Mary Elizabeth Bartowski. No fan-love for Mary? I get it. She is not a sympathetic character at this point.
You’ve been close to Volkoff for years. Why didn’t you just take him out?
That’s it in a nutshell. How in the world could it take 20 years to complete this mission? What possible justification is there for abandoning your children for 20 years?
We demand answers! Now! Can anything be more messed up than this story?
And now we’ve got Sarah going down the same rabbit hole. Maybe. It looks that way. But like I’ve said elsewhere recently, nothing is as it seems.
This is what I think I see taking shape. I find it very Chuck.
So take a closer look with me, a different look, at Balcony and Gobbler in anticipation of Push Mix. We’ll need to keep eyes on various layers of two different stories and view it all through two different perspectives. Kind of like a stereoscope.
I said there are two stories. I lied. But I didn’t mean to. There is Chuck’s part in both stories and his own story, but I want to concentrate principally on Mary’s and Sarah’s stories. The parallel between these two women is a silent presence throughout S4. Faith has discussed it beautifully in one of her posts.
Their stories, which we have seen in parallel, now converge. Mrs. Bartowski, I’m here to help you take down Volkoff and to get you the hell out of here.
We’ve talked about Sarah’s story of redemption from a life of cons and covers. I won’t retell it, except to say that we now see the result: a woman in love; a woman on the cusp of the real life and future she’s always wanted; an emotionally mature woman, confident in who she is and anchored in a forever kind of love.
(Disclaimer: Don’t shoot me. I hate to bring this up, but it just won’t go away. It’ll be OK. I promise.)
Now, this Sarah, who finally has what she wants, risks it all for Chuck, for their love and their future, for her new family. Chuck proposed (OK, shy of 3 words). Sarah helped. It is what she wants, but she puts it on hold. This is the twin to Chuck’s decision to become a spy (for his family and friends and for her), with the same ramifications, this time for Sarah instead of Chuck. The Volkoff world has the potential to change Sarah, like it changed Chuck’s mom. Sarah could be swallowed up and never come back. She could lose herself or be killed.
Why now? From the story standpoint … Because now Sarah is whole and anchored; she has something to lose and someone to fight for. She is ready for this test. Her initiation into the spy world didn’t do her any favors. She wasn’t anchored, and she was struggling to even know who she was. She had nothing to lose, until Chuck came along. The real Sarah was always in there, but she couldn’t quite figure out, let alone be, the whole person she was meant to be. Now she is that person.
Chuck is now in the position Sarah occupied, during S3 when he was becoming a spy. He has to watch and worry. Or does he? Of course not. Both Chuck and Sarah are very different now, and they begin this test from a different place, one of love and trust and strength.
Thus ends the short version of Sarah’s back story for this arc (Balcony through Push Mix). Hold that thought.
Mary: Redemption and Extraction
We are behind if we think the MEB story is the one we saw in Aisle of Terror through Leftovers. That’s the back story. The real MEB story begins in Gobbler, when Sarah’s and Mary’s paths converge.
Ah, yes, do remind me. Why is it we want to help Mary? I mean she has made horrible, indefensible choices, and she seems perfectly content to stay where she is. So really, why should we care?
Because Chuck and Sarah care.
Hold on. Even Chuck said, “If my mom were standing in front of me right now, I honestly think I’d say, ‘All is forgiven and good luck being an evil bad guy.'”
Ah, yes. Me thinks our boy doth protest too much. Listen to what else he said.
Our dad gave me this mission to find our mom … to know the truth. I can’t not do this. I have to do this.
Trust me. It’s my mom.
Mom, I already do [trust you].
I wish I would have trusted my mom instead of being so angry with her the whole time. And now … she’s gone. [To which Sarah adds, “And she can’t come back until Volkoff is destroyed.”]
Chuck’s Perspective. She’s my mom. Despite it all Chuck loves his mom. He has the advantage of seeing her through his father’s eyes, but basically, Chuck has a forgiving nature. He made the same choice for his dad. We can hate him for the rest of our lives, or we can choose to forgive him. This is Chuck’s perspective. To care we must see through Chuck’s eyes.
Redemption isn’t about merit. It’s about love. Some victims are more lovable than others, each responsible in varying degrees for his or her plight. Principally, though, redemption is about the motive of the redeemer, not the merit of the redeem-ee. It’s understandable, meritorious even, to redeem a sympathetic victim. It’s truly heroic to redeem someone wholly unsympathetic.
Somewhere inside Frost is a woman who still loves her children, though she has been impotent, for whatever reason, to express that love in any of its traditional forms. The woman who long ago made Rice Krispy treats, tucked her kids into bed, and read them heroic stories is trapped in a dark world she can’t seem to escape.
Chuck remembers that woman. He still loves her. He looks past what she has become and remembers who she was, the reverse of the way he looked at Sarah, discounting her past and seeing who she is.
Sarah’s Perspective. OK, but why does Sarah care? Two reasons. Both of them Chuck. First, because Chuck cares about his mom. We see in Sarah’s interactions with Chuck that she knows just how deeply he cares. Her love for Chuck extends to Mary. Simple. Sarah loves Chuck. Chuck loves his mom. Therefore, Sarah loves her, too.
The second is more … involved. It has to do with compassion and kinship.
Sarah is privy to MEB in ways that no other character is, including Chuck. She has evaluated Mary since their first meet. She interrogated her. She heard and saw Mary reach out to her daughter. She heard her mother’s plea, “Protect him.” She watched Mary risk her cover to save Chuck, “Charles is my son.” Finally, she watched Mary train her gun on Volkoff, in front of his armed guards, to save her … and then go right back to her loveless world of isolation. From day one, Sarah has been parsing Mary’s every action, every expression, and every statement. Most important, Sarah owns the context to interpret what she has seen and heard.
In Leftovers, when Mary explained that she and Volkoff had never been together, but that he was in love with her, Sarah got it. Mary’s life flashed before Sarah’s eyes, and there she saw some of herself, her own life, in Mary Bartowski.
Sarah knows what it’s like to have bits of her soul mangled in the gears of deception; to be numb to the desires that once fueled her dreams; to be a powerful woman, powerless to effect her own rescue from a life gone sideways. That was Sarah’s life before Chuck.
Now, because of Chuck, she knows what it’s like to feel whole for the first time in a long time, if not ever. She was lucky. She got Chuck. His mom … got Volkoff. Sarah can’t leave her future mother-in-law in that world, not if it’s within her power to extract her.
Sarah cares about Mary because Chuck cares about Sarah. Sarah’s redemptive actions toward Mary are an extension of Chuck’s love that pulled Sarah from the same loveless world of isolation, into a real life of love and belonging.
This is Sarah’s perspective. To care about Mary, we must see through Sarah’s eyes.
Mary abandoned her family. We don’t know the whole story, but from where we sit, she made bad decisions. She appears to have continued making bad decisions to her family’s neglect. She claims to have been protecting them. Surely there was another way, wasn’t there? It can’t have taken that long to bring down one man and his organization, can it? Surely not.
Nope, Mary is not a sympathetic character. We wanted to like her, hoped to find something to admire. We looked for any sign that she deserves the sacrifice her son made to find her. We expected to discover that her plight was not of her own doing, that she’s worth the risk that Sarah is taking, in part, for her. One unfortunate fact remains. After searching for every good reason to care, we’ve come up empty.
But it’s not our story.
Inside their story, if we look somewhere other than Mary herself, we find reason to care.
Chuck and Sarah.