I Need a Person of Interest’s Root and Shaw Spin Off
As a dyed in the wool geek, I want a lot of things. I want Bae Doona to have her own series as a Batman-esque dark avenger with a complicated past but instead of Alfred she has a super sexy wife who builds all of her tech. I want John Barrowman to guest on Supernatural, and flirt so outrageously with Castiel that Dean Winchester finally confesses his true feelings for his angel.
And I really really want Root and Shaw from Person of Interest to get their own show. Or movie!
You’re sensing a pattern. Super gay. But in my defense, we need more quality LGBT content. We also need Root and Shaw, no matter their sexual orientation. Even in the crowded field of quality shows, a Root and Shaw spinoff would be a stand out among stand outs. The characters are nuanced and magnetic. The actors are incredible. The themes of government surveillance, data security, global spy networks, and terrorism are more relevant every day. The themes of found family and underdogs fighting the odds are inspiring and relatable. The format has the potential for action sequences that would make you stand up off the couch. And the chemistry between those two -- holy lord. Grab your fans, your glass of water, whatever you need because you’re going to be parched.
Root and Shaw are two characters from the late great CBS tv drama Person of Interest. If you have seen the Person of Interest all the way until the end, I can hear the question mark above your head. Don’t worry. It’s tv. We can fix it.
And if you haven’t seen the show, here is the premise. Person of Interest is based in NYC after the attacks on the twin towers. After 9/11 (in the show, though this is #tooreal) the American government hires a tech genius to build them an artificial intelligence to predict acts of terror. There is nothing supernatural about it. People who are going to commit acts of terror do certain things. They buy burner cell phones, open bank accounts, visit sketchy websites, etc. Add in video cameras everywhere, and ‘The Machine’ (the AI entity the government builds) can predict any premeditated acts of murder.
Harold Finch, the genius who builds the machine for the CIA, quickly realizes something disturbing. The machine doesn’t distinguish between terror murder, and regular ol murdery murder. But the CIA has neither the interest nor the resources to do anything about the run of the mill impending murders. So, the information on the regular murders are destroyed at the end of every day, leaving people to die when they could have been saved. At some point, Harold can’t live with himself so he recruits a deadpan, laconic, former special forces badass named John Reese. Harold does the tech genius bit, John does the stalking/rescuing. Their unlikely friendship (more than friendship?subtext?) is a source of sheer enjoyment. Detective Carter, their friend on the force (perfection that is Taraji P Henson) helps them from the NYPD side of things. There’s also Lionel, but he’s a bit of a wild card.
In the first season, the show is more like ‘case of the week’. But befitting the rich, complex topics of AI, spying, data security, rogue government agencies, and international intrigue, things become complicated fast.
Enter Root. Root is a hacker at Harold’s level of genius. She is interested in Harold’s Machine. But while Harold has a deep sense of caution regarding the machine he built -- he tries hard to keep it from getting too much information that could be catastrophic in the wrong hands--Root is in love with the machine. She abhors the evil that humans inflict upon one another (she calls terrible people ‘bad code’) and she sees The Machine as the answer to the problem of us (people). She adores Harold for creating the machine but is totally perplexed and even outraged as to why he doesn’t trust his creation. Looking around at humanity, it is hard to argue with her many salient points. But it is easy to argue with her methods and doubt her values. In theory she is disgusted by evil. But she does terrible things in service to the machine. It begs the question: for Root, is the machine a path to good? Or is the machine (instead of humans) the good? Because those are two very different things, and one is incredibly sinister if you happen to value humanity.
Root is an enigmatic, layered character played with intellectual ferocity by Amy Acker. And when Root gets hooked into the machine and starts following her intel, the combination of woman/machine is exhilarating. The machine knows when a murder is going to occur, so Root finds a way to pipe The Machine’s ‘feed’ into her ear. The Machine is practically all-seeing, and gets Root out of seemingly unsolvable situations. I will never ever tire of watching Root step into a crowded hallway on orders of The Machine. As bullets fly around her, Root walks in a perfectly straight line, face serene, pulling triggers on the guns in both of her hands. Her trust that the machine will keep her safe is unshakable. She is taking down murderers and terrorists left and right all while feeding intel back to Harold. She tries not to kill people because Harold is quite fond of humans, and she is now part of his Machine team. But she herself is a damn machine.
Now let’s talk about Shaw. She is another fascinating, exciting character. Shaw works for the Other side of The Machine -- the main feed that predicts terror and sends data directly to the CIA. Shaw is essentially a CIA assassin. She took the job because she is good at it. Shaw has never felt emotions the way other people do. Flashbacks show her standing next to a car crash as a child, being completely unphased by the death of her parents. She creeps out an adult there to help her, who is expecting a human emotional reaction from the child. That’s the story of Shaw’s life. It’s why she doesn’t succeed as a doctor. She literally disturbs her patients with her inappropriate emotional responses and lack of affect. So she ends up doing a job that would torture others, because it simply doesn’t bother her: assassin. But while Sameen Shaw may not feel the same way others do, she does value things. She values loyalty. She values honesty. And when her partner is slaughtered by the CIA she is unwilling to accept it. And because of who she is, she has very little compunction about cutting a swath of violence to punish her bosses. She doesn’t angst over it. She doesn’t worry. She doesn’t fear them. She just does what she needs to do to teach them not to fuck with her.
