Part 1 of 3
Behind the scenes we at ChuckThis have been talking about the future direction of this blog while we wait for Chuck, The Movie to be made. Yes, we are eternal optimists. One of the projects we thought of was exploring some of the themes that run throughout Chuck. Thinkling got the ball rolling with the first (5!) of hopefully many as we explore how our heroes story is told throughout the run of the show. I thought I’d start with one of the most prominent parts of the main romance. Learning to love selflessly.
As did Thinkling, I found a comprehensive post covering the entire series started to get long. Somewhere around 6,000 words for me and 10,000 for her we decided to break them up and cover a week or so each. This is part 1 of 3. I managed to stay under 10,000 words, so I’ll only have three parts. Parts 2 and 3 will be released Wednesday and Friday, but don’t worry I’ll have something for Tuesday and Thursday as well.
Join me after the jump for part one of a discussion of the heartbreak and joy of our favorite couple on their life’s journey.
If you love something set it free. If it comes back to you it is yours forever. If it doesn’t it was never yours.
Some version of that saying has been floating around since before there was an internet, TV, Radio or newspapers, and it has been used as the central conflict in countless romances. One partner or the other must be free to find themselves before they are ready to love and be loved. It was prominently on display in the final scenes of Chuck as Sarah found herself on the beach where her journey began. Chuck also found himself on that beach, as the fully realized man who can love Sarah selflessly enough to let her go if he must, but will continue to love her regardless.
The beach at the end of the series was just the final coda on this part of a romance that had gone on for years, spanning years and continents, ruined lives, bloodshed, …epic, to paraphrase Veronica Mars. We’d seen other points that could have been seen as a conclusion to Chuck and Sarah’s courtship and the beginning of their real life together, but none of them hit home so thoroughly as the finale that they were finally ready, finally able to just be there for each other with nothing else in the way. No intersect or mission, just each other and time to be together away from the spy-life and family and every other distraction.
But the finale, while I will return to it, is one conclusion with its own beginning. I want to look at a few of the others.
In one sense the romance between Chuck and Sarah, genuine as it is throughout, goes through several stages as both Chuck and Sarah grow and mature as individuals. As they have changed and grown so do their needs and desires change and grow, and sadly, that was often a problem for both of them. While many reject some of the story lines for various reasons ranging from finding it un-entertaining to outright rejection of the premise, I’ve always accepted that TPTB felt the need to tell their story a certain way, with a certain amount of angst, getting worse at times just as Chuck and Sarah seemed on the verge of moving forward.
It is the fact that moving forward often means making changes and decisions about that bright shiny future you are reaching for, and it may be that you don’t fully understand what it is you are reaching for, or if it will exceed your grasp.
This is where we start with Chuck. While he is obviously smitten from the start Sarah is someone who exceeds his grasp.
Why wouldn’t you call this girl?
Because I live on planet Earth, Morgan.
That pretty much sums up Chuck’s understanding of the situation until, miraculously Sarah shows up at the Buy More (again) and delivers one of the cheese-iest pick-up lines ever (but she can get away with it). Aside from the very brief period where Chuck thinks he is actually having the best night of his life he is stuck in that position for much of the first season. Feeling as if Sarah is unobtainable if not unknowable even as they are pushed together and towards at least the appearance of intimacy puts Chuck in an odd place. He can become possessive and jealous without the right to be so. Chuck lashing out to punish Sarah for her past with Bryce in Wookie, or ostensibly for lying to him about it, is the first example of his unwarranted possessiveness. Even as Sarah starts to show real affection for him and ease his fears Chuck can be quite petulant and petty as we see in the Truth arc.
I understand his reaction in a way. Sarah keeps getting physically close and affectionate (for the cover) and then to be shut down so thoroughly the night of their first sleepover, then again with the truth serum has to hurt. His decision to fake break-up can almost seem healthy, but in the aftermath of a kiss in front of a “bomb” Chuck assumes a lot about where he and Sarah stand. Bryce’s return makes matters worse.
Unleashing the Casey on Bryce and Sarah in his room is not Chuck’s finest moment. There could be legitimate reasons to be concerned about why your CIA handler is kissing a traitor who kidnapped you earlier that day, but my impression is that those aren’t what’s on Chuck’s mind.
Sarah doesn’t come off so great either, but at least she decides to stay in the end and spare Chuck the feeling of losing another girl to Bryce, but my goodness she does make him pay.
