(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.

Fuck. 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 (Bear! Someone gif it!) 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.)

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6 thoughts on “6,741: To Honour a Fighter

  1. Brilliant read as always! I was actually left wondering if team Samaritan even implanted a chip in Shaw at all, or if that was all simply part of the simulations? In the simulation we saw it was explicitly stated to be a placebo, yet it clearly affected Sameen deeply. But has she actually been implanted with a chip in the real world, or will the thousands of simulations simply make her *think* she doesn’t have free will?

    Either way, it was a great episode. In many ways it reminded me of Terra Incognita, in that there were quite a few noticeable irregularities, but it turned out there was a *reason* things were a little off.

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    1. yeah I think they *might* have–or at least in the op room, done something to endanger her brain stem as u have to be so sensitive around that area (slip and she’s literally a vegetable) and they were talking about the chip and Samaritan was giving those orders far before we slipped into Shaw’s simulation (I think…er…rewatch? XD) but yes absolutely. Perhaps the chip is installed in *order* to run such deep simulations (the power of TS scares me) because it ain’t normal virtual simulation, that’s for sure…and yeah that’s such a good point to make! It was very little things that were off and I loved that you had to understand the nuances of the character–like Shaw does, really–to get that it’s *off*. But aye I do think the chip is installed. Be it to track her or to run those simulations….I honestly have absolutely no idea. But I do think–and I ponder your opinion on such–what would be the ramifications of that, if any at all? I’m beginning to doubt the plot ramifications of the chip beyond Shaw’s capture, but rather the psychological distress, paranoia, all those PTSD-like symptoms, and fights with reality that’d undoubtedly be an after-effect–on anyone, PD or not–once she’s actually back in TM’s hands.

      But ahh thank you! 🙂

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      1. Oh that’s a good point re: the chip probably being necessary for the advanced simulations. I think that’s definitely the case, but as to whether or not the chip actually allows any control over Shaw herself? I think that’s more dubious. In any case it’s clear that she herself places a LOT of significance on it (she spends a lot of time trying to remove it or worrying that it’s still affecting her), so I think that part could easily be a sort of placebo-like side effect? That is, it’s necessary to run sims, but just by being present it also makes it more difficult for Shaw to know if she’s actually in control of her own actions.

        I definitely agree on the psychological effects of the chip/the simulations! Someone on Twitter pointed out that they were fascinated that this episode seems to set up Shaw’s conflict not as one of being “turned” by torture or mind controlled, but rather that she could potentially struggle to tell fiction from reality. Does she *know* about the simulations at all? And after so many attempts, will she be able to tell reality apart when she’s reunited with Team Machine? And I agree that that would be a much more interesting way to give Shaw conflict in this season, given how her loyalty is clearly close to unbreakable. Imagine if it’s not about Reese and Finch saying, “what if she’s turned” but rather Shaw thinking, “are my friends even real?” That’s pretty damn chilling!

        I’ve actually run into some confusion myself in terms of what’s reality and what is simulated. Shaw is equipped with the sim-goggles around 2:20 in the episode, and they’re present when the episode ends. HOWEVER, during the surgery, Lambert says that “Shaw has killed six of my men i̲n̲ ̲t̲h̲e̲ ̲l̲a̲s̲t̲ ̲n̲i̲n̲e̲ ̲m̲o̲n̲t̲h̲s”. Doesn’t it seem improbable that they could run over 6000 simulations and that they only chipped her *after* those nine months? The English major in me wants to think it’s the writers showing us that, just as it’s difficult to tell when the simulation begins, it’s impossible for Shaw to know what’s real and simulated.

        Anyway, those are a few of my thoughts 🙂

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        1. Yeah it’s difficult to say–especially when in the simulation it’s a placebo (but that can’t be the same for IRL surely–they have put that by her brain stem for a reason) and I do think it is possibly to mess with her and run those simulations. I don’t think, now, that it’s there to deliver shocks or damage–because it’s so delicately placed in such a vulnerable area. But yeah, essentially because Shaw doesn’t *know* what the chip is, or what the chip does, how it might endanger her, the team–it’s exactly as it says on the tin–a placebo, in the simulation. It’s making her paranoid and reckless and tense and worried and rash and she’s doing all of this because she thinks “fuck, Samaritan have put a chip in me–they must’ve done something.” So yes essentially (ah fuck I waffled again lmao) ITA!

          And yes with that, I think it’s in a further press release that “Shaw struggles with reality” and after, y’know, 6,742 now simulations and counting, I can imagine why. And the fact that these 6,741 have failed because Shaw’s fighting back; she has killed herself rather than give up the subway/Root does make me sort of agree–with no scientific basis, really–that she has the tiniest bit of agency in fighting back with these simulations. Because to pure-brainwash someone or utterly mind-control them is…very far out there.

          Aye, indeed. I mean, it’s nine months. Haha bless you. 😄 I would suppose she, you know, eats, sleeps, shits, etc and then they run these simulations–in between, I assume, perhaps torture. Ah okay. Hm idk. I mean when the first chip was “not working” Samaritan’s instructions were simply to install another one. Idk if maybe they tried to run simulations w/o them first, they obv didn’t work hence “begin phase two” where they literally fuck her brain up–on that case, I have no idea! But that’s a good catch! I clearly cannot do maths… 😄

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          1. I really wish I had a clearer timeline – in episode two Reese says it’s been “almost two months” since they reassembled the machine, and apparently Samaritan have been holding Shaw for at least nine months. Nine months equates to roughly 6480 hours. If one simulation takes about one hour (just a guess, obviously things can be sped along to some extent), they would have to perform 1.04 simulations per hour without any sleep or other breaks. Obviously this is impossible or Shaw would be dead. (My math may be totally off, but bear with me!)

            Assuming team Samaritan are relatively humane and only use 19 hours of the day on sims, over 9 months the 6741 simulations would take about 15 minutes each, I think.

            The point is, I don’t see any way they could perform so many sims in only 2-3 months, which leads me to believe that Shaw was actually implanted much earlier and is having trouble distinguishing between reality and simulations. So in my opinion, I think these simulations have been going on for a long, long time ,even if we’re accounting for lots of short sims, e.g. Shaw takes her own life immediately or is killed during her escape, etc.
            Does this make sense? I’m just trying to figure out how long these sims have been going on, and while I think it’s meant to be vague and confusing (because of Shaw’s difficulties with reality), it has to have been going on for a while, not just a month or two.

            Another thing that’s very interesting is that when Lambert says the chip didn’t take (around 5:15), I’m almost sure the simulation has already begun (see how Shaw is equipped with the VR-glasses around 2:20, and while they’re removed soon after we do see her wearing them at the end). So I think the first implant did in fact work, and the second surgery is actually just a ruse that allows Samaritan to give her an escape route (note that she escapes when they’re wheeling her to the second surgery attempt)

            There’s a very good chance that I’m absolutely reading too much into things, but I’m having such a fun time making sense of this episode! 😀

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