In the light of recent LGBTQ TV scandals, I felt cautiously inappropriate in hindsight submitting this Root and Shaw article. Then I thought: no, I shouldn’t feel guilty for investing in and enjoying a genuinely enthralling same-sex couple relationship on a show where the producers are devoid of baiting and exploitation. For fans of the show who don’t enjoy the Root/Shaw pairing—despite my best efforts to make this an exploration of their relationship and how it slots in culturally, rather than an article of ‘squeeing’—then I’d strongly advise you to read no further for the sake of peace and lack of unnecessary inflammatory comments in this otherwise unified fandom. I like to think that’s what sets the Person of Interest fandom apart.
I don’t know when the time is right to publish an article like this because I know LGBTQ fans are still hurting—and that understandably may never stop. I still miss Lexa. But I don’t think that should hinder fans of Root and Shaw, or indeed Person of Interest—and actually, if this article makes you want to check out a really decent, tightly-plotted and excellently handled show then by all means do so. If the thought of another LGBTQ pairing is still frightening and you don’t want anything to do with it—equally, you are entitled to that opinion, absolutely. I utterly respect both stances. But in terms of the article, I’d like to analyze the only romance that exploded with critical acclaim—hence why I will only explore this dynamic (as stated in my previous article, if I explored every dynamic in-depth, I would be writing for years—and I do have a real life to juggle).
Romance isn’t core to Person of Interest, a show dominated by two warring AIs, but where humanity (and consequentially romance) is key in fighting back, Root and Shaw are not the only romance to have existed, and thus the plot never revolves around them. Just like Reese and Carter; Finch and Grace; Reese and Iris. They often endure struggles without each other, but Root and Shaw’s unique charm threads them inevitably together. Superbly, independently developed characters already, they only need moments—not fifty hours of screen-time—to set the screen alight. The duo’s evolution from antagonism to mocking to flirting to caring and loving has been beautiful to watch bloom on-screen—and gorgeously, heart-wrenchingly played by Acker and Shahi. It’s not to say their romance dominates—every single dynamic on the show is hugely important, be they platonic or not.
During their first encounter (bear with me), Root tasers Shaw, zipties her to a chair and wields a steaming-hot iron ready to torture some information out of her. Somehow, Acker and Shahi’s chemistry literally sizzles with blazing sexual tension. Root is a “big fan” of Shaw’s, and Shaw, awaiting her imminent torture, dares to tease Root: “I kinda like this sorta thing.”
It’s a setup for some unexpectedly hilarious moments between them thereafter. When Root’s freed, the Machine tells her she needs Shaw for a mission—so in typical Root fashion, she watches Shaw sleep, tasers her, sedates her and basically kidnaps her until Shaw groggily awakes at the steering wheel of a car and says hazily, to Root’s uproariously ridiculous apology, “Which part? The tasing, the drugging, or whatever this is?” Acker and Shahi not only exude sexual chemistry and tension whenever they’re on-screen: they’re comedy gold together.
Jonah Nolan and Greg Plageman hit the jackpot with them—so they took their chances. How many times have we had amazing chemistry between two females only for showrunners to turn them into best-buddies and then tease at fans about their obvious UST? But they don’t differentiate Root and Shaw’s budding romance from anybody else’s; they don’t loudly and pretentiously pat themselves on the back in congratulations as if to say: “Yay! We’re totally representing the LGBTQ community!” They write Root and Shaw because they honestly love them. They completely normalize it and it’s so wonderful to see two kickass, independent women in their own right also as part of an explosive, dynamic and fun ship, whilst still keeping the core relationships intact and central to the show.
Alright, buckle up australopithecines, this might get long. Well. It is long.
REPRESENTATION—AND WHY THIS MATTERS
Root and Shaw’s sex lives are heavily alluded to—notably in ‘Honor Among Thieves’ in which Root interrupts Shaw’s meeting with Tomas by waffling about a certain ten hours in a CIA blacksite. At the end, Shaw approaches Root and confesses she rejected Tomas’ offer of Barcelona because she cares about people here. It’s brushed off, in characteristic Shaw fashion, but Shaw goes on to claim that she—a medic—can’t interpret Finch’s viral decontamination instructions. The all-knowing smirk they share when Root suggestively says “this’ll take all night…” says it all. It’s gloriously beyond subtext, and it has been for a long time. It’s never mocked, or turned into a joke: they talk about it openly, Root flirts blatantly. Shaw delivers a desperate kiss to Root in ‘If-Then-Else’ in front of everyone. It’s normal. It’s fine. Why shouldn’t it be?
