In a recent comment, Robert asked, “So I’ve finally made my way through all the spy logs and episodes. The only thing that hangs over my head are the terms ‘in love’ and ‘fell for’ used often in the show. We hear Casey refer to Sarah as ‘falling for the guys she works with’ (S1e9)….is that falling in love? Yet when Bryce encounters Sarah in S1e10, and they kiss, he says she’s ‘still in love with him.’ Were they in love? I thought that it broke the cardinal rule for spies to fall or be in love?” Robert then adds, “In S3e12, she [Sarah] rebuffs Chuck, telling him, ‘You’re not the same guy I fell for.’ So would Chuck be able to suppose that Sarah fell in love with him? And then in the ‘Do you love me?’ scene in S3E13, Sarah says she fell for Chuck a long time ago. Is that love? It’s confusing in part because in S3e16 when she actually utters the words, ‘I love you,’ she says that is ‘It should have never taken this long, but I’ve never felt this way.’ Was Sarah ever in love with Bryce? Why would he say that to her if it wasn’t the case? Can we speculate that Sarah told Bryce that she loved him And what’s the difference between ‘falling for’ and “falling in love’?”

I thought these were terrific questions, and it dawned on me that I had never posted anything about the polysemous nature of this central topic in the show—love.

The Problem

As Robert says, this topic and the story as a whole can seem confusing at first because the creators and the writers of the story have the characters use words like love, feelings, and emotions in ways that appear to be contradictory. As Robert astutely pointed out, for example, Bryce tells Sarah in 1.10 Chuck Versus the Nemesis that she should not arrest him because she is still in love with him. But then, Bryce himself warns Chuck in 2.03 Chuck Versus the Break-Up that Sarah’s feelings for Chuck will get her killed. What is going on? Why would Bryce be okay with Sarah being in love with him and consider that safe for her while being concerned with Sarah having feelings for Chuck?

One way to interpret Bryce’s behavior for a person unfamiliar with the story would be to jump to conclusions and say that Bryce is acting this way because he wants Sarah for himself, so he is cunningly trying to steer Chuck away from her. I am sure we have encountered plenty of fictional stories where this type of behavior takes place, but this is not what is happening in 2.03 Chuck Versus the Break-Up. For once, if the writers wanted to write that kind of story, they would have made Bryce stick around for the following few episodes, trying to steal Sarah away from Chuck, but we know this does not happen. We also know that Bryce is only one of the many characters who bring up feelings as a liability in the spy world. As we will see, Casey, Roan, Carina, Shaw, General Beckman, the GRETAs, and even Chuck and Sarah do the same at one point or another, so there is something else at play here.

What Is Love?

Sorry, I had to do it 🙂

Robert asked in the comments whether there is a difference between being in love, falling for someone, falling in love with someone, and having feelings or emotions for someone. All these terms are used throughout the show and add another layer of confusion to the central problem of “love” above. Do they mean the same thing or do they mean different things? I think they mean essentially the same thing. In order to understand the reason, however, we need to take a step back and look at the big picture.

The 30,000-Foot View

To paraphrase Chuck in 3.02 Chuck Versus the Three Words, we need to do a little spy work to suss out the situation with Chuck and Sarah and all these definitions of love and feelings so that we don’t miss the forest for the trees. Let’s start by looking at the big picture. What is the TV series CHUCK all about? The premise is about a spy like Sydney Bristow from Alias walking into a place like The Office and falling for Jim Halpert. And that is exactly the story we see unfolding in the show. It is also a hero’s journey, in which Sarah’s competence mentors Chuck to get his mojo back, and a heroine’s journey, in which Chuck’s innocence mentors Sarah to get her humanity back.

But the story is also an exploration of duty vs love, a timeless and powerful theme that is explored in many stories, including Star Wars, which is referenced a lot in CHUCK since both the creators of the show and characters like Chuck and Morgan in the show are huge Star Wars fans. And this is the aspect of the story that will help us unfold the mystery of love and feelings as used by the characters. Here is the central problem as presented in both Star Wars and Game of Thrones.

