First, let me just say that if anyone coming to this show expecting Root and Shaw to have a full blown romance where they declare their love and feelings by shouting it across the hills and end up making out non-stop, THIS IS NOT THAT KIND OF SHOW. This isn’t Grey’s or Rookie Blue where the focus is romantic ships. This show is very, very narrative/plot arc driven and any relationship development is almost subtextual even for the heterosexual ships (not that there has been romance for them either). This isn’t a show where characters sit around and talk about their feelings at any great length. So, please, if you come to this show and are going to YELL “queerbaiting” because Root and Shaw aren’t having the relationship you want because you want something more like Grey’s, you’re basically complaining about your circle expectations not fitting in a square hole and this show is probably not for you.
What is this show giving us and how canon are Root and Shaw? Well, this is a complicated question because I wouldn’t say that Root and Shaw are ALL subtextual because their is blatant flirting going on and it’s VERY much in the fabric and text of the show, but the question becomes about motivation. And to understand the Root and Shaw dynamic, you kind of have to understand the kind of characters they are. They are two people who have never much trusted anyone and who have seen themselves as outliers. These two characters admitting to trusting or needing anyone is a BIG thing. When they met, Root was going to torture Shaw with an iron. Flashforward a season, and Shaw and Root have gotten to a place where they know the other one has their back. In many ways, I see this ship like the Kahlan and Cara relationship from Legend of the Seeker. Two people who SHOULD be enemies but through circumstance have learned to trust each other. And I’m eagerly waiting for an episode where Root and Shaw are trapped in a place and they get into a fight over who will be the one to die so the other may live. Even if we take out the possibility of a canon ladyship, for me, this kind of relationship dynamic is really interesting and one of the reasons why if Root and Shaw never become canon, I’d still like their relationship.
But what about the flirting? Yes, well, Root’s character flirts with Shaw (like shamelessly and relentlessly) because she figured out really quickly that pushing this particular button with Shaw puts Shaw off her game. And I think Root does it to maintain a certain level of control in the relationship, but as Amy Acker has said time and again, she is flirting with her to annoy Shaw (and keep this upper hand in their relationship) or …
Honestly, I think it is a little of both. Root comes from a place where she was always and constantly disappointed by people. And then she meets Shaw (and the rest of Team Machine) and I think Shaw was better than she ever thought and has never been disappointed her. So, you can see how Root’s affection for Shaw can be read as coming from a very emotion based place. As for Shaw, a person who has muted emotions and doesn’t trust people easily, I think we can see how much Root means to her now even though she always claims it’s about their mission of saving people.
As for this actually happening in canon, it might … it might not. EP Greg Plageman has said he thinks Root and Shaw have a fluid sexuality so it is within the realm of possibility. The revelation that Root and Shaw have had sexual encounters with members of the same sex would NOT be surprising. But then again, I think these two characters view sex as more an itch to scratch and the more compelling narrative thread would be these two people admitting to their emotional connection. Like, for me, the bigger scene would be Root and Shaw admitting they how much they mean to each other and not them making out with each other. The show did the same “big emotional reveal” between Reese and Carter (and it was beautiful and there was ugly sobbing on my part .. don’t talk to me about Carter).
So to summarize … if you are looking for a show where the two female leads are bad-ass and their relationship is compelling when either viewed as a friendship or something more and all this is playing out within the context of a political and Alias-like action show where every character is a version of Jack Bristow, then you may want to give this show a try. If this doesn’t appeal to you and you NEED this to be canon and will be disappointed with anything less and anything short of love declarations and love scenes will make you say “queerbaity” then… this show is probably not for you. The fandom for this relationship is growing, but it is still pretty small so there isn’t too much in the way of fan fiction.
Shaw is the first person (except *maybe* Harold, who created Root’s God-figure) that Root sees as an actual person. Root considered (initially) John nothing more than a pet, almost everyone she interacted with as beneath her, and humans in general as ‘bad code.’
Root treats and views Shaw not just as a human being but a human being who is valuable in and of herself and not because Root needs to use her for some reason. Which I think is both telling and a huge freaking deal and I ship it so hard its ridic.