Hi, everyone! I’m so sorry that this is so late; either the internet or my own finals-induced nuttiness (grad school does things to a person) caused me to think that Person of Interest wasn’t coming back till January. I WAS SO WRONG. Here, then, are my thoughts on the episode of 12/16 (“Cold War”), plus some thoughts on the previous one. I promise the next writeup will be faster!
So obviously, a lot happened in “Cold War,” but let’s focus on what’s really important for now. And what’s really important is Root pointing out that no one can keep Shaw captive unless she wants to be kept, and Shaw demonstrating that of course that’s true and she’s just been being polite; or, hey, Root going into danger and Shaw being VERY UPSET about that choice (“that sounds like someone who needs backup!” she says, because her nerves about Root’s situation aren’t suggestive at all).
Basically, this was one of those episodes that isn’t about our favorite duo but still gave us plenty to work with. Before getting into it, let me note a few things from the previous episode, since I didn’t get to post properly about it:
OBVIOUSLY THAT PART WHERE Root was trying to protect Shaw and Shaw not only was having none of it but resorted to blatant flirting to try to get around this obstacle.
Look, you can try to make this about how Shaw is yet another straight girl working the odds (you can try, but I’ll fight you and you’ll regret it), but all this tells me is that Shaw KNOWS how Root feels about her and has resoundingly not rejected it up to this point. OUR SHIP SAILS ON.
Also let us consider just…the way…their bodies move…when Root drugs Shaw for her own good (don’t try this at home kids!! I only approve of this in very specific cyberpunk circumstances!!!) and kneels down to catch her:
DO YOU HAVE FEELINGS ABOUT THIS, BECAUSE I DO?
Also there was loads of Root shepherding Shaw around all concerned and handsy, and also this business when they were hiding inside the truck.
ANYWAY. So here we are, this week of all weeks, but a week later, because shhhhhh, we are here now and that is the important thing. It is clear that Root is PAINFULLY in love with Shaw, and that Shaw knows what is going on and chooses not to ruin it; like, even with the most cynical “she’s using her” interpretation possible, there is no way to pretend that both parties don’t understand what’s happening here.
BUT! Happily, the cynical interpretation wilts like a rose petal in the summer heat, because here we are in “Cold War” and Shaw, after insisting the only being she cares about is the dog, is running around the Subway Lair (TM) in order to go to Root’s rescue.
Sure, she doesn’t actually do it—I choose to believe partly because she knows Root wouldn’t want her to—but the point is, Harold is lecturing her on why Root will be fine and she is running around picking up guns explaining why Root will definitely not be fine without backup!!! BY WHICH I MEAN ME!!!!!
To back up (har har) for a second: Root is on her way to act as the Machine’s avatar in a conference with Samaritan, the other AI/god—which, we should note, is unassailably cool on its own, just as a fact. (For the record, Samaritan totally should have been represented by Claire Mahoney, the very obvious “there but for the grace of god” Root parallel from the second episode of this season, instead of a small boy; but I suppose every rose has its thorn.) So Root is off being an amazing badass by doing nothing but hanging out with a kid while he colors so that two “artificial super-intelligences” can verbally throw down the gauntlet, essentially, and Shaw has decided that this means not only that Root needs backup, and not only that that backup should be her, but that it is worth showing her face to surveillance cameras with the consequence of near-certain death to provide that backup. SHAW IS LITERALLY READY TO DIE FOR ROOT HERE, I AM JUST. SAYING.
We also had some delicious moments earlier in the episode. Let’s talk about Harold walking into the Subway Lair to find Shaw handcuffed and Root in a bear suit and immediately being uncomfortable and almost leaving. WHAT IS HE ASSUMING IS GOING ON, HMM?
Let’s also talk about innuendo, our best friend. Shaw is understandably pissed at Root for tricking and drugging her in the previous episode, even if it was for her own safety. She is handcuffed to a railing to keep her from going outside and getting herself killed. She asks how long they’re going to keep her like that, and Root purrs at her about how it’s impossible to keep her locked up—at least against her will. The subtext here is H E A V Y, since Root has a longstanding habit of making BDSM insinuations to Shaw. (Which have been reciprocated at least once; never forget that first conversation.)
