The first two seasons of Chuck united and inspired fans with diverse taste and interests. It also presented many intriguing possibilities and “what ifs”. Many of those possibilities were resolved, many others were left in the dust as the story surged forward.
What of those possibilities never taken? Could some of them have generated fun, different stories? After the jump, we’ll discuss all the might have beens we can think of, and look at fan fiction that was inspired by this period of the show.
Just this last week we had a discussion on our Pilot (1.01) thread about a “What if” that’s completely organic to the show; what if the character Kayla Hart had been left in the show? For those who don’t know, Kayla was in the original script of Chuck. She was the “normal” neighbor girl that Chuck had a crush on. She was also a bit of a mess. I have to imagine (hope!) that as Chuck had grown he would have left Kayla behind anyway. Although I almost wonder if the original inclusion of this character had been a sort of professional hedge by the writers, as in: “let’s see which character connects better and that’s the one we’ll stick with”. My guess is probably not. I have to believe the idea was for Sarah to represent growth, initiative and adulthood for Chuck; while Kayla was more stagnation, hopelessness and/or childhood. So Chuck presumably would grown into Sarah and left Kayla behind, in time. I’m glad they didn’t do this! The show was too much of a soap opera for me at times anyway, this sounds truly dreadful. For more on Kayla check out the “Chuck Wiki“.
Another foundational sort of “what if” I remember coming up during our Season Three discussions here related to the show’s wt/wt game. After acknowledging the only way of ending wt/wt was in a positive way (well almost, I remember some casual viewer friends of mine speculating Yvonne was leaving the show and Sarah was being deliberately marginalized in Season Three. But I mean a negative event in the wt/wt only means the process continues. Ending wt/wt means a positive outcome), we discussed the idea that wt/wt could have been avoided from the very start if Sarah had been a male agent, and the show was more a sort of buddy story. Honestly I think that could have worked, it might have even been an excellent show and a good time; but I think it never would have had the emotional hook we saw. And once Yvonne was cast as Sarah there was no way reducing the romance could work.
Another variation on this theme I can think of is the exact opposite, make Chuck and Sarah a real couple immediately. Maybe even before the Intersect part of the story starts. So Sarah is assigned to investigate her own new boyfriend, who bosses don’t even know about yet. Obviously this could be played for all kinds of distrust and suspicion issues I would have hated; or it could have been a lighter, low angst version of the show we loved. I can imagine this being a ton of fun, but as more comedy and romance, less drama. That also might have meant less enduring and inspiring; sort of Chuck-lite.
All this is set-up sort of stuff. We could go on at length and explore countless variations, and we will get to a few more of these in the fan fiction part of this post. But I think more interesting yet are the wide range of possibilities that came up over the course of the first two seasons that were either skipped over or only briefly explored. Let’s start with the bunker option. On the show, this was more threat than reality. It did lead to the excellent end scene of First Kill and life on the run together in Colonel. It might have been interesting if Chuck actually had been bunkered at some point, and Sarah had to devise a rescue plan. Whether that meant changing the orders, or an actual escape and life on the lam. But this would have lead to a very Sarah centered story-line that I think never interested the show runners much. If it led to life on the run for any length of time, it also would have led to a very different sort of show. It might have also been a lot of fun, but I have to imagine it would have meant less Buy More, less Morgan, less Ellie and Devon. Casey’s story still might have been large in the role of Gerard. Not all bad things! But probably more reinvention than anyone wanted to do.
A closely related “what if” is the kill order. Obviously I’m not willing to consider it ever succeeding! I’ve also seen such dark variations as Sarah getting the kill order and even carrying it out. No doubt I find that grotesque and unworthy of serious consideration. But I can think of variations on it that could have been fun. Starting with Sarah catching wind of it and, gee, another life on the run story… Some possible interesting twists, Casey tipping Sarah that she needed to run with Chuck. Or even Casey and/or Sarah preparing, training Chuck for this eventuality, there is a fun fan fiction I’ll get to later on this. If this happens early enough I can imagine Chuck running from both Sarah and Casey. Again, some excellent fan fiction along these lines. Obviously this be quite a bit darker if the government tries to leverage those Chuck left behind. I’m not sure if this could have worked; it presents a similar situation to the bunker order, with some darker undertones.
I also think I would have liked making a bigger thing of Chuck’s computer skills sooner. They actually did tease what he was capable of all along, starting with the respect he had from the Nerd Herd. Then the “Bartowski Special” aimed at Atari, and hacking an unhackable Fulcrum chip in Beefcake and I think its not hard to imagine the government recognizing and taking advantage of his innate skill set. So instead of just “the Intersect” maybe Chuck could be valued for he can do. Or maybe only Sarah recognizes it? Maybe Casey too? But Beckman refuses to consider how much her crack team profits from Chuck, not just the Intersect. Now that could have been a fun twist. I honestly think I would have preferred this to the 2.0 and full agent route they took in Season Three.
