Why does Sarah cry after watching Carina’s thumb drive video at the end of 3.02 Three Words? What is it that she’s thinking as she watches Chuck’s confession of love in Karl’s vault? This scene comes at the end of the second episode of season 3. In the first two episodes, Sarah is mad because Chuck stood her up in Prague in 3.01 Pink Slip, rejecting her offer to run away from the spy life and live a real life together. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” and the Sarah of the first two episodes can attest to that.
Towards the beginning of Three Words, an emotionally hurt Sarah takes a jab at Chuck and his Intersect powers. She thinks Chuck abandoned her in Prague because of the ego-boosting power trip granted him by the Intersect 2.0. She thinks he chose a shiny new toy over her. She thinks his feelings for her were not real.
But then, towards the end of Three Words, Chuck talks Karl down in the courtyard, with words that are meant for Karl but also for Sarah; Chuck’s speech about loving someone first and leading them to love back clearly affect Sarah, who opens up to Chuck the next morning by the fountain and decides to stay in Burbank when Carina offers her an escape route to Saint Tropez.
And because of that decision, Carina gives Sarah a parting gift—a thumb drive with Chuck’s confession in Karl’s vault, a confession Chuck blurts out when he thinks he’s about to be killed by the gas in the vault. Here are his words:
Look, Sarah, I know that you’re probably very hurt that I didn’t run away with you in Prague. You have to know that you were everything I ever wanted, but how could I do that, how could I be with you, knowing what I’d turned by back on, knowing that what I had in my head could help a lot of people. And you’re the one that taught me that being a spy is about something bigger. It’s about putting aside your own personal feelings for the greater good, and that’s what I choose. I chose to be a spy for my friends and my family and you. I chose to be a spy because, Sarah, I love you.
When Sarah hears Chuck say, “How could I be with with you…knowing that what I had in my head could help a lot of people?” the look on her face shows the dawning realization of the real reason behind Chuck’s decision in Prague. She realizes he didn’t act out of selfishness or an Intersect 2.0-induced power trip, but because of self-sacrificial heroism.
And when Chuck says, “I chose to be a spy for my friends and my family and you,” she realizes, with tears in her eyes, that Chuck’s decision to reject personal happiness is based on selfless love.
So, what is her final reaction to Chuck’s confession of love and sacrifice in Karl’s vault? What are her conclusions after hearing Chuck’s words? Viewers have several opinions on the matter.
Some viewers conclude that she’s thinking, “Oh, no. Chuck is becoming a spy. I can’t trust him with my heart.” Because spies put missions above people, she now can’t trust Chuck the same way she can’t fully trust any other spy. With Chuck, in fact, it’s even worse because she loves him and can’t compartmentalize around him as she can around other spies, and this puts her in even graver danger. Now, I think this is the worst possible interpretation; not only does Sarah’s reaction completely ignore Chuck’s words in Carina’s video, thus making the video’s revelation useless, but this reaction turns Sarah into a callous and selfish person, who completely disregards the noble and selfless reasons behind Chuck’s decision to become spy and only worries about herself. Those who subscribe to this view counter that Sarah has trust issues and has always been let down by the men in her life, but this objection holds no water because those people betrayed her trust due to selfishness or impersonal choice of missions over her, whereas Chuck just confessed of choosing to become a spy for selfless reasons, out of love and family and friends and her. This interpretation is also wrong because Sarah’s defining characteristic has always been her trust in Chuck and, if it were true that Sarah’s issue in season 3 is her lack of trust in spy Chuck, it would be a major theme that would be explored and resolved. But none of that takes place in season 3. In fact, what does take place is exactly the opposite, as Sarah goes through the season by trusting Chuck, and even learning to trust Shaw to a fault and almost to her doom.
Other viewers conclude that she’s thinking, “Chuck and I almost had a real life, but he had to become a spy, which I never wanted for him, and it’s all my fault.” This interpretation has a germ of truth in that Sarah may realize it is her fault Chuck has chosen to become a spy since he mentions that she is the one who taught him that being a spy is about sacrificing love for duty. But this view only focuses on a small part of Chuck’s vault revelation (Sarah’s inspiration) and ignores the rest. This view is also redundant because Sarah does not need Carina’s video to realize that she and Chuck almost had a real life—a dream that was ruined by Chuck’s decision to become a spy, something she never wanted for him. Sarah already knew all this throughout the first two episodes of season 3. This view also ignores the camera’s focus on Sarah’s reaction to Chuck’s words about what is in his head that can help a lot of people and her reaction to his words that he has decided to become a spy out of love for family and friends and her. The camera focuses on her reaction during those revelations for a reason.
Still other viewers conclude that Sarah is thinking, “Chuck did not betray me in Prague after all. Even though he hurt me badly, I should give him another chance.” This interpretation, like the one above, has a germ of truth in that Sarah correctly realizes that Chuck’s decision in Prague was not a betrayal but a self-sacrificial choice for the greater good. But this interpretation that Sarah is willing to give Chuck another chance does not take into account the overall thematic moral of the episode. The purpose of Three Words is to remind Chuck and Sarah that love is a liability for spies (cardinal rule and all), and the purpose of Carina’s courtyard demo with Karl is precisely to drive this point home for Chuck and Sarah. And after Carina’s demo with Karl, Sarah remarks, “Spies don’t fall in love.” So, why would she give Chuck another chance, even after watching Carina’s video?
Other viewers conclude that Sarah is thinking, “I was wrong. Chuck did not betray me in Prague. He wants to become a spy for noble and selfless reasons. But he’s emotional, and his emotions can be a liability in the spy life, so I need to sacrifice my dream to be with him and pull back for his sake, so that he can realize his dream to become the perfect spy for the greater good.” I think this is the correct interpretation because it not only jives with Sarah’s reaction to Carina’s video, as the camera focuses on Sarah’s facial expressions at Chuck’s words about his selfless and self-sacrificial choice of duty over love, but it also jives with the thematic moral of the episode that love is a liability for spies. Finally, it also jives with Sarah’s nature throughout the seasons—her selfless and self-sacrificial love for Chuck.
Sarah herself confirms this view when she urges Chuck in 3.10 Tic Tac to remain the same guy she first met. In her speech, she mentions everything she heard from him in Carina’s video—his desire to become a spy, the reason behind it, and what he has sacrificed (his love for her) to get there.
And Sarah’s self-sacrificial decision to pull back is nothing new since 3.02 Three Words is the mirror of 2.03 Break-Up. Just as in Break-Up, Bryce realized that Sarah had feelings for Chuck that were a liability in her performance as a spy, Carina notices the same in Three Words about Chuck. And just as Chuck sacrificed his dream to be with Sarah and pulled back from her to keep her safe, Sarah now does the same for him.
This last interpretation jives with the show’s theme of love as a liability for spies and keeps both the hero and heroine selfless and self-sacrificial instead of selfish. They both sacrifice their dream to be together at the altar of duty for the greater good (Chuck) and for the other’s welfare and dreams (Sarah). And this makes us viewers love them even more.