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Stephen Joseph Bartowski

Stephen Bartowski
Seasons: Season 2, Season 3
Portrayed by: Scott Bakula
Matt Roth (Orion double only Chuck Versus the Predator)
Status: Deceased (2010)
Occupation: Former CIA Engineer
Aliases: Orion (code name)
Relatives: Mary Bartowski (widow)
Chuck Bartowski (son)
Eleanor Woodcomb (daughter)
Devon Woodcomb (son-in-law)
Sarah Walker (daughter-in-law)
Clara Woodcomb (grand-daughter)
Charles Bartowski I (father)
Residence: Twin Pines Cabin (season 3)
Airstream outside Barstow (formerly)
Las Vegas (formerly)
Appearances: List of appearances
Don't worry, Charles. I'm not who you think I am, either.

Stephen J. Bartowski was the estranged father of Chuck and Ellie Bartowski and husband of Mary Bartowski. He was portrayed by Scott Bakula.

Under the code name, Orion, Stephen was the chief designer and creator of the Intersect and became a human Intersect when he uploaded an early Intersect into his brain, after experiencing the effects of the Intersect, he also created the Governor.


Few details about Stephen's life have been revealed. His wife, Mary left home when Chuck was in the fifth grade[1] and although he loved his children, Chuck describes him in Chuck Versus the Sizzling Shrimp, as "never really there." He is depicted as an absent minded professor type, almost always preoccupied with something.

Stephen is a computer and software genius who attended graduate school with Ted Roark, whom Stephen would later accuse of stealing all of his best ideas.[2] After the end of his association with Roark, he went to work for the government. He worked with Dr. Jonas Zarnow[3] and Dr. Howard Busgang (code named Perseus) [4] on the Intersect computer database, where he was the head of the project, under the code name Orion. Stephen would later tell Chuck in Chuck Versus the Dream Job that he designed "just the really cool parts". He would later reveal to Chuck that he tested the Intersect on himself, and thus possesses an older version of it himself.[5]

Stephen later learned what the government intended to do with the Intersect, and knowing that others would want it, he stole the original Cipher and wiped all his data before going into hiding, which was the state of affairs for the five years before the events of the series. He became the target of a global manhunt by the NSA.[6] General Beckman once stated that she was personally involved with the search.[2] In an effort to protect his children, Stephen decided the best thing to do was to leave and distance himself from them. Ten years before the events of Chuck Versus the Dream Job, Stephen went into hiding after promising to make his children pancakes for dinner.

With only his code name to go on, and no personal details, Stephen was targeted both by the government and Fulcrum. Fulcrum assigned Vincent to the task of tracking him down.[7] The five years he was in hiding were spent constantly on the move, and had faked his death on several occasions.[2] Stephen's mastery of computer systems allowed him to stay one step ahead of his pursuers, to the point that the NSA issued a directive that all communication pertaining to the hunt for Orion be carried out via non-electronic means.[6]

Chuck Versus the Ring reveals that Stephen had asked Bryce Larkin to look out for his son. Ultimately, it was Bryce's familiarity with Stephen and the Intersect that played a role in his decision to send it to Chuck.


Stephen first becomes a part of the ongoing arc in Chuck Versus the Sensei, when Chuck promises Ellie that he will find their father to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. At that time, Stephen's most recent known location was in Las Vegas, Nevada. Chuck's search turns up mostly dead-ends, and Ellie resigns herself to the search failing.


Chuck's first contact

Stephen first appears as Orion (portrayed by Matt Roth) in Chuck Versus the Predator. Fulcrum agent, Vincent, tracks him to Hong Kong, but Orion nearly kills him with a MQ-9 Reaper armed UAV and manages to escape the Fulcrum agents. Chuck attracts his father's attention when he begins an off-book search for Orion after he was told by Howard Busgang that Orion could probably help him remove the Intersect. Orion later attempts to arrange a meeting with Chuck, but interference by Beckman allows Vincent to catch up with Chuck and ambush both him and Orion. Orion later escapes by faking his death by directing a Reaper drone with his Wrist Computer to shoot down the helicopter that Chuck believes he is aboard. Before this incident, Orion had left Chuck plans for the Fulcrum Intersect to guide his son on his personal quest to remove the Intersect from his brain. He also warns Chuck not to trust Casey or Sarah with the information.

Sarah makes an unauthorized CIA database search for Stephen on Chuck's behalf when it looked like she would be removed as his handler during Chuck Versus the Broken Heart. Stephen allows her to locate him, feeling it's time to reconnect with Chuck.[8] In Chuck Versus the Dream Job, Chuck and Sarah visit him in his trailer, and although initially reluctant, Stephen agrees to accompany Chuck home.


The reunion with his daughter goes less smoothly, however. Stephen is upset to learn Chuck has accepted a job with his former rival, Ted Roark. Stephen later tells Chuck that it was fine by him if he wanted to work for Roark after Ellie accuses him of putting Chuck up to wrecking the release of Roark's new computer operating system, which the CIA believes would release a worldwide computer virus.

Chuck then connects Orion's Intersect schematics with a map of Roark's office compound given to him by Stephen, and he infiltrates the building on his own after Casey and Sarah refuse to believe his argument that Roark was building an Intersect. Stephen takes advantage of the opportunity and goes to Roark's offices himself under the guise of demanding Roark give Chuck his job back, even after disrupting his software launch earlier. There, he reveals the truth of his history and his Orion identity to Chuck when the latter tranquilizes Roark's security guards when they detained Stephen. Stephen then says he can remove the Intersect from Chuck's brain. He finds his way to a hidden Fulcrum Intersect room and plans to use Roark's Intersect Cube to erase the Intersect from his son. Stephen refers to the Intersect Cube as the Intersect 2.0. However, the Intersect Cube is incomplete and Stephen cannot get it to work. After Stephen and Chuck are surrounded by Roark, Vincent, and a team of Fulcrum agents, Stephen tells Roark he will finish the Intersect if Chuck is allowed to go free. As Sarah and Casey, who had tracked them, take Chuck to safety, Stephen admits that he was wrong when he told Chuck not to trust his handlers. Chuck is unable to tell Ellie the truth about what happened to their father, so she is left believing he had deserted them once more.

Stephen Bartowski S2

At Ellie's wedding

Chuck began another search for Stephen, by using the Fulcrum operative in custody, Jill Roberts, which eventually led him to flash on the location where he was being held.[9] Sarah and Chuck go on an unauthorized mission to rescue him, with the newly promoted Colonel John Casey in pursuit.

Eventually, Chuck's handlers rescue Stephen at a Fulcrum base at Black Rock after he completes the Intersect Cube for Fulcrum. However, he had encoded it with images to erase the Intersect from Chuck's brain rather than encode images into the minds of Fulcrum agents. Stephen manages to save the Intersect Cube before escaping and is escorted out by Team Bartowski. The base was then destroyed by the F-16 fighter jets in an airstrike Beckman had ordered. Chuck eventually brings Stephen back to Ellie for the rehearsal dinner, explaining his tardiness to Ellie by stating he had to get her their dad as wedding present.

In Chuck Versus the Ring, Stephen aided Bryce, Sarah, and Chuck in thwarting Roark's attempt to kill Ellie in exchange for the Intersect Cube. He also agreed to turn over the Intersect Cube to Bryce because he believed Bryce could be trusted. Later, when Chuck was determined to help Sarah protect the Intersect Cube from the incoming Ring agents, he gave his Wrist Computer to his son.


Stephen at work

In Chuck Versus the Living Dead, Stephen returns once more when he receives an encrypted message from Ellie requesting to meet with him. Still unaware that his son downloaded the Intersect 2.0, Stephen is very surprised to see Casey and Sarah are still in Chuck's life when he is supposedly no longer working for the CIA. Chuck continues lying to his father when he asks, telling him that he is an analyst.

When Chuck and Sarah supposedly go out on a date that is actually a mission to Daniel Shaw's apartment, Stephen follows them, and in the process saves his son. Chuck tries to keep his spy life secret from his father only to be forced into revealing it after Stephen throws a knife at his face which causes the Intersect 2.0 to neutralize the incoming threat. Chuck catches the knife in mid-air, confirming Stephen's suspicion of his son downloading the Intersect 2.0. Stephen reveals that he's aware of the negative side effect the 2.0 can have on the brain and he won't stay and watch his son die.
Stephen: I just keep thinking. Without the Intersect, why would they let you go on missions? You're an ordinary guy.
Chuck: I'm not. I'm not an ordinary guy. The CIA wants me to work for them because they think I'm special - Because they believe in me.
Stephen: You're right, Charles, you are special.

As Stephen leaves, he is intercepted by Ellie who places a homing device on him under the orders of CIA/Ring Agent, Justin Sullivan, believing it to be for his own protection, when in fact, it was meant to track his whereabouts solely for the Ring. Returning to his cabin, Stephen examines his watch which is revealed to be a device he created for himself called the Governor, which helps him control his own Intersect to prevent its deleterious effect on his brain. Stephen does some research and realizes he can create a newer version of the Governor for Chuck. Unfortunately, a team of Ring operatives attack him, searching for the Governor. Thanks to the timely arrival of Chuck and Sarah, they are able to save Stephen and prevent the Governor from falling into the hands of the Ring. The Ring was tracking Stephen is because of the Governor, a device designed to prevent a human Intersect from damaging the brain. Once Stephen had determined that Chuck had downloaded the Intersect 2.0, he began to fabricate a Governor for him.


Show not tell

The device was completed in Chuck Versus the Subway. When Daniel Shaw sprung his trap where he purposely led Team Bartowski to assault a CIA headquarters under the belief of it being a Ring base, Stephen then helps his son escape CIA custody, and when Chuck insists on going back to rescue Sarah and Casey, though reluctant at first, he accompanies his son in the rescue effort. After discovering both a room housing the Ring Intersect as well as a lab in the real Ring base where Shaw was revived when he was shot by Chuck. Shaw, Justin and the other Ring operatives surround and confront Stephen and Chuck as they attempt to leave. Justin then grabs the Governor from Chuck, and Chuck challenges Shaw, one Intersect against the other. To break Chuck emotionally, Shaw shoots Stephen in the chest, mortally wounding him. Stephen takes his last moments to remind Chuck that he is special.

With his death, an automated recording was delivered to Chuck's computer in Chuck Versus the Ring: Part 2, directing him to the family's old home. Stephen revealed he had been working as a spy for himself in secret, against Alexei Volkoff, and that his wife Mary was "somehow involved."

It was revealed in Chuck Versus the Ring that the first human intersect in the field was not Chuck, but Hartley Winterbottom, code named AGENT X. But something went wrong and Hartley was overwhelmed by the Intersect, and became his cover, Alexei Volkoff. It was this disaster that led to Stephen's and Mary's eventual submersion in the spy world, leaving their children behind in order to protect them.


Judging by the conversion Bryce and Stephen have in ​Chuck Versus the Ring​, it seems to indicate that they have a long-standing history together. Bryce acknowledging he knows about Stephen being Orion shows this connection was not sanctioned by the CIA. Stephen knew that Bryce protected Chuck from the CIA in Stanford, and was the only spy he remotely trusted.

In Chuck Versus the Break-Up, Bryce has a pair of Intersect Glasses with an update for the First Intersect with new intelligence. Neither Sarah, Casey, or Beckman ever mention the update and may not have known of it. The update could have been made by Orion. Further evidence that these glasses may not have been government issue is that, unlike the glasses Decker sent Chuck at the end of Season 4, these glasses needed the subject to be properly identified before being uploaded.


Scott Bakula was announced to be playing the role of Stephen Bartowski in January, 2009 as part of an extended arc to close out the season.[10] Bakula was cast as Stephen Bartowski because Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak are huge Quantum Leap fans, and found Bakula's ability to jump from comedy to drama to action similar to Zachary Levi.[11] Chris Fedak has stated that Stephen Bartowski being Orion was part of the show's background mythology from the conception of the series, describing Chuck as Luke Skywalker and born into his role, rather than Peter Parker, who stumbled into it.[12]

Stephen Bartowski

Critical reaction to Bakula's performance has been overwhelmingly positive. Bakula was praised for his off-beat and slightly crazy performance,[13] and was noted as being the ideal casting choice.[14]

Numerous references were made to Stephen throughout the first and second season building towards his introduction, including his phrase, "Aces, Charles," referenced by Ellie in the pilot,[15] and used by Stephen himself in Chuck Versus the Dream Job.

Amusingly, Chuck wore one of his father's suits to Bryce Larkin's funeral,[3] despite the fact that actor Zachary Levi is almost 5 inches taller than Scott Bakula.


When first introduced in Chuck Versus the Dream Job, Stephen is percieved as disheveled, paranoid, and eccentric. Chuck and Ellie both have called him "a little crazy", as he insists on having played a part in the development of touch-screen, plasma television, and other major technologies, as well as for his accusations that Ted Roark stole all of his best ideas. Chuck once said he was "never really there" even when he still lived at home, leaving Chuck and Ellie largely to fend for themselves.[16] He took an immediate liking to Devon and advised him on how to handle the rough patch he was in with Ellie after the events of his bachelor party.[8] Despite his quirks, Chuck tells Stephen he misses his advice.


The family Bartowski

Stephen is brilliant and tech-savvy, and after revealing his true identity to Chuck, also proved to be highly competent, and demonstrated an ability in hand-to-hand combat, easily taking control of the security doors and disabling Vincent when the Fulcrum operative attempted to capture them in Roark's offices. He considers the Intersect the greatest thing he ever created, after his two children, and suggested that Chuck may be an even better engineer than he was. Although Stephen abandoned them many years earlier for their own good, he loves his children dearly and only left to protect them from those who wanted his knowledge. His relationship to Bryce Larkin shows he was always keeping tabs on his children, to the point of becoming aware of the fact that Chuck's friend had been recruited by the CIA. He saved Chuck's life by agreeing to aid Ted Roark in completing the Fulcrum Intersect if he (Roark) allowed Chuck to walk away.[2] However, he double-crossed Roark and FULCRUM by programming it to only erase the Intersect in Chuck.

In Chuck Versus the Ring, Stephen apprehended Roark, and knocked him cold. Stephen said he had been waiting twenty years for that opportunity. It is revealed that he has the ability to retain vast amounts of visual information just as his son does.


In Chuck Versus the Subway, Stephen and Chuck raid a secret base that houses the the Ring Intersect. They did, however, trip a silent alarm. While Casey and Sarah were being held in CIA custody by Shaw, he was informed that the Bartowskis entered the Ring base instead of attempting to rescue the team, surprising and angering Shaw. When Chuck and Stephen emerge from the Ring base, they were ambushed and held at gun point by Shaw and his men.


Stephen reminds Chuck he is special

Justin takes the Governor from Chuck, who then challenges Shaw. Shaw then shoots and kills Stephen in order to prevent Chuck from using the Intersect, knowing he has difficulty accessing the Intersect's data when he becomes emotional. Chuck held his father as he died, his father's last word to him were "You're special, son. Always remember... you're special." Chuck would use this emotion to fuel his team's efforts to bring down Shaw and The Ring.

In a final confrontation with Shaw, Chuck's memories of Stephen's dying words helped Chuck access an old memory of previously uploading an early Intersect as a child, thereby rebooting his current Intersect, allowing him to defeat Shaw and reclaim The Governor.

Stephen was later remembered by his family in a quiet gathering, where Chuck toasted his father, "We didn't always think he was the greatest family man, but we know that there was nothing more important to him than family. To a great man, Stephen J. Bartowski."


  • Several times during Bakula's appearances, Chuck utters the phrase 'oh, boy' the signature remark of Bakula's Quantum Leap character, Sam Beckett.
  • Scott Bakula referenced his previous role as Dr. Sam Beckett on Quantum Leap when Ellie was upset seeing him the first time and told him off over the pancakes he promised to make for dinner just before he disappeared. Stephen only managed to respond with "Oh, boy!" This was the catch phrase of Sam, who would utter this whenever he "leaped" into a new body and discovered his new (and typically dangerous, embarrassing, or compromising) situation.
  • Bakula further referenced Quantum Leap while hosting the lead-in to Chuck during the airing of Chuck Versus the Dream Job, on April 6, 2009, when he remarked about feeling like he'd been there before, but that being quite a leap. Quantum Leap both programs were NBC, productions.
  • There is a visual reference to Quantum Leap in Chuck Versus the Colonel, the abandoned movie theater where Ted Roark tries to turn his agents into intersect agents is called Starbright Drive-in. In Quantum Leap 'Starbright' was the code name of the project that Al Calavicci, Dr. Sam Beckett and Donna Eleese were working on before project Quantum Leap.
  • Stephen's wrist-mounted computer is a nod to the similar device worn by the aliens in the Predator films, though it could also be a nod to the Pip-boy 3000 of the Fallout game franchise for which Zachary Levi provides the voice the companion character, Arcade Gannon, in Fallout: New Vegas.
  • In Chuck Versus the Living Dead Sarah lifts Stephen's driver's license "In the event that your dad ran off, I wanted you to be able to find him..." and states that the license was issued by "Bishop County DMV." There is no Bishop County in California, although there is a town of Bishop (formerly, Bishop Creek) in Inyo County, California.
  • Scott Bakula and Linda Hamilton as the Bartowski parents, never once shared a scene, not even in flashback. Even at the weddings of their children, Stephen attended Ellie's while Mary attended Chuck's.

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