The show ended two years – seven months – one week and 5 days ago. We discussed the finale for months. We’ve discussed episodes and seasons and alternatives for episodes and seasons. What more could we possibly have to say? And yet, here we are, not wanting to walk away from Chuck … or each other. So now what?
Obviously CHUCK captured our attention as few (okay no) shows do. We were hooked by the action and adventure, drama and romance, heart and humor … not to mention the show’s ability to turn on a dime and give us all of those in a single episode. But what held us were CHUCK’s intangibles: the themes and ideals that made us root for the characters and engage in their stories. These themes gave the show, that might otherwise have been no more than a comic book, weight and made the characters relatable. So, we here at the ChuckThis Blog thought it would be fun to talk about some of our favorite CHUCK themes.
One theme we know is true: It’s hard to say goodbye. If you’re not ready to say goodbye,
I’ll start with the theme that started it all: The Intersect. While not a theme per se — more of a device — the Intersect was the hook of the show and the first domino in the cascading events that drove the story that entertained us and warmed our hearts for five years … and counting.
Stephen’s Eleven. The Intersect had its own story and development. However, it wasn’t revealed chronologically. What we thought was the first domino, turned out to be a domino somewhere in the middle of the story. So, let’s put the Intersects in order.
The Hartley/Volkoff Intersect (call it ground zero) was designed to implant a complete, quasi-innate identity into an operative, so he could go undercover with no risk of detection. It was a brilliant plan that went horribly wrong. Whether by malfunction or sabotage — accident or conspiracy — the cover identity took over, suppressing the host’s real identiy. The original developers were Stephen, Roark, and Hartley.
The Intersect Chuck uploaded as a child (call it the alpha) was experimental and probably much smaller than the one Bryce sent him. It was clear from that upload that Chuck’s brain had an unusual capacity for data.
The Intersect Stephen uploaded to test on himself (the beta) was probably most like the one Bryce sent to Chuck. We know it contained government data.
The Intersect Bryce sent Chuck (1.0) still needed a special brain, and Bryce knew that Chuck’s brain could handle it.
The CIA Intersect that was about to go online in First Date was sabotaged and went out with a bang, taking Dir. Graham and Intersect a group of candidates with it.
Fulcrum’s Intersect was their own proprietary version, which produced disastrous results in every test subject … until Chuck.
The 2.0, though presumably improved for broader use, was very dangerous. It had a skills component on board that made it harder to control. It also seemed to be hard wired with a survival, fight or flight fight response. This Intersect was even harder on the brain and needed a governor to keep it from frying the brain’s circuits.
After Ellie found Orion’s laptop in the Mustang, she, being a neurologist instead of an engineer, solved some of the issues with the 2.0. Meet the 2.1 — brain friendly, no governor required. From then on the Intersect would be suitable for a broader pool of hosts. This Intersect stayed in Chuck’s brain until Decker removed it in Cliffhanger.
The Intersect the GRETAs uploaded was modified to eliminate much of the human factor, in order to create unquestioning soldiers … call it version 2.1.b (b for bad).
The tainted version that was sent to Chuck (presumably to destroy him), but uploaded by Morgan and later by Sarah, was engineered to cause memory loss — version 2.1.e (e for evil.)
The pristine version (3.0) that TeamB stole from DARPA included the improvements Ellie made after Bentley returned it to her. It was the last in a long line of Intersects and was still in Chuck’s brain as the final credits rolled.
Did I miss one? 🙂
Cause and Effect
Of course, we can’t think of the Intersect as merely an evolving invention, like a car or a toaster. More than a device or just the first domino, the Intersect was this specter … a capricious presence that drove the story and catalyzed Chuck’s (and by extension, Sarah’s) growth. Each stirring of the Intersect pushed the story in a new direction and presented our heroes with new challenges to overcome.
I guess it all began with a scientist. His codename was Orion, but his real name was Stephen Bartowski.
We didn’t hear the rest of Mary’s story, which would have been seriously redacted, but it began with a brilliant scientist, who was working on a program for the government. He fell in love with a CIA agent, code name Frost. They married and had a baby girl (1978). A couple of years later, when the Intersect prototype was ready for trial, Stephen’s best friend volunteered to test it. Nov 21, 1980, Hartley Winterbottom was implanted with a cover identity and went under cover into Russia as Alexei Volkoff to aid in Cold War efforts against Russia, where he went deeper and stayed longer than planned. (The historical context was the Reagan/Thather era of the Cold War.)
Less than a year later on Sept 18, 1981, the Bartowski family increased by one — a baby boy. They were a happy, normal family for nine years. Soon after the boy turned 8, on Nov 9, 1989, the Berlin wall fell. Check Point Charlie was open, and the Cold War was over.
