Getting To Know Sarah
Before I begin my reader’s digest version of Cougars and DeLorean, please let me start by saying it’s been a revelation. Like many have written in comments, I too was a little – what’s the word? hesitant? unwilling? AFRAID??? to actually begin a Chuck marathon re-watch in earnest. I completely understand everyone who wrote that the finale left them not wanting to begin that journey again.
But that was wrong, and I did. So let me now recap, as quickly as I can, Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2 so that I can tell you what I learned and learned again about Agent Sarah Walker by the the time I got to Cougars.
In The Beginning…
Chuck loves Sarah, and Sarah loves Chuck. There. Quick enough for ya? 😉 Oh, of course there’s more to it, but since I had convinced myself years ago that Sarah was really hesitant about relationships and needed major convincing that Chuck was the man for her, discovering that Sarah was all-in from the beginning (and believing it this time) was a revelation.
Still, Sarah always has been a mystery. Here’s what we know.
In the course of Season 1, Chuck discovers that Sarah has secrets, most of which she must keep for his safety. He also discovers that he’s a little bit of a hero, at least in Sarah’s eyes.
Let my rephrase that. It’s Sarah who discovers that Chuck is a little bit of a hero. That’s nothing that isn’t known already to Ellie and Morgan. In fact, the entire staff of the Buy More, with the possible exception of Harry Tiberius Tang, seems to recognize that Chuck is the go-to man for anything and everything that goes on there. I absolutely loved the idea that, early on, the accomplished, cynical and glamorous spy comes to the same conclusion. Sarah realizes that Chuck has it in him to be the “go-to-man” for just about anything.
On re-watch, I learned that there was never a question Sarah fell in love with Chuck every bit as soon and every bit as hard as he fell in love with her. Despite the seeming set-backs (particularly in Truth and in the aftermath of The Kiss that we saw in Crown Vic), and despite the fact that Chuck brought an end to their (fake) relationship when he chose Lou, the two were on an unbroken upward path from the beginning. By the end of Season 1, Sarah was calling Chuck “her guy” and everybody (well, everybody but Chuck) realized their relationship, cover or no, was real. Chuck was actually dreaming about a real life – a normal life – vacationing in Europe with Sarah when he thought he might get the Intersect out of his head.
But then came the bad news. He was still and always the Intersect. Bryce made it clear to Chuck that any feelings Sarah may have for him were dangerous, dangerous enough to get her killed. For her part, Sarah didn’t care about that. What she cared about was that any feelings she might have for Chuck might get him killed. They both feared for Ellie and Morgan and Awesome. Chuck’s solution was to tear it all down in The Breakup and tell Sarah that he understood a relationship between them was impossible.
So by mutual agreement, the romance is put on hold, and that’s where we are when we get to Cougars. It’s perhaps only the second episode (the first being Undercover Lover) that isn’t centered on either Chuck or the romance, and let me assure you, the timing of this break was perfect. It was an opportunity to finally discover more about our favorite agent.
Before this, we could list on the fingers of one hand everything important we, and Chuck, knew about Sarah Walker: she was a deadly spy, she had a reputation for becoming “involved” (scare quotes intended) with her partners, she liked and participated extensively in the fast life, was intensely secretive about anything personal, and had a past. She definitely had a past.
There was some trivial stuff – She hated olives on her pizza, loved extra pickles with her hamburger and maybe, just maybe, her middle name was Lisa. Chuck didn’t distinguish between the important and the trivial, though. To him, it was all important.
Oh, there was one more important thing. When Sarah Walker had a chance to see or experience anything resembling a normal life, the agent melted into a real girl. Slowly we saw revealed that she lacked and wanted a family, but she tried to keep that a close secret. Almost despite herself, Sarah would change every time she interacted with Chuck in front of Ellie and Devon. Was that an act too? Chuck saw her do that and decided, along with us, that it was either the greatest job of acting in the world or the worst. Ellie, Devon and Morgan voted “real!” Chuck voted “acting!” So did I.
Now in Cougars, Chuck gets a chance to fill in some of the blanks when we’re introduced to a dangerous character in stereotypical Chuck fashion, complete with dangerous character theme music. There she is, a beautiful and deadly woman skulking around the Buy More, obviously checking out Agent Walker carefully.
“I know who you are,” she says. “Boo!” Oh wait, that was me. Heather Chandler, played wonderfully (and surprisingly) by Nicole Ritchie, is worse than a deadly spy. She’s Sarah’s worst nightmare from high school, the Queen Bee, complete with cheerleader outfit and royal entourage. Ten years later she’s Heather Ratner, married to a nerdy schlub who’s inadvertently involved with the Russian Mafia and way out of his depth in more ways than one. The two are on their way to a class reunion and Sarah does NOT want to go. Chuck is, of course, intrigued.
That’s almost understandable. Thanks to the magic of an amazing make-up and wardrobe department at Warner Brothers (not to mention some stellar acting), the lovely Yvonne Strahovski is transformed to an awkward, gawky teen, slump-shouldered and poorly dressed, complete with stringy hair and braces. Worse, she’s ridiculed and embarrassed in school by the fact that her father has just been imprisoned by one Agent Langston Graham. The ridicule is led by Heather and by Dick Duffy (Michael Weaver) who is one of the first to attempt to impose herself on the then timid and perhaps angry teen.
Jenny, Katie, Rebecca… What’s In A Name Anyway?
You remember (because it was unforgettable) how, thanks to Casey, Chuck plays the cool, imposing spy “Mad-dog” for Mark and leads the professional spies to the Russians who were black-mailing him. You also remember Chuck telling him, unforgettably, that “sometimes the nerd gets the girl.” And of course, the most unforgettable scene of all is Sarah fighting Heather in the shower.
