Carina: Do you think I’m an idiot? It’s the cardinal rule. Spies don’t fall in love.
Carina reads Sarah and Chuck’s situation like an open book (this is why we love Carina, right?) and tells Sarah she broke the cardinal rule of spying by falling is love with Chuck (instead of merely wanting him as Carina thought in 1.04 Wookiee and as she herself wants Morgan/Martin at the end of this episode) but also lets Chuck know the real reason Sarah is so cold towards him. Chuck wants to make things right with Sarah and, very unprofessionally, nags her during the mission at Karl’s house but hell hath no fury like a woman scorned—Sarah wants none of it, misses Chuck’s love declaration, asks Beckman for reassignment, and gives Chuck a dressing down while training him. Chuck thinks Sarah’s moved on.
This episode is usually misunderstood as Chuck and Sarah’s attempt to rekindle their romantic relationship but it actually serves the opposite purpose. Three Words is there to put them on the same page (they love each other) and then tear that page apart (they can’t afford to) because love is a liability in Chuck’s new world. Carina lets both Chuck and Sarah know the other’s true feelings but she also gives them a live demo about what happens to suckers in love like Karl in the spy world. And they both get her point. From now through 3.09 Beard (Chuck) and 3.10 Tic Tac (Sarah), they will both try (especially Chuck) to not be in love with each other because feelings are a liability for spies. Just as Chuck in S1-2 had dreamt of a normal life with Sarah, Sarah built her “model home” of a normal life with Chuck but, with him now a spy, she must burn it to the ground. She’s been tasked by Beckman to train spy Chuck and her duty is now to teach him how to bury his feelings for her.
Romantic Reversal. Feelings are a liability. Chuck accepts this as the price of his duty-bound quest to become a spy and stops bugging Sarah. Wanting to make things a bit easier for her friend, Carina gives Sarah a thumb drive with a video of Chuck’s love declaration; Sarah tears up because she now understands his Prague decision was based on his sense of duty, his love for her, her inspiring encouragement, and his need to find meaning and purpose for his life; this starts her inner conflict between head (no future with Chuck) and heart (hope of a relationship with him), just what Chuck felt during the first two seasons.
Sarah finds out through a video recording at the end of Three Words that the decision made by Chuck in Prague was not based on selfish reasons but on selfless love for her, just as Chuck found out through a video recording at the end of 1.07 Alma Mater that the decision made by Bryce at Stanford was not based on selfish reasons but on selfless love for him.
As Chuck was the one attuned to his feelings for Sarah in S1-2 while she denied them, Sarah is now the one attuned to her feelings for Chuck while he, in his duty-bound quest to become a spy, starts denying his feelings for her.
Three Words is the reversal of 2.03 Break-Up. Just as Bryce noticed that Chuck and Sarah had real feelings for each other and warns Chuck that feelings are a liability in the spy world, Carina notices that Chuck and Sarah have real feelings for each other and warns Sarah that feelings are a liability in the spy world. Just as crazy-in-love Sarah’s feelings for Chuck in that episode got in the way of the mission (she went for Chuck rather than the microchip, couldn’t shoot the Fulcrum agent aka evil elfin queen) and put her life in danger (bomb), crazy-in-love Chuck’s feelings for Sarah in Three Words get in the way of the mission (nagging Sarah, getting caught in the vault) and put his life in danger (vault gas, Karl’s armed goons).
And just as Chuck selflessly pulled back from Sarah in 2.03 Break-Up in order to protect her physically, emotionally, and professionally, Sarah selflessly pulls back from Chuck after watching Carina’s video in order to protect him physically, emotionally, and professionally and to train him as a spy who must learn how to bury his feelings.
3.02 Three Words is also the mirror of 1.04 Wookiee.
Spy Reversal. Chuck is the key to the mission’s success and steals the briefcase from Karl’s vault. He also takes charge of the situation in the courtyard by convincing Sarah and Casey to lay down their weapons and then talks Karl down.
This episode is a mirror of 1.04 Wookiee, the other Carina episode. Carina needs Team B’s help with stealing a valuable object from a bad guy’s house, just as in 1.04 she needed their help with stealing a valuable object from a bad guy’s house. Here Chuck takes a much more active role in retrieving the briefcase (the whole mission rides on him) while in 1.04 it was Carina who stole the diamond. And here he takes charge of saving Carina from Karl, while in 1.04 he passively watched Sarah and Carina handle the bad guys.
Love vs Duty. Chuck decides to stop pursuing Sarah romantically (duty over love). Sarah is conflicted—head says duty; heart says love.
Feelings as a liability. As Chuck talks Karl down in the courtyard, he realizes feelings can be a liability in the special world and stops pursuing Sarah.
Red Test. Chuck chooses a non-lethal method against Karl and his men by talking Karl down from killing Carina.
Hero’s Journey. Call to adventure. After Beckman assembles Team Bartowski 2.0, Chuck starts working with Sarah and Casey. Carina acts as the herald archetype who introduces the new rules of engagement for Chuck and Sarah (no feelings allowed).