This episode is one of the most, uh, relevant (get it? ’cause the episode is called Relevance? anyway) to my life as a television lover. And as a queer woman, to be honest. What I’m about to review changed my life. Sit tight, ’cause I’m about to write the first of many installments of love letters to Sarah Shahi.
I have watched the whole show before, so SPOILERS MIGHT HAPPEN. Big spoilers will be blanked out but references and irrelevant spoilers are going to be out in the open.
I am screaming internally just thinking about reviewing this episode. Let’s begin.
TW for mild gore, blood (in the episode and in this review)
We start like usual, with the opening credits. Except, a blue screen with a code interrupts it. And a view into the Machine’s internal process. What do we have here?
There’s an anomaly detected, and the Machine turns her (and therefore our) eyes towards the ‘Relevant’ operations. I know that’s what this screen means cause I’ve watched this before, but right now you’re supposed to be very confused. C’mon, act confused.
 There’s a lot of new information here, but here is the gist: A guy named Daniel Aquino (who is tagged with a yellow box by the Machine, meaning he is in the know about our AI friend) is killed by ISA operatives – the Itelligence Support Activity, the same people who were after Henry Peck for accidentally asking about the Machine – for “asking too many questions”. On orders from Special Counsel. *MYSTERYYYYY*
The Machine tracks this ISA operative to Berlin, now in real time, back in the present.
Carmen de la Pica Morales Sarah Shahi is wandering about the streets of Berlin with a shopping bag and a latte, when two men ask her if she’s following them. She tells them it’s all a mistake, but then they take out their guns. Who you gonna call? No one, cause she just shot them both dead first.
Is she..? You hesitate. Yes she is. She is the ISA operative from the relevant side, the one the Machine was tracking, now on a mission to shut down some dudes who are building dirty bombs – and who are Arab, of course *groans forever*. She asks ‘Control’ (a code name for someone who we will one day meet) if she can proceed. Yes she can. Proceed with what? Sleep-gassing the bad guys’ apartment and going in with a mask to take away their bomb ingredients, of course. Her partner, Michael Cole, points out no one’s crazy enough to use gas except for her and the FSB (Russian military service).
As we later learn, she is not the only one, so clearly it was meant to be. She’s such a baddass. I need several moments.
Problem is, one of the windows cracked open, and one of the baddies wakes up. It’s not really a problem though, ’cause she’s a motherfucking boss who shoots him dead through a wall.
Shaw: Pull the fire alarm and head down to the street.
Cole: What are you gonna be doing?
Shaw (casually pulls out her pocket knife): Getting my bullets back. We were never here, remember?
Her boss, Wilson, gives her their new number (they also get numbers! are you not thrilled?), who’s in New York City. She points out it’s odd for Wilson to deliver those in person. She also keeps referring to an entity called Research, which is basically the cute nickname the ISA has for the Machine.
Cole wonders out loud where Research gets its numbers, and Shaw shuts it down, insinuating it’s probably Guantanamo or something, and that they don’t ask because the numbers are never wrong. Cole has his doubts, though, since he dug deeper into the ‘Aquino case’ (the one from the opening flashback), and the guy turned out to be a government contractor of some sort, not a traitor. Shaw is visibly worried about what Cole is getting himself into with his digging.
And almost 10 minutes in, we finally see a familiar face: John. Shaw tells Cole she’s been made by a handsome man in a suit, and Cole says he’s probably just checking her out. Neither of them is right, per se. He is there for a number. They’re both there for numbers, in a way, and aren’t we all?
Shaw’s number is this guy who recently moved to Queens and got a big fat mysterious money transfer in his account. He’s up to something, that’s why they got his number right? But when Cole gets into his computer, he finds emails with their (Cole and Shaw’s) names on them. Weird. Then Cole gets a message saying it’s a trap, and to get out. Weirder. But before we get a chance to hypothesize, someone shoots and kills Cole. What the fuck! What the fuck indeed.
He seemed like a nice enough mediocre white man. And like, who sent them? What happened?
Oh, but Shaw is pissed. Her eyes are watery and she is ready to kill everyone. She grabs a bad guy and shoves a grenade inside his gas mask so it explodes in his face, and then uses him as a cushion to land on as she throws herself out a window. John enters the scene, tells her he is there to help, and then she shoots him (in the vest, it’s fine). She is so done with people’s bullshit today, and every day after that. As she is headed out, she notices a bunch of armed men have been kneecapped. Heh.
She also notices Wilson is the one giving the orders to the men who killed her partner and were trying to kill her too just now. Wilson. Her boss. Yikes! He shoots her in the abdomen, but she manages to escape. He reports back to Special Counsel, who is not pleased. And accidentally to Root, who is listening in.
She tricks a drug dealer, Lewis, into getting her into their apartment, and gets him to get her painkillers, razor blades, a mirror, and some gauze or towels. What, why? Well she’s gonna take the bullet in her gut out herself. Like the baddass warrior princess that she is.
After taking the bullet out, she loses consciousness and when she wakes up, there’s a third guy who has taken her gun and is mocking her (the nerve!)
Guy: What are you supposed to be, some kind of baddass?
Shaw: Not really, I have what’s called an Axis II personality disorder.
Guy: What’s that supposed to mean?
Shaw: It means that when I kill you and your friend, I’m not really gonna feel anything.
I want to talk about this exchange a bit. Because the show gets better, from what I read with people with ASPD which is what Shaw is later revealed to have, but it starts off really weird with regards to Shaw. Axis II PD’s are many (Borderline, Antisocial, Narcissistic, Schizoid, etc), and vary greatly. None of them really mean she wouldn’t feel anything. From the way she talks about herself in later episodes, it seems that she’s either internalized or reclaimed (or both) a lot of stereotypes about Antisocial personality desorder which is why she phrases it that way. But when I first listened to this dialogue I was concerned. I like that she sees her ASPD as a kind of superpower in her line of work, and this is just a very weird phrasing of that fact.
