At the end of part 2 of this post we finally saw Chuck and Sarah take those first tentative steps toward building a life together by just deciding that rather than try to change themselves or each other in an attempt to pigeonhole themselves into the other’s life, they’d be together first, then decide what sort of life that meant for them both. But we also saw that communication between these two, given their fears, insecurities and history, is a tough thing to really do well. What exactly does being together mean to each of them? We can presume that Chuck takes a very traditional view, marriage, kids, etc. But what about Sarah? Given her upbringing what exactly does she think being with Chuck and being a spy means for them? Join me after the jump for a look at how together Chuck and Sarah can be.
We start to see Chuck and Sarah settle in to a sort of domesticity in Chuck Versus The Roll models, but it is an odd sort of domesticity. Sarah is apparently a very common presence in Casa de Bartowski, to the point she’s installed a weapons cache for herself and Chuck in the couch. Yet she is utterly baffled by the thought of moving in on a permanent basis.
It wasn’t till this time around, re-watching these episodes for this post, that it finally struck me. Sarah, at some level, doesn’t think this will last. She doesn’t think in those terms because nothing in her life ever has. She is merely moving from one place with one life to another place with a new life, and there are never any connections between the two. She is enjoying her new life with Chuck immensely, as she did before he decided to become a spy, but this is why she could so easily give up on Chuck after Prague and his return. She tried to be with Chuck, it didn’t work. Time to move on to the next life, and hopefully that one will work out better. It is why Shaw can be a viable option for her as she prepares for the next life even with Chuck right there in front of her. Chuck didn’t work out. It was painful. She doesn’t carry painful things into her next life (though she does have a pretty substantial baggage train as we soon discover).
It is in that context that we can also understand why running away seemed like a good idea for the always-impulsive-when-she-may-lose-Chuck Sarah Walker. It wasn’t that she gave any thought to how it would end, she just wanted to have whatever time she could with Chuck. She doesn’t live in the future, she lives in the present. Chuck is the long view guy who thinks about building a future and a life.
Sarah doesn’t work on relationships, she barely knows what that would involve. She inhabits them while they work (as we see with the CAT squad and her friendship with Zondra) and leaves them behind when they don’t.
Because of that, change is Sarah’s enemy, and she hates surprises.
But things have always been different with Chuck. When she was ready to leave with Bryce for some reason she just couldn’t do it. Despite the mess she’d made with Chuck she couldn’t bring herself to just drop that old life that wasn’t working out and start again with Bryce.
Again, after the events of Prague, once re-united with Chuck, given Carina’s offer (whether she was in a position to accept or not) she chose to stay, at least for a while. “I’m good here, for now.” Chuck was back in her life, but she felt that at some point she’d be moving to that next life and he’d become just a bitter-sweet memory of what she’d found and lost, just like all the other past lives she’d lived.
She may not realize it yet, But Sarah is not the same girl she used to be. It’s not one mission at a time anymore, it’s all about being with Chuck and having that love and security that was missing all her life. It’s having someone who will be there tomorrow, and the next day, someone you can have a future with.
In a way the Turners are roll models for Sarah, who sees, perhaps for the first time, that despite being not-so-great partners and spies (who have their moments) in the end their love could survive, and they could be there for each other, even if there were a lot of bumps along the way. Sarah is finally thinking about a future and a life after spying. And finally she is able to express that to Chuck. After nearly losing him in Chuck Versus The Tooth she is able to say the words this time, not “yes” or the cheat of “I love being with you and I love working with you” but “I love you”. Hard words for her to get out apparently, but words Chuck needed to hear. Sarah walker is learning to open up and trust, despite it making her more vulnerable.
Unfortunately Sarah shows that vulnerability right at a time when Chuck has some hard news. I don’t entirely blame Chuck. It was out of an instinct to protect Sarah and to let her revel in the feeling of being able to express the love she feels, but the timing, and the eventual revelation will be all the more devastating because of it.
In Chuck’s defense I can see how “my dad fixed the problem with my brain that would have eventually killed me” goes down a lot easier than “the intersect will eventually drive me insane”, but keeping it from her didn’t keep her from realizing that because of the life they decided to live, that future together might never happen.
“I’m not going anywhere, and neither are you.” It’s a lie, but it is the kind of lie we often need to tell each other. You can’t give in to the despair, you have to believe that you will endure.