Olly Olly Oxen Free.
Instead of Hartley No-One-Names-A-Person-That Winterbottom coming home to Somerset, Alexei Volkoff emerged as a post Cold-War Russian Oligarch and arms dealer, selling off Russia’s arsenal to the highest underworld bidders. In the months following the end of the Cold War, the CIA realized that Hartley’s Intersect was unstable, and that they had created one of the most murderous men in the history of the world (facts, the mere knowledge of which could get a person killed). About a year later, the CIA sent Mary Bartowski undercover to bring down Volkoff and his evil empire.
The First Domino.
This one domino started branching domino chains in the Chuckverse bearing directly on world events, the CIA, the balance of powers, wars, factions, and governments. We’ll be following the Bartowski domino chain that affected Chuck directly. Keep in mind, however, that there were various domino chains that developed separately and then reintersected the Bartowski chain at various stages of Chuck’s life: think Omaha project, Roark, Fulcrum, Heather Chandler, the Ring, Volkoff, the Costa Gravas Generalissimo, Decker, Shaw, Quinn. They were all involved in a chain of events that connected back to that first domino and ultimately impacted Chuck and Sarah’s life in fateful ways.
The shock waves of the Hartley/Volkoff Intersect sent the Bartowski family careening off its happy course. Chuck and Ellie were abandoned by their mother and never knew why. Their father, after his wife’s disappearence, was there, but he wasn’t really there. Driven to keep his family safe, fix his friend, and bring his wife home, he dedicated himself to fixing the Intersect and doing things governments are afraid to do. Finally he, too, disappeared from Chuck and Ellie’s lives with no explanation.
This tragic sequence of events molded Chuck and Ellie. Surprisingly, it made them stronger. They pulled together and learned how to take care of themselves and rely on each other. In the midst of a truly dysfunctional situation, they created a remarkably normal family, even while carrying the wounds from these events caused by the Intersect.
His life back on track, Chuck was about to graduate from Stanford in Engineering, when his life was poisoned yet again by Intersect fallout. Bryce got him kicked out of Stanford to keep him from being conscripted into an Intersect project, for which his brain was uniquely qualified: all facts of which he was completely unaware.
This time it didn’t make him stronger. It sent him into a five-year funk that had him working at the Buymore in a position for which he was vastly overqualified. He was clueless in Burbank. No ambition was stirring, not even an ounce of mojo.
I’m a nobody. I’m the supervisor of a Nerd Herd at the Buymore. Maybe one day I’ll be assistant store manager, and I don’t even know if I want that job.
Collision course. This is where we and the Intersect and Sarah find Chuck. The same thing that precipitated his descent is about to blast him from his prosaic existence into a life of fear, danger, and anxiety that will test his metal and show everyone — including himself — what he is made of … and what he is made for.
As each season progresses to the next, Chuck’s relationship with the Intersect is a growth indicator of sorts. As the Intersect goes from intrusion, to incentive, to opportunity, to crutch, to tool, then back to intrusion; we see Chuck progressing from Boy, to Cowboy, to Warrior, to Lover, to King, then Sage. (John Eldredge’s six stages of a man:)
Inseparable from this progression is the central theme that Chuck is the only suitable host for the Intersect, not just because of his special brain, but also because of his character. Chuck’s unwavering moral compass and integrity, as well as his big brain, make him uniquely qualified to host this Intersect.
Bryce to Chuck: You’ll do the right thing. You always do. That’s why I sent you the Intersect in the first place.
Sarah is the other force in Chuck’s life, brought to him via the Intersect, that influences his growth. Whereas the Intersect is a catalytic, impersonal force that swings back and forth through Chuck’s life like a wrecking ball, causing catastrophic change and evoking responses from him, Sarah is an interactive, personal force in his life, a friend and partner (and later much more). Not just a catalyst, she participates in — and inspires — his growth as she walks with him through the aftermath of the wrecking ball. She is exactly what he needs.
Sarah’s story mirrors Chuck’s. When Bryce stole the Intersect and sent it to Chuck, the Intersect became the first domino in a cascade of events in her life as well. Chuck, as her friend and partner (and later much more), both precipitates and participates in her growth. He is exactly what she needs. What is a coming-of-age story for Chuck is reflected in Sarah as an empowerment story, as they become the man and woman they were meant to be.
And it all started with the Intersect.
Arrested Development. We join the CHUCK story where Chuck’s story and Sarah’s story converge. Here are two under-developed, incomplete (some might go so far as to say, broken) individuals: a brilliant, capable guy who has hero stamped all over his genes and his heart, but he’s living a mediocre life in a dead-end job; and a beautiful, smart, heroic woman whose life is filled with excitement and adventure but lacks the love and belonging she secretly desires. To become whole, they both need a radically different context, and an adept in that context, to inspire and nurture their own latent qualities and desires.
