A Clown World: Why the Buy More?

Buy-Moria National Flag by Fritters

One way of thinking about comedy is to think of it as typically progressing from disorder to order, from a state of disquiet and unrest to one of rest.  The scene of the disorder can be a place–a city, a home–or it can be a psychology, whether of one person or of more than one. When we rate Chuck a comedy, part of what we recognize it not only that it is funny, but also that it is marked by this sort of progress.  In individual episodes, there is often progress of this sort (often the disorder begins with a flash of Chuck’s and the order by the triumph over some particular bit of bad-guy-ery).  Sometimes the progress take several episodes.

For example, in the Jill arc, Jill’s appearance destabilizes the precarious stability that Chuck and Sarah have reached in S2, and underscored in the scene at the end of vs. Tom Sawyer in which they gaze at the stars, each obviously trying to chart a future that has them together (“Don’t let’s ask for the moon.  We have the stars”).  That precarious stability is precarious because it is set in a larger disorder–the disorder between Chuck and Sarah, the fact that they are together and yet not together:  but that disorder never gets completely ordered until the end of S4 when they marry.  But the largest disorders of the show are the disorders internal to Chuck and internal to Sarah:  each seems at long last to have reached order at the end of vs. the Baby.  But then the final episodes throw everything once more into disorder. (It is this fact, that the order reached in S5 gets disordered, that accounts for much of the irritation (putting it mildly) many feel about the end of the show.  It is as though the show suddenly decides, at its end, that it is not a comedy after all. It is like the world’s slowest bait-and-switch.)

There is a lot to say about that, but I have already said some of it in the book, and I will not  say any more about it now.  I mention the point about comedy to allow me to pursue a different issue:  why is the Buy More present in the show in the way it is, from the beginning of the show until its end, and why are the Buy More characters, especially Big Mike, Lester, Jeff and Anna, so much a part of the show?  To answer this question, we need to consider another typical feature of comedies, namely their divisions into three groups of characters, fay characters, clowns, and lovers.  I won’t go into a lot of detail about this structural feature, but I will anchor it by noting its presence in Shakespeare, and there most clearly in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The three groups are clearly marked in the play–the fay include Puck and of course Titania, Queen of the Fairies, the clowns include Bottom and his friends, and the lovers include the central pairs, Hermia and Lysander and Helena and Demetrius.  I assume the play is familiar enough, so I won’t recount its plot.  Instead, I want to look very generally at the way the three groups work and interact.  Let me start with the lovers, since they are central.

The lovers must take a journey, make a forced venture in the dark.  They hope for their desires to be fulfilled, their wishes to come true; but they cannot count on either.  They face various obstacles, some external, some internal.  And, if they are really to get what they hope for, they will have to make changes in themselves, moral or intellectual or both, so as to make themselves new.  That is, what they hope for is something that requires self-transcendence, although they typically do not understand that or at least do not understand it completely, or they ‘repress’ their understanding of it.  We take the lovers to deserve the love they find, and to reveal that they deserve it in suffering painful changes for the sake of their love.

The clowns are, as their title suggests, comic relief–but that is by no means all that they are.  They typically do not have the freedom to change that the lovers do.  They may have their own hopes–but they are usually hopes for something inappropriate or hopes born in mistake, and so are not hopes with which we fully sympathize.  We do not normally understand them as deserving what they want, even when we rate what they want as appropriate or as not wanted mistakenly.  But the clowns also take part in plots that parallel the main plot, offering a point-counterpoint commentary on the main plot, and sometimes it is the clowns who are gifted with the most visionary moments in the entire plot, a rare kind of intuition that allows them to see things to which the lovers are blind.

The fay are powerful beings, supernatural, who can wreak havoc on the lives of the lovers and of the clowns, who can punish or reward each. They are figures now of harm, now of help.  They threaten and they praise.

It is easy enough to see how this structure is realized in Chuck.  Chuck and Sarah are the central pair, the lovers, but that group includes more than just the two of them.  It also includes Casey and Awesome and Ellie–and it includes their parents.  The fay are General Beckman and the other higher-ups at the NSA and CIA.  The clowns are the Buy More employees.  (Morgan is a special case; I will come back to him.)

