A Look Back at the Four Seasons of Chuck and Sarah’s Journeys
Our recent rewatch of Chuck Versus the Ring and Ernie and Joe’s post, plus a megadose of hindsight, got me to thinking about Chuck and Sarah’s journeys (not to be confused with the classic Hero’s Journey of Ernie Davis fame). Ring and Cliffhanger (the two weddings) are the bookends of Chuck and Sarah’s journey(s). Ring brought them to a crisis of decision and that important first step (or leap). By the end of Cliffhanger they have reached their destination(s). What about S1 & S2? Weren’t they part of the journey? Well … no. There was personal growth and some forward movement, but movement does not a journey make. A journey needs a clear destination, which neither of them had. No destination = no journey. Seasons 1 & 2 were powerful catalysts without which there would have been no journey. Everything that came before Ellie’s wedding was an awakening for Chuck and Sarah … a growing awareness in both of them that there is a destination worthy of the journey.
When we met them, Chuck and Sarah were people whose past had robbed them of their future. Their journey is one of redemption, restoring the future that was taken from them. It’s all about getting them back to the future — a future, rightfully theirs, that neither of them could have imagined …
To fully appreciate the journey, we have to know the “before.”
Chuck’s life is derailed. Ever since Bryce got him expelled and stole his girl and his mojo, he’s been living in the trenches of mediocrity at the Buymore. Tomorrow, maybe he’ll choose a font for his five-year plan … right after Call of Duty. It’s clear (to everyone but him) that he is more than that. He is, in fact, a hero who thinks he’s nothing but a putz who gets paid to wear a pocket protector.
Sarah, the CIA’s top agent, is beautiful, smart, heroic (and deadly). Her life is filled with adventure but lacks the roots and love of the normal life she subconsciously desires. Why is that? Living from con to con, then mission to mission, her dad and the CIA handed her a string of names and told her who to be but robbed her of not only the chance to have a normal life, but also the basic need to figure out who she was and what she wanted. “The question is who are you? … Jenny Burton … Katie O’Connell … Rebecca Franco? … the name on your birth certificate?” If she ever wanted to be a real girl again, who would she be? The question hangs over her unanswered, until …
The Unexpected. The Intersect brings them together, and their worlds collide. Chuck is thrown into the spy world and the life he didn’t want but was meant to have. Sarah is thrust into his normal world and gets a taste of the life she has sometimes longed for but thought she could never have.
I. FIRST CONTACT
Sarah approaches her mark (piece of cake), and is disarmed. How did that happen? The lanky nerd passes on her flirtations to rescue a ballerina. Without either of them knowing it, Chuck steals behind her defenses and connects with the real girl, and Sarah is captivated. It didn’t take long for her to fall for this extraordinary man with “his gentle nature, moral strength, extreme loyalty to friends and family, and courage in dangerous situations.”atcDave
For Chuck’s part, in theory, he tries his best to avoid any form of danger. But when people are in trouble, he just can’t stay in the car. Thus our reluctant hero is born. Some people want to be heroes, and others have to be asked. So … Chuck, are you ready?
Waking Up Is Hard To Do
Chuck and Sarah have a forced association. (Forced? Would it be so bad? They manage to suffer through it.) During that time each awakens in the other an awareness and a desire for something more. Without these awakenings, there cannot be a journey. Chuck would float along at the Buymore, hating himself for not knowing what he wanted to do with the rest of his life or who he wanted to spend it with. Sarah would go on living one mission at a time, never thinking of a future beyond her next mission.
Chuck. The missions and Sarah raise his awareness of what it means to be a hero and increase his desire for something more than the Buymore. I list Wookie, First Date, Tom Sawyer, and 3D as Chuck’s wake-up episodes.
The end of Wookie is the first time that Chuck actually seems pleased at the team’s accomplishments and proud of his part in it. It’s also the episode that he realizes what an exceptional spy Sarah is. She’s not in it for herself. Again in Dave’s words, “She’s fearless, devoted to duty, and capable; yet still moral and decent.” … and way out of his league (he thinks).
By First Date, Chuck knows he wants more than the Buymore. He has actual aspirations. (First on the list is Europe by rail, with Sarah.) Also in First Date, Charles Carmichael (the agent, not the software tycoon) makes his debut.
In Tom Sawyer, Chuck stops WWIII, and gets a hero’s recognition, with pride and praise from Sarah and the cheers of his fellow nerds (even though they don’t have a clue as to the nature of the accomplishment they are cheering).
