Saving Sarah 4 – A Wedding
By Kevin Rigdon (@pralix1138)
From the beginning of this series of posts on soteriology in Chuck, I have tried to make it clear that the transformation, indeed the salvation, of Sarah Walker is due to her participation in the life of the soteriological hero (i.e. Chuck Bartowski). There is no doubt that the show is certainly about the titular character, and his growth and development from a slacker hero-to-be into the full-fledged hero. But Chuck’s evolution has an effect on more than just himself; his development into a spy while maintaining his innocence transforms those around him. Through her shared experience with Chuck, Sarah becomes a whole person. He saves her, not only physically and emotionally, but existentially.
Each season has an emphasis in the ongoing process of salvation, and in season four, the emphasis lies in the union of persons. In season two, Sarah moved from simple desire for a normal life to the realization that Chuck is hypostatically (Greek meaning “personally” as an underlying concrete reality) necessary for her salvation. In season three, this realization not only continues, but becomes a certainty as she tells the doctor in “Chuck vs. the Subway,” “He needs to be okay. I need him to be okay.” From there, we reach season four.
“You should know that you’re my home, Chuck. You always have been.”
– Sarah, “Chuck vs. the Suitcase”
This is quite possibly one of the most significant moments in the entire series. I’ve wondered many times whether or not the writers really understood what they had Sarah say here. We’re all familiar with the expression, “Home is where the heart is.” It’s an easy enough sentiment to understand, I think, but this is a huge step in Sarah’s transformation. She’s had no home, no one to care for, no one who cares. She’s lived a solitary life, empty and lost. Now she has come to see that her life before was a pseudo-life. She did not really live until Chuck Bartowski.
It is also wonderful, in the line quoted above, that she knows this has been true since the very beginning. Think about it: if we take seriously the notion that home is indeed where the heart is, Sarah’s heart has always been with Chuck. This tells us that from the very beginning of their interaction, Sarah knew intuitively, certainly before Chuck himself knew, that Chuck Bartowski was the soteriological hero, and that she would be made a whole person by being in his life.
But this knowledge can be quite dangerous because it requires so much of us, and in the 4th season Sarah must decide if she is willing to give herself over completely. In “Chuck vs. the Cubic Z” and “Chuck vs. the Coup d’Etat,” we see Sarah struggle with the implications of all that she has come to know. It’s a natural progression to talk about marriage so why does it freak her out so much?
Here’s the thing: Sarah is in a relationship, dedicated and monogamous. Her salvation is now bound up in who Chuck is and in their shared experience together. But it is one thing to talk of relationship; it is quite another to contemplate full communion, and this is precisely what marriage is. Marriage isn’t simply a relationship between two persons, it is a type of martyrdom. In a very real sense it is the death of self as an individual reality so that one can become part of another, making both complete. For Sarah, it means fully uniting herself to salvation. This is actually quite terrifying, especially for Sarah who’s never been part of a communion before Chuck. Not only does Sarah have to come to the place where she can accept the totality of Chuck’s personhood, she has to give him the totality of her own personhood; all that she is, all that she has been, all that it is possible for her to be.
“Without you, I’m nobody. I’m nothing but a spy.”
– Sarah, “Chuck vs. Phase Three”
“Chuck vs. Phase Three” (one of my favorite episodes) is crucial in understanding Sarah’s transformation. When Chuck is abducted and the gang goes looking for him, we see a radical transformation in Sarah. When the series began, Sarah Walker was certainly an accomplished spy, unquestioning in following orders, and brutally efficient in carrying them out. She has since become a person who can love, and accept love, and, therefore, a person who is less efficient in carrying out orders, and more apt to look at the morality of a particular situation. In short, she has become more human. But this progress unravels almost immediately when confronted with the possible loss of communion with Chuck.
Upon learning of Chuck’s plan to propose amid his disappearance, Sarah pretty much goes bat-crap crazy. She doesn’t simply revert to her old self in order to find Chuck. She actually falls further into inhumanity than she’s ever been. She’s willing to cross almost any line in her quest to find Chuck. As she tells Casey:
Sarah: “You’re not going where I’m going. I’ll do anything to get him back, and I’m not going to take you down with me. You were right, I’m different without Chuck, and I don’t like it.”
Casey: “Let me outta here. You need me.”
Sarah: “No, I need Chuck.”
On the one hand I think we can see a love, a devotion, of one person for another. On a deeper level, there is a realization that we aren’t simply lost without the source of our salvation, we are in fact inhuman without it. When faced with the loss of her salvation, Sarah becomes like many of us: fighting, clawing, violently searching for wholeness and completion. She finds Chuck and brings him back from the brink of being lobotomized, and at the same time affirming her desire to be united to this salvation through communion for the rest of her life. However, this desire for complete union does not stop Sarah from attempting to revert to her old self in an effort to bring back Chuck’s mom.
