Many viewers are confused by Sarah’s apparent behavior in the first episodes of season 3. The most common objection is about her rejection of Chuck because he was becoming a typical, morally questionable spy like Shaw and thus her solution is to chew out Chuck and…go with Shaw? What? Well, here is the thing. Sarah is not choosing Shaw over Chuck in 3.08 Fake Name. She’s choosing Shaw as a rebound because Chuck is gone, with his decision to be with Hannah and to pursue his spy career over being with Sarah. And Sarah is not choosing Shaw over Chuck in 3.12 American Hero. She’s choosing to go back to her old ways (being nothing but a spy) because Chuck’s moral compromise in killing the mole has also killed her only hope of redemption.
Sarah’s behavior in season 3, episodes 1-13 is perfectly rational and rooted in what we see in the first two seasons. Chuck is a double-redemption story. Sarah’s competence redeems Chuck from a purposeless life, and Chuck’s innocence redeems Sarah from a dehumanizing life. In S1-2, Chuck helps Sarah come to the realization that she wants a normal life, a family, kids (she tells so to Casey in 1.11 Crown Vic and to Carina in 3.02 Three Words). The obstacle was always her job, and she subconsciously rejects that at the end of 2.16 Lethal Weapon when she rejects Cole (whose larger-than-life heroism symbolizes the glamorous aspect of the spy life) and consciously at the end of 2.20 First Kill when she chooses Chuck over government orders.
Then Chuck re-intersects at the end of 2.22 Ring out of his strong sense of duty (Chuck always does the right thing) and, when given the opportunity, decides to become a spy to help others. This sends Sarah into a tailspin. Unlike Chuck, who at this point only sees the pros of becoming a spy (a life of adventure), she fully knows the dehumanizing effects of this life and the moral compromises it entails, where moral decisions become more and more grey (as she tells Chuck in 3.10 Tic Tac) and the very last thing she wants is for the man she loves to go down that path, not only for his own good but also for hers, since she’s now left a work of redemption in progress, stuck between two worlds—the reality of her spy life and her desire for a normal life. So, as the daughter of a con man always on the run, she does the only thing she knows: she asks him to run away with her. (And before we judge her harshly for this decision, we should consider the alternative she saw: her innocent Chuck turned into a remorseless Intersect 2.0 killing machine, like Chuck on Laudanol or like the two GRETAs from 4.18 A-Team. She couldn’t bear that.)
But Chuck’s acceptance of his hero calling makes him reject her offer in Prague and this starts her own journey in 3.1-12. This is a passive journey for her, by design, and we know this because when Sarah is introduced at the beginning of 3.01 Pink Slip, the song that plays in the background is Wait It Out, which underscores the nature of her 3.1-12 journey to a real life.
She was Chuck’s savior in the first two seasons but this season she will have to wait for Chuck to undergo his own hero’s journey full of trials (3.5-8) and redemption (3.9-10) and more trials (3.11) and become her savior (spiritually at the end 3.12 American Hero and physically in 3.13 Other Guy).
So, in her passive 3.1-12 journey, everything that Sarah does is a reaction to what Chuck does. He stands her up in Prague? She acts like a scorned woman in 3.1-2. He tells her the noble reason why he didn’t run away with her in Prague (Carina’s video at the end of 3.2 Three Words)? She forgives him but she can’t act on her feelings (3.03 Angel de la Muerte). He stands up to Shaw at the end of 3.04 Operation Awesome by saying nothing is more important to him than friends and family? She gives him a hopeful look at the dinner table. He starts going through his own moral compromises (First Class through Fake Name)? She freaks out. Chuck is losing himself and she, his work of redemption in progress, desperately needs to find herself. But she’s an introvert with no friends. The two people she tried to talk to (Casey and Carina) brushed her off. But Shaw listens, he understands (he lost his wife to the spy world), and so she desperately tries to connect with him and, as Morgan says of himself in 4.09 Phase Three, she overshares in order to connect. That is the whole point of her telling Shaw her real name. She desperately needs someone to talk to and share real with and she thinks that Shaw is that person.
But Chuck overhears her words to Shaw and starts on his path of redemption. He breaks up with Hannah because it’s the right thing to do, stands up for Morgan against Shaw in 3.09 Beard and then decides to save Casey in 3.10 Tic Tac. Sarah makes sure he understands the implications. If caught, he’ll never become a spy. He knows and still wants to proceed. She notices. Chuck still chooses friends and family over becoming a spy, at great personal cost. He’s not changed after all, and she admits that to him as they prepare to save Casey. So, in 3.11 Final Exam, when Chuck’s possibility of becoming an agent is very real and he asks her to give him a second chance, she implicitly accepts by leaning to kiss him.
Then the red test happens. She thinks Chuck killed the mole and concludes Chuck has changed after all—he has chosen to become a spy over his moral principles. That’s it. She’s moving on and going to Washington, away from Chuck.
Then Chuck plants seeds of doubt in her mind about what happened with the mole and, for good measure, risks his life to save Shaw, finally steamrolls through her emotional barriers by declaring his love for her and, now that he understands what she was trying to protect him from back in Prague, he’s the one who asks her to quit everything and run away with him, in a scene that is the mirror of the Prague one.