Third Dimension? Well, he can’t even take the day off that he begged for. Though he doesn’t know it yet, he’s hooked on the spy life. 3D also gives us Sarah’s view of the job, “It’s our job, not only to protect Tyler, but the country and anybody else who needs protecting, and we do whatever it takes, no matter what.”
Sarah. Chuck’s is the first normal life she’s ever gotten to know. In Sizzling Shrimp she learns that Chuck and Ellie somehow managed to create a normal life, despite having been abandoned by their parents. Hope. Chuck has family, love, home, a best friend — all the things Sarah never had. Unlike the con or spy life, everything about Chuck and his world is real, and he’ll accept nothing less in their relationship. Unlike a lot of men, he categorically refuses to extend the fake aspect of their relationship beyond the boundaries of its necessary function. To the contrary Chuck continually draws Sarah into various aspects of a real relationship. Extraordinary.
Sarah is always watching and absorbing, but some of her more pivotal wake-up moments are Wookie, Truth & Marlin, First Date, Cougars, and Colonel.
In Wookie she is settled into her assignment and obviously enjoying family game night. We see a real girl having real-life fun with a real family … a totally different vibe than the double-date night. And of course, the real girl wishing she could share something real with this extraordinary man who cares enough to notice her.
I include Truth and Marlin, both so poignant because we see Sarah on the outside looking in on real life. Her longing is palpable as is her resignation to her post on the outside.
First Date through Cougars show Sarah’s insuppressable growing awareness of real feelings and desires. In First Date, we catch another glimpse of the real girl, on a real date. What strikes me most is her need for genuine affirmation, “What about me?” She is accustomed to being used, not appreciated.
Cougars, to me, is the pivotal moment in Sarah’s awakening … and the window for us to understand her. We see a piece of her past and hear Graham’s question. We see relief wash over her at Chuck’s declaration, “I don’t need to know more, not about who you were, because as much as you don’t think so, I know who you are.” Chuck sees her, knows her, and loves her. If she wanted to be a real girl again, who would she be? … The girl Chuck sees.
Colonel is a moment out of time. Chuck and Sarah are off grid. In that bubble, she isn’t an agent, and he isn’t property of the US government. They allow the barriers to fall and express their love. And it’s real. And then …
The Unexpected. The Intersect, the thing that brought them together and kept them together, is removed.
II. FIRST WEDDING
They are different people than they were before. First, they both want more out of life. Second, they have fallen in love. Though nothing else about their situation was real, the Love IS Real.
That’s where things stand at Ellie’s rehearsal dinner. As far as we know, they sleep on these euphoric feelings (separately) and wake up to face reality and …
The Question. With the Intersect gone, where does that leave them?
In different worlds again … loving and wanting each other, but without any clear path to that life together they wish they could have, or even a clear idea of what it would look like. Their hearts are intertwined. Their love is real. But for lack of a world to put it in, they may be ripped apart.
To get from their cover life — the life, however unconducive, that gave existence and context to their relationship, the life that just got blown out from under them — to a real life together, they have to pick a world and figure out a way to make it all real. Chuck can’t continue to be sort-of-a-spy (especially without the Intersect), and Sarah can’t keep on being a pretend-real-girl.
Neither one fits in the other’s world — at least that’s what each one thinks. Sarah sees herself as “nothing but a spy.” Chuck thinks he is “just Chuck Bartowski, not a hero.”
The only solution in the mind of each is for the other to change worlds. Sarah’s hopes soar, when Beckman offers Chuck the analyst job … then thud as quickly, when he declines. Chuck is bursting with anticipation of exploring his future, which is completely undefined, save one detail … Sarah. His future crashes and burns before it takes off, because she has been reassigned.
Whoa. What Happened?
Sarah’s choice to leave wasn’t a choice to leave Chuck (who hadn’t yet asked her to stay). It was just a choice to follow orders, which isn’t exactly a choice. What else would she do? All she knows is being a spy. That said, she was NOT happy about the precipitous departure or her new/old partner. She wants none of it. Look at her face as Bryce remarks about their his good fortune. “Larkin and Walker, together again. Finally, you can get out of here.” She looks devastated at the thought. When she has to tell Chuck, she can barely keep it together.
Chuck’s refusal of the job that would have put him with Sarah in her world, isn’t too surprising, since his two-year refrain has been that he wants a normal life … and nothing to do with the spy world. That said, he probably thought there would be time to take Sarah on a third first-date and talk her into staying … or at least taking a vacation with him. He just needs to convince Sarah he has something to offer in place of her exciting spy life.