Love vs duty in Star Wars and Game of Thrones

In a way, Chuck is Han Solo to Morgan’s Chewbacca.

416 Chuck and Morgan friends like Han Solo and Chewbacca

In another way, which addresses the love-vs-duty theme of the series, Chuck is Luke Skywalker, who is tempted to become a spy/Jedi like all others (notably in S3a) but rejects the old cardinal spy/Jedi rule (no attachments) for a new rule in which feelings are allowed as long as they are mastered. (You will also notice the parallel between Luke and Mara Jade and the final arc in CHUCK, but that is another story.)

Lukę Skywalker and Mara Jade

Chuck as Luke Skywalker

The Dichotomy

So, what is love in CHUCK? Is it a liability? Is it an asset? is it the same as feelings, emotions, falling for someone, and falling in love with someone?

The answer that makes sense of the story being told and that takes the big picture into account is that the real dichotomy is not between falling for someone versus falling (or being) in love but between spy love and real love. All the related expressions like feelings, emotions, falling for someone, and falling in love with someone must be interpreted in context to see whether the characters are talking about spy love or real love.

Before we get into that, we need to address the elephant in the room. What is the difference between spy love and real love?

Spy love is a relationship where the characters are together, they care about each other, but the mission always comes first. They will try to do everything they can to save each other, but if they have to choose between the lover (spy partner) and the mission, they must choose the mission. The mission always comes first. Emotions that prevent a spy from carrying out the missions are a liability. It is the cardinal rule. It is the reason spies don’t fall in love. It is the reason they part ways (like Casey and Ilsa at the end of 1.12 Chuck Versus the Undercover Lover). It is the reason spies don’t form attachments. An emotional attachment that would prevent a spy from carrying out his or her duty is a liability.

Real love is the opposite of spy love. In real love, the loved one always comes first. The mission is always second. In real love, one will do anything, including sacrificing the mission or his or her own life or happiness, to save and protect his or her loved one(s). We will see this again and again in the story as we analyze the difference between these two types of love.

Spy Love

Bryce and Sarah shared spy love. This is clearly shown at the beginning of season 2, but it is possible to surmise it even in season 1.

At the end of the pilot episode, we see Sarah sitting on her bed, scrolling through pictures of her and Bryce from two years before, with the flowers brought to her by Chuck lying next to her on the bed, while the lyrics of “A Comet Appears” talk about the numbness that is growing in her heart. The scene is meant to show the viewers that Sarah had feelings for Bryce and was in a relationship with him, but what kind of a relationship was it?

We viewers are not spies, so when we see a relationship between characters, we intuitively assume it is a real relationship, real love. This assumption seems to hold when Bryce comes back from the dead in 1.10 Chuck Versus the Nemesis, kisses Sarah in Chuck’s own bedroom, and tells her she is still in love with him. The passion with which Sarah returns the kiss seems to confirm that Bryce is right.

But Bryce and Sarah are spies, not regular people. We can see Bryce’s and Sarah’s reactions after the kiss. Sarah says, “You still got it,” and Bryce retorts, “This isn’t a play, Sarah.” These are not exactly words we expect from people who were or are in love. What is happening? Well, the kiss is a test; Bryce needs to know whom he can trust and uses the kiss to test Sarah’s loyalty. Bryce mentions in this very episode that FULCRUM has operatives deep into the CIA and other government agencies. Maybe Sarah is also compromised. He needs to know, so he uses the kiss to see whether he “has” Sarah, her allegiance and loyalty. Sarah’s reaction tells him he cannot be sure. She is still guarded and cautious. There is no trust between them. We can see this because, in the very next scene in Casey’s apartment, they pull a gun on each other, and Bryce even has his finger on the trigger—not exactly real lovers’ behavior between Bryce and Sarah.

Chuck 110 Chuck uses Sarah as a shield

Spy love is also what Shaw wants to establish with Sarah in season 3—a relationship where the (suicide) mission comes first and where he constantly reminds Sarah, “We are spies, Walker. Let’s start acting like it.”

