This article will contain spoilers for seasons 1-4—if you haven’t already started watching, all four seasons are available on Netflix. If you’d like a crash course, here’s one I made earlier…
How common is it to watch a television show and loathe the main character? How common is it to loathe a scene when two certain characters interact?
…How common is it to root for the entire cast, despite their flaws and unfavorable traits? Person of Interest is so special because I cannot think of a core character I actively dislike. I, unfortunately, didn’t include Detective Joss Carter (the illuminating Taraji P. Henson) or The Machine itself—but the premise is this: Person of Interest’s NYC is ruled by AIs, but never lose its grip on the importance of humanity—in its beautiful and ugly forms. It’s why Carter’s death made me cry so much that I went through an entire tissue box (I’m serious). It’s why when Shaw sacrificed herself, I could feel the shards of agony lodged deep in my chest as Root clawed at the elevator doors, her screams of horror silent and helpless.
They’re all immensely watchable, whereas, in every other series I’ve seen, I confess there’ve been lead turds I want to throttle. In Person of Interest, not only are they individually interesting, superbly built-up with flashbacks and detailed back-story; their relationships are an absolute joy to watch too. For a fast-paced, belter of a series, it’s easy to lose track of character relationships and arcs, and it’s easy to rush them because of a speedy plot. But Jonah Nolan and Greg Plageman haven’t been idle in writing these characters: they love them with all their heart and you can tell.
Incredibly, no character’s loss is skimped over either; individual pain isn’t brushed aside. When Carter meets her demise, they honor her memory as often as they can: Carter was their moral center and pillar of justice. Her memory saves Reese from himself in ‘Terra Incognita’. When Shaw is believed to be dead or captured, Reese and Root spend episodes determinedly hunting her down. No loss is without its profound, emotive consequences. This show doesn’t just kill a character and lazily forget about them. They don’t just create two-episode arcs for recurring or guest stars Elias, Greer, Lambert, Martine, Dominic, and Control. They don’t just have a meaningless POI Caleb Phipps in season two who ends up saving their lives in the finale. Nolan and Plageman should perhaps teach a masterclass on how to plot.
With each core character bringing a different trait, it spreads and reaches to every corner of the audience. There’s something for everyone. So without further ado, I’d like to present these relationships and briefly explore why they’re so appealing, complex and heart-rending.
REESE & FINCH
Reese and Finch are the core and the start of the entire show. They’re polar opposites: Finch is a recluse, and Reese is a kneecapping, coolly calm badass. The fact is: Finch saved Reese’s life in giving him this job, and Reese gratefully acknowledges that. As a homeless man in the Pilot, he had no purpose and was drinking away his days, but Reese—who inherently wants to save lives and be so much more—was wasting away, and Finch picked him up at his darkest hour.
Finch, ever the pacifist, doesn’t quite appreciate Reese’s in-depth description of gauging someone’s eye out in self-defence.
As the seasons develop and Reese and Finch grow closer (Sencha tea, Reese) it becomes obvious that the duo greatly care for the other. Finch risks everything in driving to save Reese from the FBI. From the very beginning, Finch and Reese note that they’ll likely die on this job—but they’ve accepted that. To society, they’re dead anyway. But their touching faith in each other, their easy banter and their understanding evolves as the seasons move forward. This show could’ve easily been about two white, privileged men with tragic pasts saving the world on a weekly basis but it’s not—it’s so much more than that. What’s most touching for me is that whilst Reese recognizes that Finch saved his life by giving him purpose, Reese’s steadfast loyalty has done the same vice-versa. Reese’s friendship, protection and genuine care for Finch has saved Finch, too. For all that’ll happen throughout season five, I’ll never doubt the undying faith Reese and Finch have in each other. One must ponder where these two will end up once Person of Interest truly ends—and if it’s six feet under—you know what? At least, they were each other’s salvation.
