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

Part 4 of 3 Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3


When we ended part 3 of this growing post, far too long ago,  the entire Bartowski clan had come together, re-united really, to celebrate Ellie giving birth to the next generation with the arrival of Clara.  The family is whole once again and not living under the threat of Volkoff for the first time in decades.

Chuck and Sarah share a private moment in the hospital hallway and our heroes are engaged to be married.

With the Volkoff threat gone we enter another period of mostly lighthearted fun on the show.  Still, we have seen that while Sarah packs light she does come with a considerable baggage train.  In a throw-back to the pilot Chuck is going to become Sarah’s own personal baggage handler for a while as Sarah works through dealing with a family, friends, her past and her future like a normal girl would have to, but in her own unique way.

Join me after the jump to join Chuck and Sarah on that long walk down the aisle.

As we re-join our heroes there is a celebratory mood among the extended Bartowski clan.    Clara is the initial center of attention, but as attention shifts to our heroes impending nuptials Sarah’s social discomfort rears its head.  Normal girl questions!  Sarah’s own personal kryptonite.  Our three spies all still seem to have one thing in common.  They seem to prefer a mission to the intense baby and family situations that make you sweat.  They need a mission.

The Bartowskis can be pretty intense when they’re all together and at this point Sarah still handles them better in smaller doses.  Like Chuck.  Chuck she can handle.

Wait.  Is Sarah handling Chuck again?  Elope?  Chuck?  He just got his family back together.  How can he not have them at his wedding?

Chuck and Sarah have developed an interesting dynamic in their relationship.  For the most part Sarah gets to set the pace and tone.  But at the major turning points, it’s up to Chuck to give Sarah a push.  It was Chuck that decided he couldn’t run away from his calling, and again Chuck who, when he became a spy pushed to try again.  It was Chuck who got Sarah thinking of them in 30 years and that they could have a future both as spies, and then later as something else.  It was Chuck that planted the idea of marriage and kids, and as much as Sarah tried to resist change, he got her to accept that as a part of their life too.  Now, with marriage, if not a wedding on the horizon, what will Chuck do?

The wisdom of Morgan Grimes aside, Chuck is not totally unfamiliar with no when necessary.  It’s just that no usually causes a big rift (the fake break-up in Truth, the real break-up in Break Up and most notably the no of all no’s in Prague) as opposed to Chuck’s subtle nudges in the right direction.  Being convinced that “no” is a good strategy is however plausible for Chuck.  He has often felt he was the junior partner in the relationship as events as recent as Phase 3 show us, and as such he has, consciously or not, developed his handler skills well under Sarah’s radar.  No will take some getting used to for both Chuck and Sarah.

What’s with all the noes lately?  Is no so unfamiliar?  Not to Sarah, but it usually spells trouble with Chuck.  It means he has an idea in his head of what their future looks like, and while he may no longer be the guy that starts measuring the nursery drapes at the mere mention of a family, he can still run away with an idea of an ideal that Sarah finds herself less than comfortable with.

“Why do you get to say no, what about what I want?”

Why indeed.  The unstoppable force that is Sarah Walker is running headlong in to the immovable object that is Chuck Bartowski, and hilarious attempts to “convince” each other aside, they might just need to talk this one out.

What Sarah wants is to avoid dealing with her family and her past.  The wedding makes that a lot harder.  It brings up too many questions if, as Sarah envisions, she stands alone at the altar, her side of the church empty.

Chuck and Sarah’s talk at the end of Chuck Versus The Seduction Impossible does not seem to have eased Sarah’s mind.  She is glad to get some of this off her chest, but she still seems unwilling to try to resolve much of it.

The beginning of Cat Squad has her in much the same frame of mind.  Accepting her “complicated” situation regarding friends and family, terrified at what Chuck plans to do about it.

“It’s complicated”.  Really?  You went there again?  With Ellie?

While Ellie is less a “dive right in” sort than Chuck, we will see Sarah get the Ellie treatment to her “complicated” past soon enough.

For right now Chuck is Sarah’s own personal baggage handler.