Chuck 3.12 Shaw's selfish reasons for his revenge

Real Love

Chuck and Sarah fall for each other from the beginning, and it is real love based on trust. In real love, people always come first, even at the expense of one’s own happiness or survival. Real love is what Sarah shows at the end of 1.13 Chuck Versus the Marlin when she worries about Chuck more than about the mission and almost pulls her gun on a fellow CIA agent to save Chuck from being bunkered.

1.13 Chuck Versus the Marlin - Sarah about to pull a gun on Longshore

Real love is what Sarah shows at the end of 2.20 Chuck Versus the First Kill when she commits treason for Chuck (“Take off your watch”).

2.20 Chuck Versus the First Kill - Take off your watch.

Real love is what Chuck shows at the end of 2.02 Chuck Versus the Seduction when he is willing to lose his life to save Sarah’s. Real love is what Chuck shows in 3.12 Chuck Versus the American Hero when he is willing to risk his life to save the man Sarah is leaving him for, all for Sarah’s sake.

3.12 Chuck's selfless love for Sarah

Real love is what Chuck shows when he is willing to sacrifice his season-long spy ambition for Sarah’s sake in his love declaration in 3.12 Chuck Versus the American Hero.

3.12 Chuck Versus the American Hero. Chuck, "I love you, Sarah."

Now, since Chuck and Sarah do not use the same terminology in their respective love declarations (Chuck says “I love you” while Sarah says “I fell for you”), and since the characters in the series use different terms like “falling for” or “falling in love with,” viewers may get understandably confused because these terms may carry some subtle differences in meaning for some people—falling in love is usually associated with a more intense, conscious, and longer-lasting feeling and attachment, whereas falling for someone is understood by some to be more casual, subconscious, and more tentative feeling or attachment. But I think the writers of the show use all these terms interchangeably and that the real difference lies between the two concepts of real love versus spy love, a difference that is explicitly mentioned by the characters at the beginning of season 2. The point that the writers make in the show is that, regardless of the words used by Chuck and Sarah, they both fell in love with each other from the beginning.

We can see the parallels in their respective love declarations: Chuck says, “I love you” to Sarah four times in 3.12 Chuck Versus the American Hero, and Sarah responds with a yes four times in the very next episode when Chuck asks her, “Do you love me?” Chuck tells Sarah he has always loved her, and Sarah responds in step—she fell for him after he fixed her phone and before he started defusing bombs with computer viruses, which all happened within 36 hours of meeting him. CHUCK writer Ali Adler was asked on Twitter when Chuck exactly fell for Sarah since we know that Sarah fell for him between the broken phone and the bomb defusing, and Ali Adler masterfully responded, “Between Vicki and Vale.” Ali Adler confirms the interchangeable use of falling for someone and being in love with someone. The focus is on the dichotomy between spy feelings (or spy love) and real feelings (or real love), and the problems associated with the latter.

Real Love Problems

The story, in fact, makes it clear that there are problems with real love in the spy world.

Duty Versus Love

The first problem is that real love interferes with duty.

In 1.11 Chuck Versus the Undercover Lover, Chuck’s real feelings for Sarah interfere with the mission of investigating and exposing Lon Kirk, and the result is that Casey and Sarah get benched by Beckman and Graham. After the debriefing, Casey turns to Sarah and pointedly asks her if she has compromised herself with the asset.

Sarah: Do you ever just want to have a normal life? Have a family? Children?
Casey: The choice we made to protect something bigger than ourselves is the right choice, hard as it is for you to remember sometimes.

Chuck 1.11 Crown Vic - Sarah is compromised

This scene introduces the theme of love vs duty. According to the accepted spy wisdom, the two are incompatible. And Sarah will indeed try to be cool, distant, and professional towards Chuck. She shuts down her feelings because she has a job to do.

Chuck 1.09 vs 1.11 counterpoint - Chuck cool towards Sarah, then Sarah cool towards Chuck

This theme is reprised in the very next episode, 1.12 Chuck Versus the Undercover Lover.

