(Firstly, I apologise this is just a giant block of text. Secondly, SPOILERS AHEAD for those who have not seen the episode! I pondered how to describe this and this is more a ramble about torture, about narrative, and about how an episode run on a big ol’ simulation gave some real, deep insight.)
6,741. That’s how many simulations Samaritan ran on Sameen Shaw, and that is how many times, likely, it ended with her killing herself rather than giving up the subway location. 6,741 simulations with agonising distortions in reality and horrific scenarios and Sameen Shaw does not betray her friends. 6,741 times Greer gets a headshot (bahaha) so—you go, girl.
To talk briefly of the surgery, I know I’d discussed (or spec’d…quite terribly wrongly, but then I had also predicted that…) the possible theories surrounding Samaritan’s wants for her. Though the notion of Samaritan weaponising her was quite frank in the episode—as mentioned in the previous article about Shaw, though via different ways. If they had complete and utter brain control over Shaw, then she would be an incredible asset to have: her skill-set is incomparable to most, and she is ruthless with her methods (oh Jeremy Lambert…). What endangers her utility to Samaritan is perhaps the chip being implanted so close to the brain stem (as highlighted in the episode) and too much meddling with it—neurobiologists must have to help me out here, for I don’t know a whole lot about that, but too much brain stem manipulation can cause problems in motor control, can’t they? I’m talking basics like moving about, getting out of a chair, walking…Lambert mentions off-handedly that they don’t want to turn her into a vegetable, and back in the days of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, perhaps that would be handled with less care.
But if Samaritan are truly intending on weaponising her as their own asset, then should they not take some care in meddling with Shaw’s brain stem like that? Or as Greer says—are these vigorous simulations going to just keep amping up in order for Shaw’s self-will to succumb to the psychological torture and give up the subway location instead of killing herself via gunshot?
Because that’s what she does: 6,741 times. In 6,741 simulations (of varying degree, I’d assume) Shaw must die or kill herself rather than give up subway location out of sheer loyalty to her team. She cannot bear herself to kill Root, either.
When Reese questions her, she—shakily—shoots him fatally, but when it comes to Root, she cannot pull the trigger. It’s an excellent way of the narrative of Shaw’s story without making her (real) come-back all about the Root/Shaw relationship.
I would believe in any situation that Root and Shaw would be as intimate and complex as they were in ‘6,741’, but instead of having Shaw come back and having to spend episodes reciprocating how she feels for Root—as Root had that time at the end of series 4, this literally delves into the brain of Sameen Shaw and tells you smack-bang in the face: Shaw’s feelings for Root run deep.
I am far more impartial to the idea of Shaw simply being a team player and refusing to give up the subway—and killing herself instead, for that’s where Root was going to take her—than succumb to Samaritan’s needs. But through that episode you could see the depth of just how much Root means to Shaw.
You can hear it in their pillow-talk about Shaw’s ISA training, which is tearfully nodded back to at the end when Shaw confesses that it was bull. Because Root was her safe-place; when they tortured her, it was Root she kept her mind on. And when Greer says Shaw had broken months ago, one must ponder—did they break her because they very much knew Root would be her ‘safe-place’? Or perhaps it is just simple humanity…the extent of the psychological torture inflicted on Shaw would be unimaginable, and for Samaritan, nothing is off-limits.
Moving away from the neurobiological mess that is brain stems (can’t say I know too much about them—aha, I am no neuroscience grad) to the psychological torture Shaw mentioned…I can’t imagine Samaritan being too gentle with it all. There’s the very cruel and torturous ‘dead or alive’ game Lambert plays with her in the episode, but nine months of hell can mean anything. Sure, Shaw is ISA-trained for both psychological and physical torture—but that doesn’t mean she’s super-human, and that doesn’t mean she’s immune to some seriously fucked up things.
If you just look at the CIA blacksites’ history of torture methods—or ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’—you will find awful stuff Majid Khan’s case, in which his lunch was pureed and ‘rectally infused’. Forced nudity, suspension from the ceiling by their arms, electric shocks—many of which you might see in the film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (with Jessica Chastain, centred around the Osama Bin Laden killing).
There’s more famous stuff like water-boarding, or indeed simple use of cold water itself. If you Google Gul Rahman you will find a well-known case of a man who died after the CIA doused him in ice-cold water, stripped him from the waist down, subjected him to beatings and sleep deprivation and just left him in a cold cell.
Stress positions or confinement in boxes in order to make the detainee feel uncomfortable have also been widely used—and probably still are. They cause extreme physical and mental distress, as well as muscle fatigue and exhaustion; the same goes for sleep deprivation. That’s something routinely employed in such ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ and something that is horrific to hear of. If I don’t catch at least four hours of sleep I’m a bit of a zombie the next day. The CIA subjected a detainee to about a week’s worth of no sleep—notoriously playing banging loud music to keep their detainee awake—which totals up to about 180 hours.
