As you know when I first watched the Chuck finale, the permeative sadness overwhelmed the happy ending for me. Even after seeing the happy in the ending, I still couldn’t help thinking (out loud, unfortunately) that it was just another redux of wt/wt.
The Chuck finale is a redux of Chuck and Sarah’s journey. When we met them, Chuck and Sarah’s circumstances had robbed them of their future. Their journey was one of redemption, the restoration of the future that was taken from them. Five years later, with their future restored and their dream so close they can taste it, their future is stolen from them. Again. In the cruelest way imaginable. The finale is their story — a redux of redemption and a love that perseveres and prevails against all odds.
At it’s core, the finale is a redux of Sarah’s journey. Her loss was the instrument of tragedy. Her recovery is the key to restoration.
Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
If I looked at the finale by itself, I could easily miss the story. The finale is not meant to be viewed in isolation from from the series as a whole or S5 in particular.
The series takes us on a wonderful journey. I’ve covered it here. S5 shows the last leg of the journey and paints the destination in vivid detail. Then when Chuck and Sarah are mere kilometers from having it all, tragedy threatens to undo it all.
The finale reprises their journey through Sarah’s journey. It is a revisiting of the story, not an undoing of it. We feel the tragedy and loss. We cry with them. We yearn and strive for them. We ache for Sarah to find herself. And she does. Because it’s a redux of her journey.
In Phase 3, we saw Chuck fight an inner battle to keep his sanity, his memories, his identity.
In the finale, his struggle is mirrored in Sarah, only she starts from the position that Chuck narrowly avoided. While embroiled in an external battle with an evil enemy and mortal danger, she wages an inner battle to get her memories back and figure out who she is and who Chuck is.
Since Sarah’s journey was largely internal, I felt compelled to explore inside Sarah. What thought processes get her from point A to point B? What is point B, exactly? (Hint: the same as the original point B.)
Sarah’s journey was one of identity. She went from hard core spy (point A) to normal girl (point B), all because Chuck connected with the lost part of her and drew her into real love and a normal life. Point B in Sarah’s original journey was the girl that Chuck saw and knew and loved — in Sarah’s words, the best person she could ever hope to be — for us, the Sarah we delighted in all through S5.
Circumstances force her to make that same journey again. Chuck lives out his wedding vows. He fights for her, loves her, and proves it to her every day. He is simply … Chuck … her very own baggage handler. Again.
Past Is Prologue
Spies Don’t Have Feelings. Feelings get you killed. You need to bury them in a place deep inside. That had been Sarah’s mantra. This morning, as far as she knows, it still is.
Sarah wakes up, completely unaware of the last 5 years of her life. In her mind, she is the spy she was 5 years ago — the one who just saved a baby from Ryker and set it up in her private version of WitSec. She gave the baby a normal life, the kind of life that Sarah never had and thinks she doesn’t deserve, because of the choices she made. This Sarah just sacrificed her own right to a normal life in order to preserve it for her mother and the baby. Any dream of a normal life for herself is buried in a place deep inside.
Agent Walker is briefed and goes to her assignment that evening, unaware that Sarah Bartowski ever existed, unaware that her assignment had awakened her neglected heart and given her love and a happy life. As incredible as Quinn’s story sounds, it is easier for this Sarah to believe Quinn’s lie than Chuck’s truth.
Facts and a Partial Truth
24 hrs later, Sarah has discovered the facts about the love that had snuck up on her, the person she had become, and the loss of all of it.
She knows that Quinn stole her memories. She believes the truth of Chuck’s story and her own video log. She also believes that her life (the person she became, the love she had, and the good life they shared) was stolen, along with her memories, so she says goodbye.
To Quinn: You stole my memories. You ruined my life.
Unaccountably, Sarah returns to Chuck to ask for his help. The heart wants what the heart wants. It just seemed like the place to come, but then seeing Castle, a place that is both familiar and foreign, and hearing Morgan’s description of the person she became only affirm her belief that the Sarah they remember no longer exists.
Sarah’s heart is silently (for now) influencing her, but she is still working from partial truth. She still believes that she was irreversibly reset to Agent Walker.
To Chuck: I can’t be here. I don’t know how to be the woman you remember me as. All I remember is being a spy, a good one. It’s all I know how to do.
Facts and the Whole Truth
Unaccountably, spending time with Chuck on their missions turns Sarah’s faux world upside down. Chuck is charming, attentive, sweet … and adores her. In spite of Sarah’s efforts to focus strictly on the mission, he elicits responses from a part of her she didn’t think existed. How does he do that? She’s beginning to see why she fell for him, why she loved him. More than that, she is surprised by the sneaky realization that she still. loves. Chuck Bartowski.
As the mission wears on, she finds herself behaving uncharacteristically, and not just on a personal level. At Chuck’s urging she puts her gun down to protect his friend. It feels … confusing … wrong and right at the same time. Why is everything so different with him? Why is she different with him?
