Part 2 of 3 Part 1
At the end of Part 1 of this post we found our heroes in a sort of limbo. Both aware of their feelings for each other, each caught in between the pull of two worlds, each wanting to be with the other but unable to believe they belong in the other’s world and unable to ask the other to join them in theirs. This part is mostly about taking a leap of faith, one that doesn’t necessarily work out the way you thought it would, but one that puts our heroes on the path they were meant to follow. It’s about finding out what was missing and why it didn’t work, working on their faults and cracks, filling in those blanks and gaps. It’s mostly early season 3, so be warned, and join me for part 2 after the jump.
Unlike Thinkling I have no black box, with no disrespect to her decision to have one. I do not shy away from examining, in gory detail, the failings and foibles of both the characters and the creative team. But I am going to attempt to employ a black box. The contents of said box will be available to those who want to see it, to others I suggest they skip it. I will accept the creative direction as a legitimate choice, based on a lot of what I’ve just written. If you are uncomfortable or can’t accept that I would suggest you skip to where I say END OF BLACK BOX. I will not be offended if people who get upset by any season 3.0 discussion simply choose to forgo that and get to Chuck and Sarah together. But that rarely works, so I’ll just say I feel a very limited obligation at this point to explain myself beyond my analysis and opinions or to respond to the outrage my occasionally positive or less than sufficiently negative view of the season 3 storytelling decisions and execution sometimes generate. Been there, done that. Not afraid to delete comments at this point. That said, the willing may venture on, others look for the END OF BLACK BOX.
BEGIN BLACK BOX
A great many people assert that you can go from Colonel or Ring to Honeymooners, skipping the front 13 episodes of season 3 and not lose anything. It is my contention that the period from Chuck Versus The Ring (or Chuck Versus The Pink Slip if you prefer) to Chuck Versus The Honeymooners is analogous to the beginning and end to season 2. We examine Chuck and Sarah’s relationship, and who they are in a very deliberate way. In the same way we look at Chuck and Sarah confronting the end of the intersect program and what it means to them both individually and as a couple in season 2, we are looking at Chuck and Sarah dealing with intersect 2.0, and with Chuck’s decision to embrace it as an opportunity as opposed to a burden. But that opportunity will cost him dearly in the short-term. As much as people hate to revisit it, it is important to understand Prague.
In the intersect room at the end of Chuck Versus The Ring Chuck made the decision to follow Sarah into her world, to join the fight, and to make something of himself. Shortly after that Sarah asked him to unmake that decision and be with her. He almost did, but the nature of the intersect at the time meant that only he could carry that burden, and that if he didn’t that important weapon against The Ring would be lost. There is in that decision both a selflessness and a selfishness. He is giving up, possibly forever, his chance to find happiness with Sarah, but he is also doing it because he wants something. To feel like her equal. To feel he deserves her. To be able to protect her whether he is with her or not.
In Castle just after the events at the end of Chuck Versus The Ring Sarah asks Chuck to run away with her. At first he says yes, but in the end he doesn’t. I know this will be controversial, but Sarah’s actions put her in a far worse light than Chuck in my opinion. Sarah is asking Chuck to give up the dream that he can matter in the world, achieve great things. Sarah is asking Chuck to give up his family. And Sarah is asking Chuck to become a permanent fugitive. She is giving up being a spy, but it is for a lifestyle she knows very well. However, her merely asking was a huge step for her. How big, Chuck probably didn’t fully appreciate. In the end I’m not going to blame Sarah for asking for something she wants.
At first we see both Chuck and Sarah hoping the other will change to fit into their world, Sarah finding a fleeting hope in Beckman’s job offer, Chuck being crushed by Sarah’s news of her departure when his offer of a vacation to get to know each other seems insufficient reason for Sarah to stay. In the end we see that Chuck and Sarah both seem to feel they’ve been sufficiently changed by their time together they each try to change to fit in to each others life. To give them what they want or to complete them. They know each other well, but they don’t yet know that both are unhappy with who they are and they long to be the person they feel like the other sees, but they just can’t. They will complete each other eventually, but it will be by freely giving to each other what they need rather than trying to be something they are not, or at least not yet. Chuck wants to feel like Sarah’s equal, to do great things and to have a life filled with travel and excitement and adventure without understanding the cost of that, so he grabs selfishly for it and it costs him the one thing that really mattered to him in that new life. Sarah wants to feel safe and normal and to be with the one guy she completely trusts, who would always understand and never break her heart, so she grabs for that, at the expense of the future Chuck wants for himself, and it costs her that guy.
