The search for Shaw continues on “Person of Interest”

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My friends, this is so exciting. THE GLORIOUS RETURN OF #2SAM2FURIOUS!!! I know the powers that be have said all along that they intended for Shaw to return someday, but I sincerely never expected we would get anything about her this soon. (To be honest, my cynical mind was pretty convinced that by the time Sarah Shahi was ready, the show would have moved on and that ball would be, well, dropped. I AM GLAD TO BE WRONG.)

This episode is one that asks of every character, “Who are you when the chips are down?” Fusco is unimpressed to the grave and true to the bone. John is loyal. Elias is prepared to die as long as he gets to hit the other guy on the way down. Dominic is mistrustful. Harper is pragmatic. Harold, too, is loyal. So is The Machine. (This is a common characteristic among Team Machine, clearly.) And Root?

Root loves Shaw.

First of all, Root’s face when she heard Shaw’s voice was Not Okay.

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Secondly, Root was LITERALLY WILLING TO DIE just attempting to find out where Shaw was. What if the Machine hadn’t known? What if She hadn’t figured it out fast enough? WHAT IF THERE HAD BEEN A LARGE AND NEAR-SIGHTED PIGEON UP THERE? Oh, god, everyone, I knew there was no way they would actually kill Root off by having her lose a game of chicken like this, but my heart was in my throat anyway. I was really feeling Harold’s pain that whole scene. (I should mention that I am afraid of heights. Like, very afraid of heights. It was a rough ride for me.)

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I am still very suspicious of The Machine’s choices here, honestly; if She could have found Shaw this whole time, or knew where she was the whole time, why did She deem it better to keep that a secret? Just to avoid sending Team Machine into “the belly of the beast”? Wouldn’t having Shaw back as an asset—and/or preventing Samaritan from making use of her—be a pretty valuable objective in its own right? The Machine is also more than capable of sending Root and Harold on a wild goose chase just to get Root off that roof; but She didn’t. I feel like either The Machine has been compromised in some way, or—more likely—this was part of some longer game. (Did anybody else note, by the way, that Harper referred to The Machine—that is, the alias Thornhill—as “she”? Seems like The Machine’s gender identity is starting to be more consistently expressed! Or at least Her pronoun choice is.)

At any rate, Harold tries to talk Root out of walking into what is certainly a trap. On the one hand, this is sensible of him; it’s generally best not to walk into traps. On the other, it’s completely boneheaded on his part, because there is absolutely no chance Root is going to listen to him, so why waste the energy? Being the devoted friend that Harold always is—and being desperate to preserve their ragged band as much as he can for as long as he can—he tags along with Root anyway, which brought us a nice bit of lighter material as they get to infiltrate and be funny together. But it also brought us this:

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Literally stop ripping my heart out with a shovel, please. This has been an ongoing theme with Root this season: she’s not afraid to die. She’s just desperate to keep the ones she loves alive. [lies down on floor] [tries not to cry]

For Harold and Root, the rest of the episode is basically a scavenger hunt for Shaw, with Root growing more and more desperate as their choices grow more and more reckless. She tries to get Harold to leave when she realizes where they are (because she doesn’t care what happens to her, remember? Sob), so of course he declares “Not without you, Ms. Groves!” because like I said: when the chips are down, Harold is loyal. (I could write an entire other essay about the way the characters use names on Person of Interest—which names they use to address each other in which circumstances—and especially on Harold’s use of “Ms. Groves” vs. “Root,” but that is not, strictly, the subject of this column, so I will restrain myself.) When they finally get to the X on the treasure map, of course Shaw isn’t there. Clearly, until Sarah Shahi is ready to come back, the search for Shaw is going to be a shell game; the show is going to keep leading the characters, and us, to think she’s here or there, only to show us she’s already gone.

That I recognize this as a basic and predictable fact doesn’t change the fact that Root is absolutely distraught over it and therefore I am too.

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I said at the beginning that this episode asks of every character, “Who are you when the chips are down?” The episode has two important twists on this conceit. The first is that one of the characters is an AI, and indeed early on Harold and Root argue about whether The Machine cares about them as anything other than tools. Harold continues to insist She doesn’t; Root that She does. The Machine’s choice at the end of the episode, in my opinion, proves both of them right—She cares, but like I said, I think there’s a longer game here. I think it’s part of a plan. Maybe I’m a hopeless optimist. But I bring this up, this testing of The Machine, because it’s part of Root’s utter anguish in this climactic scene: Harold’s been caught. Sameen is out of her reach. And now The Machine is giving Herself up.

It’s Root’s worst-case-scenario: she’s alive, and she can’t save the ones she loves. (She can kill Martine, though! Honestly, that felt like an anticlimactic end to the character, but it was still a pretty awesome beat. “Lay one hand on him, I’ll kill you.” WELP.)

The second twist on the episode’s conceit is that it has introduced to us the possibility that we might not know who Sameen Shaw is when the chips are down, not anymore. Martine tells Root that Shaw finally broke. Root doesn’t believe her; I certainly don’t want to believe her; but we can’t discount the possibility.

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Look at Shaw getting into that car. She’s being led; she’s letting someone manhandle her. She’s not driving. Sameen Shaw always drives. Later, when we get that glimpse of her face in the car’s mirror, we’ll see that she looks calm, and clearly is sitting up front, not being restrained in the back. Obviously, this could mean a huge variety of things, but the terrifying fact is that one possibility is that Team Samaritan has successfully recruited her, one way or another. How much of the Shaw we know is in there? How much of the character growth she’s had over her time on the show—learning to love her friends, learning to love Root, learning to help people and have mercy—how much of that is left in her now? Is she brainwashed? Did they just talk her into it? She always was the devil’s advocate for Samaritan in Team Machine. (I think more brainwashed, though, with the way she’s acting here.)

I’m sure we will find out eventually, and it will leave me a puddle of tears. In the meantime, though, the episode has left us with these conclusions: Team Machine is about loyalty. The Machine is a loving god. Root loves Shaw; she loves Shaw so much that she is willing to die not only saving her but failing to save her; not only failing to save her but just trying to find out how to save her. Root repeatedly tries to trade her life for the smallest scrap of Shaw, because it’s the most valuable thing Root has to bargain with. It’s absolutely tragic, it ruined me, and I want MORE OF IT FOREVER.

And finally, the episode has left us with this knowledge: We don’t know for sure who Shaw is anymore.

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