These Are A Few Of Our Favorite Themes: If You Love Something Set It Free

Part 2 of 3  Part 1


Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places

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.


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.


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.


About Ernie Davis

I was born in 1998, the illegitimate brain child and pen name of a surly and reclusive misanthrope with a penchant for anonymity. My offline alter ego is a convicted bibliophile and causes rampant pognophobia whenever he goes out in public. He wants to be James Lileks when he grows up or Dave Barry if he doesn’t.  His hobbies are mopery, curling and watching and writing about Chuck.  Obsessively.  Really, the dude needs serious help.
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60 Responses to These Are A Few Of Our Favorite Themes: If You Love Something Set It Free

  1. CaptMediocre says:

    Believe it or not, I read your Black Box

    Believe it or not, I disagree.

    I’ll just say that I don’t see the growth you speak of during this time in the story. I see regression and no attempt to repair the shattered relationship. Because of this C&S are less ready for a relationship now then at prior to this, IMO.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I’m shocked.

      OK, not really. It took me a while to see things as I do now, and a lot of it was because I’d learned how to watch the show in a way that allowed me to see the questions TPTB were trying to get me to ask. It isn’t always easy, but I found it rewarding.

      I often think of it this way, while most people see the show as about Chuck and Sarah and their love story the first part of season 3 was about Chuck and Sarah as individual characters coming to the point where they are ready for each other. Those who say they were ready at the end of season 2 don’t need it or won’t see it and probably aren’t going to enjoy it. I understand, the clues to why they weren’t ready aren’t laid out in season 2, they are retroactively applied in season 3 and mostly resolved in season 4, so there is a bit of a disconnect with season 3 in many ways.

    • i get what ernie means…there is personal growth for the two of them and thats important…i don’t think we can focus on C&S as a unit during the “misery arc” because they aren’t one…they had to come to INDIVIDUAL realizations before we see them together in other guy…a lot of people say they regressed because they weren’t “together” anymore and that is wrong…i agree entirely with Ernie’s BB, very well done !

      i get that its difficult not to focus C&S as a unit but therein is the solution to “misery arc” and because many fans can’t do that they don’t see it…I believe the greatest measure of personal growth is to recognize the damage we cause and its not lost on me that C&S eventually do and I can stomach the “misery arc” for that reason…sound idea, AWFUL execution, JS is a professional and wrote like a child…thanks Erine! fantastic BB!

  2. resaw says:

    Thanks, Ernie, for that. I have watched and enjoyed season 3 multiple times. I personally thought that there was some kind of growth going on, but you stated it much more coherently than I ever could.

  3. Philip E. Taylor says:

    Mr. Davis your reasoning makes sense within the boundaries of both ‘Chuck’ and how television shows like to tell their stories.
    And even though I generally loathe love triangles and pli’s, that too is the nature of the tv story telling beast.
    But then there is Shaw…

  4. uplink2 says:

    To borrow from the Captain, surprise surprise I read the black box as well. But surprise surprise I actually agree with some of the premise Ernie presents. But, and you knew there would be a but, very little of that decent premise actually appears on screen for me. The execution of the ideas Ernie presented is just so awful that it makes it damn near impossible to see what’s underneath. As I’ve said before I had no problem with the idea that the 2.0 would change things between our heroes. What I do have a huge problem with is Prague. Prague had absolutely nothing to do with the 2.0 or the changes the spy life would bring and the choices Chuck would have to make. Prague’s entire purpose in how it was handled was to do one thing and one thing only, have Chuck treat Sarah horrifically to set up the upcoming OLI’s. We have spent pages upon pages discussing how OOC Chuck was on that platform. How he mistreated her and how instead of setting up the noble idea that he was rejecting running away for the greater good both selfish and selfless, he was in fact rejecting her. That is how that moment was executed and its purpose was to break Sarah’s heart so severely so we can get one more round of OLI’s. I would ask anyone to show me how Chuck handled himself on that platform had anything to do with the spy story. That is what I reject about this story choice. It was never about Chuck becoming a spy, proving his worth to her, doing the “right thing”, it was entirely about one more unnecessary and unwanted round of teen angst.

