Could the CIA be the Real Villain of Chuck?

When watching television, movies or reading books. We are able to distinguish the villain and the hero. Some are easy to spot and others take time to reveal itself, but does a villain always have to be human? We often know that writers use figures to represent an ultimate theme. For example, a grim reaper represents death, or a dove represents good, but what happens when the main baddie really was a whale, ocean or could it be a profession?

The CIA and NSA play a role in all of the character lives in Chuck.  Some of the bad guys were at some point or another affected by these two intelligent agencies. Let’s take a look at some of the people that were affected the most.  Daniel Shaw, The Bartowski family, Sarah Walker, Devon, Alexei Volkoff/Hartley Winterbottom, John Casey, Bryce Larkin, Morgan, Nicolas Quinn and Ted Roark have all have had their lives turned upside down by being a spy. Lies, cover ups, manipulation, and backstabbing all played roles in agents’ crossings lines.

The idea here is to take a look at how the spy world was full of double crosses and created some of the best bad guys, who were all working for the CIA at some point, from Roark to Quinn and everyone in between, we can pin point the real villain of Chuck.

Quinn, Shaw and Volkoff 

Alexei Volkoff

Alexei Volkoff

All of the key bad guys are intrigue part of the Intersect story, and some were directly affected by the program. The CIA/NSA turned Hartley Winterbottom into the world’s psychotic weapons mongrel/developer, Alexei Volkoff.  The story all was connected with Orion, Roark, and a scientist named Hartley.  All three men created the original Intersect, and despite Orion’s protest Hartley wanted to be tested.

After being tested, the CIA gave Hartley a cover, which we know now as Alexei Volkoff. The cover suppressed the mind of Hartley and assumed Volkoff as his real identity. What happen to Volkoff was the same path Chuck was on in season three, the difference was Chuck had a stronger support system in leading him from the dark side.

What happened to Hartley would ultimately make Orion spend the rest of his life trying to look after and help Hartley, and Orion I believed sent Mary to look after Volkoff, but it did not help.  The CIA made Volkoff a mark, and taking down Volkoff Industries became the mission of the intelligent agencies.

Team Bartowski soon learn of secret  files about Patient Agent X, which would be information on, who Alexei Volkoff really was. Enter Decker, who removed the intersect out of Hartley. The CIA still was hell bent on keeping the whole mess quiet because of the implications it would bring from the public. Decker was used to clean up the mess, and ultimately would cause Chuck to turn on the CIA for a day.

Hartley would be one of the worse cover ups the CIA did, and the methods in which to prevent the secret getting out speaks volumes on how bad the CIA screwed with people and families.

Daniel Shaw

Daniel Shaw The next bad guy on our list would be Daniel Shaw, this story would be more about the CIA and Langston Graham, than the intersect, but the theme would be the same. Graham ordered Sarah Walker to kill Evelyn Shaw, and it would be her red test. The CIA would tell Daniel Shaw that the Ring killed her.

Like Hartley, Daniel Shaw was a good guy at first, and he would spend the next five years  on taking down the Ring, He would eventually join Team Bartowski and work with the very woman who killed Eve, and what makes matters worse Sarah and Shaw began a romance.

Shaw never knew this until the Ring showed him the surveillance from the night of his wife’s death.

It was understandable for a man who was lied to by the very agency he worked for. His new mission would be to break the system from within. Chuck or Sarah ( not willingly) did not cause this, but attempting to kill him made him an enemy of him as well, but not the main focus.

The villain here is not so much Shaw, but Graham. What was the real reason for him to order the hit. We will never know, but we can speculate. Why was Sarah the one chosen to do the hit? So many question still about the reasons Evelyn was killed, but that didn’t matter anymore for Shaw.

Shaw joined the Ring and attempted to kill Sarah. She was saved by Chuck, but the reasons for trying to kill her was to show the CIA they betrayed the wrong man, and feel the pain he suffered during that time. I personally can’t fault him for that. I also can’t fault him for wanting to kill Sarah, and the real crime here is the CIA covered this up as well. We than get to one of the series interesting and diabolical baddies in the entire series. Nicholas Quinn, who did the most damage of all the bad guys in the series.

Nicholas Quinn


Unlike Shaw and Hartley, Quinn is a very different character, in fact I want to voice my opinion on this character here, I am a big fan of characters that make impacts, whether it was a good guy or bad guy, and Quinn offered an impact that none of the other baddies offered. Let me explain.

The most important thing to Chuck was his family and friends, and by Quinn erasing Sarah’s mind, Quinn hurt Chuck where it mattered the most. This kind of impact should not be left for the last four episodes of the series.

