Saving Sarah 5 – And the Story Goes On
By Kevin Rigdon (@pralix1138)
In the Beginning
“You, you need me.” – Chuck, Pilot Episode
Sarah Walker is everything that she has been trained to be. From running cons with her father as a child to her living lie upon lie as a spy, the Sarah Walker we first meet is broken, much as we all are, fractured into a myriad shards of pseudo-life, duct-taped together by a desperate force of will. Everything about her is compartmentalized, so that no single part of her existence can bleed into any other. She cannot tell anyone her real name, or tell anyone who she really is. Even her family cannot know who she is, what she is, or where she’s been. Her life up to this point has left her alone and closed off.
The great irony, of course, is that she, along with Casey, are the supposed heroes. They are the ones who are there to guide Chuck. They are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. They are the ones who swoop in to save the day, to protect Chuck and to save the world. Yet they are the ones who are in need of being saved. Enter Charles Irving Bartowski, the soteriological hero.
A quick recap: In season 1 we witness the conversion of Sarah Walker. In season 2 we see her move from an idealized life as the symbol of salvation to the realization that her salvation is wrapped up in the person of Chuck Bartowski, the soteriological hero. Embracing her newfound salvation, Sarah’s world and her faith are shaken to their foundations in season 3. By the end of season 3, and on into season 4, Sarah has overcome her fears, has seen Chuck descend and rise again and remain himself, and has united herself to full participation in the life of Chuck when they get married.
What, then, is there left to talk about? Well, I think season 5 provides us with a glimpse at what the ultimate salvation of Sarah Walker looks like.
From the very beginning of this series of posts, I have attempted to explain philosophically that salvation is ontological. This is a fancy way of saying that the entirety of the human person is saved (our whole being), and not just the “invisible” part of us. Furthermore, salvation entails completeness, wholeness and perfection. So salvation is the process by which a broken human person is made whole. Basically, there is no part of Sarah Walker that is not changed by her participation in the life of Chuck Bartowski.
How do we know Sarah has changed? There are numerous examples, but for brevity’s sake I will use only a couple from Season 5. The first is in “Chuck vs the Hack Off,” in which Sarah, acting very much like Chuck in earlier seasons, tries to get Verbansky to recognize, admit, and talk about her feelings for Casey. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to have Verbansky in the same place emotionally that Sarah was 5 years prior. But, just like Chuck, Sarah is able to pull Verbansky along and help her to grow just a little bit.
In “Chuck vs the Baby,” Sarah tries to go off on her own and deal with a loose end from her past, and her past, or rather her relying solely on herself the way she did in the past, gets her into trouble. As Ryker tells her when she’s tied up, “I bet no one even knows you’re here, do they? And that’s why you’re gonna die today.” Of course Chuck and Casey do find out where she is and come to her rescue, and she is reminded of just how much she has changed. She no longer has to face the world alone. She is being saved. This is a great episode which actually highlights part of the struggle we all share in our pursuit and acceptance of salvation. Often we try to do everything by ourselves. And, as with Sarah’s predicament, it usually falls apart.
“I’m different now. Things have changed; you’ve changed me. I don’t want to go back.”
-Sarah, “Chuck vs the Baby”
At the end of this particular episode, Sarah recognizes that she is different. She thinks differently, feels differently, has different priorities. She sees the world differently, as well as the people and places that populate the world. She has fully embraced the process of being made whole. And it is here that she voices her refusal to go back to the fractured life she lived before. Chuck has pulled her out of the lies, dangers, and moral compromises.
So, Sarah is becoming a whole person, and over the rest of the season she becomes more and more so, that is until we come to the ending. (I don’t do endings well, and the ending to Chuck was particularly difficult.) Originally, I had thought that the ending produced an existential crisis in that Sarah is no longer Sarah. With her memories wiped by the faulty Intersect, I thought that unless there was a definitive resolution then the entire series would be a rip-off. After several viewings of the ending, and the dissatisfaction I felt with it, I thought it was most certainly a taking away of Sarah’s personhood, and if that is gone, who is left to be saved? Even as I began writing this series on the soteriology in Chuck I felt the ending was lacking. It seemed to me that her wholeness is seemingly wiped away along with her memories.
The more I’ve written on Sarah’s salvation, however, the more it has become apparent to me that this is not the case. (Now, I do have to come clean about my belief in the “magical kiss” theory. I do happen to believe that Sarah does get her memories back from the last kiss, which actually holds true to the whole idea of salvation, and is the most internally consistent with the overall story. But that is another post.) After all, salvation as I have described it is ontological, and not simply existential. In other words, the salvation Sarah participates in cannot be lost even though she loses her memory. Her entire being has been altered by her participation in the life of Chuck Bartowski, and this alteration, this change, is more than just her memories. It is real and part of her very being. It is somewhat like the explanation that Dumbledore gives Harry at the end of Philosopher’s Stone, where he tells Harry that Harry’s mother’s sacrifice marked him. The mark is not visible, but it is part of his very being. In this same way, Sarah has been marked by Chuck’s love. She is more human than she was 5 years ago, whether she remembers that or not.
There are certainly hints of Sarah regaining her memories, but more significant than this is the nuance of the moments that Sarah experiences with Chuck even though she doesn’t remember him. They are unexplainable, but she knows they’re there, whether she emotionally feels anything for Chuck or not. This connection to Chuck Bartowski is ontological, undeniable and cannot be erased. Intuitively, even though she is supposed to kill Chuck and the team, she doesn’t; she lives the change that has been wrought in her. Even though she doesn’t remember him, the impact of Chuck on her life has changed her very being.
“Chuck, tell me our story.”
-Sarah, “Chuck vs the Goodbye”
Sarah’s request for Chuck to tell her their story is the request of all humanity to know the source of our salvation. It’s a wonderful image we have: Chuck, the soteriological hero, has saved his bride and now he shows her by retelling their story. He goes through all of the little experiences that they shared together, and in the telling shows her how, time after time, he has saved her, has made her more human, complete and whole. Their story reminds her that a nerdy guy with a dead-end job, through his goodness and love, was able to change a trained assassin, and make her more of who she is supposed to be.
After hearing their story, Chuck tells her about Morgan’s theory of the magical kiss. Her response? Full participation in Chuck once more: she tells him to kiss her. Here, in this moment, we have a miniature telling of the entire story of the salvation of Sarah Walker. She is told the story and she accepts it. She is loved and she accepts it. She is offered communion in the form of a kiss, and she desires it. Once again, and for ever, Sarah Walker unites herself to Chuck Bartowski, the soteriological hero, and accepts her salvation.
And the story goes on.