The inspiration for this article came from the exchange between Chuck and Alexei Volkoff at Twin Pines Cabin in Push Mix:
Volkoff: “After all, you are your father’s son.”
Chuck: “After all, I am my father’s son, aren’t I?”
I love the whole dialogue and the acting in this scene, but it also made me think about the words used, because after a while I realized that they are not only valid for Chuck, but can in fact be applied to (almost) all main characters of the show.
In this article I want to demonstrate that basically every main character is defined by the character of his/her chosen guiding parent; and in fact in almost all cases it is just one not both parents.
Of course, this analysis is written form the viewer’s perspective (parent’s character largely defines the character of the kid) and not the series writers’ objective (parent’s character justifies the actions and trait of the kid).
I will begin with the characters that were positively influenced by their parents; the second half deals with the characters that were negatively influenced.
I don’t want to talk much about Chuck and how the character of his father defined the basics of his character, because I think in Chuck’s case it was most obvious. Stephen Bartowski provided Chuck his moral compass:
“You know, my father… he taught me a lot of things. Like, looks can be deceiving. Fight for your family. And of course, never use a gun unless you absolutely have to.”
But Chuck and his father also had a lot of other things in common: both fell in love with a spy, were very good at making plans, had a talent for working with computers, wanted to help people, acted emotionally when it came to their own family.
Morgan Grimes had no father that we know of. The fact that his father wasn’t even mentioned at some point during the series made him practically fatherless. The lack of a person that could have shaped his character explains why Morgan was basically stuck in teenager-mode for almost the whole time during the first two seasons.
Mayor changes happened to his character in season three. These changes were largely introduced by Big Mike when he trusted Morgan with the assistant manager position. Around that time he began to accept/choose Big Mike as guidance and as a father figure (This doesn’t mean that he accepted him as a stepdad yet). This was also evident by Morgan’s attempts to copy Big Mike, like the fish in his office (and the fact that he like Big Mike had an office; he was the only assistant manager ever that had one).
But Big Mike was not a static character; his character was actually developing very much during the series. These changes were driven by his search for happiness/fulfillment. This is best described by G. Walter Bush in “Unpacking Chuck 2.0” (in Chapter 3. Excellent book; every Chuck fan should have it. If you don’t have, buy it and the first one as well; just follow the link).
Big Mike’s development:
I will use some of Bush’s observations on Big Mike’s development but I will modify them to fit my interpretation. To keep it concise:
Big Mike felt dissatisfaction with his life in season 01. The Marlin in his office was a symbol of that: It was hollow on the inside.
In season 2 he started his fishing trips like ‘a fisherman looking for a real prize’. Although he clearly enjoyed his trips he was just avoiding the fact that they couldn’t fill his inner emptiness.
Finally when he was delivered the divorce papers he realized where his emptyness came from. Lonelyness and emptiness; he did’t want to be alone for the rest of his life. That was the point from which he was refocusing on what was important to him.
Soon he found some happiness when he met Bolonia Grimes and eventually fell in love with her.
At this point he still continued to go fishing; the search for his inner fulfillment wasn’t over yet.
Finally in Cubic Z he told Morgan: “I spent the past few months out on the sea, hunted with my bow, looking for my inner Big Mike, my happiness. I discovered the source of it. […] Your momma.”
In conclusion his path wasn’t over until he reached his final goal: to have a real family. For this it was important to marry Bolonia. And moreover he wanted to gain Morgan’s acceptance/recognition: “Give [the ring] back to me when you think I’m worthy of your mother’s love”, which he received by the end of Cubic Z.
If I remember correctly, after s04e03, we never see Big Mike go fishing again; he has reached his goal, this part of his life, this search, is over. (I don’t want to discuss the other parts of his path because this part of the article is supposed to be about Morgan)
Morgan’s character development went through similar steps:
Although he found professional success at the Buy More being the assistant manager, he still admitted in Beard: “I’ve been a loser my whole life”. This can be attributed to a lack of fulfillment, his desire to be/do something greater.
He wanted to escape his ‘loser-status’. In order to do so he wanted to be included in the spy missions after he found out about the spy team. But he was actually not really qualified (and although he enjoyed it, most of the time acted like a moron in the spy world). His failed attempts to become a spy were analogue to Big Mike’s fishing trips. Both looked for fulfillment, but both first chose the wrong approach to reach it.
Finally Morgan found happiness in the relationship with Alex. (But like Big Mike’s fishing trips, Morgan’s desire to be a spy weren’t over, yet).