So both our heroes selfishly grabbed for something they weren’t entirely ready for and didn’t fully understand. Coming to the understanding is the point of the front of the season. While I describe it as selfish in many ways, wanting something you aren’t entitled to because you haven’t put in the work to earn it, it is still in many ways quite endearing. They want to be together so much that each tries to push their way into the others world and the others life rather than putting in the effort and being asked to share that world and life.
It seems our heroes have reached a tacit understanding of this by the end of Chuck Versus The Angel de la Muerte. Chuck starts to let Sarah go. She’s not ready to try to deal with the cover and the family again yet. Things are a bit too raw still. And Chuck, he’s got a lot on his plate, so now is not the time to complicate things. He’s been given his friend card, so for now that will have to do. He will still have some time while he finishes his training to get things back to a good place with Sarah but he won’t try to force his way back in to her life.
For Sarah the process is a more gradual one. It starts with Shaw’s arrival and that nearly disastrous mission in Chuck Versus First Class. Sarah finally starts to understand why Chuck needs to do this. She desperately wants to protect him, both physically and emotionally from the harshness of the spy world, and because of that has assumed a role akin to his sister’s in his life. Someone who constantly encourages him to dare to be great, but then undermines him out of fear for what that greatness could do to him. There is a distinct maternal aspect to Sarah’s relationship with Chuck. But more than that the inequality of it is slowly dawning on her. He doesn’t feel like he is her equal or deserves to be with her because she has inadvertently been telling him that for years. We can’t be together because I’m a spy and you’re my asset. How many variations of that has Chuck heard over the years their relationship spans?
In one of the more effective uses of Shaw, Sarah is shown that while she has encouraged Chuck to move forward and find a new challenge and a new life, she is also holding him back and undermining his efforts. In her case it isn’t (like with Casey) a lack of belief in his abilities, it is just the fear of losing him, one way or another, as he changes and grows.
By the scene in the hallway at the end of Chuck Versus The Mask Sarah finally understands and lets Chuck go. She has been, and is, standing in his way. She can’t deny him the future he wants for himself, to become the man he wants to be, because of her need for him to remain the same. If her love for Chuck was just based on the life she thought he could give her, a normal one with friends and family and safety then it was pretty selfish. We know it is far more than that. But Sarah needs to wait until Chuck is ready to invite her back in to his life.
It is sad really, each is waiting for the other to move, but before that happens it appears the other has moved on. And so they both try to move on.
So why the new relationships for both? While the execution will forever cause a collective teeth-grinding along a large portion of fans, and the very idea a rending of garments among others, there was a sound and well established reason to run them through another relationship before putting them together. They’d changed.
By Chuck Versus The Mask both Chuck and Sarah were very different people. Both had been humbled by the worlds they sought to enter so rashly, both had come to realize they never considered who their partner was and what they wanted outside to be together, and they both came to terms that they weren’t entitled to the other being a part of their life and to the things the other gave to them. They had to earn those things and that place in the others life by giving as opposed to basking in and enjoying what the other gave to them.
Chuck and Sarah’s relationship, through season 2, I often describe as an arranged marriage. Some will think this primitive, but at my work, for many years I worked alongside an Indian man who was very happily married to a woman chosen by mutual agreement of their parents. We may find that repellant or at the very least a foreign idea, but he had a very simple way to deflect. In America you marry the woman you love. In India, you love the woman you marry. Love happens whether we like it or not sometimes, but love is also a choice, when you choose to make that love a permanent feature of your life and commit to it, that is a choice. And the choice might just matter more than how you come to that choice.
I often liked the idea that in season 1 and 2 Chuck and Sarah had each in their own way been thrown in to a foreign world together, and their only possible ally was each other. They each somehow decided that the only way this would work was if they moved on those feelings they had and loved each other in that way that says this is for good. Even if they were denied the traditional marriage and what comes with it, they were in that committed love that says no matter what, us.