ROOT & SHAW
You probably wouldn’t expect Root and Shaw to develop any sort of camaraderie let alone romance after kidnapping, tasing, sedating, handcuffing, nearly torturing her with an iron—but Root and Shaw have forged something special and unique. Romance has never been at the center of this show, though as ‘Shoot’ is an internet sensation, I hope to expand on them next time. Shaw seems to be made to deal with Root’s shenanigans, and Root enjoys pushing Shaw’s buttons so much it’s brilliant. It’s bloomed from obvious flirtation to real affection, without either of them noticing—until the dark season four and losses are prone.
Shaw notes on their date (it’s totally a date): “It’s not every day you get to beat up a militia group in Anchorage then hop a plane to Miami.”
What’s refreshing is that they are so normalized. The entire gang know something’s going on, yet they don’t joke or leer at them for it. The show never loudly, obnoxiously pats itself on the back for great representation. Root and Shaw are just there, like any other romance. It’s so great to see that women can allude to obviously wild sex; that they can flirt openly with each other; that they can build this epic romance and their team don’t bat an eye—not because they don’t care for Root and Shaw, but because romance is human, and romance is normal. Next season, when Shaw inevitably returns to Team Machine, it’ll be interesting to see their dynamic going forwards. Amy Acker pulled the performance of the year as a heartbroken Root: but just how far has their dynamic teetered? It’s a dangerous line to walk; when Root loves someone—she will give everything—and as Jim Caviezel hinted at San Diego Comic Con 2015, not all of Team Machine will trust Shaw, whilst Root’s very firmly in Shaw’s camp. With rebuilding The Machine still to-do and this rift driving them apart, it prophesizes frightening cracks in the steady foundation of Team Machine.
ROOT & FINCH
Root and Finch are technical geniuses, initiating with a hugely antagonistic relationship and, er, kidnapping (Root does this a lot, cor blimey…). They possess vastly different ideologies: Finch’s aware he’s built an AI that he keeps a distance from, ‘broken’ it to teach it human morality—whereas Root believes The Machine is a deity that should never have been broken, that should be freed and elevate the world beyond humanity, which to her, is just “bad code”.
But when Root’s identified by The Machine as Her analog interface, the game changes. Root can now communicate directly with The Machine and she escapes the mental hospital Finch had confined her to. Yet Finch subsequently imprisons her in a Faraday cage, unable to trust her. It leads to many conversations between the pair, about their clashing ideas in regards to The Machine, but as their relationship develops, Finch truly sees her as a key member of the Team Machine family. By ‘Prophets’, he confesses: “You’re a brilliant woman, comrade, and a friend.” It’s not just respect for her technological ability anymore—Root’s saved their lives multiple times, and whilst her ideology may not have changed, she cares greatly for the team. In the same episode, as Root and Finch hack into systems side-by-side, she notes, so softly, so emotionally—that “This is nice.”
Root and Finch working together on what they do best—hacking into systems!
It’s a simple sentence, but Amy Acker loads it with so much emotion. Finch notes that she must be lonely—and she doesn’t deny that the world is dark for her—but the way Acker delivers that gorgeously simple line is everything. They’ve gone from antagonism, distrust, hesitancy, pained civility to genuine friendship—to a point in ‘Asylum’ and ‘YHWH’ in which Root would risk her life for Finch. In ‘Skip’ she begs Finch not to die—because she can’t lose him and Shaw too. What will be most interesting, perhaps, is when the two most technologically capable people rebuild The Machine, and how potentially different The Machine could be when it’s influenced by Root and Finch, not Finch and Ingram. There’s sure to be ideological and moral clashes, and I cannot wait.
REESE & SHAW
The Mayhem Twins didn’t get off to a great start in ‘Relevance’ where Shaw shoots Reese in the chest not once, but twice. But since joining the team, they’ve come to mutually respect their fighting prowess and deadpan humor. It’s particularly entertaining when the pair take obvious glee in winding Finch up, and as much as I love the Reese and Finch friendship, I think the addition of Root and Shaw have been key in expanding Team Machine. Finch has someone to talk computers about (could you imagine if Finch waffled on about BSOD’s to Reese?) and Reese now has an equally competent, kickass, gun-toting partner in Shaw.
