One of the consistent themes of Chuck has been the hostility between the spy world and the real world — the threat of the spy world to Chuck’s real/normal world. The Intersect opened a portal between the two worlds in the pilot. Then on the beach, a feasibility experiment began in which the two incompatible worlds would be made to coexist. “You go back to your own life. We’ll protect you, and you’ll work with us. Tell your friends and family nothing to keep them safe.”
In the finale, the feasibility experiment ends where it began, on the beach. The portal is finally closed, and Chuck and Sarah emerge victorious, though not unscathed, into the singular existence of a normal life.
That experiment between the beaches produced my favorite TV show of all time. In the balance of the two worlds, Chuck gave us two journeys and a love story that surpasses any other. (Maybe that’s just me gushing about my favorite show … but you’re still here, too ;)) As the spy journeyed toward normalcy and the regular guy toward heroism, they fell in love and built their own world, a delicate balance of the spy world and the normal world.
The more the series and their love story progressed, the higher the stakes and, therefore, the greater the threats to Chuck and Sarah’s world. In Marlin the CIA threatened to separate Chuck from his family and friends (and from Sarah). In Ring, Chuck’s spy life wrecked Ellie’s wedding, and the portal between the two worlds seemed to be closing, threatening to separate Chuck and Sarah by sending them back to their respective worlds. In S3, the spy world threatened to separate Chuck from himself, and therefore, Sarah from the man she loved. In S4, for a time, the balance held, until the spy world threatened to separate Sarah from Chuck, as it had his parents, through a mission to bring down Alexei Volkoff. After another period of relative peace and pre-wedding bliss, the spy life threatened to separate Chuck and Sarah through death on the eve of their wedding.
Season 5 gives us another golden period and sets the stage for the final threat — and the cruelest separation of all — to Chuck and Sarah and the life they are trying to build.
During this golden period, as newly weds, Chuck and Sarah begin to dream about their future. Four episodes in particular entice them away from the spy life, toward a normal life: Business Trip, Baby, Kept Man, and Bo. Join Faith and me as we look at this Dream/Normal Arc.
Golden Period, indeed. Bookended by both beach scenes, we experienced a love story, a journey and an awakening. Sure, for a time the spy world and the real world could co-exist but it, like Chuck and Sarah’s “fake” relationship, was like their first kiss, a ticking time bomb. It was always going to come to a head, and in the end all we could hope for is that our two heroes would find their way, together. And they did, but before time started counting down, we got to experience a little “Happily happy ever after.” I’ve said it once, said it a thousand times, there’s an intimacy, a trust and a chemistry between Chuck and Sarah in this “Future Dream Arc” that is unrivaled and quite frankly addictive (and I don’t just mean #SexyTimes!). It’s more than just the tease that was their sizzling chemistry in season 2, or the pure joy of Honeymooners and season 4, but beyond what we have experienced before and yet secretly wished for. There’s a sense of realism, a speckle of truth, and for Sarah, an uncharted but welcome destination.
We begin with Business Trip. If I were to recommend a single episode from season 5, Business Trip would be it. Not just because of the scorching bomb-defusing scene (these guys sure do know a myriad of ways to defuse a bomb!) but because it illustrates best how far Chuck and Sarah have come as a couple. There’s no anxiety, no tension and no uncertainty between them. Instead we get Chuck and Sarah wading in the pool, in that playful way couples do; we get #SexyTimes, albeit interrupted by Beckman! (Duck!); we get Chuck and Sarah contemplating a safer future for their future family; we get Sarah wanting a non-spy friend; and we get Chuck without the hand wringing doing what needs to be done.
A far cry from, “I don’t really have anyone in my life who…cares about me” (Best Friend). Now we have Sarah more open and more vulnerable with, “Chuck and I have been a little sad that we aren’t normal people. I’ve been having a hard time with the fact that I have no real friends. But I look around here, and all of you today and I realize that because of Chuck, I do. Nobody in the world is closer than we all are so thank you.”
Yes! You can’t help falling in love with this couple. Of course we already were, but … wow. The growth is stunning. And I would agree, that as a single episode, Business Trip showcases it best. The other episodes in this arc just keep adding to it. I love the Chuck and Sarah vibe of S5, the intimacy, trust, and chemistry, as Faith so aptly described it. And of course love. S5 contains my favorite CS moments amongst many such moments to choose from throughout the series.
Normal is kind of the theme that runs through this whole episode, with Morgan back to normal, Jeff(!) back to normal, the (sort of) normal Buymorons, and Ellie and Devon the normal couple they’ve always been. Amidst all that normal, Business Trip sets up the Bartowskis’ first serious longing for a normal life: Sarah’s enchantment with the Mommy and Me class; her voicing the twenty thousand dollar question, “Do you want to not be spying;” and their general enamoredness with normal at the Buymore convention.