That may be what Chuck thinks, but that is NOT what Sarah needs to be convinced of. She knows that Chuck has everything to offer. She just doesn’t think she has anything to offer this extraordinary man who wants a normal life. She needs to be convinced that if she jumps, he’ll catch her and help her do normal.
What makes Sarah jump? The short answer? That guy … Chuck Bartowski, hero. Oh, and love.
Sarah is in a miserable place — back where she started: old life, old partner, everything just the way it was BC (before Chuck), everything but her. AD (after dreams), her old life seems more like a sentence than an assignment. Chuck has made her more, and she doesn’t want to be “nothing but a spy” anymore. Chuck awakened her dormant dreams … like the dream in front of her. What a fantastic scene, Sarah framed by Ellie and Devon, looking through them to Chuck.
Her Chuck. The spy life had totally wrecked his sister’s big day, and he found a way to make it all normal again, better than normal. (Kind of like the ballerina rescue, only way bigger.) It cost him a year’s pay (or more), but he gave Ellie her dream wedding (not what a normal guy would do). That guy will catch her. They can be together and have a normal life.
What makes Chuck jump? The short answer? That guy … Chuck Bartowski, hero. Oh, and love.
Chuck turns back toward the spy life, when he goes with Sarah and Casey to help Bryce. Because he is that guy, and because he loves Sarah. “I have to go! … Dad, I love her.”
Chuck steps closer to the spy life, when he finds his way, not to get help as he was told, but to rescue his friend … the one he thinks Sarah is leaving with tomorrow.
Bryce is dead, and Fulcrum is winning. Lots of thoughts go through his mind. Like why his friend sent him the Intersect. Destiny. Beckman telling him it’s time to be a spy. Duty. Sarah. Love. With the Intersect, he can fulfill both duty and destiny, and become that guy that Sarah sees. Then they can be together.
This brings us to Season 3.0. For the purpose of this post, S3 will be a black box (mostly) with a big disclaimer bow on top. I don’t want to get into the particulars or mechanics of it. So, black box. Chuck and Sarah go in, stuff happens, and Chuck and Sarah come out. I do want to analyze their mindsets going in, summarize the story apart from the misery, check their progress when they emerge, and continue their journey on the other side. Sound like a cop-out? Well, maybe, but I hope you won’t feel that way when I’m done. … Now, where did I put my asbestos hoodie?
Part A. I am a shipper (shocker, I know). Like Dave, I don’t like episodes (let alone extended arcs) that leave Chuck and Sarah in a dark/bad place. However, I am analytical, like Ernie, so I am always trying to understand Chuck and Sarah and their story better. Understanding the story gives it meaning (to me) and changes how I think about the season. However, no amount of understanding has been able to change how the season makes me feel.
Part B. The potentially great story that might have been S3 suffered extensively because pet devices drove the story instead of serving the story. What pet devices? So glad you asked. CRM and WT/WT. The Central Relationship Misunderstanding was more of a Malfunction that quickly escalated to full-blown Misery which was dragged out all season, in order to bring us WT/WT until the epic end. Post Colonel and considering that Chuck and Sarah had both jumped worlds to be together (granted Chuck’s jump involved additional factors), their dilemma had progressed from WT/WT to How Will They. HWT was more logical in light of the unfolding story. The OLI’s (also designed to prolong WT/WT) added nothing to the story. The misery was compounded and maintained by two frustrating techniques: backloading of information and a contrived communication blackout between our heroes.
III. FIRST JOURNEY
Sarah’s POV. Where Chuck knows almost exclusively the cool, heroic aspect of being a spy, Sarah’s experience includes the dark underside of deceit and danger and killing. The spy life chipped away at her soul and numbed her desires. It did nothing but rob her. In Sarah’s eyes, becoming a spy won’t add anything to Chuck. On the contrary, it can only hurt and diminish him.
Add to that the reality of the Intersect Project, itself. If the project succeeds, it will make him the ultimate super-spy, lone agent, remorseless assassin … Chuck on laudenol, and then some. That’s what the project runners want. He won’t need anything or anyone, including her. If Chuck fails, he will end up bunkered … or dead.
Mix in her love for him and her dream to be a real person again with him, and Sarah sees only one solution.
Before we moan about how unfair it was for her to ask him to leave his family, live on the run, give up his life, and surrender his choice (to be with her), perhaps we should consider the alternative. As the Intersect he will be the most valuable intelligence asset and the most advanced weapon on the planet. That means he will have to leave his family and live on the move (no calls home, no messages out). The government will own him from his top secret brain to the ticklish bottoms of his feet, from boxers to kevlar. No more life, no more choice … and no more her. So, she warns him and asks him to run away with her, “Chuck, if you do this, if you go, you’re going to be a spy for the rest of your life. Every city is going to be a new mission and a new identity, and you’re not going to be the same person.”