So Shaw demonstrates that she had already freed herself and was just pretending to be locked up, which, sure, we can interpret as strategic, but why would we do that when we can interpret it as her NOT WANTING TO HURT ANYONE’S FEELINGS. (Root. I am talking about Root.) “So true,” she snarls, leaning into Root’s space while Root serves her trademark hearteyes. (I couldn’t find a gif of this particular moment, but if you would like a reminder of what Root’s “I’m so in love with you I can’t really think straight at this moment” face looks like I recommend this post right here.)
PLEASE JUST MAKE OUT ALREADY. HAROLD CAN GIVE YOU SOME SPACE, HE IS FINE WITH THAT. HAROLD SHIPS IT AS MUCH AS I DO. (“If the worst comes to pass, would you tell Sameen— I think she already knows [because you are as obvious as a fucking sledgehammer].” HAROLD GETS IT.)
Let us also consider the time-honored tradition of Shaw ripping into food like she caught and killed it herself—one of my favorite things about her—and the beautiful innovation in this instance of Root helping her (handcuffed, remember) and saying “two hands are better than one.” FOR MANY PURPOSES, OF COURSE. OH ROOT YOU CHARMER.
Beyond these truly incredible moments of ~lurve, the episode actually gives us some nice character work with each woman and their relationship, as Root defends the Machine as moral and benevolent (and therefore deserving of loyalty) while Shaw very literally plays devil’s advocate, suggesting that Samaritan’s good works should get due credit even if they were only to prove a point. Essentially Shaw spends the episode arguing that maybe letting Samaritan rule the world and thus avoiding AI conflict (or what Harold calls “when two gods go to war,” echoing Root’s use of the phrase in earlier episodes) wouldn’t be so bad, really. The AIs are here, there’s no going back, and as she points out, she used to execute people based on an AI’s evaluation all the time; she just didn’t know that was what she was doing. Root, on the other hand, sees Samaritan’s dominance and the Machine’s defeat as the worst of all possible worlds. The Machine is her god in a far more literal way than for any other character. Losing Her would destroy her world on a level that simply isn’t true for anyone else. (Interesting to note that Root also referred to Samaritan as She, isn’t it? I like the idea that for Root all the AI gods are female. Many fans tend to assume for no clear reason that Samaritan is male, which I guess the show has now reinforced, but Root has no time for this idea. )
Placing #2SAM2FURIOUS on opposite sides here is fun because it gives us nice banter and some soda-stealing, but it does more than that. It shows us a great deal about how they are different, how their worldviews are different. It gives us some of the wonderful philosophizing the show is so prone to, with Shaw arguing for letting the strongest win in the name of order, Root arguing for the moral superiority of the Machine, and Harold arguing that dominance by any AI is a nightmare that must be prevented. It’s especially nice to see Root and Shaw be the avatars (so to speak) of the debate in a central way, since usually these arguments center on Root and Harold, or Harold and John. It’s a good change to let Shaw advance a point of view here instead of just being the muscle and comic relief. It’s also a natural consequence of her deepening relationship with Root. There is no way to have the former Samantha Groves in your life and not end up with a philosophical point of view on AIs and their role, because that is literally what she is about. If you care about Root, you care about the shape of the future that is being born, and for Shaw not to have a major voice in this debate would have been insulting to her intelligence.
All in all, this was a great episode on many levels—it moved the story forward, let us hear directly from Samaritan for the first time, featured Root in a bear suit (let us not forget that Shaw’s beloved dog is named Bear!! Real subtle, Root) and Shaw ripping open a paper bag with her teeth—but it was excellent when it comes to this relationship, too. It played with subtext, but also showed Root and Shaw expressing real concern for one another and engaging in substantive debate about the issues that are most important to them. This is one reason I have never seen this relationship as queerbaiting: while there is plenty of what some people like to call “fanservice,” there is also a real, living relationship with depth and nuance and development over time. There are stakes between these two women. There is no way to deny it, and this episode continued to lean into it.