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Performers Of The Month - June Winner: Outstanding Actress - Sarah Shahi


When a performer takes on a part, their prime objective is to bring vivid life to their character. How they choose to do that is at their discretion. Some, a select brilliant few, take their responsibility to their job a step further and use the character to tackle a societal deficiency. Unfortunately, in the twenty-first century, it is still a notable topic when a woman plays a powerful kickass woman. It's an even bigger topic if that kickass woman also happens to fall into the LGBT spectrum. Sarah Shahi's character on Person of Interest, Sameen Shaw, fit into both of those categories. She was extraordinarily powerful and had an intense love with another person whom just happened to also be a woman. Shahi, a longtime LGBT supporter, embraced the responsibility to both facets of this complex character. From the very beginning, she embraced, and even encouraged, the growing bond between Shaw and Root (played by May's POTM winner Amy Acker). Shahi is outspoken and brutally honest and doesn't pull punches when she thinks something needs addressing. Viewers gravitate towards her because of that personal strength she always incorporates into her characters. Shaw was written as a strong character and she just happened to be a woman, and that's how Shahi played her. The show made Shaw just as strong and formidable as any man on the show and Shahi embraced that strength to give life to this incredibly strong and perfectly flawed kickass woman. For these reasons and many more that are too numerous to list, it comes as absolutely no surprise that she won the fan-given title of most outstanding actress for June. This win was primarily for the series finale of Person of Interest, return 0, but that episode was only one prime example of Shahi's extraordinary work in June.

Before I get into talking about return 0, I have to take a moment to speak about an episode that aired in May, entitled 6,741. It is important to comment on this episode, despite it airing outside of June, because it was in that episode that Shahi delivered what was, up until that point, the best performance of her illustrious career. Shaw is a fundamentally flawed character who, thanks to a psychological condition, can't connect with her emotions like everyone else. In this episode, viewers were given an intimate look inside Shaw's brain and saw a slightly more emotionally connected version of the character. Shahi collaborated with Amy Acker to deliver an episode that elevated both actresses and their characters. Shahi got to connect Shaw to Acker's Root in a way she was incapable of doing in the real world, turning in an awe-inspiring performance that I personally thought would be impossible for her to top anytime soon. However, in typical Shahi fashion, a mere nine episodes later, she did just that as she topped her own prior best by delivering an intense and emotionally driven performance in return 0.

After the devastating loss of Root, the audience got to see Shaw struggle with trying to figure out how to deal with that loss. Her inability to connect to her emotions made her mourning process all that much harder. Shahi's tour de force performances in 6,741 and return 0 were both extraordinary examples of her extreme acting prowess, but the difficult emotional line Shahi had to walk in return 0 allowed that performance to become the standout moment in her extraordinary career. The line she had to walk in 6,741 was no cake walk either, but she was able to bring a bit more natural emotion into that performance. In return 0, she had to show this powerful woman mourning the love of her life in a unique way that the audience could connect with. She was given an amazing script to work with, but it was her acting choices that really made this performance shine.

Among the most powerful moments in this episode was the straight as an arrow moment, but before the show even got to that defining moment, there was the graveyard scene. After finally accepting she was living in a cruel reality, she went to Root's final resting place to say goodbye. The way Shahi played this moment, you could see the uncertain confusion Shaw was experiencing as she tried to deal with feelings she couldn't really quantify. We know that in the deepest recesses of her subconscious, she feels a powerful love for Root but on the exterior, its hard for her to show that. It is that quality that challenged Root and further endeared Shaw to her. When Root's voice infiltrated Shaw's mind, she experienced an instinctual reaction to hearing the voice of the woman she loved and Shahi was spot on in her interpretation of this pivotal moment. This was the beginning of an interesting emotional journey for Shaw. Anyone that has followed Shahi's career knows that she has incredible emotional range so it has been a pleasure to see her have to rein all of that in and find a way to show emotion in a whole new way. Even with all the restrictions placed on Shahi, she still managed to make Shaw wholly relatable and emotionally intriguing to the audience. Very few actresses could have tapped into Shaw's core the way Shahi did, and the work she did with this character reached a level where even describing it as perfection isn't a worthy enough description.

