An Epic Response to Faith and Ernie’s excellent and epic post
Fear of Death raises the question, and ever since it first aired, this title has been sitting atop an empty page, save a few bare-bone thoughts. Faith and Ernie’s post and the great discussions that followed began putting sinew to bone and bringing my thoughts to life.
Just as circumstances in Cubic Z forced Sarah to answer Graham’s question “Who are you,” Fear of Death finds Chuck caught up in a situation that will wrest an answer from everyone as to what he is without the Intersect: hero, spy, or regular guy. Of course the answers that matter most are Chuck’s and Sarah’s.
I can’t figure out why Bryce did this, why he chose me … You’re good at your job, too, you know the one where you risk your life to save others, the one you didn’t ask for but were supposed to have … I’m just a Putz who gets paid to wear a pocket protector … I’ve seen you in action; you can do anything … I’m just Chuck Bartowski, not a hero … How many times do you have to be a hero to realize you are that guy … I have to tell her the truth, that I am a spy … Are you a spy or a guy with a spy girlfriend … I’ve never been a spy without the Intersect, and I quite like being a spy, doing great things, doing them with you … You don’t need the Intersect to do great things; you’re great on your own … But am I a spy?
Before his 26th birthday, the answer was so obvious that the question didn’t need to be asked. Chuck Bartowski, by all appearances, was a regular guy. What else could he be? His sister thought he was a really great guy, though not living up to his potential, but hero wouldn’t have entered her description of her brother, not even of the guy she thought he could be. No job he might have aspired to, like the ones he first describes for Charles Carmichael, will bring out the hero in him. He’s just a regular guy, with sub par ambitions and not an ounce of mojo.
Two forces change all of that. Indeed, without them the question would never have been asked. Which forces are those, you ask? The Intersect and Sarah Walker. These two forces blasted Chuck from the anesthetic comfort of mediocrity into a life of fear, danger, and anxiety … a life to test his metal and show what he is made of. It is the Intersect that makes the question viable to begin with and the loss of the Intersect at the end of First Fight that brings the question full circle. The Intersect catalyzed such a profound change that the one question that would never have been asked before the Intersect, is the question that consumes Chuck in the wake of its disappearance. What is he without the Intersect? Hero, Spy, or Regular Guy?
Now, to interject a bit about Sarah. FOD uncaps the question about Sarah’s perception of Chuck. How would she answer the question? Which Chuck did she fall for versus which Chuck did she choose? For Chuck & Sarah to move forward, must Sarah actively choose Chuck the regular guy? Sarah has a type. OK, what is her type … exactly? The last one is really the pivotal question and why “Chuck” is about Chuck and Sarah, not just Chuck.
Recall our discussions in Cubic Z Rewatch about Sarah’s underdeveloped sense of her own identity. In Sarah, there’s a Girl on the Inside that needs to be rescued and given a chance and a context to be, or rather to become. The Girl Inside needs a hero, and Sarah keeps looking for him. Hero is her type. In her profession there are lots of heroes to call on. They all happen to be spies. They respond with enthusiasm to Sarah, but they never see the Girl Inside. The problem with spy heroes is that it’s not her spy side that needs developing or rescuing. Spies don’t have what she needs or what it would take to rescue the Girl Inside.
When Sarah enters the Buymore, Chuck is her mark, a typical assignment, an easy one at that … piece of cake … or not. Turns out her mark is not so typical. Sarah is enthralled as Chuck passes on her flirtations to rescue a little girl. As Agent Walker momentarily disappears, the Girl Inside finds her Hero, and Sarah is captivated. One act of kindness. Two rescues … one done and one begun. As the encounter progresses, Sarah sees the hero in Chuck that no one else can see, especially Chuck. “Some people want to be heroes, and others have to be asked. So, Chuck are you ready?”
