Ernie and I have been talking about this topic at length and decided to co-write this piece.
There has been a lot of talk about Sarah and Sarah’s journey lately. As all of our regular readers know, Sarah is our (Amy and Ernie’s) favorite character to delve into. As we discussed this post it came out that not only are we on the same page, Sarah-wise, but to us she doesn’t seem to be as much of a mystery as others claim, so here’s our attempt to explain what we’ve come to understand. A LOT more after the break!
To an extent we agree with Chuck. We don’t need to know who Sarah was, because we know who she is. Look for instance at their first date in the Pilot. Yes, Chuck is the mark and Sarah the spy, but remember, when you’re undercover you’re still you. We’re seeing the real Sarah Walker. To an extent. She isn’t funny, she rarely thinks about music, has no favorite band, recently had her heart broken by her long term boyfriend and isn’t very good on a date. But she is one helluva dancer. We don’t know a lot of her back story, but it seems that one thing we do get a sense for very quickly is that she is all about her job. She basically lives it. We don’t know much about Sarah outside work and in her downtime because at least at first there isn’t much to her outside work.
Let’s start at the beginning. Sarah was raised by a con artist father, known to us as Jack Burton (at least that’s the last alias he was using). He took her from town to town, pulling the annual Christmas Salvation Army con job, robbing armored cars, and living a life of adventure-at least he thinks Sarah had more fun than the average kid. She grew up in hotel rooms, changing names, and not knowing how to live a “normal” life. There has never been any mention of her mother, and only a suspect reference to a sister during Wookie, at which time many, thought the reference was to Carina, though with no further mention it could have been made up as part of a cover. A family trip to the beach doesn’t seem to be a part of what we know of Sarah’s past. In fact, from what we see Jack Burton is the only family Sarah has.
The one time we suspect Sarah lived a “normal” life was after her father was arrested and thrown in jail. At that point she was recruited by Graham while still in high school, but from flashbacks we know she continued in school as Jenny Burton, her last alias before her father’s arrest. No cover, no con, just Jenny Burton, who carried a violin, wore braces, and was our idealized ugly duckling waiting to blossom. She was apparently a relatively normal high school student for some time. She was teased mercilessly by her classmates about her father, and it seems to have left a lasting impression on the “real” Sarah. In fact Sarah herself spills that the high school girl who went to James Buchanan High was as real as her childhood ever was.
Gen. Beckman: Agent Walker, you have pre-existing social history with the target. Seems to me like you have the perfect cover.
Sarah: But it’s not a cover ma’am, it’s me.
There was a period, however brief, where she WAS Jenny Burton. Her dad was in prison, so she wasn’t running any cons. She wasn’t in the CIA yet, so she wasn’t Sarah Walker, but Sarah Walker was Jenny’s escape. As a CIA agent Sarah could be whoever she needed to be, whoever they told her to be, and Sarah knew how to do that. It was her comfort zone, developed through years on the road with her dad. So once she was no longer Jenny Burton who was Sarah Walker? Well, it’s hard to tell if even Sarah knows that.
Sarah Walker was born the moment Graham recruited her. In Jenny’s locker there were pictures of how she wanted to be, beautiful, glamorous, strong, perhaps adventurous, but it isn’t clear she ever thought about who she wanted to be. Graham is a savior of sorts. He saved Sarah from being alone by recruiting her, presumably sending her to college and into training. He saved her from the life of a criminal. She may have felt obligated to right the wrongs of her past with the CIA and threw herself into her duty, but she has never gained the skill set to have friends. Sarah falls for the guys she works with because they are there. She has zero friends outside of the spy life that we know of. The spy relationships were convenient and easy. Bryce was her partner and her cover husband (Mr. and Mrs. Anderson), but it was always about work. They surely had fun and cared about one another, but each of them clearly put work first. And Bryce knows that it’s different with Sarah. He is aware she isn’t very good at “this”, saying how she feels. It’s maybe too real if she has to talk about it, and her one experience with real wasn’t a happy one. Sarah really does fall for the guys she works with for a very specific reason: they help define her life for her and give her a role she understands. I can imagine when she was involved with Bryce and they were on missions their cover worked as a “real” life for her. They had things to do and a job going on, but like her date with Chuck she had something to occupy her thoughts and her time.