Betty Harris—oh, Betty Harris. Reese offers a meek “maybe Finch made a clerical error?”
Adorably, they’re honestly like siblings. When Reese gets in trouble with his Captain at his new detective job, Shaw sniggers at him in glee; when Reese and Shaw have to ‘fake-date’ in ‘Lady Killer’, Shaw stubbornly refuses to let Reese row the boat. When Reese is shot in the shoulder and his “ouch” comes across on the communications, Shaw calls him a “baby”. In ‘Razgovor’, Reese snickers when Shaw gets made…by a ten-year-old. When they uncover a yellow Ferrari awaiting them in order to speedily get through NYC, Shaw throws Reese her rifle to make him feel “less inadequate while I drive this thing.” And he complies. Their non-stop bickering is hilarious—but more than that, they deeply care for each other, and Reese—the bigger, bulkier, stronger of the two—never disregards Shaw’s competence in combat as inferior to his own. He truly respects and admires her.
When Shaw is shot in the leg, Reese is the first to run back and support her as they make their escape. When Shaw’s captured by Samaritan, Reese stands loyally by Root’s side in believing that she’s alive—and they wreak havoc on NYC trying to find her. But what I find most endearing and special about Reese and Shaw’s relationship is that it’s never sexualized. The first time Finch and Reese see Shaw wearing a dress, they both stare in awe but Shaw quickly turns this around with a mildly erotic joke about the boys, and that’s that. Shaw’s undeniably attractive, but for good-looking male and female leads, it’s understandable heteronormativity in a fanbase can be overwhelming and lead viewers to ‘ship’ them’—but in Person of Interest it just doesn’t happen. Not once is the notion of a romance brought up, and it’s refreshing to see that shunted out of the way and have two badass characters, male and female, maintain one of the greatest platonic relationships played out on television.
Reese once says to Shaw: “A friend once told me, in our line of work, we walk in the dark. Doesn’t mean we have to walk in it alone.” And as Shaw integrates herself fully within the team, that message becomes blatantly clear.
REESE & FUSCO
Reese and Fusco go all the way back to season one when the notorious Man in the Suit recruited dirty cop Lionel Fusco to be his eyes and ears in the precinct. Though they start off with Reese relentlessly teasing Fusco, there’s a kind of love-hate relationship going on there. As time passes, they really begin to bond and connect, with Reese even acknowledging—in a hostage situation—that Fusco is his friend.
Detective ‘Riley’ and Detective Fusco don’t often see eye-to-eye…
This is exactly what I mean about the sheer effort and lack of laziness in Nolan and Plageman’s writing. Reese and Fusco’s relationship develops organically. When Fusco is uncovered by HR and sent to his death in the forest, it’s Reese who comes and saves his life. After Carter’s death, it’s Fusco who pulls Reese back into action, even undergoing a punch-up with the superior Reese as a way of getting his friend’s anger out at him. It’s Fusco who joins Finch, Shaw, and Root in saving a dying Reese’s life in his tunnel-vision hatred towards Alonzo Quinn as he pushes for vengeance for Carter’s demise. It’s Reese and Fusco who undergo the Brotherhood’s torture with Elias when things spiral out of hand at the climax of season four. These two might have started off as a funny comedy duo—and they still often are—but together they’ve developed something complex, and something infinitely more impactful.