I admit I was a bit disappointed that they went with the more traditional approach, but having done that, I think I fully understand why the felt they needed new love interests.
Sarah has realized she wants and needs emotional connections to other people, she wants intimacy and affection in her life. And the fact that she pursues it is an amazing bit of growth for her. The realization that there isn’t an automatic return like she got with Chuck is a needed bit of awakening. Shaw is not Chuck, and as much as she tries to share with Shaw emotionally and professionally, making him a part of her life and opening up her life to him, it ends disastrously when he manipulates her in to giving Chuck his red test.
Chuck realizes that a relationship based on lies and deception, one where he can never really let his lover know him, and one he knows will inevitably end is incredibly unfair. And a very important bit of walking in Sarah’s shoes. Perhaps he’s starting to see why, despite her obvious affection for him she often felt the need to tap the brakes on their relationship. Sarah always thought it would end, that she’sd eventually be leaving, and letting them get too close wasn’t fair to him. He also realizes, or starts to realize, that walking in to the spy life without that one ally he has always counted on just doesn’t work and holds no appeal for him. This is the genesis of the fully realized love story. No matter what, us.
It is one of my favorite parts of season 3, watching Chuck come to the realization that on one level loving Sarah is not something he can control, but on another something he needs. In Chuck Versus The Final Exam we see a wonderful new candor between them, the way they can be so casual about who they are to each other and what they have meant to each other. It speaks to a maturity, hard-won, that they lacked before the season 3 crucible.
They know who they are and what they mean to each other and are willing to acknowledge that, but they don’t quite know what to do about that as they attempt to move forward, and in a way they acknowledge they won’t be moving forward until they figure that out.
But. This is not over.
As usual for Chuck and Sarah, just about the time they think they are able to see each other and their situation clearly, the spy-life throws them into confusion and retreat. Shaw, of course, the show’s imperfect execution of the perfect spy and the personification of the spy-life interrupts. And everything falls apart.
Sarah is once again confronted with the truth about herself in the person of Daniel Shaw. Spies keep secrets and manipulate others to their own ends. If there is something you cherish they will use it against you, and you will betray those who care about you and use them and in the end possibly destroy them.
Chuck has grown some serious backbone and started to stand up to Shaw as we saw in Chuck Versus The Beard. Chuck will need a serious push to accept a kill order. That push is Sarah. Sarah fears for Chuck, for what he could do and for what she could make him do. What she has made him do. The dawning realization that her presence in Chuck’s life could destroy him, and at the very least means she’ll lose him. But his red test is happening, and if she isn’t there to protect him if he balks, she will lose him. So Shaw is able to manipulate Sarah, through her feelings for Chuck, to give Chuck that push and to be there to see what she so desperately wants to not even think about. So once again Sarah has to set Chuck free, to let him make the choice of what he wants to be, even if she fears who that could be and what part she had in making him that person. She gives him the order, and leaves him with that terrible choice.
And he does it. Or so she thinks. And her world is shattered.
She kept him at arm’s length even while she let in Cole and Shaw, and he watched and felt he had to become Cole or Shaw to have a chance. But by showing him a world where he could make a difference she led him to the quest to become that person, a person she now feels she can’t love. I feel it’s more that she no longer feels she can because of what she has done to him. How can she even face him, or forgive herself.
And here Chuck is, wondering who he is. He has made it to his goal but he still feels like something is missing. The very reason he took it on, to be able to join Sarah in that world and to make a difference. But in his quest he has been arrogant and callous about the cost others pay or have paid for his ambition, until he is confronted with the cost being another man’s life. And he refuses. But he has landed in that world and is now unsure if he belongs. His quest cost Sarah her chance at love and a normal life and pushed her in to the arms of another man when she tried to find what Chuck took from her, hope for the future, her future with someone who loved and cherished her.
But now he can make it all right. He can be a spy, make a difference, give Sarah back what he took. He can give her love without her having to leave behind everything she has ever known, if she’ll just take him back. He has one week to convince her that they can have it all. Together…
OK, that didn’t go so well.
