mind, he’s not just jealous, he’s afraid. Afraid of what he might find out about Sarah, afraid of what she might be asked or required to do. Afraid of what she might be willing to do. Afraid of what it is all doing to Sarah, an emotionally fragile and vulnerable woman whom he loves.
Chuck hates seduction missions. Especially Sarah’s.