This may cause some friends to raise an eyebrow, so please bear with me.
I have a question (and coincidentally, after I wrote the majority of this post I see it’s come up in comments). Has Sarah Walker been herself in the last few episodes of season 3?
Well, Sarah did get to clock Shaw a couple of times late in the season. That seems in character. The ax-throw (complete with sparks) was rather cool. Certainly, she’s been quick to put herself in the middle of the action. But with exceptions (the wonderful partnering scenes in Honeymooners), the butt-kicking of late has been mostly Chuck’s. Well, okay. Morgan got to face down a tiger, too. My favorite Sarah brawl this season was in Tic-Tac and that seems like a long time ago. It really doesn’t jar the fight with Smooth Lau (Best Friends) from 1st place in the list of all-time great beat-downs in my mind. Sarah Walker’s not exactly been a love-struck bunny, but with Chuck able to defend himself, well, it’s been a while since she’s had to face another Lizzy or La Ciudad. Sydney Prince comes closest.
So here it is. We’ll take it as axiomatic that Sarah Walker is a strong female character, and maybe she’s not seemed quite so strong lately. Given the way “strong, female character” is normally defined, I find myself saying “So, what?” more and more.
Ack! No, no, no! I’m not saying that I’ve developed a sudden fondness for Chrissy in Three’s Company or Melrose Place‘s Allison Parker (Courtney Thorne-Smith). The TV universe has many strong female characters who can throw rhetorical or actual hay-makers. It has had them long as I can remember; Ziva David, Temperance Brennen, Fiona, Law Order, SVU‘s Olivia Benson, House‘s Dr. Remy (“Thirteen”) Hadley are in the current batch. And if you want to go back further, there’s Maude, WKRP in Cincinnati‘s Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson), Taxi‘s Elaine Nardo (Marilu Henner) and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. These characters were comedic in nature, but they were not characters to mess with.
Early 70’s? Sure. M*A*S*H‘s Margaret “Hotlips” Houlihan, Julie Barnes in The Mod Squad and all five or six Charles Angels. Earlier? There was never a question that Jeannie could zap Astronaut/Buffoon Major Nelson at will, and that both Darrins were no match for Samantha Stevens, magic or no. And back when television signals were broadcast using smoke signals, Father Did NOT Know Best. Mother (Margaret Anderson) did. OMG! The guys were outnumbered!! At least, the smart, strong ones were.
[Whew! Sorry. Started to get on a twenty year old soapbox there. I’ve just seen too many dumb male/father stereotypes portrayed on prime time television over the years.]
I’m not really impressed by this portrayal of strength, female or otherwise, especially the kind we’ve seen for decades on cop shows. Remember the main lyric of Frightened Rabbit’s Keep Yourself Warm? It also takes more than kicking somebody’s butt to prove you are strong.
I contend that she doesn’t have to. Besides the fact that Chuck doesn’t need that kind of protection any longer, it was never Sarah and her two fists being Chuck’s army, or Sarah performing as if she had an Intersect too that shows me the strength I’m seeing. It’s Sarah telling Chuck that it’s all been a lie; they have to run. It’s Sarah holding Chuck up, because she’s had to tell him that Devon’s been taken. It’s Sarah begging someone else to help Chuck because she couldn’t.
And oddly, it’s when Sarah’s most unsure of herself that I see the most strength. Will she let Conway take Chuck from the rooftop to the bunker, or will she pull out her gun? I doubt Sarah knows for certain. What can she do when “the asset” just won’t listen to her, and won’t run to safety before the bomb explodes? She has no clue. What will she do now that she knows for the first time someone cares for her, he’s holding her hand and this will NOT be easy for either of them? Sarah has no answers, she has no guidelines to follow and the 30 ft. rules that govern her life have long played out their usefulness.
This season there were many times it looked like the program in Sarah’s head had hit it’s last line of executable code. There are no more instructions left to follow. After that, there’s only mute silence and a universe that is beyond her experience, and way beyond her control. Maybe Sarah was dragged there by Shaw grabbing her wrist as he fell into the river, and maybe she took that leap of faith when Chuck reached out his hand to say “I have to go this way. Please follow me!” Either way, it’s to Sarah’s credit that she didn’t try to run for the exits, not to get away, but to try to get back to solid ground. It takes much more strength to navigate in this new world, in the dark, than to fight against the known opponent in the daylight, you see. There’ll be plenty of that regardless, and honestly, those fights almost seem like yawners now.
So I’ll ask again. Has Sarah Walker been herself? No, I don’t think so. Not to steal Ernie’s thunder, but she’s changed even more than Chuck has this season; she’s decided to trust someone, to not to go it alone, and I’m going to call it a good thing.
Morgan will tell you that her eyes are as intimidating as ever, and I’m sure that we will see her give many more punches than she takes in season 4. But ultimately, Sarah Walker’s strength has never been in her fists any more than it’s in her ability to pick locks. Like Chuck, it’s been in her ability to give up everything for someone else or a bigger cause, even if that cause is just her boyfriend. If Shaw thought that caring for him was her problem, it’s clear that it’s a feature, not a bug.