Sarah: Your name has been at the top of my list of people who need a good ass-kicking!
Heather: You should’ve been suspicious of me right off. I mean, why would a girl like me ever fall in love with a dorky nerd like him?
Sarah: Uh, you’d be surprised!
Chuck and Sarah put their relationship on hold after The Break-Up, but you can be sure that the romance is not over. What we learned about Sarah Walker is that future CIA director Graham saved her father from the dangerous people he conned and recruited Sarah into the CIA himself. We learned for the first time that Sarah had used many names, Jenny Burton in San Diego, Katie O’Connell in Wisconsin, Rebecca Franko in Cleveland. These were fakes provided by her father as they traveled doing their various cons.
But her real name? Her mother? How she went from gawky teen to gorgeous spy? We don’t learn a thing. All we know is that Sarah’s skills at keeping her true thoughts to herself were honed at her father’s knee, and her strong sense of justice was her own. Besides that, not much. Chuck, however, is satisfied.
So I guess the big secret about you is that you used to be just a typical high-school student.
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. A girl I’d like to share a cheeseburger with.
And At The Buy More…
I tend to forget that the Buy More humor is one of the ingredients that makes Chuck rise above the ordinary fare shown on television. When it’s right, it provides the necessary relief from the struggles of the romance and from any predictability of the weekly adventure. In this case, the “B” plot to Cougars is one of the best; Lester (the short-reigned Ass-Man) is in charge when Big Mike takes a day to go fishing, and his new sales policy is to move tons of merchandise by essentially giving it away. Yup, it’s the old joke come to life!
Salesman: “Our prices are so low that we lose money on every sale!”
Customer: “Then how do you make a profit?”
No good can come of this. I, however will never forget the performance of Hope Shapiro, who lives for our smile as Bunny the Green-shirt. Bunny is one of the tiny, background parts that have always made Chuck just a little more special than we expected (even when we expected a lot).
If You’re Gonna Get Made, Don’t Be Afraid Of What You Learn
The second episode in which we learn more about Sarah’s early life is DeLorean, which starts in Butte, Montana in 1990. Sarah (as played by Stefanie Scott), is cute, bright, strong and confident. She’d rather go for ice cream (Rocky Road, of course) than go to the hospital for her sprained wrist.
I’m sure you remember the episode’s details (or you can see them again here).
We always think of DeLorean as one of the Sarah-centered episodes. But that’s a bit of a misconception. We do learn more about Sarah’s childhood, running cons and grifting with her father, but the truth is we learn more about Jack. He’s a master thief, a lousy father and a thoroughly charming rogue.
Don’t underestimate him, though. He’s not a complete loser – he’s got some talent. Not only does Jack have Chuck pegged right (he’s a schnook with $2200 to his name) but his daughter is in love with the guy. That’s really worrisome.
What does Sarah think about Jack, the man who taught her everything she knows about the ways of the world, the man who embarrassed her by his actions and the man who wasn’t there when she needed a father? At first, it seems that the answer is – not much.
Sarah: Chuck, you’re interpreting good intentions to him because you’re a good person.
Chuck: Well, he must have done something right. You turned out pretty good.
Let’s reserve judgment. It’s also true that, for Sarah, “No kid had as much fun as you did.”
DeLorean is not carried by it’s “B” plot, which is all about Morgan spending borrowed money for a car that will not go over 22 mph, money that Anna wants him to spend on an apartment. That’s okay. Morgan’s not ready. The car is the device by which the Sheikh Rajiv Amad (Anthony Azizi) fails to make his escape. The “B” plot is not why I love this episode.
The things that make this episode one of my all time favorites are how the stars play their roles and how they use some of the tools of their trade. Just watch how Sarah plays Ms. Applebaum, Mr. Lichtenstein’s personal secretary. It’s the hand movements and head tilts that convince you it’s no longer Agent Sarah Walker, but Agent Walker playing a perfect con. Amazing.
More impressive still is the performance of Gary Cole as Jack Burton. The veteran actor is absolutely convincing as Sarah’s dad and as a con man. It’s the twinkle Gary Cole places in Jack’s eye that makes him charming enough to con us. Better, he shows us that he approves of Chuck because Chuck has convinced him he loves his daughter and would never betray her.
Sarah still seems ambivalent about Jack’s intentions.
Sarah: If there’s anything I learned from my father, it’s be ready for disappointment. And if it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine.”
Chuck: No, it’s not… you need to know that your father’s sins are his, and not yours.
But is he really so bad? As Chuck places his jacket over Sarah’s shoulders, he looks back at Jack. In that glance we know that Chuck has learned something about the man, about Sarah and about their loyalty each other. We love the Jack because, in the end, Sarah does; she lets him escape the CIA. And so too, I think, does Chuck, even if he knows the pain Jack has caused.
The final song, Furr by Blitzen Trapper, is one of the best in the entire series. The song has always spoken to me of Jack’s origins, his spirit and, most importantly, of the lessons he wanted to impart to Sarah.
You can wear your fur
Like the river on fire.
But you better be sure
If you’re makin’ God a liar.
I’m a rattlesnake, babe,
I’m like fuel on fire.
So if you’re gonna’ get made,
Don’t be afraid of what you’ve learned.
Furr – Blitzen-Trapper
After Cougars and DeLorean it seems to me that Sarah is afraid of her growing love for Chuck. It’s dangerous and it’s already changed her. She’s going to be revealed, she’s going to get made. We know that, at the very least she is going to reveal herself to Chuck (and to us) soon and at this point in the story we could hardly wait for it to happen.
Despite myself and my hesitance to start a re-watch, I have to admit… it is still an amazing story. It still makes me happy.