Nicholas Quinn’s connections to Bryce, The Ring, Fulcrum and Volkoff Industries means he was involved throughout the series and to be mentioned at the end of the series really was a poor decision by the writers.

Now with that off my chest, Quinn claimed that he was a former CIA agent, who was supposed to be the first agent to download the intersect, Bryce stole it from him,  which means Fulcrum was trying to get it for Quinn, and the Ring would take over after Fulcrum failed. Quinn also explained that he was bunkered and phased out of the agency once the Intersect was located in a civilian, which meant the government didn’t need Quinn anymore, which would turn him into working with Fulcrum, The Ring and Volkoff Industries, which all three were taken down by Team Bartowski.

He knew everything about Charles Bartowski/ Carmichael, and if this is also the case than he has been involved since day one of this story, so again why leave him for the final four episodes.

All three major bad guys all affiliated with the CIA, and all three were expendable because of covers and lack of need. It caused them to become enemies of the agency, and ultimately taken down by Team Bartowski.  However, there was a price for each side. Chuck loses his wife and parents. Bryce gets killed and Sarah Walker becomes a stone cold killer until the baby incident. The NSA also screwed with Casey, which will be the topic of the next article.

The next article will showcase how Team Bartowski was affect by the CIA in more detail.


  1. Its funny how we pick up different things as we watch the shows more often. I picked up Hartley telling Chuck that he persuaded Orion to give him the Intersect because he was fearful of going on his undercover mission. He was merely an analyst / scientist , but he was going out into the field and felt he wasn’t prepared. The earliest versions of the Intersect were downloaded into Orion, Hartley, and Chuck. Hartley lost his personality, and Orion had problems too, except he developed the watch to normalize the neural circuitry. Chuck actually functioned fine with the early version of the Intersect ( downloaded when he was 9 ?), which is why his father noted he was special and had Bryce protect him.

    As for Shaw, I don’t think we were ever fully privy to what happened on Sarah’s red test. Eve had infiltrated The Ring, so we were never given the facts as to whether Graham thought she turned, or The Ring tricked the CIA into thinking she turned. In any case, I think Shaw became a good villain in the story, but the AoS of Sarah and Shaw never rang true. I realize much of that was trying to develop a close ally becoming a “traitor” and creating the conflict necessary to develop tension, in a very short period of time. Season 3 was meant to be only 13 episodes, so the Shaw arc had to happen quickly. If the writers knew they had 26 episodes from the start, they may have been able to smooth out that storyline. It certainly didn’t help that Yvonne and Brandon had absolutely no onscreen chemistry.

    Good stuff, though, Christopher. Remember that Jill told Chuck that Fulcrum, the CIA and the NSA were all the same, and there were many instances where that is demonstrated. I think that is one of the reasons that Sarah always wanted out, and din’t ever want Chuck to get involved with it once the Intersect was out of his head.

    • Gary,
      I am actually one of a few that likes Shaw, so it would be hard for me to say bad things about Shaw in season 3 Shaw in season 5 is another story I find Shaw to be good 4 Chuck he got him out if the van as far as Sarah/Shaw i blame Chuck on that being with Hannah pushed Sarah to Shaw

      • Oh…just finished that rewatch of early Season 3, and the Sarah / Shaw thing started simultaneously with Chuck and Hanna, so you can’t blame that arc on Hanna. While Sarah noticed that Hanna was pursuing Chuck, he was noticing Shaw putting the moves on Sarah …and they had a little tiff in the ceiling of the museum. Up to that point, the only thing that happened between Chuck and Hanna was the kiss that Hanna initiated in the computer room, and Sarah wasn’t privy to what happened there. She may have suspected it because of the perfume on him, but Chuck never admitted to it. After that, Hanna and Chuck had their falling out due to Chuck going after Sarah downstairs. By the time Chuck actually rescued Hanna ( which he did AFTER he secured the antidote for Sarah and Shaw) Sarah and Shaw were in an embrace. Chuck and Hanna’s embrace was after Chuck noticed that. Chuck even had the decency the next day to ask Sarah if she was OK with “the Hanna thing”, while also telling Sarah that he was kinda jealous of her and Shaw. That was quite a dig Sarah gave Chuck when she said,” Well, I do have my type !” ZING
        So on each subsequent re watch, I tend to agree with CM on the relationships having no effect on growing the story, but damaging the main characters. The only slight moment of clarity they brought was when Chuck realized what he was doing to Sarah in Fake Name, and broke up with Hanna after about 4 days of being together. I thought the breakup was a poignant moment …. confessing to Ellie first that he used to be able to compartmentalize his life, and then realizing that Hanna would never be able to know who he truly was. He ended it because Hanna deserved better. It was only after Chuck broke up with Hanna that Shaw and Sarah’s relationship started to grow …. remember that he broke up with her the night Sarah told Shaw her real name, and then they kissed. After that, I’m not sure what the Shaw arc informed, other than Sarah was willing to be with a guy she had no feelings for, and she was willing to ignore everything Chuck was going through. As CM said, it made her quite a shallow human being. I thought they tried to give her a reset in the Other Guy, but later in season 3 with the Casey interrogation to find out info on where they might find Shaw, she was wearing the earrings Shaw bought her. This only twisted the knife on the lack of importance of their relationship, and proved her to be so shallow as to wear expensive earrings from a guy that tried to kill her.