Sarah has a point, her engaging with her past does open a Pandora’s box of traitors, terrorist assassins and the like, but I get the impression that’s not the part that bothers her.  It’s her failures.  Her failure to trust, her failure to work on a friendship, to immediately believe the worst, of a friend, and to let it all go.  One life to the next, no baggage, or so she tells herself.  She doesn’t need Chuck helping her, because his help has a disturbing tendency to make her admit she can be wrong, that she needs people, and that her life has left her unequipped to deal with “real life”.  All Sarah has ever had to fall back on is that she’s a good spy, the best.  It has been her touchstone and her source of confidence for years.  Now that she’s trying to be more normal she has to start asking that uncomfortable question, am I a good person?  It is an integral part of Sarah’s redemption, and we saw her start to answer that in the negative (I’m not like this bad person, but I was) in episodes like Chuck Versus The Cubic Z.  But now she’s again confronted with her wild past and her best friends, and how she was responsible for their breakup.  And Chuck just Will. Not. Let. It. Go.

I love how Sarah’s metaphorical confrontation with her past real and physical just as she sends Chuck off to pick up the Cat Squad’s baggage.  And then he carries all of the Cat Squad’s baggage back in to the Buy More as Sarah is slugging it out with her former friend, then gets hit over the head with the identity of, and by the real traitor.  But then I do love my metaphors.

So Sarah closes one chapter of her past life, and finds that leaving those things behind doesn’t mean you aren’t still carrying the weight of them.  She has a past, and she can get some of what she’s lost or given up back, if she lets someone help.  Sarah has learned that she can engage with her past and she can keep some of the good things she left behind in one life in her new life if she’s willing to work on it.   So Sarah does something she hardly ever does, she asks for help.  Who is the maid of honor?  Zondra, Carina?  Nope, Ellie (so technically matron).  She and Ellie can maybe talk about some of that complicated stuff and see if there is a way for Sarah to bring more to the wedding ceremony than empty pews.  Sarah is embracing normal.  Because now Sarah realizes that whatever she may think of her side of the church or who would walk her down the aisle, she isn’t alone.  She has friends and family and some of them she just happens to share with Chuck.

We see the effects of this almost immediately in the next episode. Though granted she may need some practice. Sarah offering to handle Morgan’s feelings of irrelevance may not have been the best idea seeing how little they have in common. And as we’ll see, letting Chuck handle Vivian was an even worse idea given how much they had in common. But both our heroes are making an attempt to let each other broaden their horizons. Chuck can handle the spy-stuff on occasion and Sarah can try out normal a little more often.

Each is adjusting a bit. Chuck is still a little more trusting, open and forthright than a spy ought to be, and he ends up making a promise he can’t keep that is used against him.   After the Morgan debacle, Sarah is still trying to get others to handle the scary normal stuff like wedding plans, but Ellie isn’t letting her off the hook. She is determined to give Sarah that real-girl moment when she can get excited by normal-girl stuff, like a wedding dress (or cake, or flowers, or a private island wedding).  And Sarah does start to realize she has skills and resources that can be applied to her real-girl “missions”, as Sarah cautiously dips her toe into the wedding plans by finding that one thing to get excited about.

The result is frightening. To Ellie!

To me this is the point where Chuck and Sarah become the fully mature and fully realized couple. It isn’t that they weren’t right for each other or in love, but they both seem to have passed that last barrier of insecurities and self-doubt that often prevented them from expressing their true feelings or desires, or fears to each other. From here to the wedding there is nary a speed-bump between them. The restlessness from lack of missions, the self-confidence to lead the team, the pre-nup, mother-in-law issues, sure, they come up, but they are dealt with (mostly) openly and quickly. They know and can fully articulate to each other who they are, what they want, and that they want it with each other. For the most part. They know that whatever happens, they will see it through together even if the way the season ends leaves them a bit unsure of what their life together will be like.

Sarah says it best.

Chuck, you’re a gift. You’re a gift I never dreamed I could want or need. And everyday I will show you that you’re a gift that I deserve. You make me the best person I could ever hope to be. And I want to spend, and learn, and love the rest of my life with you.

I would however be remiss if I didn’t re-visit the ostensible theme being explored in this growing series of posts, loving selflessly.

As the show was originally conceived as Chuck’s journey and Sarah’s delved into later, and much to many viewers exasperation (especially on this site it seems) the potential finales are often about Chuck becoming the fully realized hero and doing what he must, even if it could cost him being with Sarah.  Sarah is often sidelined, leaving Chuck to deal with the spy world alone, without his partner and protector.  In a sense he has to love her enough to either let her go if she must go to be happy, or sacrifice his life and chance to be happy to give her the chance to have a happy life, even if it is without him.

