Previous installments of Femslash Friday can be found here.
Friends, how do you feel about murderesses?
To be more specific: how do you feel about women who have little use for men beyond the expedient? Who find humanity, as a general category, to be dull, silly, exploitable things clambering after some irrelevant significance? Who kill with little remorse and no regret? Who even in their deep ennui about humans are more engaged with women than men and with each other more than anyone? Who might, maybe, on some level want to be kinder to the world, but don’t know how to find a world that allows them to be so?
If the answer is “POSITIVE,” then I am here to help. I’m here to talk to you about Root and Shaw on Person of Interest.
A quick note: 1) If you are a person who is into portmanteaux for your ships, I would like to point out that your options consist, VERY APPROPRIATELY, of Shoot and Raw, and I think that’s beautiful. 2) If you’re looking for some theme music to listen to while we do this, look what I got you! ALL RIGHT. We have girded ourselves with music; we have laughed at or with the portmanteau phenomenon; we are now as prepared as a human can ever be for these two. Shall we?
We have here two women who are ruthless cold-blooded killers, and yet in a constant battle with themselves in terms of their own humanity; women who tease each other in the face of near-certain death; women who, together, form an all but unstoppable team. Two women who started out as antagonists and are now allies, who are pretty canonically sociopaths, who are real good with guns, and who care about one another more than probably anyone else in the universe.
Oh. Did I mention they’re both REALLY NICE TO LOOK AT?
Amy Acker as Root, looking fanatical as usual
Sarah Shahi as Shaw, looking deadly as usual
Since Person of Interest—the show that gave us these psychopathic murderesses in love—is not so well known as some of the media previously featured in Femslash Friday, allow me to set the scene. Person of Interest takes place in a slightly more cyberpunk world than the one we live in. It’s primarily interested in exploring the issues around surveillance and privacy, and the abuse thereof, with a heaping side of “A.I. is weird as fuck and the future is terrifying amirite” and taking place, more or less, in Gotham City. (I mean, not literally. But I have definitely sat around and cast just about every single character as a Batman universe character, and it works, I’m just saying.) Against this backdrop of intrigue! violence! computer science! corruption! unfolds our tale.
“Every system has a flaw. I’m awfully good at finding them. You care about other people; that’s your flaw.”
Root is introduced in the manner of Menacing Computer Antagonists everywhere, by hacking our Hacker Character’s hack and signing off with a mysterious, “You can call me Root, Harold.” This is the kind of woman who tries to make friends with someone by kidnapping their ass to Baltimore. She considers humans almost universally boring; she kills and steals with little compunction; she is a genius at coding, manipulation, and subterfuge. (One time she paid a guy for a fake ID with money she stole out of his own account. And then she killed him. A lot of stories about Root end with “and then she killed him.”) She is o b s e s s e d with the A.I. Harold built, known as The Machine, and makes all kinds of eloquent speeches about it:
One day, I realized all the dumb, selfish things people do… it’s not our fault. No one designed us. We’re just an accident, Harold. We’re just bad code. But the thing you built… It’s perfect. Rational. Beautiful. By design. […] Humanity has come as far as we’re gonna go. I want to see what’s next.
Here, of course, is where we realize she’s not just amoral; she’s fucking bananas. Root is many things, and one of them is a fanatic.
“I got finesse coming outta my ass. There’s a time for a scalpel, and a time for a hammer. It’s hammer time.”
Things Sameen Shaw has been in her life:
A surgical resident
A secret murder agent
Dead (she got better!)
My forever girl
Her default expression is “bored hardass.” She is canonically a near-sociopath who doesn’t give a shit about killing people; in fact, as time goes on and she’s pushed toward “maim and incapacitate” instead, she actively complains about not being able to just drop some bodies.
This woman will hold a guy at gunpoint, stick a needle in his arm, and give herself a blood transfusion in the field because fuck you buddy, I’ll make better use of your blood than you will. Your blood should be so lucky as to run in my perfect veins. At the same time, though, she’s sort of adorably socially awkward when not with officially-dead weirdos like herself.
