Why is Sarah cool towards Chuck in 1.11 Chuck Versus the Crown Vic? If we want to understand Sarah’s behavior in this episode, we need to start at the beginning of the arc. What arc? The one with Lou and Bryce. This “Chuck vs Crown Vic Sarah” is the first of the three relationship arcs in the series—the other two are the one with Jill and Cole in season 2 and the one with Hannah and Shaw in season 3. Each arc has a specific purpose in the evolution of Chuck and Sarah’s relationship during the first three seasons, and the purpose of this arc in season 1 is to explore Chuck’s quest for a real relationship with a woman from his world (the ordinary world in Hero’s Journey parlance) and Sarah’s war against her feelings.
The First Relationship Arc
This arc starts at the end of 1.07 Chuck Versus the Alma Mater when Chuck tells Sarah that he wishes he could talk to Bryce after finding out that Bryce’s actions at Stanford were not an act of betrayal but an act of self-sacrificial love to save Chuck’s life.
Chuck’s statement will propel him and Sarah into a four-episode arc built on counterpoint. In 1.08 Chuck Versus the Truth, Chuck is caught between two women (Sarah and Lou) and is then cool towards Sarah in 1.09 Chuck Versus the Hard Salami.
Just as he realizes Sarah has real feelings for him thanks to the bomb kiss at the end of Hard Salami and is ready to get back together with her in what he thinks can be a real relationship, Bryce comes back from the dead and launches a two-episode counterpoint in which Sarah is now the one caught between two men (Bryce and Chuck) in 1.10 Chuck Versus the Nemesis and is then cool towards Chuck in 1.11 Chuck Versus the Crown Vic.
But why is Sarah cool towards Chuck if she has decided to stay instead of leaving with Bryce? This is the question that many ask when watching the Crown Vic episode. In 1.09 Hard Salami, it is easy to see why Chuck is cool towards Sarah—she shut him down in the previous episode, so he chooses a real relationship with Lou in 1.09 Hard Salami. But in 1.11 Crown Vic, Sarah is not choosing a relationship with Bryce. She is staying in Burbank with Chuck. So why is she cool towards the man with whom she has decided to stay?
The Mystery of Sarah
Sarah does this because she is a spy (a Jedi), and feelings are a liability for spies, especially feelings for a spy’s asset—it is unprofessional and leads to all kinds of lapses in judgment. This is the common wisdom of the spy (Jedi) world in which Sarah operates, so she tries to keep her emotional distance from Chuck in 1.11 Crown Vic to perform her spy duties. In the first two seasons, Chuck and Sarah approach their evolving relationship from different starting points: Chuck wants a real relationship while Sarah must find the balance between love and duty. What happens with Bryce (whom she thought dead) in 1.10 Nemesis leads Sarah to an emotional storm from which she tries to distance herself. She first considers the option of leaving with Bryce because this is a familiar spy relationship she can emotionally handle and can have now.
Then, when Chuck calls her, she is caught between two calls—the call back to the familiar past and the call to the uncertain future, in a masterfully executed wordless scene in Sarah’s hotel room.
Bryce is the ever-living ghost of what once was, and Sarah decides to stay and face her emotional storm by denying it.
1.11 Chuck Versus the Crown Vic is the exploration of this denial attempt.
Crown Vic is like a game of Tetris—it has lots of interlocking parts. To understand Sarah in this episode, we need to focus our attention on the B story with Morgan and Anna and on the symbolic parallel between Sarah and Casey’s car, the Crown Victoria.
The B story in Chuck informs the A story and provides context to Sarah’s behavior. It all starts at the beginning of the episode when Morgan approaches Chuck who does not see Sarah’s car in her usual parking spot:
Morgan: She’s a liar, not to be trusted.
Chuck: What’s that?
Morgan: Women. Man, they are so elusive, so unknowable.
Chuck: Who are we talking about, exactly?
Chuck asks who they are talking about because he feels the same way about Sarah.