Another obvious variable to me is “who knows what, when?” Ellie is the big deal, although Morgan could have been important too. I always liked the idea of something big and dangerous happening on a cover date with Ellie and Devon that lead to Chuck and Sarah’s secrets being exposed. This is another of those things though that relates to me being more interested in Sarah than the show runners were. Because I would have never considered Chuck’s secrets coming out without Sarah being front and center in it. I think Devon’s revelation was the most perfect of the series, and I wanted Ellie to see something more like that. It’s not a huge thing, but I would have liked if Ellie saw Sarah first, then Chuck. Of course I’d be fine with it if that didn’t happen until after Chuck and Sarah were married (“is my sister-in-law really going to argue with three armed muggers?”). But this is the sort of thing I would likely be constructing dozens of alternate scenarios no matter how they accomplished it.
The most obvious thing to manipulate is the timing of the Chuck/Sarah romance. I have no major complaints about the wt/wt game through Season Two. I think it truly needed to end there, but of course that’s a discussion we had in our Season Three Alternatives posts so I won’t belabor it here. But having “no major complaints” is not quite the same as saying I can’t imagine doing things a little differently. Given that I completely believe Sarah when she claimed to have fallen for Chuck at the very beginning, I can easily imagine any number of points in the story when things might have happened a little faster. That would have led to a very different story dynamic. But I think I can start by saying I believe that Chuck and Sarah could have “gotten away with” almost any behavior they wanted to by presenting it as cover, or Sarah keeping Chuck motivated and cooperative. I don’t I want them to be too sleazy about it, but the show did try to have it both ways sometimes. It was suggested a few times that Sarah might have to seduce a mark (Lon Kirk, Cole Barker), yet apparently she could never seduce Chuck. The real issue between Sarah and her employers, what “compromised” actually means, is where do her loyalties lie? So on a practical level, what Chuck and Sarah do together in private wouldn’t necessarily draw any attention unless it impacted a mission or there was some reason to think she couldn’t be trusted to have the government’s best interests as her primary duty. Both of those issues could have provided plenty of tension as a really involved Chuck and Sarah try to do their job without raising suspicions from Graham or Beckman. I don’t know exactly how these things work, I’m going to guess something like the “49B” does exist, at least to say I’m sure real agents’ loyalty is tested/evaluated on occasion.
I’m not trying to use reality as a standard to measure Chuck against. I’m just trying to make the bigger point that the whole “compromise” and “under the cover” part of the story could have been handled very differently and still been both believable and exciting. This is sort of the essence of the “secret relationship” angle that’s been mentioned so many times. I think its really a shame, a waste of an opportunity, that Chuck never played around with this idea. But I’m not overly concerned about it for these first few seasons beyond saying it could have worked.
I’m not the most creative person in this fandom, not by a long shot. These are most of the things I like mulling over that could be twisted around to make different fun stories. Many fan fiction writers explored this same period of the show, and played around with these same variables (and many others!). I have a large number of titles I’ll be mentioning and linking here. So, as always for these posts, I’m not going to try to do a full review, but rather just mention how the story breaks from canon and what might be most interesting about it. Another thing to keep in mind with some of these earlier stories, when they were written can have a major impact on what the writer knew about canon while they were working on it. Therefore I will mention the time period when the story was written when it seems appropriate. And I’ll be sorting this list a little differently than in the past; by oldest first.
First up is a very simple one-shot; “Everything in Boxes” by Modern Physics looks at how the mission could have ended early. Sort of the minimum angst ending. If the show ended after Season One.
“Chuck vs The Man in Black” by mxpw considers “what if” Chuck was seriously hurt on a mission. This is still in a very early period of cover dating, and Ellie knowing nothing.
“Sarah vs The Long Flight” by Go-Chuck-Go explores a very interesting possibility. After Chuck over-hears Casey and Sarah getting a kill order on him, he runs. This story is more angst filled than I normally prefer, but it remains one of my very favorites because of its greater themes. Chuck has trouble believing that Sarah would have never obeyed that order; but Sarah has to find Chuck before she can prove herself. The “Long Flight” itself is brilliant, inspired. This is an early classic for Chuck.
“Hammock Dreams Turn White with the Sun” by Brickroad16 is another kill order story. But this time Sarah is hurt while helping Chuck escape, which leads to a fair amount of drama! Although this story says the Intersect project has been going for three years, it was actually written after S1, so the writer has a non-canon look at Sarah’s background.
