Show: NBC’s Chuck
Featured Characters: Chuck Bartowski and Sarah Walker
As far as genres are concerned, Chuck isn’t a series about love, but an enormous part of what makes it so special is in fact, the love stories. It’s the development between Chuck and Sarah.
From their very first meeting, including the sincere exchange at the beach to their explosive first kiss, watching them slowly, but fervently fall in love with one another has been the icing on top of an already wonderful cake. And ultimately, really, the undercover spies/lovers/fake dating trope is top tier. (I’ve never not loved a relationship that followed this trope.)
Chuck and Sarah do a lot of going back and forth until “Chuck vs The Other Guy” (s3e13), but when they finally get together, their love is incomparable. And what’s always been the most wonderful detail in their relationship is the fact that Sarah falls in love Chuck Bartowski the man, not the spy, and Chuck falls for Sarah Walker, the woman behind the tough exterior.
If there was a way to highlight every detail about why they’re top tier without a 3,219 page article, I’d do that. But since there is no way, we’re going to take a deep dive into the moments that I’ve always felt defined them most gorgeously (moments that have made me cry way more than I probably should have).
Chuck and Sarah and Where Forever Begins
First up, there’s the moment in the Chuck’s living room where Sarah finally confesses that she’s in love with him. There’s probably not another moment so raw in the series, and it’s what floors me most. Yvonne Strahovski does such an impeccable job showcasing Sarah’s sincere adoration when she says, “you’re still my Chuck.” Sarah doesn’t understand about 90% of Chuck’s world, but that doesn’t stop her loving every part of him because of how special he is. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t understand the Star Wars references or DC comics, Chuck Bartowski is her nerd, and she welcomes all of him with heartfelt adoration.
She is completely enamored with his charm and that’s something I feel we can all understand. (No but seriously, who wouldn’t want Chuck Bartwoski to be their boyfriend?) Chuck’s captivating goodness is the beacon of hope Sarah has always needed in her life to find a home. She’s good and strong on her own, but without Chuck, she’d never know the value of a home and love. She’d never find her true self because the life of a spy requires endless lies and detachment. And without love, no one can truly know just how much they’re capable of, for it’s love that inspires bravery—it’s love that brings light.
It’s essentially why this certain scene is so remarkable: Chuck has reached a point of heartbreak he can’t go back from, a numbness he’s never experienced before, and Zachary Levi sets the tone effortlessly by presenting a poignant level of distress that’s palpable from miles away. But this moment and their love is a testament to the detail that love doesn’t require lists of similarities, but transparency above all. Chuck was always clear about where he stood, he made sure Sarah knew he’d do anything and everything to protect and cherish her. Thereby, when she finally gives in to her heart’s desires and allows herself to fall in love with the man who’s shown her that there’s more to her, greatness happens.
Finding Home and Holding On
The intersect was able to make Chuck Bartowski the ultimate spy, but as a man, he was able to bring Sarah home. It was not always easy for her to delve into the relationship as he did, but there are moments that test her love so gloriously, the audience never once doubts she’d choose him over anything else in the world.
We first see this after she finally unpacks her suitcase and tells Chuck that he’s her home. However, the loveliest part of the scene is where she states that the reason she keeps their picture in her suitcase is because wherever she is, it makes her feel safe. It allows the audience to see that the girl who’d only ever known lies and hotels has found a home in the heart of a man who’d give the world for her. There’s such sincerity and sweetness to the scene, it’s easy to choke up while watching it. (I’m not crying again, you’re crying.)
When Chuck has been taken and the intersect has been threatened, we’re able to see just how much he’s changed Sarah’s perspective in life. She’s always wanted love, marriage, and a family, but because of the world she’s grown up in, the type of family she’s know, it’s always been an impossible outcome for her. Circumstances in her life have allowed her to believe that love is not a future she’s capable of knowing because she’s better at being a spy. She’s better at being cold and distanced from the world.
Sarah is rarely in a vulnerable position, and when love painfully brings it out of her, it results in one of the most harrowing love confessions. As she’s trying to revive Chuck from the unconscious state he’s in, she talks about finding his proposal plan, wanting to marry him, and establishing the fact that with or without the intersect, he is the one she loves above all. And it’s fundamentally, it is so lovely to see just how much Chuck has opened Sarah’s heart—she’s vulnerable with him, braver with him, better with him, and more in tune with the person she truly is on the inside because for once, someone is able to see her as more than just a pretty face with kick-ass skills.
She’s gentle and warm after meeting him because she given the safe space to know she’s appreciated as is, she’s open to the world and more importantly, she’s happier.
One day I’m going to elaborate further on this next scene because there’s no way I could simply talk about it once, but next up is their pre-wedding preparation vows. If this is how they’d actually gotten married on the series, I would’ve been perfectly fine with it. While it’s adorable to see them nervously and cheerfully stand in front of each other in their pajamas, it’s Sarah’s vows that astound not only the audience, but Chuck, too.
“You’re a gift. You’re a gift I never dreamed I could want or need and everyday I will show you that you are a gift that I deserve. You make me the best person that I could ever hope to be and I want to spend and learn and love the rest of my life with you.”
Sarah’s vows work beautifully for the both of them. They’re both gifts in each other’s lives and every day, they show one another just how deserving they are of the love they’re blessed with. They’re gifts because neither could’ve ever imagined what they’d find in one another or the incandescent happiness love would bring to their lives. There is an innocence to it that contributes so well to their world that could have otherwise been darker.