She is all about feeding the body, whether it wants food, alcohol, or sex, and she snarfs everything she consumes like a goddamn animal. It’s a thing of beauty.
Just a steak on a knife nbd
ACCORDING TO CHEMISTRY ALCOHOL IS A SOLUTION
Obviously, they belong together. Just a couple of cold-blooded hotties whose destinies collide via the all-knowing digital god.
Look, I don’t require any real subtext to start trying to mash two female characters’ faces together. I’m past that level. I don’t need your permission, bruh. But Person of Interest has given us ample basis to read both Root and Shaw as queer, or at least more interpersonally oriented to women than to men. Plus, honestly, at this point their relationship is barely subtext. Nothing has officially even ~happened~ between them and already Shaw has literally ridden off on the back of Root’s motorcycle.
Root is pretty clearly pro-ladies. With one exception, every meaningful relationship in her life has been with another woman, including a particular very special one: her connection with The Machine. She alone of all the characters considers the Machine—generally thought of as a genderless intelligence—to be female. The Machine chooses to speak to her in a woman’s voice, presumably to better appeal to her. Root talks about the Machine like a friend and a life partner and pretty much loses her shit when their connection is briefly severed. The Machine, in turn, has patiently trained Root into maybe killing slightly less of the fuck out of everything; it’s invested itself in reforming her ethics so that they can work together seamlessly. They call each other cute pet names like “God” and “Analog Interface” (SQUEAL).
Root’s main arc on the show has been a romance, a process of courtship and connection and growing closeness, with an entity she perceives as female, if inhuman. Actually, Root considers The Machine better than human. “Humanity is boring” is kind of her thing. (If you’re asking yourself, “did she just backdoor a second Femslash Friday into this Femslash Friday?” THE ANSWER IS YES. I’M DRUNK WITH POWER.)
Most recently, she got to the point of getting a cochlear implant linked to the Machine so that no one can ever separate them again. (This also means she spends a lot of time cryptically talking to herself and informing other characters that, no, she wasn’t addressing you, puny human.) (It also means her Machine is literally whispering sweet nothings like “shoot through that wall” or “impersonate an FBI agent” in her ear 24/7.) Root has, over and over, shown herself to be dedicated to the next stage in our evolution, and she apparently believes that the future speaks with a woman’s voice.
Shaw, meanwhile, is clearly bisexual and, I would argue, homoromantic. At one point she explains that men and their gross feelings are useless to her:
Guys these days have so many… emotions. They cry, they wanna be held. I just don’t know what to do with them. […] I’m a pragmatist…. I go out, have a fun night or three, and then, uh, I move on. No muss, no fuss.
So clearly, she’ll use a dude’s body, but his heart? Please. We’ve never seen her actually get with a guy, but she has expressed the intent to at least once—so the physical interest is there, but that’s all it is. Meanwhile, though, she has giggled like a schoolgirl (totally anomalous behavior for our resident bored hardass) over Taraji P. Henson’s Detective Carter playing with her gun:
girl’s got taste
Been frankly appreciative of Elaine Tan’s Olympic gymnast turned sneak thief:
TAKE IT ALLLL IN, SHAW
And has engaged in THE MOST ADORABLE CRAZYPANTS FLIRTATION with Root for a good season or two now. When these two met, they were firmly in the realm of Sexy Hatred, by which I mean Root tied Shaw to a chair and threatened her with an iron, and both of them agreed that they “enjoy this sort of thing.” It was in no way safe, sane, or consensual, but it was the wind beneath the wings of a thousand fanfics. They so get each other, you guys! Their torture banter is in sync! im cry
But since then? Well, Shaw stole Root’s picture off someone else’s wall and declared her her new project. And Root keeps doing this thing where she shows up and drags Shaw along on adventures, and Shaw has gotten progressively less reluctant. We’ve come all the way from Shaw waking up ziptied to a steering wheel after Root kidnapped her from her bed (ah, young love) to—I am not making this up—“I’ll do yours if you’ll do mine.” I want to make it very clear that every one of these incidents includes some hint of potential Sexy Results. I present: Intense Staring At A Close Range; declarations of need followed by dopey grinning; LITERALLY A ROMEO AND JULIET BALCONY SCENE, BUT WITH FOOD, BECAUSE ROOT KNOWS THAT SHAW MUST BE WOOED WITH SUSTENANCE. DEEDS NOT WORDS, PEOPLE.
