Chuck Bartowski: A Humble Hero

"Chuck Tug-o-War" | Art by Joe Hogan Art. Used with permission.

“I just know what an incredible guy Charles Bartowski is, and sometimes I’m not so sure that he knows it,” says Ellie Bartowski in the third episode of Chuck. And she doesn’t even know that Chuck is taking down dangerous killers, defusing bombs, and saving innocent lives on a daily basis.  Chuck’s opinion of himself leaves me asking the question: What is so great about Chuck and why doesn’t he know it?

Any time someone mentions “the greats,” they’re usually talking about the rich, the powerful, and the famous. Alexander the Great conquered large swaths of Asia. Wayne Gretzky (The Great One) still holds most of the scoring records in the NHL. The Great Gonzo has had a long and storied career on The Muppet Show, even though no one really knows what he is supposed to be.

Wealth, power, and fame are probably what Chuck hoped for after graduating from Stanford. He was supposed to have a successful career in software and retire early. Along the way, that dream shattered and so did his self esteem. That’s why he can’t see the greatness he has achieved working alongside Sarah and Casey, and even before that.

While many people define “greatness” as being wealthy and famous, I like Chuck’s style of greatness much better.

You see, Chuck is a hero. Even before he knew what the Intersect could do, he was saving people from electronic disasters; everyone at the Buy More knows Chuck is the best at what he does, and we see him go above and beyond when he arranges an impromptu, in-store ballet performance for a little girl whose father didn’t tape the real thing. Everyone loves Chuck, except for those who are intimidated by his authenticity. Add the Intersect to the equation, and suddenly his skills are on par with Sarah’s and Casey’s. He becomes a spy, and a good one at that.

But the reason Chuck is great isn’t because of his talents or because of the Intersect. Chuck is a pro at the thing we all need to learn. Greatness doesn’t come from accolades, bank accounts, or military success. Greatness comes from service.

At the end of Season Two, Fulcrum has just ruined Ellie’s wedding; Casey is now in command of his old squad; Sarah has been offered a renewed partnership with Bryce; Chuck has gotten the Intersect out of his head and is sitting on a hefty cheque from the government. Instead of taking the money for himself, he sacrifices that cheque to give his sister the wedding of her dreams.

I always thought an inner desire to be great was a negative thing, that greatness necessarily came at the expense of humility. But it is when we humble ourselves and serve others that we truly become great. I want to be someone that others appreciate and look up to. While many people define “greatness” as being wealthy and famous, I like Chuck’s style of greatness much better, and I can aspire to it in a positive way.

Yet it can be hard to see greatness when it doesn’t come in our preconceived forms. It’s at the reception after Ellie’s wedding that we find out Chuck still doesn’t recognize how people see him. He says to Sarah, “You belong out there. Save the world. I’m just not that guy.” Sarah responds, “How many times do you have to be the hero to realize you are that guy?”

Chuck is that guy, and in those times when I find the place where service and humility intersect, I can be that guy too.

Michael Penner

Michael Penner

Guest Writer at Area of Effect
Mike is an equal opportunity geek, with interests ranging from math and board games to sports and music. He finds joy in helping people grow and succeed through shared experience.
Michael Penner

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