Airtime: Mondays and Tuesdays at 10PM on CBS
Episode: Season 5, Episode 4 (S05E04)
Tweetable Takeaway: Shaw is back! Shaw is back on #PersonofInterest and it’s perfection!
Shaw is finally back on PERSON OF INTEREST and “6,741” is the perfect vehicle for her return. Sarah Shahi ducked out of last season for pregnancy reasons and this is probably the classiest I’ve ever seen a show handle an actress leaving and returning like that. Neither her exit nor her return has anything to do with the character’s body or gender. Even the fact that Shaw is being held prisoner and tortured is an appropriately in-character reason for her to have been missing from the main stage and has no reflection on her agency or bodily autonomy. Basically, it makes sense in the story rather than being ham-handedly pasted together at the last second to accommodate for an actress’s life. I love it. You go Person of Interest. You keep doing you.
“6,741” is a fun, action-packed self-rescue that quickly turns into a psychological thriller. Once you start going after organizational leaders and killing off main characters in episode 4 it’s obviously all in someone’s head, but even so the twist was quite delightful. In keeping with the show’s style, it’s not that they brainwashed her, it’s that they are directly interrogating her brain through virtual reality simulations. And, Shaw being Shaw, they can’t even get her to give up information after 6741 tries. The technological reasoning and details are just as delicious as ever—just this side of currently possible and slightly dystopic. I love that Person of Interest does both the “technology is evil (in the wrong hands)” side of traditional Western science fiction while also championing technology for its democratizing and altruistic properties. The evil part is obviously necessary if you want an antagonist, but the good side is a rarity in the genre at all. It makes my heart sing.
I feel like this show is a rare example of getting called out for queerbaiting and then rolling with it. Harold and John were always ripe for queerbaiting given their intense semi-therapeutic relationship. I was a little disappointed they made Harold so forcibly hetero since I found his borderline-romantic friendship with Nathan Ingram (his old business partner) far more compelling than a random girlfriend. Even one played by Michael Emerson’s actual wife Carrie Preston. But rather than succumb to the queerbaiting, Person of Interest gave us Root and Shaw. They were always a flirtatious flavor in the margins (the best kind of romance) without any definitive declaration that the feeling was mutual. Shaw essentially fantasizing about having sex with Root in six-thousand simulations throws off all doubt on that score. I’m a bit in love with all the characters on this show, but having the moral psychopath demonstrably fall in love with the amoral analog interface of a superintelligent AI sounds like someone is trying to tease me. I always joke that “Netflix says I need a sci-fi lesbian murder mystery but those don’t exist.” I have one right here. At any rate, I’m notoriously anti-romance in fiction because I find that most romances are poorly done and champion unhealthy relationships as somehow ideal. Root and Shaw aren’t the poster children for mental health, but their dynamic works, I believe their chemistry, and together they temper the crazy in each other. Root always had an obvious thing for Shaw, but I like them finally showing Shaw has a thing in return.
Also, regarding lesbians, I found this episode quite savvy given recent events in LGBT television fandom. Sex was not immediately followed by death. It wasn’t sex that triggered a brainwashing episode etc. Shaw’s psychological trauma was carefully separated from her romantic plot. I liked both the romance and the psychological trauma, and I’m a bit astounded that they could coexist without reflecting poorly on each other. Person of Interest is always careful about its identity politics and worldview assumptions and that isn’t any different here.
Another thing I really love is that in these first four episodes we’ve essentially had one focusing on each of the four main characters. Poor Fusco was left out of this one again, but the first episode was the Root show, the second was kind of double on Harold and the Machine, the third was about John, and this one was entirely Shaw. I enjoy the way the characters remain essentially themselves but change roles completely depending on who the episode is focused on. To Shaw, John is “a professional dick,” Harold is a benevolent ally, and Root is a devoted lover. All of those things are true, but the series is so versatile that it can go from the last episode which was an All-John action show to this psychological mindscrew featuring Shaw. I am pleased.
I have an unfortunate proclivity for characters that are traumatized, brainwashed, insane, or otherwise not 100% mentally stable. Believe it or not it took me many years to figure out it was because I wasn’t the most stable person myself. I’m getting better now, but an episode about maintaining your personal integrity in the face of overwhelming psychological trauma was something I really needed. The confusion, oppression, and doubt of getting brainwashed and messed with was exceedingly well represented throughout this entire episode. Shaw fighting against all of that and her holding onto herself in the end was triumphant and important to me. It’s absurd to say that a character committing suicide was inspirational, but it was kind of obviously not permanent in the moment and “she blew her brains out again” demonstrates her persistence and their inability to break her. It perfectly encapsulates all of Shaw’s tenacity. I know twist/frame endings can be hacky and overdone, but I thought it was used well here because it demonstrated character and because it punctuated a superb psychological exploration.
It’s also a bit funny that the episode went out of its way to resolve every bit of emotional tension in the most satisfying way possible. Shaw and Bear are reunited, she has such fab sex with Root that they break all the dishes, Harold apologizes for not rescuing her etc. It’s like a fan service buffet of joy and I like that it’s really all a giant Shaw-fantasy. Shaw is a cynic and a snark so just seeing her actual internal desires is nice. Especially since it’s in the form of a torture scenario which is just so Shaw. How else are you gonna get at her gooey center?
Seriously, gut reaction: this is my favorite episode of the entire series. Superb. And I thought I was having fun last week!
Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor