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Person of Interest recap for 4x11 (If-Then-Else)

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Well, friends, it looks like our time together will be short and bittersweet. Let us raise a glass, probably of whiskey, knowing her, in honor of Sameen Shaw, our favorite bored hard ass and my foremost TV girlfriend. What a woman. What a character. What a jokester. What a hero.

To be honest, I halfway saw this coming, except I thought it was Root who would die—her character arc is pretty complete (redemption), and story wise it would be interesting to see how the Machine managed without Her analog interface. I figured Shaw was safe, since part of the reason for her creation was that Jim Caviezel was getting too old and tired to do all the action the show required of him, and Sarah Shahi relieved him of some of the burden. Shows what inside baseball will do for you. (I should have listened to my instincts when she said goodbye to Bear! That’s Upcoming Death 101!) I predicted it, but I never said a word about it, because of some sort of superstition that if I said it out loud it would be real. Oh, to have that power. TV would be so different.

I spent most of the episode still being terrified for Root, and the script very much encouraged that fear; it pulled a classic bait and switch. Root making comments like “whatever happens to me” and Harold’s monologue about the Queen in the chess game being a powerful, yet vulnerable piece, all seemed to be foreshadowing her death. (“Can move in any direction and do anything” is pretty much Root’s job description as a character, after all.) And indeed that monologue was about Root; it’s why the Machine was so careful with her at this critical juncture. Root was right when she told Harold that the Machine remembers everything he taught Her.

Similarly, the discussion of pawns being sacrificed and the absolute equal value of all human life seemed to be pointing to Fusco. I remain convinced that the simulation shot right before the final ad break that showed odds of survival was a brilliant bit of misdirection (don’t get me wrong, I’m upset, but credit where it’s due): they placed that red 2% right next to Fusco. And I think we can all be excused for seeing him as the most pawn-like of Team Machine’s members. Who else do we see here that could be “Secondary Asset” but Fusco?

I can grudgingly admit that while I would have VASTLY preferred his death, for that precise reason it wouldn’t have been nearly so affecting; while there are some viewers who I know adore his character and would be miserable to see him go, I think most of us are more invested in Shaw (even the willfully blind non-shippers). None of that makes this okay, though, and before talking about everything that happened between Root and Shaw before Shaw’s death, I’m gonna take a soapbox interlude: STOP WITH THE DEAD QUEER WOMEN, WORLD. STOP WITH THE DEAD WOMEN IN GENERAL, BUT ESPECIALLY THE DEAD QUEER ONES. How pathetically classic is it to have the queer romance finally, incontrovertibly validated, and then immediately kill one of the participants off? (I predicted that part, too. I sincerely feared that Root was going to die a hero for Shaw’s sake. SOB.)

It’s infuriating for the obvious reasons of representation and tokenization and the fact that we rarely get to see queer love, just queer longing. Relationships snatched away at the moment they fully enter the sun. The insult added to injury is that frankly, it’s beneath Person of Interest. This show has usually been above such rote enactment of tropes. And now for the first time, PoI has displayed something we can (ungenerously) call a pattern: that’s two female members of the core team who have died (both WOC, in fact), and the same three white guys who just keep surviving.

Such disparities have never been apparent until now, really—Carter’s death was extremely sad, but there were offscreen reasons for it, and it was singular, an anomaly. Now we have two. I know Aristotle or some damn Greek said never to generalize from fewer than three examples, but fuck it, I’m pissed off. If the next important good guy to die isn’t Fusco, I will be livid.


So, then. Let us make like the episode and rewind. We saw a number of endearments from Root to Shaw—sweetie, honey, a pet name extravaganza; and we got what was, at the time, a pretty solid debunking of the notion some have insisted on, that the subtext wasn’t real. Root called up Shaw right before going to her (simulated) death:

Root: Why are you so afraid to talk about your feelings?
Shaw: Feelings? I’m a sociopath, I don’t have feelings.
Root: And I’m a reformed killer for hire! We’re perfect for each other. You’re gonna figure that out someday.
Shaw: Root, if you and I were the last two people on the face of this planet—
Root: An increasingly plausible scenario, given Samaritan’s plans—
Shaw: Fine. Maybe someday, when Samaritan wipes everyone out, we can talk about it.

