When I first watched 3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models, I didn’t think much of it. It was fun and enjoyable, and I loved the guest stars, but after the outstanding and long-awaited 3.14 Chuck Versus the Honeymooners, it felt like a filler episode.

Boy, was I wrong! Role Models is a foundational episode that sets the stage for the next 39 episodes until that fateful final arc.

In a sense, we can divide the Chuck series into three parts—the first part (Chuck 1.0) runs from 1.01 Chuck Versus the Intersect episode to 3.14 Chuck Versus the Honeymooners and explores Chuck and Sarah’s dream for a real relationship despite all the obstacles. The second part (Chuck 2.0) runs from 3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models to 5.11 Chuck Versus the Bullet Train and explores Chuck and Sarah’s growth as a spy couple in a real relationship. The third and final part (Chuck 3.0) spans the last two episodes of the series and shows that, no matter how fate tosses the dice, Chuck and Sarah had to be (Happy Together).

This blog post focuses on the first episode of the second part, but why is it titled Chuck Vs Hart of Pi? What does that mean?

Chuck Vs Hart to Hart

Now that Chuck and Sarah are finally a spy couple in a real relationship and their “honeymoon” through Europe is over, what is this new reality going to look like moving forward? We viewers are given a hint in the very introduction to 3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models, which, as often happens with Chuck episode titles, is a title with multiple meanings. In the literal sense, the title implies that Chuck and Sarah will face role models (ehm) in the form of the Turners, the legendary and more experienced CIA couple, but the intro provides a symbolic hint that the role models that the creators have in mind for Chuck and Sarah’s spy romance and career are Jonathan and Jennifer Hart.

Just as the Harts solve crimes while having a real relationship, so will Chuck and Sarah in the second part of the series.

This analogy with the Harts continues in the Roles Models episode through the reference to the Hart to Hart S4E8 episode In the Hart of the Night, in which the Harts help King Rashid retrieve the authentic golden idol of a lion to prevent him from being overthrown by the bad guys who have swapped it with a fake one.

Hart to Hart - lion idol

In the scene below, the Harts are on their mission to do the swap.

Hart to Hart like Role Models

But a big surprise awaits them. To protect the golden idol of the lion from the swap, the bad guys have placed a real lion in the room.

Hart to Hart 4.08 In the Hart of the Night - Roaring Lion

To overcome the obstacle, the Harts get the lion drunk and asleep.

Hart to Hart Lion Is Asleep

Similarly, Chuck and Sarah need to retrieve the decryption software from Otto’s room.

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - Chuck and Sarah on a mission

But they meet a big cat in the room.

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - Tiger in the bedroom

They can only retrieve Otto’s decryption software on the tiger’s collar once the tiger falls asleep.

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - Tiger is asleep

But the tiger plays a far bigger role in Role Models than the lion does in the Hart to Hart episode above. The lion only appears in one scene, whereas the tiger appears again and again (and again) in Role Models.

The Tiger

The big cat makes its first appearance1In the form of a black panther on Morgan’s comforter right after the Hart to Hart intro.

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Model - Morgan's tiger comforter

The tiger appears in the flesh when Chuck and Sarah need to retrieve the decryption software in Otto’s room, in the only scene in the series where we hear Sarah’s girlish scream.

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - tiger appears

The tiger then makes an appearance at Chuck’s apartment, where it further scares Chuck and Sarah.

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - Tiger at Chuck's apartment

The tiger is finally seen in the courtyard…

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - Tiger in the courtyard

…where it terrorizes Morgan and Casey, but Morgan lures it away from Casey.

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - Morgan and Casey see the tiger

So, what is up with this tiger terrorizing our heroes in this episode? What does it all mean?

Life of Pi

If you have never read the 2001 novel Life of Pi or seen the movie based on it, the story is highly recommended (it’s a very powerful story of survival, courage, and faith, and it has a twist at the end) and I’m afraid I will spoil the ending twist in this section, so stop reading now if you are going to read the book or watch the movie. Caveat emptor.

Life of Pi picture

In Life of Pi, the main character, Pi, travels from India to Canada with his parents and the animals from their zoo on a Japanese cargo ship. After the ship sinks, Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with a timid (and wounded) zebra, a vile hyena, a sweet orangutan, and a terrifying tiger. In the struggle for survival, the hyena kills the zebra and the orangutan and is then killed by Pi, who remains alone with the tiger on the lifeboat for 227 days before landing on the shores of Mexico, where the tiger disappears in the forest without looking back and Pi is rescued by local men and taken to a hospital, where he recounts his story to Japanese investigators, who find it hard to believe such a fantastical story.

In the final twist, Pi tells the skeptical investigators a different story: the animals are actually people—the wounded zebra is a young sailor, the hyena is a vile cook, the orangutan is Pi’s own mother, and the tiger…the tiger is Pi.

Symbolically, since the story is about faith and the meaning of life, the animals are actually all components of the self—the timid zebra is the innocence of youth, hence the first animal to die in the lifeboat; the brutal hyena is cynicism and corruption; the orangutan is selfless and protective love; and the tiger is our primal self. All characters (the components of the self) are essential for turning us into who we are.

Chuck Vs Life of Pi

This is all well and good, but what does it have to do with Chuck Versus the Role Models?

In Role Models, Chuck and Sarah are the zebra, the naïve innocence of young and idealistic spy love, which is the first to die once tested by the moral compromises required by the spy life. At the beginning of the episode (the beginning of their spy relationship in real love), Chuck and Sarah are both naïve about the dangers that the spy life poses to their young and idealistic love, but they manifest this naïveté in two opposite ways: Chuck idolizes the Turners as positive role models…

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - Chuck idolizes the Turners

…while Sarah is politely condescending and thinks she and Chuck have nothing to learn from the Turners.

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - Sarah is mildly bored with the Turners

They are both wrong, and the episode will thoroughly test their naïveté.

The Turners, in fact, symbolize the cynical hyena; they have allowed the CIA to corrupt their once-innocent love and turn them into traitors who turn on Chuck and Sarah. Their cynicism is highlighted in their conversation after they double-cross Chuck and Sarah.

Laura: I keep thinking of those poor, young agents.
Craig: What a pair of saps.
Laure: Reminded me of us. I just hope we didn’t hurt their career.
Craig: They never had a career. Not with the CIA. You saw how they looked at each other. They are obviously in love.

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - Turners relax after their double-cross

Even worse, the Turners’ cynicism and moral corruption almost reach the point of no return when they are caught by Chuck and Sarah and are ready to turn on each other.

Laura: It was his idea to steal it. He forced me to act like a drunk at the party.
Craig: She’s lying! I wanted to bring the software back. It was her idea to sell it on the black market.

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - The Turners turn on each other

Protective love (the orangutan) is symbolized in the A story by Chuck and Sarah’s characters and in the B story by Casey, who watches over Morgan’s spy training, effectively raising him as a spy child (just as Pi’s mother raised Pi).

Casey: You know, Morgan, you were there for me when I was out on my ass with the agency, and I just want you to know I’m here for you now.

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - Casey there for Morgan

Finally, Otto’s tiger symbolizes the primal fear of every new couple—the fear of commitment and failure, the fear that the relationship will not last.

The Role Models episode is about overcoming our deepest fears (relationship failure, Sarah’s fear of commitment, Morgan’s fear of failing as a spy) while remaining true to ourselves. This is the reason both couples (Chuck and Sarah in the A story and Casey and Morgan in the B story) face their tiger in the fourth act when the A story and the B story meet at Echo Park.

The crucial scene in the episode is right after the Turners turn on each other; Otto and his tiger show up at Chuck’s apartment.

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - Otto and his tiger at Echo Park

Chuck and Sarah are subjected by Otto to the ultimate temptation—they can save their own lives by turning on the Turners at the price of becoming like the Turners. Below is the crucial exchange in the episode, when Chuck and Sarah’s initial naǐveté about the Turners comes crashing down while the tiger growls in the background.

Chuck: I say we hand them over.
Sarah: We can’t do that.
Chuck: Why not? They sold us out.
Sarah: Because, then, we’d be no better than the Turners.
Chuck: Well, maybe they are right. Maybe we are going to end up just like them—a couple of traitors.
Sarah: Do you really believe that?
Chuck: No.

This is the moment they decide they would rather die at Otto’s hand than turn into the Turners.

In this scene, Chuck and Sarah’s triumph against this tiger—this primal fear of letting cynicism destroy their pure love—is what makes them the new Role Models of the spy life and what makes the Turners bow out and pass the baton to them.

This challenge and triumph against the tiger is mirrored in the B story with Casey and Morgan when Morgan is willing to sacrifice his life to save Casey by luring the tiger into Devon and Ellie’s apartment, thus also passing his spy test just as Chuck and Sarah pass theirs.

In the final act of the episode, Sarah can commit to moving in with Chuck because her primal fear of commitment has been defeated. Just as in Life of Pi, the tiger is gone.

3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models - Sarah moving in

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