Can you die of sleep deprivation? That’s something widely debated and obviously not scientifically tested and replicated in humans, for the sake of simple ethics. There’s someone who claims to have been awake for two weeks; there’s someone else who was reported to die after eleven days without it. The most extreme case I can think of is someone you may have heard of: Michael Corke. There were several documentaries about him, and what was notable was first his condition—FFI (Fatal Familial Insomnia) and secondly, that he died…after six months of sleep deprivation.
I think I’d assume that Samaritan would not use such a method on Shaw just to kill her—they’d do it in some other sick way, after getting to The Machine first, presumably. But sleep deprivation remains a very likely method of torture (along with the above, really) for all the after-effects it causes.
Yet Shaw coming from an ISA background will have been trained and knowledgeable of all of this—so that’s why getting deep into Shaw’s brain stem, is worrying. I can’t imagine Person of Interest going down the One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest route and lobotomising Shaw into a vegetable—that would make no narrative sense and render her useless to both sides.
But in meddling with her brain stem, and perhaps causing mild brain stem injury—rather than the upper two classes—could fuck her up a lot. There’d be attention issues, neuromotor issues, working memory problems, executive function problems—as well as horrible dizziness, nausea, vomiting—and the after-effects of such injury are awful, too. This is someone’s brain stem we are talking about messing around here: not only could there be a high level of anxiety and depression in the subject, but hypersensitivity to stimuli previously not registered, fatigue, heightened fears or phobias.
As for Shaw’s personality disorder, I don’t think Samaritan are particularly interested in that. That’s a stupidly bold claim to make when we’re only on episode four, but it was not once mentioned and I don’t see why it should be.
If her PD got in the way of the psychological torture Samaritan are pumping her with, I can see why that’d be an issue. But if Greer’s intent is to locate The Machine and convert Shaw as a valuable asset, that’s where her PD actually comes in, in a sick way, very handy. She’s clinical, removed, aloof, detached; she gets the job done, dusts her trousers off and walks into her next mission. She’s ruthless yet effective. She shoots with pinpoint accuracy and is a match for about at least five big-ass, secret service dudes.
In terms of her PD, Person of Interest would have to delve deep into the aetiology of that and they simply do not have the time in thirteen episodes; furthermore, such neurological disorders like her Axis II Personality Disorder (along with panic disorder, depression, bipolar—the whole DSM-V manual, basically) do not have a singular cause.
The scientific community cannot come to a conclusion about it; there is no singular causative gene, no marked causative neuronal circuitry damage (apart from Schizophrenia, but even then that was recently changed from dopamine loss in the mesolimbic pathway to the associative striatum which lies in the nigrostriatal pathway).
Basically, the brain is hugely fucking complicated, and it is going to be a wonder to crack Samaritan’s intentions with this one—and to see how Shaw will overcome this. I definitely admired the way the episode tackled Shaw’s state of mind by literally going into it, thus—as mentioned above—saving a lot of time in the narrative for when she really comes back about her intentions and loyalties, and of course, her feelings for Root.
The number 6,741 is huge. That’s the number of times Shaw would rather kill herself than give up the subway and her friends; give up Root. That is the extent of her feelings. In a mind-bending, jarring episode of literally bonkers, but amazing bonkers, Person of Interest got it fucking right again.
TLDR (this bit will also be waffle so I might have to do TLDR#2): THIS IS HOW YOU MAKE AN EPISODE OF AN HOUR’S TORTURE WITHOUT IT BEING IMMENSE TORTURE-PORN.
If you looked into the nuances of Shaw, Root, Finch, Harold—everyone in the Samaritan-induced simulation—you would completely understand the episode. And that is how you validate, fully, Sameen Shaw’s feelings about the team, and especially about Root—without making it about them at all. This was Sameen Shaw’s episode. This was about delving into her psyche.
Did her personality disorder help her hope with these nine months? I don’t know—the neurobiology of her PD is far too messy for me (a pharmacy to-be-grad) to understand, but the aetiology of such mental disorders is too messy for the entire scientific community to come to a conclusion to, anyway.
But if her PD did anything—at all—I would think (and this is only somewhat of a wayward educated guess—I will not pretend to know anything about her Axis II PD) it would’ve helped Shaw cope with the torture rather than make her more subject to breaking under the torture.
TLDR#2: Thank you, Person of Interest, for creating a wildly, jabbering episode that honoured Shaw’s time spent under Samaritan captivity in the best way possible. Even in delving into her relationships with the rest of the team you delved literally into her brain first. And upon seeing that simulation, I really cannot think of an argument against how bloody hard Shaw is fighting back—and how after 6,741 of them, she still hasn’t given her team up yet.
(It finished, as well, and I was literally silently yelling at my screen. I don’t think an episode has flown by faster than that one did. Oh my God.)