Another defining moment in return 0 was when Shaw tracked down the man who killed Root and ensured that Root and her friends were appropriately avenged. Root was Shaw's emotional compass and, along with Finch and Reese, her connections to humanity. Shahi was brilliant in showing this beautiful, confusing mix of emotional acceptance and disconnected humanity as she pulled the trigger. These are very conflicting concepts which Shahi somehow magically manipulated together to deliver an entirely new emotional concept. She understood Shaw in such a way that she could tap into these shallow pockets of emotion hidden deeply within Shaw and pull out these uniquely intense emotional moments. Because, and I dare someone to argue differently, the killing of that man was nothing but a primal emotional response caused by the loss of people she loved. Shaw may not have fully understood the emotions behind the moment but Shahi certainly did, and she allowed the audience to feel all that Shaw was. As she pulled the trigger, it didn't bring any relief to Shaw, but it gave her a sense of doing one last deed for those who had given so much to her. Shahi captured this moment in an emotional way while still being very true to her character and remaining within Shaw's capacity to feel.

The best scene in return 0 was when the Machine was saying goodbye to Shaw. The Machine understood that Shaw wasn't allowed any closure with Root, so in her own way she gave both Root and Shaw the final goodbye they, and the audience, wish they had been able to have. This was a unique scene because Shahi had to act opposite nothing more than a voice off screen in what was easily the most emotional real-life moment Shaw ever experienced on the show. As the words echoed in Shaw's ear, Shahi somehow managed to keep her face stoic and strong, but her eyes told a deep emotional story. As the Machine spoke to Shaw, the audience could see Shahi's eyes grow glassy with emotion as Root's voice elicited an emotional response from Shaw. She couldn't fully connect with the emotions raging through her, but the part of her still in mourning couldn't be fully repressed. Shaw was a straight and true arrow and that was one of the many reasons Root loved her. Root loved Shaw for who she was and never wanted to change a single thing about her. What they had was a prime example of unconditional love, and while Shahi had to play that love in sarcastic tones, the true meaning of her words resonated with viewers.

The show established that both Root and Shaw would have rather died than live without the other. It was devastating that after Root fought so valiantly to get Shaw back and Shaw fought so hard to get back to Root that they were permanently pulled apart so soon after their reunion. Shaw killed herself well over seven thousand times in simulations in the name of protecting Root. I don't think she ever expected to outlive Root and when that reality was presented to her, the concept was so foreign that she didn't even know how to react to it. After word of Root's death reached her, she withdrew into some dark recess of her mind to avoid having to confront the confusion Root's death caused. Until Shaw met Root, she lived a very structured life to avoid having to deal with any sort of emotions. Root presented Shaw with a whole array of emotions her brain wasn't capable of computing. But having Root around gave Shaw an emotional bond like she never had with any other human. When she was with Root, she had a conduit to experience emotions through. Losing Root caused a disconnect that set her on an unpredictable spiral. The way Shahi played that spiral was incredibly powerful as Shaw desperately tried to make sense of paralyzing emotions. Anger is the one emotion Shaw could connect with and it was all she really had to aid her in coping with Root's death. When Shahi fully embraced Shaw's anger, you could feel her energy pulsing through the screen. In the end, the need to continue Root's mission and see it through to the end kept Shaw from turning a gun on herself after Root's death. Then, as that mission wound down, it was Root's voice that kept her from charging full on into a suicide mission. Root, even from beyond the grave, found a way to make sure that Shaw lived on because through Shaw and their eternal love they will forever be joined. Root will live on through the reborn Machine and, more importantly, she will live on through Shaw. Root's physical body is gone, but there is little doubt that the voice on the other end of the phone at the end of the finale was that of Root, for it is only her voice that could pull that kind of smile from Shaw.