It was a simulation, but I say it counts. The Machine knows them all very well, after all. The smile that broke over Root’s face when Shaw said they could talk about it someday was like glorious sunrise in the Arctic Circle or something, it was so beautiful.

[LOST IMAGE: You know the one.]
Caption to lost image: CLAWING MY FACE OFF, LOOK AT HER

It was also a tremendously sweet moment—that her farewell to existence was a farewell to Shaw, the love of her life. (I have a rationale for why The Machine is not the love of her life, but let’s not digress. Ask me in comments if you like!) Since at this point we knew it was a simulation, it didn’t hurt. It was like tragic fanfic: just a good, emotional, fulfilling scenario that would be sad but didn’t have to be real.

It’s in the next simulation that the subtext really rose to the level of text, though. Literally! Let me say in advance that I am an absolute sucker for this kind of meta writing, so obviously I slobbered all over this part like Bear over Shaw (sob). The Machine needs to speed things up, so it simplifies the simulation. This turns out to mean that instead of the characters’ having actual dialogue, they simply state the nature of their utterances, almost like a how-to for the writers’ scripts: “Coolly delivered sadistic warning.” “Self-deprecating inquiry.” “Witty, yet insightful retort.” (If you would like some comfort in this time of need, I highly recommend “Title of the Song,” a meta-deconstruction of every boyband ballad. “Request to turn back tiiiiiime/And rectify my wrooooongs/Repetition of the title of the song.” IS THE SHOW SINGING THIS TO ME RIGHT NOW? ARE YOU HERE TO GROVEL, PERSON OF INTEREST???)

Where this transcended “awesome” and became AMAZING is when Root called Shaw up. This is literally what they said:

Root: Overly affectionate greeting!
Root: Transparent rationale for conversation.
Shaw: Annoyed attempt to deflect subtext.
Root: ~Overt come-on~
Shaw: Mildly embarrassed defensiveness, bordering on hostility.

EAT IT, DENIERS. I mean, they literally put. the word. subtext. in. the. text. I can’t tell you how happy this made me. (What a beautiful time that was. A golden memory. Already it seems like it was years ago. I have aged decades in the last few hours; I am a withered shell of my former self.)

I want to say, briefly, before the final part—yes, I’m delaying the inevitable, sue me—that this episode really was brilliantly crafted in terms of structure and misdirection, and that I honestly loved the scenes of Harold and the Machine playing chess. Those conversations are the kind of thing that I love about this show in addition to [grits teeth] Root, Shaw, and other great female characters or relationships. History! Ethics! Strategy! Probability! Intelligence! All topics of casual conversation, all with huge relevance to the show’s overall mission (that is, what it seeks to unpack and explore) as well as this episode in particular. Really well done.

But, alas, there’s no avoiding it: there is a monster at the end of this book. Time to face Shaw’s death.

In the final run-through—the real events, not a simulation, at last—we got an unexpected and wonderful twist.

[LOST IMAGE: I assume some gif of Shaw showing up?]

WHO IS THAT SHADOWED BADASS HERE TO SAVE THE DAY? OH, IT’S SHAW!!! Our heroes are trapped, John is shot, their miniscule survival chances are onscreen ticking down, and Root makes her farewell phone call to Shaw—phrased just as it was in that simulation—but then Shaw shows up! Here! Where they are! To help! It’s such a thrilling moment, honestly. “No, we don’t have time to catch up” is very different when Shaw is saying it because she crawled through the ducts to come save Root & co., than it is when she’s rolling her eyes in the back of a cop car. And of course the first thing she says, confronted with this situation, is “Oh, you guys look like crap.” Root and I are in agreement that this is meltingly adorable.

