Badass Women Archive: Root (Person of Interest, CBS)

February 2nd, 2012. #RootDay. And yes, we’re keeping the name, despite the Aussies snickering at the double meaning…

‘Root Cause’ was the episode. As the name suggests, Root (Amy Acker) hogged the limelight by thrilling us with her unforgettable introduction. It may be fair to say that Root’s addition to an already brilliant Person of Interest only elevated the show’s appeal even more, so to make a horrible pun, she really was the root cause of all the fabulousness that followed.


One or two years ago, I’d suggested a bit of a celebration for Root’s first appearance. I’m gonna put a disclaimer here: I did not know what ‘Root’ meant in Australian slang, but you know what? I’m gonna stick to #RootDay, and all you lot ‘down under’ can snicker at it.

It’d be pretty cool if we got Amy’s attention again on Twitter as we did last time. But most importantly I think it was awesome how many people actually joined in, and how quickly #RootDay gained traction. It just goes to show that Person of Interest may have gone out with a bang, but Amy’s depiction of the slightly(!) psychotic, brilliant, hopelessly in love, costume enthusiast and hacker extraordinaire is a performance for the ages.

Here, I’m going to do a quick run-down of what made Root as superb a character as she was. The chances are, I’ll miss out quite a few things–so feel free to yell at me in the comments below, or indeed, break Tweetdeck with the #RootDay hashtag!

Now this isn’t really a post listing all the reasons why I think she’s brilliant, and nor is it an analysis on her character. But it’s been a while since I’ve discussed Root and all the flaws and small tidbits to her character. This is by no means an exhaustive list of things Root does or is, but I put some pretty pictures in to distract you from the fact that this post sort of floats in the middle between character analysis and just character traits I adore about her.

So without further ado, let’s dig deep and list some Rootisms…

Img1Because she’ll flirt on the job…any job. 

Listen, it’s Root. If you threaten to stab her with a stiletto, it ain’t gonna work (take some notes, Shaw). Thinking about it now, that sentence never seemed to make sense because literally their first encounter involved Root tasing the shit out of Shaw, tying her up and then threatening to torture her with an iron just to get the name of Aquino’s source. It’s the kind of torture that’d probably make the CIA proud.

Bar that one time she had to flirt with a criminal en-route to prison just to steal an identity (and then ended up sending him back to prison anyway–see–she does have morals) the majority of the Root Flirtnado is directed at Sarah Shahi’s Shaw. Oddly, where it is met with an eyeroll nearly every single time, Shaw doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, in ‘6,741’ (and before you say it’s Shaw’s imagination, technically, it is–but it’s also a projection of what Shaw thinks) she says to Root, before kissing her:

Shaw: “I couldn’t stand you when we first met. But you wouldn’t stop bugging me.”

It’s a tiny sentence. It’s also a sentence that’s part of Shaw’s simulation. But it speaks volumes. The thing is, Root will flirt–ridiculously–in any given situation. In ‘If-Then-Else’, the Machine literally has to shorten their flirtatious banter over the comms to save a bit of time as it rifles through the best options. Root, when they’re supposed to be hiding in plain sight and stay out of contact with the team, regularly shows up at Shaw’s work wearing a ludicrous, tight-fitting blue dress. If someone can make sipping an iced coffee seductive, it’s Root.

In The Day the World Went Away, Root even finds the time–as they are getting pelted at with bullets–to smirk across at Shaw and still utter some sort of flirtatious comment. Hell, even their first meeting–torture via iron–could be misconstrued as some sort of kinky business if you were a first-time viewer.

Without a doubt, Root and Shaw genuinely have feelings for each other. When Shaw returns from Samaritan’s clutches, Root is the one who unconditionally trusts her and welcomes her back to the team. Root is the one who is always there for her. She has her X-rated ways of showing it (eh, why not–Shaw’s probably just as dirty, just on the DL…) but ultimately, she is Shaw’s, and whether Shaw wants to admit it or not, she is Root’s.

