Gleanings from Nerd Culture: What I Learned From Chuck

813chuck Separator

by Kevin Rigdon (@pralix1138)

I admit I originally had a different title for this post.  A title so exciting, and relevant, that it expressed the entire content of this article in just a few words.  I was so proud of its esotericism.  It was glorious, until I looked at it again before submitting the article, and thought to myself: what the hell does that even mean?  Here’s the original title: “Chuck vs Experiential Knowledge as Hypostatic Affirmation.”  Yeah, I know.  But the point of the original title, and the article itself, is to explore the idea that there is something deeper in the stories we tell, in the games we play, the movies and television shows we watch, than just mere entertainment.  These things have the potential to help us discover who we are, and I hope that this little article helps others to see this as well.  I swear it’s not as pedantic as the original title.

I’m a firm believer in the principle that words have actual meanings, and not simply the meanings we ascribe to them in order to create new euphemisms for various things.  And it is becoming increasingly apparent that we are losing the meanings of words, and are, as a result, becoming poorer in the art of communication-especially in the wonderful art of storytelling.  This rule applies most especially to the word, “knowledge.”

It’s not necessarily that the definition of the term, knowledge, is false, but in our current context it has been reduced in our understanding to that which we learn through books, papers, etc.  We intellectually learn various subjects, theories, information, and facts, and so forth.  When we have achieved a certain amount of memorized information, we can say that we know the subject.  But there is a level of knowledge which isn’t reached until one experiences the object of study.  I’m assuming none of us would want to be a passenger in a plane with a pilot who only has a theoretical understanding of flying.

Now, we need to remember this description of experiential knowledge, especially when it comes to our knowledge of other persons.  The following is one of my favorite exchanges in the entire series of Chuck, because it expresses such a simple and beautiful reality: the intimate knowledge of another human person.

Sarah: Okay, fine, I’ll answer one question about my past. You’ve earned that much.

Chuck: …No, thanks… I don’t need to know more about who you were. ‘Cause as much as you don’t think so, I know who you are

Chuck vs the Cougars

When watching this episode for the first time, I glossed over this line, thinking it was a nice little way for Chuck and Sarah to have a moment.  The second viewing, I picked up a little more of the meaning. But it wasn’t until the third time through, that the significance of it hit me.  It is in this exchange that we come face to face with the depth of human need and desire: to know and to be known.  And this knowledge that Chuck possesses of Sarah is not an intellectual knowledge.  He’s had that; he knows she’s a spy, an assassin, knows how she works, and so forth.  This empirical knowledge is information he has gleaned from observation and discussion with either Sarah or Casey.

But the statement, “I know who you are,” is not empirical.  It is existential.  Simply put, there is a shared, lived, experience between persons that goes beyond theories or explanations, beyond empirical data, and even beyond words themselves.  Does Chuck have to express this intimate knowledge of Sarah in words?  No, he does not.  In fact, what comes next is a perfect of example of how this knowledge is gained: they share a cheeseburger prepared her favorite way just to be sure that we–as the audience–get the fact that he knows her.  And so this experiential knowledge transcends the need for words.  It is simple, yet profound.


As a further example of this shared experiential knowledge, I’d like to consider a bit from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, after they had just dealt with the mountain troll:

But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

This helps to illustrate what I’m trying to get at here: Chuck’s statement to Sarah that he knows her is predicated upon a shared experience, indeed many shared experiences, which transcend the intellectual.   This experiential knowledge is more integral to who we are as human persons than intellectual, or theoretical, knowledge, so much so that I think we can safely say, that it is ontological, it is part of our very being.  To be human requires–yes, requires–us to know and be known.

And this brings us back to a concept that I talked about earlier, and that is experiential knowledge is at the very heart of what it means to be human.  To know and to be known: this is what communion is [see: ChuckvstheEveryman], because knowledge, as outlined by the evidence above, is participation.  The lover cannot know the beloved without participation, without a shared experience.

To know another soul, or souls, is to affirm them.  It affirms their very existence.  “I don’t need to know more about who you were. ‘Cause as much as you don’t think so, I know who you are” not only testifies to Chuck’s love for Sarah, and her acceptance of that love, it proclaims her very being.  To say, “I know you,” to another human person affirms their personhood, it is equivalent to saying, “you are.”

Here we see the coming transformation and salvation of Sarah Walker.  In her shared experience with Chuck Bartowski, she comes to know another human person.  She comes to be known by others.  In this exchange of experiential knowledge, she cares and is cared for; loves and is loved; changes and is changed.  This is the deepest and truest desire of the human person.

In fact, we can sum up this truth of human nature with two statements from Chuck:
(1) “I know who you are.”
(2) “I love you, Sarah Walker.  Always have.” – Chuck vs the American Hero.

The first statement  affirms her existence, not only as an agent, a spy, or tool of the government, but as a human person.  Chuck’s knowledge of Sarah reveals her to be someone who is intrinsically valuable and one who is worth knowing.  The second statement, I love you, is part of the existential knowledge of another person.  It is,  according to Paul Evdokimov in The Sacrament of Love, the same thing as saying: “You will never die.”

So, in the end we have from Chuck Bartowski to Sarah Walker: You are, and you always will be.  Good stuff!  Who’d’ve thought we could learn so much from a simple television show?


    16 Comments

  1. RaquelAugust 13th, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    I don’t usually leave comments, but this one I had to..

    I never put much thought into that scene, but as I was reading your text, the exact excerpt from HP came to my mind (it’s one of the best in the series in my opinion), and I was so happy when I saw it that I just have to congratulate you!

    Thanks! I’ll sure be reading more into chuck’s scenes from now on.