The Intersect provides exactly that. It brings them together — two people who would likely never even bump into each other — and forces them into unfamiliar territory with only each other to rely on. The Intersect remains a catalytic force in their story, from the day we first see them, until we leave them kissing on the beach.
So, let’s look at the highlights and turning points in Chuck and Sarah’s story and the role the Intersect played.
~ The Intrusion Period ~
GB: I wanted a private word with you. Pardon the intrusion.
C: On this moment, or on my life in general?
The Intersect invades, not just Chuck’s life, but his very being, and he receives it with resignation …
There’s nowhere I can run, is there … I can’t figure out why Bryce did this. Why he chose me.
I’m going to go fix some hard drives. Good luck with the spy stuff.
However, when the Intersect shook Chuck’s life, it dislodged an unexpected trait. All his reluctance and girlish screams belie his hero’s heart that just keeps showing up. Pick an episode, any episode, and the hero in Chuck is incapable of waiting in safety, while people he cares about (or even people he doesn’t know) are in danger.
She fights for his freedom, asks for his trust, and challenges him to step up:
Some people want to be heroes, and others have to be asked. So … Chuck, are you ready?
The Intersect threw Chuck mercilessly into the deep end of the spy pool …
Everything changed when I got an e-mail from my college buddy, Bryce Larkin. He was working for the government when he stole a whole bunch of government secrets: big important secrets; really scary, nasty, get-killed-for-having-em secrets. Next thing I know these secrets are downloaded into my brain. Which means every moment of my life is in danger.
In an even less likely maneuver, the Intersect thrust Sarah into a normal life, albeit a cover one.
Joining the CIA and giving up everything you did … did you ever think it would lead you here?
A normal life was as unfamiliar to Sarah as the spy world was to Chuck. Just as she is his handler in all things spy, he subtly becomes her handler in all things normal. (The baggage handler remark on their first date wasn’t too far off the mark.)
Over time, in this [initially] forced association, wonderful things happen between and in our heroes. The spy sees and nurtures the hero in the Nerd and inspires in him not just the desire to be more, but also the belief that he can be more.
Sarah, you’re the one that taught me that being a spy is about choosing something bigger. It’s about putting aside your own personal feelings for the greater good. I chose to be a spy for my friends and my family and you.
The Nerd sees and loves the woman in the spy and stirs in her not only the abandoned desire for a real life of love and belonging, but also the realization that she deserves that life.
Chuck, you’re a gift. You’re a gift I never dreamed I could want or need, and every day I will show you that you’re a gift that I deserve.
During this Intrusion phase, all Chuck wants is to get the Intersect out of his head and go back to his peaceful, quiet, albeit degrading life at the Buymore.
Sarah is still all about duty, which is not all bad. It’s just incomplete.
However, even in the intrusion stage, there are some pivotal moments:
Beach Heads. By the end of Wookie our heroes have established beach heads on foreign shores. By experiencing Carina, Chuck gains a whole new look at the spy life. He sees how exceptional Sarah is and begins to put aside some of his own pettiness. For the first time Chuck seems pleased with the mission’s accomplishments, and proud of his part in it.
Sarah begins to relax into the normal life and enjoy it a little more than a cover would require. By the end of Wookie, her regret that she can’t have that real life is palpable.
Intelligence Intercept. Alma Mater uncovers surprising Intel: Chuck had previous history with the Intersect; his brain is uniquely suited for the Intersect; and Bryce may have had a good reason for sending it to Chuck.
New Rules of Engagement. (Truth) There is a tiny blip of the Cowboy on our radar screen, as Chuck pushes back against the intrusion of the Intersect, if only in limited fashion. He doesn’t want a fake relationship any more, and if there’s no hope of a real one with Sarah, he’ll look elsewhere. As he does just that, a heartbroken Sarah stands on the outside of Chuck’s world looking in, watching Chuck start a real relationship … with someone else. Along with heartbreak there’s longing. Forbidden desires begin to stir, and it won’t be long until they erupt in a very unprofessional display.
Captured Rescued: The Intersect dredges its fingers through Chuck’s life again, and his fate is unilaterally decided:
The Intersect is no longer your concern, Agent Walker. Chuck is on his way to the extraction point right now. We’ve decided to transfer him to lock-down immediately.
Of course, Sarah saves Chuck from the bunker, and S1 ends with Sarah once again on the outside looking in … watching Chuck share the joy of Ellie and Awesome’s engagement. For now, Chuck is safe, and he can stay in his normal life. For now Sarah can stay with him and protect him. For now it is enough.