They fight, flirt, shoot guns, throw lunch at each other, dress up as bears, tease one another, implicitly trust the other (driving in the dark and “adjust when you feel it”) and even apart, they will defend each other. Root is the only one who actively searches for Shaw. John and Finch attempt to help, but it’s Root who goes it alone–recklessly, admittedly. Shaw’s the first one to rightly suggest letting Root out of the Faraday cage when they realise Carter’s in trouble. Shaw is the only one who angrily packs her duffel bag full of weaponry when she realises the boys have let Root face the child avatar of Samaritan alone.

These two will likely spend more time punching each other’s lights out than kissing and having sex, but you cannot question the fact that they love each other. The extremes they go to to ensure that the other is okay says it all. It’s twisted, often violent, often hilarious, but right from the heart. Like Shaw, it really is just the way Root loves. And that’s what makes Root’s show of it so brilliant; that’s what makes Root and Shaw so unique.

Img2Two guns aren’t lame–not when you see Root in action.

Shaw: “Two guns at once? That’s kinda lame.”

Please note that literally five seconds later, when Root has gunned down about fifteen burly dudes with those two ‘lame guns’, Shaw reluctantly admits that it was “kinda hot”.

It’s safe to say that Root doesn’t have the formal CIA or ISA training John and Shaw have. The duo–‘the Mayhem Twins’–often admire each other’s skill as they work cases together. Picking locks is a piece of cake. Taking down twenty shooters? Easy-peasy. Root doesn’t have that training. That’s probably why she makes the first rookie error: using two guns. But like I mentioned above, it’s highly effective…and kinda hot.

It’s easy to forget sometimes that Root was essentially an assassin before she joined Team Machine. And not to be grim, but she had no qualms about splattering Alicia Corwin’s blood everywhere in Harold’s car.

Traditionally, you’d say John and Shaw are probably the best fighters–certainly in hand-to-hand combat–of the team. Root, perhaps, should stick to the guns. It’s not that she’s a bad fighter, though sometimes she seems somewhat…gangly. But hey, where one has a weakness, they make up for it via strength in another area. In this case, it’s Root’s near-unrivalled genius with computers. Put John or Shaw in front of a computer, and one will stare blankly at Microsoft Word, whilst the other will spend their time seeing how many Mars Bars they can shove in their mouth. (Can you guess which?)

The beauty of Team Machine is that everyone has their own strengths. Pairs are deployed on missions and stakeouts because of it. However, as the seasons have progressed, it’s safe to say Root has either been taking vigorous combat lessons from Shaw, or she’s been reading an online manual on how to kick someone’s ass. Any time she beats the shit out of someone it’s cheer-worthy. And when she ends up snapping smug Martine’s neck (sorry, Cara Buono! You were brilliant!) who leapt out of their chair and punched the air?

The progression of Root from hacker extraordinaire and general pain in the ass to someone who can fully handle themselves in a shootout has been gradual. And it’s of no fault of your own if you haven’t noticed it, because the growth has been very natural. By the time we get to 5×10, and Root orchestrates the most ridiculous move mid car-chase (and almost gives Harold a heart attack) by turning away from the windscreen, using the heel of her boot to steer the car and then shooting the bonnet up from the car chasing them via the sun-roof, she may have just won the award for the most unbelievable, stupendous stunt ever shown on Person of Interest.

And of course when she settles back down to drive again, she gives a horrified Harold a grin and a blase, “Amateurs…”

So yeah, once upon a time, Sameen, you thought two guns were lame. If only you’d been there to see your bonkers girlfriend perform that stunt, you’d take back every comment you ever made…

Img5Torture, torture, torture: what does it take for Team Machine to finally trust her? Root doesn’t seem to care: she can see the bigger picture.

During the Cold War (so we’re talking seasoned soldiers here, trained to withstand torture methods) there was a lot of hype about ‘truth serum’. Of course, unlike Harry Potter, it really doesn’t exist. There are cocktails of drugs that will loosen inhibitions, but to be frank, if you really wanted to do that, you might as well force-feed whiskey, neat, and see what shit they start talking. It certainly doesn’t require an extensive set of needles and drugs, because the goal of the torture method is the same, and there’s been no research to indicate that some of these Cold War methods do anything else except fuck your body system up.

(Granted, if you drink too many pints, your belly’s gonna be fucked up then next day anyway).