    And then we get to the fact that that IMO, terrible story choice was so poorly executed, and poorly cast, it made a mockery of the more credible underlying story that needed to be told. The characters were all over the place with no coherent story, especially Sarah. How does one reconcile the pathetic wimp that is Sarah disobeying her prime directive to protect the Intersect, a directive that Schwartz himself said was still in play, pleading like a little girl with her “boyfriend” to not blow him up “for me” and then standing by doing nothing when the five minutes are up with the woman who is “hoping that you would say that” when asking Chuck to help her disobey her orders to help Casey who had in fact committed treason? The answer is you can’t because it is not a cohesive character anymore. And none of that fits into the growth scenario that Ernie so eloquently spoke of. Many times the execution of this contrived story is so bad it makes it unwatchable. It is manipulative, inconsistent, and was summarily rejected by a large portion of the fanbase. I won’t get into too much about Routh as Ernie said been there done that, but I think it’s extremely significant that even Schwedak came about as far as they could to admit that Sarah/Shaw was a failure on multiple levels.

    Not to be repetitive, but I have always thought this analogy was appropriate here. This isn’t little kids soccer where you get a trophy just for showing up. Having a solid and legitimate story plan means nothing it it doesn’t make it on screen. Or if it does it gets muddied beyond the point of recognition by horrible storytelling. No matter how talented Zach and Yvonne are they simply could not make a contrived and badly written story choice palatable to a big part of their audience. It’s why so many use the “black box”. In the end the resolution to all of the legitimate challenges that Ernie points out simply wasn’t worth the journey they took us on to get there. Again it’s ok to challenge your audience with story choices they don’t like or expect. In fact it’s desirable many times, hell look at Game of Thrones. But if you are going to make those choices you better show your audience why it was necessary and tell that story well. In season 3.0 they failed miserably in doing that. So though I can appreciate what Ernie is trying to say in this post, the fact of the matter is for me at least I simply don’t see it on screen. What I do see I found repulsive at times at worst and simply mediocre at best.

    I agree with Ernie that no one will ever get me to change my opinion of that part of the series, believe me I’ve been trying to understand that for almost 5 years now. But I do appreciate those that try to see the bigger picture. I just wish that the bigger picture was actually shown on screen. What was shown was not entertaining and it tarnished the characters in such a way that does not make them more “human”, it makes them less than they were before.

    • i agree with those facts JS did something so god awful that it makes us all want to slap him across the fac multiple times…as I said before he should not be allowed anywhere near CHUCK EVER AGAIN! Its laughable storytelling and he calls himself a professional writer its quite frankly pathetic…he clearly had Gossip Girl on his mind when he wrote S3.0

    • ChuckFanForever says:

      I don’t know about you uplink2, but I still hold firmly to the thought that Sarah was just about to splatter Shaw’s brains all over the freezer door when it pops open…

  5. sorry its not the easiest thing to do…

  6. noblz says:


    I applaud you for trying to see the best in this but, and I mean this in the nicest way, to me you’re contorting too much and overanalyzing this. I’m a simple soul, and I see it more simply. Having said that…

    I have to agree with Uplink on this, only I’d like to amplify Uplink’s remarks. The character they damaged the most was Sarah. Except for the train platform, the end of Mask and Fake Name, Chuck acted like Chuck. He was OOC in the cases I mentioned, but otherwise he was…well Chuck.

    Sarah on the other hand was made to look just plain dumb (PS), emotionless, incompetent as a spy and kind of slutty. Gone was the dedicated, devoted agent and girlfriend (I have to disagree and say that after the motel, they were as good together).

    There was no romance between Sarah and Shaw (based on what was shown, they dated for less than 1 week), so they retconned it so that she was in the sack with Shaw immediately after admitting she doesn’t love Chuck anymore (end of Final exam) and apparently one more instance of implied sexual relations before even going on a date with Shaw. That completely damaged her. Never in the earlier episodes had we seen that.

