[su_note note_color=”#d5d5d5″ text_color=”#91201f”]The following is a reprint from Volume 4, Issue 8 of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine: “Friends 4Ever.” You can subscribe to Christ and Pop Culture Magazine by becoming a member and you’ll receive a host of other benefits as well.[/su_note]
In many ways, Chuck Bartowski is not the true hero of Chuck. There, I said it. It’s hard to admit, because he is one of my favorite TV characters of all time, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that Morgan Grimes—Chuck’s best friend—is the key to Chuck’s survival and heroism. Actually, the same is true for many of my favorite so-called heroes. Thus, I present the Morgan Grimes Theory.
Morgan exemplifies the term best friend for me. He sticks with Chuck through most of the difficult times in his life, including when Chuck’s mom leaves, when he is kicked out of Stanford, and when Jill dumps him. And despite that for the first two seasons of the show, Morgan is unaware of Chuck’s secret life, he constantly supports his buddy even though he doesn’t always understand what is going on. Chuck knows he can ask Morgan for any favor without explaining why and Morgan’s got his back.
For me, one of the most heartbreaking moments in the show is not when Chuck breaks up with Sarah, nor when his mother leaves him as a child, nor when Sarah hooks up with Shaw instead of our beloved Nerdherder. It’s when Morgan fires him.The strength that comes from friendship is the grounding force that gives me the courage to do what I otherwise could not, that enables me to persevere through circumstances that I otherwise could not.
Chuck’s been having a rough time as the Intersect (the person who’s had a giant database of government secrets uploaded into his brain). In Season 3, Chuck goes through a breakup, feels pressured to “flash” (access the Intersect), watches Sarah fall for Shaw, and is unable to tell friends or family his secret. The pressure has turned him into a wreck. He misses shifts at his cover job at the Buy More and isn’t much use as a spy without his Intersect knowledge. Captain Awesome—Chuck’s brother-in-law and the only one who knows anything about Chuck’s work with the CIA—refuses to talk to him about it, and Shaw has benched Chuck until he’s able to flash again.
So when Morgan calls him into his office to talk, it’s understandable that Chuck would want to unload everything he’s feeling. But he can’t. So Morgan fires him, not from the Buy More, but as his best friend.
I completely understand Morgan’s response, because, by most accounts, Chuck has been treating him terribly. Honesty in a friendship has to work both ways. Chuck has been withholding so many secrets from Morgan, and Morgan knows it (he is, of course, unaware that Chuck has been doing so to protect him).
I don’t believe true friends have to spill their guts out to each other every day. If I don’t want to talk about something with a friend, that’s okay. But if I’m never willing to be open and honest, if I am never able to share any bit of myself beyond surface chitchat, is that a best friendship? Will constantly closing myself off inspire trust and loyalty? I don’t think so, and apparently Morgan doesn’t either.
When Chuck and Morgan are captured, Chuck finally tells his friend everything while they are tied up. Chuck is part of a joint CIA-NSA task force in Burbank. His code name is Charles Carmichael. He’s a spy.
Morgan’s reaction is priceless. Not only does he think it’s awesome that Chuck’s a spy, but he completely forgives him for everything and rehires him as his best friend. Chuck is finally able to talk over what he is going through with someone he trusts completely, and you can see the tension and stress drain out of him during that moment (yes, even a moment when they are facing imminent torture). Chuck finally feels like he has emotional ground to stand on, and he is able to flash again. He takes down the agents holding them hostage, kung fu style, and emerges victorious with Morgan by his side.
Though Shaw wants Morgan placed in witness protection due to his newly acquired knowledge, Chuck argues, “Look, I’m flashing. I’m a spy again because I have my best friend back. You need the Intersect, and I need him. So Morgan Grimes is staying exactly where he belongs. Which is the Burbank Buy More” (Season 3, Episode 9).
The real hero of Chuck? Morgan Grimes.
The Morgan Grimes Theory checks out with other franchises too. And I can’t very well talk about best friends without mentioning The Lord of the Rings. The true hero of this story might be overweight, easily scared, and not too bright, but Samwise Gamgee also takes on a giant, man-eating spider by himself; storms a tower full of orcs out to eat him for second breakfast; and carries a hobbit on his back, up the side of a volcano when all seems lost. NBD.
There’s a lot of focus on Frodo’s sacrifice in The Lord of the Rings. He takes on a burden that no one else seems able to carry. He goes on a journey that he is fairly certain he won’t be returning home from. He doesn’t want to drag anyone on this hopeless mission, either, but his dear Sam practically forces his way into the fellowship (“I ain’t droppin’ no eaves, sir!”) and sticks with Frodo to the very end.
The scene in The Return of the King movie where Gollum tricks Frodo into sending Sam away is certainly an emotional window into the manipulation that Gollum could accomplish. But it also forces Sam into breaking his promise and is not present in Tolkien’s original script.
“I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. A promise. ‘Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee.’ And I don’t mean to. I don’t mean to.”
In the novel, Sam stays loyal to the very end, only leaving Frodo when he believes him to be dead (and immediately returning when he realizes his mistake).
If it wasn’t for Frodo’s mission (…quest… thing…), the ring would have never left the Shire unless in the hands of a wraith. But if it wasn’t for Sam’s mission (to stick with Frodo to the very end), the ring would have never made it to Mount Doom.
One of Frodo’s biggest concerns is bringing harm to his friends. He constantly tries to go on alone, and at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring film, it seems he succeeds when he starts paddling away.
Frodo: Go back, Sam! I’m going to Mordor alone.
Sam: Of course you are, and I’m coming with you!
At the end of Fellowship, Frodo finally accepts that Sam is going to stay with him and that he doesn’t have to carry his burden alone. This realization says something so crucial about the role friends should have for each other. Letting someone else help you? That’s not weakness—that’s friendship.
There’s this popular idea in modern society about individualism, that you have the “power inside you” and if you just dig deep enough, you will find it. I can imagine The Lord of the Rings being rewritten in modern day where Frodo does go off on his own, sacrificing himself for all of his friends; he somehow finds the strength within himself to make it up Mount Doom with only that knowledge. But you know what? That story would be unrealistic drivel in my books.
Frodo can’t make it on his own. He’s carrying the most dangerous, manipulative, draining object in Middle-earth. And he’s being hunted by a power-hungry creature driven mad by lust who is determined to make the ring his precious once again. No amount of searching inside for some hidden well of strength can overcome that. He needs someone else’s strength to lean on.
Tolkien himself has referred to Sam as the “chief hero” of The Lord of the Rings. It makes sense to me now why Sam is given the last words in The Return of the King: “Well, I’m back.” It was Sam’s loyalty, friendship, and dedication to Frodo that made their quest possible.
The real hero of The Lord of the Rings? Samwise Gamgee.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Doctor’s lives would have long since run out if he hadn’t had companions by his side. In fact, he’s the perfect example of how far someone can fall without a friend nearby. Whenever the Doctor is without a companion for a time, his personality takes a dark turn and he makes cold-hearted decisions. This is especially obvious in the episode, “Turn Left.” In this Season 4 episode of Doctor Who, we see what would happen if Donna hadn’t met the Doctor. The short version? The Doctor dies by staying too long after killing the Racnoss children because Donna wasn’t there to convince him to leave. And then, of course, the world is wracked by all the monsters and catastrophic events that occur because the Doctor wasn’t there to stop them.
The Doctor’s longevity is heartbreaking to me, not because of all the horrors he’s seen, but because he has to let friend after friend go (big spoilers ahead):
Rose gets pulled into another dimension. Martha leaves to escape from unrequited love and get on with her life. Donna’s memories are wiped. Amy and Rory are transported back in time and die. River Song catches up with her timeline. Clara runs off with her own TARDIS, presumably facing her inevitable death at some point.
These are not happy events, folks.
So why does the Doctor continue to take companions on his adventures? Has he not learned his lesson? Bringing a friend onboard will only result in eventual heartbreak and probably won’t end well for the companion, either.
If you have ever lost a best friend, you will know that loss is one of the worst things you can experience. Having someone you trust, can share pain with, can talk to, can laugh with, someone who will be your Morgan Grimes—that’s not easily replaced. When that is suddenly gone, there’s this hole in your soul that you don’t know what to fill with.
No one should have to lose a best friend. The Doctor does it all the time.
Why? Because he knows he’s a better person when he has someone else—someone loyal, wise, and caring—by his side. That’s why he keeps bringing companions aboard the TARDIS and letting himself care about them even though he knows their eventual departure will break his heart.
“There’s a lot . . . you need to get across this universe. Warp drive… wormhole refractors… You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold.” —Doctor Who (Season 6, Episode 6)
I’d wager the Doctor knows that without a friend by his side, he could easily turn into a villain, cold-hearted and logical—one of those villains who claims he’s protecting the greater good while hurting people in order to do so. Friendship, true friendship, reminds him why life matters, why individual lives matter, and what it means to love someone and be loved in return.
The real hero of Doctor Who? The companions. Namely, Donna Noble. Why? Because I wrote this. Her spunky, “Oy, spaceman!” attitude is just what the Doctor needs, in my opinion.
What is a character to do without a best friend? Probably fail to understand what’s important in life, die a miserable death, never use kung fu again, and fall short of saving the world. These real heroes remind me to ask myself who’s the hero in my own life and if I’m being the hero in someone else’s.
The strength that comes from friendship is the grounding force that gives me the courage to do what I otherwise could not, that enables me to persevere through circumstances that I otherwise could not. God created me, not to find some center of strength within myself, but to be in community. Sometimes it’s scary to share my burdens with someone else—what if they refuse because they’re too heavy?—but true friends, the Morgans, the Samwises, and the Donnas, they never give up on me.
I wouldn’t have made it this far without them, that’s for sure. And If I’m taking my own Morgan Grimes Theory to heart, I hope they might say the same about me.
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