When Shaw’s almost killed by Martine, Root, upset by Shaw’s blasé attitude to the near-miss, shakily tells Shaw that while she mightn’t be scared, “other people are—people who care about you.” It’s clear Root’s alluding to herself. I could rave about their stunning chemistry together, but astoundingly, they ooze chemistry even without the other in the scene too. When Root goes to meet Samaritan’s interface, Shaw immediately packs her weapons in a bag, determined to back her up—because she will not let Root die, alone. When Shaw sacrifices herself at the Stock Exchange, Root claws desperately at the cage as the elevator doors slam shut, screaming in hapless terror. It’s refreshing, to see an epic love story played by two women to this scale of rawness; idyllic highs and tragic, heartbreaking lows.
Furthermore, Shaw has an Axis II Personality Disorder, and Root’s aware. Samaritan labels her a sociopath; Shaw describes it as “when I kill you and your friends, I won’t feel a thing”. It’s quite easy to generalize this. Sociopaths are grossly misrepresented in media: how often have we seen that they’re insane, crazy, murdering nutjobs? Shaw’s human—not a label. She adores Bear; she makes terrible jokes; she has fond memories of where her mom and dad first met…and she cares so much. It’s aptly summed up by Root in ‘Control-Alt-Delete’: “…Technically she’s a sociopath: incapable of caring for others. But the thing about Shaw is, she does care. Enough to save my life.”
Root, on the other hand, after enduring endless cycles of amphetamine and barbiturate torture, then suffers a stapedectomy without anesthesia. Yet still she manages to break free from her captivity—and not once does she trudge through her hearing impairment with a ‘woe is me’ attitude. She breezes through bravely, installing a Cochlear implant so she can have direct communication with The Machine—but she’s still half-deaf, something Shaw takes advantage of in ‘Honor Among Thieves’ when she playfully sneaks up on her deaf side. But neither Shaw’s disorder nor Root’s partial deafness is mocked or stigmatized on Person of Interest; they don’t spend episodes mourning over their ‘incapability’—because any disability does not equal inability.
I’d like to save my last point for this beautiful quote that came to me anonymously:
This is why Sameen (her name is a part of her culture also) is a very important character. There aren’t many characters (actually at all) on tv at the moment that are Persian, bisexual, described as a sociopath & isn’t a terrorist. Add to the fact that she’s just as strong as any man & the show makes that very clear. I will always love the writers for the way that they wrote her because it’s just very important to have strong WOC on tv that aren’t degraded because of their race etc (especially important to me because I’m a WOC myself.) Also I love that Shoot are interracial & f/f. This makes them ten times more special & needed.
Shaw’s Persian heritage isn’t fussed about on Person of Interest. She’s proud of it, and yes, isn’t it refreshing to see a woman of color who isn’t a terrorist but rather somewhat of a hero? It’s never mentioned between Root and Shaw, nor among the team. But for those who identify with Shaw for her race and the show’s embracement of it, it’s heart-warming because racial stereotyping is still prevalent, especially in crime dramas—and Shaw, as a bisexual, gun-toting, badass, neuroatypical, Persian hero—is surely going to be an inspiration, if not already, for many young women, globally.
To collate those aspects together: this will be a phrase used many a time, but representation matters. Viewers can look up to Root and Shaw and see that they can be badass and LGBTQ; they can watch for an entertaining hour of escapism from a harsh world of discrimination and stigmatization they may endure; they can relate to the relationship, and who are we to have the audacity, the pretentiousness, to take that away from LGBTQ viewers?
