I have come across a few comments on social media and Chuck-related blogs about the nature of the relationship between Sarah and Gilles in Chuck Versus the Pink Slip, the first episode of season 3. A few viewers think the scene where Sarah gets out of the swimming pool (in what looks like a reference to a similar scene with Bo Derek) while Gilles is sitting by the poolside implies that Sarah has been intimate with her mark Gilles as part of her mission to get to the Ring agent Javier Cruz.
Depending on their moral sensibilities, viewers who reach this conclusion are either unperturbed because they never expected Sarah to be a nun or utterly disgusted because Sarah’s behavior makes her a CIA-sanctioned prostitute.
But does this conclusion make sense? I think not.
Unnecessary and Bizarre
First, it is unnecessary for the top CIA agent to be intimate with a mark she despises (and a disposable secondary character) for a simple courier exchange op. If we then consider that this op fails miserably when it is busted by none other than Chuck, we have the bizarre situation where the best CIA agent is made to be a CIA prostitute all for naught, which turns her into a fool.
But this character-destroying outcome would only be the beginning of the problem.
Throughout the ensuing season, Sarah is distraught because Chuck is losing his innocence. She even gets mad at him after his red test because he has allegedly betrayed his moral principles by killing a traitor responsible for the death of nine government agents and hundreds of civilians.
Now think about the absurdity of a CIA prostitute who wasted sex on a mark she despised in a failed op having the chutzpah to get upset at a fellow CIA agent for executing a traitor. And imagine Chuck having to grovel to regain the favor of said CIA prostitute, who clearly has two different sets of moral standards for herself and Chuck. How do we think viewers are supposed to react to a heroine who acts like this? It makes no sense for such an amoral spy to have moral qualms about Chuck losing his innocence in his quest to become a spy while never bringing up the fact that she herself needs to perform some serious moral self-awareness checkup.
Now, the viewers who have no moral qualms with Sarah as a CIA prostitute might retort that we should not simplify the intricacies of Sarah’s character—she operates in a world of secrecy and moral ambiguity, and her alleged sexual involvement with Gilles even in a failed mission is not equivalent to being a CIA prostitute. She is not having sex with a mark for money but for the greater good. Labeling Sarah’s actions as those of a CIA prostitute, they say, oversimplifies her character and the circumstances she navigates. The term reduces her agency and the strategic considerations she must make for successful missions. Sarah is a skilled and dedicated professional1“Yeah, the world’s oldest profession,” says Chuck in 1.08 Chuck Versus the Truth. who operates within a morally ambiguous reality. Her actions should be understood within this context, rather than being unfairly and reductively labeled.
Okay, but so should Chuck’s actions, right?
These viewers also add that the complex dynamics of Chuck and Sarah’s relationship must be understood in the context of their respective journeys and their evolving connection. Chuck and Sarah are not approaching their relationship from the same starting point. Chuck approaches it from a position of innocence, whereas Sarah does from a position of lost innocence, of being “nothing but a spy.” According to these viewers, Charah’s journey together is a testament to the intricacies of human connection, trust, and understanding. Labeling Sarah’s past interactions as mere sexual transactions2Sarah’s actions with Gilles are not in the past, though. They take place three months before chewing Chuck out for killing the mole. and diminishing Chuck’s growth to an act of heroism overlooks the depth of their feelings for each other. To these viewers, Sarah’s past relationships are part of her history, but they don’t define her present or her future with Chuck. Chuck’s journey is a reflection of his commitment to growth, not just for the sake of being with Sarah, but also for his own self-actualization.
Now, there are some truths in what they say—Chuck has decided to become a spy for self-actualization and for the greater good, not to be with Sarah. However, the conclusion that Chuck’s feelings for Sarah are independent of her character is false. It would only be true if this were a different story, a story like Redeeming Love, where the hero redeems the woman he has married, a woman who was indeed a prostitute in need of redemption and love. In that story, the theme of redemption from moral failure is front and center. Not so in Chuck. To Chuck, Sarah always had a moral compass. To him, she was different from the other spies, and from the very beginning. He tells so to Carina as early as in 1.04 Chuck Versus the Wookiee.
Carina: “Oh, come on, Chuck. You know, this thing of ours? We’re all in it for ourselves. It’s what we do.”
Chuck: “It’s not what Sarah does. And if she had thought that in Pakistan, then you wouldn’t be alive right now.”