Fast Forward through the captivating story we love, the misery arc we love to hate, and the brilliant continuation of the story we love, to Fear of Death and the questions at hand. Chuck and Chuck-and-Sarah are without the Intersect, a defining aspect of their lives since they met. What will that mean for them? For the record, to me this is not at all like the Intersect malfunction of s3. It’s entirely different. The Intersect catalyzed a lot of changes in their lives. If you take away the Intersect, what’s left? For Chuck to have any solid sense of who he is and what he has to offer, he must know who he is without the intersect. It’s critical for Chuck & Sarah to define their relationship without the Intersect so that going forward they can be all that they can be, with it or without it. That means Sarah choosing Chuck the regular guy and Chuck choosing Sarah over the Intersect and being a spy. Just like Ernie said. Great stuff IMO.
I agree that for Chuck & Sarah to move forward Sarah must actively choose Chuck the regular guy, but for different reasons from Ernie’s. Ernie says Sarah chose Chuck the spy not Chuck the regular guy. I see the whole scenario slightly differently.
We all know she fell for Chuck the regular guy. She says so in her Other Guy confessions and again in Ring II, “I fell in love with a regular guy.” Can’t get much more unequivocal than that. But which guy did she actively choose? Aha. A more interesting question.
I posit that she chose Chuck the regular guy … twice, but for Chuck’s sake she must do so again. The first time, he never knew it, and the second time he didn’t choose her back. Sarah reversed her decision to go with Bryce and chose to stay with Chuck. “Chuck, I don’t want to save the world. I want” … a cheese burger with extra pickles. Bzzzt, wrong answer. The reveal, that Chuck never heard, was that Sarah wanted Chuck. The de-intersected one she was dancing with … the regular guy who wanted a real life. The second time, whether it was a finesse or a plot device, whether they sold it or not, was a real choice. She offered her bank account and herself, albeit with a lifestyle that fit her dysfunctional past. She bought the tickets, got fake ID’s and forged papers, showed up on the platform with her suitcase … right on time. She met him with glowing hope and a passionate kiss. Looked like a choice to me and with an investment of a lot more than a few boxes of take-out.
I agree with Ernie that by the time it was possible to choose, Chuck never actually chose Sarah over being a spy. When confronted with that choice, what did he choose? He chose not to turn his back on a trust. That’s what the Intersect was to him … a trust of something bigger than himself — the responsibility to help a lot of people, for the sake of his friends and his family and ultimately for the sake of his love for Sarah. He knew full well that his choice meant giving up his own dream … a life with Sarah. He verbalizes this to us twice: to Beckman in Pink Slip, to Shaw and Sarah in Beard. So Joe was right, it was her Chuck, the Hero that always does the right thing, that abandoned her on the Nadrazi station platform.
How did Sarah’s choice take shape? Sarah clearly did not want Chuck to become a spy and struggled with it all through his journey from regular guy to spy. But, but, what about her type … and Ernie’s point that by the time Sarah actually chose Chuck, he had proven himself a better spy than Bryce, Cole, and Shaw? Her type is hero, not necessarily spy. By the time Sarah chose Chuck, he had proven himself to be the same untarnished Hero that she recognized inside the regular guy she fell for. The one that captivated her — the hero-half of the package she fell in love with. That’s who she chose. Not until he had out-heroed everyone by saving Shaw, the one man standing between them (and not just because it was right, but for her, because she cared about him) … only then did she realize that even though he was a spy, he was still her Chuck. He still wouldn’t turn his back on what was right, even if it meant losing her … again. And why did it take his ultimatum and sweeping declaration of love for her to choose him? Because the last time she put all of herself into choosing him, he didn’t choose her back.
Parenthetical analysis at no extra charge: I almost don’t want to go here, but since it’s been so widely discussed, here’s my very short version of Sarah’s choice of Shaw. Was it a calculated choice? Yes. Based on Romance? I think she was trying to convince herself that it could be. Mostly I see it as pure rebound born of hurt after witnessing the Bartowski family dinner with Hannah in her place. It was a return to her default setting, caused by a sense of extreme loss. Why ultimately could she be with Shaw and not Chuck? Again, short answer only because it would seem negligent not to mention it. She believed that her Chuck — all the things that made him great, the best part of him that she had fallen in love with, and all that he once represented to her — was lost. Her Chuck had become nothing but a spy, the thing that she was before Chuck. But if she was going to settle for just a spy, why not settle for Chuck instead of Shaw? Because she thought Chuck’s descent and loss of innocence was all her fault … something she couldn’t live with. Just my take.