Morgan was also looking for acceptance/recognition like Big Mike, but not from him. They already accepted each other. Like Big Mike Morgan will look for the acceptance of the most important person in the life of his beloved. Therefor during s04 he was trying to gain Casey’s acceptance/recognition by trying to prove that he can be brave and that he is worthy of Alex.
Morgan’s priorities changed, made him even quit the spy stuff at the end of s04 for Alex’s sake. But the Intersect drew him back into the spy life and his desire to be a hero. Anyway, for his path s05e01-s05e08 were just a detour.
In goodbye Alex and Morgan announced that they will move in together. Casey giving them his key to his apartment so that they can live together can be regarded as a final blessing from him (and acceptance of Morgan).
(There are more similarities between their characters/ development, like for example both of them kind of assuming a Godfather identity in Colonel / Muurder etc., but I think I mentioned the basic points.)
Although Devon’s father Woody only appeared in two episodes (Sensei & Ring), we can clearly observe that Awesome’s character was shaped by him. The most obvious characteristic both have in common was their love for/obsession with exercises.
But also the way Woody interacted with his wife was similar to how Awesome interacted with Ellie. Woody was only allowed to make suggestions, while all decisions were made by Honey (this was quite evident when they were all sitting together at the table discussing wedding matters). Also in Ring Woody didn’t do much, but even there we see him mostly carrying out Honey’s orders.
The same way Awesome was also mostly completely submissive to Ellie’s wishes and her demands (when there were engaged and married).
(You could say that this submissive trait is not really positive thing and Devon should be moved to the ‘negatively influenced’ section. I still chose to keep him here, because I don’t judge Woody’s influence completely negative. All in all Awesome was a caring guy)
Ellie’s and Frost’s character and behavior had a lot in common.
Ellie had no problems to use her own family (for example: Living Dead, Gobbler) or lie to them if it suited her (Truth, Family Volkoff); the same was valid for Frost (Aisle of Terror, First Fight).
Ellie made Chuck quit the CIA because she thought it was too dangerous for him and wanted to protect him. This can be compared to Frost using the suppression device on Chuck in First Fight, which was also supposed to stop and protect him.
This directly leads to the fact that in their egoism (or self-centered assumption of what is right) they both never understood or tried to learn who Chuck really was and what he wanted, forcing him into bad situations (Beefcake, Ring II, Fear of Death).
Both were never considering alternatives because they always assumed that they were right anyway and they never considered the consequences of their actions.
Both never really apologized for their actions when they have been wrong. Also they never tried to make things right, they just kept going.
The way Ellie behaved with Orion’s computer was most telling: She has got a new toy (her mission) and as a result she neglected her three months old child (A-Team, Muurder). This is similar to Frost’s behavior, since for her missions also always came first, which resulted in her neglecting/abandoning her kids.
Both kept their secrets from Chuck and only let him know when he had figured it out by himself anyway (For example: that Ellie was working on Orion’s computer and what she found out; that Volkoff was in love with Frost and that she knew Agent-X’s true identity).
I will also keep this part short because the influence of Sarah’s father on her personality is, in my opinion, as obvious as in Chuck’s case.
It is worth mentioning that Sarah is this first case for which the parent doesn’t belong to the same sex as the character.
Her character reflected how Jack saw/treated the word: you can only trust and rely on yourself; the world is of full of marks, you can only be either conman or mark; the world is full of adventures/ don´t stay too long in one place; know the tricks or be a sucker, read people and use it to your advantage, never expect anything from people (no matter how close), only care for yourself.
But Sarah technically has two fathers Jack Burton and Langston Graham. While Jack basically defined Sarah´s character, Graham reinforced and amplified Jack´s character/actions. (A spy is just the ultimate ruthless conman).
Having this double imprinting made it most difficult for Sarah to overcome it and she often wasn´t initially willing to do so. In the beginning Chuck guided her through the process of changing her set character but more and more she was also able to do it herself.
I’d also like to keep this part short, in this case because Vivian doesn’t belong to the main characters. But I wanted to include her, because although just a secondary character, her character was also influenced/set by her father’s and that in turn means that her parent as well belongs to the opposite sex.
Well, the truth is Vivian technically didn’t really have a father, since Volkoff barely visited her, their longest conversation between them was like 10 minutes and she didn’t know who he was or what he did for a living. This had direct influence on her character. When we met her she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. The failed party also suggests that she didn’t know her place in the world/society. The fact that she didn’t know that she was supposed to be her father’s succession plan also means that she didn’t know who she really is or her role in life (a little like Morgan but not annoying or childish). When she finally, under guidance of Riley, found out who her father was, her character started to mirror Volkoff’s. But the identity/character of her father was only a masquerade/ fictitious like her acceptance of the darker parts of being a Volkoff – she just did what she thought was expected from her. This enabled Hartley and Chuck to convince her to change in the end, accepting that her real character was more like Hartley’s and not Volkoff’s.