In fact, in season 2, Chuck is shocked and horrified when Sarah allegedly kills Mauser in cold blood and is mad at her for weeks, in a situation that will clearly be reversed in season 3 with the Perry incident, when Sarah is shocked and horrified when Chuck allegedly kills the mole in cold blood. The situations are clearly reversed and their emotional reactions revealed by their facial expressions are the same. Why? Because they clearly think the other has allegedly betrayed his or her moral principles.
And their shock and horror translate into anger.
These emotional reactions reveal that there are clearly moral expectations on both Chuck’s and Sarah’s part about the behavior of the other. So, the idea that Chuck and Sarah approach the relationship with different expectations about the moral compass of the other is clearly contradicted by the events in the show.
Wait. There is more.
Unlike Carina, an amoral agent who does not mind reaching fourth base3Using sex as one of the tools in her arsenal with her marks to complete her missions, Sarah clearly has a moral compass; she does not go beyond first base with her marks as part of a seduction mission, as we see with Cole in 2.15 Chuck Versus the Beefcake and with Manoosh in 3.06 Chuck Versus the Nacho Sampler. In fact, even with Cole in 2.15, Sarah tries to end the seduction mission in his hotel room as quickly as possible by trying to reach for the gun in her purse and by sending coded messages to get backup, even though she finds Cole attractive and even though Chuck just broke up with her.
These are the reasons I think Sarah has no need to be sexually involved with Gilles, who looks fairly uninterested in Sarah anyway.
I think Pink Slip must be viewed and understood as the beginning of Chuck and Sarah’s role reversal for season 3. In this context, the significance of Gilles in this episode is that he is Sarah’s mark just as Chuck was her mark in the pilot. She dines and dances with Gilles just as she dined and danced with Chuck in the pilot. But the role reversal is that it is now Chuck who is aware of the danger to Sarah and her mark while she is oblivious to it, and she now dances seductively to provoke Chuck while she danced seductively to protect him in the pilot.4The situational reversal is that the aristocratic setting with the fancy residence, pool, and view is the polar opposite of the plebeian Buy More in the pilot, and Gilles appears to be as uninterested in Sarah as Chuck was floored by her in the pilot.
This role reversal is all over the Pink Slip episode (and throughout the ensuing season). We can see it in Prague, where Sarah gets a taste of her own duty-vs-love medicine.
We can see it later in the Mexican cell, where Sarah is unable to pick the lock of her cell (both literally and metaphorically), even though she is very good at picking locks, and will need Chuck’s help to save her (which is the leitmotif of the season). We can see it again when they escape and she will trust Chuck to save her in a reversal from the pilot.
The Hero’s Journey
One final reason I think it makes no sense for Sarah to be an amoral CIA greater-good prostitute is that season 3 represents Chuck’s hero’s journey, a transformative journey of self-discovery and self-actualization. a journey that will propel him to become a spy god worthy of a spy goddess like Sarah.
Although it is true that Chuck does not embark on his spy journey to be with Sarah and, in fact, feels compelled to distance himself from her in a world where feelings are a liability, he ultimately realizes that a real spy does not need to bury and deny his feelings but master them, and the reward for this realization and mastery is to have both love and duty, which he and Sarah joyfully realize at the end of 3.14 Chuck Versus the Honeymooners. His hero’s journey also serves to establish a foundation of equality and shared experiences that can strengthen his connection with Sarah.
But here is the kicker. No hero’s journey is necessary to become worthy of a CIA greater-good prostitute. A hero’s journey in which Chuck reaches the ontological status of a spy god is only worth it if Sarah is a spy goddess who only mates with spy gods. This is not her demand or Chuck’s understanding of what is required of him to be with her. It is simply part of their journey of equality and shared experiences, in which the creators put Chuck and Sarah together when Chuck finally reaches Sarah’s ontological status as a spy god. That is the reason Chuck is made to overtake spy gods like Bryce, Cole, and Shaw in his season 3 quest, as visually symbolized by the scenes below in season 3.
But this is only true and the journey is only worth it if Sarah is indeed a spy goddess who only mates with spy gods. No hero’s journey is necessary to become worthy of a CIA prostitute, no matter whether she sells her body for money or for government purposes. And we do know from Sarah’s own red test that she is not willing to sell her soul to the government.5Sarah could not kill Eve in cold blood on government orders, and only did so out of fear and instincts when she thought Eve was pulling a gun out of her purse.
These are the reasons Sarah cannot be a CIA prostitute. It would destroy the very essence of the story and of Chuck’s journey.