These Are a Few of Our Favorite Themes: The Intersect (2 of 5)

The Intersect — Part two: a look at Chuck and Sarah as the Intersect becomes Chuck’s Incentive and then his Opportunity. This takes us through Seasons 2 and 3.

~ The Incentive Period ~

There’s a new Intersect in town. So, what does that mean for the old Intersect?

Tomorrow, the new computer will be online. Operation Bartowski officially comes to an end. You’ll be done with us. Enjoy the rest of your life, Chuck.

Of course, Graham fails to mention that “the rest of his life” will barely give him time to enjoy a milkshake, because along with Operation Bartowski, Chuck Bartowski will also come to an end. Only Casey knows about the kill order. So, a blissfully unaware Chuck and Sarah leave the briefing.

Freedom from the Intersect and Sarah’s encouragement lift Chuck to a new plateau.

S: So, what happens now? You’re almost free. What are you going to do next?

C: Well, you know, I’ve got the Buymore.

S: Chuck, can I tell you something? … You could do anything. I’ve seen you in action. … I mean, anything you wanted you could have.

Sarah has just given him (and maybe even herself) a gift. The look on Chuck’s face is that of a man who suddenly sees himself and his future in a whole new light. He begins to think about his future, and the Buymore is nowhere in the picture.

Chuck takes back the reins to his life. He turns down the assistant manager job and asks Sarah on a date.

The Boy becomes a Cowboy. Saddle up for a Rodeo … CHUCK style.

The Intersect giveth and the Intersect taketh away. Several times, in fact. By the end of the date, the cipher, the key component to the new Intersect, the one that was going to give Chuck his life back … well, the CIA doesn’t have it anymore.

two weddings 50The cowboy is thrown from his horse … until he is surrounded by mercenaries, with the imposing Mr. Colt loosening up to snap his neck. Then the cowboy gets back on his horse, and Charles Carmichael rides to the rescue, recovering the cipher and saving his team.

The CIA once again has the cipher, and Chuck asks Sarah on a second date … which never happens, because the cipher explodes leaving the new Intersect, along with Chuck’s dreams, in a gazillion pieces. Though it’s a setback, Chuck’s outlook has changed and there’s no going back.

First Date is the defining moment for Chuck’s Cowboy phase. The Intersect that was once just an intrusion is now an incentive. Chuck still wants the Intersect out of his head, but not so he can return to the Buymore. This all-new Chuck will no longer float on placid seas of mediocrity … or be pushed about by the capricious winds of the Intersect or the US government. This Chuck wants to take control of his life and find his dream.

While the spy world cranks out the danger, the Intersect brings out the spy in Chuck. Like it or not, he proves to be a pretty darn good spy. He stops WWIII, prevents a biological epidemic, mediates a hostage crisis, saves a Chinese diplomat, and generally gives Fulcrum fits.

And Sarah? Well, no doubt she’s attracted to Chuck’s Cowboy side. The unconventional hero plus endearing regular-guy have always been a winning combination with her.

What makes you special is that you’re not like every other spy. You’re a good guy, and you want to help people.

How many times do you have to be a hero to realize that you are that guy?

By Marlin she was hopelessly, helplessly in love with Chuck, and throughout S2, she is finding it harder and harder to keep a lid on her feelings for him.

What loosens the lid? Cougars. Why? Because that fantastic Chuck combo she can’t resist is fully operational. Charles Mad-Dog Carmichael performs well as Mark Ratner’s handler, and Chuck Bartowski is fantastic as Sarah’s boyfriend/(baggage) handler. After much inner turmoil and outward protests, Agent Walker allows herself to trust, just a little. And it feels pretty good. So good, in fact, that when Sarah slow-mos into the gym, she doesn’t look like the CIA’s top agent undercover. She looks like a woman in love. Moments later, in her fight with Heather, we hear her first verbal admission that she has fallen in love with Chuck. At the end of the episode, she trusts him enough to offer him information about her past. Instead of accepting the offer, Chuck gives her a true gift, one that silences Graham’s gnawing question [The question is, who are you? Jenny Burton? Katie O’Connell? Rebecca Franco?]
Cougars 11

No thanks. 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.

