A passage from Stuart Tave’s Some Words of Jane Austen:
All the heroines find happy endings and they all deserve them, as each has, in one way or another, worked, suffered, learned. But if they do not get more than they deserve they often seem to arrive at, or be helped to, the happy ending by a stroke of luck…at the right moment. The happy ending is not guaranteed by their actions. What seems to be more important than the sudden and fortunate event, however, because it precedes the ending again and again, in whatever manner the end is produced, is that the heroine is prepared to accept unhappiness. The endings of Jane Austen’s novels are never sentimental because before she will allow the happy result the heroine must face the fact that she has lost…The reader may refuse to believe that any of these things will happen because he has been given a different set of expectations, but the heroine must believe. She must not simply see the threat as another obstacle that she can do something about, and she must not despair because, having lost, there is nothing in her life for her to do. She must really see it as a loss, absorb it as an irreversible fact, and then come to terms with herself and go ahead with what she must do now. She often finds herself in the same place and in the same company as she was at the beginning, but she cannot be the same person herself because time has made a difference and things will never be the same again. She must in the same place face a new time, and it is very hard…[The heroines] must accept their unhappiness before they are granted happiness. The reward then is not the essential thing because it need never have arrived; that may well be dependent on chance; what is important is that at the time it is granted the heroine is worthy of a happiness that has a meaning. She would have been worthy of it even if her lot had proved unhappy because in her place she has used her time well, and that is not a matter of chance.
This is a promising candidate for the most important paragraph ever written about Austen, but I want to appropriate it for thinking about the final episode of Chuck. Of course, to do so requires changing out the ‘heroine’ for ‘hero’–but it is also worth remembering how insistently the show portrays Chuck himself as ‘feminine’. (His girlish screams, his only learning the woman’s part of the tango, etc., etc.)
Think particularly about the scene after Sarah has shot Quinn and Chuck has grabbed the Intersect glasses. Chuck knows that Ellie can use the glasses, after modifying them, to restore Sarah; that has been Chuck’s plan and he tells Sarah so as he looks at the glasses. But if he does not use them himself and download the Intersect, Beckman and everyone in the venue will die when the bomb explodes. The Intersect is necessary to defuse the bomb. Chuck explains this to Sarah, and she nods, acknowledging the necessity. She understands what the choice means for her, but especially she understands what the choice means for Chuck. Chuck puts on the glasses and downloads the Intersect. He defuses the bomb.
I isolate this moment because it brings into clear focus Chuck’s willingness to accept unhappiness. His last chance to do something himself to bring about his happiness goes up in the smoke that issues from the Intersect glasses after the download. But he does not despair, he does not simply give up. He saves everyone. In doing so, at least from his point of view, he loses Sarah. He believes that. He sees it as an irreversible fact. He may hope that something will change; but he can no longer expect it to do so. He must now in the same place, in Burbank, face a new time–and it is very hard. He is alone again and anew in Burbank. Choosing to save everyone from the bomb rather than to bring Sarah back (and her willingness for him to do that) is his way (and, it turns out, I believe, hers) of showing that he (and she) is worthy of a happiness that has a meaning. They have made similar choices before, but never one where they lose so much–not just their life together, but even Sarah’s memory of their life together, and all of her growth during the time of their life together.
This is perhaps the central reason I think the kiss works. Is it a Disney-esque device, as Morgan himself admits when he suggests it? Yes. But the point is that Chuck has worked, suffered, learned. (We can also say these things about Sarah mutatis mutandis.) He has used his time well, and that is not a matter of chance, not Disney-esque. As much as we viewers may want that reward, the success of the kiss, for them both, that is not the essential thing. The essential thing is Chuck’s acceptance of his unhappiness.
That he has accepted it is borne out on the beach. He tells Sarah to trust him, that he will always be there for her. But crucially he also says that he does not expect anything of her. He is reconciled to losing her, but that has not changed how he feels about her or his desire to be there for her. As I said in my book, Chuck will be her husband even if she chooses not to be his wife. He is worthy of happiness; he is worthy of her. The boy-man Nerd Herder is gone. A fully grown and self-possessed man is beside her. Seeing him, and seeing him to be what he is, she wants to be kissed. She is ready to remember.