Chuck: What’s up, killer? You got yourself a new special lady-friend, or what?
Casey: She’s hopping a plane.
Chuck: What? Are you serious? You guys gonna stay in touch?
Casey: She’s going back undercover.
Chuck: Wow, that really sucks.
Casey: It’s a spy’s life, Chuck.

At the end of 3.10 Chuck Versus the Tic Tac, Casey again brings up the conflict between love and duty in his conversation with Chuck.

Casey: I made my decision between love and love of country a long time ago, and it was the right decision for me. Now you need to make the decision whether it’s the right one for you. Walker is a good woman.

Feelings as a Liability

The second problem is that real love is a liability. This theme is introduced at the beginning of season 2, which also introduces the dichotomy between spy love (feelings) and real love (feelings).

In 2.02 Chuck Versus the Seduction, Roan and Sarah talk about it in the spy van while Chuck is trying to seduce Sasha Banacheck and hears the conversation through his earpiece.

Roan:  So, how long have you and Charles been cavorting?
Sarah: You mean, how long have we been working together?
Roan: Don’t play coy. You have feelings for him. I mean, real, non-spy emotions.

Later in the same episode, Chuck tries to convince Roan to help him save Casey and Sarah who have been kidnapped by Sasha and her men. In this exchange, Roan introduces the cardinal rule of spying.

Roan: Is she worth dying for?
Chuck: Yes.
Roan: Poor boy. Lesson number one of being a spy: never fall in love.
Chuck: I guess I’m not much of a spy.

Chuck 2.02 Roan: Rule number one. Never fall in love.

The next episode shows what can happen when spies do fall in love. While getting ready for the mission at Von Heyes’s mansion, Bryce realizes Sarah may have real feelings for Chuck (Red or salmon is not Chuck’s color). Later, during the mission to retrieve the encrypted microchip that lists the cover identities of all government agents, Casey tells Bryce and Sarah that the FULCRUM lady has Chuck while Von Hayes has the microchip. Sarah turns around to go save Chuck.

Bryce: Sarah, what are you doing?
Sarah: Chuck’s in danger. That FULCRUM agent will kill him if we don’t get…
Bryce: No. Our covers are on that microchip. If we don’t get it, all of us get killed.

The exchange is there to show that Bryce is thinking like a spy (the mission and the greater good come first) while Sarah is thinking like a woman in love (Chuck comes first).

Chuck 2.03 - Sarah and Bryce, Chuck vs microchip.

After the mission goes sideways and Sarah gets a concussion from an exploding bomb, Bryce approaches Chuck in the courtyard.

Bryce: Sarah has feelings for you, Chuck. Feelings that can get her killed. People we deal with are cold-blooded assassins. They have no emotions, no feelings. The only chance we have against FULCRUM is to think and act like they do. Anything less gets us killed.

Chuck refuses to see the problem, but Sarah later hesitates to shoot the FULCRUM lady for fear of hitting Chuck in a scene that is the Chekhov’s Gun payoff of the initial scene in the episode in which Sarah did not hesitate to shoot the bad guy who had his gun to Bryce’s head.

Chuck 2.03. Chekhov's Gun scenes

Bryce does not need to say anything this time when he approaches Chuck. Chuck knows Bryce is right.

Chuck 2.03 Break-Up. Chuck begrudgingly realizes Sarah's feelings for him are a liability.

Chuck will break up with Sarah to protect her personally and professionally. He will shoot straight to the point since Sarah was unable to shoot straight earlier.

Chuck 2.03 Chuck will shoot traight.

This problem is not limited to romantic love. It extends to any feelings of affection. When Chuck tells General Beckman that she needs him to save his father (Orion) from FULCRUM, she accepts but is very clear on the requirements:

Beckman: Very well, Mr. Bartowski. The assignment is yours provided your personal entanglements do not interfere with the mission.

Chuck 2.19 Chuck Versus  the Dream Job. Beckman warns Chuck to not let personal entanglements interfere with the mission.