The B story continues with Morgan accusing Anna of seeing someone else, and not just anyone, but someone driving a German luxury sedan, someone successful, which makes Morgan feel inadequate. This sense of inadequacy obviously parallels the A story, in which Chuck tells Sarah that he thought she would be halfway to Bryce by now because he offers a pretty exciting life. Both Chuck and Morgan feel they don’t have “pimp juice” (the song that plays at the beginning of the episode during the Parcheesi game at the Buy More), whereas Bryce and the mysterious guy in the German luxury sedan do. What is pimp juice? Pimp juice is whatever attracts the opposite sex.
In the B story, Anna reveals the truth to Morgan: her successful parents are in town, and when he asks her to meet them,1And then realizes his mistake (“Not even my own parents like me!”) she reluctantly accepts. Morgan thinks her reluctance stems from her being embarrassed by him, so he reluctantly goes on a “mission,” pretending to be someone he is not in order to impress them since he feels he lacks pimp juice. Similarly, in the A story, the successful Lon Kirk is in town, and when Beckman and Graham ask Chuck and Sarah to go on a mission as a couple, they reluctantly accept. Chuck will have to pretend to be Charles Carmichael on a mission to impress a very successful man who pursues Sarah, a man with the pimp juice that Chuck feels he lacks.
During both missions, Anna and Sarah are cool and withdrawn around Morgan and Chuck respectively. They are not their usual selves. They rein in their feelings.
After the mission where Saras winks at Lon and Chuck loses $100,000, Sarah tells Chuck she is invited to Lon Kirk’s boat alone the next day.
Chuck vs Crown Vic Sarah
And the next day, we are introduced to Casey and his beloved Crown Vic.
He lovingly polishes his car, his “girl.” 🎵I’m giving my love up to you, girl. I’m giving my love up to you.🎵
Chuck watches the scene, bemused.
Chuck: Nice car.
Casey: Not just any car. It’s a 1985 Crown Victoria. But like a lady, she doesn’t like it when I talk about her age.
Why a Crown Vic of all the cars in the world? It’s a law enforcement car with hard lines, dark and bitter; it is all Casey. But there are also lots of symbolic parallels between the Crown Vic and Sarah in this episode—both are from the 80s, both shine, both are regal, badass, powerful, authoritative enforcers,2Like a law enforcement car and like Queen Victoria both are great for pimping out,3Chuck, “You mean, she’s gonna go down there and flirt with Lon Kirk alone?” both are being greased up and lathered in this episode, and both have a devoted lover giving his love up to her.
Notice the color of Casey’s Crown Vic. It’s black.
What color is Sarah wearing through most of the episode? Black symbolizes death. She is trying to kill her emotions and be “nothing but a spy.”
But this attempt does not work. The team fails to frame Lon Kirk for counterfeiting in the second act of the episode; Sarah storms Chuck’s apartment in the third act, both accusing each other of letting their emotions interfere with their mission. In the fourth act, Sarah trusts Chuck’s flash and instincts, the team works well together in a successful mission, and “Sarah in black” is symbolically killed when the black Crown Vic is destroyed.
In the fifth and final act of the episode, Chuck gives Sarah a Christmas gift, and Sarah also symbolically gives Chuck a Christmas gift: herself in Christmas red, the caring Sarah he knows and loves. Both apologize and confess their inadequacy in handling relationships and, after an emotional storm that has lasted four episodes, Chuck proposes an emotional truce—”Friends,” and he and Sarah shake hands on it.4This “friends” handshake will be mirrored at the end of 3.03 Chuck Versus Angel de la Muerte, this time proposed by Sarah.
In the B story, Morgan and Anna also apologize to each other: Morgan for pretending to be someone he is not, and Anna for being embarrassed of who she is around her parents, for not being herself (like Sarah in this episode),
Thi C story of this episode is about the spy team getting emotionally compromised. Casey tells Chuck that Sarah has got Chuck all up in a tizzy. He later pointedly asks Sarah if she has compromised herself with the Intersect, and she confesses for the first time her dream of a real life beyond the spy life.
In the final scene, we have the counterpoint when Beckman calls Casey and says, “I hope you have not grown too fond of the subject. I would hate for you to be compromised. Oh, and John…” We can see from Casey’s reaction when he responds, “Yeah?” that he is also compromised.
Both Casey and Sarah have grown too fond of the subject.