CHEMISTRY: A MASTERCLASS BY AMY ACKER & SARAH SHAHI
Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi are impeccable. Acker as the villain-turned-hero and Shahi as the paradox of Sameen Shaw: an emotionally blunted ex-soldier with an enormous capacity to care. Alone, they are spectacular. Together, they combust. Their flirtation is a joyous, frantic push-pull of Root’s playful come-ons and Shaw’s exasperation—but she never tells Root to stop. Root doesn’t push because she’s a harassing plebeian who can’t take no for an answer; she pushes because Shaw lets her, despite her incessant eyerolling. The very instant Root appears somber, in ‘Prophets’, Shaw immediately questions the lack of innuendo and even calls her ‘Eeyore’. According to The Machine, their conversations often go a little like this:
Root: [Root calls Shaw] 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.
Root: Playfully witty sign-off!
Whether they’re firing their pistols at the enemy together, or conversing practically into each other’s mouths, or Shaw’s getting pressed against a box of items in a moving truck a little too closely, and, like, seven hours too long, Root—their crackling chemistry is undeniable. Even apart, the care they’ve developed for the other is apparent. After ‘Prophets’, Shaw asks of Root’s whereabouts and safety—only for Finch to imply that she could have died in the shootout. The look of muted horror on Shaw’s face says it all.
THE UNIVERSALLY LOVED ‘SHOOT’
It’s rare to see a same-sex couple on TV that isn’t just to tease its LGBTQ viewers. Critics have widely acclaimed the Root/Shaw development, for its organic roots and centrality to the plot in a way that doesn’t diminish the importance of the main cast. The show has magically balanced this arc whilst still maintaining Finch as our ethically challenged computer genius, Reese as his kickass right-hand man and Fusco as the broadly-changed, honorable cop. Jonah Nolan, Greg Plageman and Denise Thé completely support ‘Shoot’. And they mean it, genuinely—there’s no messing around. They don’t self-congratulate, but they are aware of the importance of this ship.
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Nolan says about the kiss: “[We focused on] making the moment feel genuine and earned, where one character’s clearly been pursuing the other a bit more strongly in terms of the reciprocation of that moment, how it would feel real and raw and satisfying.” Nolan also confesses to Entertainment Weekly: “We’ve been invested in that relationship from the beginning.”
Plageman elaborates more on that here: “I think the thing that struck me the most in terms of the two of them the first time they were on camera, the moment they were on the screen and she pulls out the iron, and I went ‘Something that is supposed to be sadistic has somehow become seductive. There’s something here that we’re missing on the show.’ And we just went with it.” How refreshing is it, to have two females emanate such irrefutable chemistry to the point where the producers jump ardently to creating something seductive and now romantic, rather than pair them up as simply best friends, or indeed ‘gal pals’? To continue passionately whilst weaving the relationship into the plot, instead of simply using the LGBTQ relationship for publicity or as a stepping stone for some other character’s arc?In terms of the actresses, they can perhaps be described as goldmines for Root/Shaw shippers. Sarah Shahi is brilliantly candid in interviews and comic-cons. About Root and Shaw’s blossoming relationship, she says: “At the end of the day, her heart belongs to Root—and that way it will stay.” After her exit, Shahi noted: “I know what the fans want; I think it’s important to give the fans what they want because I feel like they’ve been down that Root and Shaw journey for so long.” It’s brief but earnest—the LGBTQ community have been disappointed so many times that the phrase ‘Lesbian PTSD’ sadly still exists. She’s perhaps most hilarious at the comic-cons, in which she took great glee in claiming at New York Comic Con 2013: “The only romance on this show is between Root and Shaw.” and declared in an AfterEllen interview that “Root and Shaw should have little Samaritan babies and they’ll just take over the universe.” (Is there fanfiction out there for this…?)
They both seem to have such respect for the other, with Shahi declaring:”I love working with Amy. She and I are very similar. And when you are part of a boys’ club, it’s nice to have some females” which is backed up in the same interview by Acker, who—oh, Amy Acker, bless you… “I have loved Sarah since I first tortured her with the iron.”
And finally, the exchange from the AfterEllen interview regarding season five that killed every Root/Shaw shipper off:
Amy: “It’s their first time it’s true love—”
Sarah: “Yeah, I think their hearts are in it—it’s more than just—a fling—”
Amy: It’s more than just a…it’s not a fling. It’s something that feels like that [Root] really needs [Shaw] to live…to be.”
