More Than Gal Pals: “Person of Interest” Gives The (Gay) People What They Want

Since the dawn of time — or at least since Xena and Gabrielle first locked eyes for longer than two women would ever gaze adoringly at each other if they were just friends — queer women have been asking the same question over and over and over: Why won’t TV creatives and executives treat unexpected chemistry between two women the same way they treat unexpected chemistry between a woman and a man? Anyone who works in TV will tell you that writing, directing, acting, and editing all play a roll in shaping what we see on our screens, but there’s an unknowable, inexplicable alchemy that happens between individual actors that supersedes everything else.

Sometimes that chemistry is intentional, but other times it catches TV writers by surprise, and they always capitalize on it. Joey and Pacey. Chuck and Blair. Monica and Chandler. Luke and Lorelai. Leslie and Ben. Buffy and Spike. Mulder and Scully. But these characters and couples took a completely different narrative trajectory than their writers originally intended because of what happened when they interacted with each other on-screen (and because of how the audience responded to them).

But what happens when it’s two women who share the unexpected sizzle? At best, we get a a couple of rogue actors who occasionally and subtly play into it for the fans; at worst, we get nothing. With the very rare exception of Glee, a show that was basically forced by queer fandom to put Santana and Brittany together after an early season throwaway joke about the two of them sleeping together but not dating, a non-animated TV show has never paired off two women who were not preconceived as a couple by the writing staff.

Until Person of Interest.

Root and Shaw appealed to queer viewers the way so many two-women pairings had done before. Bering and Wells. Rizzoli and Isles. Regina and Emma. Xena and Gabrielle. At times, these pairings have the Elizabeth Bennet/Mr. Darcy thing going on. At times, they’re partnered up as an unstoppable team. Their relationship and conversations hardly ever center on men, and certainly not in romantic contexts. The dudes in their lives are mostly bad guys, and they’re tagging-in to track them together. Their connection is special in some way, different, unique, unlike the connection they have with any other character on the show.

I never believed in Root and Shaw’s will-they/won’t-they because there was no precedent to make me believe “will-they” was even on the table. The queer woman’s sixth sense is seeing romantic tension between two women, but it’s always been a futile exercise. But then, last season, in an episode called “If-Then-Else,” Shaw kissed Root right on the mouth, locked her safely away, and sacrificed herself to keep Root alive. As if that weren’t shocking enough, Person of Interest went ahead and didn’t kill her! Didn’t punish her for being a woman who shared a single moment of passion with another woman! She left the show for a while (so that Sarah Shahi could go have a baby in real life), but didn’t die!

In between seasons, co-showrunner Jonah Nolan didn’t act coy about his decision. When TVLine told him that GLAAD had added Root and Shaw to their list of LGBT characters, he replied, “As they should. It’s firmly established in canon.”

Last night, Person of Interest returned for its fifth and final season. Root was there! And Bear! And this: When she was asked what she’d been up to, Root said: “Just needed a change. Got a new job. Fell in love.”

Fell in love.

I’ve never met a straight person who thought Xena and Gabrielle were more than friends. Root is in love with Shaw. She said it, out loud. Shaw is coming back and Root is going to rip her tank top, in a gay way, and no one will be able to deny it. Call her Root, bitch, but don’t call her a gal pal. She and Shaw are (canonically!) more than that.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 855 articles for us.

48 Comments

  1. They are going to break my heart this season and I’m not ready for any moment ahhh.

    But what POI did/will do with Root and Shaw is unprecedented. And I’m so glad I get to witness it.

  2. Words can hardly express the excitement and trepidation I’m feeling about this show and these two.
    I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen since Xena.
    I’ve been expecting it since Warehouse 13.
    I’ve been demanding it since Once Upon a Time.
    And still, I couldn’t believe it, when they actually introduced a beard a la Rizzoli and Isles and Shaw ditched him (and Barcelona) for Root.
    When “Maybe, Someday.” happened.
    When I suddenly felt touched and torn and turned on by such an unlikely and complicated couple on such a non romantic show.
    A canon couple.
    Now, all they need to do, is survive.
    Hails of bullets nonwithstanding.

  3. I’m so happy so so so happy my favorite show is back!!! That “fell in love” line just killed me in the best way possible…everything about it is just so great the way she says it like it’s not that big of a deal. it. just. is.

    “Just needed a change. Got a new job. Fell in love [with an ASI and a compact Persian sociopath].”

    call her Root, bitch.
    :’)

    • There’s been debate as to whether she was referring to Shaw, or The Machine, or both with that line.