Let me focus on Jeff, using him to stand for the rest of the crew.  Jeff at times seems hopelessly substance-addled, beyond help.  At other times, he seems creepy–deviant, a stalker.  He seems racist and sexist, a harasser.  Yet at other times, perhaps most often, he seems pitiable–lost, lonely, half-asphyxiated.  He is the Bottom of the Buy More.  But, like Bottom in Midsummer, Jeff is also visionary.  At the low point of S3, when Chuck is with Hannah, and Sarah with Shaw, it is Jeff who recognizes that Chuck loves Sarah, and at a time when only he can see it.  Later, when Chuck and Sarah are about to marry, it is Jeff who makes the video that captures Chuck and Sarah and reveals them as the couple they have really been all along.  The guy who cannot seem to get anything right manages at crucial moments to see what others miss.  Later, after he stops sleeping in his van, he is the one who finally notices what is happening at the Buy More, the one who realizes that something spy-ish is going on.  And, earlier, in an explicitly visionary moment, after prompting from Lester, he automatically writes that the strange force affecting the Buy More is ‘C-I-A’.

One reason to have a character like Jeff is that he incarnates the future that Chuck fears will be his own.  This is especially true in the early seasons, when Chuck has not figured out that he wants to be a spy, when he has not come to understand that Sarah does love him.  As Chuck clears those hurdles, the show no longer offers Jeff up as representing Chuck’s possible future. But for two and a half seasons or so, that is Jeff’s primary symbolic role.  The vs. Tom Sawyer episode matters in this regard because, beyond throwing Chuck and Jeff together, it reveals that Jeff’s past and Chuck’s share some general geekiness and some specific interests, like Missile Command and Rush.  That similarity in their past then forces Chuck (and of course the viewer) to speculate on Jeff’s life and whether Jeff’s present might be Chuck’s future.  (I thank Brian Lewis for getting me to reconsider that episode.)

When, toward the end of the show, in a remarkable reversal, Jeff gets healthy-clean again (by taking Awesome prescription), his transformation then provides a kind of parallel to Chuck’s:  Jeff’s potential is not as great as Chuck’s, and he has not used his time as well, so of course his transformation does not reach the heights of Chuck’s, but it does force us to see again and again how far Chuck has come.  Jeff keeps us wondering at how much Chuck has grown and continues to grow.  And, of course we feel good about Jeff’s growth too–about his more positive Flowers for Algernon life. (Jeff is shown reading that book in vs. the Business Trip.)

Since I have mentioned that book, I want to make a brief aside; it will actually help me get to where I want to go.  The epigraph of Flowers is from Plato’s Republic:

Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eye are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind’s eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye.

Plato’s book is a book about light and darkness, about vision and blindness, about remembering and forgetting, about reality and appearance–in a phrase, it is about the bewilderments of the eye (whether of the body or of the mind).  So, too, is Chuck.

Jeff is the character on the show who is most obviously visually bewildered.  It is not for nothing that a word like ‘addled’ leaps to mind when we describe him in the early seasons.  Jeff spent the early seasons in darkness, having come out of whatever light had been available to him when younger.  He gropes in darkness most of the time.  Toward the show’s end, Jeff, despite seeming less bewildered, is actually still struggling–but this time he is going into the light.  His apparent shift in feeling for Lester, his by-the-bookness, is part of his eyes adjusting to the light. Suddenly seeing clearly can be blinding; too-bright things come quickly to confusion.  So I do not think that the new Jeff of the late episodes is really quite what he seems (punctilious, officious) but is flailing a bit as he comes into the light.

I mention this because it also serves as a subtle parallel to Chuck and to Sarah, who are themselves still adjusting to the light of their open and acknowledged love of one another, who are still adjusting to the light radiating from the Mystery of Marriage.  Just as Jeff has to adjust to living in the light, so do they.  Their decision to refuse Beckman’s offer to rejoin the CIA, their desire to start a different version of Carmichael Enterprises, are their way of refusing the darkness of the spy life and of trying to inhabit the life of real love. But it is worth bearing in mind that moving into the light can still bewilder the eye.