Then along comes Chuck and knocks her world out of orbit. Look at her amazement through Sizzling Shrimp, Best Friend, and Beard at Chuck and Morgan’s friendship. Sarah has buried herself in work and admitted as much to Chuck. What snuck up and bit her (so to speak) is watching the interactions while she was “pretending” to be Chuck’s girlfriend. Chuck and Morgan, Ellie and Awesome. Real relationships. And as the seasons progressed Sarah found that she needed that. Think of Sarah when both Bryce and Chuck were in her life in Nemesis. Her conflict and indecision were obvious, but her anger at Chuck seems confusing. For the first time Sarah is confronting who SHE wants to be, because Chuck, for a change, has no agenda of his own about who she should be. You can’t con an honest man, and that’s Chuck in a nutshell. He isn’t going to push Sarah for intimacy if he thinks she doesn’t feel it like others in her life (cough SHAW cough) have done. He makes no demands on her, though he clearly cares deeply for her. He wants her to love and admire him, but he has no expectations that she will. The “real” Sarah Walker isn’t sure she’s good enough for Chuck, despite what Chuck thinks. Bryce, Cole and Shaw were easy to deal with because they each had an idea of who THEY wanted her to be. Chuck wanted her to be herself, the Sarah he knew was there even if she didn’t. Sarah’s anger in Crown Vic was that she finally clearly saw the choice, and the difficulty it presented. She had made her choice at the end of Nemesis, with Bryce calling on the old fashioned phone and Chuck on the iPhone. She chooses Chuck, in spite of what she knows she “should do” and what is comfortable and easy. Sarah is forced to realize she has feelings for Chuck. Feelings that are real, and feelings she shouldn’t have and can’t act on given her situation with Chuck. At the end of Nemesis Sarah confronts these unfortunate facts and is ready to do the smart thing, the easy thing. Leave with Bryce. Make a clean break and never see or think about Chuck again, but just seeing his face on her phone, and feeling those feelings again, and Sarah Walker, the woman is born. She can’t deny who she is becoming and how she feels about Chuck, and in the end she doesn’t want to lose that, and she hates both herself and Chuck for making her face that reality. Of course that part of Sarah has been there since the beginning, even if she didn’t know it. It was that part of Sarah that recognized the good guy Chuck didn’t deserve a life in a bunker. So we do know a few things about who Sarah Walker is after all. We see her through Chuck’s adoring eyes and can recognize the greatness in her even if she doesn’t yet.
What else do we know about Sarah? How about loyalty? Jack Burton, as Chuck describes after flashing, “is a total loser, a bottom feeding, scum of the earth, did I mention considerably older man!” Despite all of these attributes, Sarah loves her dad. She is clearly torn between being the agent who turns him in, and being the daughter. She has challenged authority over and over again. She was ready to shoot Longshore in Marlin, to keep Chuck from being bunkered. She disobeyed Agent Forrest in Broken Heart, both in going to see Chuck and in using government resources to track down Stephen. She ran with Chuck in Colonel, facing charges of treason. Sarah is more than an agent. She has developed her own moral compass and will be an agent on her terms. Even her bosses recognize this. They don’t even consider giving Sarah the order to kill Chuck. They leave that to the “burnout” Casey. The loyalty goes further than that. Eventually it’s her loyalty to Chuck that keeps her from taking Cole up on his offer of some much needed time off and company. She’s not the type who cheats on her cover boyfriend, because in her business, finding people you care about and who care about you is a rare thing.
She has an intuition about situations and a keen understanding of Chuck, her Chuck. Cougars is sort of the high point of their relationship until Honeymooners. She sees the hero in the nerd and helps him understand his own potential and he sees the insecure nerd in the hero-and he lets her know it’s OK to need someone in her life rather than be alone and strong all the time. Even though Sarah is again living her “real” life through a guy she met on the job, it’s the right guy. Just as Sarah helps Chuck see the hero in himself, Chuck helps Sarah see the innate good in herself. Chuck and Sarah both see the best in each other, and Chuck was really making her confront who she was and what she wanted out of life.