      Me, I tend to think she was talking about Shaw exclusively. In Aletheia, she tells Control that the Machine is her power, her reason for existing, and her friend. She does NOT say that the Machine is the love of her life. She could, but she doesn’t. She worships the Machine, but she doesn’t LOVE the Machine. That’s for Shaw 🙂

  4. In all honesty, straight people also ship the hell out of Shoot (Root and Shaw). You can add that to the very long list of things Person of Interest did beautifully.

  5. I don’t know how anyone who watched the finale season of Xena could still think they were friends. I was like four when i watched it for the first time and even i knew then.

  6. I care! I care so much!

    But what really sets POI apart from my other fav gay lady shows is that my straight friends watch it! Something I can talk obsessively with my straight friends about because the plot is good AND there are gay ladies. This has never happened before!

  7. I’m so happy this show is back! (I spent all day smiling like a crazy person yesterday just thinking about the premiere)

    I can’t wait to see what the writers have in mind to conclude the story. And I trust them enough to know that they’ll do a great job with Root and Shaw (even if, although I really really hope not, one of them dies. If they keep treating them as they’ve done the past seasons, I’m sure it would really be meaningful for the whole story).

    AND I’M SO IN LOVE WITH AMY ACKER, HELP.

  8. I was seriously weirded out last season when we started getting some heavy hints that there was something happening between Root and Shaw. I mean, sure, they’d been flirting since the first time they’d met, but there was no way they would actually go there? And then they did.

    And they’re not the kind of characters you usually see on TV–not in a protagonist’s role, for Root, and in Shaw’s case, not at all. Root is a sadistic misanthrope and Shaw is a WOC with a personality disorder that’s usually associated in fiction with serial killers (and Wall Street traders I guess), but she’s spent her entire adult life helping people. I love that their relationship is very different from the romances usually portrayed on TV; they wouldn’t gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes while holding hands or retire from people-saving and buy a house in the suburbs.

    The downside is that all of this makes it really easy for people to invalidate them. Not just homophobes, but also femslash shippers who are looking for love stories that are more on the traditional, cute and fluffy side (and with neurotypical characters). They’re definitely not everyone’s cup of tea.

    With that said, I can’t wait for them to violently fuck on that table(?) so that oblivious straight people will finally have to stop arguing that Shaw is in love with Reese and/or Root is in love with Finch.
    …Who am I kidding, that isn’t going to stop them.

      • My favourite Shaw/Reese brotp moment is in season 2’s God Mode when they steal the Lamborghini. Shaw tosses John the rifle and he’s like “what’s this for?” and she goes “to help you feel less inadequate while I drive this thing.” Probably my favourite single line of the entire show, tbh.

        • My favourite moment out of the entire series is when Shaw, Zoe and Carter get ready to go undercover at that club and they geek out about their weapons

          GOD THE WOMEN ON THIS SHOW <3

    • The issue that I have with people pairing Root with Finch and Shaw with Reese is not only that they’re trying to erase the gay, but that they’re also invalidating those relationships.
      Root and Finches relationship has been carefully crafted since season one, and it’s one of the great miracles of this show.
      And Reese and Shaw’s violent friendship is so.much.fun to watch.
      Watching all of these broken and misfit people become each other’s core family and responsibility is one of the most rewarding things of this show.

    • Addendum: I also can’t wait for Root and Shaw to fuck on screen so we’ll have appropriate gif responses to anyone who insists that they aren’t canon, that they’re queerbaiting or that they aren’t adequate LGBT representation for some arbitrary reason that they’ve made up. This comes up a LOT. Fandom can be exhausting sometimes.

      But yeah, all the dynamics are amazing. One of my favorite Mayhem Twins moment is when Shaw makes fun of Reese when he gets in trouble with his captain. I don’t have the exact quote on hand, but it was something like “Oh that’s right, you’ve been called into the counselor’s office. Try not to cry!” Such siblings.

  9. I’m so so so happy about Person of Interest finally coming back. but I am JUST AS HAPPY to have Heather Hogan words about Person of Interest. I can’t WAIT to read all the beautiful things you will say about my precious murder girlfriends. This was so great, and so true, and they are so perfect, and I actually for once have confidence in the creative and producing team to NOT FUCK IT UP.

  10. Shaw returns to the team in episode 4. The press releases have told us that. The team will be worried about whether she’s still the same person or not, because of what Samaritan and its agent have done to her.

  11. Ugh, I don’t know if I can stomach 4 seasons of the show for some small, trite representation of a gay couple implied by a kiss and some dialogue… Maybe I’m jaded though.

