The Chuck Book

Written by Kelly Dean Jolley, the book Chuck: Real Love in the Spy Life is available from this link.

I have a suggestion for all. READ IT READ IT READ IT!!!

Too subtle? How about READ IT NOW!!! And if you’re still puzzling over how I *really* feel…

A bit more after the jump.

Jolley, whom I just recently realized has been a (valued) commenter here, has written a just-this-side-of-amazing volume analysing the characters, themes and arcs underlying the story we enjoyed (and in my case, continue to enjoy) so much. If that sounds a little “academic”, well, I must admit, that’s the way Jolley’s work struck me too, at first. He seems very comfortable with philosophical concepts and his knowledge of the field is obvious from the first.

And if that happens to be not your cup of tea, fear not. Much like Shakespeare, all it takes is a few pages to get used to the words and fall in love with the language. In my case, that began in Chapter One, especially when Jolley describes Chuck’s birthday party in Chuck vs. The Intersect. After that, every scene outlined in this book would induce memories of those years (gee! Were they really that long ago?) when I would take my lunch-time walks and habitually reflect on those scenes.

Oh, and there was this:

“Recall the mutual pleasures of conversations after the shared watching of a movie or a TV show that you really enjoyed. My ambition for the book is that it support such pleasures that it itself will be part of the conversation about Chuck, that it start and sustain conversations about the show.”

I’ll second that notion. You’d think that after so many years the topics and arcs we saw would have become stale. But NOOOOOOoooooo! I read much I agree with in Chuck: Real Love in the Spy Life, a bit I puzzled over (The idea that both Chuck and Sarah pretend not to be in love with each other, even though the characters are obviously acting and are being played by actors given the impossible task of convincing the audience that the love is real is a kind of meta-idea that makes my head spin!) and even some minor things with which I disagree. All of these things made me relive the times I spent think about the characters and writing about them here.

And that’s a good thing.

~ joe


About joe

In my life I've been a professor, martial artist, rock 'n roller, rocket scientist, lover, poet and brain surgeon. I'm lying about the brain surgery.
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22 Responses to The Chuck Book

  1. atcDave says:

    No doubt Kelly is an engaging writer, who just happens like big words!
    I can’t even describe how much I like his work. (Not enough big words in my little head)

  2. Agreed on all counts, and thanks for posting. I would add that his discussion of S3.0 is the strongest (only?) defense of that arc that I’ve read, and shifted me from completely writing it out of my headcanon to begrudging acceptance. Also, his discussion of the finale’s meaning is almost certainly correct.

    Note that this is less of a Chuck book and more of a Chuck and Sarah book. His discussion of the fit of those characters, and their relationship to trust and confidence, is illuminating. The inversion of Chuck and Sarah’s strengths and weaknesses is my favorite part of the show, and Jolley dissusses it beautifully: Chuck, the professional failure who has built a loving family from scratch, and Sarah, the elite professional who has failed to make so much as a friend).

    Some other highlights, if Joe hasn’t sold you on it already:

    The parallels of Chuck and Frodo.
    The psychological stress of unfulfilled potential.
    The symbolism of Chuck and its hidden meanings (the discussion of “real” is particularly interesting, as is the handler/asset/gift trichotomy).
    The heroism of Chuck’s trust in others; and the source of his lack of trust in himself
    The nature of love (as opposed to other emotions).
    The meaning of their first date, and its reverberations.
    The philosophical validity of marriage.
    The meta-pretense of their fake relationship.
    Sarah’s evolving relationship with her own emotions, and Chuck’s role in it.
    The definitive reading of the finale.

    • joe says:

      Ooofff! Arthur – I should have known I was preaching to the choir here. You guys seem way ahead of me on this!

      That’s a great list.

  3. Joe, I’d love to hear some of your disagreements.

    • joe says:

      And since you asked… 😉

      Maybe “disagreements” is too strong a word. There were plenty of cases (Chuck’s parallel of Frodo’s “Hero’s Journey” is one) where I started to disagree, if only a bit, but then found myself in agreement with him.