Chuck’s POV. Despite his happy-go-lucky personality, Chuck hated his lack of ambition, so to him being someone different is a good thing. He has no context for imagining the scenario that Sarah sees. Chuck just thinks he’ll to to Prague and come back as James Bond, someone cool who does more and is more than he is … someone worthy of Sarah’s love.
But hey, Sarah wants to run away with him, so it looks like he won’t need to be a spy to get the girl after all. Life with Sarah trumps being a spy any day, so he says yes.
See you in Prague.
Chuck gets to Prague, to an entire training facility designed and dedicated to making him the Intersect 2.0. Then a lot of really important people tell him he can make a difference … change the world. No pressure, though. For Chuck that’s a double brass ring. Suddenly his inner loser sees a chance to do things that matter. His inner hero, the good guy who wants to help people, has a higher motivation: doing the right thing. How can he live his dream if it means turning his back on duty, knowing that what he has in his head could help a lot of people. So, for the sake of his friends and his family and his love for Sarah, he chooses to stay in Prague and become a spy.
Sarah warns him again. It’s not that simple. You don’t know who you’re working for. It’s complicated. Nothing is real. This [taking his hand], this is simple. This is a real life. Our girl may not know how to live a real life, but she knows what one is, or more specifically, what it isn’t.
Chuck knows he is probably sacrificing his dream (life with Sarah) to do the right thing. From the look on his face, it’s the hardest thing he’s ever done. What he doesn’t know is that he just sacrificed her dream, too. Besides the simple fact that Sarah loves Chuck, it is in relationship with him that she has begun to know and express who she is. Her being a real girl is dependent on him. So, while Chuck leaves to start his journey, Sarah is left on the platform, ticket in hand, heart broken, destination canceled, journey aborted.
Another Kobiyashi Maru
That’s certainly what it looks like to Sarah. There is no way for this to end well, because Chuck wouldn’t take her way out.
But is there a way through that would allow Chuck to become a super spy without becoming nothing but a spy and also get Sarah back on track for her journey to being a real person with Chuck?
Yeah. There is.
Sarah has knowledge about the things he will face that he can’t yet imagine. However, Chuck has something that Sarah can’t imagine. Chuck is anchored. He knows who he is. He has something to lose and someone to fight for. For him the greater good has always had a face … his family and friends … and her. That’the hope that he can become a spy and not lose himself.
See you in Paris. (After the Black Box)
The Black Box.
What happens in the black box, stays in the black box. Well, mostly. Without getting into mechanics or particulars, let’s look at the main story that happens inside the box.
Sarah’s Journey … Delayed. Sarah lost Chuck. She feels shock, pain, anger, denial, and guilt. Sounds a lot like grief. And so it is. In addition to losing Chuck she fears losing herself. If Chuck loses himself, then part of her, the real part, dies. He is her anchor to a real life, and he just cut her loose. She’s adrift … floundering and grieving. (She’s different without Chuck, and she doesn’t like it.)
I totally understand her reactions and emotions, which were very powerfully played by Yvonne. BUT I didn’t want or need to watch Sarah grieve and flounder for an entire season. What could have been a meaningful dramatic arc became an unbearable season of misery. Her character was poorly served by the pet devices and pacing of the story. (I do not, however, see her as a plot devise.) Resolving the CRM sooner would have better served her and the story (and us).
Chuck’s Journey. Being a real spy is very different from being the asset with Sarah and Casey as his adult spy protectors. It’s not a cake walk, in spite of (or often because of) the Intersect. Chuck faces the dangers of the spy world, dances with deception, and pretty much avoids the killing part. Because he is anchored, his brushes with the darkness don’t change him. He learns how to control the Intersect (mostly), completes a solo mission (sort of), burns an asset, impersonates an assassin, and passes his spy test (with help from Casey). Chuck succeeds (though in nowhere near the measure expected by the project runners), and Special Agent Bartowski gets his badge.
How does this affect Sarah? Sarah’s continued journey hinges on Chuck becoming a spy without losing himself. If Chuck couldn’t become a spy and still be Chuck, then “real” is just an illusion. However, since he became a spy without becoming nothing but a spy, her journey to real girl can continue. Moreover, Chuck has redeemed her profession. Consequently, being a spy no longer means being nothing but a spy, so Sarah’s hero side can also be redeemed. She can be whole … a spy and a real person. Had they run off, had Chuck skipped this part of his journey, then both their journeys would have fallen short of their destinations.