The montage at the end is one of the most powerful scenes of the series. It contrasts the warmth and color of normal life with the cold and gray of the spy life. Within the walls of casa Bartowski, our favorite extended family gather to share a meal, with laughter and open conversation about their day. On the other side of town assassins gather to plot their demise, and Casey does what he has to do to protect the family.
The montage hands down the final judgment on the feasibility of the golden experiment between the beaches. These two worlds can’t really co-exist. Eventually you either shut out the spy world, or you get shut out in it, and it destroys you. Until Chuck and Sarah close the portal for good, the spy life will always threaten their real life, like the mournful strains that haunt the joyful gathering at the end of Business Trip.
Well, that sounds sort of depressing, but the tension between their worlds has been there all along. It’s just that now they have more to lose. However, the episodes in this Dream Arc are joyful, fun episodes. Until the final showdown, we get to watch Chuck and Sarah romancing normal (and each other) and planning their dream. Which, as you all know, I firmly believe they ultimately live to the fullest!
Speaking of, within the family dinner (love!), there’s an interesting juxtaposition between her words, her sentiment and the underlying menace that is the spy life and what Casey (and by extension Sarah) just did to protect it. The look between Baldwin and Strahovski says it all. Even in this, the future dream arc, there are sinister clouds threatening.
Off to Baby. Baby is a bit more of a minefield compared to the rest of the episodes within this arc. While I’m not going to rehash all the inconsistencies, or perceived inconsistencies, I do acknowledge them. Still, I’ll focus on the intent behind the episode: namely what the past has to do with the future.
Sarah’s mom has been one of those holes in the story that we have always wanted filled. Apart from the brilliance in casting in this one, it’s just a kick to see Sarah with a baby. I’ve long since wanted Chuck and Sarah to have to babysit a baby and see their familial interaction with it. Well, wish granted. We get a glimpse of what Sarah would be as a mother: protective, fierce and loving. It’s an extension to what she showed us with Chuck in the early years but far more fierce. And as a bonus, we get a glimpse of their future “home,” with them in it.
Chuck: “What would my life be like in this amazing home, with the most dashing man I’ve ever met?” Indescribable.
It’s amazing to think that it wasn’t that long ago that Chuck solemnly exclaimed in Suburbs: “It was so close to being perfect, the way I had always pictured it would be that I realized what was wrong with that picture and it was us. Sarah and I are never going to be anything more than what we are right now.” Now he’s living the dream and Sarah, well…
Sarah’s right there with him: “I want this house, I want the life that you had envisioned for us, I want every single part of it.” TBD. “I really want the life you imagined for us [Chuck]. But if we go back to the CIA it’ll be secrets and missions that we have no control. I gave my life to the CIA for a really long time, and I chose it over my family and my friends and that was the right thing for me to do at the time but I’m different now. Things have changed. You’ve changed me. I don’t want to go back.”
Baby is probably my favorite of S5 and one of my favorites of the series. So rich, so many things to love. There’s no way to cover them all, but like Faith, I absolutely love the glimpses of maternal Sarah (love it when she reassures the baby, it’ll be okay, just before she descends the steps spraying the air with machine gun fire) and the Bartowskis in their home together.
The episode, even though it wasn’t even a little gray cell in the Schwedak brain when the pilot was written, sheds some light on Sarah’s mindset in her early Burbank days.
In Budapest, Sarah walked from a dining room full of dead people into a nursery with stuffed animals and a crying baby … another portal between the spy world — darkness, danger, deceit — and the real world — innocence. I love the look on her face. Confusion. Wait a minute. Babies don’t belong in the spy world.
Quite unexpectedly, that mission brought her face to face with normal life, the life that every little girl deserves. The life she insured for the baby. The life she had unwittingly forfeited, when she chose to go with her dad. The life she came to value but felt that she would never have.
… And the life she fell into, when she walked into the Burbank Buymore to deal with a very bad man in possession of government secrets, only to encounter a regular guy, who took the time to rescue a desperate father and his ballerina daughter. There she encountered another innocent who got sucked into the spy world, when someone else opened the portal. Her brush with normal in the baby mission strengthened her resolve to preserve Chuck Bartowski’s normal life, never imagining that she would one day be a part of it.
Her present day revisiting of the Baby Mission, and finishing it for good, strengthens her resolve to leave that world behind and live the life she deserves … a normal one. It’s time. She and Chuck need to get out of the spy life. So they carve their initials and lay claim to their house, their dream, and their future.