      There’s one area which is really comes down to a judgement Jolley is absolutely free to make; where he declines (with good reasons) to discuss the music used in the show. My reaction was (and is) “Awwww – I wish you would have, Kelly Dean” (and I am about to correct my typo in the text re: his name – with apologies). That one is not a really a disagreement but a difference in preferences. Ya all know how I love my music!

      But one I’m still chewing on is his use of “role reversal” in the finale. That is, Chuck is the spy and Sarah is the person wondering who she is (sorry if that’s not a good summary).

      You see, I’m still struck by the idea, just as I was on first viewing, that we – the audience and fans – are the subject every bit as much as Sarah. As the seasons progressed and the characters evolved, we forgot how they were at the start and how much they had changed. But Chuck, who started out a self-doubting loser, did not become a cold-hearted spy in five years. Sarah, who started as Graham’s “wildcard enforcer”, did not become a $12/hr employee with no career prospects. They did not become each other but fulfilled each other’s potential. Even if it’s Chuck who says “Trust me, Sarah” the way Sarah said “Trust me, Chuck” in the pilot, I can’t think they reversed roles on the beach, though I understand it’s temping to see it that way.

      Instead, my idea about the final arc is that we, the audience, had our memories jogged and refreshed just like Sarah. We got to relive those five years again and have our emotions come back almost as a gift.

      But even that isn’t an interpretation of the finale. It’s almost something done at the same time as the formal ending.

      • atcDave says:

        Kelly does make extensive music notes (ha!) in his fiction. Cables to Aces and Turned Tables have something every chapter or two where he talks about music as accompaniment or inspiration.

      • Some thoughts on role reversal:

        Chuck always prided itself on the role reversal (“dude in distress”) of having the Sarah be the ruthless agent and Chuck be the homebody. But one of the coolest parts of this show is that it refuses to stop there. While Chuck is the damsel in the spy world, Sarah is the damsel when it comes to real-world interpersonal relationships. Just as Chuck is a foreigner in the spy life, Sarah is a foreigner to family life.

        In season 4, we see Chuck reverse its own reversal: Chuck has become a competent spy, but Sarah has not become a competent family member. She struggles with moving in, with the idea of marriage, with confiding in Ellie, with sharing space with Morgan, with accepting her own parents, even with inviting her own friends to the wedding. Chuck, in each episode, becomes Sarah’s “handler” in the real world. He must push her to expand her comfort zone, to learn when to take risks, and when vulnerability is worth it.

        This is why Sarah and Chuck are such a compelling couple: they are both incomplete people whose strengths offset each other’s weaknesses. It’s obvious to see what Sarah offers Chuck in the pilot, but the value Chuck has for Sarah is much more subtle, and equally important. The conclusion of Chuck vs. the Baby is for Sarah what Chuck vs Push Mix is for Chuck – she has finally mastered her personal life under Chuck’s guidance.

        When they come to the beach in the finale, the role reversal isn’t Chuck introducing her to the spy life, it’s re-introducing her to life, period. Sarah has reverted to who she was before she met him, and is again an incomplete person. Worse, by being around Chuck, she can see exactly the manner in which she is incomplete by living with Chuck briefly.

        That’s why Sarah goes to the same place Chuck went in the pilot. Chuck had caught a glimpse of a life that he didn’t understand, and was made painfully aware of what he was lacking. Sarah in the finale has reached the same place, and is searching for answers. Chuck knows what she’s feeling because he fully understands both her predicament and Sarah herself. He makes the same self-sacrificing request that Sarah had made (“trust me”), because, in a reversal of roles, he is able to guide Sarah in a world she does not yet understand.

        A brief tangent: this is also a rather beautiful fulfillment of the traditional role of a spouse (“in sickness and in health”). A good analogy for Sarah’s predicament would be losing the use of one’s legs. Chuck is offering to do the equivalent of nursing her back to health, to be there as unconditional support as she goes through the equivalent of physical therapy. This is why I never liked the “magic kiss” idea: marriage is a quest beset by trials and tragedies, and the aim is not to avoid them, but to weather together what you could not alone. I like to think that Sarah’s recovery was a real trial that ultimately brings them closer together.