The whole truth begins to bud in Sarah’s consciousness.
She is upset, no, mad that he blew the mission. In his defense he says killing wasn’t ever his thing. His defense? What kind of defense is that? Spies kill people.
You’re a spy, aren’t you?
He tells her it’s one of the things she liked about him, the fact that he wouldn’t pull the trigger … says she taught him how to be a spy, and after they fell in love, she stood up for him … didn’t want him to be any other spy.
Whaa? How? … Why?
Did Sarah Walker fall for a … what was it Quinn called him? A pussy? No, that’s certainly not it. In their recent encounters, she’d seen him calmly stare into the barrel of a gun … multiple times. She saw him dive in front of a bullet without hesitation … to save her. Vest or no vest, he would have done it anyway. She’s sure of that. No, not a pussy, not a coward.
So, why doesn’t he kill and why did she not want him to change?
What was it she said about him? He’s not like every other spy. He’s a good guy who wants to help people. Looking back over the short time she’s presently known him, that’s exactly what he still is.
When had she ever known a genuine good guy? … Somehow his goodness survived her world of deceit and moral ambiguity …
And he changed her. The nerd who works at a Buymore changed the hard core spy.
Another truth seeps into her awareness. If she had met someone like that, loved someone like that, the last thing she’d want to do is throw him into the deep end of the spy pool. She wouldn’t, didn’t (doesn’t) want him to change. Unaccountably, she wants to protect him (not that she’ll tell him that). So she decides to go after Quinn alone.
Pacific Concert Hall. Well, if that wasn’t the most bizarre mission she’s ever been on. Oh. Right. It probably wasn’t. Team Bartowski and Company (unconventional as they are) worked well together, with a synchroneity born of trust and long association. At times it felt so familiar, so right. Other times she felt like she didn’t belong.
They did it. Apparently she helped. If only the people knew the staggering truth, the real reason to applaud. She knew. She should be happy, euphoric even, but she can’t feel the celebration. Along with the the adrenaline let down, she feels … lost.
And Chuck? The more she’s around him, the more impressed she becomes. The unassuming nerd has a courageous heart. This genuine good-guy … not weak, not scared, not a pussy … is a hero, a leader, willing to take the weight of the world on his shoulders. He does the right thing, not the right spy thing, the right thing. She may have quite literally killed her chances of getting her life back. As he told her about the last upload, there was no judgment in his tone or demeanor, only love and sorrow (for her, not for himself). When she echoed his words there’s only one upload left, she knew what it meant, how things had to be. Unaccountably, she feels sorrow, too — for both of them — and a familiar admiration for this extraordinary man.
Everything over the past few days with Chuck has felt strange … and strangely familiar. Like her video self, she’s never known anyone quite like Chuck Bartowski. Unaccountably, she still loves him. He changed her. She was different with Chuck. Unaccountably she still is. During their 5 years together she had become a different person. Unaccountably, she is that person still. That’s too many unaccountably’s. There must be something to account for them.
She accepts the truth. Agent Walker no longer exists, period. She is no longer the woman she thought she was when she woke up 3 weeks ago, but she still feels disconnected from the woman she’s become.
I have to go find myself.
The intimate goodbye with Casey makes her ache for Chuck … for herslef, for her life … for things so real and so … not.
Even though she knows she needs time to think, to be alone, it doesn’t feel right to leave him.
The Heart of the Truth
Unaccountably (no, there must be a reason) she is drawn to a particular spot on the beach.
With no fight left in her, no vestige of Agent Walker, absolutely no pretense of anything, Sarah sits stripped to her core, alone with the sand and the sea and her thoughts.
The question is who are you? Graham’s words wash over her with every surge of the tide. Now as then, she has no answer.
She can’t go back, and she doesn’t know how to go forward.
She can’t go back to Agent Walker or to being the spy she was before Chuck. She’s not that person any more.
A man became the dividing line of her life. He changed her and her entire existence. Whatever her life was before Chuck … is no more. Funny, she thought her life with Chuck was gone because of Quinn, but really it’s her life before Chuck that no longer exists. Cruel twist. The life she remembers doesn’t exist. The life she now knows is real she doesn’t remember.
The only thing real to go back to is her life with Chuck. But how can she go back to a life she doesn’t remember?
That leaves forward. … Right. How can she go forward, if she doesn’t know who she is. Bingo. That’s her life story, isn’t it. New town, new con, new mission, new name … new cover … always someone to tell her who to be. Not any more. Chuck could tell her, but it’s pretty clear by now that he won’t.
He knows her better than she knows herself. Heh, maybe he always did. What was it she said he told her … 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. … Maybe that’s how he changed her. He connected with the buried part of her and allowed her to simply be herself. That would certainly explain her confusion lately … Chuck touching, no, … engaging a part of her she didn’t know was there.