This takes me to Morgan.  Morgan is the rare clown who gets promoted to lover.  This sometimes happens in comedies, but it is a tricky matter, since it can damage the template or structure I am describing by blurring the difference between the clowns and the lovers.  (Consider Jeff again.  He never gets promoted to lover.  He clearly develops, progresses, moves.  But it is from the bottom of the clowns to the top, not out of the clowns.  His progress does not blur any lines.)

One reason Chuck manages to promote Morgan without blurring the lines is that the show, like Shakespeare, has a world for each group.  In Midsummer, the lovers are city folk, royalty.  They are at the center of civic life.  The clowns live on the periphery, as it were in the suburbs, neither in the city nor outside of it, but liminally.  The fay live in the green world, in the forest.  The groups stray into one another’s worlds–the lovers and clown go to the forest–but the fact that no one moves from one group to the other makes the mixing of locations safer and easier to manage.  But, setting aside the discovery of Castle by Jeff and Lester–and notice it is a drug, somewhat like the one Puck uses in Midsummer, that keeps them from genuine, full discovery of it, since they cannot remember it–Morgan is the only clown who moves from the clown world to the lover’s world.  (This is part of the significance of Anna leaving and of Alex eventually replacing her.  Anna is a clown (her makeup, her makeup!) but Alex is a lover–and if Morgan is to be a lover, he must eventually be paired with a lover.  Carina foreshadows this change, since she too is a lover.)

We all realize, even if we don’t quite experience the full symbolism, that the moment of Morgan’s discovering Castle in S3 is a major moment in the show.  It is so important that it competes with, although it loses to, the soon-to-happen coupling of Chuck and Sarah.  (Think what you will of S3, but despite its imperfections, it is the axis of reference of the entire show.  S1-2 make sense as moving toward it; S4-5 as moving from it, and not just in obvious ways.) Although it will take the call from Beckman to put the official seal on Morgan’s promotion to lover (as it is a conversation with her that puts the unofficial official seal on Chuck and Sarah’s coupling), it is clearly accomplished when Chuck tells Morgan what has really been going on–that is the moment Morgan becomes a lover and no longer a clown.

The show can make this happen because it so rigorously enforces the separation of the Buy More and Castle, the clown world and the lover world.  The clowns and lovers do mix occasionally at the apartments, but the apartments do not represent the full reality of the lover world.  Only Castle does that, only there is Chuck’s appearance distinguished from his reality.

Morgan’s promotion to lover is one of the most satisfying aspects of the show, and a tribute to the writing of the character and the writing of the show overall.  That Morgan has the stuff for such a promotion is hinted at as early as the pilot, when, for example, it is Morgan who has the quick courage to try to face down the ninja stealing Chuck’s computer.  His courage is short-lived, but is real enough during its short life and it will reappear in longer-lived forms as the show goes on.  Morgan’s promotion to the lover world also changes–as it really has to do–his standing in the clown world.  He goes from mad work-avoidance skills to competent manager of the store. Etc.

So why is the Buy More in the show and why does it never leave?  Because it is demanded by the structure of the show.  It is a scene of silliness mostly–but of a necessary silliness.  It allows for comic relief from the stresses of the main story, it allows for separated parallels and commentary, it provides separated comparisons and differences.  It provides a world for the clowns.

xxXXxx

Final thought:  Just in case you are unconvinced that this structure typifies comedies, consider very briefly a very different comedy:  Gilmore Girls.  The three groups are there, although the register of the show is different.  Lorelai’s parents–and the other members of their elite world–are the fay.  Lorelai, Rory, Mrs. Kim, Lane, Luke, Sookie, Jackson, Dean, Jess–they are the lovers.  Kirk, Taylor, Miss Patty, Babette, etc.–they are the clowns.  Since all the groups, excepting the fay, inhabit Stars Hollow, it is not very surprising that there is no Morgan-like character in the show who gets promoted.  Like Jeff in Chuck, some move a bit in rank in the clown world; none move out.  The interesting character in this respect is actually Lorelai, who chooses to leave the fay (a choice under duress, but still her choice) and who gets ‘demoted’ to lover.  There is a long story about the scare quotes around that word–but this was about Chuck, not Gilmore Girls, so I will tell that story some other time.