In that moment “Sarah Walker” ceases to be just one of the spy’s many name tags and becomes the identity of a real person who is known and loved: Sarah Walker. And don’t forget it.

hsrg80In his spare time, our Cowboy is working on getting-the-heck-outa Dodge … er, getting the Intersect the-heck-outa his head. Slowly but surely, he’s putting the pieces together and zeroing in on the creator of the Intersect — someone named Orion. The Tron poster reveal will always be one of my favorites … along with the rest of Chuck’s sub-mission.

I am going to get this thing out of my head, one day. I will. And when I do, I’m going to live the life that I want with the girl that I love. Because I’m not going to let this thing rob me of that.

By Predator, Chuck finds Orion — something the CIA has failed to do for 15 years — who promptly dies, and General Beckman, who once wanted to eliminate Chuck, now wants to enlist him.

Chuck, we are in the midst of a secret war with Fulcrum, and I believe the outcome of this fight will rest squarely on your shoulders. Only this operation, only you have found a hole in their armor. I can’t lose you, Chuck. I need you. It’s time for you to become a spy.

Two for One. Or is that one for two? With Sarahs help, Chuck finds his long-lost dad … and a not-so-dead Orion. And they’re the same person.

Surprise. Intersects run in the family, son.

Somewhere between Cougars and Dream Job, Sarah owns up to her feelings for Chuck.

I love him. I love Chuck Bartowski, and I don’t know what to do about it.

If Cougars loosened the lid, First Kill blows it off completely, and Sarah figures out what to do about her feelings for Chuck. Chuck, take off your watch. Nothing says I love you like committing treason for the one you love.

Free at last. Courtesy of Dad/Orion and some reverse-engineering, the Intersect is out of Chuck’s head. The Cowboy is free to live a normal life and figure out his future.

As the sun sets on S2, Sarah watches Chuck revel in his role as Devon’s best man, but even as Ellie’s maid of honor, she is still on the outside looking in.

And it’s no longer enough. She decides to throw in the CIA towel and be a real person with Chuck.

Chuck still doesn’t consider himself a hero — never asked to be one — doesn’t want to be one. So what could possibly prod the Cowboy to become a Warrior?

The Chuck Bartowski Law of Vacuums. As nature abhors a vacuum, so Chuck Bartowski always steps up to fill a hero vacuum.


~ The Opportunity Period ~

So, there’s a new Intersect in town.

Which has nothing to do with Chuck.

Bryce is going to upload it.

Which has nothing to do with Chuck.

But (in some of the worst timing of the series) Stephen tells Chuck and Sarah that Bryce is in trouble.

Which still has nothing to do with Chuck.

But when Sarah leaves to go protect Casey …

that has everything to do with Chuck, because people he cares about are in trouble, and the hero in Chuck can’t not help them.

Stephen tries to stop Chuck from going, but when Chuck says he loves Sarah, Stephen has to let him go. It’s a bond that Stephen shares with his son … falling in love with a spy and doing everything he can to protect her. Mr. Pot can’t very well tell Mr. Kettle not to go.

Once inside the Intersect facility, Sarah and Casey get pinned down by gunfire and tell Chuck to go get help.


Chuck tracks Bryce to the Intersect room and asks him to help them, but Bryce, having been shot, is in no shape to help anyone. A dying Bryce tells Chuck to destroy the computer, because the new Intersect is too dangerous.

Okay, but …

the computer that was supposed to upload the Intersect into a now dead Bryce — the computer Chuck is supposed to destroy — presents him with a choice.


s2-rubiconAnd there it is. A hero vacuum: one that, according to the moments replaying in his head (bolded in the various block quotes above), may be meant for him to fill. The Intersect turns into an opportunity, and Chuck crosses a Rubicon. He puts his hand on the screen and takes up a cause bigger than himself.

The Cowboy becomes a Warrior … well, a Warrior in training. Grab a shield.

Black Box: Here I will employ Thinkling’s Black Box. For this post S3 will be mostly a black box. I will look at the role the Intersect played in Chuck and Sarah’s story and growth, and leave the misery and the LIs in the deep, dark recesses of the black box.


Guys I know Kung Fu. This Intersect is w-a-y different than the one Chuck just got rid of, and this Intersect project is w-a-y more than just housing a bunch of government secrets. The 2.0 will equip its host to be a super-spy.

