Lots of viewers love season 3. It constantly ranks as the second most-beloved season of the show behind season 2. Yet, season 3 is also the most controversial season of the show, and many viewers are upset with Sarah’s character this season, especially during the Shaw arc—they think she acts irrationally and hypocritically.
I think we should take a step back and think about the writers’ intentions and the big picture. This is the season that puts Chuck and Sarah together, in what the writers thought may be the last season of Chuck, after the fans mounted a successful campaign to save the show and get it renewed at the end of season 2. Do we really think that the writers sat down in the writers’ room and decided to turn Sarah into an irrational hypocrite in the very season that puts her together with Chuck in what they thought was the likely end of the series?
Now, the writers can certainly make mistakes (see the appalling 3.17 Living Dead episode for reference), but that’s a one-off episode in the later part of the season that was thrown together at the last minute, so the mishaps are understandable.
But the first 13 episodes of the season were planned well in advance. They were supposed to be the end of the show and the culmination of Chuck and Sarah’s relationship. Do we really think the writers were so clueless to plan it in a way that turns Sarah into an unlikable mess?
I don’t think so. That would make no sense because such a Sarah does not deserve the selfless Chuck we see in season 3.
I think it’s far more likely that they wrote the season in a way that is supposed to make both Chuck and Sarah likable but wrote and edited it confusingly, in a way that can lead some viewers to misunderstand one or both of the characters, particularly Sarah.
But we should never confuse the viewers’ understanding (or misunderstanding) of Sarah’s behavior with the writers’ intentions or even what is plainly mentioned by the characters as the story unfolds.
Some viewers, for example, think Sarah is mad at Chuck for dumping her in Prague. That is only true in the first two episodes as it’s clearly shown.
And it’s a perfectly natural reaction.
But is it true for the rest of the season? What do we actually see on the screen? Look at the scenes below. Is this a woman who is mad at the hero? Raise your hand if you are a man and would hate it if your woman looked at you like this. As for me, my hand is firmly down.
But hey, some viewers may think the above screenshots are cherry-picked, that there are scenes in season 3, between 3.03 Angel de la Muerte and Chuck’s red test at the end of 3.11 Final Exam when Sarah really dislikes Chuck or downright rejects him. I would love to see these scenes.
Interestingly enough, everyone gushes about Yvonne’s nonverbal acting skills, and I agree. But, if her acting skills are so great, why is it that viewers have at least four different interpretations of what she’s thinking after watching Carina’s video at the end of 3.02 Three Words?
Are these different interpretations the writers’ fault? Yvonne’s fault? Or the viewers’ fault? Considering how Sarah acts around Chuck in the following episodes, whose fault is it?
Or some viewers say that Sarah is a flake because she falls for any spy who shows up on her radar, including Shaw. Really? Does she fall for Shaw? How is it that Shaw himself doesn’t get the memo?
Some viewers are mad at Sarah for revealing her real name to Shaw, a guy she barely knows. Some viewers consider the scene so appalling that they refuse to think she revealed her real name and conclude she revealed a fake name (hence, the title of the episode). Again, if Yvonne’s acting skills are so great, how is it that lots of viewers think she revealed her real name in the scene below while others don’t?
Whose fault is it? The writers’? Yvonne’s? The viewers’? If she’s faking it, when is it revealed that she revealed a fake name? TV writing has tropes. One ubiquitous trope is Chekhov’s Gun, used all the time in Chuck. Chekhov’s Gun has a setup (e.g. the Laudanol pill introduced at the beginning of 3.10 Tic Tac) and a payoff (Chuck takes the Laudanol and learns how it affects him). Again, it has a setup (Chuck gives Casey his gun in a “thoughtful felony” in 3.11 Final Exam) and a payoff (Casey uses the gun to shoot Perry). Again, it has a setup (the threat of Chuck being bunkered introduced in 1.01 Intersect) and a payoff (Chuck almost bunkered in 1.13 Marlin and 2.20 First Kill).