A FOUR ALARM FIRE IN AN OIL REFINERY
I won’t go down the BDSM route for the sake of keeping this under fifty-thousand words, but the deliciously naughty banter is dazzling to watch and it’s a small part of what makes them dynamic, individual and fun. As Root merrily puts it, she doesn’t like the thought of anyone hurting Shaw… “Except me”.
One of the most remarkable moments for me came in ‘Deus Ex Machina’. Root, alone, searches for and finds Samaritan’s base in order to plant seven key servers in the very heart of Samaritan that’ll enable them to hide in plain sight.
We know Root’s unafraid to die a martyr—alone. She calls Shaw, directing them towards saving Finch—but Shaw knows Root and she knows she’s going to get herself killed. It stops her in her tracks, even as they’re pushed for time. Reese once told Shaw: “In our line of work, we walk in the dark. Doesn’t mean we have to walk in it alone.” And Shaw absolutely, will not let Root do this alone. Fun, kinks and flirtation aside—these two care about each other, and Shaw lets Reese and Hersh find Control and Finch whilst she cycles across New York City(!), crawls under the fence(!!) and knocks a man out about to pull a gun on Root, saving her life. This isn’t baiting, or subtext, or fun flirtation to lure viewers in. This is real.
They punch and tase and handcuff and smirk and plough through innuendos…and they care. They look out for each other. But tragically, as Root has proven time and time again she is willing to die a martyr—at the Stock Exchange, it seemed to be Shaw’s fate, not hers. And for Root, it should’ve been hers and never Shaw’s. Never Sameen Shaw. But in Shaw’s words: “If you wanna die, okay. But die for something that you love.”
ROOT’S UNDYING FAITH IN SHAW
Amy Acker’s performance as Root post-‘If-Then-Else’ was undoubtedly one of the best and widely-praised performances on television. Reese and Root wreak havoc across New York City, determined Shaw’s still alive. She’s unhinged yet hauntingly heartbroken as she pleads with The Machine to give Shaw’s location—only to be told to ‘STOP’.
On television, where men are regularly shown fighting their pain of loss, Person of Interest—’groundbreakingly’, and of course, I’m kidding here—allows a woman to grieve (it can’t be that hard to show, can it?). Root struggles with her loss, simmers with uncontrollable rage, clamors for vengeance, cold cruelty and ruthlessness—but it’s all a facade for the shattered heart that lies beneath. It’s scary sometimes, the lengths she’ll go to in order to find Shaw. Even when she knows Finch believes her to be dead, even when all their leads in Maple arrived at dead ends, devastation and despair, Root never loses faith in Shaw. Perhaps one of the most apt quotes regarding Root’s faith in Shaw is this:
Reese: You really are sure she’s alive.
Root: You know about Schrödinger’s Cat? There’s a cat trapped in a box with something lethal. There’s a 50% chance the cat’s been killed, but until you open the box, there’s no way to know one way or the other. Quantum physics says before you open the box, the cat isn’t dead or alive. It’s both.
Reese: What about after you open the box?
Root: Reality collapses back onto itself. Cat’s either alive, or it’s dead.
Reese: Well, we’re gonna see reality soon. But you don’t bet against Shaw.
Root: No. Nothing kills that cat.
Most phenomenally in ‘Asylum’, Root runs—no, sprints—straight into Samaritan’s trap even though she knows it’s one, in order to find Shaw. The horror and anguish that adorns Amy Acker’s face when she spots Shaw’s bullet-ridden coat is so painful it’s near unbearable to watch, but let this be said: do not take Sameen Shaw’s life away from Root (you’ll get your neck snapped!), because if Root could burn the world down to find Sameen Shaw again, she’d do it.
In the brilliant, mind-bending, best hour of television I’ve ever seen, ‘If-Then-Else’, written ingeniously by Denise Thé, one of the simulations involves Root calling Shaw. In the back of a police car, Shaw notes it’s not the right time for a conversation—lest a heartfelt one—but Root needs to know if they ever have a chance, which leads to this:
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.
Root: You’re saying maybe someday?
Shaw: Yeah, sure, Root. Maybe someday. Is that good enough for you?
Root: Yes, Sameen. That’s good enough for me.
Root knows of Shaw’s disorder; she knows Shaw can’t offer her full affection like in a traditional relationship—but she doesn’t care. When has ‘traditional’ ever been in the ‘Shoot’ dictionary? She just wants Shaw. Sameen Shaw is enough—and what’s most tragic about this simulation is that as the shot pans out, we realize Root’s about to get gunned down by a hoard of Samaritan agents. She’s calling Shaw one last time—not to say goodbye, but to be reassured that there is a “maybe someday” for them.
But what about season five? Sarah Shahi assures us that for Root and Shaw, it’s “absolutely going to be a romantic return“ and that there’ll be a Shaw-centric episode to find out what happened to her during her time in Samaritan’s captivity. Amy Acker has utter faith in Shaw: “I’m definitely on the side that Shaw can do no wrong, and even if something had happened, I think Root feels like their relationship is strong enough that she has the power to turn her back. It’s going to be an interesting struggle.” Plageman said: “I think Shaw has come around to realize maybe this is the person for her in the world.”
There’re lots of questions left to unravel: how does Shaw return? Is Root right to place utmost trust in Shaw? Will ever get our “maybe someday”? Did Samaritan ever use the neural implants Root and Reese found in Maple? How will they rebuild The Machine, and will it be a very different one? As for Root and Shaw—I hope their fun dynamic remains, and I hope they continue to flirt and tease—but I also hope there’re some sincerely beautiful scenes between them, and I really think there will be.
Root’s journey after losing Shaw was heartbreaking. By now, she knows how much she loves Shaw—so upon her return, there could be a huge shift in dynamic. With the way Acker and Shahi have so excellently portrayed their characters, I’ve never been more excited to see how this one pans out. Whatever happens, I have utter faith in these writers and producers to go out with a bang and a serious mic drop—I think I have about as much faith in them as Root has in Shaw. However, I may stay clear of Amy Acker’s adorable ideal ending of Root having a happy family with the Machine, Shaw, Bear and Shaw’s twins (Amy Acker, what world are you on?!)—but you never know, huh?
THE ‘SHOOT’ FANDOM
I don’t think I could say a good word about the show without bringing the talented fanbase in. I’ve always stated on any platform available that I’ve never been so warmly welcomed and encouraged by a fanbase other than Person of Interest; to be so included and shown such kindness. I was genuinely taken aback by it—and even when I jokingly started calling the fanbase #POIFam on Twitter, I have seen an influx of tweets that all allude to the fanbase being a tight-knit family, and this is not exclusive to the Root and Shaw fanbase.
There are a huge number of fan-videos on YouTube, all immensely talented and again, they must have taken absolutely ages to do. The editing I’ve seen on those videos has been nothing short of magical.
The detailed discussion and speculation of the show has always been interesting to read—well-researched and cleverly thought-out. And lastly: the fanfiction. I cannot reel off a list of quality fanfiction I’ve read for the duo, but as someone who aspires to write as eloquently and as beautifully as you writers do, even if it will not be my day job in the future—absolute kudos to you, because to plan a story and execute it so brilliantly is nothing short of fantastic, inspiring and real entertainment through a hellishly long hiatus. This is what I mean about the fandom banding together: it’s not just the kind and heartfelt messages I received on Twitter. That impacted and moved me massively. But in searching through Tumblr and various other sites I’ve learned that such talented fanartists and writers have been sharing their work for a very long time, and that has to be celebrated. And that’s, I guess, why I wanted to save my last point for you—because as talented, funny, witty, kind, generous fans of the show—you are making the change and you are inspiring legions of young writers and artists to follow in your footsteps.
As a final word: this show, and its fandom, is much more than just the Root and Shaw dynamic—but one cannot deny the charming, magnetic chemistry between Acker and Shahi. I can only applaud their commitment and gung-ho approach to the Root/Shaw relationship, for always being transparent and honest to their fans, and this goes for the executive producers and writers, too. As Shahi put on Twitter: “All’s well that ends well. Root and Shaw.”
Thank you for reading (this ridiculously long article)! As I’ve gotten deeper into this experience and fanbase I cannot express how grateful I am for your kind and encouraging responses. Thank you. As ever, I’m contactable via @NicolaChoi or the comments below.