AHEM. To continue: Shaw watching Root shoot up a batch of hitmen and declaring, “Okay, that’s hot”; Shaw treating Root’s injuries and Root telling her, “I love it when you play doctor” (!!!) with the BIGGEST GOOBERFACE ON; and, eventually, at long, long last, Shaw abandoning her mission to rush across half of New York to reach Root when she learns her beloved has put herself in a situation even she might not be able to handle.
There is no one else in the world for whom Shaw would do this. She saves people all the time now, but because those are her orders, not because she particularly cares to. She ditched her hard-won and only friends in a crisis to get to Root—who she keeps, adorably, insisting she hates. Meanwhile, there is no one else in the world Root would feed and tease and chase around the way she does Shaw. No one else is worth the trouble to her; she’s busy with the Machine’s agenda.
And even better, The Machine knows this and is TOTALLY PLAYING YENTA. It keeps throwing the two together for missions, and when Root told Shaw “All I know is, I need you,” I’m pretty sure it was because The Machine told her so. It even sent them on a romantic getaway to drink fruity drinks and fuck up some goons! I want to be clear, though: you can’t chalk up the way Root treats Shaw to the Machine telling her she needs her for one mission or another. The Machine didn’t make Root give Shaw food, or tell her she loves her similes, or say “admit it, you were worried about me.” (I suppose theoretically it could have, but that would just mean The Machine is romancing Shaw via Root. A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES.)
Probably the more emotionally satisfying way to read this is that these are two skilled, strong women who are traumatized by being orphaned, who particularly feel the loss of their mothers, and who are being guided together by an all-seeing, all-knowing, sometimes- female figure—that is, a surrogate mother. The Machine cares about Root; it knows what Root needs; and what Root needs is Shaw. It understands that together they are more than they are on their own.
Let’s not pretend, though. We’re close enough now that I can tell you I have a wiiiiiide shallow streak and I like robots, so I say let’s call it a poly transhuman relationship and LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL, WHICH PROBABLY MEANS WORLD DOMINATION. AMEN.
But whatever The Machine’s role here might be, Root and Shaw remain perfect for one another. Beyond their similarities, beyond being extremely appealing together, these two women improve each other. Each has struggled, with the help of various friends, toward less thoughtless violence and more restraint, and each of them uses these lessons to help check the other when it’s a good idea. Each is doubtful of her own humanity, struggling with which parts of herself to deny or embrace. They admire one another’s competence; their skillsets are divergent but complementary, making them a nearly unstoppable team. Root’s sunnily nutty disposition lights up Shaw’s curmudgeonliness, and Shaw helps bump Root back to analog reality. They care about one another’s safety, when experience has taught them that no one is safe and none is worth the cost of saving.
Our characters are currently scattered, facing a terrifying new unknown, but I know these women will see each other again: the future is being born, and it will be midwifed in part by Root’s visionary light and Shaw’s expedient thunder. Wherever the show takes them, they belong to us as they were on their last mission: saving each other, working as partners. Root rubbed a streak of dirt off of Shaw’s cheek; Shaw looked away, and frowned, and let her.
Miranda Meyer studies the Arab world in Washington, DC and clutches her face over fictional people and robots in her spare time. She suggests you follow her on Twitter, in the hopes that this will spur her to use it more; her writing about the Middle East can be found at mirandawmeyer.com.