The Conversation in El Compadre (*Chuck*)

[This is an section of the chapter devoted to Chuck‘s pilot episode.  The chapter title is “The Lonely are Such Delicate Things”.  This is still first-draft material, but I thought I would share it anyway.  The section reacts to Chuck and Sarah’s conversation on their ‘date’ in the restaurant, El Compadre. There are a few look-aheads, so if you are watching the show and want no spoilers, you may not want to read this.]

Much that creates the need for heavy emotional lifting later in the show is presented in what appears pleasant banter.  Chuck’s openness, especially to Sarah, opens the conversation, when he reveals (without any signs of embarrassment before or regret afterwards) his peculiar living arrangement–with his sister and her boyfriend.  Just the arrangement makes Chuck look like a child.  Had he gone on to mention that his sister raised him, he would have made fully clear that he still lived at home.

But Sarah takes the revelation in stride, doesn’t pull back from it.  Instead, she seizes on Chuck’s nickname for Devon.  When she laughs and says “No!”, Chuck takes her to be expressing disbelief about his living arrangement, but she quickly clarifies that her attention has instead been caught by the nickname.  She takes more interest in what Chuck calls things than in his current situation. She finds the nickname very funny–although she must also recognize that many of Chuck’s anxieties about himself are inscribed in Devon’s nickname.  Everything Devon does may be awesome.  Chuck does nothing awesome; Chuck’s flossing is ordinary.

Sarah finds Chuck funny.  Her eager response to his jokes (along with her comment about not being funny) suggests laughing to be something Sarah loves to do but rarely does.  It is her laughter and their shared laughter that primarily metamorphoses a conversation that could be taken as nothing but a clever handler developing an asset into something more.  Sarah is enjoying herself, forgetting herself, forgetting to see herself and Chuck as handler and asset. Of course, she could be pretending to find him funny.  But her laugher is too unself-conscious, too quick, too obviously the result of listening to him and not merely of hearing what he says, to easily be classified as part of a pretense.

Chuck talks about Sarah meeting Awesome.  Chuck’s thoughts have already turned toward the future–he is hoping she will see him again.  In effect, he is talking about Sarah meeting his ‘parents’ and within scant minutes of the beginning of their first date.  But again she does not pull back from this, but instead reacts to Chuck’s ending his list of Devon’s awesome feats with flossing. Although Sarah likely does not have a name for it (and it is likely Chuck does not either), she recognizes and responds to Chuck’s on-the-fly reverse-auxesis as the bit of real cleverness that it is,  (Auxesis is rhetorical figure that lists items in such a way that the last is climactic; Chuck’s list ends in anti-climax).  So, when she compliments him on being funny, her compliment results from both her recognition of what Chuck has done and her reaction to it.  This kind of appreciative acknowledgment is rare for Chuck. People laugh at what he says often enough, but often do not recognize why what he says is funny.

What does Sarah mean when she then confesses that she is not funny?  Well, she rarely makes anyone laugh.  Her spy life has not afforded room enough or time for joking.  She’s all business.  But she also is confessing, in the light of Chuck’s cleverness, that she is not clever in this way.  By that I do not mean that she estimates herself dumb (she surely is not), but rather that she knows that she does not have Chuck’s easy access to or variety of means of expression.  Words are hard for Sarah.

