Some viewers think the Cole arc is unnecessary because Chuck and Sarah’s relationship is starting to go around in circles. I disagree. It’s true that Chuck breaks up with Sarah at the beginning of 2.15 Beefcake because he thinks they will never be really together, but this instance is not exactly like the ones before.
During their first break-up at the end of 1.08 Truth, Chuck broke up with with Sarah because he thought her feelings for him were not real, and so he sought a real relationship with Lou. During the second break-up at the end of 2.03 Break-Up, Chuck broke up with Sarah to protect her personally and professionally since her real feelings for him were putting her life in danger.
But in 2.15 Beefcake, Chuck breaks up with Sarah because, even though their mutual feelings are real, he thinks they will never be able to be together, and so he stops trying. He whines about it and quits.
Enter Cole. Like, right away, in the very next scene.
Cole is hot. Cole is heroic. Cole is Bond, James Bond.
And Cole wants Sarah as his Bond girl.
Oh yes, he’s James Bond who tempts Sarah to take the easy way out of a complicated relationship right after Chuck does by breaking up with her. Cole tempts Sarah to go on a steamy vacation to Fiji with him, no bags (no baggage), no goodbyes, so that she can forget about her worries.
But Cole’s role is way more layered than just a Bond-type spy pursuing Sarah.
First, he sincerely mentors Chuck and shows him what a man and a spy looks like.
He is also Chuck’s role model. Cole’s relationship with Sarah, in fact, symbolizes Chuck’s own relationship with Sarah but shows Chuck how a man reacts in those circumstances. Let’s see what Cole has in common with Chuck:
- He is a mark she is attracted to (just like Chuck).
- The mark turns out to be a good guy (just like Chuck).
- The mark defuses a sticky situation, and on a rooftop, no less (just like Chuck in the pilot).
- Sarah is tempted under the surface (for real) but rejects the feeling on the surface (just like with Chuck during their relationship but also in the Suburbs episode that precedes Beefcake).
But while Chuck quits like a child when when Sarah keeps shutting him down and things get hard for him (his lacking manhood is symbolized by Sarah chopping up a phallic symbol at the beginning of Beefcake), Cole is a man who acts, who never quits, never stops pursuing Sarah, no matter how many times she shuts him down (symbolized by his dropping his towel by Sarah and impressing even Casey with his manhood), and when the fake approach fails (“do these lines usually work?”), he switches to the real one (“ok, change of tactic”), which works better with Sarah precisely because she likes real.
Cole takes a bullet for Sarah more than once, endures torture to protect Chuck’s Intersect identity on Sarah’s silent and grateful pleas, and leads Casey to taunt Chuck that Cole’s methods are working.
Chuck learns this lesson and does a 180 at the end of 2.16 Lethal Weapon. Whereas at the beginning of 2.15 Beefcake, he quit and chose the easy way out of a complicated relationship when things got tough, here he decides to act and take control of his destiny; he decides to stick with the girl he loves, just as Sarah decided to stick with him even when things got tough under Cole’s relentless pursuit. She’s a woman who acts. She wants a man who acts. Cole inspires Chuck to be that man.
That’s the reason Barker brings Bartowski and Walker together. He teaches Chuck to man up and never say never.
By the end of season 3, Chuck will be James Bond and more—he will save the day and James Bond (Shaw) and win the girl from him, and even have a very James Bond-like scene in Paris with his Bond girl at the end of 3.13 Other Guy. And by the end of season 5, Chuck will be Cole and more, even without the Intersect—he will jump off buildings and walk through fire to save the day, withstand torture with aplomb, take a bullet for Sarah, and relentlessly pursue her no matter how many times she shuts him down, until she is his.