TOO MUCH. I was beside myself. (Also terrified, still.) And it started to look like everything was gonna be OK! They took out all the goons! They made it to the elevator! And on the way Shaw and Root had an honest-to-god conversation about their relationship:

Root: We’re so good at this together. You’re gonna realize that someday.
Shaw: Root, no offense—you’re hot, you’re good with a gun. Those are two qualities I greatly admire. But you and I together would be like a four-alarm fire in an oil refinery.
Root: Sounds cozy.

By the way, they have the entire conversation while shooting their way across the room. I wish to god I had a gif. It was shooty poetry in motion.

And then. Of course. The twist. The elevator isn’t responding to the controls. Shaw spots the manual override across the room and prepares herself to go out there and make a last stand; Root tries to restrain her; Shaw KISSES HER—wait, let me pause on that, KISSES HER:

[LOST IMAGE: You also know this one.]
Caption to lost image: The circumstances mean it’s not even a really good kiss.
We don’t get to linger on it or feel all that happy about it because she has to go off and DIE. >:(

—and throws her back into the elevator, and makes her stand.

It’s in slow motion, to lyrical music; it’s heroic as all hell, and I don’t CARE. All the white hats get heroic deaths on this show: Cal. Carter. Scarface. Now Shaw. I still hate the sight of this:

[LOST IMAGE: Clearly part of Shaw's final slow-motion shots.
If I had to bet, I'd bet on the shot of the first bullets hitting her and throwing her off balance.]

Just like I hate the sight of Root’s agonized face as she screams from the elevator, with Harold and Fusco holding her back.

The camera kept cutting back to Root in her cage and I might have cried a little bit. Not all of us can be sociopaths. I’m sorry, Shaw. I know you’d want me to be stoic.

You know what else pisses me off? There’s never any explanation for why the elevator malfunctioned. Normally I don’t care about this sort of thing—I’m not here to collect No-Prizes for picking apart tiny plot holes when that is not how stories do what they do—but since here it is literally the difference between Shaw alive and Shaw dead, it feels pretty cheap and lazy.

The whole episode is built around the idea of a specific set of variables being mixed and remixed to produce different scenarios. Chess. Shaw’s presence here is an extra variable that wasn’t in the original mix; but that doesn’t feel like cheating because it makes sense. The Machine couldn’t win the game, so it added a variable. In chess, this would be cheating, of course, but as Harold so eloquently instructed the Machine, chess is not the real world. But this elevator malfunction does feel like cheating. Partly it’s because as a viewer, I can allow a certain amount of free passes for being misled like this, and when there are too many wild cards it starts to stretch my tolerance. (My game metaphors are a mess, I’m sorry.) But it’s also because there’s no reason for it at all. The Machine has a clear reason to add Shaw, but literally the only reason for that elevator malfunction is so that Shaw will have to die. There is no thematic justification, no Easter egg in the simulations, not even a line of explanation for it; the elevator, which has itself been responsible for strictly two variables the entire time (cutting the cable, not alerting Samaritan by doing so), suddenly grows a third one with no connection to anything else. And for some reason this is something no one can fix—not the Machine, not Harold, not Root, not Sameen “it’s hammertime” Shaw. Two tech geniuses, two superspyssassins, and an artificial super-intelligence can’t hack an elevator.

So Sameen Shaw goes down swinging, finally paying off all Fusco’s Alamo references (IT’S FUSCO’S FAULT!!!!), and Root and I are just over here, devastated. Oh, god, I bet Bear is gonna be looking for Shaw next episode. I can’t take that. I can’t. Dogs wanting to know where their drinking buddies went, no, I just can’t.

Let us mourn Shaw properly, then: drink and threaten. Tomorrow I solemnly swear to buy a bottle of whiskey and scare at least two men in my vicinity. Meanwhile, I would love it if everyone shared their favorite Shaw moments in the comments. I wouldn’t be so hasty as to call it my favorite, but this a good moment to end on: here lies Shaw, who talked down a suicide bomber in her spare time, and looked luminous in subway lighting while she did it.

She died well. She shouldn’t have died at all.