Saving Sarah 1: The Conversion
by Kevin Rigdon (@pralix1138)
In most understandings of salvation, there has to be a conversion, a moment (or series of moments) that starts the process of being changed. The person being transformed, or saved, must be willing to undergo the process. In terms of those being saved via the soteriological hero, the one being transformed must participate in the life of the hero. This decision to want to be more fully human is what we can refer to as a conversion experience.
This conversion experience is the catalyst, which will draw the person towards salvation. But it should be remembered that the conversion is not necessarily a singular moment in time. Indeed, conversion generally entails a long process of coming to a belief, and though there may be external circumstances which facilitate the conversion, the conversion itself is a result of an act of our will. We must come to the place of wanting to be made whole, and be willing to undergo the process.
From the very beginning of Chuck, we see Sarah’s movement toward conversion. It seems to me that an early indication that conversion, and indeed salvation, is possible is in “Chuck vs. the Sizzling Shrimp.” After Chuck explains that he and Ellie celebrate their version of Mother’s Day as a commemoration of their own mother leaving them, and their coming to rely on each other, Sarah begins to realize Chuck’s own past life is broken. Like her, he has had to deal with great adversity in his upbringing, but Chuck seems to have retained his innocence. Oh, to be sure, Chuck is far from the hero he is to become, but he is essentially good. He is kind and trusting. And this goodness, and normalcy, even in spite of having been abandoned by both parents, gives Sarah a hope that salvation really is possible.
In “Chuck vs. the Nemesis,” we see the pivotal point in the conversion of Sarah Walker. This moment comes in the form of two men, each one representing a path to a particular type of life. Here is the choice, as I understand it: go with Bryce, continuing in the same type of existence she has known her whole life, or stay with Chuck, and have a chance at being more than just a spy. Her choice to stay with Chuck means undergoing a chrysalis that will transform her into who she is meant to be. But, as with all change, the conversion experience is a painful one.
The adage, “better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t,” is appropriate here. It is never easy to leave what we know, even if it is miserable. It is unsettling to take that leap of faith without a safety net. Often, it is more comforting, and we feel safer, to stay in the situation we are in rather than risk complete and utter ruin. But we must risk all in order to gain all. In the specific case of Sarah, the choice is difficult: keep the life she’s always known, and remain the person she’s always been; or choose a completely different life, and become a whole human person.
When she chooses to stay with Chuck, Sarah is embracing the ontological need to be saved. This does not mean that it is an easy choice, nor is the choice made without regrets. Sarah most certainly does not handle the consequences of her choice well at all. Everything begins to unravel in the following episode, “Chuck vs. the Crown Vic,” wherein we see the pain, and uncertainty that she goes through in coming to terms with her desire to be made whole. It is in this episode that she asks Casey the question that has been plaguing her from the very beginning: “Do you ever just want to have a normal life?”
Being normal is presented as the ideal, and it is something Sarah has never had. At the end of the season, after having made the painful choice to follow the path to normalcy, we see her burgeoning desire to not only follow through on her conversion, but to fight for it and protect it. We see her desire to quickly find the Fulcrum agent in “Chuck vs. the Marlin” in order to prevent Chuck, who is the symbol of normal life, from being taken underground by the CIA. Indeed, so strongly does she hold to her conversion that Sarah almost draws her gun on the CIA agent tasked with removing Chuck.
Thus, we end the conversion season of Chuck with Sarah clinging to the hope of being made whole, and willing to protect it. But we are also left with a warning from Casey that they (Sarah and Casey) won’t be able to protect Chuck here for very much longer. As Chuck is the symbol, and catalyst, for Sarah’s salvation, the fact that he is in very real danger provides an immediate test to her new conversion.
In this section, I’ve put forth the notion that Chuck is the symbol of a normal life for Sarah Walker, and that she willingly undergoes the conversion experience even though it is fraught with danger and uncertainty. However genuine the conversion experience may be, it is yet unclear what Sarah is converting to. This is the question I hope to address in the next section.