Chuck was focused on the future, the opportunities that were opening and having it all with Sarah. He forgot he was supposed to have just killed someone. Until Sarah reminded him. It is an amazing scene, watching Chuck, struck mute, working it out in his head. She didn’t want him to do it, yet she gave him the order, because that’s what spies do, give and follow orders. And to Chuck it must look pretty bad.
Granted Sarah tried to be as honest with the order as possible. And while she didn’t dangle herself as the reward for doing the CIA dirty work, she didn’t exactly clear up Chuck’s misconception that they could give it another try from the previous night. Intentional on her part or not, and I think not, he can see her manipulating him in to becoming something she now despises. Because that’s what spies do, they manipulate and use people and then toss them aside when they’ve served their purpose. That’s how spies survive.
That’s what a handler is ordered to do. Get what the CIA needs out of your asset, no matter what it costs them. Or you.
But Chuck also shows why he is perfect for Sarah. He doesn’t hold her responsible for the tough parts of the job she has to do anymore. He understands the pressures and the life she leads, and how distasteful some of the dirty jobs can be. He just wants her to understand that he’s still Chuck, just the version he aspired to be as opposed to the version she still pines for in that much more innocent world they played house in together.
And so it is a more stoic, serious and confident Chuck who gives a more vulnerable and emotional and needy Sarah something she has rarely been given. A choice. Or perhaps a second chance. The spy life, along with its lies and manipulations and secrets seems to be the only thing between them, and they both seem to be sick and tired of things coming between them. The choice has been made and they decide to get out together before any more damage is done to the two of them.
Alas, the spy world is far more cruel than either can imagine, and it does not let go without extracting its price. The past is full of lies and manipulations and secrets for all spies, and the debt Sarah owes Shaw is revealed to all. Fortunately Chuck is there to prevent Shaw from extracting the price he wants from Sarah.
END OF BLACK BOX
And so after all the yearning, the jealousies, the loss and the hope they always held on to, we finally find our heroes together on the world’s slowest train taking a break from the world and time, just being together.
They are ready to be together. Both have changed and finally come to a place where they can put each other first without giving up themselves and their dreams. Asking Chuck to take an analysts job, essentially to “stay in the car” the rest of his life wouldn’t have been fair, nor would asking him to stay the same guy and stay in Burbank when he dreamed of moving on and becoming more. And asking Sarah to settle down at that point, to give up everything and actually be a real girlfriend, but little else, wouldn’t have worked either. Sarah was a long way from that normal life as a normal girl. She wasn’t ready for that level of vulnerability, of dependance on Chuck, and the events of Prague showed that.
They both needed more than that limited life where they played house for two years, and while getting what they needed was painful, they are both ready now to be together and to make that the one thing that matters.
It’s all they want right now. Nothing else matters to them but being together. But neither has really worked out what that means, or what they want it to mean, for themselves, or each other.
They have just woken up to Ellie’s law: “But dreams change. And if there is one thing that I know for sure, it’s that I want to be with Devon. And it might require some sacrifice from both of us, but he’s the best choice I ever made.”
But Devon and Ellie are communication all-stars, and when they can’t convince each other by laying out their cases, or find a satisfactory moderator (Morgan? Really? I know you miss Chuck, but…) they put themselves in the others shoes and try to make their partner’s dream come true, because as long as they have each other a big part of their dream life is true.
Yes, Chuck and Sarah are sort of trying to do the same thing. Sort of. Neither really articulates their dream, outside of being with each other. If they did they might just realize they have the same dream, to have a life of meaning, of making a difference, of travel and adventure and excitement, and someone they love to share it all with. Despite several days and nights locked away in their compartment, they still don’t know each other, or at least the new each other very well. And they really don’t know how to talk to each other yet.
They get a pass for a while. Everything is so new and seems so fragile. And the hurt and the yearning and nearly losing it all are still so fresh in their hearts and minds. In the end they almost get there, twice, and probably would have if not interrupted, but they get an outside opinion to make sure that another interrupted moment or conversation they never quite had time to finish doesn’t cost them their chance at having it all.
They still have some work to do.
But don’t worry, this is just the start of that journey, learning what they want for themselves and each other and as a couple, learning to communicate that, and learning which of those things is more important to them.
Part 3 goes live Friday.