Still, being a spy means living with lies, and Sarah is starting to feel Chuck has gotten way too comfortable with the secrets and the lies and the lying. It’s easier than the truth when Chuck’s dad comes back in to his life to let him know in no uncertain terms he doesn’t want his family involved in that world. It’s the conversation Chuck needs to have that is much harder that keeps Chuck lying to his dad past the point where it makes any sense, and Sarah knows it.
Sarah however gets her comeuppance for her new-found advocacy for open-ness. Some conversations are tough to have, and it often feels easier to avoid them, but the truth has a way of coming out, and can hurt a lot more when it comes out in the wrong way.
In Sarah’s case it’s a series of uncomfortable admissions about her and Shaw. Uncomfortable for both her and Chuck. For Chuck it is the harsher than intended ultimatum to his dad. You don’t get to tell me how I live my life. You lost that privilege when you abandoned us.
For Stephen the secrets and lies are nearly fatal. By keeping Ellie in the dark both Stephen and Chuck have left her vulnerable.
So, back to the selfish versus selfless love as a theme. Stephen loves his children selflessly to the point where he was willing for them to hate him to keep them safe, but Chuck and Sarah are charting their own course when it comes to those they love, even as Chuck picks up his father’s mantle. No secrets, no lies
While the reason it comes about is sort of Chuck and Sarah’s (almost) last hurdle when it comes to the spy-life coming between them. It comes out of one of Chuck and Ellie’s most cringe-inducing interactions. Having seen her father murdered in front of both her and Chuck and nearly losing Chuck to Shaw’s evil plan she emotionally blackmails Chuck into quitting the CIA so that she knows he’ll be safe. This is the show showing that selfish aspect of love our characters sometimes revert to out of fear and insecurity. After Chuck and Sarah’s “vows” in Chuck Versus The Honeymooners it is Chuck letting his big sister steamroll over him and the new life he is building with Sarah. To be fair Sarah takes it pretty well. As we find again in season 4 Sarah really doesn’t want Chuck to be a spy. Never did. But he fell in love with it as much as she did and they work well together and she can be there to watch his back, but at any given time when there is a chance he’ll quit she seems to like the idea of him not in the field anymore.
But the reason for this whole digression was that Chuck’s decision seems to create a bit of tension in the relationship. As we see at the start of season 4 is certainly creates some distance. It isn’t as if they regress per say, it’s just that there is a period at the beginning of season 4 where they seem to be getting to know each other a little better than they tried to in late season 3. The initial distance between them and the secrets Chuck is keeping from Sarah aren’t helping, but that little hurdle overcome Chuck and Sarah enter in to a period of tremendous growth in their relationship and their ability to talk to each other.
There are still rough spots, like the whole marriage-and-babies and the not-a-proposal-proposal episodes, but these actually lead to some real communication as opposed to their formerly reflexive pulling back. In a very real and selfless way they are letting each other find out who they are.
Sarah, freaked out by Chuck’s marriage and babies talk initially expects a reaction that would have fit season 2 Chuck, but doesn’t really apply to the more mature season 4 Chuck. She can talk about slowing things down and he doesn’t get clingy and insecure or freak out. He is secure enough in their relationship to let it progress at Sarah’s glacial comfort level rather than his normal full-steam ahead pace. And for her part Sarah is actually putting in some effort rather than just reacting by pulling back from Chuck. We actually see the two of them start to deal with things we always suspected were issues for both of them but were never actually addresses before.
And we see changes in Chuck too. He is confident enough in his relationship with Sarah to actually push a bit without undue fear that he’ll freak her out and make her back away. His insistence that they talk about the not-a-proposal-proposal and how they feel about it (and many other things) is great to see. And Sarah the relationship councilor to Costa Gravas was a surprising and delightful development that came directly from that insistence. Sarah can finally understand that change is not to be feared, or always bad, if you have the right person to handle those changes by your side.
As a simple aside, is it just me or is Chuck learning how to handle Sarah? At the end of Chuck Versus The Coup d’Etat I got the distinct impression that Chuck had rather deliberately planted the idea of talking to him when he’s asleep to find out what she thought of marriage without freaking her out. That subtle smile looked like a plan come together to me.
Even in the best relationships stress and disagreements are inevitable due to both inside and outside forces. In early season 4 it is the outside forces that are the initial stress, but it is the result of that outside stress that introduces some more of the angst we were getting past.
Chuck’s mom is back. Sort of. For a while. Chuck has showed up on Volkoff’s radar and Frost needs to take him off the radar. Unfortunately her re-appearance in Chuck and Ellie’s lives creates a string of Thinkling’s falling dominoes that ends with Sarah arresting Frost to guard Chuck’s blind spot, a big fight that exhausts Sarah to the point where she lets her guard down, and Chuck losing the intersect and all of his father’s work. (Or is it all lost?).