    • I thought this EXACT THING when I was first deciding whether or not to watch the show. But somewhere in my bingewatch I fell in love with this SHOW. Not just Root and Shaw, but the wonderous thing of beauty that is Person of Interest as a whole. If you give it a chance, you could love this show, too. This isn’t Glee, where you have to sit through awfulness to watch pretty girls kiss. This is Orphan Black, where the show would be EXCELLENT on it’s own, and the presence of queer women just makes it that much better. I know the first season is a slog, but the 3rd season is probably my 3rd favourite complete season of television that I have ever seen. That’s a really big compliment, coming from me. Shoot is wonderful, but Shoot is wonderful because Person of Interest is wonderful, not despite it.

    • Except you would be watching a hell of a good show. It’s so fucking worth it. Even if Root x Shaw were not a thing, I would still love the hell out of it. But they are.

  12. i saw a gif set of a queer couple making out last week and promptly binged three seasons of it, the tunnel is really good. five seasons though seemed a bit much, i unfortunately have other things demanding my time. so if there’s anyone like me, here’s a list of episodes that’ll catch you up to season 5. i haven’t started it yet but i’ve bookmarked it for this weekend. If anyone agrees or disagrees on the recommendations please comment, thanks

    http://www.ign.com/articles/2016/04/22/person-of-interest-the-episodes-that-will-catch-you-up

    • This is a good list if all you want to do is get to the Shoot stuff as fast as possible, but I can almost GUARANTEE, when you are finished with these episodes, you will WANT to go back and watch every single one, because the show is GOOD even outside of Shoot. Because of Carter, and Zoe, and The Machine, and Finch, and Bear, and Elias. The characters are so well-drawn, the plots so tightly woven, the story so intricate in interesting and TIMELY and PRESCIENT (remember this show premiered two years before Edward Snowden exposed the NSA!). It is just a really great show that is made BETTER by Shoot.

      • I basically agree, my approach was to start with Relevance (mid-S2) where Root and Shaw met and go from there, and mostly that has worked well. I may go back and watch earlier episodes but I think I’ve seen all the best stuff. There are episodes of S2 and S3 that feature neither Shaw nor Root, but Carter has a great arc you won’t want to miss.
        If you do stick to only the episodes on that list though, don’t miss Razgovor, it’s in my top 3 along with Relevance and If-Then-Else.

      • I mean the story telling is so good and the plot so tightly distilled in the earlier “bad guy of the week” episodes that I need to go back to them ALL the time because it’s just delicious to come back from the chaos (in a good way) of season 4 and land on a season 1 episode in which you get a HINT of what the Machine really is

        <3 <3 <3

    • That list is a helpful starting point, but there are two season 3 episodes that are only mentioned in passing that really must be included: “Razgovor” and “Mors Praematura.”

      Razgovor is a fantastic Shaw episode, and Mors Praematura is absolutely essential in any Shoot watching of the show.

      Death Benefit is important too, for the relationship between Finch and the Machine, and for the direction of the show in general.

      If you have time I also recommend The Fix from season one – it’s the intro to Zoe, who is one of the best recurring characters in the series. Another great episode is Most Likely To… because it places Reese and Shaw at a high school reunion, and that’s just all kinds of awesome.

      Have fun!

  13. I was about to be shocked about u never having met a straight person who realizes Xena is the Gayest Gay, but then I remembered the time I found out my mom shipped Olivia Benson with STABLER, when CLEARLY she and Alex Cabot were banging

    I mean
    Honestly

  14. I love this show so much! I can’t wait to see Root and Shaw get together again, I was grinning like an idiot the whole day knowing I could finally watch the new episode, and it was so good, I can’t even imagine how good the rest of the season,although too short, will be!

  15. After watching this week’s Faking It, where a girl-on-girl kiss that appeared in the trailer was, ONCE AGAIN, revealed to be nothing more than a dream sequence in the actual episode, I am EVEN MORE grateful for the excellent representation of queer women and treatment of Root and Shaw on Person of Interest. Thank god for this show.

  16. Guys, I know we’re all totally here for Shaw and Root, but can we, like, I don’t know Gay adopt “The Machine”?
    She could be our nonconforming, asexual little rainbow child.

  17. Also, that time the numbers were a lesbian couple, neither died, nor went evil. The lesbian surgeon saved lives. No one commented on their being lesbians.

  18. That entire episode where Shaw Kisses Root to save her made my heart hurt specially when Root asks Shaw if there is a small chance that there will be a future for them and then ends up getting shot while on the phone with Shaw.

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