Was it this confusing the first time. Listen to her … first time, as if it’s happening again. … Is it? … Could it?
No matter which direction she looks, there he is. Chuck is her past and probably her only hope to find herself and move forward. But is it fair to him … a wife who doesn’t remember him or them, their wedding, their dreams … or even who she is or was. She knows she still loves him. She knows she wants back what was taken from her. She just doesn’t know if it’s even possible … or how …
She loses track of time. Her thoughts ebb and flow with the tide, until they dissolve into the rhythm and sounds of the sea.
“I was hoping you’d be here.”
He found her. How does he do that? It’s … comforting. “This place is important, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, yeah, very much. This is actually where you told me I was going to be OK, that I could trust you. And that’s exactly what I’m doing now. I’m asking you to trust me.”
Him, she trusts, but how can she trust herself … not to let him down, disappoint him.
“Sarah, I don’t want anything from you. I just need you to know that wherever you go I will always be there to help you.”
She nods. Wait. … He doesn’t expect anything …
“Someone you can call, whenever.”
… He’ll help her.
“Trust me, Sarah. I’m here for you always.”
Looking back or moving ahead, this man is her life. She loves him, wants him, wants it all. More than she can remember wanting anything, she wants to be part of her own life again, “Chuck, tell me our story.”
As she lives (or relives, technically) their story through his eyes, something inside her breaks free. Whether through actual memory or not, she feels their story filling her heart with laughter, joy, beauty, tears … and most of all, love. Sarah Bartowski is loved, and she feels whole. Chuck is giving her back her life through the power of his love.
She found what she came here to find, or rather it found her. Chuck found her. She knows who she is. No way is she ever leaving this man who found her (twice), let her see herself through his eyes, and invited her to be herself with him.
How to take the next step, she has no idea.
“You know, Morgan has this crazy idea.”
“What is it?”
“He thinks that with one kiss, you’ll remember everything.”
“One magical kiss?” She chuckles.
“I know, it’s …”
… the next step, “Chuck …”
… and all she wants in this moment, “Kiss me.”
Past Is Epilogue
The finale takes us with Chuck and Sarah far enough so that we know they’re in a good place, ready to reclaim their life and get back to their future … the one that was in sight before everything went south on the Bullet Train.
We’ve already seen the epilogue. S5 reveals it beautifully, piece by piece, as Chuck and Sarah find their dream together. It can’t be topped.
They’ll start their spied-up tech firm. Sarah already drew up the plans in impressive detail and picked out their digs. They will have to buy a new bottle of champagne, though.
They’ll move into their dream house, the one where Sarah carved her name with the promise that it would all be theirs … the house I think Chuck already bought. Follow the bread crumbs, with me. He had easy access. He called it their dream home, as though it already was. Ellie knew exactly where he would take Sarah. The Buymore had been sold. Why else would he sell it? What else would he do with the money? And there were boxes in the house (even in the living room) that weren’t there before. It’s not a slam dunk, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
After just the right amount of practice, the first mark will be etched into the door frame. Knowing Chuck, he’ll be measuring baby Bartowski as soon as they get home from the hospital, and Sarah will gaze in blissful adoration at her two (or three?) nerds.
The past was prologue and epilogue. All we need is a bridge. So, I leave you with Thinkling’s bridge to Chuck and Sarah’s happy ever-after.
… “Kiss me”
This is [… shut up and kiss me …] She could do this every day [… I’ll just prove it to you every day for the rest of …] for the rest of her life. It feels [… I love you. One more time because it feels really nice …] really nice. The sound of the waves, his scent, his kiss [… their honeymoon. I love you, Chuck …] Did she say that out loud? No, because he’s still kissing her, and may he never stop. He stops too soon. The love in his eyes would take her breath away, if his kissing hadn’t already.
She returns his look with equal warmth, “Perfect. This feels right. We … feel right.”
“So, Morgan’s theory …?”
“The kiss was magical.” She couldn’t help return his smile with a big one of her own, “I remember some things, nice things, important things, along with impressions … of you, of us … of kissing you … loving you. I have a sense of who we are … of who I am.”
He sees the truth of it in her eyes and hears it in her voice. His face relaxes into his gentle smile.
“I love you, Chuck.”
His smile explodes before he kisses her again. Oh, he makes her feel … music? [… It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life, and I’m feeling good …] good. Too good. Somewhere in an anaesthetized region of her brain, reason stirs. Heart pounding, she stops the kiss, “Chuck …”
He gets that look, like he thinks he’s done something wrong.
“No, no, it’s not that. I want this. I want you. I want us. I just think we should … you know … um, take it inside.”
“Oh. Right … Sure. Of course. Can’t scandalize the gulls, can we … or get ourselves arrested or …”
Her eyes sparkle with affection, “Chuck.”
“Take me home.”