The Lost Memories, The Decision to Trust
The final scene is simultaneously one of the most hopeful, and likely the most heartbreaking. But Sarah and Chuck carving their names into the wall of their dream home hits like a ton of bricks in revealing just how right they are for each other.
For such a brief moment, there’s unparalleled beauty to it. This is the moment they’ve decided the life of spies is no longer something they’re both drawn to, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes, they’re going to work on getting their dream life. Carving their names into the wall is such a childlike, innocent decision—it’s the choice to take something on with the faith that it’s theirs. It’s to choice to believe that their love and devotion is enough to inspire the hard work that will be nurturing their dream home.
There’s a tenderness to it unlike in any other scene because neither have had magical childhoods. They’ve not always known the true essence of being a child because in one way or another, they’ve both had to grow up too soon. It’s both about the house, and it’s about the family they’ll raise there. It’s about the marks they’ll engrave on the same wall to measure the heights of their children. It’s about the promises they make to create a safe and loving environment. It’s about the story of hard work and dedication that they’ll share with their kids once asked about the carving years later. It’s about what it’ll continuously inspire—the idea that with love, anything is possible. And it’s especially the case with two people who’ve known relatively darker childhoods. (It’s also so achingly telling that this is one of the things Sarah’s senses are in tune with when her memories are wiped. She knows it’s her handwriting, sure, but the profound sadness in her voice when she says it is almost otherworldly.)
Magical kisses unfortunately don’t work, but Sarah Walker loves Chuck Bartowski and it’s something we could all hold on to. Her heart has always been with him, and although memories can be wiped, feelings cannot. It’s already clear as she’s listening to their story that it’s moving her entire being; therefore, I like to think that even if the memories don’t ever return, what we can be certain of is that they’ll fall back in love again.
They’ll find the enamoring romance that inspires them to say vows in pajamas. In time, she’ll feel safe again to tell him about the dreams she’s never told anyone else. Maybe they’ll lie together in silence as Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” plays on the turntable again, and it’ll make her feel just as entranced as she did the first time.
Poignant parallels go unsurpassed, and throughout the series they both make prominent decisions at the beach to trust the other person. And it’s this very decision that leads them towards embarking on an exquisite journey where love, trust, and happiness are present in even the darkest hours. Chuck and Sarah know how to make one another happy—their differences aside, it’s always been about putting the other’s needs above their own. No one will ever love Chuck Bartowski the way Sarah Walker does, and no one will ever Sarah Walker the way Chuck Bartowski does.
(I couldn’t bring myself to end this review in another more epic way because “No One’s Gonna Love You” by Band of Horses will always be the song that reminds me most of them. Listen to it. Cry with me. And maybe we can hope together that we’ll still get a movie someday.)
Fabulous writing, it’s been shared in a Chuck Facebook group and we all love it.
With all due deference to your very well written piece, I would like to disagree with your very first clause. In point of fact, Chuck is almost exclusively a series about love. Not just the excellently written and acted relationship of Chuck and Sarah, but also everyone else. I have always said this show is more about “heart than almost any series I have watched, and if you substitute love for heart, you understand. The relationship between Chuck and Ellie, born out of the heartache of literally “losing” both parents and having to be there for each other. The relationship of Ellie and Awesome, that serves as an adult model for Chuck. The filial love of both of his parents toward him and Ellie. protecting them, yet loving them as too flawed people who recognize their mistakes, even if those mistakes were from love. The Love of Morgan and Alex, which makes both of them better and stronger. The growth in Casey in his love for Chuck and Sarah, as well as his daughter, and even Gertrude. The love of the best friend, that causes each to grow as people, best manifested in Chuck and Morgan, but also Jeff and Lester.
I can scarcely think of any show that has more love than Chuck. And understanding that love, recognizing that love, is the key to the final episode, which is then not controversial at all, but is obvious once you see the entire picture. Chuck is a show that is far too rare, and far too special, and I cannot recommend it to people enough
That said, I loved what you wrote
Thank you very much! This doesn’t feel like a disagreement to me because that’s ultimately what I meant. But to clarify (and I made it clear with an edit as well), I meant that as a genre, Chuck isn’t a romance. It’s a drama/comedy more than that. But the characters, and their love stories even the platonic ones, which I’ve also written about, are certainly at the heart of the series. It’s what makes the show so special.
Wonderful piece, thank you. I’m still struggling with the way they built up Charah talking of their future, kids, moving from the spy game in S5 before pulling the rug out right at the end and then relying on ‘hope’ from the audience. I fully believe Chuck and Sarah are together, but for the amount of build up in that relationship I just think there should have been on ‘epilogue’ scene set some months after to show the audience explicitly. Anyway, I suppose from the creative perspective the writers will feel vindicated by just how deeply they effected so many people that ending over 10 years on, it still provokes such a depth of feeling and discussion. We need that movie…………………..
I do believe in the magical kiss. It worked at the end of 4.09 when Sarah kissed Chuck, whose memories were erased. There’s no reason why it won’t work at the end of 5.13, when Sarah’s memories are merely suppressed and are already coming back. Review of 5.13 here: https://www.ohchuckme.com/5-13-chuck-versus-the-goodbye/