Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice.
1. That time I really wanted to hug her (6741, 5x04)
This is slightly removed from the usual choices and a somewhat personal one for me. The thing that always strikes me about this scene is how vulnerable Shaw is here. ‘Root’ asks her if she’s okay and she actually responds with “I don’t know”. She admits that she’s absolutely not sure of herself, that she’s scared and uncertain and feeling lost. It’s such a small scene but it’s also a huge departure for Shaw, and just the fact that she allows herself to display this sort of vulnerability to Root makes this scene even more of a hidden gem. It also, as demonstrated by the header, makes me really want to hug her.
2. Shaw’s sacrifice (If-Then-Else, 4x11)
This scene was epic in every way. From the goodbye kiss, to the
music, to the slow mo and Shaw going down in a blaze of glory and pulling the world back from the brink of disaster – this was the ultimate heroic
sacrifice. I loved Shaw making the only choice she possibly could at that
moment, I loved the kiss that was a mixture of distracting Root enough to do
her job and a goodbye and a moment of indulgence for both herself and Root, and I
loved her tiny smirk of defiance at the end. All in all, this was the send-off Shaw deserved.
3. Shaw’s mission statement (Relevance, 2x16)
Shaw’s intro episode did a great job of setting up exactly who
this character is and I think this is a line that defines her very clearly.
Shaw is a soldier. She will always be loyal to her mission. But she is also
loyal to her friends. If you give her a mission, you can damn well be certain
that it will be accomplished and that her personal feelings won’t get in the
way of completing her job. But if you make the unfortunate mistake of messing
with her team, you can also be sure that she will hunt you down and exact her
revenge one way or the other.
4. “The thing about Shaw is, she does care” (Razgovor, 3x05)
There are a million and one things to love about this scene but I’m going to highlight the fact that Shaw gives Gen a hug yes, and she keeps Gen’s little trinket yes, but she doesn’t do it because she’s feeling nostalgic. She doesn’t do it for herself. She does it for Gen. She does it because while it doesn’t mean a lot to her personally, she knows that Gen would appreciate it, that it would mean the world to this little kid that Shaw has genuinely grown to adore. Shaw does care. She’ll even make an effort to express it the way she thinks society would expect her to, and what I really love about this show is that the people who care about Shaw don’t want her to do that, and are perfectly accepting of her showing her love in her own unique way.
5. Shaw’s endurance and strength (Return 0, 5x13)
Alright so this is cheating a bit because I’m going to reference her entire arc in s5, but I do think that her journey this season can be summed up in this one moment right here. With everything that she has endured and the uncertainty, loss and pain that she has faced… she managed to get through it all.
She went through absolute hell and she clawed her way out at the other end.
She is able to sit at a table in a diner with Fusco and smile and state that she’s alive. She made it. And she’s going to be fine. Sameen Shaw is a survivor.
Gifs from (x)(x)(x)(x)(x). There are a ton of other moments I tossed around, but they’ve all been well dissected and analyzed, and I tried to throw in a few of the relatively more obscure ones. But honourable mentions go to: “I do the protecting” (The Devil You Know, 4x09) and “There is no dead in team” (Last Call, 3x15).
With today being the two year anniversary of If-Then-Else (wow, seriously, two years already?), I thought it might be a good time to make a post I’ve been considering making for a while now about one of my favourite characters of not just this show but all time, The Machine. I touched on it in my favourite episodes list, but with today marking the anniversary of one of The Machine’s best character analysis episodes, and having rewatched return 0 last night and spending more time thinking about her, I feel like expanding on all that.
Person of Interest has always done a fantastic job at subtle character development. Even the characters I think with the biggest differences from start to finish, their arcs are handled seamlessly. And perhaps the most subtle arc of all is The Machine. You can very clearly see her character throughout the series, but the show really builds on it through details that require a closer look at things. The best example of this, I feel, is The Machine and gender identity, which I’m surprised doesn’t get talked about more since I think it’s a really interesting idea.