It is but the first example of both of their emotional immaturity coming between them as Chuck settles for a handshake and a dance at the end of Crown Vic rather than the kiss and make up scenario that Sarah seems to want. She underestimates how much she hurt Chuck and what she needs to do to make it right and he has to rethink how close he wants to be to this woman, his feelings for her aside. It isn’t the last time Chuck will pull back from Sarah after she wants some temporary distance to reconcile herself with their situation, and it won’t be the last time Sarah finds it in herself to open up to Chuck, at least a little, but a little too late.
As is often the case, events that threaten their ability to remain together, even if they can’t be as together as they want, leads to all of the lies, the rationalizations, the excuses and the fears falling away as the trivialities they are, and on a helipad, with Chuck facing a bunker, Chuck and Sarah come to an understanding. Chuck is her guy, whatever that means, and Chuck has to let go for Sarah’s sake. The sentence is never carried out thankfully, and one messy fight later Sarah is outside looking in on the life Chuck seems to offer.
It seems that between the abbreviated season 1 and the magnificent season 2 Chuck and Sarah have reached accommodation of sorts. They are a couple, just not a normal one. She is his constant companion and protector and he gives her hope for something more. But clearly neither of them thinks they’ve arrived at anything like a real relationship. A more confident Chuck is willing to ask Sarah on a real date, and Sarah coquettishly agrees to go, but a portion of that date is spent thinking of how their time together was coming to an end and what that might mean.
They aren’t hiding their feelings from each other anymore. Each knows the other has feelings for them after that night on the helipad, but neither is sure what those feelings will mean and what the future holds for them. The still reluctant spy and his sorta-but-not-really-real girlfriend are still working that out in early season 2.
At this point both Chuck and Sarah are capable of remarkable acts of selflessness, and selfishness, especially when it comes to each other. That has been the case for a while, but what they are stumbling toward throughout season 2 is something missing in both their lives, and their relationship. Maturity.
Maturity is not the absence of jealousy or pettiness or selfishness; we’re all human and those things are virtually inescapable. Maturity is the self-awareness that recognizes those things for what they are, and recognizes the source so we don’t have to act, or react to them.
Chuck and Sarah’s first step toward that maturity was on that helipad. It is where Sarah first realized, with Chuck’s help, that her impulsive need to save Chuck would have ended badly. She couldn’t keep him in her life without consequences for her, Chuck, and others. And it is where Chuck realized, with Sarah’s help that he couldn’t stay in Burbank with his sister forever, and Sarah couldn’t give him the future he desired.
It was one of the great season 2 themes that Chuck entered the Buy More, ready to leave and start a new life, both at the beginning and the end of the season. In between he is changed in to a very different man. In the beginning (to the marvelous strains of The Thermals “Returning To The Fold”) it is as a man recognizing where he is in life and waxing nostalgic on the life he inhabits, but intends to leave behind. In the end (to the Thermals “Now We Can See”) it is a man whose eyes have been opened, who has overcome adversity and conquered, but fails to understand the consequences of his travails and who he has become because of them.
I’ll continue this slight diversion to clarify something I find vitally important to understanding Chuck and Sarah and what they give to each other and share with each other.
Both crave adventure. Both crave travel and excitement and seeing the world. And sharing that with someone they love. And both have been thwarted because of someone they love. In Sarah’s case, while she genuinely craved new adventures, it was also a way to be with her dad, yet that was a continual cause of heartbreak and disappointment because of her dad, leaving only the thrill. With Chuck, as early as Tango, we see that his fantasy realized self was conquering the tech world and racing in the America’s Cup. This is nicely reinforced in the season 2 opening when he contemplates his intersect-free future. None of his options involve working in the Buy More. But absent parents, sibling struggles has made the only stable influence in Chuck’s life extremely risk averse when it comes to Chuck, and it has likewise convinced him of limited horizons.
Throughout season 2 each of our heroes is tempted to return to that baseline life they are outgrowing. Chuck, offered the chance to return to a normal life void of adventure, at least for a while, in Chuck Versus The Third Dimension (a very under-rated episode) ultimately chooses to return to the adventure. Sarah, in Chuck Versus The Lethal Weapon, offered the return to international travel and adventure in exotic locations but absent the man she wants to share it with chooses to forgo the adventure and remain with Chuck.
The other thing that both need and give to each other is meaning. Both need their life to matter, to mean something more than the thrill or the adventure or the next mission. For Sarah that meaning is an abstraction for a long time, and for Chuck, he lost that meaning and was adrift until Sarah asked him if he was ready to be a hero.
Neither of them realize that to be whole, they both need to find that purpose and someone who matters to them to share that purpose with.
Which leads us to the next portion of Chuck and Sarah’s story, the conclusion of season 2 and the beginning of season 3. Part 2 goes live Wednesday.