The conversation then begins to encroach on more intimate issues–it does so when Chuck asks about Sarah’s big secret.  Although Chuck is asking Sarah the question as a question about her, he is really asking a question about himself:  What really explains you–a woman like you–being out on a date with me–a man like me?  As the show unfolds, it will turn out that every time Chuck has (apparently) managed to be Really Together with Sarah, this anxiety will enfold him.  And of course the inevitability of this anxiety will also dog his attempts to win Sarah, since he will always be tempted–at least at the level of his brain, if not his heart–to rate his attempts as quixotic:  How could he win her?  How could he even be in the contest for her heart? The few times Chuck will be tempted to quit trying to win Sarah, it will be because he has a chance to be with someone else, someone who he can be with without this anxiety.  Chuck’s self-mistrust makes it very hard for him to believe in himself and Sarah as a (possible) couple.  But what Chuck has a hard time getting into focus or keeping in focus is that his anxieties about Sarah are rooted not so much in her beauty or competence as in the way he experiences her presence as a call to arms, as inciting a riot of changes in him.  Sarah is such that for Chuck to win her at last, he will have to believe he can win her. (This is not a condition she lays down, it is one he lays down, although he does not yet realize it.)  It will be his self-mistrust ultimately, and not any other man or Sarah’s profession or Sarah’s past, that will prove to be his final opponent in the contest for her heart.  (Having yourself for opponent is the worst, since it means that your opponent is just exactly as strong as you, knows just exactly as much as you, knows your intentions and motives just as you do.  And of course, you cannot win by cheating because it will be you who gets cheated.)

Chuck deftly uses his question about Sarah’s big secret to turn her confession of not being funny into something funny. Since her being out with him cannot simply be explained by her liking him, it must be explained by Sarah having a problem.  She cannot be all she seems to be, she must be, somehow, less.  Chuck disguises how seriously his thought tempts him by choosing as the options for what is wrong with her one that is patently silly (cannibal) and the other one she has already confessed. Of course, his thought is not really that she is not all that she seems to be.  It is that he cannot be whatever it is she thinks he seems to be.  If she is less than she seems to be it is only in her mistaken assessment of him.

But before Chuck manages this turn of the conversation, Sarah confesses something more:  she confesses that there is plenty wrong with her.  Chuck hears this but does not immediately and directly react to it.  I take it to be clear that he hears it, and hears it as a muted plea, one that gets repeated in a moment, when Sarah says that she has come out of a long relationship and so may come with baggage.  That and how Chuck hears Sarah is revealed by his response:  “I could be your very own baggage handler.”  A plea and a self-offering.  This is not a striving for intimacy with Sarah on Chuck’s part; it is the achievement of it.  Neither of them intended for the conversation to take them here.  But Sarah has forgotten herself for a moment.  And Chuck cannot say No to her, has no desire to say No to her.  He is available to her.  He wants to and will say Yes.  The intimacy of the moment strikes them both at the same time and they each quickly look away, breaking the eye contact that subtends their emotional contact.

Notice that Chuck has co-opted Sarah’s private word for herself–’handler’.  She begins the evening thinking of herself as handler, Chuck’s handler.  Chuck is her asset.  With this one happy, if ordinary, image–of himself as her baggage handler, Chuck spins the bottle, so that instead of his being handled, he is handler–Sarah is his asset.  This is a nice example of the easy-to-miss density of dialogue in Chuck.  Because the word ‘handler’ is part of a familiar phrase ‘baggage handler’, it is easy to miss the multiple meanings that the word carries.  Chuck of course is unaware of them when he speaks the word.  But they are there. In Chuck and Sarah’s relationship, each will be or become both the handler and the asset of the other.

Chuck asks if her ex was the reason she left wherever she had been.  Sarah tells him that she had been in D.C., and that she realized she needed to leave when she realized that all her friends were her ex’s friends and that everything in D.C. reminded her of him.  Other than the name, this is all true.  She misses Bryce.  D.C. now appears to her in the shadow of Bryce’s death.  Yet, it is important to keep in mind that the people Sarah calls her friends (and Bryce’s friends) are her co-workers, other agents.  And everything in D.C. is the CIA.  There is no reason to think Sarah spends time in D.C. with people who are not her co-workers or that she habitually took long walks among the cherry blossom trees. She worked. She was with Bryce primarily when they worked.

Sarah continues her story–and continues confessing.  She needed–she needs–a change, a big one.  Sarah does not specify what would count as a big change.  But she is considering  Chuck as she says this.  Her comment about coming with baggage is a comment about her past oriented on her future.  It means that if Chuck takes her on, he takes it on.  She, like Chuck, risks a peek ahead.  Perhaps she believes nothing can come it, but she does it.