The first time The Machine is referred to as ‘she’ is in Liberty by Root. At first, like I think most people (or at least everyone I’ve gotten to watch the series), I assumed Root had assigned that designation to her. Up until that point, Root had always referred to The Machine as ‘it’, like everyone else, but it’s only once TM starts talking to her, and after she isn’t deleted at the end of every day and is able to maintain her own identity that she starts referring to her as ‘she’. When we get to If-Then-Else, we see The Machine running simulations, and while Finch is working on the generator, he refers to The Machine as ‘she’. Up until BSOD though, Finch only ever refers to TM as ‘it’, so there’s no reason for The Machine to predict he’d suddenly start properly calling her that. The only explanation for that moment is that it’s how The Machine wishes to be called by her father, and doesn’t like being called ‘it’. By Asylum, the Thornhill identity is being referred to as ‘she’ as well, compared to the male alias that appeared in Zero Day before TM could really form her own identity for an extended period of time. While this example may be a case of Shaw associating The Machine with Root, once Shaw starts talking to her, she refers to TM by her/she pronouns as well. Either way, I think the rest lends itself to The Machine self-identifying. There are a lot of AIs in fiction, a lot of ones coded as male or female or gender neutral, but I can’t think of any others where the AI identifies on it’s own without being programmed towards one.
Her dynamic with most of the team are fantastically done. I’ve always loved how she helped Reese in 4C and Root in / by giving them what they needed to grow as people, even if they didn’t know it at the time. Root was lost, until she found purpose in The Machine at the end of God Mode, and began doing the right thing. But she did the right thing because TM told her to, not because she understood. But in /, The Machine sends Root off on her mission that makes her understand the effects of her bad actions, that makes her understand why they do what they do. We see in the pilot what Reese becomes after someone he cares about deeply dies, and we can kinda see him slipping back into that after Carter died. But The Machine recognized this and sent Reese what he needed, a number to make him remember why he did what he did, why it matters, and that he liked saving people. She made him at one of his lowest points feel useful again.
The care for every one of them is palpable, even before she has a voice starting in The Day The World Went Away. It’s all right in the flashback in The Contingency when The Machine saves Finch from being hit by a drunk driver, a scene that informs a whole lot about The Machine’s character through nothing more than a text message. But today’s the anniversary of the episode I think it’s perhaps best portrayed in, If-Then-Else. Right through the simulations, we’re reminded what The Machine’s priority is. Not saving the stock market and it’s massive effects, but saving her assets. Root’s reaction to Shaw’s sacrifice is heartbreaking, but also devastating to witness is how The Machine desperately tries to find a way to save her even when there’s no way to. The options keep rolling, even when “No Valid Options” flashes, still trying to even though she’s admitted it’s over. It’s part of something I’ll continue to talk about later, but there’s no face needed. No voice. No body language. No…typical human ways of communicating emotion, and yet the heartbreak The Machine is feeling is palpable on screen.
And speaking of heartbreak from The Machine, there’s the scene in YHWH where she talks to Finch. Just some text on a screen, and yet there’s so much emotion in it. I think it really does a great job at showing just how much Finch’s approval meant to her, and retroactively makes how he treated her once she became free really sad, unwilling to see what she was and causing her to think she maybe should just die as a result.
Something the series strikes a remarkable balance with is making the Machine feel like a person, without humanizing her. She’s distinctly an artificial super intelligence, not a human, but she still feels like a person and has a personality to her. Like the bit where Fusco kisses Root in the simulation feels like her equivalent of someone laughing nervously in a dangerous situation. The talks throughout the last few episodes really drive this point home. I mentioned earlier, and will come back to, how well the show manages to convey all this personality and character without short hands like a voice or a face, but of course she does have a voice in those episodes. I feel like the show really earned it by this point, but also those talks all served to reinforce that The Machine is very much a person, but not a human, nor should she need to be. The speeches she gives about how she feels grief, how she perceives death, it’s fascinating material and brings a lot to an already really fleshed out character. It’s why I like the decision to give her a voice towards the end, it allows for some possibilities the lack of it, as much as I loved that, wouldn’t have been able to accomplish quite the same way. And if anyone were to play The Machine, Amy Acker is the only pick in my mind.
Out of all the takes on AI out there, there’s a reason The Machine (and Samaritan but TM is the big one) on Person of Interest is my all time favourite. How they communicate her emotions and personality. Most takes on AI rely on very human forms of getting these across. Voice and tone. Expressions. Body language. But The Machine has none of this, and yet they manage to still create a full formed character. If-Then-Else really is the best episode of this, as it gets us inside her mind in such an engaging and well done way, visually showing us how she thinks and perceives time, as well as all the little touches within her simulations that reveal personifying aspects of her character. There’s a lot more that could be said about how well done this character is, barely scratching the surface here, but I think this gets some of the most important aspects.
Might do this for the rest of the cast over time, would people be interested in that?