FUSCO & SHAW
Fusco and Shaw will always have that back-and-forth banter throughout the seasons. One of my highlights was when Shaw was unfortunately put on a stakeout beside Fusco, who literally snores like a pig. Sameen Shaw does not have time for that. Yet Shaw does something in ‘The Crossing’ that Fusco will likely never forget: she saves the life of his son. It’s a decision Shaw has to make, off-screen, very quickly. She knows sacrificing Fusco will be hard for the team, but she knows it’ll be harder for Fusco if she doesn’t save his son’s life. Shaw may be a self-diagnosed ‘sociopath’, but in so many characterizations of Shaw, it’s frustrating to hear the word ‘robot’ used (you too, Gen). Shaw’s anything but that. She recognizes other people’s feelings and she cares. She knows Fusco would have preferred this decision and the good soldier she is—she goes with her gut instinct in a scene that had Fusco sobbing in gratitude.
Shaw takes far too much glee in hearing their POI condemn Fusco’s attire and “sad tie”.
Fusco isn’t as worldly as any of the team members—he knows that—but he’s still accepting, open and friendly to all cultures even if he cannot visit all these exotic places. In one of the more poignant moments, Fusco unexpectedly wishes Shaw a “Happy Persian New Year” in ‘Allegiance’—an episode all about racial profiling and ignorance—and the subtlety on Shahi’s face as she plays Shaw’s reaction out is spot-on. She’s touched, and from Fusco of all people—very surprised. These two may quarrel and tease but these moments will never be forgotten.
REESE & ROOT
Reese and Root might have gotten off to a slightly rough start, what with Root kidnapping Finch in order to find The Machine and gain twenty-four hour access, and as Root integrates herself within the team we don’t see much Reese and Root interaction. She often shamelessly fails to call him by his name (australopithecine, big lug, knuckle-dragging friend, lurch…). Their relationship, however, distant it may be is always encased with trust: when Root orders him or Shaw to do something via the mesh network, they do it—because they know she’s The Machine’s voice.
Reese feels Shaw’s loss acutely as any of the team—but as he witnesses Root’s facade breaking down in the car, he doesn’t comment—only lets her mourn quietly, respectfully.
Their personal relationship doesn’t blossom until ‘If-Then-Else’ in which Reese and Root, joined in their unwavering loyalty in Shaw and refusal to accept her death, sends NYC into absolute havoc in trying to find her. They journey together to Maple, a town upstate, in order to locate Shaw—and it’s this journey that solidifies their bond, with a beautiful and moving soundtrack to capture the tender, rawness of the moment. Reese quietly accepts that Root’s still mourning, and he doesn’t make a comment as her emotions get the better of her. He supports her, and he holds her back in the snow when she tries to kill Martine out of vengeance (though they both later note he should’ve probably just let her kill Martine). Reese has a tendency to be a rock for everyone else, only rarely consumed by his own pain (like he was after Carter’s death, and Fusco was the one to reign him in) but as Shaw says to Reese, there’s no ‘dead in team,’ and there’s no I either. Without Shaw, Reese and Root have drawn undeniably closer, and I find it fascinating how whilst each character has their own relationship with the other, these dynamics overlap in the way the characters treat each other, too. I think I can say for these two: they’ve got each other’s backs.
FINCH & SHAW
On Shaw’s first mission, she shoots the hell out of half a dozen people in 0.02 seconds, despite Finch’s plea to do it with a little…finesse. In ‘Razgovor’, Shaw disregards all of Finch’s orders in order to save Gen’s life. When they’re about to break into Arthur Claypool’s safety box at the bank, Shaw’s tasked with their escape route once they retrieve the hard-drives—and Finch pleads with her to consider Reese’s more ‘scalpel-like’ approach. Shaw rather gleefully declares that it’s “hammer time”. In fact, the entire episode ‘Aletheia’ is a goldmine for Shaw teasing Finch—about how she’s got “finesse coming out my ass” and in response to Finch’s urge to consider what Reese would do, she simply quips, “Brood?”
Finch [on the phone]: “Are you eating something near my computer?”/Shaw [with an entire chocolate bar in her mouth, mutely shaking her head]: “…Maybe.”
