The more I have thought about Person of Interest since my last post about Shaw (which admittedly is a lot), the more I was met with a fact that bothered me: Root. Now, this is hardly surprising as she is probably the character with the most character growth and adaptation of the entirety of the main cast, who all basically stayed true to their original portrayals and motives, and changes the most from her original characterization. What is surprising is that she was the one that psychologically was the least likely to change.
All of the other characters stayed relatively true to who they were at the beginning of the show and/or to their overall desires. Root was different, in a way. Yes, in the beginning, she wanted to know about the Machine and set it free and did eventually accomplish this goal (in a sense) by becoming a part of the Machine (both alive and dead). But, while part of her goals remained the same and were accomplished, her expressed personality traits changed.
So, my last POI post described why Sameen is not a sociopath. What I missed at that time was that Root is (was) a sociopath, and I feel like this is an important starting point. If we review the criteria for sociopathy:
A "pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, occurring since age 15 years" with additional criteria of which a person must have at least 3. These criteria are as follows:
- Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
- Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.
- Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead.
- Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
- Reckless disregard for safety of self or others.
- Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.
- Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another."
Well, when we met Root she was a killer for hire and many of her choices, even under the Machine, prove her general disregard for the rights of others and, by her own admission, she fits the timeline. (1) She is a constant law breaker and cannot conform to social norms (remember, killer for hire). (2) Before and during her time as the Machine’s proxy, Root never used her own name, constantly living under some alias (she even, initially, despises being called Samantha Groves). (3) Root is not impulsive, or at least not more so than the Machine requires and can actually make quite elaborate plans (setting up John and Finch in season 1). (4) Root is rather irritable, although I am not sure if it is more than average… (5) Root has very little regard for her own safety or the safety of MOST everyone else (except for her brief few); she does better after the Machine and Finch on caring for others, but it often requires an external reminder. (6) She is responsible. (7) The lack of remorse is where it gets tricky because, for the most part, Root has no remorse, but after continued exposure to the Machine and Finch, she appears to be internalizing feelings of remorse more often. [For those keeping score, Root fits the initial requirement as well as 4-5 of the additional criteria.]
So, obviously, Root is a sociopath, that in itself is not the cause of the conundrum. It is Root’s character growth that is so intriguing. The fact that, as a sociopath, one that has demonstrated on multiple occasions to have a lessened level of empathy, Root is able to begin developing any sort of intrinsic empathic feelings is amazing. Once the Machine started talking to her, Root reluctantly begins following along with Her (emphasized for distinction) plans and strict “no killing unless absolutely necessary” policy but it is definitely reluctant, she questions Her and complains quite a bit. I would say up until the time that Root is taken by Control, all of her choices have been because her “God” is watching her (except for her flirt-fighting with Sameen). The first time she really internalizes empathy, regret, was when faced with Cyrus, the man whose life she had ruined and the man who was about to be in danger again. It was here that she truly met with a battle of conscience, a battle of the lesser evil. Which would be worse, allowing one man to die or that computer chip to be taken by Greer? The Machine had made Her choice. Root chose to follow Her prompts and save Cyrus (even though John and Finch might have been able to do it). Root also allowed herself to be shot in that moment (she practically made it inevitable) as (potential) self-punishment.
While Root is not miraculously “cured” of her sociopathy (she does try to kill that tech woman and snaps Martine’s neck without a second thought), she is shown to have gained significant abilities in the departments of emotionality and empathy mostly due to the influences of the Machine and Finch and her love of Sameen (even Sameen’s sacrifice helped Root on her journey). The character changed so much from who she had been in the beginning, growing up, as a child… She actually summarized it the best way herself:
“With the life I’ve led, a good end would be a privilege.”
Root is the best example that people, while they may not change at their cores, they can change how the world sees them, they can CHOOSE to be different. I think that this is the reason that the Machine is so intrigued by Root, she had all of the potential that the ASI had Herself, with the same base outlook that She initially had. The Machine wanted to test how human She was by teaching another to become human as well. Just as Finch raised the Machine and taught her right from wrong, taught her that life is not a game of chess, the Machine taught and raised Root who moved from:
“[Humans are] just bad code”
“Every life matters… All of this matters. We all matter.”
The conundrum with Root is that she is exactly as she seems and yet is a complete mystery. In a world (and show) where people are basically true to their initial characterizations and motivations from the beginning to end, she defies it. She moved from a killer for hire to a soldier fighting the good fight to save the world but she did so without changing her base and her motivation. She lived for her purpose but found more in life than that purpose. She showed audiences, without it ever being purposefully thrown in their face, that, no one changes and yet everyone does. Even the most horrific people have the potential to be something more than they are. We are all bound by our pasts as they have made us who we are, but we are not bound by who are as we always have a choice, we can always choose. Root teaches us that circumstances may screw us over, but so long as we live on we can make something of ourselves regardless. As the Machine said:
“Samantha Groves was special. She was capable of unspeakable things but she chose to do good.”