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.