The Intersect giveth and the Intersect taketh away. Again. This Intersect gives Chuck a bigger opportunity than he ever imagined. It involves a special training facility just for him, to turn him into a super-spy. Best of all, it’s an opportunity to become worthy of the woman he loves and offer her a life she deserves.

This Intersect takes away Sarah’s opportunity to be a real person with Chuck. Her personal growth is inextricably linked to Chuck, not just because she loves him, but because it is in relationship with Chuck that she has begun to know and express who she is, as a real person — not just a spy.

Without you, I’m nobody. I’m nothing but a spy.

In her mind, being a real spy and being a real person are mutually exclusive, so if Chuck becomes a real spy, especially the super-spy the Intersect Project was designed to produce, she fears he won’t still be the same real person:

If you do this, if you go, you’re going to be a spy for the rest of your life, and you’re not going to be the same person.

It’s not that simple. You don’t know who you’re working for. It’s complicated. Nothing is real.

If the Intersect robs Chuck of who he is, then her opportunity to be a real person will be lost, along with that regular guy she fell for.

Her fears are not unfounded. Remember the Omaha Project — the Intersect project Chuck was perfect for — the one Bryce got him kicked out of Stanford to avoid:

Flemming: They want him for the Omaha Project.

Bryce: That’s a military operation. They’ll turn Chuck into a …

Flemming: He’s a perfect candidate.

Bryce: You don’t get it. Chuck’s a good person. He’s got too much heart for this kind of work. He’s no operative. You can’t put him out in the field. He won’t survive.

What did Bryce mean? They’ll turn Chuck into a … ? A what, exactly?

They’ll turn him into a computerized lone-wolf assassin … the Chuck we saw on Laudanol. Casey knows, Take the pill, Chuck. It’ll make you the Intersect you were always meant to be, and Sarah knows. Chuck is oblivious.

If Chuck meets their expections, he will be not only the most valuable intelligence asset, but also the most advanced weapon on the planet. The government will own him from boxers to kevlar, from his top secret brain to the ticklish bottoms of his feet. No more real life, no more choice … and no more Sarah.

If he fails? Well, that could be worse … much worse. None of the options I’m coming up with is very pretty.

After a big setback in Prague (a compromise has already been made, because Chuck is still alive), Operation Bartowski continues:

GB: Sarah, I want you to keep Chuck’s emotions in check, so the Intersect can work. He listens to you, but he’s also an unstable element.

S: Do you think he’s dangerous?

GB: Very. But he’s worth the risk. For the last two years we protected Chuck from the world. But now we have to protect the world from Chuck.

Well, that sounds ominous.

It certainly sounds ominous to Sarah, and it does nothing to still her raging fears about all the ways this operation might end badly. Her own experience with the spy life, her fears for Chuck, and Beckman’s warning — not to mention her broken heart — inform her behavior throughout this period.

Stasis. Sarah’s growth is suspended. The spy does her job — a job that has never been more reprehensible to her than it is now, because this time it makes her complicit in ruining a truly good person — and the man she loves. Unlike when she was his handler, she can’t protect him from the spy world that he has chosen to become a part of. The real girl buries her feelings deep inside and braces herself for the worst … losing Chuck, and by extension, a part of herself.

With little to no knowledge of the underbelly of the spy world or the ramifications of the CIA’s expectations or the real dangers that lie ahead, Chuck plunges into his training.

Being a warrior is hard work (and a little lonely). Along with the opportunity and power of the Intersect, comes the burden of responsibility: helping people, saving the world, learning to control the Intersect, being a super-spy, becoming the man Sarah deserves, and keeping it all a secret. Add to that, the new Intersect is like an unwieldy suit of armor that has been fused to Chuck, and he must master it or be mastered by it.

But hey, no pressure.

So Chuck is immersed in the spy world with his new armor Intersect. His success is mixed at first, but eventually he learns to control the Intersect (mostly), completes a solo mission (sort of), burns an asset, impersonates an assassin, and passes (half of) his spy test. Chuck succeeds, though in nowhere near the measure expected by the project runners.

General Merriweather: Is it also correct that the project has fallen well short of its original expectations?