For my Costa Gravan Pesos Sarah already chose Chuck the regular guy, but I see why Chuck keeps betting against himself. He’s missing some key information. So, yeah, she needs to choose Chuck the regular guy, the one with no Intersect and no spy credentials. Obviously, she does that to everyone’s satisfaction in Phase 3.
Chuck chooses Sarah over the Intersect and being a spy, while dangling 200 feet above a rocky death. “But I do need her! I love her, and I’d rather love Sarah than have the intersect.” It was a good reminder for him that Sarah is the most important thing. Something even Jeff knew.
Without the Intersect of course Chuck is still a regular guy. But is he a hero? Oh yeah. He’s looking out for the interest of his team. He is still protecting Sarah as best he can. He warns her about the ninja in the bedroom. (Something my husband has never failed to do.) He warns her in Leftovers that he can’t handle the baddies. He wants her safely out of harm’s way when he can’t protect her. His blind spot, though, is her heart. He’s not protecting her heart, which of course is his own life. Yes, he’s a hero. Sarah knows he is and always will be a hero. Her asking him not to be one is proof of that. Just this once, she wants him not to be that guy, because it could get him killed.
But Am I a spy? That’s the question that’s most important to him.
Why is it not enough for Chuck to be just the regular guy that Sarah loves? First, he wants to be all that Sarah deserves, and in his mind he doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Bryce and Cole, whom he sees as the type she was attracted to in the past and the type she still deserves. Second, he is a hero — a good guy who wants to help people. The hero in him needs someplace to hang his hero hat. To him that means being a spy.
So, does Sarah see Chuck as a spy without the Intersect? Why does she hesitate when he asks, “But am I a spy?” She thinks Chuck Bartowski is great — first, last, and always. He is a hero whether he is a spy or not. She knows that he possesses aptitude and many spy-worthy qualities. That’s not her hesitation. She won’t stop him from going on missions or being a spy as long as he has proper backup. That’s not her hesitation. Her view of the spy life is more complex than his. Where Chuck knows almost exclusively the cool, heroic aspect of being a spy, Sarah’s definition and experience of the spy world include the dark underside of deceit and danger and killing. Being a spy doesn’t add anything to Chuck’s stature in her eyes. Until he became the exception to all she had known, becoming a spy only stood to diminish him.
But he did become the exception to … everything. He has kept the innocence that most spies lose at this level. As we see in Phase 3, who Sarah is and what she wants in life are tied to Chuck. She needs him to be OK. She needs him to be Chuck. On some visceral level she needs him to not be a spy, and she will probably always try to protect him from the darkness and deceit as well as the dangers of that world.
She accepts him as a spy and knows he’s a good one, but she’ll never see him as a spy the way she sees Casey and Bryce and Cole as spies. In her mind that’s a good thing. He is her Chuck and that says more than hero, more than spy, and more than any other label out there.
Did the Intersect-less arc advance our heroes? Was there a point to it all? Yes. Ultimately Chuck and Sarah had to answer these questions:
What would I be without the Intersect?
Where would we be without the Intersect?
If I had it to do over again, would I choose to be the Intersect?
Chuck & Sarah had both come as far as they could without addressing these Intersect-less questions. Now, Chuck knows that Sarah’s gonna marry him with or without it. He’s a spy with or without it. Ergo, he doesn’t need it. That means he’s ready for it in ways he wasn’t before. He can be the spy it lets him be with confidence. Chuck & Sarah know that no matter what happens with the Intersect or the spy life, they want to spend their lives together. It’s a good place to be. Savor the moment …