TVs Best Queer Couple Is Hiding In Your Dad's Favorite Show
Who would have thought that a cyber-punk, procedural drama about an AI apocalypse would give us not only one, but two interesting, cool, and generally awesome queer female characters? Yet, somehow against all odds, CBS .. yeah .. CBS drama Person of Interest has done just that.
How It All Stared
Person of Interest first premiered in 2011 - led by Lost alum (and only person I will allow to have sideburns) Michael Emerson, resident badass Jim Caviezel, and the incredible/fantastic/perfect Taraji P. Henson. It was a slightly under-the-radar drama that told the story of a reclusive billionaire software genius, Harold Finch (Emerson), who recruits John Reese, an ex-CIA agent (Caviezl), to form a vigilante crime-fighting team. They do so with help of The Machine, an AI that tracks and monitors human patters, allowing it to predict who will be a victim of future violent crimes. They are aided by the incorruptible NYPD cop, Joss Carter (Henson) and her sleazy, but untimely reformed partner Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman).
POI proved itself to be smart, interesting, and entertaining. The emotional departure of Henson was shocking, but seamlessly done. The subsequent addition of Sameen Shaw (The L Word's Sarah Shahi), former physician and U.S. Marine (and all around babe), was a great and natural addition. Person of Interest had good guys, bad guys, guns, and general tough-guy emotional detachment, you know - pretty much what you would expect.
That is until we are introduced to Samantha "Root" Groves, a doe-eyed, brilliant hacker and ex-assassin for hire, turned Machine soldier (exquisitely played by Amy Acker). She is not only a genius that can shoot two guns at once and actually look cool, but she's a hopeless romantic sap that has a big 'ol puppy dog crush on the brash and emotionally-stunted Sameen Shaw.
Okay .. Let Get To The Gay Stuff
This show is not about relationships. At all. Every relationship in this show has either been short-lived, or ended in tragedy. The only relationship that has remained constant is the angsty, flirty, tense, often heart-warming one between Root and Shaw. In fact, I won't say relationship, their - connection - started as they all do; being zip tied to chair, threatened with torture . . . and kinda liking it. That was the beginning of what I classify as the BEST QUEER COUPLE ON TELEVISION right now.
Initially, the attraction Root has for Shaw seems to be one-sided. Root coming on strong and Shaw rolling her eyes while hurriedly deflecting away from anything that could even be generously construed as feelings. Shaw was a physician whose residency was cut short for lacking empathy; her strength as a soldier and Machine vigilante comes from being seemingly unable to form any emotional attachments or feel any guilt. The only one who seems to have penetrated Shaw's Chinese wall of emotions is Root (okay – also Bear - the coolest military-trained dog out there).
What makes Root and Shaw so extraordinary in the queer fictional character sphere is, for one, they are two female leads (one of whom is a woman of color!!! omg!!), which is as rare as they come. Second, they have no qualms, trauma, or depression associated with their same-sex attraction. Neither one of them feels guilty, neither one is experimenting, and neither one of them is confused. They worry about saving lives and impeding apocalyptic doom; sexually-charged subtext comes after.
There's nothing inherently wrong with the coming out narrative, or with the sexual discovery narrative, but it's tired. A nerdy ex-assassin shamelessly hitting on a tough, steak eating, beer drinking ex-Marine is definitely much more interesting.
Lastly, as the season 5 promo clearly indicates - Root and Shaw will actually have sex. Not implied, shy, fingertip tapping, romantic, pretty sex (the type where both women are in perfect makeup with carefully askew hair and glistening chests wrapped up in all white sheets). No. It will be rough, passionate, emotional sex that combines a mixture of longing, relief, and yes - love, probably - but mostly, just good old-fashioned fucking.
Oh yeah, and it'll be on during prime time network television. The same network that airs snooze-fest NCIS and lame-ass Big Bang Theory.
Sadly, the reunion of Root and Shaw will be short lived; Person of Interest is coming to an end after this season. I struggle to refer to this show as an underdog (since its premiere, POI has had solid ratings), but it still rings somewhat truthful. Everything from the writing and the spectacular cinematography, to the acting has been extraordinary. Think that Michael Emerson talking to a computer won't make you cry like a little bitch?? Think again. Plus, POI has hosted a string of outstanding guest stars such as, Keith Mars himself Enrico Colantoni, powerhouse Camryn Manheim, and scene-stealing Carrie Preston.
In true POI fashion, it's unlikely Root and Shaw will get a happy ending, but I'll settle for a compelling story. The lack of decent, honest, and lasting queer female characters gets more and more disheartening. It's a reason stories like this one matter; we can't keep relying on cable TV or streaming services to be the only medium in which the possibility of well-rounded queer women exist; further niching queer women into seclusion. We need more emotionally and sexually complex women in the mainstream, and we can't keep expecting Shonda Rhimes to take on that duty all by herself. Give babygirl a break. We need more sitcoms as well as crime, legal, and family dramas to step up.
It can be very isolating being a queer woman; especially in media representation. Mainstream media tends to fetishize, exploit for ratings, and then dismiss [or, more than likely, kill] queer female characters once they're no longer useful. So while it might seem hyperbolic, and even strange to assign so much importance to a fictional couple, I can guarantee - it's not a reflection of my obsession (though I am a little obsessed) - it is a reflection of representation on television as a whole. The mere existence of Root and Shaw is [unfortunately] a rare and extraordinary thing.
Let's just watch "the kiss" over an over until we feel better about the state of television:
You can catch up on seasons 1-4 of Person of Interest on Netflix. Season 5 airs Monday's and Tuesday's 10/9c on CBS.