I’m not as convinced as Thinkling in the congruence of the plots but I do recognize the message. We’ve long since delved into Sarah Walker’s character: she’s complex. She is, as we saw in Business Trip, the best; a chameleon, albeit at times cold-blooded at that. She is a world-class spy to the very definition and in Baby, kick ass to boot. But she’s also got the same qualities we see in Chuck: heart. The same Sarah Walker that saved a baby, the same Sarah Walker that overlooked a by-the-book-mission and dared to see inside Chuck, is the same Sarah Walker that we see as Mrs. Bartowski today. It’s among my biggest problems with “piece of Cake,” in Nacho Sampler. Yes she is good at following orders, it’s among the things that illustrated her growing attraction to Chuck (catapulting into committing treason for him) but she was never above questioning those orders. Difference being, before she was alone, an island. If and when she would disobey orders, it becomes an all or nothing proposition. No longer. In fact that was one of the thematic elements they tried to stress within Baby and beyond. And that aspect, that connection–the fact that she’s no longer alone, makes a difference in her life and in her [immediate] future. Which of course culminated in the finale.
So it’s interesting to me that their decision to leave the spy life altogether becomes its own all or nothing proposition. She’s right though, they can only coast in having it all for so long. Sooner or later danger (and that aforementioned ticking time bomb) comes calling. Still it’s nice that for a time we got to imagine them in that house, with that life. Picnics, candles, romance. A fantastic and totally underrated glimpse into the future.
I’ll pop back into Chuck Versus the Baby one last time for a couple of random comparisons with the Chuck and Sarah of old, like Sarah’s honesty when Chuck asked what she was going to do once she found Ryker, “I’m going to kill him, Chuck.” I shouldn’t have loved that as much as I did, but it was just so honest, and so right … for something so wrong. Chuck worried, but he didn’t freak out or have nightmares over it. I couldn’t help thinking how far they’ve come from Mauser. I’d say that’s a real indication of trust … not for most couples, but for Chuck and Sarah …
There were also a couple of moments I especially loved about the dinner (besides all of it). I love the scene of Chuck and Sarah at the head of their table with their family gathered round. I think of all the dinners in that apartment when Ellie and Devon were the grown ups, so to speak. Now it’s Chuck and Sarah’s place. They are all grown up and hosting their own party. I love imagining all of the future Bartowski family dinners that Chuck and Sarah will host in their home for years to come.
The other glimpse is of Sarah Bartowski, not with a baby, but with Molly. She looks so pleased to go sit with Molly. She is relaxed and very much herself. She doesn’t have to rely on her handler skills to relate to people anymore. It’s just Sarah with a little girl, talking about a stuffed dog and laughing over a card trick. These are priceless moments that give us a glimpse of what the future holds for Chuck and Sarah.
Now, thoughts of children and babies actually bring us to another aspect of married life, which is babies and children. Kept Man gives us another wish fulfillment: Sarah pregnant, or thinking she might be.
I’ll just say right off the bat that I wasn’t fond of Chuck’s exaggerated Care Guru persona. I found it unappealing and a little off for his character. Something more subtle would have worked better for me. Other than that one caveat, I really liked the whole faux pregnancy with Sarah’s rather obvious signals and Chuck’s cluelessness. I thought it was realistic, humorous (minus the aforementioned care hyperbole), and sweet. There’s something very intimate about a couple sitting in the bathroom together watching their first EPT. And trying to figure out the instructions was so Chuck and Sarah. And then, it’s just really hard to beat Sarah sitting at a computer, picking out baby names, and confessing that part of her was hoping she was pregnant. This from a woman who, little more than a year ago, pummeled Casey to the mat over the mere thought of children. Either way, Sarah knows that babies and the spy life don’t go together.
Since this is the future dream arc, with a glimpse into that future allow me this simple digression: what would Sarah Walker-Bartowski be like as a mom?
I think we saw a bit of it, Mama Bear. But more than that I think she’s going to be a neurotic mom. She’s going to need Chuck every step of the way because so much of it is uncharted territory for her. Chuck at least imagined someday having a normal life and his own family but Sarah? Never. I can see her going postal when preschool playmate Danny messes with her little Lindsay in the playground sandbox. I’d be concerned about her going all stealth and spy-ish but it’s ingrained in her DNA. Needless to say, Mommy Sarah would have been a hoot. “Someday.” (Side note: we should have known that the future wasn’t going to be as smooth sailing, or would come as quick as we’d have hoped. There’s foreshadowing in that line, and in that “Someday”/carving scene).