Chuck. I mean Carmichael, Charles Carmichael made it. He got the badge, the gun, the villa, the stipend, and … wait, shouldn’t it feel better than this? Oh yeah, the girl. Sarah. “It finally clicked for me. Sarah is the most important thing. What’s the point in being a spy without her? … I’m not going anywhere without Sarah.”
In the pursuit of his new dream, he had lost sight of an old one (living the life that he wants with the girl that he loves). Thanks to a timely epiphany and a kick in the pants from Ellie, Chuck remembers the most important thing he has to lose and decides to fight for her.
Sarah. What jump starts Sarah’s dead journey? The short answer? That guy … Chuck Bartowski, hero. Oh, and love.
Sarah is a show-me kind of girl. So he shows her. Unlike other guys and spies, Chuck doesn’t calculate this: If I do this, I’ll prove I’m a real hero and get the girl. Heck no! All he may get is blown up. There’s no guile here. Chuck goes after a member of his team who needs help (the other guy he thinks Sarah is leaving with tomorrow). Why? Because it’s the right thing to do … and because Sarah cares about the other guy.
Then he comes back to talk. No eloquence, just blunt, honest words.
I love you.
One more time because it feels really nice to say … I love you. I feel like I’ve been bottling this up forever.
I love you.
Look you were right in Prague. You and I, we’re perfect for each other, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, away from everyone else and away from this spy life.
Sarah mentiones a commitment to [the CIA].
Don’t go. Don’t do it. Leave with me instead. Tonight at 7:00, Union Station … Don’t answer now. Don’t say a word. I don’t want to have to convince you. I just want you to show up.
I’m gonna kiss you now, if that’s ok.
Squeee. (Oh, sorry. That was me)
I’m going to go home and pack, both summer and winter wear.
I love you, Sarah Walker. Always have.
He’s still that guy — still her Chuck. He risked everything to save Shaw and then offers it all up to have a real life with her. He didn’t lose himself … or her. The real girl resumes her journey, and she has a name. It’s Sarah Walker, and don’t forget it.
I’m not sure where to put this, my take on the whole name thing, so here it is (ducks behind riot shield). It doesn’t anger me. I know many fans had long imagined a heartwarming scene where Sarah told Chuck her real name. But she didn’t need to, and in fact couldn’t. He saved her and named her in American Hero. She is Sarah Walker, Chuck’s Sarah. All the rest are just details.
Names. The real Sarah is the Sarah Chuck sees–the whole person he knows and loves, as Sarah Walker.
Sam wasn’t the real girl any more than Jenny Burton or Rebecca Franko. The real girl was all of those names and none of them. Back in Wookie Chuck wanted to know something —anything — real about her, other than that she didn’t like olives on her pizza. (Actually that was more real than the things he asked her.) He began fishing, “I just wish I knew something real about you. Can’t you just tell me one true thing? Just one, like where’d you grow up? (lots of places … no place) Or if that’s too much, I get it. What’s your real name? (which real name?) Middle name? Can’t you just tell me your middle name?” She had been given a long string of names, yet associated none of them with the real girl … until Chuck. It was as Sarah Walker, in relationship with Chuck, that the real girl began to emerge. She was never what you’d call an open book, but behind the cover Chuck engaged the real girl in a real relationship. In those moments, she shared real things with him: I’m not very good at relationships … high school was a tough time for me … if there’s one thing I learned from my father, it’s be ready for disappointment … Christmas at the Burton household meant the annual Salvation Army con job … I don’t really have anyone in my life like that, who cares about me.
Chuck knew the real girl. Shaw got a piece of trivia.
After American Hero, Graham’s question and all her names, save one, sank into a pool of forgotten names. Chuck named her for good, “I love you, Sarah Walker. Always have.” For the first time, one of her names is more than a stick-on name tag. It’s a name that gives identity to a real person who is known and loved. Isn’t that what makes us real, after all?
Journey Delayed … Again. Chuck and Sarah go home to pack, so they can run away together. (The whole meet-me-at-the-train-station-at-7:00 thing doesn’t seem to be working out for them.) Before that happens, the other guy shows up and interrupts their plans. So this time it’s Chuck left alone at the train station, wondering if he misread the signals, wondering whether or not Sarah loves him (hence the drunken haze and DYLM). Again, the window for running away closes, and they are caught up in another mission.