    I participated in atcDave’s alternatives exercise earlier and noted they had a good overall plan and by redoing PS and FN and changing 1 or two scenes in the other episodes, they could have had a good story (for me) where Chuck still had his difficult arduous journey, but with Sarah helping not actively obstructing him. That would have played very well I think.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah I liked your vision for it a lot.

    • uplink2 says:

      I agree with all of that. Though I’d say more changes were needed. Even without the LI story Routh’s portrayal of Shaw and how he was constructed made him a very unlikable character. He was creepy and was never going to be sympathetic. Did anyone really care Sarah shot his wife? I certainly didn’t by the time we learned about it. Use that unlikability. Change Pink Slip and make Chuck actually be Chuck letting Sarah know he was rejecting running but not rejecting her, get rid of pointless Hannah and the whole LI storyline and tell us Shaw’s secret much earlier. Make learning that secret and him breaking down to become a real threat to Sarah become a more active part of the story. Have Chuck have to learn the dark side of spying with the audience realizing how much in danger they both were much earlier. Don’t waste the audiences time on such a pathetically crafted teen angst story and have them earn that DYLM moment. All of that could fit much more clearly into that more complex story Ernie is trying to say is underneath. But again its too muddied, took too long to resolve, and the Shaw character was never likeable, never sympathetic and always creepy. Having Sarah go for him just made her look pathetic, stupid, looney, and for some unworthy of Chuck in the end. We all remember the Sarah haters that developed during this period. How do you do that to your lead or at least lead 1A?

      Again I respect Ernie and his attempt to see the story they were trying to tell us and the questions they wanted us to ask. But the fact of the matter is they failed in execution on far too many occasions. They didn’t understand what their audience was responding to until it was too late. They never delivered on the challenge of “emotional and traumatic” and how that would be redeemed. It’s why so many just choose to ignore it and sweep those missteps aside and place them in their own black box. Potential unrealized is still unrealized potential and not worthy of praise.

      • noblz says:

        Yes! I never understood why they so determined to put Sarah in bed with Shaw. Wasn’t killing his wife enough to make him an intractable enemy? Why the retcon? This did more damage to Sarah in my eyes than the original misery arc.

        Good overall idea, totally blown in execution.

        And Sarah (at least season 2 Sarah) would have never gone for a cold, emotionless and vicious guy who failed at everything he did. Come on, passionate hero was Sarah’s type.

      • noblz says:

        obviously meant “they were so determined”

        soldier not typist

      • uplink2 says:

        Again its part of TV show troupes that they stumbled with. The leads have to sleep with other people before they can get together. Chuck slept with Jill and Hannah so Sarah had to sleep with at least Shaw. Schwedak even said that the starting of both new relationships in the same episode, Mask, was totally by design. There as a “symmetry” they were looking for. It’s why I think Sarah slept with Shaw in Castle at the end of Fake Name. Chuck slept with Hannah in Fake Name so Sarah slept with Shaw to continue that symmetry. If Chuck got lucky even before he ever went on a date with Hannah why couldn’t Shaw? Then we know it happened again in DC as even a complete tool like Shaw gets lucky after taking her to a nice dinner, couples massage, and buys her $5,000 earrings from Tiffanys. Then its hinted at again by “spending the day in his loft” after Chuck “killed the mole”. Sarah had to have sex with someone else before she and Chuck got together. It’s a rule of how OLI stories are told in the what did he call it, “wastelands of teen angst.” And none of that makes them more evolved, more ready, or more deserving of that DYLM redemption.

      • noblz says:


        I rarely disagree with you but in this case I do. First, I re-watched the misery arc (less PS and FN, I then gritted my teeth and watched FN to verify what I thought was there) because so many people said it was easier to take if you watched back to back. I guess they were right, it was easier to take but still wasn’t very good TV for me. I am basing everything I say here on what was in the episodes and/or the declassified scenes, not what TPTB said in some interview designed to stir up the fans.