That’s what makes the S3 reset so heartbreaking. Sarah, even though she was being truthful with Chuck about his potential and heroism, was still handling him. She was just trying to do it by building him up and making him see what he could do and the difference he could make. And by doing that, the spy Sarah basically robbed the woman Sarah of her chance to be normal. Once Chuck had re-intersected, having thought she was gone, she knew she’d lost him. The panicked plan to run and then later to get him on the train is very reminiscent of the rooftop in Marlin. She knows she’s lost him, but she can’t help clinging to a thought that somehow she can change it.
So Sarah’s heartbreak comes about because the spy Sarah did what was necessary for the job. That isn’t a criticism, she did it to keep Chuck safe and out of a bunker too, because Sarah has been walking that fine line between Chuck and the CIA all along. But because that Sarah pushed him to be great and the woman Sarah couldn’t yet ASK him to be with her, Chuck’s choice was Sarah the emerging woman’s downfall. Sarah continually put Chuck ahead of what she truly wanted, whether it was Lou, Jill, or Hannah. Her heartbreak was palatable and so moving because Sarah the woman wouldn’t allow herself what she truly wanted, perhaps like Chuck she still didn’t truly believe she deserved it, and so she returned to the one thing she was good at, and perhaps the source of her doubt that she can ever be deserving of Chuck and a normal life, as was so poignantly seen on the screen.
We see Sarah, again, sorry to say, seducing marks for a living. When Chuck comes back into her life she’s angry and resentful at first, both because of the heartbreak and because she remembers when she thought she was more “real” and knew who she was. When Sarah is finally reminded of who she was to Chuck and how real that she’s of two conflicting opinions. One to get back to being that strong woman, the hero, and two to be who Chuck needs her to be. They are linked and while she’s still defining herself in terms of what Chuck saw as her greatness, it is a good two steps forward after the three she took back. Her efforts are mixed since she goes back to a somewhat maternal (since it can’t be romantic) relationship. She still loves Chuck, but can’t love Chuck, and she struggles with that balance until Shaw shows up, and forces himself into her life and gives her a new role to play. With Shaw, she reverted to what had worked for her in the past-an easy, physical relationship with some caring. She admitted to Chuck that she had never been in love before. That was powerful because it should put to rest any nagging doubts Chuck has. The new, open Sarah has really taken a page from Chuck’s book and just blurts out her declarations, like she can’t stand to be bottled up anymore.
Sarah can be the badass spy and also the girlfriend. She can infuse a bit of the “real” she is still clinging to with Shaw. Her real name is desperation, the sizzling shrimp, rather telling. Real is Chuck, the guy that, hard as it is, makes HER choose who to be, and who to be with. One big tell is that we see Chuck make more progress in getting Sarah to open up and reconnect in five minutes on the stake-date that we saw Shaw ever accomplish. Sarah throwing herself at Shaw in desperation doesn’t count as Shaw accomplishing something.
So anyway, who is Sarah and what does she do outside the job? She hasn’t really thought about it too much. She’s re-connected with Chuck though, and finally feels safe to actually ask herself and look for some answers. There’s jokes over her well earned reputation as a humorless spy, there’s blueberries, and helping Chuck come to terms with his father, however she can, but Sarah is still trying to figure out who she wants to be now that she’s found someone who knows who she is. Who will Sarah become? A lot of her journey is unwritten. The Show is “Chuck”, and it seems sometimes TPTB haven’t worried so much as we have. But we inhabit another world, and one that the recent Comicon panel indicates TPTB now understand. Chuck and Sarah are real to us, and they matter.
Don’t expect a montage involving cheese balls and a bathrobe on the couch for Sarah (hilarious as that would be if she quit the CIA and didn’t know what to do with herself) but Sarah is working things out for herself. Remember, she’s versatile!
-amyabn & Ernie