Sure enough, she takes out a backup gun and shoots them all, except Lewis, and sits back down to have a beer next to one of the dead guys. She looks into what got Cole killed (the Aquino files), and tracks down Cole’s contact, Veronica Sinclair. They agree to meet the next day in a hotel room *cue cheesy porn music*.
Hersh: Shaw’s one of our best. Trained her myself. You’re not gonna find her till she wants to be found.
Special Counsel: Is Shaw gonna look into the Aquino situation, or simply come after us for revenge?
Hersh: Both. She’s a multi-tasker. That’s why I hired her.
It fills my heart with joy to think Hersh and Shaw worked together at some point. I wish we got flashbacks of that.
Shaw calls Wilson and tells him she wants to meet Control, or else she goes public with the Aquino mess. And then she goes meet Veronica Sinclair, who looks a lot like… wait a minute.
Holy shit, holy shit. They’re about to meet. My two favorite disturbing assassins are about to meet!
Root (after Shaw sees the real Veronica tied up, so she tases her): I read your file and I’m kind of a big fan. So I really don’t want to hurt you.
This is so gay. I am so gay. I am truly a new gayer person every time I watch this scene.
Root is trying to get information from Shaw, about Aquino’s contact with the government. They built a facility together for a project coded Research (so a facility for the Machine! Root is getting close to that, huh?) but she needs that name. So she takes out the iron.
My heart, my panties, it’s all wet and ruined forever.
Government/ISA bros interrupt this precious moment, unfortunately, and stick a needle on Shaw’s shoulder. Root is long gone, obviously. Before they can kill her, she grabs a gun and shoots two of them, and then the third one drops too. Well, not drops, more like he is shot by John.
John: Can you do me a favor? Can you not shoot me this time?
Shaw: Give me a good reason.
John: Well, I don’t know, I’m a really nice person. And, well, (points to the needle on Shaw’s back), that.
Siblings for life!
John takes her to Harold. In case you haven’t caught on, John has been trying to help this entire time, because Shaw (and Cole) were John and Finch’s numbers of the week! Them being agents that probably have aliases covering aliases covering aliases, and a million dead ends along the way, it was a bit hard for them to realize what the whole picture was. But they tried. E for Effort, friends. Harry cryptically talks about how the world has changed, and tells Shaw that they work for the same entity, what she calls Research, except Research “doesn’t exist”. Yea ok Harold, very helpful. He gives Sameen a card with his number in case she wants another job, which she refuses. She has a date with Control.
Exceeeept of course she’s not gonna meet Control. Control is too high up to deign show up, so Special Counsel it is.
But she doesn’t kill him! Why?! Oh, right, she wanted to give him back the Aquino info herself, because she believes in the program. She knows the decisions and covert ass shenanigans Special Counsel has to pull are for the good of the many, to protect against terrorism (I need to try really hard not to think about how bullshit the war on terror is in actuality.) That makes sense, too. She is a pragmatic gal, after all. Why didn’t she just give it to Wilson? ‘Cause he’s useless, and he was the one to order to kill Cole and Shaw.
Special Counsel: Hersh was right. You are a good soldier. You didn’t want revenge. You wanted to protect the program.
Shaw: A good soldier does both.
In yet another moment of baddass visuals paired with baddass music, Shaw walks out to ‘Future Starts Slow’ by The Kills, like nothing can touch her. Except, Hersh can, and does, injecting her with poison. She falls to the ground, as do our hopes and dreams.
But who is there to catch our falling dreams? Joss, Queen of my heart, of course. And Fusco! And Leon, pretending to be a paramedic! They rescue her, and Bear wakes her up by licking her face (the beginning of one of the purest relationships that’s ever happened)!
Shaw wakes up disoriented, and finds herself inside an ambulance, at a cemetery. She gets out of the ambulance to see Harold and John, who offers her a water bottle.
John: Dying can make you thirsty.
Speaking from experience there, Johnny boy, I imagine.
Okay but I wanna know, why was Leon there? Did they call him to help, or did his number come up again and that’s why he was around? My money is on the latter. What did he get into this time, I wanna know. He skedaddles the second Shaw wakes up, because apparently she tried to kill him on the ride over. Another thing I would’ve liked to see.
Harold explains to Shaw that they had to let her “officially die” so that the government bros would stop trying to kill her. Leon forgot to pat her down though, so of course Shaw takes their phones at gunpoint, takes Harold’s number this time, and leaves them stranded. “Trust is overrated.” And this is why she is my wife. I trust people too much.
Harold: You think she’ll call us a taxi?
And when will we see her again? Where is she going? Where did Root go?
Well, you’ll have to keep watching.
*** RANDOM REALIZATION TIME (WITH SPOILERS TO THE FUTURE OF ROOT IN THE SERIES): ***
When Nathan first built the backdoor, Harold worried that it was dangerous to have a backdoor because through it someone could access the machine, to either uncover it or alter it. I had not thought of the fact that that is pretty much what happened with Root. She ran across it through the backdoor (when she was the perpetrator in Root Cause), eventually weaseled her way to the relevant end of things, and would later have access to it. Except, it was with the Machine’s awareness and consent, and with the Machine “getting into” Root too. They altered each other’s system, which is something Harold, with his denial of the Machine’s intelligence, could not have predicted. He taught the Machine to protect itself in more ways than one.