The method Control (Camryn Manheim) uses on Root is a classic technique. An amphetamine in one arm will speed up your autonomous system. Essentially, your heart will pump out its chest and you’ll go berserk; you’ll thrash about and you’ll be sweating like the River Nile, because your heart is working so hard against the stimuli. This is not a truth serum. This is about causing enough pain to ensure you’ll blab. Straight after your hefty dose of amphetamine, your other arm will be hooked up to a cannula where barbiturates (widely used before benzodiazepines were introduced as a safer option) will be injected.

The constant, very quick cycling between these two drugs will send your body into overdrive. For a second, you’ll go absolutely mental because of the ‘upper’ (the amphetamine), until another second later, your body will rapidly drop because of the ‘downer’ (the barb). Endless cycles of this have been known to drive patients/soldiers mad. The point of this method is not to get the person to blab because of loss of inhibition. They blab just so the pain will stop. Imagine your heart beating at 200bpm, only to be immediately brought back down to normal, and before you reach normal, your heart rate shoots back up again because the next dose has arrived.

That is what Root undergoes. Most soldiers, historically, last a number of rounds in the single figures. I can’t remember the exact number of rounds Root lasts before she attacks Control, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the double figures.

At this point in the story, Team Machine do not trust her. Perhaps with the exception of Shaw. Team Machine are still wary, yet Root doesn’t give them away. The obvious reason is because she wants to find the location of the Machine–and she doesn’t want to give that away to Control. But there is a part of her that has grown somewhat attached; she even tells Shaw to leave her to be taken by Control and Hersh.

Even though Root has always been shown to be on a one-set track to finding the Machine and not giving much of a shit about anything or anyone else, she clearly changes her mind as the season goes on. She saves Shaw from Martine in season four. When she next encounters Martine, who she believes has killed Shaw, she snaps her neck. This is no longer just about finding the Machine anymore: this is personal. For someone who saw people as simple ‘bad code’, it’s a long way to come.

Long story short: Root cares. And she is not afraid of any form of torture if it means protecting the ones she loves. The saddest thing at this point is that Team Machine do not believe she’s changed, and rather worryingly (I’ll use Harold as an example for this, because John and Shaw do behave differently) she finds she has to consistently prove herself to him before he lets his guard down around her. And even then, even after she gets tortured by Control, it’s a very cautious relationship. Yes, it develops into something much closer as the seasons go on–but it takes Harold a fucking long time.

Img3Find a girl who will dress up as a gigantic bear just to entertain you (and us).

I don’t think this one needs an explanation. I just wanted to put the picture there. I’m not entirely sure what kind of entertainment Mr. Barenstein provided, but judging by Shaw’s pout, I kind of want to know, and I kind of don’t. If you’ve got any guesses, let me know. For now, let’s just enjoy Shaw’s utter exasperation.

NB: Shaw, you could’ve broken out of those handcuffs at any point, so don’t even pretend…

Jokes aside, I asked Twitter:

“What is your favourite thing or quality about Root, and if she’s inspired you in any way, how so? How is she important to you?

Img8She really, really fucking loves Sameen Shaw.

Root: “Are we going ghost hunting? Or are we going Shaw hunting?”

This quote doesn’t seem like much, but in this episode (in which Root dresses up so many times that it almost seems like the Machine caught onto her tendency to play dress-up) Root knows Samaritan’s monitoring their communications. She knows that if she explicitly mentions Shaw’s name, Samaritan’s nation-wide surveillance will red-flag it and agents will come for her. Which, in true Root fashion, ends up with her, in a butter-churner outfit, shooting an agent with a rifle and then decking him across the face into unconsciousness.

This is not an uncommon theme. The episode after Shaw is taken by Samaritan, Root pleads with the Machine for Shaw’s location. She gets no response. Tracking crumbs, her and John journey to Maple, only to get felt up by the town sheriff, knock him out cold, dump him in a body bag, drag him up the stairs in their hotel lodge and then find some used craniotomy equipment, and a shit-load of transponders.

But no Shaw.

