The Early Romance Alternative

One idea many Chuck fans, and fan fiction writers, have kicked around at length is starting a much earlier romance for the central couple of the show.
This idea is not necessarily meant to be critical of the canon story decisions, but just to see what could have happened if some different decisions had been made, or different situations developed in the first seasons of the show.
After the jump, Charah at an early date.

This idea was proposed by long time reader Justin during our Beefcake discussion.  This may have a lot of overlap with our broader S1/S2 Alternatives post from a few months back.  But I’ll focus in specifically on those moments in the show, crisis points perhaps, when we can easily imagine things getting off to a faster start.

I’ll start with Sarah’s later claim that she fell for Chuck between fixing her cell phone and diffusing a bomb.  Not to say Sarah “falling for” Chuck means she’s ready to violate her professional ethics and run off with her asset.  But what if…

Its hard for me to think about this without bunker or kill orders being in the mix.  I have no doubt, even at the end of the Pilot, Sarah would have done right by Chuck if she’d known a kill order was a possibility.  But I have talked about that more at length already.  So I will try to consider this time only from an internal issues perspective.

Could a romance have started early without a big event?  Its a little hard for me to imagine.  I suppose the earliest I could see anything happening is during the Season One soap opera arc.  I have no doubt both characters are honestly interested at this point, but Sarah in particular does have a lot of baggage!  I think she would have seen getting involved with Chuck as professional failure.  Maybe if Chuck had asked a better question while she was under the influence of Pentathol; more like “do you want anything more for us?”  She might not have been able to twist that one around as much (I maintain a big part of resisting the Pentathol was answering what she believed, not what she wanted).  But apart from shutting down Lou before it happened, I’m not sure it would have changed much else.  But maybe, just maybe, if Bryce didn’t show up and confuse things, Sarah would have come to a different conclusion while wrestling with “do you ever want anything more?”

I think the next big possibility for this kind of moment is the end of Break Up.  This I can see unfolding a little differently quite easily.  This would start with Sarah speaking first at the fountain.  I don’t think she was about to break all her rules just yet.  But maybe she would have admitted to Chuck that she liked him.  And that might have included mentioning how much she liked their “cover” situation.  I think a suggestion like that might have just led to a more comfortable situation between them for the rest of the season.  This might have meant Chuck resists Jill’s charms a little better too.

DeLorean and Santa Claus are another two episodes with Charah in a comfortable place.  Its not hard for me to imagine if Chuck and Sarah had actually discussed the Mauser shooting right away, like especially if they were already more friendly from back at Break Up, this might have led to a very warm “under the cover” situation.  In fact, I’d say the only question is, how strong is Sarah’s professionalism?  That alone could be the only thing  keeping this from being a “real” relationship, even with very minimal changes to the story.

And then I would say a very early “do you love me?” moment could come pretty naturally at the end of Broken Heart.  The last scene with General Beckman could easily be construed as tacit approval for a covert romance.  So maybe that question comes up as Chuck is struggling with if Sarah would have actually left him if she were reassigned.  Sarah affirming that she does love him would have led to a slightly different rest of the season, and a very different Season Three.

Fan Fiction

I actually could post a very long list here.  But I’m going to try to pick some stories that avoid obvious big crisis points, and flow more naturally out of the general situation of the first two seasons.

KateMcK is always a great starting point for these sort of discussions.  She likes starting close to canon before she sends things careening off in new directions.  Specific to this topic she’s taken two stabs at it.  “Sarah vs Covers, Lies and Ticking Time Bombs” has romance developing during Season One; while “A Common Spy Problem” does the same for Season Two.  The second is not technically done, but I think its as done as its going to get, and it does go far enough to settle the most obvious issues.

Chuck vs The Campaign” by ERSK4 is another favorite that does this pretty painlessly.  It picks up right at the end of the Jill arc.  I usually describe this as the best sort of pure fluff piece.  It is just fun to watch Chuck and Sarah grow closer as friends, all while wondering what it will take to get them (mainly Chuck) to wake up!

