Character Deep Dive: Ellie Bartowski

Sarah Lancaster as Ellie Bartowski on NBC's Chuck
Source: NBC

Ellie Bartowski is the one character on Chuck I’ve appreciated more and more after every re-watch. She was easy to love in the beginning sure, but perhaps it’s getting older and realizing that as much as you wish you could be a Sarah Walker, you’re really (and thankfully) an Ellie.

She might not have been a spy, but she is the kind of everyday badass we’ve all come across in our lives—the one person whose grace is so inimitable, you know without a shadow of a doubt, they’re contributing to making the world a better place. And perhaps even, they aren’t always getting the recognition they deserve.

One of the things Chuck did best as a TV series is flushing out characters even while they weren’t on screen. As mentioned, when we did the Character Deep Dive for Ellie’s husband, Devon aka Captain Awesome, both characters could have easily been one-dimensional stereotypes, but instead, they are beautifully layered and so complex that the story wouldn’t have been nearly as good without them.

Ellie Bartowski was in a myriad of ways, the heart of Chuck. If you try to imagine the world of espionage without the heart she brought to the forefront, you’d have a dark, dreary drama that’d fall flat. Because in more ways than one, Chuck Bartowski is the man that he is because of the sibling that loved him through everything. Thus, even our hero would have fallen flat without her.

Ellie Bartowski and the Unparalleled Heart

What I have personally always appreciated about Ellie isn’t just the fact that she’s kind, but she is genuinely nice. She isn’t overly optimistic or tirelessly positive by any means. She’s somebody we all know. The world would be infinitely greater if we had more people like Leslie Knope in it, but the harsh reality is that it’s hard to be as positive and spirited all the time. Instead, Ellie was kind where need be, but she was also assertive and at times, wildly (and understandably) annoyed.

As a woman whose mother (and father) both left without explanations, you’d expect Ellie to be colder and more closed off to the world. And while trust never came easy to her, she did what was necessary—she chose to love instead. She chose to hold on to the people in her life tighter than she could have held on to her parents. She chose to take care of her brother and later, she chose to take care of their loved ones.

Ellie became the kind of mother she wished she had and the kind of supportive figure she always longed for. Where she could have closed her heart to the world, instead she opened it fully, along with her door in order to welcome those that didn’t have homes. (And reluctantly even, to the John Caseys of the world.) Ellie cared and she cared deeply, but she cared even though she didn’t necessarily have it in her to.

She was cautious towards those that deserved it. She was warm and gentle with those who needed it. It might not have been easy to gain Ellie Bartowski’s trust, but once it was established, she was a confidant through and through. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for those she loved, including trusting blindly if their lives were at stake.

Ellie had great instincts, but Ellie was first and foremost a big sister thus, if it meant Chuck was in trouble, she’d dive headfirst to ensure that she was protecting her brother. Where she was kept in the dark for so long about the careers every member of her family had chosen, Ellie forgave quicker than most people would. And the forgiveness served as a testament to her heart and the understanding that loving them was far more important than wasting time in anger.

The fact of the matter was, Ellie understood, more than most that motives mattered, and she took the time to try to understand them even while it wasn’t always clear. She worried far more than people should, but she remained hopeful because of the crucial detail that she is a Bartowski—there is nothing she nor any Bartowski couldn’t accomplish if they set their minds to it. And thus, where she should have sealed her heart, where she could have allowed the abandonment and darkness to simmer, she fought harder to ensure that she rose above them instead.

She forgave, she welcomed back, and she fought hard to hold on.

The Resilience

Ellie’s resilience floored me from the moment she showcased the layers interwoven within her. She was bold, she almost always had an infectious smile on her face, and yet deep down, there was always a little girl needing someone else to care for her while she fortified her strength.

Thankfully, with a brother as incredible as Chuck Bartowski and a partner as devoted as Devon Woodcomb, Ellie would always be taken care of, but it didn’t change the fact that the strength she had was something she continuously worked on. She fought through bridges, uncertainties, and any threat that came her way with a determination to be the kind of force that created a safe space.

Her warmth was as gratifying as it was because her resilience consistently lit the fires within her and extended to those who needed it most. She welcomed Sarah in from the moment she saw her, not only because she was happy that her brother finally found love again, but perhaps because a part of her recognized the lost girl in Sarah too. It’s a testament to why she believed so fiercely in their love even in the beginning when it was all part of the act.

Ellie’s resilience and the determination to know people as they truly are allowed her to see parts of people that others may not have ever noticed, and this was especially true with Sarah, and later, Alex. It’s the recognition of the people who put up a front of having it all together when really, they could use safe spaces to unwind just as she has sometimes needed to.

Ellie Bartowski was many things, and she was always transparent—while she might not have admitted it right away, she wouldn’t hide her truth from the people who cared for her. She was excited to be a mother when she was pregnant, but she was nervous too, and thereby, the openness she showed in admitting just how much she needed her own mother was always beautiful to watch.

The strongest characters aren’t the ones who never crack, but they are the ones who aren’t afraid of being vulnerable and open. The strongest characters are the ones who admit defeat and then pick themselves up. The strongest characters are the ones who let others take care of them too, and while Ellie was everyone’s go-to, she never shied away from admitting her needs. And it was always this very thing that made her so compelling as a character because, in every area, she showed range and realism.

She was a comfort character to us all because she welcomed the audience in too. She was a version of home to us as well. And with the stunning work Sarah Lancaster brought to the screen every time—Ellie became that much more relatable and nuanced. Lancaster’s performance was so precisely heartwarming that you knew, without a shadow of a doubt that she cared so much about Ellie, that she’d become her week after week. She understood her better than most which translated onto screen brilliantly from the very first episode. Sarah Lancaster took her from words on a page and brought her to life with a sense of heart that’s truly inimitable.

We all know an Ellie Bartowski and there is likely a version of Ellie Bartowski in all of us. (At least, I hope.) The world would be better this way.

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