Some viewers are dismayed or even upset with Chuck and Sarah because they pursue other relationships before getting together, despite the fact they tell each other they have always loved each other from the beginning.
I think these viewers miss the point, which is brought to light by the following question: what would they do if they thought they could never be with the person they love?
Some viewers quip that the hero and heroine of the story should never give up. The problem is that it would be unrealistic for a modern hero to not want to give up. Chuck’s and Sarah’s flaws make them human and relatable. Sure, they will overcome such flaws, but who can relate to a person who is absolutely flawless and always does the right and perfect thing? Thus, when Sarah is jealous of Chuck and Lou and sabotages their date in 1.09 Chuck Versus the Hard Salami while on a mission and then smugly says, “Mission accomplished,” we laugh because we understand the double entendre of her words. Yet, later we feel for her even more when she repents of that and gives Chuck advice on Lou’s favorite flowers. This battle between selfishness and selflessness within Sarah and her later decision to act in Chuck’s best interest against her own is what makes her human, relatable, and likable.
Why the Other Relationships?
But why would Chuck want a relationship with Lou in the first place? Wasn’t he without a girlfriend for five years after being dumped by Jill following his Stanford cheating scandal? Wasn’t he okay with not being in a relationship for many years? Why the sudden urge to pursue other relationships?
The thing is, Chuck and Sarah awaken in each other the desire for a real relationship. It is relatively easy to be relationship-free when, for one reason or another, you are not looking for a relationship. But what if you are put in a cover relationship and have to play the part of the loving partner? Now, all of a sudden, you realize you may want to be in a relationship, which is exactly what happens to Chuck and Sarah. We can see this in 1.08 Chuck Versus the Truth, when Chuck and Sarah rehearse for their double date with Devon and Ellie. They are playing a game, but even then, the truth of their feelings floats to the surface, without them even realizing it.
And then, Scooter knocks on the door of the supply closet where Chuck and Sarah are hiding, and this happens.
If we were to find ourselves in a situation like this, would the thought of being in a relationship—of wanting to be in a relationship—not cross our mind now?
True Versus Fake Intimacy
This is true for Sarah as well. Notice the look on her face during their double date with Devon and Ellie when Ellie mentions the story behind her lucky sweater. The lightbulb in Sarah’s head goes off because she catches the difference between the true intimacy reflected by Ellie’s words and the fake intimacy reflected by Chuck’s words when ordering sushi for “his girl.” Sarah notices it again as they leave the restaurant and she watches Devon and Ellie spontaneously hug and kiss while she has to prod Chuck to initiate a fake imitation of the real thing.
For Chuck, the situation is only made worse when he and Sarah have to pretend to be intimate to further fool Devon and Ellie, and Sarah shows up in sexy lingerie, offering a visual promise of something that will not happen, triggering Chuck’s understandable frustration.
By now, any man can relate to Chuck’s feelings. You want a real outlet for that desire. Of course, Chuck would want to have that real relationship with Sarah, but she is not even acknowledging her feelings; Chuck is thus not even sure whether his relationship with Sarah is real or not, so he does what every red-blooded man would do: he asks her, and when she shuts him down, he tries to have a real relationship with Lou. Can we blame him? We should notice that, with both Lou and Jill, Chuck tells Sarah that this is exactly what he is doing—he is looking for a real relationship.
Well, when Chuck and Sarah swap roles in season 3, with Sarah now craving a real relationship while Chuck learns to balance love and duty, the same thing happens with Sarah and Shaw. Sarah wants a real relationship with Chuck, but he shuts her down to pursue his spy duty1Chuck’s emotions are a liability, so he feels he must sacrifice his love for Sarah at the altar of duty., so she tries to find real in a loveless spy relationship with Shaw. Shaw is Sarah’s Lou—hence, the real name reveal, which is Sarah’s way of saying she wants a real relationship.
Whether we like it or not, this is something most of us would do. In fact, my wife said while watching the show that she would not have the constancy of heart to hope for a relationship that seems doomed. This is the reason behind the other relationships.
Why Not Wait?
When viewers point out that Chuck and Sarah would only have to wait two and a half years to get together, we should remember that Chuck and Sarah have no clue that they have to wait this long. They think it may never happen. Their head tells them it will never happen. It is their heart that gets them hoping against hope.
Here is Sarah, framed between the ideal couple, deciding to follow her heart and quit the spy life to be with Chuck in 2.22 Chuck Versus the Ring.
And here is Chuck deciding to follow his heart and quit the spy life to be with Sarah in 3.12 Chuck Versus the American Hero.
Throughout the first two seasons, the obstacles to Chuck and Sarah’s relationship are not due to cluelessness or misunderstandings or other ridiculous reasons like in many other stories but are due to two legitimate reasons: the handler/asset relationship, which is very valid (for both external and internal reasons)2The external reason is the 49B, in other words, Sarah would be relieved of her duty and reassigned. The internal reason is that Sarah’s own sense of duty prevents her from having a relationship with her asset. and the fact that feelings are a liability for spies. Chuck and Sarah will need to overcome both obstacles before they can finally be together. There is also a third obstacle, which is the ontological difference between them (Chuck is a normal nerd while Sarah is a spy goddess), which Chuck will need to overcome in season 3 in order to be united with her. He will have to become a spy god.
This desire for a relationship that can be had now while the relationship that is really wanted seems impossible is the reason for the other relationships. This is the reason Chuck has his three one-week girlfriends and Sarah has one three-week boyfriend. It is their relationship counterpoint.
Both Chuck and Sarah have to get something out of their system in order to remove any doubt that they are perfect and ready for each other despite their complicated relationship—the ghost from their past (Bryce and Jill), the pull from their present (Lou and Cole), and the on-paper ideal partner from their original world (Hannah ad Shaw). Chuck has been sarahfied and even a perfect female nerd is no longer enough, and Sarah has been chuckified, and even a superman-y spy is no longer enough. Only together can Chuck and Sarah “have it all.”
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