        First and foremost, there is no way ANY relationship between Sarah and Shaw made any sense whatsoever. He was arrogant, viciously cruel, dismissive of her, accused her of treason, drew his weapon on her and lastly he manipulated Sarah into making Chuck do the one thing that spiked Chuck in Sarah’s eyes. No way having her run into Shaw’s arms right after Chuck’s red test. Just not believable.

        Next, there was no relationship between Sarah and Shaw until the end of episode 11 and it ran till the middle of episode 12. Here’s what I saw…

        Shaw sent Sarah out to cut Chuck loose at the end of Mask to help make Chuck into a super autonomous agent. They mention this as an objective a couple of times. In FN Sarah rebuffs Shaw until the very last scene where she brings him a crock pot and kissed him. Episode 9 back to arms length. The only thing in ep 9 was the idiotic “do it for me” line. In ep 10 the only thing is Casey needling Chuck and Sarah (we’ve never seen that before {sarcasm, see Fat Lady and Crown Vic}). In ep 11 Shaw manipulates Sarah and OBTW, Sarah was closer to intimacy with Chuck (see stake-date) than Shaw. But then they unbelievably really do have Sarah start a relationship at the end of FE with Sarah’s comment that she wasn’t in love with Chuck any more. They went on one date (that Chuck and crew crashed) and Shaw kissed Sarah on the way out to commit suicide. Then comes the retcons and the infamous four items. The dinner in DC was just dinner (Their first date for a meal was ep 12, they said so in their dialogue), the other two clearly were an attempt, completely unnecessary in my view, to make sure Sarah was in bed with Shaw. There was no need for this and the damage this did to Sarah’s character. Then there was Stephen referring to Shaw as Sarah’s ex-lover, again, unnecessary. Having Sarah kill Shaw’s wife was plenty of motivation for his move to the dark side.

        I agree with everything you usually say except the idea that Sarah and Shaw were in some sort of sexual relations from episode 7 on, it just wasn’t there in my view.

      • CaptMediocre says:

        I’m a firm believer that Shaw was gay.

        It explains so much.

      • uplink2 says:

        Noblz I see you points and I can agree with them to an extent. But Josh’s comments to Sepinwall in the post Mask disaster control interview that “the symmetry was always designed” was that Chuck/Hannah and Sarah/Shaw started in the same episode. That dreaded piece of dreck known as Chuck vs the Mask. We know Chuck slept with Hannah in Fake Name and I just choose to take that designed symmetry further and say that Sarah slept with Shaw in Fake Name as well when she brought him the things Chuck taught her about, in Castle at the end. Then you have the trip to DC after Tic Tac etc. Hey for me the very idea of Sarah sleeping with Shaw is about as repulsive a thing as I can possibly imagine. It doesn’t really matter when it happened. The fact of the matter is it did and it sickened me. It was a huge mistake by TPTB and incredibly damaging to her as a character. But Living Dead was written before Mask aired and Chuckpocalypse and they had no idea of how visceral the negative reaction was going to be. To them it was still part of the “emotional and traumatic” events that “are going to be great”. Hey I don’t think even the biggest of the season 3 apologists would say that Sarah/Shaw worked on any level. I don’t think even Schwedak would either. They virtually said so. The entire idea of the LI’s was a mistake that was compounded by poorly written, conceived and cast characters.

        But though I disliked pointless Hannah and thought Chuck was an absolute pr…k to her, the hatred for Shaw is something I have never seen before for a fictional character. There is an entire genre of FanFiction dedicated to how horrific you can make his death. “Shate” is a class of stories dedicated to showing how despised he was and not because he was a villain or someone how turned and went rogue. Good guy Shaw is despised probably even more. It’s really a unique thing to me and shows such a passion among the shows fans and how betrayed they were made to feel by the showrunners.