The lesson is clear—real, non-spy feelings are a liability for spies. Feelings can get spies killed. That is the reason spies don’t fall in love. Per Roan, it is lesson number one of being a spy. Carina will call it the cardinal rule in 3.02 Chuck Versus the Three Words, an episode that is essentially the mirror of 2.03 Chuck Versus the Break-Up.

Chuck 3.02 vs 2.03 Love as a liability

If Roan warns Chuck about the cardinal rule, Carina will go one step beyond in 3.02 Chuck Versus the Three Words. After she rebukes Sarah for breaking the cardinal rule of spying by falling in love with Chuck, she will actually show both Chuck and Sarah what happens to suckers in (real) love like Karl in the spy world.

3.02 Chuck Versus the Three Words - Courtyard scene with Karl as the sucker in love in Carina's hands. Spies don't fall in love. Lesson to Chuck and Sarah.Sarah herself will say to Shaw, “You know how dangerous this is” when he silently proposes a relationship between them at the end of 3.07 Chuck Versus the Mask. Sarah is referring to a relationship between spies. And Shaw retorts, “Don’t worry. I’m the safest guy in the world.” What is that supposed to mean? It means there are no risks in the relationship he proposes because it will be a relationship devoid of real love (and all the messy feelings that come with it) since he is still in love with his deceased wife and knows fully well that Sarah is in love with Chuck. In fact, Shaw constantly reminds Sarah during their time together to think like a spy and to put the mission first. “We are spies, Walker. Let’s start acting like it.”

After Chuck and Sarah get together, General Beckman is upset at the end of 3.14 Chuck Versus the Honeymooners when Chuck and Sarah tell her they are together because mixing their professional and personal lives is dangerous. Again, the concept of real love (real feelings) among spies is perceived as a dangerous problem.

Chuck 3.14 - Chuck Versus the Honeymooners. Beckman: Release agent Walker.

Finally, the two GRETAs in 4.18 Chuck Versus the A-Team mock Chuck and Sarah by saying that romantic entanglements between agents lead to lapses in judgment.

4.18 Chuck Versus the A-Team - Feelings as a liabilty

We need to emphasize that only real, non-spy feelings are perceived and shown to be a liability for spies because they interfere with the mission and can get spies killed. Spy feelings, like the ones between Sarah and Bryce where the mission comes first and does not prevent the spy from doing her duty, are fine.

Failed Relationships

For the reasons above, real love is perceived as a liability and is discouraged among spies. On the few occasions when it occurs, it causes problems and negative consequences. The story itself presents a few examples.

Chuck’s own mother is revealed in season 4 to be a field agent. Her cover mission caused her to abandon her husband and children and disappear for 20 years. A few years later, the spy life catches up with Chuck’s father as well, and he also disappears. The spy life interferes, and their family unit is destroyed, causing trauma to both Ellie and Chuck.

In season 3, we are introduced to Daniel Shaw, who was happily married to Eve but lost her to the spy life, and he has concluded that real love was a mistake. Here we have a spy who loved and lost, and instead of accepting the loss and treasuring the memories, he buries and denies his feelings, thus never learning to master them.

Chuck 3.05 Shaw, we both made the same mistake, Sarah. We fell in love with spies.

When his feelings later resurface with a vengeance upon finding out the truth about his wife’s death, he is unable to master them and is mastered by them instead, which leads to his joining the dark side of the (spy) force.

Chuck 3.13 Shaw vs Emotions

Season 3 also introduces us to the Turners, an older CIA couple raised by Beckman as a shining example of a successful spy couple; in Beckman’s words, since Chuck and Sarah insist on having a personal relationship, they should look up to the Turners as role models on how to do personal relationships properly. In an ironic turn of events, it soon becomes apparent that the Turners, who were once in love, have allowed the spy life to turn them into a disillusioned and jaded couple who not only have divorced and remarried multiple times, but turn on Chuck and Sarah and even on each other, and it will be Chuck and Sarah to turn things around and show the Turners who the real CIA role model couple is. And the Turners will recognize that at the end and pass the baton to the new CIA power couple.