  4. Hello all!

    I read this book, but I will have to (when I have time) read it again. Kelly’s views on the relationship largely echo mine. The most underrated component of the show is how it can affect the viewer on a deeper level. More than just being a fan, it changes the lives of all who watch it. We examine our own lives and the people around us.

    Then how the book looks at Chuck and Sarah’s relationship both with themselves and each other, the philosophical examination here is brilliant and really gives you a new appreciation for just how deeply these two work so hard-sometimes without even being aware of it-to affect each other. Chuck and Sarah is perhaps the biggest cause and effect relationship to grace TV. Neither is complete without the other, they balance each other like the weight on a scale. That’s my takeaway from the book.

    Chuck’s battle with himself is the biggest thing that specifically struck me, someone, who has so much potential but needed a catalyst (Sarah/the Intersect) to unlock it; a man always willing to accept his own unhappiness and act to the benefit of others, to sacrifice. Chuck is the definition of selflessness and that is a quality he never loses, not even in his lowest moments.

    • joe says:

      The most underrated component of the show is how it can affect the viewer on a deeper level. More than just being a fan, it changes the lives of all who watch it. We examine our own lives and the people around us.

      Truer words seldom spoken, Josh!

      • Josh Zdanowicz says:


        Great observations! It is easy to forget just how many parallels Chuck had, so many that I cannot question TPTB’s central motive behind the show was to show the extremes of how much two people can affect each other. We often question if they knew what they were doing, and this book shows they had a specific way they wanted to tell this story.

        I’ve said all along I love the finale for the exact reasons you mentioned.

  5. Thanks so much to all for these kind comments about my book.

    Joe, I do wish I could have talked about the music. I just couldn’t find a way to do it and keep the book manageable–but I have lots of views about it (I too am a guitar player and was raised by and among professional musicians). There are a couple of discussions of S3 on my blog that pivot around songs–Frightened Rabbits “Backwards Walk” and Imogene Heaps “Wait it Out”. I’ve been planning a long essay on the use of music in the show. Maybe this summer I will get the time to write it.
    Always both exciting and humbling to have people read your work carefully and take the time to talk about it.

    • joe says:

      Kelly – My pleasure. I certainly understand your POV about discussing the music in this book. But after reading it, that was the only thing I was left wanting to see. Clearly, you understand the phrase “Always leave ’em wanting more!” 🙂

      Let me suggest “Luisa’s Bones” to be included in your music list. That song and “Africa” always send me into deep “Chuck” mode when I hear them.

      A personal note: I’m about to update my ‘puter’s operating system (I’m still using Fedora and they just released a new version today). Despite the fact that I’ve been dying to add to the conversation here (Thanks, everyone!) I’ll be AFC for a day or two.

      Carry On!

      • Since we came around to music, I suggest Skinny Love, She Tows the Line, 3 Rounds and a Sound, Furr, Fake Empire, I Don’t Want to Wait, Half Moon, Another Wave From You and We are young; this list (plus Africa and creature fear) are songs that perfectly match the scenes you hear them in.

    • thinkling says:

      Speaking of music — not usually my wheelhouse — has anyone ever found the track that was played in the warehouse scene, just after Sarah uploads the bad Intersect? I think I have most all the music but that one, and I wish I had it.

  6. Pingback: The Chuck Book | Chuck This « Quantum Est In Rebus Inane

  7. I’m not sure if this appeals to you but if you can’t find it elsewhere, you may want to find the song on Youtube and use one of a number of “Youtube to MP3” converters to get it into downloadable format.

  8. Stevie B. says:

    Has anyone read either of these tomes? If so, I’d be interested in your thoughts before I buy them. (who am I kidding! it’s just a question of when I buy them.)

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