Other Guy clears the last obstacles: Shaw is revealed as the bad guy, vindicating Chuck’s spy-worth; Chuck finds the ability to kill when it really matters; Sarah realizes that there are times when even Chuck needs to be able to pull the trigger (you see it all over her face at the café and the bridge) and accepts that under such conditions Chuck can kill and still be the same guy. Oh, yeah, and we get rid of the bad guy (like that worked).
Of course, the most satisfying parts of OG for many of us (me) were the DYLM (yes, yes, yes, yes) and the shut up an kiss me ending.
After lots of kissing and … um … ignoring the Eiffel Tower, they board a train together. It’s about * time!
Europe by Rail With Sarah … Chuck’s dream from First Date finally comes true. The priority of being together is settled. It’s non-negotialble. No going back. The question of how is what gets worked out during this moment out of time … (way out of time, if meal trays are any indication).
Despite their efforts to the contrary, they are both still spies, so they could be together. But, Beckman has the power to stop them, so they decide to run. But, their one-last-mission shows them what a good spy-team they are, so it’s not that easy to walk away. But, it has to be one or the other — being spies or being together — so they choose to be together. But, maybe … it’s OK you can say it. Maybe they can have their spy-cake and eat it too. And why not? (Back to that question later.)
So thanks to Juan Diego Arnaldo and his nut-cake communication therapy, they are off to carve out a space between two worlds and build a real life.
IV. JOURNEY À DEUX
The journey is one, and they’re in it together.
No Secrets — No Lies. Spying and lying go together. Lying and relationships don’t. The spy world is run on deception; relationships, on trust. Sarah never wanted Chuck to get used to any of it (Don’t get used to it. What makes you special is that you’re not like every other spy.) But he did get used to it. Now, the first thing they need to do is carve out a space for themselves where there are no secrets — no lies. Sarah’s secrets were exposed in a hurtful way to both of them, as were Chuck’s (twice). She takes the first step in establishing NSNL by giving Chuck her spy will. It takes Chuck a little longer, but by the time they get back from Moscow, Casa de Bartowski has a NSNL policy, and Sarah has joined Chuck in the search for his mom. His mom hunt—finding out why she left and putting his family back together—is not incidental to his journey. It is the journey, and Sarah is his full partner and baggage handler, as he is her’s in her journey to becoming that real girl.
Home. What’s up with Sarah’s weird unpacking thing? Me thinks it’s more than just being ready for the next mission. It’s an old habit of hedging against future disappointment. How many times had young Sarah formed fragile attachments or put down a timid root, only to uproot, detach, and depart? Unpacking makes her vulnerable, but not unpacking hurts Chuck. Time to unpack … her stuff, her life, her heart, and herself. Sarah finally puts down roots and finds her home. “You’re my home Chuck. You always have been.”
Unpacking forces Sarah to face other real-life issues that she didn’t have to face as a spy on the move … like growth and change, who she is and what she wants. Wanting to be a real person with Chuck didn’t come with an instruction manual, and Chuck, unlike the other men in her life, won’t tell her who to be. He’s just there, helping her and loving her. A clash with her past and an epiphany about love and change give her the answers that she needs. She isn’t who she was (and doesn’t want to be) and whatever changes come, her love for Chuck will never change.
Sarah being unpacked and all-in is crucial, because things are are about to get dicey on the next leg of their journey.
The Mom Trip. (Whoa! Who is driving this thing?)
Remember the guy from the Buymore: no mojo, no life, no girl? Well, the Intersect gave all that back. Now he’s a hero—a spy—and all but engaged to the girl of his dreams. Life is great. So great, in fact, that he calls off the mom hunt.
Right when Chuck quits looking for his mom, she finds him, bringing danger to his doorstep and uncapping a well of insecurity that’s been building pressure for 20 years.
Nothing in this leg of the journey is wasted. Chuck has insecurities that must be dealt with if he is ever to get his future back. One set of insecurities is held at bay by the Intersect. The other insecurities stem from his abandonment issues. Inside Chuck is a little boy who needs–demands–to know why his mother left him. He is about to get hit with all of it at once. So fasten your seatbelts. There’s turbulence ahead.
The journey takes off, bringing Chuck and Sarah a mystery to solve, dangers to survive, a question to answer, an enemy to defeat, and a family to save. First mystery …
Who is this woman? She left Chuck 20 years ago. When she finally comes back, she tells him she doesn’t want to know anything about him. But to make up for it, she offers the CIA a terror-inducing nerve gas. Then she shoots him and later kidnaps him. But to make up for that she tells him how much she loves her family and regrets leaving them.
No wonder he has mother issues.
