Note: This post contains some spoilers about the episode of Person of Interest that aired on November 19, 2013.
I was twelve years old when I saw Star Wars. (You know, the “first” film. The one with Luke and Leia and Han Solo. The real one.) I distinctly remember emerging from the theater and saying to my best friend, “That was wonderful! But you know what *I* would have done? I would have had Princess Leia die. That would have made the story so much better!”
What can I say? I was twelve years old. I thought that the only way to jack up emotion in a plot was to have a tragic heroine die. Then, all the cute boys (especially soulful Luke Skywalker, who was so dreamy…) could gather around her grave and look bravely sad and vow to avenge her death and be all heroic and stuff. Then, the movie would have meaning. (And yeah, now I think Luke is a whining farmboy. But then…)
A loooong time has passed since then. I’ve learned that there are some stories that aren’t meant to have great meaning; instead, they’re meant to entertain. I’ve learned that there are other ways to add meaning to a plot, without a tragic death-of-a-heroine. I’ve learned that real heroes can express their heroics in ways other than looking sad and avenging death.
But I remain astonished by media that still don’t get those lessons in storytelling. And that brings me to Person of Interest. And here’s where I get spoiler-y, so bail, if that kind of thing bothers you.
I’m going to talk about specifics of the plot.
About who lives, and who dies, and why, and how.
Okay. First of all, I’ve enjoyed Person of Interest. It’s filled the slot in our T.V. schedule that Numb3rs used to fill — a mildly brainy action adventure show, with quirky characters who act consistently within their relatively narrow definitions. I’ve enjoyed the discussions out in PoI fandom-land about how Reese and Finch are two aspects of the same super-hero. I’ve truly enjoyed the introduction of Shaw, and her force for chaotic-good, and her consistently putting Reese in his place, often with snappy banter.
At the same time, PoI has never been my favorite show. I’ve become too exasperated with the long outside storylines, the super-villains who keep coming back, the long diversions from the central idea. I’ve become frustrated with the absurdity of the H.R. plotline — that every copy in the city is on the take, and every judge (except maybe the one Carter didn’t go to), that there are *no* Good Men left in law enforcement. I’ve become bored with two characters — Carter and Fusco — who merged into identical roles, the only good cops on the entire force, both with a soft spot for aiding and abetting our Heroic Avengers, both with precious sons at home, to whom they were fully dedicated. It was clear to me that one of those two characters would have to go — they had become absolutely redundant, for storytelling purposes.
So, I wasn’t astonished when they killed off Carter. But I was truly disappointed in how they did it. The instant the balance shifted between Reese and Carer, the second he got all soulful and introspective and mushy-in-love-with her, she was doomed. (Certainly in last night’s show. But even a few episodes back, pretty much everything after the fist-bump.)
Because that’s what you do to jack up interest in a show. Kill the girl. Especially the girl who has any sort of sex life. (Admittedly, just a kiss here, but still…)
I resented their stripping Carter’s accomplishments from her — she had been a strong, smart cop who fought back against the forces that murdered her then-romantic-interest (who conveniently wasn’t mentioned in all the lovey-dovey crap last night), who struggled and succeeded in building an independent platform for herself. Her agency is completely stripped away, as Our Hero sacrifices himself to let her get away. (Why couldn’t she be the one to climb through the vent? Why couldn’t she be the one to draw the bad guys away?)
But one kiss, and she’s a goner. One intimation of … intimacy, and she’s doomed.
I hadn’t really thought about it until last night, but I think I enjoy writing romances because women don’t have to die, just because they love someone. Sex doesn’t kill them, the way it does on PoI, the way it does in crappy horror movies, the way it does in a lot of genre what-passes-for-entertainment.
Instead, in romances, women can have sex. They have to suffer through some dark times. But they emerge whole, with the person they love, moving forward on whatever mission is important to them.
I’m pretty sure PoI made a huge mistake last night. Not just in triggering my stabby, gut-response, feminist wrath. But in leaving themselves with the less-interesting of their two clones to continue. Carter had depth. Fusco… not so much. But now they’ll get to put him through his paces. His next girlfriend, though, better watch out, if he even starts to move toward first base.