Why would Sarah trust Shaw after it’s revealed that she was his wife’s killer? They know Shaw will stop at nothing to destroy the people responsible for the death of his wife. Once he finds out that she was killed by Sarah and the CIA, wouldn’t they suspect that Shaw would take his revenge on them? If Sarah, the CIA, and the NSA cannot figure this out, are they really sending their best and brightest?
Well, let’s look at it this way. Almost three years before, the NSA killed Bryce. Sarah would stop at nothing to retrieve the Intersect. Once she found out that Casey and the NSA killed her lover Bryce (it was in Casey’s report), wouldn’t they suspect that Sarah would take her revenge on them? If Casey, the CIA, and the NSA couldn’t figure this out, were they really sending their best and brightest?
Yes, they were because Sarah is an absolute professional and will put the mission before her feelings, as any good spy will do. Remember, feelings are a liability for spies.
Now, in 3.13 Other Guy, Beckman and Sarah think Shaw is an absolute professional like Sarah. He says all the right things that a professional spy would say: Sarah’s not responsible, she was played, and he will find the people behind it. He says all the things that a professional spy like Sarah would say, therefore they are not suspicious. Shaw’s words confirm to them that “Shaw is a good spy”,1Sarah’s words to Chuck right before he asks her if she loves him in this same episode. who puts the mission before his feelings.
But Shaw is not a good spy. Shaw is the perfect example of the reason the government does not want spies to have emotions (like the GRETAs in 4.18)—emotions get in the way of the mission. In Shaw’s case, his emotions get in the way because he can’t handle them. In this regard, he is the opposite of Chuck, who learns to master his emotions and use them for good. This is ironic because throughout the season, Shaw considers Chuck’s emotions a liability when, in the end, emotions become Chuck’s asset and Shaw’s liability. This is because Chuck nurtures all the right emotions while Shaw harbors all the wrong ones.
As Kelly Dean Jolley wrote in his book on Chuck, “Shaw’s actions seem virtuous only because they are instances of vices that look like virtues.” Shaw turns his love for his wife into an obsession. He turns his desire for Sarah into possessiveness, courage into foolhardiness (in his suicide mission), and honor into cruelty (when punching a bound Rafe). Shaw bottles up all the wrong emotions while appearing like a normal, emotionless, professional spy on the surface. He’s emotionally constipated: normal on the outside but full of emotional crap inside. That is the reason Routh plays him wooden and stiff on the surface but brooding and unhinged under the surface.
One of the many purposes of the Shaw arc is the writers’ way of teaching a lesson to the spies in the show who hold the traditional spy code: the solution to the “love vs duty” dilemma is not to deny one’s emotions but to master them and use them for good, like Chuck. This lesson is shown in 3.10 Tic Tac (with Chuck and the Laudanol pill) and again in 4.18 A-Team with Chuck and the two emotionless GRETAs. In both episodes, the purpose is to show that the complete lack of emotions (not just the inability to handle emotions, like Shaw) is also a liability because it turns spies into unempathetic terminators with the ultimate Utilitarian ethics, in which human lives become just numbers.