Meanwhile, Sarah struggles with how to be the Lover/Protector without being the Handler/Protector. Tricky. She parses Mary’s every word and move, watching Chuck’s back, and protecting his blind side. That’s why she arrests Chuck’s mom. Too much handler in the mix? Ok. Sarah backs off and defers to Chuck’s instincts. The next thing Sarah knows, Chuck’s mom has suppressed the Intersect, and she and Alexei Volkoff are binding Chuck and Sarah and setting explosives to blow them up. But to make up for it Mary surreptitiously sneaks a blade to Sarah and whispers for her to protect Chuck.
As one might guess, this doesn’t help Chuck’s mother issues.
Orion’s base blown to bits, the Bartowski family home in flames, Chuck and Sarah face …
The Question. With the Intersect gone, where does that leave them?
Seems like we’ve been here before. It’s not a rehash of the S3 Intersect malfunctions, but it is a justifiable revisiting of the removal of the first Intersect. Ultimately whatever depends on the Intersect for its existence isn’t real, because it can be snatched away in a flash … or, non-flash.
In a non-flash, his mom, the source of his abandonment issues, takes away the Intersect and strips him of his confidence. Thus one set of insecurities joins another to turn Chuck’s life upside-down … again.
Chuck wonders what he is without the Intersect. Is he still a spy? If he’s not a spy, is he still a hero? And is he still good enough for Sarah?
Sarah, unaware of his insecurities, just fears for his life. To her, he is Chuck Bartowski, great on his own … always a hero. She loves him regardless, and she can — not — lose — him. If Sarah loses Chuck, then part of her, the real part, dies.
Was this Intersect-less stretch part of the journey or just a trail to nowhere? I see it as critical to their journey. Chuck confirmed beyond all doubt that, even if it meant death, the Intersect and being a spy are not as important as loving Sarah. Had Rye been able to convince him otherwise, he would have become nothing but a spy (or dead). Sarah, for her part, realized that her silence cost Chuck and that she needed to tell him what he means to her. She fought her way across Thailand to do just that. At the end of the trial, Chuck’s self worth was no longer tied to the Intersect. This is paramount. Chuck Bartowski stands on his own. What had been a crutch is now a tool — one that will help him, not define him. Just when things settle down, and he has put his issues behind him …
And the hits just keep on coming. But not in a musical way. Two assassination attempts have failed and Volkoff sends his 3 top men to get the job done. Mom comes back to make sure Volkoff strikes out.
As Chuck and Sarah question Mary and learn more about her 20 year mission, Chuck’s mom issues flare out of control, but Sarah begins to get a pretty clear picture of Mary’s predicament.
As before, Volkoff the psycho puppy-in-love comes to rescue his crush from the clutches of … her son? No wonder Charles Carmichael didn’t die. Mary somehow keeps Volkoff from shooting everybody in the head, but when Volkoff and Mary leave, the door between Moscow and Burbank is permanently ajar. Volkoff knows everything about them: where they live, where their base is, their names, that Ellie is pregnant. How long can Mary hold the madman at bay? More than anyone, Sarah understands the entire situation, and she knows it time to …
Fight For Your Family. Everything Sarah holds dear Volkoff holds hostage: Chuck, their future, her new family. Every minute that Volkoff is free, they are all at risk. So she volunteers to do anything in her power to help bring back Chuck’s mother and to eliminate Volkoff and his organization. She descends into a darkness she abhors to rescue her family and buy back their future. (It’s part of her journey, a test of her redemption.)
Sarah is no longer nothing but a spy. She’s anchored. She has something to lose and someone to fight for. So Sarah and Mary team up to fight for their family. When things look their worst, Chuck joins in the fight, and together they bring down Volkoff.
Are we there yet?
This leg of the journey winds down with Chuck and Sarah having united the Bartowski family. Chuck is comfortable in his own skin, with or without the Intersect, and he has stepped into his father’s legacy of heroism and spy craft. Sarah is grounded as a real person. That’s what enabled her to do battle in the world that had made her nothing but a spy and return undiminished as Chuck’s Sarah Walker. The hero in Sarah is fully redeemed. The mystery is solved (why mom left); the question was answered (who is Chuck without the Intersect); the enemy is defeated (Volkoff); and Chuck’s family is together and safe. What more is there? Well …
One enemy begets another, and Chuck is still in the cross-hairs. Vivian Volkoff picks the wrong side of the fence and, like her father before her, tries multiple times to blow Chuck and Sarah to bits. Placing the blame on Chuck for her own losses, she sets out to make him feel pain in equal measure and tries to take away the person who matters most to him.