Then she finds out from Casey that Chuck didn’t kill the mole. The innocent Chuck she loved (the thesis) and who she was afraid was going to become a ruthless and morally ambiguous spy like all the others (the antithesis) has managed to become the innocent spy (the synthesis), the best of both worlds, the one possibility she hadn’t envisioned back in Prague. And with that, at the end of 3.12 American Hero, her dark night of the soul is finally over and she’s all in for Chuck.
Add that Chuck saves her life twice (warehouse and Paris) in 3.13 Other Guy and he’s not just the man she loves but also her hero and savior, her true type, and her equal with whom she can have a real relationship based on love and trust. By retaining his innocence while becoming a spy, Chuck has made possible what Sarah thought impossible—spies can fall in love.
The Chuck Season 3 writing is near perfect, but many people would disagree. They focus on Sarah’s behavior. The story lines fall within basic human relationship patterns and never betrays Chuck’s and Sarah’s character traits.
Sarah’s co-worker Carina Miller represents Sarah’s life prior to her first date with Chuck. Sarah never had a boyfriend, home, friends, or anything real. As the show progresses, we see Sarah’s dreams about a normal life. Chuck provided a connection where she could experience what a normal life might look like through Chuck’s eyes. When Chuck meets Sarah, he puts her on a pedestal and so does the audience. We see the new Sarah, not the old Sarah that used to be like Carina.
The Sarah character is an introvert. Very few characters are because they don’t work in theater or movies. Additionally, it takes time to establish an introvert into a story line. The upside to introvert characters is they draw in the audience. We start asking “who is in there?” We invest in them to try to understand them. Done right, we fall in love with them.
We want Sarah to be with Chuck. We unreasonably believe they’re committed to each other because they are in love. The fact is they have no such commitment. The love triangles are reasonable given Sarah and Chuck are not available to each other. As the audience, we don’t get to harshly judge Sahra when she retrogrades to familiar relationship patterns. She has done nothing morally wrong. We can only say for her that those types of relationships won’t lead her to happiness.
In 11×13 Sarah declares Chuck is her boyfriend and they are exclusive. Sarah now has a real boyfriend; someone dedicated to her happiness. It’s only at this point we can judge her interactions with other people.
You should be able to click on the little gear icon at the bottom right of your comments and edit them. I always hated that default WordPress comments don’t let me edit my typos 🙂
I think many viewers also dislike the Sarah of season 3 because they, mistakenly in my opinion, see her as the “first Sarah” in this post. https://www.ohchuckme.com/season-3-a-tale-of-two-sarahs/
I would like to revisit my statement that season 3 writing was near perfect. It was for the story they were trying to tell. I said that the story lines fall within basic human relationship patterns and never betray Chuck’s and Sarah’s character traits. Yes, I still agree with that statement. I would also argue that these characters were not the ones we fell in love within season 1 & 2. That Sarah would have had nothing to do with Shaw. Early Chuck would have never displayed joy over his latest sexual conquest. Especially in front of Sarah. He had more class than that. The problem was the story itself. No one was buying it. What they should have done was to build the story around the characters they had, instead of trying to fit the characters in the story they wanted to tell.
I’m not sure I can quite put my finger on the problems but I think season 3 was potentially a great story (and it is many viewers’ favorite season, second only to season 2) but it was told (or edited) badly, and Schwedak’s own comments between Mask and Fake Name didn’t help. There were a couple of tacky moments, like the one you mention with Chuck at the beginning of Fake Name, even though it was Casey who gave the details. But we had a similar scene in 2.06 when Chuck absent-mindedly smiled back in the van in front of Sarah after Jill kissed him.
I think the very fact that S3 Chuck and Sarah are ultimately acting selflessly — they love each other but can’t be together because of the cardinal rule, so they try to find real with the ideal partner from their respective world and selflessly allow the other to do the same before realizing that’s only half of their real double life and that they are perfect for each other after overcoming their trials — but are perceived by many viewers as selfish and unlikable speaks volumes about the execution of the season.
The thing that would have made season 3 a success was if Matt Boomer didn’t leave and Shaw’s part was played by Boomer (Bryce Larken) as originally intended.
Replace annoying Shaw with Larken. Chuck rejects Sarah, Larken, who makes Chuck feel inferior comes back and plays Shaw’s part of pushing Chuck to be a spy. Chuck misses Sarah’s rejections of Bryce’s advances, and Chuck, thinking he’s got no shot, moves on and pushes Sarah back to Bryce as a romantic interest that Chuck must overcome.
It would have worked a lot better. It would have made sense if Sarah drifted back to Bryce and Chuck seeing himself as no serious competition for Sarah’s affections with Bryce in the picture. Ultimately, Chuck saves Bryce, steals the girl, and emulates Bryce’s status. The story arc would have been much more believable and rewarding in the end.
That’s how I believe this was meant to be and why trying to artificially develop that arc without Bryce’s history, failed.
Yes, that’s true. That would have worked better, particularly if they had kept the same lighthearted tone of the previous seasons. The show runners still needed Chuck to shoot someone by episode 13 though (that was specifically their intention, as they saw season 3 as Chuck’s initiation into the world of men), so they would have needed to find someone other than Bryce for Chuck to shoot. Also, the issue between Chuck and Sarah in the 3.03 to 3.09 episode range was not so much that Chuck didn’t feel worthy of Sarah or inferior to Shaw/Bryce when it came to Sarah’s affections (Sarah had already made it clear to Chuck in 2.03 Break-Up that he didn’t come second to Bryce with her) but that he and Sarah couldn’t afford to be in love because feelings are a liability for spies.