Chuck 3.15: The Turners

Finally, we have none other than Roan Montgomery and General Beckman. They share real feelings for each other but have chosen their careers (duty) over their mutual love, thus never getting together.

Chuck 4.14 Seduction Impossible. Roan and Beckman having drinks.

The Wrong Solution

It is against this backdrop and in this world that Chuck and Sarah fall in love with each other. The common wisdom of the spy world is that real love is a no-no. Spy love is tolerated (and Beckman would not even want to know about it), but real love is not; it prevents spies from performing their duty and weakens them through feelings that are a liability. Beckman mentions this problem to Chuck in the very first episode of season 3.

Beckman: The problem is not the computer. It’s you. The Intersect 2.0 was designed to go into a real spy, like Bryce Larkin, someone in complete control of their feelings.

Thus, when Chuck decides to become a spy at the beginning of season 3, he accepts this common wisdom and tries to become a spy like all others by denying his feelings and burying them in a place deep inside. In other words, the accepted spy method to control one’s feelings is to deny them, to shut them down. Even Sarah (up to this point in time) accepts this principle and tries to teach it to Chuck. 1Sarah is, however, the first one to change her mind and admit the next day to Chuck that emotions are not always a liability. It will take Chuck eight episodes to reach the same conclusion.

3.02 Chuck and Sarah's flip

But this solution does not work. It is the wrong solution because it is dehumanizing and turns Chuck into someone he is not. Thankfully for him, Sarah and Hannah, both hurt and anguished by Chuck’s behavior, will help him see by the end of 3.08 Chuck Versus the Fake Name what he is becoming, and he will reject this path, starting on his path of redemption instead.

3.08 Chuck vs the Fake Name all alone

The Right Solution

The right solution for a spy to deal with feelings as a liability is not to deny and bury feelings but to accept them and master them. This approach will allow the spy to be both human and effective, the best of both worlds.

Chuck 3.10 - Chuck Versus the Tic Tac. Chuck and Sarah work perfectly together.

3.10 Chuck Versus the Tic Tac is the episode that shows that feelings under perfect control, like the ones displayed by Chuck while working with Sarah to rescue Casey, are what allows him to “work perfectly,” even with charm and humor. The lack of feelings induced by the Laudanol pill allows Chuck to also work perfectly (technically) but in a dehumanizing, Terminator-like fashion that is ethically far from perfect. It is not a coincidence that Laudanol-induced Chuck is about to strangle and break the bad guy’s neck in the same exact way that Sarah saw Casey do it with Keller a few minutes before. The implication is clear—the lack of feelings would turn Chuck into a ruthless, cold-school killer, a burnout.

3.10 Chuck on Laudanol

This moment when Chuck realizes what he was about to do under the influence of Laudanol is the payoff of the episode’s Chekov’s Gun—the moment Chuck realizes that Sarah was right at the beginning of the episode (the Chekhov’s Gun setup) when this exchange took place:

Beckman: Military scientists were able to create a pill that could suppress emotions in battlefield soldiers, make them stronger, faster, fearless.
Chuck: Wait a minute. No fear? Could that help me flash?
Sarah: Well, maybe. But, then, you wouldn’t feel anything, Chuck.
Chuck: Right, but I could work…perfectly.

Watch Sarah’s reaction to Chuck’s words above about “working perfectly” if his emotions were suppressed. She has a concerned look on her face. This scene below is the moment Chuck gets Sarah’s concern—without emotions, he would not feel anything, and, contrary to what he thought at the beginning of the episode, that is not good. Tic Tac is the episode that shows that feelings, when mastered, are an asset, not a liability. It is the lack of feelings that is a liability.

3.10 Tic Tac Chuck on Laudanol

This very point will be made again in 4.18 Chuck Versus the A-Team when the lack of feelings by the two emotionless GRETAs will first activate the nuclear bomb and then propose the greater good ethical solution of sacrificing 100,000 lives to save 1 million, thus reducing the value of human lives to an accounting game. It will be Chuck’s feelings and empathy that save the day by finding a way to save all lives because all lives matter, thus making the episode’s point that it’s not the lack of feelings that make spies the A-Team, but the presence of feelings.