It’s never been confirmed, but it is an obvious set-up to plant ideas in their minds–especially when we know the actual outcome of Shaw’s captivity. Messing with Shaw’s head, ultimately, did not require such equipment. But when you see the leftover signs of brain surgery done in the back of a van, plus transponders, you can easily put two-and-two together. However, it’s here in Maple that Root’s newfound persona goes out of the window. Angered and disgusted, she has no qualms about drilling a hole into an innocent woman’s hand. She doesn’t care that she kills Martine: it’s utterly justified in her eyes. She doesn’t care that she nearly gets caught at the radio station for deliberately sending out a signal to Samaritan, in exchange for Shaw.

She doesn’t fear death, and she tells Shaw as such. She never fails to trust Shaw. The first thing she does when they finally get the compressed Machine back and running is to use the open system in an attempt to find Shaw.

Since joining the team, Root’s learned morals. A particular turning point for her was the episode “/” or “Root Path” in which she learned how her actions had affected and ruined Cyrus’ life. Amy Acker plays Root’s quiet realisation and mounting guilt to perfection. And it’s not just that: she learns that just because she believes in a greater being, and Cyrus believes in a ‘plan’, she is nobody to tell him he’s wrong. What she witnesses on his part is that despite his humble life, he’s happy where he is. Whereas before, Root had no qualms about playing God, she deliberately takes a step back and gives Cyrus free will over his life–because she doesn’t need a lecture from Harold to teach her this, or a wilted stare from John. She sees first-hand what her actions have led to, and that is the only push she needs.

Admittedly, it’s easy to mistake Root for a villain sometimes. She will go so far past what is socially acceptable that her blase way of brushing it off does not always sit well with viewers, who may prefer Shaw’s blunt approach or John’s traditional way of vigilante justice. But you rarely get a character like Root who recognises her wrongs, and corrects them when needed; sometimes she won’t, but she doesn’t owe anyone an explanation for why. And even if she does, she knows she is justified in her actions once she explains it.

The fact that she will kill, torture and scorch the earth to find the woman she loves, so cruelly taken away from her, sounds awful on paper. But when you watch Acker’s performance as the heartbroken, helpless woman who is so unused to being helpless and unable to do anything, or find someone, honestly, what do you expect?

If you loved someone as ardently as Root loves Shaw, and it’s Shaw who kissed you before sacrificing herself, when clearly, you had intended to be the one to lock the others in the elevator…When you know for a fact that Shaw had clocked you from the minute she pointed out the override button…When you know that Shaw sacrificed herself not for the team but for Root, how else would you react? Shaw knew she was the disposable one. Fusco’s needed in the precinct. John is essential to the team. Root and Harold are arguably the most important pieces on the chess board: the King and the Queen. Harold, in Shaw’s eyes, cannot be touched. Root is Root: Shaw would not let anything happen to her. Shaw is the knight. She had to make a risky move; she had to be knocked out of the way in order to get all the other pieces to safety. Shaw knows that Root is reading her train of thought correctly. Shaw also knew that Root didn’t give a flying fuck.

Shaw: “So Harold has a weakness.”

Root: [looking at Shaw] “We all do.”

Having all of that sitting on Root’s lovelorn shoulders…It’s not a surprise Root goes apeshit in the following episodes. It’s no surprise she and John go rogue for an episode to torture information from Control. It’s no surprise that Root will go to extreme lengths of sadism to find Shaw. She doesn’t just owe Shaw her life: she loves Shaw, and Shaw knows it. It’s arguably one of the main things that keeps her going in Samaritan’s captivity.

To the regular person, maybe Root isn’t the easiest person to get along with. But then again, Shaw was never a regular person anyway. Root is far from normal. Together, they make something quite special. And Root has honestly found the one person she would destroy the world for–and the one person who would not judge her for it.

Img4The team don’t seem to trust her for eons, but she never betrays them, and obeys Harold–even if she could’ve been the key to saving Carter.

This point frustrates the hell out of me. Locking Root in a Faraday cage is not the issue here, and I’ll throw this out there: I think Harold Finch did the right thing. I know Root is a fan-favourite, and she’s one of my favourites too (hey, I’m a Shaw girl). But when you lock her up for so long and ignore everything she says, especially when she advises you about the Machine, that’s fucked up. Harold is fully aware that Root likely knows the Machine much more “intimately” than he does–not because the Machine is inherently closer to Root, but because Root allows the Machine to speak to her like that. Harold, purposefully, has barred it.