“Sarah vs Green Bay” by Moe32 is a little more understated with the kill order. Even with one never given, Chuck and Sarah both come to realize how the mission must end and take action. Another non-canon Sarah back story, that is really terrific. I’ve recommended this story before, always with the comment “I love this ending!”
“Twenty Years Later” by LeeCan is the sort of story that only works with a very short Intersect mission. It is more melancholy in tone than I would normally recommend. But if we assume the Intersect project only lasted a year or so, and Sarah actually took a reassignment, I’ll buy this outcome.
“One More Chance” by Go-Chuck-Go is another reassignment story. And Sarah is full of regrets.
“Chuck vs Fulcrum” by ne71 has more spy story to it than most of what I’ve been listing. After Sarah is kidnapped, how far will Chuck go to get her back? Keep in mind, this is an early Chuck in an asset/handler relationship only. Fun story. The writer was considering work on a sequel just this last summer, but nothing yet.
“Only Two Options” by LeeCan looks a lot at Sarah’s background and growth. Another post S1 story that makes non-canon assumptions about Sarah’s background. But its so much fun when Sarah is given a mission to go to her parent’s home, with her asset in tow…
“Sarah vs The Second First Date” by Course Jester is a very appealing story that starts with Sarah trying to cheer up Chuck. It leads to a serious talk about big issues from very early S2.
“Sarah’s Tale” by ne71 is an amusing story Sarah tries to tell at a party when she feels Chuck is being disrespected by those who are supposed to be close to him. Unfortunately Sarah’s not a great story teller… and most of its classified…
“Chuck vs Life” by Marybr was started, and is set very early. Starting over Christmas 2007 (S1). So don’t be too shocked that I picked one with a love triangle; its very early, and the story actually goes somewhere, far more quickly than the series did!
“Chuck vs LA Traffic” by ciam4527 is set in the immediate aftermath of the Mauser shooting. It addresses things for more decisively than the show.
“Chuck vs The Funeral of Sarah Walker” by Mystlynx is a reassignment story. It will seem very dark at first, but I love the end. I wish there had been a second chapter, because I’m positive that someday Ellie will figure it out…
“Chuck vs The Demon” by Mystlynx could almost be a S2 episode. But it would be a pretty big episode!
“Chuck vs The Campaign” by Ersk4 is the best sort of pure fluff piece. Set during S2, except that Sarah is ordered to move in with Chuck in the aftermath of Jill. And Sarah decides she has her own sub-mission.
“Chuck vs A Normal Life” and “Chuck vs The Decision” by Timewalker05 are two parts of the same story. This is an alternate Season Two story that I don’t want to say anything for fear of giving too much away! But read them both, tons of fun.
“Chuck versus the Bunker” by Timewalker05 is, well, a bunker story. It always strikes me as a pretty plausible outcome of an actual bunker order.
“Chuck Vs The Good, Normal and Wonderful Life” by ersk4 will seem like a complete AU at first. But really, its a mid S2 story. You’ll see.
“A Day with Sarah” by mysoapbox is an odd thing, its an S2 friendship story. As a firm believer that friendship and romance are closely linked, I like this one a lot!
“Chuck vs Treason” by Altonish is a one-shot “what comes next” from the end of First Kill. It was written in that week before Colonel, so it is completely unspoiled by canon.
“Sarah vs The Debriefing” by Altonish is more than just a naughty pun. It is a couple of missing scenes from the end of Colonel that would have likely led to different S3.
“Chuck Vs The Truth” by OldDarth adds a useful conversation to the end of Ring. Yet another way to avoid the S3 silliness…
“Chuck Vs The Reassignment” and “Chuck Vs The Captain” by kroblues are two parts of a reassignment story. There was third installment started, but never finished. So it will leave you hanging at odd place. But what’s done is a lot of fun, one my favorite takes on the reassignment option.
“Seven Times” by brickroad16 looks closely at the “cover” relationship and considers its growth.
“Sacrifice” by Cindy Ryan is an alternate end to Best Friend. Another one that starts pretty dark before getting to a terrific ending.
“Chuck Versus the Buy More Bomber” by Timewalker05 is a longer Season Two adventure. And one the few to include Moses Finkelstein as a character.
“Chuck vs the Super Spy” by ersk4 is another bunker story. It also does a great job of showing what Chuck can bring to the team even without the Intersect.
“Chuck vs The Negotiation” by BillAtWork explores several of my favorite themes with a secret marriage, Ellie getting read in, a kill order and life on the run. Lot’s of good stuff!
“Superpowers and Superspies” by brickroad16 starts a real romance in mid-S2. It starts with some serious Bryce generated drama, but ends with a couple chapters of good natured fluff.
“Finally” by Aardvark7734 has the Intersect mission ending mid-S2.