Everyone has their moments of teasing and mockery, but everyone genuinely cares about each other—because they’re a dysfunctional, underground family quietly, thanklessly, saving lives. It’s Finch who keeps Shaw company when she’s effectively imprisoned in the subway to keep her safe from Samaritan’s dangerous, prying eyes—and it’s Finch who reassures her that “Root is not alone”, implying that he knows. Just like he’d told Root in ‘Prophets’. And Shaw’s expression, the way she stills in her movements…she can’t deny it, either. Finch is the first to let go hope of Shaw being alive post-‘If-Then-Else’, but it’s not because he doesn’t have faith in her—it’s because to hold out hope is painful.
ROOT & FUSCO
Coco-puffs, banana nut crunch, cuckoo’s nest, super-powered-nutball and Nutella have all been pet names coined by Fusco to address Root in their quirky, off-beat, mostly hilarious relationship. There’s no denying that there’s respect: it’s mainly played off-screen, but the scrapes and fed-up nonsense he lets Root (often accompanied by Shaw) get away with is brilliant. He does so without too much complaint, but will relish any opportunity he can to whip out a wisecrack.
You know your life’s a simulation when…
Fusco, along with Shaw and Finch, utterly have Root’s back in ‘The Devil’s Share’ as they go to quell Reese’s rampage. As much as Fusco enjoys his distinctive pet-names (my favorite is “Maybelline”, for Shaw) Root relishes making Fusco’s life hell too—especially with her ridiculous FBI alias Augusta King, proudly flashing her badge (I’m pretty sure you’re holding it the wrong way up, Root) and Fusco sums it up pretty well: “gimme a break.” But as close as Fusco is to Shaw, he understands whatever’s happening between her and Root, there’s something—and it’s Fusco Root falls back into, in ‘If-Then-Else’ in the tragic elevator scene as Shaw shoves her back after kissing her; he holds onto her as she claws at the elevators doors slamming shut, screaming her pain and agony into a helpless abyss.
Okay, hands up, I cheated. Bear isn’t human. Bear’s a Belgian Malinois—a dog—adopted by Reese. But the thing about Bear is that he’s not just there for the cuteness factor. Bear helps with several of the plots, as a useful attack dog and as a bit of comedy relief. To say Bear has a relationship with every single character is true—literally everyone adores him.
Bear isn’t just there to be cute. The entire team loves him and, a Dutch attack dog, he’s contributed to several missions.
Many times Bear’s accompanied them on missions—most notably when pretended to be sick in order to save the life of Reese and Finch’s POI—the vet (‘Reasonable Doubt’); when Carter uses Bear’s assistance in locating Detective Stills’ body and moving it (‘In Extremis’); and when Root uses Bear’s enhanced sniffing to find out Greer’s location (‘Allegiance’). He’s valuable, he can swim, he inappropriately licks donuts that Reese then eats, he’s adorable and can terrify a grown man—when I say Person of Interest leaves no stone unturned, I mean it. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as affected by an animal as I was with Hedwig in Harry Potter (…don’t judge). Bear is universally loved by all members of the team, especially Shaw who claims she’s “only in it for the dog”.
Now if I tried to cover, in-depth, every single relationship on the show with every past and current character and recurring ones, I’d write a book. But I hope these examples showcases why all these relationships are important. Yes, they have their funny moments—but heartfelt ones too. Every single member of this team cares about the other; every person of interest matters; every life, guest or recurring character matters. And that’s what is so inherently important in Person of Interest—the person. They’re human. They live in a city doomed by two warring ASI’s, but among all of that, through all the hardships and losses they endure, Team Machine piece each other back together. They’re family, and no loss is ever skimmed over. The guys never act as if the ladies are inferior in their fighting prowess, as if they can’t handle themselves. They respect them for their skills. The show may be sci-fi, and it may revolve around the AI plot—but it’s the humanity of these intricate dynamics that prevail, and touch us so profoundly.
Thank you, as ever, for reading! If you have anything to add, feel free to hit the comments section below or tweet me @NicolaChoi. Thank you, folks: until the next time!