Saving Sarah 2 – From Symbol to Person
by Kevin Rigdon (@pralix1138)
The whole of season one, we witness the conversion of Sarah Walker. Through her proximity to, and participation in, the life of Chuck Bartowski, she slowly comes to a belief that salvation is possible. Intuitively, I think, she understands that she can be made whole. But the question posed at the end of the season is this: what is her burgeoning belief in? This is the question that gets answered in season two.
Watching the extras on the Blu-Ray of season two of Chuck, we learn that the writers and producers view Chuck Bartowski as a symbol, or representation, of the type of life that Sarah Walker has never known. Sarah is brought up the child of a con-man who is arrested when she is still in high school. Instead of living on her own, however, she is recruited by Langston Graham of the CIA, and given the cover name of Sarah Walker. She’s never had a stable life, a secure life that is “normal.”
Conversely, Chuck Bartowski, even though he and his sister were abandoned by their parents, has managed to grow up to be somewhat stable, caring, and secure. And while it is certainly true that Chuck’s life is a bit more normal than she’s used to, we run into problems when we start bandying about with words like “symbol.” A symbol, in the original understanding of the word, isn’t simply a representation of something; the symbol must participate in the reality it symbolizes in order for it to be symbol. Chuck Bartowski cannot simply be a representation of goodness, or innocence, if he, himself, is not good and innocent.
Here’s the thing with considering Chuck, or any character for that matter, a representation of an ideal: upon attaining the ideal, the person representing the ideal, in other words the symbol, can be rendered irrelevant. If Chuck is the representation of the normal life, and this is why Sarah is attracted to him, Chuck, himself, is actually quite superfluous in Sarah’s conversion and coming salvation. If Sarah’s movement toward normalcy is based simply on what Chuck represents, and not who he is, then we have a profound loss of personhood (i.e. Chuck’s). There has to be something more going on here than Chuck representing Sarah’s desire for the simple life.
“Do you ever want to have a normal life? Family? Children?”
– Sarah, “Chuck vs. the Truth”
Here we find a clue to what Sarah Walker is looking for. This quote, going back to season one, presents us with evidence that Sarah wants a normal life, possibly more than she desires Chuck at that point. We all need stability. We want to feel safe and secure. We want to love and be loved, and the type of life on the run, the constant transition, the multiple identities, and death-defying spy shenanigans Sarah has gotten up to over the past few years does not lend itself to safety, stability, family, and love.
I think we can see Sarah’s movement from symbolic salvation to hypostatic (personal) salvation this way. At the beginning of the season, in “Chuck vs. the First Date,” Chuck and Sarah have their first date when it seems that Chuck will no longer be her asset. Theoretically, they will be free to be together because she no longer has to protect him. Things go awry, of course, and it turns out that Chuck will continue to be the Intersect, and Sarah his handler. Sarah is quick to put the brakes on the possibility of their becoming anything more than coworkers, and this is acceptable to her because of the life she’s led.
Because Sarah has no experience of a fuller life, she is able to trick herself into thinking that the cover life she shares with Chuck is enough. This might be enough if she was still working with Bryce, or some other spy, but it isn’t enough for Chuck. Throughout this season, Chuck is continually revealing to Sarah that the cover life isn’t enough. At the end of “Chuck vs. the Break-Up,” in an effort to save Sarah’s life, Chuck tells her that the life she’s seeking, the conversion that she’s undergone, requires more. It requires her to be real, not simply live a cover. He wants to know her, not a life that has been fabricated. He wants the totality of her as a human person, and so he tells her that as long as the cover life is enough for her, she will “never be normal.”
In “Chuck vs. the Cougars,” Sarah is forced to relive some of her past, which is something she’s not comfortable doing because she is still quite terrified of being known. By the end of the episode, however, we have the theme of the season. Chuck tells Sarah:
“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.”
Additionally, in “Chuck vs. the Best Friend,” when Sarah realizes that she doesn’t have anyone in her life who cares about her like Chuck cares about his best friend, Morgan, Chuck assures her that she does indeed have someone who cares about her. Later, in “Chuck vs. Santa Clause,” Chuck gives Sarah his mother’s charm bracelet, once again revealing that, to Chuck, she is real and worth being saved. At this point Sarah begins to understand, I think, that the normal life is a misnomer. The normal life, whatever that is, is less important than a communion of persons. Of course, it isn’t a simple thing to come to such a realization.
In “Chuck vs. the Lethal Weapon” after Chuck has broken up with Sarah…again, Sarah tells super spy Cole Barker:
“When you find someone you care about, it’s not easy to just walk away.”
In the episodes that follow, Sarah grows in the knowledge that a ‘normal life’ is illusory, and salvation involves personal participation, or communion. In “Chuck vs. the Broken Heart” she is actually fired from her job as Chuck’s handler because she’s too emotionally involved with him, and later, in “Chuck vs. the Colonel,” she even goes on the run with Chuck, committing treason in the process, to keep him from being put into an underground government facility. Why? I believe it’s because she realizes that if Chuck is taken away, even to keep him safe, she will have lost her chance at being made whole.
The conclusion of the season clearly shows the change wrought in Sarah Walker. Her movement toward personal salvation is certainly a slow process, but now, at the end of season two, she is sure that to be made whole requires a rejection of a supposed normal life, and the acceptance of an inter-participation of persons. In “Chuck vs. the Ring,” she decides to reject the job offer from General Beckman to oversee the new Intersect project, and work with Bryce Larkin once again, in order to remain with Chuck.
So, in season one, Sarah comes to a belief in salvation, and in the process of being made whole. But her understanding of the nature of salvation is still a bit off. She believes that it requires living a normal life, and is still somewhat blind to the reality that being made whole requires participation in the lives of other persons. Throughout season two, she is moved, prompted and prodded by Chuck, toward letting go of the symbolic salvation and embracing the personal. She has come to the place where she can acknowledge that salvation isn’t living a societal definition of normality, but involves rather participating in the life of a person who is essentially good and innocent.
Having come to the place of wanting to be made whole, and then moving from the symbolic to the personal, Sarah Walker has embraced salvation. But as with all of us who’ve come to the same place, there will be the inevitable crisis of faith. Season three holds the crisis for Sarah. What will she look like on the other side of this crisis? Stay tuned.