Sarah is seen packing towards the very end of 3.12 American Hero, right after Chuck’s love declaration and before Casey’s visit. Where is she going? Is she going to DC to fulfill her work commitments, as she mentioned to Chuck when he asked her to run away with him? Or is going to Union Station to meet with Chuck? I think Sarah is leaving with Chuck even before Casey’s confession. She’s not conflicted enough (see 1.10 Nemesis) to be going to D.C. after what Chuck did for her.
Let’s consider the sequence of the events:
- Chuck asks her in Castle to go to Rome with him. She flat-out says no and says he knows why: he killed the mole. She does not want to hear any explanation.
- Chuck asks her again at the restaurant. At first, she angrily asks for an explanation and by the end (interruption) of the conversation, she’s already wavering.
- Shaw abandons her and chooses the spy life (death) over being with her.
- Chuck saves Shaw.
- Chuck asks her again in Castle. This time, she doesn’t even mention the train tracks. Here, Chuck, contrary to Shaw, chooses her over the spy life and offers her what she offered him in 3.01 Pink Slip, that is the opportunity to run away and have a real life. In a reversal from Pink Slip, she objects with commitments, as if commitments had stopped her before—she had said no to Bryce during Ellie’s beach wedding in 2.22 Ring.
- Towards the end of that speech, watch her reaction when Chuck asks her to meet him at Union Station and go to Mexico. Her face opens up and she’s subconsciously nodding.
- She’s obviously conflicted. Right before Chuck kisses her, the background song’s lyrics speak for her conflicted heart with the line, “I’ll take a chance on something.“
- In her hotel room, she’s packing with the picture of her and Chuck on the nightstand. It wasn’t there at the end of the previous episode (after Chuck’s red test, when Sarah says she doesn’t love him anymore). Right next to the picture, the clock shows it’s 6:10 pm. Chuck had asked her to meet at the nearby Union Station at 7 pm.
- In the hotel room, before and during Casey’s visit (but before Casey’s revelation), she doesn’t seem particularly conflicted (as I think she would be if she were going to Washington but thinking about Chuck’s sacrificial saving of Shaw, confession of love, and request to leave with him).
- Compare this apparent lack of conflict with the massive amount of conflict she experiences at the end of 1.10 Nemesis, when she has to decide between Chuck and Bryce.
- When Casey visits, Sarah says that if he’s there to plead for Chuck, it’s not really necessary. She doesn’t say he’s wasting his time or that there’s nothing he can say to change her mind. Her tone (in keeping with point 8) is also gentle and non-confrontational.
- Her reaction to Casey’s revelation is serviceable but a bit too short and weak compared to the magnitude of the revelation, regardless of what she had previously decided (Chuck or D.C.); she shows relief but none of the sideways eye-shifting, the sign of one’s brain finally putting things together—Chuck’s lack of haunted guilt after presumably killing his first victim in cold blood, the honor behind his reticence to tell her the truth (in order to protect Casey at the risk of losing her), his selflessness and bravery in saving Shaw—so I don’t take it as conclusive one way or the other.
The big ones for me are points 4 and 9. Chuck saves Shaw. Sarah does not show the massive conflict she showed at the end of 1.10 Nemesis.
The magnitude of Chuck’s selfless act under point 4 is huge. I don’t think it’s emphasized in the show but it should have been. He risks his own life to save the very man Sarah will be leaving Chuck for. Chuck makes here the ultimate self-sacrifice. All for Sarah.
If we really want to push it, we can even compare Chuck’s gesture to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. As Christ was in the belly of the earth for three days, Chuck is in the belly of the building for three minutes before the airstrike. As Christ resurrected from death, Chuck resurrects (with Shaw) from (perceived) death before Sarah’s own eyes.
Even Sarah cannot fail to notice the nobility of Chuck’s ultimate sacrifice, despite the utterly confused mess she’s in (she actually thinks that Shaw’s foolish desire to meet the Ring director is an act of self-sacrifice instead of the pursuit of his personal obsession to avenge his wife’s death).
If that sacrifice is not enough to convince Sarah to have (some) faith in Chuck, that means that a sacrifice that is in many ways similar to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is not able to elicit enough faith in Sarah, Chuck’s most loyal supporter.
If that gesture is not enough, no words Chuck could say would be enough. But if Chuck’s words at the restaurant (before his sacrifice) are enough to make her waver, shouldn’t his sacrifice accomplish much more? Maybe not fully answer what happened at the train tracks but speak of Chuck’s moral fiber and trustworthiness?
Yes, Sarah is so engulfed in pain and guilt about her responsibility in Chuck’s red test that she utterly fails to notice the obvious clue of the lack of guilt in Chuck’s behavior after his supposed red test (while she’s still haunted by her own red test five years later) but she cannot possibly fail to notice Chuck’s self-sacrifice for Shaw.
And what’s even more important, one of the purposes of season 3 is to knock both Chuck and Sarah down a peg so that they can accept each other for who they are, even if they have fallen from the pedestal they had put each other on in the first two seasons. Thus, Chuck chooses Sarah even though she’s not always the goddess who can do anything (Chuck to Sarah in 1.13 Marlin) and Sarah chooses Chuck even though he’s lost a bit of his innocence (3.05 through 3.08 and, as she mistakenly thinks, in 3.11 by executing the mole), so that their relationship can be a real relationship, not one built on unrealistic expectations.