If Sarah reveals a fake name (the setup) in 3.08 Fake Name, where is the payoff? When is the payoff revealed later in the episode or in the show? Did the writers just forget? Or could it be that, maybe, just maybe, Sarah’s name reveal in 3.08 Fake Name is actually the powerful payoff, and the setup was Chuck’s request for her real name all the way back in 1.04 Wookiee?
Many viewers think Sarah acts irrationally and hypocritically in season 3. But does she?
She cries when she sees Carina’s video at the end of 3.02 Three Words and learns about Chuck’s self-sacrificial choice. Is that irrational or hypocritical?
She does a 180 after that and treats Chuck the opposite of the first two episodes. Is that irrational or hypocritical?
She freaks out when he starts losing his chuckness. Is that irrational or hypocritical?
She tries to find something real with a Chuck-like spy since Chuck is unavailable to her, just as Chuck tried to find something real with Lou since Sarah was unavailable to him in 1.08 Truth and 1.09 Hard Salami. Is that irrational or hypocritical?
She’s ready to go back to Chuck the moment he’s about to become a spy in 3.11 Final Exam and asks for her back (and she hasn’t stood in his way). Is that irrational or hypocritical?
She’s mad at Chuck for allegedly betraying his moral principles, just as Chuck was mad at her for allegedly betraying her moral principles with Mauser. Is that irrational or hypocritical?
She gives him a pass on the red test the very same day (at the restaurant), while Chuck was mad at her about the Mauser incident for five weeks. Is that irrational or hypocritical?
She learns to see things from Chuck’s perspective. Is that irrational or hypocritical?
She learns from Chuck to trust (a key element in any relationship) and experiences betrayal, just like Chuck. Is that irrational or hypocritical?
She sincerely offers her help whenever she can. Some viewers are mad at Sarah for “hurting” Chuck in 3.09 Beard because she knows what Chuck is going through and yet “hurts” him with what they think is her ridiculous offer to talk to her and Shaw about his problems. But look at Sarah’s facial expression. If Yvonne is such a great actress, what emotion is she conveying here? Hypocrisy? Cluelessness? Spite? Or real, heartfelt concern? Whose fault is it if we viewers don’t get it? The writers’? Yvonne’s? Or the viewers’? Is she being irrational or hypocritical? Or loving and concerned?
She’s ecstatic when she finds out that Chuck is still her Chuck. Is that irrational or hypocritical?
What is exactly that viewers have against Sarah in season 3? She pulls back from Chuck the moment she learns that he wants to become a spy (a Jedi) like her for the greater good and inner fulfillment. She knows how much this means to him and what he has sacrificed for this noble goal. She says so herself.
So she sacrifices her dream to be with him so that he can have his dream. What’s not to like about such a selfless heroine? She tries to find something real in a loveless relationship with a Chuck-like guy that she even tries to see as Chuck (Buy More crockpot and Chuck-related food from the Bamboo Dragon at the end of 3.08 Fake Name). She unhappily resigns herself to a loveless relationship so that Chuck can have his spy dream.
She resigns to hiding and carrying her own baggage with a clueless guy who thinks she has no baggage of her own and who thinks her baggage handler is actually her baggage (“No Burbank, no baggage”). And she does all this so that Chuck can have his dream (“It’s everything you’ve always wanted,” as she tells him in the very scene below).
Just like many Jedis before her.
But she is ready to go back to Chuck the moment he becomes a spy and asks for her back.
So, again, what exactly is the problem with season 3 Sarah? Is she irrational and hypocritical? Is the problem really with Sarah? With Yvonne’s acting? With the writers? Or with us viewers?
I can understand viewers who say they don’t like the way season 3 unfolded. That’s one thing. Entirely another thing is to say that Sarah is irrational or hypocritical in the very season that puts her together with Chuck.