Feature image courtesy of CBS
Being a lesbian or bisexual woman who loves TV is like showing up as Charlie Bucket to wander through Willy Wonka’s wonderland: Everyone else feels entitled to as much lickable wallpaper, edible mushrooms, and everlasting Gobstoppers as they can get their hands on. We’re just lucky to be there. Part of it is a culture outside of television that legislates against us and uses as as scapegoats in political power plays. Part of it is the culture inside writers rooms where we’re often treated as one-dimensional side characters or disposable pawns. Part of it is the culture of network TV, where shows that are “too female” never even see the light of day. The reasons we’re devalued as viewers are myriad, but the end result is always the same — queer women are expected to eat scraps, and what other choice do we have?
Last night, though, Person of Interest skipped to the end of the whimsical tour and offered us the whole damn chocolate factory.
“6,741” saw the hugely anticipated return of Sameen Shaw, who sacrificed herself to save Root last season and has been held captive, off-screen, by Samaritan’s goons ever since. Before Shaw threw herself into that fateful storm of bullets, she kissed Root right on the mouth, a surprising and revolutionary TV moment.
If their simple kiss was the stuff of gay fandom dreams, their reunion last night was the stuff of euphoric hallucinatory blackouts. The stuff of Mulder and Scully reuniting, or Booth and Brennan, or Castle and Beckett — except, forgive me, Person of Interest did it better than any of those other will-they/won’t-they procedural pairings because they went all in inside Shaw’s head. The episode title comes from the number of sequences Greer has forced Shaw to run through in her own mind to prepare her for her return to Team Machine. 6,741 times she has imagined her escape and the subsequent fall out. Six thousand seven hundred and forty-one times she has returned to Root this way:
After breaking out of captivity and offing a dozen bad guys with a single shard of broken mirror, like all good TV special agents do, she makes her way back to New York City and phones in a murder threat. She’s sending up a flare to her team, but to the bad guys too, and the one who saves her after she saved herself is Root. Shaw hears Root’s voice before she sees her, and when Root steps out the shadows, the camera pans up from her boots to her stunned face with a sweeping, triumphant score. Root and Shaw’s chests heave, they stare at each other’s mouths and eyes, they banter in that flirty way they do — and then Shaw passes out. She’s fighting her brain implant inside the simulation as she’s fighting the actual simulation in real life.
Shaw wakes up to Root’s self-assured touch and sultry voice on the subway as Root digs out the brain implant with a pocket knife. And she wakes up again in Root’s bed. Root asks her to move in, caresses her face, gives Shaw her leather coat to keep her warm like a high school letter jacket, and tries to seduce her but gives in, instead, to being seduced. They wrestle each other all over Root’s apartment (obviously) to try to top each other (doubly obviously) and break a whole lot of dishes and glasses on their way to scissor town. It’s not just the sex, though: When Shaw simulates Root in her mind, it’s a dozen pet names — “baby,” “sweetie,” “my beautiful girl” — and gentle caresses and promises promises promises that she never stopped trying to find her. (The only thing Shaw wants as much as Root is reassurance that they never gave up on her.)
Team Machine can’t figure out if Shaw is compromised, if she has come back to destroy the Machine or to help them exact retribution on Samaritan. And Shaw can’t figure it out either. She blanks and glitches, but her simulation-Root doesn’t care. She wants Shaw to come back to bed and they’ll figure it out in the morning. She wants Shaw to come back home with her and they’ll figure it out tomorrow.
After killing Greer, Reese, and then turning her gun on herself, Shaw tells Root that when she was in captivity, when she was being tortured, “when things got too bad, there was one place I would go to in my mind — you. It was you. You were my safe place.”
When she kills herself, Greer forces her to start the simulation again, from the beginning.
Dream sequences can often feel cheap and exploitive, but Person of Interest‘s decision to reunite us with Shaw through her own imagination was a brilliant, gutsy move. Shaw is guarded, closed off, cagey; you’re only ever seeing a fraction of her desires, her motivation. “6,741” opens up Shaw to the audience completely. We know her better than any character on the show now. We know her better than the Machine does. We know she needs to be her own hero. We know she needs Root’s unbreakable love.
It’s been a deeply frustrating and exhausting year for lesbian and bisexual TV viewers, but for one hour last night, Person of Interest allowed us to stop feeling like disregarded hangers-on and enjoy television with our brains and hearts like straight white guys get to do every night of the week, all year long. And by taking so many pains to give Shaw’s return the weight and pathos it deserved, the show also crafted one of the best episodes in its spectacular five-season run. The writing, the editing, the music, the directing, the acting. The perfectly proportioned genre puzzle pieces that make POI so special (and, ironically, make it such a hard sell). It’s a breathless, emotional, shocking hour of television that has every critic in raptures. The AV Club graded it an A and IGN gave it a 10 and called it “a masterpiece.”
All it takes is treating two women with scorching on-screen chemistry the same way you’d treat an opposite-sex pairing with that same rare and wondrous spark.
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