You often see this theme in the 13th and/or final episode of the season.  Sometimes you see it mirrored in the premier episode of a season also to be revisited  with a season of character development behind him.  Think of the helipad in Marlin, where Chuck accepts that Sarah can’t stop his extraction and talks her down from trying to do so by giving her a new mission.  Consider season 2, where in First Date he contemplates her leaving and the possibilities if she didn’t have to, then at the end of the season accepts that she is a hero who needs to be out there saving the world, and that perhaps he should follow her example.

In Pink Slip Chuck gives up his chance to be with her to do the right thing, and at the end of the front 13 he risks alienating Sarah by shooting Shaw to save her life.  It is a well established theme of the show that is again part of the season 4 finale.

His intersect powers gone, abandoned by Hartley at Volkoff Industries with time running out, he does the only thing he can, the only thing he has left to offer, he puts himself on the line to save the life of the woman he loves.

I’m all out of plans… The woman I love is dying and all I can do is hope that you haven’t totally become this person.

In doing so he not only saves Sarah, but redeems both Vivian and Hartley from his father’s curse.  The damage the intersect has done to all of them can never be erased, but they can start fresh.  All of them.

That team B’s fresh start involves an intersected Morgan Grimes as the main feature of their private spy business is a little disturbing.

It gets worse.

But we do meet the wonderful power couple that so many longed to see.  For most of the season there isn’t a whiff of drama between Chuck and Sarah that isn’t handled openly, quickly and maturely.  Sarah, the ever reticent Sarah of all people says it best.

We knew this wasn’t gonna be easy, and we didn’t get married because we thought life was easy. We got married so that we could be there for each other when things got tough. So we could work through things together, rich or poor.

There are so many great moments where Chuck and Sarah prove themselves to each other, and a few face-palming ones where they try to go-it alone to spare the other danger.  These few bother me less than they do most fans from what I’ve seen.  But first we need to get past the Morgansect and his “zooms”.

The Morgansect, which I won’t go into in-depth here is an important arc.  It shows us how a memory that Chuck helped stir restored Morgan’s personality, his love for Chuck and his devotion to his friends, instantly.   It is vitally important to remember this when we get to the finale, because despite missing memories of much of their geeky childhood and shared adventures Morgan was the same Morgan we knew and (mostly) loved before he downloaded the intersect.  This final season will end with Sarah in nearly the same situation.  Having lost memories of Chuck and who she was, who she is, she needs Chuck to be the spark, the memory that helps her cut through the fog and remember who she is.  But that’s a discussion for part 5 of this three-part article.

To me season 5 doesn’t really kick off until Chuck Versus The Business Trip.  The Morgansect arc serves as prologue for Chuck and Sarah, to see who they have become and how they are as a married couple, and how marriage is changing what they want out of life.

Chuck has become a master spy and a confident leader.  Sarah has become a real girl who can fantasize about her dream house and work with her devoted husband to make her dreams come true.  It is yet another of those wonderful reversals the Chuck team pulls.  Now it is Sarah pining for “a real life”, and eventually taking the lead for the couple on deciding how to achieve it, and Chuck taking charge of the spy-life to help make it happen.

Watching Sarah give Casey and Gertrude relationship advice through the season is also a lot of fun.

But to me it is Chuck Versus The Business Trip, and the last few minutes in particular, that really set up the season’s main arc.  Chuck and Sarah leaving behind the spy life to start and build a family together, and if, given their life as spies, they can make it out alive.

Early in the episode Chuck is ruminating on how hectic and strange their lives have become and the pressures they live with.  Wouldn’t a little more normal be nice?  On that business trip, mingling with the nicest people on earth Chuck and Sarah experience the simple pleasures of that normal life that has eluded them both for so long.  Friends, drinks by the pool, impromptu swims while fully clothed… granted all while a deadly assassin is targeting “Morgan”.  But the appeal of normal isn’t lost on Sarah.  By the end of the episode we see both Chuck and Sarah embracing the normal life with their friends and family juxtaposed with the spy life that isn’t done with them yet.  The haunting image of The Viper’s entire team, wiped out, lifeless eyes staring at nothing symbolizing the inevitable end for a spy in that world, and the reason they will never be able to keep that normal life separate from their spy life.  Decker barging in to Casa Bartowski was the perfect visual metaphor for showing that they may want to visit normal, but the spy life will not be shut out.  To truly be free to live that normal life they had to leave the spy life.

The question is will it let them go?