    PS: sorry if I made any english errors.. I’m from Brazil and my english is a bit rusty

  2. JeanneAugust 13th, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    You got that right. you do learn alot from A tv show like Chuck. you learn that two totally different people can fall in love. Chuck will Live on for ever in our hearts for ever!! WE will miss it.!!!

  3. TheBenson108August 13th, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    AWESOME article!!! Enjoyed it thoroughly!

    And there needs to be a group of people trying to demand for a Chuck Series Box-set. Just saying!

  4. KarenAugust 13th, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    I really like this article and agree with it wholeheartedly. It does however remind me how cruel and heartbreaking the series finale was. They took away every shred of Sarah’s “experiential knowledge” of Chuck. Think of the thousands of experiences they had together that were taken away from her. Even if you take the leap and assume she does wind up falling in love with Chuck again, it could never be the same kind of love it would have been if she hadn’t lost that wealth of knowledge of Chuck. That knowledge is truly irreplaceable. New experiences can give you new knowledge sure, but no two experiences are ever exactly the same…
    I’m getting teary eyed writing this so I do have to say the TV show Chuck definitely touched and affected me more than any other show ever. I will miss all the characters dearly, I knew and loved them.

  5. Crabpuff68August 13th, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Very nice. I enjoyed that! But where does the hypostatic part come in? That’s the bit I was really interested in seeing how you tied in.

  6. Kevin RigdonAugust 13th, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Just watched Chuck vs the Tic Tac again, and there’s a similar moment with Casey, with Chuck saying, “I don’t care who you were, I know who you are.”

    Thanks for the feedback, guys!

    Raquel – you’re English is impeccable! and thank you!

  7. VaronicaAugust 13th, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    i like this.
    words are more than just words 🙂

  8. JeanneAugust 14th, 2012 at 5:51 am

    I just want to say your I love your Article. It’s AWSOME!!!! I don’t think I could have come up with what you wrote your Great.!!!

  9. Kevin RigdonAugust 14th, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks for the feedback!

    Crabpuff, hypostasis is an old greek word that meant an underlying concrete reality. After the rise of Greek Christian theology, it became the word most often used when talking about “person” so hypostatic affirmation would be affirmation of one’s personhood. So, really the whole post is hypostatic, though I didn’t use the word.

    Karen, you bring up a problem that I’ve always had with the ending, or rather, some interpretations of it. If, indeed, Sarah’s memories are gone, the notion that they will fall back in love regardless, actually doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. To take away a person’s experiences essentially robs them of their personhood. Existentially, the whole ending is problematic for me. This is partly why I believe the magical kiss theory. I also believe the magical kiss theory because it is set out by Morgan, who is somewhat the prophet of the series. He was right about the “Thanksgiving miracle” where Chuck and Sarah walk through the door at Thanksgiving rather than Chuck and Jill. He also “wished” for a DeLorean which he got later on. There’s also the bit in Chuck vs Phase Three wherein Sarah administers the magical kiss which brings Chuck back from the brink of being lobotomized. The internal consistency of the story, it seems to me, sort of points to magical kiss. But that’s just my understanding of it.

  10. TomAugust 14th, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Great article. It’s interesting that you begin with the proclamation

    “I’m a firm believer in the principle that words have actual meanings, and not simply the meanings we ascribe to them in order to create new euphemisms for various things.”

    but then go on to discuss how experiences can move us beyond words. That is, Chuck doesn’t need Sarah to provide an explanation for herself — he knows her (or, at least thinks he does).

    Keep up the good work!

  11. cjasperAugust 15th, 2012 at 3:52 am

    this was touching…. Damn I miss Chuck

  12. BarbaraAugust 15th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    This article is awesome great job! It made me realize why I like this show so much and why I miss it, because it keeps on statimg that everybody deserve to live, love and be loved. I also agrre with your point of you for the ending which left me d, I hate to say this, sort of upset because to me the fact that Chuck and Sarah will fall in love again isn’t enough because their love was also made by common experiences which defined their relationship. You explained it better! So lets hope in the magical kiss 🙂

  13. RobAugust 16th, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    i love this article, it’s just so awesome. . .

  14. XenaAugust 20th, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    I loved your article!
    I recently discovered Chuck, and from the moment i pressed play on the first episode i was hooked. I watched all 5 seasons (pausing only to sleep and go to work) and I’m glad I never watched the show before, because i think that it was an incredible experience taking in all that “knowledge” at once. The thing that touched me the most is that when you put all the spy business aside, the love they have for each other is truly amazing, whether it’s on-screen or off.
    I wish i could have been around to show my appreciation and love for the cast and crew of CHUCK before it went off air. but even now after they’ve all moved on with life, i hope they know that all the work and effort they put into that show over 5 years, will influence us for a lifetime. They did a TREMENDOUS job.

  15. John Ian PolidarioAugust 2nd, 2013 at 3:16 am

    Wouldn’t it be great, say in 15 years time, that Chuck would have a new season again, and this time, “CHUCK VS. PARENTHOOD”. Our two most loved-spy couple are parents of beautiful children? Let’s not forget the friends and family of chuck that made CHUCK a heartwarming series.

  16. JessicaApril 13th, 2014 at 6:11 am

    Oh, wow- a bit late to post a comment on this. I guess being late is better than never. I just wanted to say that I loved the show Chuck and I never picked that out of the text. Rereading this article, I’m moved that the writers did such a great job showing the characters influence and importance to one another, I guess that’s one reasons the show ran for as many seasons as it did.

    Also, that tiny bit about a storyteller in the second paragraph- I’ll admit, I suck at story telling, and I wish someone would create a “camp” in the art of storytelling (or tell me if there is one!). It’s such a wonderful way to not only tell stories but also keep part of your heritage alive.

    Great article.

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