Lester & Jeff
They were special because we actually never meet Lester’s or Jeff’s parents on screen, but from the few pieces that were mentioned during the series we can still draw some conclusions.
Lester was a special case: He didn’t distinguish between mother and father but rather refered to them as his “control freak parents”. Lester’s longing for power and to control things manifested itself during the whole series. The first time he was really in charge was in Seduction when he was promoted to Buy More’s assistant manager. After being challenged in his leadership by the Buy More employees he abused his power by introducing the wheel of misfortune. This is directly related to the abuse of power his parents exhibited by using a different version of this wheel when Lester was younger.
After failing at the Buy More however the main focus of Lester’s desire to control became Jeffrey. Jeff was the weakest person among the people that he knew. This resembles the control that parents have over their kid. His control of Jeff included being in charge of Jeffster but it even touched his job and personal life. If his leadership over Jeff was challenged he would resort to drastic measures (Living Dead, Business Trip).
Being a control freak also manifested itself when imprisoned in Hack off. Lester’s first step wasn’t to adjust but to gain control of the other prisoners.
I think it is safe to assume that Jeff’s mum was his chosen guiding parent. We know that “she’s doing a stretch up in the state pen at chowchilla” (Truth) and in Santa Claus Jeff called her. This imprisonment is connected to Jeff who we learn in First Kill has been institutionalized.
My favorite Jeff-line as well refered to his mother “My mum used to say knowledge is powder” (Truth), a hint to her drug addiction. Also Jeff claimed in Three Words he has “been drinking this jail juice since I was in diapers. Built up a tolerance.” This can be attributed to his alcoholism as well as to his mothers.
All we know about Jeff’s dad is Jeff’s remark in Nemesis: “pineapples are fun – my dad used to throw them at me.” But we also learned that his mom once had a threesome with Jeff’s dad and uncle. This (let’s call it uncommon) sexual behavior reflects itself in Jeff’s behaviour when hiring his sister as a stripper for Devon’s bachelor party (Broken Heart) or that he apparently saw nothing wrong when siblings are kissing passionately (Best Friend). His stalker behavior can be attributed to this as well.
Jeff was also not completely satisfied with his mother’s character imprinting although in his case the struggle was less obvious (and less succesful) but he made steps to at least overcome his loser status (for example at end of Tom Sawyer and creating the video-montage in Last Details).
In Frosted Tips Devon found Jeff sleeping under his van while the engine is running, inhaling a huge amount of carbon monoxide. After prescribing Jeff to not sleep in his van anymore he was able to change and overcame his mother’s character.
(Even if I like smart Jeff I hate the way they “accomplished” his change and in my opinion Jeff should have had a part in making his change happen.)
Interestingly, there were some similarities between Sarah, Vivian and Jeff: These three were the only characters for which the dominating parent character was of different sex. Their parents were never really there for them:
- Jeff’s mother was in prison at least during the whole series
- Vivian’s father labeled himself ‘absentee parent’
- Sarah’s father Jack was in prison most of her life and admitted that he was a better conman than father
The three were the only ones that completely changed their predominated character. All of them couldn’t fight their way out of their set characters alone and needed external help for this (Devon; Chuck; Hartley). All three were willing to change, although in Sarah’s and Vivian’s case there was a lot of struggle.
In this analysis three Chuck characters are missing: Beckman, Casey, Alex. The reasons for this are:
- Obviously we don’t know anything about Beckman’s or Casey’s parents.
- In Casey’s case it could be discussed if Keller (or less likely Bennet) was kind of a father figure for him, but even if so, we practically don’t know anything about him, so no real conclusions can be made.
- In my opinion Casey was not the chosen guiding character for Alex. Although she shared some qualities with him, they differ in a lot of things. So I guess her character was formed by her mother, but again we don’t have sufficient information about her mother’s personality to draw any real conclusions.
When you take a closer look at the influencing persons it gets interesting: 2 out of 2 mothers have negative influence on their kids. Add Ellie neglecting her baby, makes you wonder, if Fedak had a problem with his own mother. Add how he treated Sarah and you might wonder if he is just a sexist who has problems with strong women.
And with this I’d like to end this article. Again, feel free to comment, disagree or tear it apart in the comment section. Or just comment right away on the writers’ mistakes and how they destroyed the series. It seems like all comment sections end up at those points eventually anyway.