But first we need to let our heroes arrive at the decision to quit.  The same episode that sets up their journey is where the seed of an idea starts.  As Chuck muses on the complications of being a private spy Sarah asks, with some piqued interest, “Are you thinking of quitting?”  I’ve said many times that I think the series makes it plain that Sarah never wanted Chuck to be a spy, but accepts it as something he feels he needs to do.  Coming to that realization was a big part of her early season 3 mishegas.  And in season 4 both in the premier episode and later on when Chuck loses the intersect she seems very comfortable with the idea that Chuck wouldn’t be going out in the field anymore, to the point that she devastatingly gives voice to her fears for Chuck in the spy world without her there to protect him.  She has developed confidence in his ability to plan and think his way out of most situations, but on a mission predicated on violent confrontation she still needs to be there, for herself, if not for him.  But Sarah quitting with him has never really come up,  at least not since their initial attempts to figure out what they both wanted out of life together in Chuck Versus The Honeymooners.  In Chuck Versus The Hack-Off Sarah’s insecurity about being something other than a spy is brought to the fore when Chuck floats the idea of a Carmichael Industries that is something other than a private spy company.  Her later discussion with Gertrude highlights it again.  It’s the only life she’s ever known, what else could she be?

That question and one of the answers to it will be the very thing that convinces them both that it’s time to settle down and live a normal life and get excited by more normal things.

In between however there are the things that make it hard to leave that life, like family curses, unfinished missions, old enemies, a missing intersect and being the only ones who can save the day.

And for the most part I’m not going into those episodes.  The theme I’m looking at is Chuck and Sarah learning to love selflessly and the role it plays in building a story.  As Chuck and Sarah have learned to communicate a wonderful new aspect of that love has come about.  Allowing someone to love you selflessly.  Both Chuck and Sarah have a history of trying to sacrifice so the other needn’t do so.  It often was the very thing that threatened their dreams of a future together.  There is one last scene before their frantic dash, and failure, to get out before it’s too late.  It is one many people say could have been the end of the series.  And I agree to an extent.

At the end of Chuck Versus The Baby Chuck and Sarah sit in the living room of Sarah’s dream house talking of their future.  Chuck has figured out how to give her the dream house, but it means sacrificing something that Sarah, for the first time in her life wants.  Control.  Now granted Sarah does have a measure of control over their lives, but for most of the series she has allowed herself to be carried along, exercising her control only by how she reacts to the forces around her such as the orders of the CIA or Chuck’s decision to become a spy.

Sarah has finally come to place where she wants to decide whether they go on a mission, or risk their lives.  She has fallen in love with the future she imagines with Chuck and she isn’t willing to let someone else risk that.  She isn’t willing to let Chuck risk that to give her that dream home right now.  She’ll let him give her that home, and she’ll help him every step of the way, she’ll let him give her the future they both dream of, but she’ll do it on her terms.  Sarah is taking the lead in their relationship and their future, and Chuck can show her his love by allowing her to show her love by saying we’ll have it all,  but we won’t risk it all to get there.

This is Chuck and Sarah at the end of one journey, ready to start the next one.  We know what it will look like.  They’ve told us.  But before they can start there is one last mission, where tragically they will risk it all, and for a time seem to have lost it all.

I won’t put a schedule out for when part 5 of this 3 part series will finally make it to press.  The scope post has expanded with each part and my writing time has shrunk as it has expanded.  Suffice to say I will endeavor to complete this journey and never promise a schedule again unless everything is completed.  Those of you sticking with this thanks for your patience.


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

  1. atcDave says:

    Thanks for getting this out! Nice overview of the most fun period of character growth. It was fast paced, fun and I think, it honored the characters we’d known at the start. It was satisfying and uncommon to see a series progress like this.
    Although I would say where finales are concerned; it was the fighting to be together aspect I found far more satisfying than an sort of “letting it go”.

  2. oldresorter says:

    I really liked this installment. I’m lukewarm on season 5, reading this makes me more excited to give it a shot again. The concept of grouping 4×14 thru the Baby ep is sort of genius, they really do fit together. Thanks for that! I suppose the Honeymooners thru Push Mix sort of does too? What would the 2.5 to 3.5 season be by episode, say the cole ep to the other guy? Or would the Cole ep be the final to the 1.0/1.5 to 2.5 season? That might be a far better way to view all the seasons? Anyhow great job!

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Thanks for your kind words. This one was a lot of fun to write. As Dave says above though this was a fun period of the show, so it kind of follows.

      Breaking the show as a whole in to periods defined by a theme or thematic shift has really helped me see the show anew. I surprises me to no end that that is still possible.

      It was around Chuck Versus The Lethal Weapon in the full re-watch that things clicked in to place. You can break the full show in to differing blocks depending on which underlying theme you are basing it on.

