About a year ago, Liz James, an excellent writer, critic and Chuck fan, wrote a seminal post for us that appears on her blog entitled Why Chuck and Sarah Matter. I encourage you to (re)read it. It’s been brought up again recently, and that led me to the question: Do Chuck and Sarah *still* matter?
Now, if I may be permitted to paraphrase, Liz James proposed they matter because Chuck and Sarah are characters beloved, not for who they were, but for who we thought they could become. They matter because they are us.
They are our best hope for what we claim makes America great. Depending on your age, they should be who you want to grow up to be, who you hope you are now or who you want your children to become.
There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. In large part, Sarah and especially Chuck have already become exactly who we hoped. For some of the fans, this may mean that they are bored with the story, or that the characters have changed enough that they don’t feel relevant. I don’t begrudge that.
But consider this: they weren’t such hot stuff before. Oh, they were “nice”, certainly. But that term carries with it just a touch of disdain. Chuck and Sarah are far stronger now.
You may recall the lyric. Chuck was “merely a vapor” when we met him. Oh, that was telling. He was a lanky, bungling kid, unsure of himself and essentially unmotivated.
Now Chuck is a man of consequence and gravitas, able to make a threat believed by Alexei Volkoff; I certainly believed him. At the same time, Chuck is still the man who cares about what he’s done to a relative stranger, Vivian McArthur for instance.
Chuck always did find a way to trust people and he’s always wanted to do the right thing. But he used to do that out of simple naïveté. When he held a gun to Alexei’s head and when he told Vivian his story about all the changes he’s gone through, I saw no trace of naïveté. Not one. He is, in fact, a character worth admiring. I believe he is the man Orion wanted him to be.
As for Sarah Walker, we learned early on that she could kill without being touched by it. Chuck flashed on her ring and saw two things; the gun firing and the look on her face. With good reason, she was glad she killed the French assassins and would do it again if she had to.
For all her talents, Agent Walker never seemed to understand how the incident with Mauser affected Chuck. It – she – gave him nightmares. We raled that they never quite finished their conversation when Chuck pressed her about it in 3-D.
That was before. Agent Walker is no longer accomplishing her missions as if her actions had no consequences. Now, those consequences are real to her and the people she affects (both the good guys and the bad guys) are very real to her too. In her own words she was nothing, merely a spy and as I see it, merely a vapor. She is no longer “nothing but a spy”, but a human being capable of experiencing feelings.
Things have changed. About the time that Sarah Walker felt uneasy about her pre-nup, about the time she told Casey that she was seeing things from Chuck’s point of view, Sarah was feeling the things she should have felt in 3-D. Casey might tell her that she used to be able to hide those feelings from herself.
It’s no longer right to think of the agent and the woman as if they are two separate beings. Sarah Walker isn’t capable of hiding behind the agent any more like she’s wearing armor, not since The Gobbler when she refused Chuck’s call for the last time.
The Chuck and Sarah we met were not great people, but we loved those characters.
Chuck: Okay, sure. So today I helped take down a major international arms dealer. But tomorrow, tomorrow I – I still gotta go clock in at the Buy More. I mean, what good is it to be a hero if nobody knows about it?
Sarah: You know. And so do I.
That was a pretend world populated with cartoon characters. For me, only the love was real, and that was enough. Chuck and Sarah are bigger now; Chuck is not going back to the Nerd Herd desk, and Sarah is not the only one who knows he’s a hero now. They are more admirable characters.
It starts to feel complete, and fans wonder out loud if if there is more story to tell. But is their story finished? Do we need to care any longer?
Chuck and Sarah mattered to me in the fall of 2008 (that’s when I had my first inkling that I was enthralled with the story) because in them, I recognized something of the person I was, not the person I am. I would watch an episode and all the while encourage Chuck by shouting “Don’t be a fool! Pay attention to that! KISS HER NOW!” at the TV set, like I had personal stake in the outcome.
Well, I did, because I had done the foolish thing in the past, missed the important moment and failed to make the right move. Of course, later I learned to not be so foolish and I learned to pay more attention and I even got the girl. So Chuck mattered to me like he was my younger self or a son.
But hey, I ain’t dead yet, and things keep happening, like, more responsibilities. The second time around, Chuck will not only have to be the expert spy (like he was accidentally the first time), he’ll have to demonstrate that he believes it and make others believe it. He’ll have to demonstrate that it was no accident, just like me.
Chuck still matters exactly because he’s grown in a way I understand, and in a way I’ve experienced. Sarah still matters to me because people and the rest of the world have become more, not less, real as I get older. It’s still about family and trust and duty and responsibility, and keeping each other safe. Those things remain important.
Ultimately, just like Liz James posited in her original article, Chuck and Sarah matter because of who we thought they could become. I want to add that the process of becoming doesn’t end when Chuck and Sarah get married. What has changed is us. What’s not changed, is that It’s still a story about us.