At the end of “Chuck vs. the Balcony,” Sarah is able to establish her cover as a rogue spy and go undercover at Volkoff Industries, the same organization that Chuck’s mother infiltrated twenty years before. In the plotline of the show, she’s trying to reunite Chuck and his mother, which I think we can all say is a laudable goal. She tells Chuck that she has to go back to being the old her, the brutally efficient spy, in order to survive this. This is the same mistake his mother made all those years ago. What follows after this is precisely what happens when we attempt to leave our pursuit of wholeness even for what we consider noble aims. It forms a sort of paradox. Sarah, being made more human, wants to help get Mary Bartowski back so she, Mary, can be made more human as well. The problem arises when Sarah tries to do this without the one who’s made her more human (i.e. Chuck).
In the following episode, “Chuck vs. the Gobbler,” Sarah works to infiltrate Volkoff industries by doing some pretty unsavory things. Towards the end of the episode, she pretends to kill Casey, though Casey winds up really getting hurt and put into the hospital, and afterwards cuts off all communication with Chuck because, according to Mary, distance makes it easier. It certainly does, and Mary is proof of it. Distance from the source of our life, our heart, our salvation, makes our inhumanity much easier. Sarah has forgotten that she is better with Chuck. Chuck, like the true soteriological hero that he is, does not sit idly by while Sarah and Mary descend further into the mire. He takes action. He imposes himself upon their plans, diverting Sarah and Mary, and in the end brings them back. Through Chuck, Sarah is brought back to herself. She didn’t need to do this mission without him. It’s the type of decision we all make every now and again. We try to be whole without the source of wholeness. We try to be human without the source of our humanity. We try to live without Life. It never ends well, and in the case of Sarah Walker, it almost costs John Casey his life.
And that brings us to “Chuck vs. the Cliffhanger,” in which Chuck and Sarah get married, and we see the fullest expression yet of the soteriological hero. If you’ve been reading these posts on soteriology, I think you’ll be able to see where we end up at the end of season four: Sarah is hovering near death, and it is up to Chuck to save her. In fact, nothing in the life of Chuck Bartowski has ever been as important as this moment: the salvation of his future bride. However, before Chuck is able to perform the miracle, so-to-speak, he is captured by Decker and the Intersect is taken from him. If he is to save Sarah, he’ll have to do it without the superpowers the Intersect has provided him. He has to be a fully, 100% normal, human person. This really is as it should be, because it stresses once again that the Intersect did not make Chuck the hero, it only gave him the opportunity to be revealed for what he truly is.
So, undeterred, Chuck goes to Volkoff Industries, sans Intersect. In theological language, we call this kenosis (Greek), which translates to “self-emptying.” In other words, Chuck is without the Intersect, he is without a weapon. He goes into the halls of death with nothing but the trust and hope that Vivian is not completely lost. He goes in completely weak. But herein lies the beauty and strength of what happens next.
Vivian feels trapped. She is caught in the life of violence and death, and she sees no way out. Enter the weakness and humiliation that is Chuck Bartowski. He begs for Sarah’s life, and there is a notable moment when Vivian discovers that she is not a killer yet. Her soul is still intact. She has not lost herself. But believing that she is trapped with no way out, she refuses to help, consigned to the fact that she will be forever trapped in hell. And then Chuck Bartowski, weak and humble, offers Vivian new life by way of the clean, untraceable new identities that were originally meant for him and Sarah. She and her father can be redeemed. They can be so redeemed, so saved as-it-were, that they can begin their new life anywhere: new names, new opportunities. They are made anew. Chuck, the soteriological hero is offering Vivian and Hartley the chance to become whole. They accept and are lifted out of the depths of death and hell.
Chuck, having gotten the antidote and a few other favors from Volkoff Industries, rushes to Sarah’s side, and the antidote is administered. The next scene, we jump to the wedding of Chuck and Sarah. The soteriological hero marries his bride. This is incredibly significant. Chuck has brought Sarah back from the brink of certain death, and given her back her life, and that life will be spent learning and loving with him, as she tells Chuck while practicing their wedding vows.
Though the story is not over, this season shows us the depth and beauty of the soteriological hero, and how Sarah being with Chuck has changed her emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Through her participation in the life of Chuck Bartowski, Sarah has learned to love and accept another’s love. She has become more caring and communicative. She has more to look forward to in life than her next mission. She wants to learn more, to love more, realizing that this growth and participation, this communion, is an eternal process, and is something to look forward to. She is brought back from the point of death. And she is now married—married to the source of her salvation, the source of her healing, of her emotional growth. She is in full communion with the soteriological hero, and next season, she begins to exhibit characteristics of Chuck Bartowski. But that’s for the next post.