Truth And Consequences.
This week’s Reader’s Digest Rewatch brings us to my second favorite arc of season 1. I know, rarefied air at these dizzying heights. I called this one The Arc of Truth, after the initial episode Chuck Versus The Truth. The entire arc however deals with the various truths, and their consequences that spies and their assets and their friends and families live with. In all fairness this arc really should include Chuck Versus The Crown Vic, where the consequences of the truths, half-truths and lies the agents and assets tell themselves and each other are resolved, sort of, but this trilogy sets up a lot of the tensions that will play out over the next three seasons. How much of Sarah’s attraction is real and how much is her trying to keep Chuck under control? Will Chuck ever have the confidence to see himself as worthy of Sarah? How close can Sarah let anyone get, and is she capable of the vulnerability it takes to admit another person can break your heart? It was all so new way back in season 1, join me in re-visiting some old friends and fond memories. After the jump.
The Honest Truth
Here’s the truth, as we know it now. Sarah Walker is undercover again, and her cover is probably the only role her life as a con on the lam and a spy never prepared her to play, real girl. Normal girl. Girlfriend. While that cover grew naturally out of how she worked her way into Chuck’s life, it’s tough to believe it’s the one she would have chosen to share with a novice spy who still lives in the real world. He’s already demonstrated trust is a two-way street for him, and that alone is problematic. More problematic is that Sarah is having trouble with the cover, as is Chuck.
While Sarah’s formative years included the motto “Fake it till you make it” Chuck is more of a task oriented guy. Spy is a job, something like the Buy More he wants to be able to turn on and off at the end of the day. Spy life stuff…real life stuff. He’s about to find out, as is Sarah, that those two worlds don’t mix easily. Especially when undeniable truth rears it’s ugly head.
We see the truth in the early prologue of the first episode. Sarah kind of digs this girlfriend thing. It’s fun, dreaming about going to movies and picking out the top you know your boyfriend likes, and him ordering for you at the restaurant, and calling each other sweetie. It’s the kind of thing she must have envisioned any number of times, thinking of growing up in that perfect home. There’s only one problem, it isn’t real. It’s true, but it isn’t real. It takes a real couple to show us (but not Chuck or Sarah quite yet) the difference. The feelings are there. When Sarah jumps Chuck in the closet (for the cover, of course) we see his true feelings. When Sarah watches a real couple and sees their natural affection play out, we see the truth, she wants that, and is a bit put off that she has to coax Chuck to play his part. People aren’t fooled. Devon can see it, they aren’t a “real” couple. Chuck can’t apparently feel it, he doesn’t respond without prompting.
Chuck’s existential spy crisis is the frame for the picture we’re about to see. Sarah lays it out, but the truth of it is for us to discover. Chuck’s response to the existential spy crisis is to cling to the truth and the reality he knows. Sarah’s was to become the spy and live the lie.
Within the cover and the lies lies some truth. Sarah is devoted to Chuck. She understands that part, she doesn’t yet understand that it’s love that she’s feeling. Chuck loves Sarah, or is at least willing to allow that it’s love that he’s feeling. It feels so real sometimes, but he has doubts. Sarah is really good at her job after all. As we saw the relationship develop we saw how two wounded souls could fill in the missing pieces, and allow them to each believe in themselves again, but at this point, they just don’t understand. So perhaps Sarah is sending mixed signals, with her choice of sleep-wear and telling Chuck they needed to take the “assignment” seriously. Chuck may be familiar with fakin’ it, but he clearly was hoping for something more than a fight and a lecture on covers and what they cover. And once again, in true Chuck fashion we’re treated to one of those conversations we didn’t quite get all of, just Chuck saying he’d sleep on the floor because he was feeling compromised enough with Sarah at that point. Clearly the Lou topic went downhill…
Speaking of spiraling out of control some truths are better left unspoken. Or unheard. When the entire team B loses their verbal filters there is trouble ahead. Chuck of course needs to hear the truth from Sarah, just once.
Chuck: No, wait, wait, wait. Not yet, not yet.
Sarah: Why? What’s the matter?
Chuck: Nothing, it’s just that this…will probably be the last chance
that I have to know the truth. I know you’re just doing your job here. But sometimes it feels so real, you know? So tell me…you and me, us…our thing under the undercover thing, is this ever going anywhere?
Sarah: I’m sorry, Chuck. No.
Chuck: Got it. Got it. Thank you for being honest. Even though I guess you don’t really have a choice in the matter.
Pentathol resistance aside, I don’t think Sarah is necessarily lying. Chuck didn’t ask if she had feelings for him, or if she wanted to see something happen, he asked if anything would. We know now a myriad of reasons why she’d see no future for them, from her baggage to his status as an asset and the CIA’s policy on compromised agents. This is where the relationship’s dramatic tension begins.
The Truth Shall Set You Free
Sarah: Oh, hey. I didn’t know you were coming by.
Chuck: Um… Sarah, you know when you think you’re gonna die…and your whole life is supposed to flash in front of you? That didn’t exactly happen for me yesterday. In fact, mostly it was just a list that I saw. A list of stuff that I haven’t done and things that I haven’t had a chance to say. So today…I wanna start crossing things off of my list. And this is the first thing that I promised myself that I’d do.
Chuck: We need to break up.
Chuck: You know, like, fake break up our pretend relationship. I just can’t do this anymore, you know? The longer we go, the longer we keep trying to fool people into believing that we’re a real couple the person I keep fooling the most…is me.