The reason the show is called CHUCK is because Chuck is the Luke Skywalker of the show. Just as Luke rejects the Jedi code that forbids emotional attachments for Jedis and allows his padawans to marry and have families provided they master their emotions, so does Chuck in the spy life.

First, he accepts his feelings in 3.09 Chuck Versus the Beard.

3.09 Chuck vs the Beard tied up

Then, he learns to be in perfect control of his emotions in 3.10 Chuck Versus the Tic Tac while retaining his chuckness.

3.10 Chuck learns to control his emotions

Then, he decides to pursue Sarah again in 3.11 Chuck Versus the Final Exam. They are finally looking for love in the same direction.

3.11 Chuck Versus the Final Exam - Chuck and Sarah using binoculars

Finally, Chuck reverses Prague and puts Sarah first in 3.12 Chuck Versus the American Hero by choosing her over the spy life.

312 Chuck Versus the American Hero - Chuck chooses Sarah over the spy life

After that happens, Chuck and Sarah ecstatically realize at the end of 3.14 Chuck Versus the Honeymooners that they can actually have both love and duty, both a real relationship and the spy life, a full double life. But love, real love, always comes first.

3.14 Having it all

In the next episode, 3.15 Chuck Versus the Role Models, Chuck and Sarah are tempted by the events to turn on the Turners after they have been betrayed by the older spy couple, but decide to stay true to themselves and their values, even though this means they will face death at Otto’s hands. They decide that dying with honor while staying true to themselves is better than turning on the Turners because they would never want to turn into the Turners.

This decision makes Chuck and Sarah the new CIA role models—spies sharing real love, in control of their emotions, true to themselves and their love, and always choosing people over the mission.

This is the new and perfect cardinal rule of spying.

Chuck 3.14 Honeymooners - Chuck and Sarah are turned on when they discover the other is also doing some spy work

What Does This All Mean?

Once we understand the dichotomy presented above between spy love and real love, it becomes easier to understand what the characters in the show are referring to when talking about love, feelings, emotions, falling for someone, and falling in love with someone.

For example, when Bryce tells Sarah in 1.10 Chuck Versus the Nemesis that she is still in love with him, he is talking about spy love, the kind of love that does not interfere with the mission. When Bryce later says in 2.03 Chuck Versus the Break-Up that Sarah has feelings for Chuck that will get her killed, he is referring to real love, the type of love that interferes with the mission and can get the spy killed. This dichotomy is the very theme of the episode, symbolized by the setup and the payoff of the episode’s Chekhov’s Gun.

Chuck 2.03. Chekhov's Gun scenes

By the same token, when Shaw tells Sarah at the end of 3.05 Chuck Versus First Class that they both made the same mistake by falling in love with spies, he is referring to real love, the kind of love he still feels for his wife and that Sarah feels for Chuck. The scene has an extra layer of density because Shaw is ostensibly referring to Sarah’s love for Bryce since she told Shaw she had gone AWOL months earlier to spread Bryce’s ashes in Lisbon, the place of her first mission with Bryce, but it’s clear that Shaw’s words also include the unspoken reference to Sarah’s real love for Chuck since it is Chuck, not Bryce, who is pervading Sarah’s mind and heart just as Eve is still pervading Shaw’s.

305 Sarah in Lisbon for Bryce's Ashes

Real love is perceived by all spies in the show to be a weakness in a world where, to use Carina’s words in 1.04 Chuck Versus the Wookiee, spies are in it for themselves and where, to use Shaw’s words in 3.04 Chuck Versus Operation Awesome, family and friends make spies vulnerable, unable to pull the trigger. But the show is called CHUCK because it will be Chuck the asset to show them all that love and relationships are not a liability, but an asset.

304 313 unable to pull the trigger.jpg

Love is a battlefield, and love is the A-Team that always wins.

4.18 Chuck Versus the A-Team - Chuck and Sarah kiss after disarming the bomb

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