I do agree with Thinkling though that the fake pregnancy was lovely. Yet another one of my wish lists item granted. To be honest the thing that stands out to me most in Kept Man wasn’t the pregnancy bit, but Gertrude. I’m an unabashed Gertrude Verbanski fan and in this one she shined. None more so than in a banana hammock request that was so wrong that it was so right. But as this is the future dream arc, I’ll try to stick to the topic at hand.
It wasn’t that long ago that both Chuck and Sarah, while looking at Clara with the family in Seduction Impossible freaked out at every little change [related to their wedding]. Now we have them freaking out about something else altogether: a baby of their own. I loved the “I wore my seatbelt line.” It is so Sarah to be protective and yet so fierce. She deserves to be a mom and a bit of all of these future tidbits is pure wish fulfillment (our wish for her). She wants it so much, and we can’t help but want it just as much for her. For that alone, Kept Man was worth seeing.
Still in the end, I was happy that she wasn’t really pregnant (yet). They weren’t ready and that ever-present spy world looms ahead. That said it was great to see an advanced preview of how they’d react when the time was right.
Oh, yeah. I loved the innocent seatbelt line, together with the horrified looks from the rest of TeamB. And I’ve always had fun imagining Sarah the mom. How I would love to see that! Meanwhile, though, we get Sarah tromping through the woods toward impending spy danger and worrying about their kids … yeah, the ones they don’t have yet … and the almost inevitable possibility that one day their kids’ parents won’t come home.
Just getting out of the CIA isn’t good enough.
She wants to quit spying.
In fact, it’s keeping her up nights. And it makes her go to the door fully armed to get the paper. As it turns out such precautions were unnecessary … this time. Chuck isn’t so lucky when he collects the paper a few days later.
I loved everything about the opening scene when Sarah blurts out what’s bothering her (no need to workshop it with the punching bag first), then just spills her plan. Our girl knows what she wants, and she’s going after it. This is another part of the stunning Bartowski package. Chuck gives Sarah the freedom to dream and desire. She is a full partner in building their dream, and she has really blossomed in this newfound freedom.
I would categorize it more than freedom (which it is), but confidence. With Chuck there is a safety net for all her hopes and dreams so in atypical Walker, she acts and plans and lives [a full life]. We get a bit of advanced preview of Sarah being proactive (seen fully in the finale) in Bo and it is enticing.
So quit the spy life, security Internet firm, changes. While I’m sure bad guys everywhere will miss the skimpy outfits, the future bun in the oven will be secret-service safe and that’s all that matters. I have to admit, I found all the changes and the ease at which it is decided unsettling. I guess I expected and desired a more Tooth-esque hand wringing with every step of this marriage but this isn’t the Chuck and Sarah of old. After the wedding, everything was just clearer, easier, more loving. They have grown out of their single insecurities and have become secure both as an individual and as part of a couple. That will serve them well in the rough times ahead. Especially Chuck.
The only caveat is Casey. It becomes obvious as the episodes progress that John Casey has a different, separate future from our favorite couple but no less loving. I can no more imagine him being chief google-r than he can see himself as the third wheel in the security firm. But thankfully Gertrude is waiting in the wings, or so we discover.
As an aside, not having been a teenage boy in the 70s, I didn’t really understand the appeal of Bo Derek as stunt casting here, though I did enjoy a laugh at Sarah teasing Chuck. Plus a reminder of Morgansect wasn’t welcome to begin with so as a whole this episode ranked lowest of the four in my estimation. Still it was interesting to contrast guinea pig Morgan and his transformation and reformation to what will be the biggest damage the intersect will have wrought in the series. And a good reminder that alls well that ends well (if you have faith).
Sigh (in a good way). It is the non-Tooth-esque-ness of S5 that I have loved the most. It makes sense to me. The closer Chuck and Sarah got to marriage, the more secure they became, and that’s as it should be. I love the married couple they became, and I certainly agree with Faith that it will be an anchor for them in the coming storm.
With Chuck there is a safety net for all her hopes and dreams so in atypical Walker fashion, she acts and plans and lives [a full life]. We get a bit of advanced preview of Sarah being proactive (as seen fully in the finale) in Bo and it is enticing.