Chuck feels like a free man. His sister safe and his doubt erased he feels free to move on to the areas of his life he thinks he can control. First being pursue that tantalizing possibility of a new relationship now that he knows he and Sarah are never going to happen. Of course his version of real and Sarah’s reality are about to collide. There is a lot Chuck has to learn about Spies, truth and lies.
Sarah doesn’t want Chuck to be with Lou. It makes her job harder, he’s vulnerable, Lou, or her ex, could hurt him and if she’s not there she might not be able to protect him, and she needs to protect him, for the job. At least that’s what she tells Chuck, and herself. It also appears that it wounds her, though she wouldn’t admit it, that it’s so easy for them. So Sarah, either subconsciously or not, does what any competent spy whose asset isn’t listening would do, make sure the date fails spectacularly and convince him there is no future in dating civilians. The problem is that she doesn’t really offer an alternative. Well, until she does. Accidentally.
The Brutal Truth
Sarah Walker has some impulse control problems when it comes to Chuck Bartowski. (A minor version seen above. A more obvious one to the left.) No matter what she says, or believes, or tries to convince Chuck or herself, when it comes down to it, she’s in love. As we’ve seen it will take quite some time before she admits it even to herself, but that doesn’t keep her from acting on it. The jealousy, the protectiveness, and the impulse to kiss him when at last it seems nothing else will ever matter again tell the tale. Sarah Walker has fallen, hard. And Chuck knows it. But she never thought she’d have to face the consequences of what that means, let alone him knowing.
We see Chuck’s reaction…It was real, make it real. Sarah however has the luxury of a distraction to keep her, or Chuck from dealing with the fallout. For now.
Bryce Larken, You Magnificent Bastard
Oh how I loved to hate you and your clueless ways. In so many ways, so often, Bryce served as a perfect mirror to both Chuck and Sarah. For Chuck he was the guy who was willing to sacrifice almost anything to do the right thing, without Chuck’s limits or empathy. For Sarah, he was the reflection of what the spy life offered, required, and took from people. In Nemesis we see him play out everything that separates Chuck and Sarah.
“What happened to you Chuck?” Seriously? His best friend betrayed him. In Bryce’s world (and Sarah’s) such lies and betrayals are common currency. In Chuck’s they are reasons to question your self-worth.
Bryce didn’t trust Sarah, and all of a sudden she isn’t sure the smart spy move excuses that.
We finally see Chuck and Sarah moving towards each other, slowly. More on that later.
Bryce, the clueless magnificent bastard has no clue what he did to Chuck, or what has happened between Chuck and Sarah, or how deep Chuck’s resentment still runs, and a kiss in Chuck’s bedroom is enough to get Chuck spiraling. It is not a minor bit of jealousy to question what the hell is happening when the spy handler who told him she wasn’t interested, then kissed him, is making out with the guy who ruined his life, then used him as a human shield to escape. Truth, or any connection to it can be hard to find at times in this new world. Sarah’s apparent confusion and vulnerability, and Chuck witnessing them out of context doesn’t help.
Given that Chuck is prone to rash decisions.
Helping Bryce isn’t one of them.
Chuck once again shows his strength of character. He defends Bryce, offers his help, and eventually his friendship, because it’s the right thing to do, just like saving his sister was, even if it wasn’t the smart spy move.
It is a marvelous thing when you can see new aspects of the story after so many re-watches. This show never ceases to amaze me, and I never cease to find something new, or a bit more depth, or a new angle. Indulge me for a bit.
In the end, Sarah is left with a choice, two realities, only one of which is true. Bryce, or Chuck. One is simpler, known, perhaps even comfortable. Move on, take on the next role, it’s better for everyone. The other is complicated, but real. Messy. There are real feelings, real vulnerability, and real professional challenges.
So Sarah takes the easy way out.
That picture at the top is no mistake, that is the critical moment of this arc, and one of the most critical in the series. There is no mistake or misinterpretation. She’s packed. She’s leaving. All she needs is Bryce’s call and a meeting point or confirmation. It’s over.
Then Chuck calls. And everything changes.
He knows. Of course he knows. And if he doesn’t, he’ll know tomorrow. She’ll be gone, and it’ll be clear she left with Bryce. Chuck will have lost another girl to Bryce. Chuck will have lost another girl he cares deeply about to Bryce. Sarah will be the new Jill, and Bryce, who Chuck just reconciled with will be…Bryce again. Suddenly, the right play, the smart play, the spy response, isn’t the right thing to do.
She can’t do that to Chuck. In that moment, frozen between getting herself free and doing her job in the process and devastating Chuck again, becoming Jill in the process, she can’t do it. The humanity, the real girl wins out.
It’s the beginning of a long and painful journey. But in the end, the things that matter matter more than the pain.
Epilogue: The Ugly Truth
As I alluded to at the top, Crown Vic is a part of this arc, but I left it out for a specific reason. This arc deals with the truth. Crown Vic is more about denial.
Sarah’s decision, she couldn’t leave with Bryce, was about the truth. She couldn’t bring herself to do that to Chuck. But the reality she denied was that she couldn’t still be just a spy with Chuck, that she couldn’t go back and maintain some distance, go back to just his handler. That option was long gone with him, and the consequences play out, painfully, but truly, in Crown Vic.
Sarah has shown a rather ugly side of herself to Chuck, and while his affection is not extinguished, there is some trepidation about exactly who this woman is, and how deeply he wants to be involved. For now Friends will have to suffice.
Fear not, Sarah’s impulse control problems will get these crazy kids back on track.