General Beckman: Yes, sir.

Beckman goes on to defend Chuck, because she has come to believe in him, and well … don’t tell anybody, but … she’s somewhat compromised, herself.

Special Agent Charles Bartowski made it. He’s got the badge, the gun, the villa, the stipend, and … wait, shouldn’t it feel better than this? Oh yeah, the girl. Sarah.

It finally clicked for me. Sarah is the most important thing. What’s the point in being a spy without her? … I’m not going anywhere without Sarah.

What good is this new opportunity if he can’t be with the girl he loves?

One more test. He passed the spy test, but now he has to pass the Sarah test. Is he still the guy she fell for? Well, yes, but how does Chuck convince Sarah?

On his way to persuade Sarah of this very thing, the perfect test presents itself. If he passes, it will prove he’s still that guy, but he still may not get the girl. All he may get is blown up.

hsrg70He passes the test and out-heroes the hero. He saves the other guy. It’s kind of like a knight who enters a jousting tournament to win the fair maiden’s hand, and instead of defeating his opponent, saves him.

Yep. That’s Sarah’s Chuck.

Chuck passes both tests: the spy test, because he learned to master the Intersect; and the Sarah test, because he didn’t let the Intersect master him.

After this feat, Chuck finds Sarah in Castle and finally declares his love for her. Then, because she is more important to him than being a spy, he sacrifices his dream and offers her what she asked of him in Prague.

The Warrior becomes a Lover.

Release. Since Chuck is still her Chuck, Sarah is finally, definitively free to be a real person with him. After clearing a few more hurdles, they hop a train to start their life together.

train compartmentAll aboard! The Love Train is pulling out of the station, and it’s a ride you don’t want to miss.

Go to Part 3


About thinkling

In my [younger] youth, I was a math teacher, basketball coach, and computer programmer. In 1984, we moved to Brazil, where we serve as missionaries. I like to design things and build things, read things and write things. We now live part-time in Brazil, part-time in the US. Love them both. Wife, 37 yrs; mom, 30 yrs. I am blessed.
This entry was posted in Analysis, Season 2, Season 3. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to These Are a Few of Our Favorite Themes: The Intersect (2 of 5)

  1. Theresa says:

    Chuck in this phase is very much the Hero’s Journey.

  2. atcDave says:

    Great write up. Particularly good treatment with your Black Box; focus on what’s important, ignore the rest!
    The first part of this is just so much fun. I think Chuck’s success as the ordinary guy turned hero is central to what makes the show work.

  3. Pingback: These Are a Few of Our Favorite Themes: The Intersect | Chuck This

  4. says:

    What a great article. I particularly like your description of Chuck as the spy who learns to master the Intersect but does not allow it to master him. Though in one sense Chuck is that ordinary guy drawn into all of this, it is his particular qualities, i.e. his devotion and loyalty to his family and friends, his willingness to step up when others are in trouble, his desire to do the right thing even at his own expense, that eventually helps him put the Intersect in the right place. Not every “ordinary guy” would have been able to resist all that it could offer him, at the expense of everyone around him.

    • thinkling says:

      I think it’s Chuck’s character, all that you just described, is one of the most appealing things about the show. He’s a regular guy, who turns out to be anything but ordinary.

  5. CaptMediocre says:

    Ah, the hamburger scene. I think it remains my single favorite episode ending scene of the series.

    It was S2’s ballerina scene for me.

    • thinkling says:

      Oh, yeah. Me too Capt. In fact Cougars is one of my favorite episodes.

      I can rewatch it any time. I also love the scene where Sarah slow-mos into the gym: the look she gives Chuck and his realization that the Nerd sometimes gets the girl.

  6. joe says:

    Amazing job, Think. There’s so many memories in the years you’ve just covered, I’m overwhelmed by the desire to revisit them. That wouldn’t be the first time! 😉

    Of course, now I have a better understanding of what Sarah is missing at the end.

    • thinkling says:

      Thanks, Joe. It has the same effect on me. I think about Chuck, and I get all nostalgic and want to rewatch my favorites.

      Of course, now I have a better understanding of what Sarah is missing at the end.

      … or what she’s responding to as Chuck tells her their story. 🙂

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