      • Philip E. Taylor says:

        I love me some good Shate stories… I think I even favorited a few!

      • atcDave says:

        I have too. It may be the funniest trend in fan fiction!

      • noblz says:


        I discount anything Schwedak said during the “chuckpocalypse”.

        Look, I’ll say this then let it alone…

        I think Sarah went down to Castle at the end of FN to explore a potential relationship with Shaw since she thought Chuck was with Hannah at the time (yes Chuck was totally OOC with Hannah). Once she learns Chuck dumped Hannah its back to arms length with Shaw, she steeps back from a relationship with Shaw and he knows its because she is still in love with Chuck. From the beginning of Beard till the end of FE, the only signs of a relationship (maybe) was Sarah’s pathetic “do it for me” line when Shaw is trying to blow up Chuck and Casey needling Chuck and Sarah at the beginning of Tic Tac. I won’t ask you to watch FN again, because (blech) I did it during my rapid watch experiment last week. There was nothing in the episode to indicate a relationship with Shaw except for the last few seconds (this is why I think the scene at the end of Mask was about developing Chuck not starting a relationship). Here are the three standout things I saw on screen that defined Sarah and Shaw’s relationship as being from the end of FE till mid AH…

        Sarah is perfectly willing to make out with Chuck during the stake-date, only Shaw’s interruption stopped it. She wouldn’t do that if she was in a relationship with someone else.

        At the end of FE Shaw asks Sarah if she is still in love with Chuck and she answers “Not any more.” Now I don’t believe Sarah would sleep with a guy if she was in love with Chuck, even during their “cover love” she didn’t do it. Also, Shaw was not turned yet and I don’t think he would sleep with a woman in love with another guy. Sarah flirted at the end of FN but stepped back when she realizes Chuck dumped Hannah.

        Finally, during Sarah and Shaw’s date at the beginning of AH they talk about it being their first date. One quote was “we should have done this a long time ago” indicating they had not, making the dinner in DC exactly that…a dinner with a colleague on travel.

        But having the relationship be as defined on screen, not by Schwedak’s comments, makes the episode 17 retcons all that much worse for Sarah’s character. If they hadn’t had the retcons, I would have been able to live with the misery arc much better. Still bad TV, but at least our characters would not be so damaged.

    • I saw no evidence of intimacy between Shaw and Sarah, i have to believe that she leaves his apartment as that scene ends (that’s what it always looked like to me) they never say one way or the other but i always believed she left….but regardless this is why I said JS was channeling GG when he wrote S3.0…a valid guess considering he stepped down as show runner a short time later…

      • noblz says:


        What scene? What apartment? Do you mean the final scene in Fake Name? If so that was in Castle. And I agree, they would not get nasty in Castle, IMO.

  7. says:

    Yes, Prague was really the problem, or the beginning of the problem. I think Ernie is right that they were both selfish in what they were asking of other by the end of The Ring. Sarah wanted to leave the spy life in some way and grasp at a normal life while Chuck had finally found the direction he wanted his life to go in helping people and using the Intersect 2.0 to do it as a spy. They loved each other, but were still immature in their relationship and their expectations, probably because they both had relatively little experience with real committed relationships. Yet, that should have been the conflict of Season 3 – Sarah rejecting the spy life, or parts of it, just as Chuck is stepping up to embrace it, and trying to figure out their relationship in the midst of all that. They both needed to grow and probably to go through some difficult times, but I just cannot figure out why the showrunners decided they needed to do all that while apart outside of wanting to drag out the whole wt/wt thing. As I think I said somewhere else here before, Chuck rejecting Sarah on the platform with no real explanation to her of what he was thinking or doing just makes no sense for his character. Because of that, Sarah just seems to shut down for most of that half of the season and becomes a less compelling character. I see what Ernie is going for with his explanation of where Chuck and Sarah needed to be before they could get together for good, but it just did not translate well on the screen. I missed Chuck and Sarah together and the two of them with Casey as a real team. That is probably why I enjoyed Tic Tac from that first half of the season as it was mostly about the team working together (except for the ending) – and no Shaw.