      You are correct that Beefcake/Lethal Weapon is one of those demarcation points, but not really for this theme in my view. It is the end of Chuck as a passive player in his life. While he’s basically never stayed in the car, he hasn’t really sought to change his situation and break free until these episodes. This really kicks in to high gear in Dream Job. After experiencing the self he would have been absent getting kicked out of Stanford, and having to give it all up for a failed attempt at preventing the release of RIOS, back at the Buy More his self loathing and determination to break free are palpable, and breaking free of his handlers and becoming Carmichael is the driving force that propels Chuck, with a few fits and starts, through Other Guy.

      • says:

        Thanks for these posts, Ernie. I was looking forward to this one, and enjoyed it very much. I will read as many as you choose to write! I like your observation on the Beefcake/Lethal Weapon turning point. I had not thought about it in exactly that way before. But I think you are spot on that this is the moment that Chuck decides to finally take his life in his own hands. He spent 5 years riding along at the Buy More, then almost 2 more years riding along with his spy team. Those two years finally started giving him the confidence to move on. But it did seem that Cole’s appearance, Sarah’s obvious choice of Chuck over Cole, and his focus on what his future could be, both with Sarah and his career, finally move him over the edge to take some real action on his own.

  3. Wilf says:

    Thank you for this 4/3 installment. It was really enjoyable and instructive; for example, I’ve never really thought about the consistent theme of Chuck’s heroic sacrifice pervading the various finales

  4. thinkling says:

    Bravo, Ernie! Thanks for your perseverance. I agree, of course, with you all that this is one of the most fun stretches of the show.

    You specifically talked about Sarah confronting her past with Zondra became physical. And I couldn’t help thinking of Cubic Z and her fight with Heather in the air duct. It’s how Sarah worked through … everything. But these two times in particular, her past and her struggles were tied to a person, and in fighting the person physically, she was able to fight her inner demons emotionally. One of the measures of her growth in S5 was the absence of punching bag therapy, culminating in the scene in Baby when she is able to calmly sip wine and express her feelings and desires.

    (Makes me wonder if the fight scene in the dream house in the finale is layered as well: Sarah fighting some inner demons she can’t identify. By the end, once again, there’s no more fight.)

    Thanks again for the reminder of the greatness of Chuck.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Oh I think it is perfectly clear Sarah is fighting herself with Chuck as the proxy in the finale. She wants to rid herself of these feelings she can’t process and all she knows is that they are tied to Chuck.

      And I will get part 5 out. Hopefully sooner than later.

  5. thinkling says:

    I second Wilf. It was interesting to look at Chuck’s heroic sacrifeces, and how often they came in pairs.

    You skipped one in S3. Mid season 3 (AH and OG) had back to back sacrifices. First, Chuck goes off and saves Shaw, restoring Sarah’s choice and possibly sacrificing his chance to be with her, should she choose Shaw. But she chose Chuck. Then, as Ernie pointed out, Chuck turned around and risked the reversal of that choice by killing Shaw to save her life. Chuck’s journey really was a string of choices/ turning points. Life always is a series of choices, but I’m not sure other shows emphasize it to the extent that Chuck did.

  6. Martin Traynor says:

    Enjoying perfect Autumnal weather here in sunny Florida, and enjoying another re-watch of S.4, a.k.a. the season of love! I enjoyed through the early years of the series that Chuck was the “woman” of the relationship and Sarah, the “man.” And then those roles slowly reversed throughout the remainder of the series, as Sarah found her emotions and even embraced them, and Chuck became leader in spy world. And it was done in a pretty consistent way, once they got C/S together at the end of S.3. I love, love, love how much Chuck and Sarah do for each other in the name of love. The chances they take, the mistakes they make, the growth that they enjoy together. I even love that Sarah takes the dangerous intersect in S.5, knowing that what she is doing is actually risking losing Chuck to save him, which in way is what happens. But save him she did (Though, despite excellent analysis by everyone here, I will NEVER like that they had Sarah lose her memories of Chuck, even IF she does regain them). But accept the final I must.

    Anyway, I very much look forward to part 5, and maybe even a part six (he asked hopefully)? I don’t know what it is about the C/S relationship that just owns me. I love it, feel it, and relish it.

    Just watched “The Cat Squad,” and as Sarah tells Chuck at the end, “Never stop helping me. You help me in a thousand ways every day.” And he pledges to continue doing so…to MAKE HER HAPPY. What a man. What a woman. What a COUPLE!

    …and what a BLOG. Thanks, all!

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