Sarah reins herself in–and tries to get back to work.  She asks about Chuck’s skeletons, Chuck’s past, Chuck’s secrets.  Have there been any women? She turns from their possible future to Chuck’s actual past.  Chuck admits to her that there was a woman in college–but then he pulls back and lets that story go, unlike at his birthday party, where he had told it, re-lived it, in excruciating detail.  He lets it go because he remembers Ellie’s rule–don’t talk about old girlfriends.  He lets it go because he does not want to exceed Sarah’s brevity about Bruce.  He lets it go because, for the first time in five years, he can actually imagine getting over Jill.  The woman sitting across the table from him outshines (his memory of) Jill.  In Sarah’s light, he can even joke about Jill.

Sarah confesses one thing more–responding spontaneously to Chuck yet again, yet again giving herself away.  “I like you, Chuck.”  She does like him. She tells the truth.  She is having a good time.  In spite of herself, she is finding that she cannot maintain a manipular posture in relation to him. Chuck’s responds to what she says with pleased surprise.

This is the first time Sarah uses Chuck’s name, calls him ‘Chuck’. She will use his name over and over again in their relationship, for example, she will use it over and over again before the cockcrow of sunrise at Malibu beach.  Sarah will principally use last names in relationships with others. She will not use the first names of anyone else with a frequency approaching the frequency of her use of ‘Chuck’.  It is not just the frequency of her use of ‘Chuck’ that marks out the name and its bearer as holding a special place for her.  It is also the way that she uses it.  She calls him by name as a form of recognition–she recognizes him, she knows who he really is and can be.  She sees him.  She recognizes him hidden in the Nerd Herd, living with Ellie and Devon, still wounded by an old girlfriend.  She recognizes him as the Chuck he believes he has failed to become.

It is important to keep in mind that my description of this conversation is not an attempt to capture the moment-by-moment self-understanding of the characters.  For example, my calling what Sarah is doing confessing does not mean that she takes herself to be confessing as she is talking.  I presume she is not classifying her actions in speech as she performs them, as if she were saying silently, “I am now confessing…” while she audibly confesses that she comes with baggage.  Even Sarah sometimes does not know (quite) what she is doing at the moment she does it. I do think that she does realize, part of the way through the conversation, that she has been confessing.  What I am trying to do is to capture what is actually happening between the characters.  Sometimes that means that I will be interested in capturing their moment-by-moment self-understandings, but I will be interested in those only to the extent that capturing them is required to capture what is really going on.  Does Sarah realize fully that she has revealed as much as she has revealed in the conversation?  No.  Does Chuck understand clearly the commitment he offers Sarah in the conversation? No.  But does mean that Sarah has not revealed as much as she has or that Chuck has not offered the commitment he has offered?  No.  Does this then mean that Sarah’s revelations and Chuck’s offered commitment are not deliberate?  Yes.  Does that mean that these things do not count as actions on Sarah and Chuck’s part?  No.  Much of Chuck is driven by and explores how much we do without doing it deliberately, how much we give away about ourselves without setting out to do so.  All of us, even spies, are endlessly, constantly expressive.  To deny that is not to treat our bodies or voices, our faces or eyes, as screens.  It is to deny that we have bodies or voices, or faces or eyes, at all.

[Many of the themes of this conversation return repeatedly throughout the book.]

Feeling as Finding: Watching Chuck (TV)

So I have been watching Chuck.  I just finished it.  I started watching while I was sick a few weeks ago, couchbound at home.  I wasn’t sure of what I thought at first.  And then, in a rush, I got completely drawn in.  Part of it was realizing that there was a serious long-arc story being told.  Part of it was the show’s willingness to allow its central characters to suffer.  Not just to be angry, upset, frustrated, stymied–but genuinely to suffer.  Not many tv comedies have been able to do that.  Buffy was of course the best at it.  Part of it was being taken captive by Yvonne Strohovski’s beautiful portrayal of the central female character, Sarah Walker, and Zachary Levi’s of the other central character, Chuck Bartowski.  Part of it was the great, often quite obscure music in the soundtrack.  Music deepens and intensifies almost every crucial scene in the show, most memorably the use of Nina Simone’s “Feelin Good” at a crucial moment in the third season, although the use of The Head and the Hearts “Rivers and Roads” in the very final scene of the show is perhaps equally good.