Being on the outs with her bosses, she reluctantly becomes a part of John and Harold’s crew. It takes a whole lot of convincing. She’s not really into their mission. She isn’t a hero. But what else is she going to do? Where else will she fit in? She’s their “petite Persian sociopath” and boy does she up their game. Shaw has skills. She is brutal, decisive, resourceful, and punctual. (Ms. Shaw may be violent and uncommunicative, but she is never tardy! -- Harold Finch) And she shares an enthusiastic love of melodramatic violence -- think rocket launchers in broad daylight--with the laconic John Reese. Root dubs Reese and Shaw “The Mayhem Twins” and their partnership is truly delightful. Shaw has a sardonic nickname for Reese for every day of the week, with Root jumping in on the fun.
Sarah Shahi’s interpretation of Sameen Shaw is a constant delight. She inhabits her with such complete comfort that you feel Sameen Shaw is real. She plays Shaw’s sociopathy (of course whether she is strictly a sociopath is arguable) with incredibly subtlety and even humor. Shaw is completely unaware of how she comes across to other people. She is so disconnected from social norms. She is the awkwardest little turtle for a woman who could kill you with her bare hands. Maybe even hand. She doesn’t need much to kill you. And Shaw kickboxing the shit out of someone while wearing a ball gown is my entire sexual orientation. Just so you know.
When Shaw and Root first meet, I was not a fan of their romantic pairing. I already wanted to protect Shaw, and Root tortures her for information in their first scene together. Relationships shouldn’t start with torture, don’t @ me. However, Shaw is a little different than your average woman. She also tortures and kills and this is just another day at work for her. But they are not off to a good start. They seem at opposite ends of the spectrum. Root vibrates with ideals. In the beginning, those ideals are dysfunctional and misanthropic, but they fill her and spill out onto everyone around her. Root’s eyes brim wonder when she talks to Harold about The Machine. She can picture a better world and she will stop at nothing to make it happen. These type of emotions don’t necessarily bother Shaw, but the expectation that she should be able to respond in kind, does bother her. Shaw would like to back away from your grand dreams so she can get back to her sandwich. Her sandwich doesn’t expect her to respond with an appropriate emotional affect.
Shaw never expected anything from the world, so how could she have dreams for its destiny? She loves food. She loves the dog (Bear, the former combat dog that only responds to Dutch commands) and she does her job. Other than that, she’d like to be left alone. But her new job with the Machine’s squad starts to change her. She experiences the gratitude of people whose lives she saves. At first she finds it incredibly off putting. But at one point the gratitude of a child pierces her abject inability to empathize. It’s like a lighthouse piercing fog. It’s not complete, but it is something. It gets her attention. She starts to grasp what she is doing for people, and it reveals possibilities for who she could be in the world. Also, the acceptance of her new rag-tag weirdo family starts to work on her psyche. She starts noticing that no one cares that she’s a bit off. No one cares that she is emotionally stunted. They have her back. They show up for her time after time after time. And when she shows up for them they are grateful. Which she has a hard time accepting. Her life is transactional. She’s not sure what do do with feelings. But she notices them, and she understands that she now has a family. It is a loyal, badass family that would do anything for her. She can trust them with her life. And after the betrayals she has endured, that means something to her. In fact, it affects her profoundly. She isn’t capable of verbally acknowledging her appreciation of them. But before she herself notices it, she would lay down her life for them.
And Root starts falling in love with her. Of course she does. And in true Root style, she gushes out her feelings. Root is unfiltered. She is raw. She feels from the top of her head down to her toes, whether that is wrath, rage, disgust, or love of Sameen Shaw.
Shaw resists. Of course she does. Accepting Root’s feelings requires her to respond to them. And she doesn’t know how to do that.
But Root sees something in her. She sees Shaw’s beating heart and she knows Shaw has zero idea what to do with it or how to reach out. So Root all but shouts from the rooftops that she is willing to do all the work. Root will find and meet her where she is. Root will jump off the cliff with no net and all Shaw has to do is open her arms. Shaw starts to find inches of courage. Even a silence or a ‘maybe’ instead of a no. But you can see her defenses start to slide down. Root and Shaw are both socially inept in their own ways. Root too raw, Shaw too withdrawn. So for them, connecting consists of many false starts and awkward pauses. But boy oh boy when they get there. These two women, with their scars and trauma and tenacity, who belong to this little weirdo family and share a mission to keep the world free, these two women have chemistry that just explodes. It is a slow burn that flows to lava.
But all of these amazing developments? They happen in the last season! They are cut so short when there is so much more story to tell. Person of Interest may have come to a close but Root and Shaw were just getting started. Root started out a woman who felt self righteous enough to kidnap and torture in service of her mission, with no thought to the damage she was doing. During her time with Finches Team Machine, learns to protect humanity, in spite of its glaring flaws. Shaw evolves from someone utterly detached, to someone with family that she could trust and die for. But there was so much more to learn. And their back-stories!!! Why was Shaw the way she was? How did Root become Root? We saw snippets but not nearly enough. Person of Interest was about Harold Finch and John Reese for the most part. I loved getting to know them. But what about Root and Shaw, characters even more unique and unpredictable than Finch and Reese?
Beyond their characters, their relationship with each other is rich and complicated. Their respective approaches to humanity and the world (good, bad, violence, freedom, privacy) contrast in a way that there is immense potential for exploration. Their respective skills in espionage, hand to hand combat, enhanced interrogation, and mission strategy represent untapped excitement and plotlines. Their deep love for one another coupled with their emotional limitations is also rich terrain.
And come on, you can’t tell me that you don’t want to see these two women on your screen again.
In the mean time, Amy Acker is on The Gifted on Fox and Sarah Shahi is on Reverie on NBC.