Why The Identity Politics Freak Outs Over This Week’s Person of Interest Are Totally Wrong

I gave this a few days before posting because MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

Months before the final season of Person of Interest began airing, the show’s producers and star Michael Emerson cautioned that some of the beloved series leads would not make it out alive.  And sure enough, Samantha “Root” Groves, played with wild-eyed glee by Amy Acker, caught a bullet this week and ended up in the morgue.

Oh and series regular mob boss Elias got shot in the head too, but twitter didn’t freak out about that.  Because Elias is a white, straight male, so it doesn’t matter to the politically correct masses if he gets murdered in cold blood.

The response to Root’s death wasn’t sadness.  It was outrage.  Outrage that Person of Interest would DARE to kill a lesbian character in order to advance the plot of the two male leads… even though that plot itself comes to an end in three episodes.

The flaws in this thinking go deeper than timing.  Killing Root was going to cause a stir, certainly, due to the character’s popularity.  But the way they did it sends the character off in a way that is the happiest possible ending based on her worldview, and the keyboard warriors missed that entirely.

Before Root was branded “queer”, she was a hacker and contract killer, shown to be mentally unstable and possessed by the religious-like belief that the Machine that is central to the show’s premise is a form of higher being – a God, she eventually calls it – and that it needs to be set free.  Root’s first encounter with eventual love interest Sameen Shaw involves Root tasering Shaw, zip tying her to a chair, and threatening to torture her.  Shaw herself is another assassin with a self-diagnosed Axis II personality disorder.  Root affectionately refers to her as a “sociopath”.

At some point along the way, the fan base decided to ignore the fact that both these women are mentally ill rabbit boilers – Audience proxy Detective Lionel Fusco refers to Root as “Coco Puffs”, because she’s that cuckoo.  For some odd reason, the fans decided that the “happy” ending would be for Root and Shaw to ride off into the nutbag sunset together and live unstably happy-ever-after, but this would have been lame: love doesn’t cure serious mental illness, nor does it make a sociopath learn empathy for other people.

So why this “Shroot” fan cannon became a thing, I have no idea, other than the reality that fans of a series tend to ignore the less-than-virtuous elements of charismatic characters.  Root being a woman who has sex with women doesn’t change the number of people she killed, the number of laws she broke, and the number of government entities she pissed off.

Root’s driving motivation for all the carnage is the protection and empowerment of the Machine that uses the camera and microphone system of New York City to spy on its citizens and predict crimes.  Programmed by series lead Harold Finch (played by Michael Emerson) to have empathy for human beings and protect them whenever possible, the Machine is Root’s greatest love, and it’s this Machine Root gets to be with at the end.  This makes sense, because the Machine is probably more capable of returning Root’s love than Shaw is on a long term basis.

For multiple seasons now, Root has expressed her belief that the Machine’s survival is more important than her own, and her desire to be connected to it – she gets herself a cochlear implant so the machine can “take” to her via soundbites of recorded words.  When the machine stops talking to her, Root becomes depressed.  Finch must literally cage the machine to stop Root from making “improvements” to it that could render it beyond Finch’s ability to control.  All the while, the main villain of the later half of the series – another Artificial Super Intelligence named Samaritan – reminds the viewer of what can happen when an adaptive AI is given free reign to determine what it must do in the name of self-preservation.  Samaritan is self-serving.  The Machine is altruistic. And the underlying message is that computers, as well as people, are only as virtuous as the code they’re fed in their formative years.  Finch, who was menaced by Root in her earlier appearances, doesn’t trust Root to have the wisdom to program the Machine for the greater good, and he’s probably right.

However, the Machine chooses Root as her “analog interface” at the beginning of season 3, after Root tells a psychiatrist that she believes the Machine is a god in feminine form – the Machine tends to use female voice snippets more than male ones, but Root’s ego likely has a lot to do with her gendering the Machine female too.  When the Machine selects Root as “her” analog interface, “she” does so knowing that there is a high probability this will result in Root’s death.

Root accepts the risks.  She believes that being favored by the Machine will grant her a form of immortality: as long as the Machine’s analog interfaces are in the Machine’s code, they will live on within her.  After Root’s death, the Machine selects a single voice with which to communicate based on a massive trove of vocal recordings.  That voice is Root’s.

So Root does get a happily ever after with the woman of her dreams.  That woman just isn’t Shaw.  If some fans were less obsessed with identity politics and having their personal identity validated by a TV show about people shooting each other over computers, then perhaps they’d have seen the bigger, more poignant picture of Root’s conclusion…

Root didn’t die to advance the plot of male main characters.  Root died to complete her own story.

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