On Tuesday I watched one of my favorite tv characters die. Just minutes later, I defended her death on Tumblr. Today is Friday and I’m no longer willing to defend a woman’s death on tv.
This is to say, of course, if Root’s (Amy Acker) death actually takes – I’m a Xenite, I know how these things sometimes go.
If you’re a tv junkie like me, you have probably heard about the tendency of tv makers this year to kill their queer female characters. I’m not even sure where the number is at right now, but with the latest addition of Root, well, you got me there. I didn’t watch any of the other shows where queer female deaths occured, but I do watch Person of Interest – and with only three episodes left, I will watch it end for sure.
To me, it’s one of the best written shows there is. If you look at how it all started, with two white dudes saving numbers from week to week. Then came Root and the Machine suddenly became vulnerable, hacked. And then the premise changed completely with a second A.I. – a more powerful A.I. – taking over… the story line is so compelling, and it all got so much worse that one couldn’t help but wondering if we’re not already there ourselves, with technology accompanying our every step.
And who could resist loving those characters. Given, I’m as always more interested in the female characters, but I also started to like Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Finch (Michael Emerson) early on. They tried so hard to make a difference, one number at a time. They could infuse a scene with necessary humor with just one look or a hand-off remark. And yet they didn’t lack depth as the show invited us to look into their pasts.
But what the show really needed – and the makers realized that – was a female character. A strong, morally incorruptable female character. Joss Carter (Taraji P. Hanson) was that character. She was everything those boys (meanwhile there were three, even though Fusco [Kevin Chapman] wasn’t a main player yet) needed to keep them on track, to help, to criticize. She was a good guy where Finch and Reese’s organisation was a little shady.
And then she died. She was shot. She died a hero. And I thought to myself: why her? Why not Fusco? I mean, I accepted the fact that Reese and Finch were untouchable, even though both of them had plenty of times they could or maybe even should have died (‘should’ by probability, not because I don’t like them). But as the main characters of the show they’re untouchable. (As I said, I’m a Xenite. I grew up with a show that let its main characters die and die again. Same with Buffy, but I accepted that Person of Interest was not that kind of show.) But what about Fusco? He certainly wasn’t as likable as Carter. He wasn’t as instrumental to the story and with his corrupt past he was also a perfect sacrifice. He could have died saving Reese earning him a postmortem hero status. But it was Carter who died.
Yes, I know, Taraji P. Hanson went on to become the iconic Cookie Lyon on Empire but I was sad and I was angry, because I loved Joss Carter. Fortunately for the show, they’d introduced some other great female characters. Yes, I’m talking about Shaw (Sarah Shahi) and Root (Acker), but I’m also talking about Paige Turco’s Zoe Morgan. Her ‘disappearance’ was so gradual that we hardly even began to wonder why she was never seen again (and, yes, I’m aware of Turco’s role in The 100 – she went on to bigger things, too, and good for her).
With Carter’s death, both Shaw and Root’s roles became bigger, their characters more important, more defined. Their relationship became one aspect of their characterization and it was an interesting and popular decision. They were canon – for about 5 seconds. Then Sameen was captured by the bad guys (and Sarah Shahi had her twins). Too little, too late? She could have been the queer character who died and started ‘We deserve better’ but she wasn’t. Because she didn’t die and the makers of POI made that clear by showing she was still alive – and held captive by Samaritan.
We were all elated. But there was also a piece of the show missing without her. Root’s sadness, the way everything grew over Team Machine’s head – they were desperate for Shaw who could save any day with her no-nonsense attitude and an eyeroll (plus some firepower but that goes without saying with Shaw). But somehow everybody survived that time… of course, in the case of Carl Elias (Enrico Colantoni) it was even more than that. We thought he was dead, but incredibly enough he wasn’t. Now, with our three white main dude characters we’re kinda used that they’re invincible, but why bring Elias back for another round, especially since his black counterpart, Dominic (Winston Duke), actually died? There’s no reason for this, really, other than it fit the storyline and he was white (and a bigger part of the story so far, I know).
I guess we can do a little math here if you want: Carter died, Fusco lived. Kara (Annie Parisse) died, Greer (John Nolan) lived. Quinn (Clarke Peters) was arrested and written off while his second Simmons (Robert John Burke) tortured us a little longer with his presence. Zoe (Turco) and Control (Camryn Manheim) were interesting supporting characters for a time but then written off, same with Grace (Carrie Preston). Martine (Cara Buono) and Dominic (Duke) died. If you add up – you were far more likely to disappear or get killed on this show if you were female and/or black. And then there was Leon Tao (Ken Leung) who acted as the comical relief in the first two seasons – never heard from again. There are more: Peter Collier (Leslie Odom Jr.), Cal Beecher (Sterling K. Brown), Alicia Corwin (Elizabeth Marvel).
Finch, Reese and Fusco lived through all 100 episodes (so far) – whether they’ll survive the finale, we’ll see. According to imdb.com, Amy Acker is still listed as Root until the final episode (though I think this might be a mistake and she’ll only appear as the Machine’s voice from now on – unless she’s indeed immortal), but she only appeared in 65 episodes.
Looking at these number, I’m disappointed. It almost seems like Person of Interest fooled me into believing those great female characters had a greater impact on the show’s story than they actually did. Sarah Shahi only appeared in 47 episodes, not even half of the show, but her character seems so much more vital to what happened. But maybe that is the societal fallacy of how big women’s role is on tv. Maybe we all believe that when a woman talks half of the time in a conversation that she dominates it? I don’t know.
Person of Interest is a great show, well-written, with great characters, an evolving story. But it isn’t perfect as far as equal representation goes. It took one of my favorite tv characters from me on Monday (even though I watched it on Tuesday), and another with Joss Carter – a loss nobody seems to care about anymore, maybe because she wasn’t queer, maybe because she was black.
My current favorite show, and Person of Interest is that, is only exemplary of what is a main theme in Hollywood – films and tv alike. The main white dudes don’t die, minority characters are always at risk, female characters are expendable and rarely get their own show. If they do, it’s a show for women, because men couldn’t possibly be interested in all that drama. It kinda makes you miss the 90s, yeah?