      • Gary,

        I wanted to respond to this theory over in Mastery of Expressions, but here will do just fine.

        As I am thinking more and more about Prague and everything that happened after word. While I don’t mind the story, I do agree with you and CM about character assassination. After writing about the Jill arc, I have come to think more about Shaw and Sarah and in particular The red test, I have no problem with Hannah pursuit of Chuck nor do I have any problem with Shaw pursing Sarah. because by the time they came into the picture which was three episodes in. Hannah didn’t come until Chuck vs the First Class. so everything that happen between those episodes Sarah was assassinated by then.

        It goes back to my theory about the finale. They did everything then to destroy the relationship sometimes you wonder did they put Chuck and Sarah together because they had no choice.

      • My feeling on the series was that it was really supposed to be a love story between Chuck and Sarah, wrapped up in a spy action comedy. Chuck and Sarah were the heart of the story … and you hope the protagonists in a story that, in a way, pits good against evil, are heroic. We got a very good dose of the heroics of Chuck and Sarah in the first 2 seasons as they also learned from each other and grew.The change in Sarah had no anchor point. Chuck’s change was to become a spy ( Intersect 2.0 accelerated that )…and we got to see conflict in that decision, both from outside and inside of him. Finally becoming a spy allowed him to then leave it all behind for Sarah because he had grown from the experience…he understood his life and his potential.

        Sarah was just so different … as CM said, she was all over the place depending on the needs of that particular episode. As Chuck’s skill set grew, she pulled further and further away from him it seemed, but always kinda there. She was to do things that made no sense from the Sarah we knew in the first 2 seasons….telling Shaw her name, for instance. She fell totally out of love with him after the Red Test, but Casey confessing should have only moved Chuck ( and being a spy) back to where he was just before the Red Test….and Sarah had not accepted him at that point. If he was still “her Chuck” because he didn’t kill the mole, then why wouldn’t Sarah have seen he was still her Chuck before he was given the Red Test in the first place ?

        The conflict over Prague could have been resolved by Angel de la Muerte and the story would have ended up in the same place….without painting our heroes with the ugly brush and giving them flaws that add nothing to how we think of them.

    • Most of the time whether its literature or film the ruthless killers are men. There are always exceptions like in Games of Thrones,

      Vivian Volkoff was excellent at transition from face to heel, She was very believable

    • Probably a good thing since Chuck could never hit a woman !! But doesn’t that speak to some weird inconsistency in society … it’s cool to see Sarah beat the crap out of both men and women, but we would never stand for it being the other way around ( although Sarah did get clobbered pretty good by Rafe !) I think you mentioned this in Chuck Vs. Sarah ….

  2. Honestly one thing that stuck out to me was how shocked Chuck was in the first season when Sarah killed the unarmed Fulcrum agent. He has a computer in his head with all of the CIA and NSA’s secrets and finds Sarah killing someone that knows his secret to be shocking. The CIA overthrows democratically elected leaders over resources, like the Iran Coup in 1953. All the talk about “saving people” and what not,seemed pretty naive for a guy that should know everything. Hell, when I first read the description of the series, I thought it would be about Chuck being chased by the CIA and NSA for what he knows, and finds a way to fight them.I know its fiction,but yeah the CIA are the real villains. Maybe this was just poor continuity, but with the CIA being able to add the intersect to other people as well as remove it, Chuck in Chuck versus the Colonel and the prior episode,instead of Beckmen ordering the intersect be removed from Chuck, she ordered that they just lock him up and throw away the key. Also with Decker waiting so long to remove the intersect from Folkoff. Its easy to assume they had more bad intentions than we know and it would have been really good if more came out of Decker’s “you think you’ve been doing good” speech came about.

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