In the tenth episode of the fifth season of Person of Interest, it was the day the whole world went away. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Person of Interest.
Trigger Warning: For extensive discussion of homophobia (and the Bury Your Gays trope)
In a general sense, I feel like there are not enough LGBT or queer characters on television, that we’ve had to fight to be represented in any sense at all, and that every time one of us “dies” in a television show, it is a net loss for our community. There are simply so few of us that it hits harder. It hurts more. And while Root’s sacrifice in “The Day the World Went Away” (YOU JUST HAD TO DIG IN THE KNIFE DEEPER WITH THAT SONG, DIDN’T YOU) absolutely qualifies under this trope, I can recognize that things are a tad more complicated than just this singular trope.
Which doesn’t mean I’m necessarily going to like that she’s dead, though. Her death brings up a whole bunch of other messy implications, too. It means that we haven’t truly seen her and Shaw express affection—physical or otherwise—beyond the kiss in “If.Then.Else.,” the face stroking in “Sotto Voce,” and the HEARTBREAKING hand-hold in this episode. In a show that’s given us a ton of displays of physicality for its straight characters, the most we got out of the only openly non-straight pairing was limited to a simulation. Granted, I still found that scene to be very important toward establishing Shaw’s mindset and her affinity for Root, so it’s canon, but it didn’t technically happen at all. So these two never get to actually have that moment in the real world, especially since they just barely got reunited an episode ago. So there’s a bit of milking the tragedy for the sake of it, you know?
But aside from this, I’m used to this trope being invoked early into a character’s arc, and it’s true that the use of Bury Your Gays is especially tragic because these characters are often killed before they’re ever used, before they’ve had time to develop, before they had a chance to be given the same time and attention as the straight characters. It would be very easy to argue that an element of Root’s death is for the development of Harold, another unfortunate implication that you often see in the use of Bury Your Gays. I don’t want to deny that, either, and I don’t want to diminish the impact this has on me. Yet I also see a full arc in Root’s story. Of course, that requires ignoring the relationship aspect, so I’ll just be forever bitter about that. It’s very similar to my feelings on “The Devil’s Share.” I can recognize what a monumental, exquisite thing that script is, and yet I hate a core element of it.
My point is that Root changed over her four-ish seasons, and her role in season five was accepting fate, accepting death, and realizing that she was always a part of the Machine’s grand design for survival. I wonder if Root knew that she was most likely going to die, and if the Machine clued her into that so that she could accept that she would live on forever as information within the Machine. Her moments of introspection—spoken aloud to Shaw and Harold—were very much like her way of saying goodbye. In that, there is more closure offered than I expected. There’s more thought given to her character in this regard! Root gets to become something greater than herself. And isn’t that what she always wanted? Didn’t she want to be part of something, to belong, to fit in?
Still, it hurts, and while I can’t think of another way to have this same plot unfold without Root’s death, I am still going to dislike it for entirely personal reasons rather than narrative reasons.
And for an episode that invokes a trope that is ill-used in the hands of straight writers, I found myself liking “The Day the World Went Away.” It’s one of those episodes of this show that feels special right from the start. That opening monologue that Harold gives to the Machine is merely a sign of things to come, a harbinger for the tense, chaotic escalation that follows. This episode is relentlessly paced, and it has to be that way. Harold has to pushed to a point where finally, after years of principles and morals and standards about what he and his associates are allowed to do, he discards it all. Michael Emerson is spellbinding throughout this episode as we watch his world torn down around him, as we watch his terror over the waves of Samaritan agents sent to take him out, as we witness his realization that it was his mistake that caused all of this.
And then his resolve changes. That scene in the interrogation room was ELECTRIFYING, one of the absolute best moments in all of Person of Interest, and it’s proof that Emerson was born to play Harold Finch. But that’s the catch, of course, and the exacting sort of conflict that comes with the trope used here. I love that scene. It needed to happen and is a pivotal part of the Person of Interest arc for Harold. I can recognize that, and I also know that it comes at the expense of a non-heterosexual character’s life.
Though I suppose there was an option here, a way to still get the same result. Harold made that decision before he knew Root was dead. We can’t forget that he also witnessed Elias’s death, too, and that arguably influenced his decision to finally kill Samaritan, no matter what. So did Root have to die?
Well, now she lives on as the voice of The Machine. Harold asked her for help, and he got it. So what exactly is he planning next, now that both he and the Machine are about as unleashed as they could possibly be?
The video for “The Day the World Went Away” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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