After a major fail the relationship neuroses and the mishegas are back and Sarah is gone, looking for Volkoff. Now this isn’t Cole Barker level neuroses, or a Jill Roberts took my mojo depression, it is just Chuck sidelined, and wondering what he brings to the team, or the relationship. It is nothing Sarah does intentionally, but it seems she kind of likes the idea that Chuck could be safe “in the car” if the intersect can’t be restored. Chuck seems to pick up on the fact that he’s back in the car, back in the Buy More and she’s out doing missions. It is a very uncomfortable regression to his pre-“real spy” days for Chuck.
If he could only get the intersect (his mojo) back! But how?
When a month of torture and getting beaten to a pulp don’t work our favorite dead man walking, agent Jim Rye, has the ideal solution. PFOD. Well ideal to everyone except Sarah.
Without getting in to the merits of Rye’s theory or the premise, let’s just say that I love this episode because of the emotional intensity on display. Every bit as much as Phase 3, but in a different way.
Sarah is re-living her worst nightmares of season 2 and season 3 combined. She’s watching Chuck take stupid risks that get him dropped off buildings, blown up in cars, volunteering for dangerous missions with no backup, and worst of all, not listening to her.
Chuck is putting himself on the line like never before. No backup, no safety net, no turning back. No Sarah. No Casey. No Sarah. The only partners he’s ever known. The only ones he trusts with his life instinctively. But he’s doing it for his team, for his country, and because he screwed up and needs to fix it.
In the end we find that much of the CIA doesn’t care all that much about Chuck. He’s the intersect, or he’s expendable. And Chuck, he’d rather love Sarah than anything else, intersect or not. It is one of my favorite moments of the series (and sorry, but you need to buy in to the premise that “Sarah is the rock” is at least plausible in Chuck’s mind). Chuck is offered the chance to become Bryce Larkin or Cole Barker, but he decides he’s rather be Chuck Bartowski and love Sarah more than himself.
I think we can all agree that a very scary version of Sarah’s selfless love for Chuck is on display in Chuck Versus Phase Three. I will just note that I find Chuck’s dream conversation with Sarah at the end, contrasted with Sarah’s very real pleas not to leave her is a very interesting look into the minds of our heroes, and informative to why Chuck still has the neuroses on occasion. Sarah is a desperate hot mess, not knowing if she can go on without Chuck, hating who she was before Chuck. Chuck sees a cool calm woman, always in control, always rational. Interesting.
So post-intersect Chuck seems to have come to terms with his neuroses and mishegas. Well there is the part that he’s pretty untrained in combat skills and strip-kick isn’t helping enough, and that leaves Sarah vulnerable when multiple baddies try to assassinate him. Oh, and Mom is back!
And more dominoes fall.
Oh, but time for another non-sequitur.
Chuck is untrained. Nope, not even close. They continually showed that Chuck was trained in marshal arts, just nowhere near intersect levels. In FOD he took on 3 ninjas, ineptly compared to ninja skills, but not without any skills whatsoever. It is an important point, referring to Thinkling’s crutch versus tool transition.
In Chuck Versus The Fear Of Death through Chuck Versus The Leftovers Chuck comes to an important realization. He isn’t a great spy merely because he had the intersect, and there is some indication he was coming to this realization earlier, but he is a great spy because he knows how to wield power, whatever power is available to him. Without the intersect he has less power, but can still be an effective spy by using his organic talents, and those of his team. It’s the setup for season 5.
It’s why Sarah’s next act of selfless love works.
Sarah has it all, the guy, the family, the future. But it is all held hostage by one man. Volkoff. Sarah sees all he has taken from Chuck and his family, and all he could take from her. So she takes action. She is willing to risk all she is, all she has become an all that she could have to save Chuck and the family who took her in and made her whole, one of their own.
Sarah has risked it all on her ability to deliver what Frost couldn’t for 20 years, real safety for the Bartowski family, for her family.
She has two things on her side, a very experienced Mary Bartowski, and a very clever and motivated Chuck.
The end result is one of my favorite scenes in the entire series. Volkoff is gone, Mary is freed, Sarah is back and the future lies open for all of them. The proposal in the hospital hallway is one of the most powerful scenes in the entire series.
And they could have ended there. And I’d have been overjoyed.
But they didn’t, so I still have some more to tell, in part 4 of this expanding post.