“Chuck & Sarah vs a Different Beginning” by CostasTT has Chuck and Sarah meet pre-series and start dating before the Pilot. This leads to a sequel “Chuck and Sarah vs After The Different Beginning” that follows the series through Season Three.
“Sarah vs The Fan Fiction” by Doc in Oz is wild humor and satire. It is set mid-S2, and has Chuck and Sarah co-writing fan fiction for a TV show called “Sam” (accidental meta-humor) about a secret agent and her asset. The story has several sequels, that I’ll leave to the individual reader to track down (through the author’s home page).
“Sarah vs Covers, Lies and Ticking Time Bombs” by KateMcK is an S1 alternate. In Kate’s signature style, she starts close to canon, but with a few key changes ends up in a very different place.
“Chuck vs the Jill Ride” by ersk4 is a mid-S2 life on the run story. But with a different twist; when an information exchange goes sideways, Chuck, Sarah AND Jill find themselves on the run from the CIA.
“Chuck vs Therapy ReMastered” by BillAtWork is a S1 story. Sarah has a breakdown on a mission and is ordered into CIA sanctioned therapy. Its another very different backstory for Sarah.
“Enjoy the rest of your life, Chuck” by Doc in Oz is a fun twist on the kill order. Casey and Sarah both are training Chuck to survive on the run, without him realizing it.
“A Common Spy Problem” by KateMcK has Chuck and Sarah get a little carried away in the shower in Fat Lady. Now they have to figure out how to actually be together without dire consequences. In Kate’s signature style, this follows S2 canon pretty closely, except when it doesn’t!
“The Fake Relationship – ReMastered” by BillAtWork starts with the ongoing security concerns in the aftermath of First Date. Because Sarah obviously can’t control Chuck, a more aggressive seductress is added to the team. Without Chuck knowing it.
“Save You Later” by mia2009 starts with Chuck being bunkered at the end of Marlin. But Sarah promised to protect Chuck, and she takes her promises seriously.
“John Casey, Serious As Cardio Myopathy” by Doc in Oz is that odd beast, a Casey-centric story. And a little autobiographical.
“Chuck vs Family Matters” by Lucky47 is a unique and odd story. The team is stood down for a health crisis during late S2, General Beckman’s grand-daughter is terminally ill. This story is long, and still unfinished. But the writer proceeds to explore nearly every relationship and combination among the regulars, plus a couple of original characters. It all works amazingly well. And yes, its a Charah romance too; a particularly well constructed one.
“Chuck vs the iPhone” by Doc in Oz tells the story of the team’s painful transition to new smart phones.
“The Upper Hand” by BillAtWork starts during Chuck’s Lou fling. Sarah resolves to not watch Chuck walk off with another girl again, but its early S1 and the obstacles seem insurmountable. So far this a pretty minimalist approach to an early relationship; at least to say, its mostly about added scenes that don’t actually re-write content any more than needed. An interesting approach. But I’m betting after S2 the changes will get more overt!
That’s a long list. And its not even complete. Its all from my favorites list, but I left off a couple stories that were too incomplete or seemed too much like other entries. I also left off many complete AUs that actually start fairly close to canon. Holy smokes I have a long favorites list!
But that’s sort of my point. The early seasons are wide open in a way. There are so many possibilities even while sticking pretty close to the characters and scenarios that the show itself started with. Another thing to remember, this is from a period of the show when pretty much everyone was happy with what they were seeing. So in some ways there is more drive to honor canon. And I don’t mean that as a slam on later works at all, but as the show went it built up history and baggage. I love much fan fiction from the whole history of the show. But something about getting back to the roots here is special.
Now there’s no doubt the theme that always gets the most attention is the Chuck/Sarah romance. Not to say every story is all about that, but any story I favorite will absolutely end with Charah in a good place. That does not mean they will always end as a couple, but they usually will. In some cases here that makes it a very early development, but I don’t care. I believe Sarah when she says she fell for Chuck in the first few hours she knew him, and I like imagining the different ways it could have played out. And I never believe any “had to be” restrictions. I like to believe in a million Chuck universes Chuck and Sarah would have found a million different ways to end up together. I’m not sure why my wife calls me a hopeless romantic…
One thing I considered while compiling this list was maybe doing a feature on complete alternate universes (AUs) in a few weeks. At various times in the past I’d wished my favorites list would allow me to post my own description with the title, so these Alternatives posts have sort of let me do that.
By the way, when you read a story you like, leave an encouraging word for the writer through the review function. Fan Fiction continues as the only source of new Chuck content. If we want more we need to keep those writers enthused!
Now we get to your turn. Let me know your own thoughts on things that could have been different, or just explored in more detail in the series. If you have a favorite story or two that fits this theme let me know! I often find new favorites through the recommendations of fellow readers.