For some odd reason, we wound up with a number of Season Two alternatives this last summer.  First was “What Would You Like” by Stars90.  This story is sweet, and makes me laugh, hard!  Its after Chuck saves the world from World War III at the end of Tom Sawyer.  When the president calls to congratulate Team B, including Chuck, it sort of, accidentally comes out that Casey was ordered to kill Chuck not so long ago…

Chuck Takes a Stand” by Nomadic Nerd also starts after Tom Sawyer.  It also starts with the same revelation.  But this time it comes via an Intersect update that includes a little more data than Chuck probably really needed to know.  And it features a thermonuclear explosion…   when Sarah finds out about said order.  This story is not actually done yet and is proceeding slowly.  But its already a ton of fun.

Fixing Broken” by nerdtastic78 starts at about this same time.  But this time it focuses more on Chuck’s general weariness with the spy life, and how Sarah sets out to fix him.  And no, its not really a smut piece (!).

I think that’s enough examples for now.  No doubt many fans have envisioned how things could have moved along fast than canon.

Final Thoughts?

For my own speculation above I tried to limit myself to internal barrier sort of issues, purely because I’ve previously discussed the external issues and crisis points at length.  But I place no such restrictions on anyone else.  So what do you all think of the possibilities?  What are the most likely places a real Charah could have occurred in those first two seasons?  And would what have been the fall out?

My final thought on all this would be such changes really might not have been for the best.  Although you all know I require changes to enjoy the later the seasons of the show, I truly cannot stomach parts of canon; but I think a lot of the tension and angst of the first two seasons actually strengthened my attachment to the characters and show.  If S3 is re-written, “take off your watch” goes down as one of the most perfect moments in television in history. But if S1 or S2 is softened too much it could weaken the whole effect.  Maybe not to such a dire degree.  A more agreeable and happy Chuck and Sarah, for an even longer part of the story, would have likely left me loving Chuck as one of the greatest shows ever.  But more as a warm and fuzzy feel good thing, without the power and consequence it had in those first two seasons.

If I could really change the show I would make mostly small tweaks up until “I know Kung Fu”.  I would look at a few things that make Chuck look foolish or Sarah look harsh.  I might reduce some Buy More scenes and add Sarah in to more of the friends and family scenes.  I think.  But variations are always fun to consider!  And I’m eager to hear what readers think.

~ Dave 

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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20 Responses to The Early Romance Alternative

  1. Justin says:

    Thanks, atcDave, for making this on my behalf. I appreciate it.

    The best point in the series I would pick as the moment for Chuck and Sarah to get together earlier on is in Suburbs which I mentioned in the comment section of one of your other posts. During the episode, Chuck and Sarah find themselves acting out a life they could have as a couple. It brings certain feelings they have for each other close to the surface. What happened with Fulcrum on the mission left them a bit rattled but not in a way that would kill the idea of them being together. After the mission, when Chuck returns the ring to Sarah, he does so firmly believing in the possibility it represents of them having a life together one day. But they both agree that as long as Fulcrum and the Intersect are an issue, that can’t happen. So they decide to work more effectively towards the removal of both obstacles to pave away for their romantic relationship. This vow is kept between them.

    During the rest of the season, Chuck and Sarah deal with being open with each other’s feelings without being really together for the moment. They use their cover relationship as a testing ground for their eventual real relationship. Fake dates serve as prototypes for real dates. But they try not to raise the suspicions of Casey and the CIA about there being anything genuine underneath the cover relationship. It leads to some awkward situations like Sarah acting like she may be susceptible to Cole’s advances but not letting it go too far while Chuck looks on with barely concealed jealousy. But, outside of that, it’s Chuck/Sarah against the world as they look for Orion together, fight to stay together when Beckman threatens to have her reassigned, and take on Fulcrum with Casey’s help.

    Once Fulcrum is brought down, Chuck and Sarah see this as a chance to have the real relationship they have been working towards for months. They use Ellie and Devon’s wedding as the start of that. The whole thing with Sarah being offered a new assignment and being conflicted about whether to take it doesn’t exist. She knows what she wants. She wants to stay and be with Chuck. But there’s the question of whether they truly want to live a normal life or continue being a part of the dangerous but exciting spy world. That’s on their minds in the finale in a way that doesn’t threaten their newly gained romantic relationship. Things take a abrupt turn when the Ring launch an assault on Castle, kill Bryce, and steal the Intersect 2.0. In this version, Chuck never gets to download it. But its theft and Bryce’s murder make up Chuck and Sarah’s minds about whether they want to quit the spy life.

    Thoughts, atcDave?