At heart, the show is a romantic comedy decked out as a spy thriller.  But it is also a dual Bildungsroman:  the two central characters, Chuck and Sarah, both grow throughout the show, and grow because of each other and because of their romance.  Sarah empowers Chuck.  She gives him the will and the confidence to become what he is (but cannot believe himself to be).  Chuck challenges Sarah’s moral imagination.  He quickens her sense of human actualities of trust, love, loyalty and family.  Sarah models competence for Chuck.  Chuck models vulnerability for Sarah.  Chuck becomes a spy while remaining human; Sarah becomes human while remaining a spy.

One of the things I like best about the show is the role of pattern in the story telling.  The show is full of deliberate symmetries, assymetries and reversals and repetitions.  Understanding what is happening in many episodes and many scenes requires understanding the broadly syntactical relationship between it and previous episodes and scenes.  (One reason why the show starts a bit slow:  it takes time to establish patterns that can then be used to reveal or to deepen meaning.)   The final episode provides a great example.  (Spoiler alert! But I will be leaving out details in order to better show pattern.)

Many fans complained about the final episode.  They complained that the show did not come to a close, to a final resolution.  Here’s why:  by the time of the final episode, Sarah and Chuck are married.  They have finally had enough of their spy life.  They want a home and children.  They plan to turn their spy business, Carmichael Enterprises, into a business that fights cyber terrorism.  But before they can do that, they have to take one final mission.  On that mission, Sarah ends up losing her memory of the five years covered in the series, the five years of her relationship to Chuck.  The bad guy of the final few episodes, Quinn, makes her believe that her marriage to Chuck was part of her cover, that she has been spying on Chuck, and that Chuck is responsible for the death of people she knew.  Sarah eventually learns that Quinn has lied to her, and she come to believe that she was in fact in love with Chuck, really his wife.  But what she knows does not restore her memory; it does not recall her feelings for Chuck.  As she says in a heartbreaking scene at the end of the penultimate episode:  “I believe you but I don’t feel it.”  She leaves to take revenge on Quinn for stealing her life from her.

In the final episode, Sarah is still hunting Quinn.  She narrowly misses revenging herself on him, but he gets away.  In need of help to find him, Sarah returns to Chuck and to the resources of Carmichael Enterprises. (Sarah is wearing an outfit that in colors and materials (tan leather jacket, white blouse, jeans) is the same as the outfit she wore the day they met.)  Chuck volunteers himself and the rest of his (and, previously, Sarah’s) team to help her find Quinn.  They figure out that Quinn is in Germany and so they go to find him. Once there, Chuck and Sarah follow the man Quinn plans to meet, a man who has a piece of computer hardware that Quinn needs.  The man leads them into a German Mexican restaurant that turns out to be almost identical to the Mexican restaurant in Burbank where Chuck and Sarah first ate together. (Chuck thought they were on a date; Sarah was acting as his handler.)  Chuck tells Sarah about this, but she is intent on the mission and uncomfortable with his starting to tell her their story.  Quinn, paranoid about Sarah looking for him, phones the man they are following to change the location of the exchange.

They follow the man to an embassy dance, reduplicating the end of the evening of Chuck and Sarah’s first ‘date’, when they danced together.  They dance together (Chuck reminds Sarah that she taught him how to dance.)  Once again, Quinn calls and changes locations for the exchange.  So the man leaves the embassy and goes to a German version of the Wienerlicious restaurant Sarah worked in as her cover in her early time as Chuck’s handler.  Already, in the previous episode, Sarah has shown signs of her memory returning.  (At the beginning of this episode, in her first brush with Quinn, Sarah is knocked unconscious by a blow on the head.)  Now, while she and Chuck pose as Wienerlicious employees, she begins rearranging cups to get them into the appropriate pattern, recalling her earlier cover job.  Quinn finally shows up, followed by several henchmen.  He gets the hardware he needs, kills the man with whom he makes the exchange, and escapes once more.  Chuck has a chance to shoot Quinn, but as he has throughout the show, he refuses to kill.