Again, I can see where he’s coming from. His arguments are absolutely rational. We’ve seen the damage an option system can do and it’s not so much the Machine Harold is worried about…It’s himself. Which is an even fairer point. What if Harold did a 360 and became the next Greer? What if Harold’s access to unlimited power corrupted him? Harold cannot guarantee that it won’t happen. Taking such precautions is a testament to his character and his restraint.

But here’s my issue: Root is not speaking shit. And Harold knows this. Harold knows Root could’ve helped with the Carter debacle. Even if she couldn’t rescue everyone, we’re talking a billion Russians and HR dudes versus John, Carter, Shaw and Fusco. The odds, even if they were all Bruce Lee level fighters, are so badly stacked against them that it’s actually remarkable only one person died (RIP Carter). The only person to come to their senses is Shaw. She’s the only one who suggests letting Root out, and even then, it’s not because Shaw trusts her. It’s because she knows, as a soldier, an ISA operative, that they need as many bodies as they can. Plus, they have the added bonus of the Machine.

Still, after the Carter disaster, Root gets locked back up again. It gets to a point where Harold’s moved firmly past security and into the land of paranoia. The team don’t trust her for a very long time, until it really is Shaw who breaks the ice and works alongside her. The point is: despite all of this, Root remains unwaveringly loyal to Team Machine. She could easily have defected to Samaritan, clearly the superior ASI organisation, but she doesn’t. Over time, she gains the unconditional trust of everyone: John, Shaw, Finch and even Fusco. But it does really take time–and actually, I find that one of Root’s most admirable traits.

I love her oddball, weird humour; I love the fact that she speaks like a fucking fortune teller. I love her incessant flirting with Shaw, if only for Shaw’s exasperated reactions. I love her random nicknames for everyone (oh, Big Lug…) and I love her banter with Fusco. I love her and Bear.

But more than that, I loved the fact that she brought John a pot of jelly because he’d been sitting outside the hospital room for hours. I love the fact that she clearly told everyone to meet in the park in order to reintroduce Shaw, and made sure that the whole family was there. I love the fact that as ridiculous as it was, she still tried to keep Shaw entertained when she was effectively under house-arrest in the subway. I loved the fact that her message of ‘4AF’ was enough for Shaw to distinguish between reality and simulation. I loved the fact that she, in the middle of a shoot-out, could still remember the fact that she had uttered the phrase “four alarm fire”. I loved that she made the Machine remind Shaw she was an arrow. And I loved the fact that when they had a moment of peace in their safehouse, she did not choose to kiss Shaw passionately; she just held her hand, spoke softly, and relished the feel of Shaw’s fingers interlocking with  hers.

Root may not have been the most trustworthy person, from the team’s perspective, in the beginning. But time and time, she’s proved herself to them. And in return, not once did she fail to trust the team–and give her life for them. From a selfish, ‘higher-being’ obsessed assassin to an integral member of a team–a family she adored–Root arguably had the biggest growth arc of the series, and it was a true honour and a privilege to watch.

Img8.pngRoot’s morals may seem twisted, but she does not kill for killing’s sake.

Oh–and she’s hella underappreciated, too. You would never be able to count the number of times she has saved the team. Whether it is because of the Machine in her ear that wins Shaw over into driving in the dark, or whether it is getting shot and injured by Hersh but still ordering Shaw & co to escape, Root may appear self-centred and self-serving, but the correct term is surely martyr.

If Shaw had not gone and pressed the override button in If-Then-Else, Root would have been the first to run out of the lift and save the rest of the team. In fact, Root was pretty damn close. Shaw, who can at this point read Root like a book, knew exactly what was running through her mind. She may have kissed Root because in her mind, she had to do it before she died–but she knew it would take a rough yank of her coat and a firm kiss to distract Root from her heroics.

Like I’ve mentioned before, Shaw may not have been disposable to the audience, but she knew she was disposable to the team. Of course, Shaw adds much-needed skill-sets to Team Machine, but if we are talking firepower, Harold has had John protecting him for a good while now. With Samaritan advancing, they need a brain like Root’s far more than they needed Shaw’s ISA training.