    • atcDave says:

      I like a lot of that Justin, especially how it plays out at the end. Otherwise, a lot of the show doesn’t change much, but the nuance does.
      I’m always a fan of the secret relationship idea. This is maybe an understated version of that; if they’re “waiting” to be together it changes the underlying idea of the show a little, without diving into an all out relationship.
      Fun stuff.

    • For me Matt Bohmer accepting White Collar blindsided the show runners and i don’t think they wanted to remove Bryce from the show…part of me wants to believe they had a much more bearable first 12 episodes planned out and i actually think Sarah wouldn’t have fallen so far which would have been nice!

      As far as earlier romance I favor a hush hush romance occurring from truth on….maybe Chuck phrases things different; Sarah slips a little and they kiss in the end scene?

      Of course like Dave i don’t have issues with cannon pre “Guys i know kung-fu…”

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah I think Truth is the earliest I can really imagine. Well, maybe not completely. I’ve seen writers actually put them together before the adventure even starts. That’s fun too, but then I think its a completely different sort of show.

    • joe says:

      I really like the thoughts too, Justin. I mean, Suburbs is a great choice for the earliest that C&S could get together exactly because it was a practice run for their “normal life” together. Oddly, I also thought about Best Friends, which should have been shown earlier, but wasn’t, because of the emotionally explosive explosion. That, plus it’s clear that Sarah’s walls are starting to crumble by the end while Jeffster does Toto.

      I’m also thinking that Marlin might have been a great place to have them get into the next gear. What would have happened if Sarah had accepted Chuck’s invitation to join Awesome and Ellie’s little engagement celebration? That’s a could-have-been that I’d like to see. Of course, they really headed in that direction in the very next episode, First Date, to start S2.

      One more point comes to mind too, but maybe it’s too early. Just before Truth we have end of Alma Mater. Chuck and Sarah have just discovered that the person they thought responsible for Chuck’s life as a $12 an hour Nerd Herder actually tried to save him from the dangerous circumstance in which he’s now trapped. Sarah leaves Chuck’s room in tears, in fact.

      What if she had turned around just then and basically said “Take off your watch.”? Part of me says it’s too early because of all the good stuff in S2 that would have been by-passed without a complete re-writing of the canon. But I would have liked to have seen it regardless.

      • atcDave says:

        Joe very interesting thought on Marlin. I usually think of the rooftop scene; that’s a situation where I could imagine the external situation giving them just enough enough of a push to move things along.
        But the engagement celebration is an intriguing possibility. Its more subtle and more internal. If Sarah had let herself be just a little more vulnerable there, things may have quickly escalated! I’m thinking if Chuck hadn’t just made her spend several hours rooting through garbage that’s exactly what would have happened!

        I agree Alma Mater probably is too early. But maybe not horribly so. And with the emotional extremes coming in the next few episodes they might have drawn closer together instead of pulling apart.

  2. noblz says:

    I’m generally OK with canon of S1 and S2 for the most part. For my money, any time after Broken Heart, but the point that fits with canon as shown would have been the end of Colonel. The “this is real scene” before the rehearsal dinner. Tell me that since Chuck was no longer the Intersect, Sarah didn’t drag him back to her hotel afterwards. I mean come on, maaan! They would have had to change the scene where Sarah dumps the reassignment news into something like “they offered me a new assignment with Bryce, I have to give them an answer soon”. Then the rest of the Ring could have remained pretty much the same.

    Of course the misery arc would have needed to be scrapped, what a shame (he says tongue in cheek).

    • atcDave says:

      You know I agree exactly with that! Colonel/Ring is where everything just HAS to change. I think it’s a more honest story, and FAR better entertainment with that small change at the end of S2, leading to huge changes for S3.

      I really enjoy a lot of the early option FF I’ve read, it’s often fun, sweet and highly entertaining. But for the actual show, only very small changes early may have been the best thing possible.

      • I agree! That makes me ask how TPTB could have overlooked the path that was so obvious to all of us…can you shed any light on this Dave?

      • noblz says:

        Actually, Broken Heart is where the “get reassigned” problem had been dealt with and Beckman seems to accept them together. Any time after that works well, the removal of the Intersect appears to be the best trigger.

        As for FF items, I like ersk4’s stuff during season 2 and there is another sdchuckfan (I think that’s right) who puts them together at the end of S1 (Sarah still worked at the Weinerlicious). KateMcK uses the S1 break-up as the catalyst and it’s pretty good.