Sarah blames Chuck for letting Quinn escape, but he tells her that she liked the fact that he was unwilling to kill.  Eventually, the team figures out where Quinn will go to get his final piece of hardware.  They find Quinn and foil his plot. (The plot involves a bomb, much the same as the bomb in the first episode. Chuck defuses it, again as in the first episode, but with Sarah’s help.  She remembers how he did it before.)  But foiling Quinn requires Chuck to destroy (by using its one application) the computer hardware assembled by Quinn and which might allow Chuck to restore Sarah’s memory.  He destroys the hardware believing that it will cost him his wife–but he does it to save hundreds of innocent lives.  He explains what he is doing to her, and why he is doing it, and makes clear what he believes the consequences will be.After it is all over, Sarah tells Chuck that she is sorry about everything, but that she has to leave, to find herself.

So the final episode recapitulates the first episode, but also earlier seasons.  Chuck’s strategy, when he got Sarah to take him along to find Quinn, was to get her to fall in love with him again.  So the recapping recreates in miniature Chuck and Sarah’s first ‘date’ and the longer time during which they fell in love. Sarah witnesses in one episode all the things about Chuck that caused her to love him. As the episode nears its end, Chuck wants to find Sarah, to talk to her once more.  His friend, Morgan, tells him to use his heart to find her.  Chuck leaves in the wake of a sudden intuition of where Sarah can be found.

He goes to the beach they visited at sunrise after their first ‘date’.  Sarah is sitting on the beach alone.  He approaches her as she approached him when he sat there, lost, five years before.  He sits down beside her, he sitting where she sat before and she sitting where he sat before.  “I was hoping you would be here.”  She acknowledges him, acknowledges his finding her.  Then she says, “This place is important, isn’t it?”  The line has two meanings.  Chuck is able to find her here because the place was important to them, but she is there to be found because she (now, still) finds the place to be important.  She does not just know that the place has a significance.  She feels that it does.  Her heart is working even if her head is not (quite).  Chuck then tells her that he does not expect anything from her, that he just wants her to know that he will always be available to her if she needs him, that she can call on him anytime.  He then says to her almost verbatim what she said to him five years before.  “Trust me, Sarah. I’m here for you always.”

She then asks Chuck to tell her their story.  (Another significant change:  she now wants to hear the story that she did not want to hear earlier in the episode.)  He tells it to her.  She listens, laughs, cries.  When it ends, he tells her that Morgan has a crazy theory that if they kiss, her memory will be restored.  They both laugh and she asks, “One magical kiss?”  She looks at him.  “Chuck, kiss me.”  He leans toward her and they kiss, first tentatively then more intently.  The screen goes black.

–So does the kiss work?  Does Sarah’s memory return?  Or, if it does not, does she find herself moved enough by Chuck to allow him to try to woo her again?  Or, does the kiss fail, does Sara feel nothing, does she leave, perhaps never to return?  No answer is given.  And this is why many fans found the final episode frustrating.  To end with no resolution seems strange, and certainly does run against the grain of the romantic comedy.  But I think that the patterning of the final episode strongly suggests that the kiss works.  (There is other evidence too, from earlier in the final season and even from earlier seasons.)  Sarah’s memory has been returning, even if in bits and pieces, even if not mostly in memories of herself and Chuck as husband and wife.  But she is beginning to feel it.  The beach draws her because of a feeling, not primarily because of a memory or belief.  She goes to the beach to find herself because it feels right to do it, because she goes to find herself where she found Chuck.  And he finds her there.

It is true that the viewer has to take this on faith, since it is not shown to happen; the viewer does not know it happens.  But there is something to be said for limiting knowledge to make room for faith.  Chuck is a show about two people’s faith in each other.  It ends asking us to have faith in them.

%d bloggers like this: