When I began with what now turned into this article, I was actually just formulating a response to some of Chris comments and especially to his articles The misunderstood Daniel Shaw, Was Chuck a Better Spy then Sarah, Shaw’s Training of Chuck Part II and Shaw’s Training of Chuck: Final Chapter Part One (I am still wondering what happened to Part Two?), because – although I enjoyed reading those – I couldn’t agree with a lot of things that have been written there. Well, my response got longer and longer, turning into my first article which focuses on Shaw’s actions during the misery arc. I hope you will enjoy it (not the arc, this article!).
Although my initial hate of Shaw turned into me liking the character over time/re-watches, much like Chris, still, in my opinion most of his deductions are simply wrong or incomplete.
As mentioned above I have no problems with the Shaw character, just with the arc itself. (Ok, it is a little weird to watch the ‘romantic scenes’ between BR and YS when there is clearly no chemistry at all between them; but then again it kind of works because there was also no real love between Shaw and Walker). And apart from the manipulation – in which he is a master – Shaw in his ‘good’ incarnation is really not a great spy (first I wanted to write ‘the worst spy of the series’ but that title belongs to Frost without any doubt). And I really enjoyed Shaw as a villain (yes, even in Santa Suit).
In this article I don’t want to discuss Sarah’s & Chuck’s interactions during this arc (I would probably get too upset anyway! I still consider the whole misery arc a huge failure. The way Sarah and Chuck acted was simply wrong. I will never forgive Fedak for how badly he fuҫҟeḋ ủp these wonderful characters; ok, time for me to stop here before it gets any worse…). Consequently, I will not go into episodes in which Shaw is not present. Furthermore, I will not go beyond the point where he turns.
First time we learn that Shaw even exists is in Three Words, even if don’t get to see his face. And already here begins my first disagreement with Chris: I cannot understand what processes in Chris’ brain convert Beckman’s “We can’t keep this a secret anymore. It is too dangerous. We need to tell them, they need to be prepared. Shaw… please” to ‘Please Shaw, go to Burbank, help them and train Chuck’. This doesn’t make any sense. It is way more likely that Shaw has told GB that he wants to either take over the team (because TB was most successful against the ring so far) or that he wants to disband the team and use Walker in his war.
(Just very wild speculation here, but maybe Shaw told Beckman that he wanted to use Devon as a tool for a strike against the Ring. Maybe Shaw let the ring somehow know that Devin was a spy that could be turned. It always seemed weird to me that the ring would just try to turn a spy because they know that he is a spy. I would guess they would at least have to expect that there was a chance to turn that spy. In my opinion the Ring was smarter than trying to turn just any spy they get to know of. But since there are no facts or indications to support this theory, well, let us just blame all of this on my overactive imagination.)
Anyway, the most important misconception is that Shaw’s aim was to train Chuck/the Intersect and weaponizing him. I don’t think that was his goal to begin with. The whole Shaw story was about Sarah, not Chuck.
In Operation Awesome we and Chuck finally meet Special Agent Daniel Shaw for the first time. Shaw instructed Chuck to shoot him in order to protect Devon and himself before the Ring agent Sidney arives. He knew that Chuck would not be able to shoot him. If he had any doubts about it he would have given him the ‘save me’ letter earlier. I am 100% positive that Shaw didn’t want to die here. Besides, apparently every character could see in Chuck’s eyes that he wouldn’t be able to kill anyone (well, of course except for Sarah in Final Exam, but… Ok, ok, I promised that I will not get started). Shaw knew exactly what he was doing and that Chuck wouldn’t be able to shoot him; it was all about manipulating Chuck. Remember when a spy works a mark he should find something in common; Shaw: ”Truth is I hate guns too”. Besides, he can already introduce himself to Chuck as a superhero, which I believe was supposed to gain some trust/appreciation from Chuck.
Next step for Shaw was learning more about the team and its dynamics: When Sidney (lured by Chuck) entered the Buymore both Casey and Sarah wanted to help Chuck but Shaw threatened them with his guns not to.
He claimed that he believed in Chuck (“Ye of little faith”) and was curious to know what Chuck’s plan was. But that can’t be all: As a special agent he was superior to Casey and Sarah, so he could have just said “You stay down, that is an order!”. But no, he pulled out his guns. He wanted to see how far TB would go in order to protect Chuck. And he was successful: When Chuck failed Sarah went to save him (telling Shaw “I’m going in. Shoot me if you have to!”) and Casey aimed his gun at Shaw (Aiming a gun at your superior? I am pretty sure that this could be considered treason). So in conclusion Shaw already learned a lot here about TB.
During the final debriefing when Sarah sided with Chuck (“sometimes it helps to know that you’ve got something to loose”) have you noticed the look on Shaw’s face?
He was shocked and not happy. That was the moment when he realized a) Sarah was not in true spy mode anymore b) he has to split any connection between Chuck and Sarah to make her a spy/weapon again.
Moreover, he learned that Chuck was useless for him. Nothing Chuck did during this mission or said during this briefing was what a real spy would do. Shaw’s face again told a lot (ok, let’s say a lot considering that he was played by an actor with limited abilities in displaying facial expressions).
(Just another comment: Chris suggested in one article that the team should have invited Shaw for the dinner. Really? The guy who just told you that friends and family are liabilities, and then you are supposed to invite him to dinner with your friends and family? Come on, I know how much Chris loves Shaw but love and brain activity don’t need to exclude each other!)
Shaw didn’t want to train Chuck in First Class. This was just a side-effect. (It was definitely time for Chuck to leave the car and Sarah & Casey would have never allowed this, but also I don’t think that this was Shaw’s primary objective). What I want to point out is that Shaw was a really good manipulator. He just told Chuck anything to boost his self-esteem. I don’t think this mission was about Chuck but more about Shaw interrogating/manipulating Sarah. Sarah was the only one of TB Shaw deemed a valuable asset in his fight against the ring.
Let’s face it; the Mission as Shaw saw it was: Chuck get on the plane, tranq one guy and get the cypto-key; mission done. This is not really education/training in my opinion. Plus: Chuck wasn’t ready for this mission. Chris asked a couple of times in his articles and comments: When not now, than when? I don’t think that is the important thing to ask here. Chuck was ready for a solo mission but he was not ready for this kind of mission. If you give someone his first solo mission (or any first dangerous task for that matter), you don’t give him something without a safety net. If you really want to train someone then you are also prepared for him to fail and make sure he has support in that case (on a mission things can always go south; every character in this series knows this). Shaw didn’t install any real safety net/ back-up for Chuck. You could say he had his satellite thing (which was cool, I agree) but Shaw was lucky there. I could instantly think of half a dozen different outcomes where this wouldn’t have saved Chuck.
Chuck was easily to controlled/diverted by Shaw just claiming that he believes Chuck is field ready.
But Sarah was the prize. Shaw knew her history/files as well, he said as much. He knew that there was a problem with Chuck already and that she cared about him. And she was the only one of the team he could utilize as a weapon for his war (Chuck was useless to him; Casey was immune to manipulation, therefor Shaw never even tried). Time for the manipulation of Sarah:
What do we learn in Graviton and First fight: “A good spy knows what his mark wants” (Sarah wanted to protect Chuck). “She will test you when you’re emotionally exposed” (Chuck on a mission where no-one can protect him; not Sarah, not Casey, not the agents in Paris). Tuttle: “Weaken the enemy emotionally than take the power”. (This is what Shaw does here and what he will do after Chuck’s red test.)
Sarah went through an emotional roller-coaster during Chuck’s mission, leaving her emotionally completely vunerable. After Chuck was finally safe, Sarah told Shaw the truth about Lisbon. This marks the first time in this arc that Sarah was sharing one of her secrets with Shaw (Sarah will reveal two more of her secrets to Shaw in this arc; every time a secret more significant than the one before). We all know what powerful bonds between two people can be created when they share a secret.
After this Shaw admitted: “I need you”. We also get the dialog: “And now, do you believe me” – “Every word, Sarah”. Shaw was working the mark pretty well by establishing a foundation of trust between them.
Back to ‘if spy works a mark he should find something in common’: After saving Chuck with the satellite Shaw claimed he cares about his agents (like Sarah cares about Chuck); Eve’s ring: both have lost someone they cared about. By admitting that the ring in the envelope belonged to his dead spy wife Shaw did actually even more: He shared one of his secrets with Sarah. This has significance because Shaw admitted earlier in this episode that he likes to keep his secrets. Not to mention that “a spy doesn’t want you to know anything about them that’s real”. And within one episode both have already given away a secret.
First step of Shaw’s manipulation is in full effect.
The sexual harassment scene at the museum: I took me a very long time to figure out why Shaw did this. It was tough because I usually skip this episode during my re-watches. Seriously, it is a disgusting scene in the most terrible episode of the series. Finally, I think that Shaw was testing Sarah here; trying to figure out where she was emotionally. Although Shaw acts like a creepy rapist (I know, I should try to be objective. Sorry for that…My bet. Professional faux pas), a normal agent wouldn’t show emotions – especially not the annoyance or disgust that Sarah was showing. By this Shaw learned that Sarah was not 100% in control of her own emotions anymore, although a spy is supposed to be.
The result was: Shaw learned that Sarah was already emotionally compromised so he can take advantage of this in future and manipulate her emotions directly.
What about the coffee? Well, in my opinion Shaw played this very nicely. Especially the second time when he got Casey a coffee too, so that Sarah outburst would look ridiculous (That the outburst would come would be easily foreseeable for Shaw considering how she acted when he gave her the first coffee). But what else: Shaw noticed that she likes a double Americano and to chew on the plastic stirrer when she gets nervous. He acted like he tries to get to know her. It would be something a potential girlfriend would want, plus we know already from Wookie (when Chuck brings the pizza without olives) how much Sarah was charmed by someone who tries to get to know her. Who knows, maybe some affection might have started at that moment.
Let’s talk about the scene where Sarah and Shaw where poisoned and alone in castle: Shaw admitted that he was hitting on Sarah and that it was unprofessional, even apologized. But still he conveyed the message ‘I am interested’. (If you watch his face you can observe that no real emotions are in play.)
Shaw doesn’t show real affection
How was Sarah reacting? In this scene Sarah was definitely lying (I don’t want to discuss the motivation behind her lying here – because I am also not really sure why she did it). During the whole series we can observe when she is lying by her non-verbal communication: She would always look away from the concerning person before telling the lie, showing how uncomfortable she felt about lying. She did it with Chuck a lot during s01 and s02 and she did it here (actually quite often during this dialogue). But again there is more to it: Sarah did not have problems with lying in general. She only showed discomfort with people she cared about. This is further indication that some feelings for Shaw were developing. So Shaw was able to establish an emotional connection with Walker.
His next move would come during the debriefing, this time concerning TB. He congratulated Chuck on his performance and he boosted his ego in telling him he will be soon ready to work alone. (That Chuck was not really happy about this didn’t matter at this point, because Casey was completely on board and Sarah’s words were also supportive). First step in breaking TB.
We have reached the final scene of this episode where Shaw touches Sarah neck. After Shaw established an emotional connection earlier, it was only logical that the next step has to be physical. Chris likes to convince us that Sarah is not enjoying this and that there is no real emotion from either Shaw or Sarah. I think this is partly true but there is more to this. In my opinion, it started that way but this scene was supposed to show as well that Sarah’s defenses were starting to break down. I side with Gary here that they probably slept together that night. And there is nothing wrong with that. Sarah was always able to separate between physical attraction/interaction and real emotions (unlike Chuck).
We got the scene in which Shaw punched Rafe for saying offensive stuff to Sarah. I guess it was supposed to show Shaw posing as someone who was defending her honor/fought for her. But his actions didn’t come across as a romantic gesture; that was just creepy. Punching a defenseless cuffed guy, a perv for sure, but… (But maybe I am missing something here; I just don’t get what the writers wanted to tell us here. But then again I am not sure they knew what they were doing half of the time during this arc…sorry again). First I thought that this scene is supposed to show that Shaw was somehow losing control of himself. But that doesn’t make sense because he was always able to control himself and his emotions, with two exceptions: directly after he finds out that Sarah killed his wife and after Chuck busted his plans in Ring II. So, I admit I have no idea. Let’s just stick with the shiny-hero-defending-the-helpless-girl’s-honor-theory.
Could be creepy Shaw, could be Shaw the gentlemen, the writers may know…
Sarah spiraled about losing her home and being replaced personally during this episode. Shaw took full advantage of her emotional breakdown by further manipulating her emotions. In the hotel room Shaw was further pushing her emotionally thus accelerating the breakdown. (“You are ok with that whole Chuck/ Hannah thing?”; “You can talk to me Sarah”; “If this is you, I like you. I want more”).
Sarah close to her breakdown
I never heard anyone saying that he/or she liked Sarah telling Shaw her name and there is a lot of dispute if Sam was really her true name (I belong to the group of people who don’t think it is). But what is really important here is that Sarah wanted to open up (in my opinion she gave a fake name because even at the edge of an emotional breakdown she probably still wouldn’t be able to tell the truth). Anyway, if the name was fake or not doesn’t matter. What we have here is a moment where Sarah desired to share a secret about herself (it is the desire that counts not if that secret is true or not); another moment of bond formation between them (this marks the second time in this arc that Sarah gives away a secret).
As I stated before, I don’t believe that Shaw cared about Chuck or the Intersect. He just needed Chuck to become a real agent to get rid of him. (Ok, granted, he needs the intersect up and running, but not because he needed the intersect for his revenge, but because the intersect is the spy, not Chuck; at least at this point of the story. If he wants to get rid of Chuck, the Intersect has to work). So, benching Chuck just meant to put pressure on Chuck to figure out his problem on his own and to become a spy again, “I push my assets to perform”.
Shaw didn’t look like someone who cares about his spy; just annoyed that his spy is not working
The assumption that Shaw didn’t care about Chuck is further supported by the fact that the first time he wanted to contact Langley to self-destruct castle was actually before he even knew if Casey was successful or not in getting into castle (reminds me of Agent Forrest’s “I can’t risk this going any further” without even considering alternatives). Then again, I also wondered if this was maybe one of Shaw’s attempts to test where Sarah’s loyalty was at this point (with Chuck or with the Agency). If this was the case or not, Shaw learned that (if Chuck miraculously survives this) a major change/event would be needed in order to detach Sarah from Chuck completely.
Is Shaw testing Sarah’s loyalty?
The briefing in Castle was most telling. Beckman told Chuck that he will be send to Rome if he succeeds in his final spy test.
Now to the most important point: If Shaw really wanted to utilize Chuck (or the Intersect for that matter) in his war/revenge against the Ring why would he allow/want Chuck to go to Rome. The Ring task force was in Washington! Where Shaw and Sarah were heading. If he really wanted/needed Chuck to go against the Ring, than why shouldn’t Chuck be there as well? No, no, no, he wanted Chuck out of his way (and separated from Sarah)! You have to keep in mind that all that Shaw cared about at this point (and for the last 5 years) was his revenge on the Ring. There was no mentioning that Chuck was supposed to go after the Ring in Rome (so we have to assume he will have a different assignment). So Chuck was going to work on something that Shaw did’t care about anyway. This can only lead to the conclusion that Shaw never cared about Chuck the spy/intersect (not that he cared about Chuck the civilian) and that he never thought that Chuck could have any value in his revenge mission!
I am usually not a big fan of referencing future episodes because how are we supposed to know about them when we watch an actual episode. Anyway, it can tell a lot about the writers take on an event/character (although they failed to mention it at the right time, or didn’t really know it yet). In Santa Suit Shaw told Sarah there was nothing that Chuck could do against him and that compared to Chuck she was by far the superior spy. And this after Chuck busted his plans or took him down 3 times (other guy & twice in Ring II; two out of this three times even without the use of the intersect ). This in mind it is easy to imagine Shaw’s opinion of Chuck’s abilities as a spy before these events even happened, that is between AO and the middle of OG.
The red test was just the final manipulation of Sarah causing her to break all ties with Chuck and becoming again the weapon that Shaw wanted (Right now I am really glad that I promised not to go into Sarah’s actions concerning Chuck or vice versa… Since I am new here I don’t know yet after how many swear words you get banned for life). Back to the story: By telling Shaw about her own red test she shared her third secret with Shaw (Have you noticed as well how often things happen exactly three times in this series?).
Again no emotonial reaction from Shaw depite his ´girlfriend´ having a breakedown
Now Shaw’s manipulation was complete. It was all about her. The one Shaw was weaponizing wasn’t Chuck (or the Intersect). He re-weaponized Sarah!
(And a weapon is nothing but a brainless tool…sorry, I had to write this! Feeling much better now.)
There is not much to say about American Hero that concerns the topic of this article, in my opinion. The romantic dinner was only supposed to further deepen the connection between Shaw and Walker. The toast during this dinner was quite interesting because it was directly opposite to what Chuck said in the pilot. Shaw: “To a new life, a new start. No Burbank, No baggage.” Sounds to me like ‘you are a spy, ignore the fact that you have baggage’.
A closing remark: I really can’t see how Chris can say that he loves Shaw that much and ignore most of the facts. By just focusing on the Chuck/Intersect-training (which was not Shaw’s primary objective but just a diversion anyway, plus Shaw failed to make the first mission a real training; ordering Chuck to assume an alias and giving him his red test; all in all not much contribution to Chuck becoming a spy) he diminishes the Shaw character even more. So, all that would remain is a not really great spy that steals/gets the girl. Shaw was far better than that.
And with this I’d like to end this article. I am aware that it is highly controversial, so feel free to comment, disagree or tear it apart in the comment section!
(I promise I will read all comments and I am going to partake in the discussion. But please also keep in mind that compared to most of you guys my current time zone is 5+ hours ahead. So if I don’t answer for some time I am probably asleep, not on a satisfying blood-caffeine-level yet or I just have to take care of a reation in my lab that would otherwise explode)