I really like that, so I’ll run with it a bit, because this atypical Sarah Walker has become the typical Sarah Bartowski. Beginning at the beginning of this arc (or even in Zoom or the end of Cliffhanger!) Sarah has embraced and pursued her normal, married life with Chuck. Her growth in S4 was breathtaking, and it was only the beginning … the foundation or the launch pad for beautiful things to come. From there Sarah progressed from being comfortable to being proactive in normal life. She was a great spy and very proactive in her field. But she has wanted more than the spy life for a long time: since she was a little girl (as per the dream house reveal from Zoom and the tears of regret in Baby); since she asked Casey if he ever wanted a family and children (Crown Vic); since she asked Carina if she ever thought about a different life (Three Words). And now she has found that life and become quite comfortable loving and being loved, thinking about the whole package with Chuck: the dream house with the family doorframe, a safer life … and maybe babies. It’s not too surprising that she would be proactive in normal life, too. And it’s just been a real kick to watch.
Besides being so delightful to watch all season, Faith mentioned this Sarah as a preview of the Sarah we see in the finale. I agree (I think). I’ll say it this way. We often speak of things as gone but not forgotten. Soon, Sarah Bartowski will be forgotten but not gone. That is, even though Sarah will have forgotten who she is, underneath what she thinks she knows, she will still be who she really is … and Chuck will still be her safety net.
As she is his. This enables him to be her husband during the most difficult time of his life. Though he might be tempted, in fact anxious to fight, yell and scream, he recognized that’s not his role, that’s not what she needed. He’s been her husband, her anchor and her safety net long enough to recognize that. This future dream arc ushered the door into that Chuck: the Chuck that would be there for her without strings, without questions, without angst and just be what she needed, what he has been for her in these past few years and most notably in this future dream arc. “You’re my home Chuck, you always have been.” In that same vein, Sarah is empowered to trust, to dream, to wish. To feel devoid of that which she embraced and relished in this future dream arc because Chuck has given her freedom, even if she doesn’t recognize it or him.
With that we go full-circle. The future dream arc isn’t a mirage per say, but it isn’t tangible, not yet. It’s the building blocks to what they will be; who they have become to better live the life they’re destined for. As this is a story, it is lived in stages: first you walk through the sand, then you dip your toe in the ocean, then you put in your whole feet and then you jump right in. For Chuck and Sarah this advanced preview is like that warm but comfortable feeling that you feel with your toes in the sand as you get closer to the water. It is TPTB’s blatantly obvious narrative as to where the story is headed. We can choose to ignore it, or we can embrace it…much like the beach metaphors (heh). But Chuck and Sarah have a pre-set destination, and this future dream arc is just that, a future. Provided of course they survive the next arc (pum pum purum! I kid, we all know that I have no doubt that they do, together).
In the meantime, it’s tantalizing. It’s tantalizing to see the future dream house, the maybe babies and the growth and the intimacy between Chuck and Sarah. It is something to be treasured. Even beyond the promise, on its own it’s utterly charming and entertaining.
Hold those lovely thoughts for just a beat longer.
Our heroes are in the home stretch, with their eye on their dream. I mean the champagne is chilling, and they have an appointment with a realtor. But they let the bad guy get away, and he slipped back through the portal and seriously interrupted their dream.
And I was so into that dream. Cheshire grin and all. I loved the whole package throughout the arc, starting with the family dinner in Business Trip. I reveled in the family times and the love and laughter, but I heard the haunting melody, and I saw the cold, gray world that threatened the dream. Tum da dum tum tum.
The final scene in Bo is the bookend to the final scene of Business Trip, only without the warm fuzzy part. Casey and Sarah go into the breach again to fight for their family. The cold and gray of the warehouse are all too familiar. Enter 20 or so bad guys with machine guns; cue the foreboding music … and all of a sudden it’s feels a lot like the Alamo. (Awesome use of music in both of these scenes.)
Sarah does the only thing she can do to survive. She uploads the buggy Intersect. It is a huge gamble, but everything is on the line. The Intersect, the thing that started everything, is the one thing that has the power to save the dream … or destroy it. Which will it be?
Faith told us (and I dedicated an entire post to it). TPTB spent this entire arc (and season) showing us where the story is headed, painting Chuck and Sarah’s future. They do indeed have a preset destination, and just to make sure we remember that future and hold on to it, they show us again on the Bullet Train. Though the scene in the bullet train compartment is technically part of the final arc, it is actually a recap and a reminder of all that we’ve seen in this future dream arc: a husband and wife enjoying their marriage, its friendship and its passion — a couple pursuing the dream that’s so close they can taste it. This is the most intimate scene of the series, and appropriately so. It is our last glimpse into that future. The drawing is the guardian of the dream and the promise that Chuck and Sarah will reach their final destination.
I know some would have preferred a more unequivocally happy ending (like me, for instance), one that required less … faith. Nonetheless, the future dream arc is the promise of all they hope for and the substance of their future, yet to be seen.
~Thinkling and Faith