    • noblz says:

      Couldn’t agree more. Chuck making his journey with Sarah helping not hindering was the way to go. They blew that part of the presentation.

      Three Words, Angel de la Muerte and operation Awesome were good episodes mired in the misery arc.

      • says:

        Yes, I enjoyed those three as well. Though, they led us along thinking Chuck and Sarah were finding their way back to each other and then First Class pulled them in another direction entirely.

      • atcDave says:

        I intensely dislike Three Words in hindsight. It gave me hope at the time, but it proved to be a lie.
        But the Awesome Arc is certainly a real bright spot, I think the best episodes of that front arc.

      • uplink2 says:

        Dave I agree with you about Three Words but I liked it at the time. I’ll always love me some Carina. But you are right all the hope it generated turned out to be a complete lie. But you could also say that about the Awesome arc. The scene with Sarah and Ellie, the hug at the end of Angel. all of those hopeful moments turned out to be lies again as soon as Chuck got on that plane to Paris. You couldn’t have those moments redeemed with 2 new love interests coming. For me the best episode of the front arc is Tic Tac by far. First let’s be honest any episode with no Shaw is better than any episode with him. Plus it is the episode of the front arc that feels most like a season 2 episode, well except for that god awful taxi scene. I so wished they ended the episode with the powerful deleted Chuck and Morgan scene. But I would agree that the great majority if not 9 of my bottom 10 all come from this arc.

      • thinkling says:

        That’s the route I would have preferred, Noblz.

    • uplink2 says:

      Carrol your point is exactly correct. What Chuck did at the train station in how he treated Sarah was completely out of character for him but it had to be to set up the OLI stories. It’s the only way for that story to work and even then it didn’t. It wasn’t about the spy life or the challenges Chuck and Sarah both would face because of their pulling in opposite directions after the 2.0. It’s a contrivance to serve the OLI plot and people saw it a mile away. It wasn’t organic to the story they had been telling in the least. It”s only purpose was to stretch WTWT until episode 13 and the only way they knew how to do that was by bringing in new LI’s. It broke the mold of the story and characters they had gotten their audience to identify with and root for. Then they compounded it with an extremely unlikable and poorly constructed character played by a very weak and limited actor and it simply got worse. For me 4 of the 5 worst episodes of the entire series are in this arc. That isn’t just coincidence.

  8. This is all basically a moo point now…I think we all agree that the people in S4&5 are so far removed from those “fake versions of themselves it doesn’t ultimately matter…

  9. thinkling says:

    Ernie, I officially hire you as my Black Box tech guy.

    That was a really good analysis and the most reasonable defense I’ve read for the story route taken and what we saw. Still wouldn’t have been the route I would have chosen, but you have presented a plausible defense.

    There are some things, even accepting this POV, that I simply reject, like Chuck sleeping with Hannah. But job well done.

    So, jumping inside your S3 universe, you mentioned that in his relationship with Hannah, Chuck walked a little in Sarah’s shoes. You didn’t clearly mirror that for Sarah, but I think it was none-the-less true that when Sarah was trying to have something real with Shaw (GAG) she walked in Chuck’s shoes, as well. [Of course, all that could have been achieved without getting in bed with the LIs. It’s one of the things I hate most about the currently trending TV trope.]

  10. i feel stupid for asking this question but can someone explain what the heck a “retcon” is…i assume its related to continuity but have no real grasp of what the word means…

    • noblz says:


      There’s a terms and lingo tab above but retcon is not in there. It stands for retroactive continuity. This means inserting stuff in later episodes to alter or completely change what was in an earlier episode. In episodes 17 and 18 they inserted retcons to make the relationship between Shaw and Sarah an intimate one when there wasn’t much there the first time through.