      • atcDave says:

        Josh I think its just SOP with any serialized story to draw certain story elements out too long. Even things like bringing back villains too many times, or making it so various story elements unwrap like an onion; every time you think there’s going to be a big reveal, it just exposes a new layer.
        So all things considered, I think Chuck mostly did pretty well with this sort of stuff.
        But they sure screwed up the romance by pushing it an arc too far.
        I think that’s really what it comes down to, they wanted to tease it out as long as they could. But they misjudged, and took it a beat farther than much of the audience wanted to follow. I could add details like using devices that made the leads look pretty bad or had simply already been used one (or four!) too many times.
        And the specific timing of certain things made it seem to drag out forever, especially for we who endured it in broadcast time.

        Noblz I agree with much of that. Although I would have preferred if Sarah was better prepared for radical action, instead of just accepting reassignment. But I agree there was a sort of tacit approval at that point, where we could have seen a relationship develop without the government intervening much. Or at least not much more than the objection Beckman raised at the end of Honeymooners.

        But I do agree with all those FF comments.

    • Justin says:

      I agree, atcDave. Colonel/Ring should have been THE MOMENT for Chuck and Sarah, for their complicated cover relationship to end and their real relationship to begin.

  3. BDaddyDL says:

    As far as the early fics go.. Come away with me by fancyjules is amazing.

  4. anthropocene says:

    Many of the classic romantic moments for pre-S3 Chuck and Sarah came at times of peril. I think the short, M-rated story “Solace” by neotantrika, published way back in 2008, captures that sort of mood very well. i recommend it!

  5. Justin says:

    I finally came up with a scenario for Chuck and Sarah have an earlier romance before the events of S1 and S2:

    The CIA suspects Bryce of having straying loyalties. So they planted people close to those he may reach out to if he did go rogue. One of them is Chuck and the person who was assigned to him was Sarah. Chuck and Sarah meet a few months before the beginning of the series. They’ve been dating for several weeks. Sarah has been using the relationship to get close to Chuck for her assignment. But, at the same time, she has been slowly developing a genuine fondness for the geek. Chuck can’t believe he won the heart of someone as beautiful as Sarah. It does help him get through the heartbreak of losing Jill. Everything changed when Chuck received an email from Bryce through which he received a download of the Intersect. Sarah receives news of what happened to Bryce and what he did before his “death.” Sarah keeps an eye out in case Chuck may have received it. She learns that she did and so on.

    Thoughts, atcDave?

    • atcDave says:

      That’s definitely promising. I like that it could even preserve some of the uncertainty and conflict of interest that canon has.
      I’ve seen a few other attempts at a pre-show meeting sort of story. CostasTT did a fun one (Chuck vs a Different Begining) with Sarah meeting Chuck when she’s on an injury leave, with Ellie as her doctor. Although that was very low angst.
      I think it is a big decision for a story teller if you’re going to tell the story like that do you want to package the tension differently, or just tell a more light hearted fun sort of story.

      • Justin says:

        The way I have, there can be both for some drama and light-hearted fun. Some things I can definitely seeing happening in this version of Chuck are Chuck questioning how much of his relationship with Sarah was real and how much was part of the job, Chuck and Sarah trying to work through these issues on and off-mission in hilarious and dramatic ways while pretending to others like Morgan and Ellie that all is well between them, Chuck learning that the reason for him having met Sarah was Bryce adding to his resentment for his former friend, and Sarah experiencing a more potent internal conflict regarding her feelings for Chuck due to them having a relationship pre-Pilot.

      • atcDave says:

        That all sounds good Justin. That also means you could make a big deal of how compromised Sarah is; and maybe how it effects her professional standing. Like times she has to choose between Chuck and the Agency, she might try to thread the needle and please both. But obviously, like in canon, you could build a good story around proving to Chuck that he matters more than the job.

      • Justin says:

        I love the sound of that. Sarah may be motivated to tell Chuck some aspects of her past to show him the real her as a way to prove how much he matters to her. And there’s also the CIA to consider. They may have doubts about Sarah’s loyalties earlier on due to the intimate nature of her pre-Pilot relationship and gave Casey the job to keep an eye on her in case there are any signs of those doubts being true.

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