In hindsight it is very easy to think like this. Given the situation, it is understandable, the level of wariness Harold had for Root. She did shoot a woman in the head…in her car. But you can only think “if only”. If only Harold had released Root when John’s number came up, perhaps Carter would not have met her demise. If only they had listened to Root when she suggested telling Fusco about the Machine, it would have saved him a lot of bother. It did not seem fair for Fusco to be hospitalised investigating something he didn’t even know the full story to, and Root recognised that. But at this point, Harold is far too paranoid about Samaritan’s reach to even consider this idea.

Ultimately, it is a clash of morals. Harold is very much a deontologist; he believes that every action he takes must be morally good, and he will reach a morally good end. Root and arguably Shaw is on the other end of the spectrum. They will do what they must to achieve the best end result…Even if it means breaking a few bones and rules along the way. Both ideologies have their merits. Harold’s many examples of this is clearly demonstrated throughout the series. As for Root–and John at this point–they are willing to use a rocket launcher against Control, who they think have Shaw, in order to gain information. Root is willing to torture Control because she believes the end justifies the means. Notably, Harold stops her.

But the most obvious example is the congressman dilemma. Everyone except Harold is in favour of killing a man who doesn’t even know the danger he will put the world in by allowing Samaritan to go ahead. What would you have done?

Would you have killed an innocent congressman for the greater good?

Or would you have let him live because it’s the morally right thing to do?

…Or indeed, is the morally right thing not allowing Samaritan into the world?

Img7Because if we’re all just shapes in the end, then Root…You’re a circle.

A never-ending, continuous circle. The spherical shape of the earth. The shape of a camera lens, watching every movement you track as you line up the perfect shot. Shaw was an arrow because she never deviated from her path–and she should never have to, because the way Root saw her, she is perfect as she is.

I like to take comfort in the fact that Root is a never-ending shape for me. That’s just my opinion. If you have any suggestions, feel free to tweet them at me at @NicolaChoi or comment in the section below. But I’ll briefly explain why I think a circle would be perfect for Root.

Just a quick disclaimer before I do: I’m one of the odd ones who didn’t mind that Root had to die. Happily ever after has never been Person of Interest’s style, though I do sort of resent it was Harold who reappeared after God knows how many years and went straight into Grace’s arms. John’s time was always borrowed, but even he deserved some semblance of longevity post-war with Samaritan. Root, similarly, was not so much on borrowed time. Seasons ago, she likely would’ve died with the close scrapes she had. Things only seemed to shift when her and Shaw were paired together, and then it became impossible to think of one without the other. (I’m sure Shaw was thrilled by that prospect).

The comfort I take from Root’s demise is that she never feared death. Sure, I think she deserved so much more. She deserved to be happy–with Shaw. But in The Day the World Went Away, she confesses that she found a family with Team Machine–and that’s something she never had, or ever dreamed of having. So in a very, very bittersweet way, I’m glad she found a family who respected and loved her before she passed. I like to think that she is somewhere up there, happily looking down and doing what she’s always done: guarding the (new) Team Machine.

Of course I want her alive. Of course I want more Amy Acker as Root on my television. But I can’t help but try and make the best of it.

And that’s why I like the idea of Root as a circle. I daresay it’s been proven on social media and other news outlets, too. She has not been forgotten. Root’s impact on television and audiences will go on for a long time. The fact that #RootDay was even brought to attention a couple of years ago proves that exact point. Shaw’s an arrow because Root would never want her to deviate from her path; she loves Shaw for that. But I like to think that Root, as a circle, will always be there; that she is eternal. If not on television, at least in the audience’s hearts.

I like to think that if Root is a circle, then she encompasses all of us who adored her. She is the boundary of our huddle, and a protective layer from the outside, enclosing all of us, bringing communities together, and utterly unbreakable.

Root lived her life to the full, and Amy Acker was sensational in the role. I’d probably go as far as to say that she gave one of the performances of the decade. It can’t be easy capturing all of Root’s quirks and nuances. But more importantly, she left a legacy.

Don’t forget her. I doubt you will. Don’t let the circle break. Don’t forget she’s all around us. Don’t forget this sensation in your chest when you think of the character Root. That sensation? It’s eternity–and hopefully, that is exactly what Root embodies.

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