There’s a mystery behind the mystery, wrapped in another mystery, and Ellie finds just the right thread to unravel it all. It all started with a couple of scientists. Chuck’s dad agreed to use the Intersect to help his best friend, Hartley Winterbottom (nobody names a person that) go under cover. The cover identity, Alexei Volkoff, took over, and Hartley was lost. The Intersect project gone sideways created one of the most murderous men in the history of the world and caused a cataclysmic shift in Bartowski family tectonics. It explains so much … and raises a few more questions.
And then there was one. One more question, that is. I said we’d come back to it. This is it:
Maybe they can have their spy-cake and eat it too. And why not?
We’re about to find out.
Sarah. She completed her mission. She and Chuck are engaged. She is a woman in love, and it looks great on her. What more is there? The best part. I’ve never enjoyed anything more (TV-wise) than watching Sarah face the daunting delights of engagement and real life, as she and Chuck head down the home stretch toward the …
THE END BEFORE THE BEGINNING
Sarah. The real girl.
The girl who didn’t have friends, apart from her stuffed animals, now has restored friendships from her past. Oh, and a little, bearded best-friend-in-law, whom she appreciates as much as she intimidates.
The girl who had a fractured family, when she had one at all, finds herself in the middle of a united family. They are warm, loving, sweet, and sometimes intense; but they accept her as she is. She finds in Ellie a friend, a confidant, and a kindred spirit.
The girl who always took care of herself, could fix anything, and never needed help from anyone comes to realize that she needs Chuck’s help in a thousand ways every single day.
The girl who was always on the outside looking in, is fully on the inside. Besides being part of a real family, Sarah will have a real name … one she will keep for life. She will be Sarah Bartowski. Yes, I know she’s Sarah Walker (I won’t forget it). But Sarah Walker didn’t belong to a family. Sarah Bartowski does. Sarah Walker never had anything real until Chuck. Now she’s part of the Bartowski family and the Bartowski legacy. Sarah Walker would have become a forgotten fallen hero, her cover name engraved on a wall of cover names. Sarah Bartowski is grafted into the Bartowski family tree, and future generations of Bartowski’s will tell her story.
Two rehearsal dinners and one fantastic journey.
At Ellie’s rehearsal dinner, nothing about Sarah’s life was real, except her love for Chuck. That seed of love, with patience and a love to match her own, has blossomed into the normal life she scarcely dreamed of, but was meant to have.
At Sarah’s own rehearsal dinner, we see the fully-emerged woman-in-love: radiantly happy, confident in that love, and ready to take possession of her real life. This is the Sarah that Chuck has always seen and loved. It’s the Sarah everyone else has always seen when she’s with Chuck. Sarah has never seen what others have always seen. She sees herself that way for the first time in Jeff’s montage and is mesmerized by the real girl who’s been there all along.
Minutes later, the strong, amazing woman who has always protected Chuck and kept him safe, is unconscious, and her family and friends are taking care of her … like any normal girl.
Chuck. The hero.
Chuck, the putz who got paid to wear a pocket protector becomes The Protector.
The guy who didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life or who he wanted to spend it with; who couldn’t pick a font for his 5-yr plan … that guy now knows beyond any doubt that Sarah is worth any sacrifice.
The guy who uploaded the Intersect 2.0 so he could be a hero; who, not too long ago, didn’t know who he was without the Intersect … that guy no longer needs it. It was a tool. It’s gone. He has other tools. He saved Sarah without it.
The guy who wasn’t cut out for the adrenalin filled life (where you disarm a bomb, steal a diamond, and jump off a building) rides a motorcycle at 250mph, kidnaps a government prisoner, and takes on six tasers. He never quits, never stops, never gives up. He disarms his enemy with the truth and his raw love for Sarah. Then he jumps out of a plane and parachutes onto the hospital mall to save Sarah.
That guy. Chuck Bartowski. Hero. Gave everything, held nothing back, and won it all.
The future that neither one of them could have imagined is here. Whatever was taken from them has been restored … with interest. Even Charles Carmichael, the software tycoon (not just the spy), has become a reality.
Are We There Yet? Of course not. We’re here. There’s always more … there. So what’s next?
Remember the question. Maybe they can have their spy-cake and eat it too. And why not?
Because. It’s not that simple. You don’t know who you’re working for. It’s complicated. Nothing is real. This [what they have now], this is simple. This is a real life.
There’s one last thing to resolve before their future is really their own. The Bartowski tragedy all circles back to a Puppet Master in the CIA. Until they find him (her) and cut the strings, the CIA will always have a measure of control in their lives.
Chuck and Sarah. One Journey Done — Another Begun