      • uplink2 says:

        Yea, it basically means, “Remember what we told you way back then? Well we really didn’t mean it, this is what we meant.” Unfortunately the scenes noblz mentioned are not the only ones. It’s a way of playing fast and loose with your mythology to make the current plot or scene work.

  11. noblz

    sorry i forgot to clarify…i meant FN but honestly even FE was a major stretch for me . Mask remains the worst episode of the series and sold the notion that Shaw was creepy and BR is a terrible actor and I’m not used to watching terrible acting…

  12. uplink

    well if it helps i’m fixing the “Prague incident” at this very moment…of course its never good if you have to fix the “professional writer’s” (sarcasm) work for them…sheesh …I really should have stayed away from this topic since my story is literally off the top of my head…

    • uplink2 says:

      Josh, the best way to deal with it is to realize that that wasn’t Chuck Bartowski on that platform that day. He was simply a plot device to devastate Sarah and crush her so badly that it made that beloved one last round of LI’s viable in their eyes. Too bad it did nothing of the sort. The man behind the curtain was completely exposed on that platform. Then once the plot device was used to nuke and reset the relationship they brought Chuck back in Three Words and Sarah goes back to being the one who pushes the relationship aside. Well until Chuck chases after the first woman who flirts with him 3 weeks after telling Sarah he loved her. Now there’s the dishonorable Chuck Bartowski once again (sheesh).

      • ChuckFanForever says:

        Well, more like Hannah throws herself at Chuck, and when you’ve only had 1 “real” relationship in the last 7 years, in a moment of weakness, Chuck accepted Hannah’s offer. That sounds believeable to me.

        But Sarah who was supposed to have turned down princes, oil barons (maybe I’m referencing fan fiction here, but you get the point), suddenly settles for Shaw? Not believeable at all…

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah I think that’s billatwork.
        But no doubt, Shaw’s smug, condescending arrogance makes him a grossly unappealing suitor for Sarah.
        But this is all why I just consider S3 to have been a different show that I’m not really interested in. That simply was not the Chuck and Sarah I knew on screen.

  13. I think of that Sarah as someone who goes through forced detox and doesn’t handle being cut off from her idealized version of Chuck well so she makes all the wrong decisions

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  16. DuneSeaJedi says:

    Wow, and here I thought I was grumpy.

    First of all, bravo Ernie, I thought you did a fantastic job piecing together a defense of clearly the most difficult part of this budding relationship (save perhaps the finale). There are some pretty strong feelings around here re: this part of the series, but I can’t always tell whether it’s because everyone is mad that C & S are not together or they’re mad at the writers or if they just see things as implausible.

    No matter what reason you have for despising this arc, to not watch it at all is to miss out on some really great scenes and watershed moments, like Chuck’s confession on video of why he burned Sarah in Prague along with Sarah’s reaction, and a couple of scenes I think are the best of this period, Chuck locking Sarah in Castle because he “knows how important Shaw is” to her and going after Shaw, followed a few minutes later with the bomb dropping, Chuck coming through the smoke carrying Shaw on his back, and Sarah seeing Chuck, her Chuck, was the hero she always knew him to be.

    Another set of opinions that confuse me are the ones that state that Chuck dumping Sarah in Prague has nothing to do with the spy story. It has *everything* to do with the spy story. Just as Ernie said, this was Chuck’s opportunity to be Sarah and Casey’s equal, and possibly have a chance for a life with Sarah. Let’s see…be a fugitive on the run for the rest of their lives or become a legitimate spy and be with Sarah and the rest of his friends and family. I don’t find that a very hard choice at all. What I do agree with is the question of why on earth didn’t Chuck say in Prague what he said on that video Carina gave Sarah. That was certainly out of character for Chuck. But he didn’t and it did have major consequences, and as a result, they had to go through a healing process for the next…12…episodes. Ok, maybe I do understand a little bit of the frustration…

    Still, as difficult as they are to watch, those episodes and other LI’s are all part of their story and their journey. But far be it from me to convince anyone (especially Dave!) that they should like or watch those eps. 🙂

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