While that final smile spoke volumes to Shaw's journey, the most powerful scene of the series finale was the arrow scene I mentioned earlier. What was truly extraordinary about this scene was how flawlessly Shahi was able to connect with Acker despite her co-star not even being on screen with her during this pivotal scene. Shahi's performance perfectly matched Acker's delivery of Root's message to Shaw, her eyes glistening in the right moments and the tears dropping at the exact right time. Shahi's silent performance made the moment all that more poignant for the audience. Shahi has always had incredible chemistry with whomever she is working opposite on any show, but never to the degree she had with Acker. Both are incredible actresses on their own, but paired together on screen they delivered some of the most stunning moments of their careers. Their chemistry gave birth to the relationship between their characters and their joint commitment to nurture that relationship made it something truly special that will live on in the lexicon of pop culture until the end of time. In almost all of these articles, I take a moment to commend the scene partners of the winners. The truth is, in this case, you absolutely can't talk about either character or either actress without mentioning the other because these parts richly intertwined them. For years, and likely decades, to hear the mention of one will elicit a reference to the other. Their hard work and dedication to Shaw and Root has forever bonded them in ways I doubt they could have fully comprehended when this journey began.

Acker started off the season sans Shahi and delivered phenomenal work, and Shahi ended the season sans Acker and also delivered phenomenal performances. Together they were magical, but individually, they are top class performers, as each proved time and time again in this show. Shahi had to guide Shaw through an unconventional mourning process and do it in a way where the audience could understand what Shaw was innately feeling. Shaw went into a denial of sorts as she hoped the loss of the woman she loved was nothing more than part of a sinister simulation. In Synecdoche (5x11), Shahi was given yet another golden opportunity to shine in June and she delivered an intense and powerful performance. I briefly alluded to this episode above: It is where Shaw desperately wanted the life she was living to be part of a simulation and she was willing to sacrifice herself in order to cause a reset. The problem is the life she was living was all too real, and the Machine understood Shaw's pain. She passed on Root's mission to Shaw to give her a way to connect with the love she lost. The Machine knew Root wanted Shaw to live on and ensured that Shaw was able to connect with enough of Root's memory to keep her fighting. Shahi was a standout in this episode as she showed Shaw coming undone in the wake of Root's death. Shaw has always been a steadfast and reliable character, but even the most reliable of characters have a breaking point and Root's death should have been that for Shaw. Instead, Shahi showed Shaw's intense strength and showed the kickass warrior rally to honor Root's memory. This episode was one of the few times the audience got to see Shaw fully embrace her anger and lash out in an uncontrolled way. Shahi seemed to embrace a wounded animal mentality in her portrayal of Shaw's grieving, and while her performances in 6,741 and return 0 still reign supreme as the best of her career, Synecdoche sits very high up in the list.

Shahi has been acting for a long time, but the first big role she was known for was playing Carmen in The L Word. It was thanks to that show that she gained a huge LGBT fan following and she has gone out of her way to ensure that she respects those fans and she tries to ensure they are represented. She is vocal in her support of LGBT rights and has no problem chastising those who go against her belief in everyone being equally represented. I have seen her in more than a few interviews and every chance she gets, she brings up her fans and how much they mean to her. Whenever possible, she incorporates LGBT issues into her interviews and makes sure that the voices of her fans are never silenced. She was blessed with a platform to have her voice heard and she has used that to her fullest ability. A lot of performers try to shy away from topics that may be perceived as controversial in some circles, but Shahi stares down controversy and tackles it full on in the name of representing those who have supported her. As a performer, that is an admirable quality, and it speaks volumes to her character as a person. She has a strong moral compass and a strong appreciation for those who have supported her, and for that, one really has little choice but to admire her. One thing is for certain: She has built a career around embodying strong women and that has given her fans confidence to follow her to any part she partakes in. Most performers have role specific fans, but the majority of Shahi's fans continue to follow her from role to role because they trust her judgment in the characters she picks to play. Her most recent pilot, Drew, didn't get picked up, but the reasoning of the network was unacceptable [Editors note: The reported reason that Drew wasn't ordered to series was because it was described as too female, a claim refuted by CBS executives at the networks Upfront press breakfast back in May.], and Shahi let that be known. But she also let it be known that the show itself wasn't at a level where she found it to be a viable show. Her honesty is refreshing and admirable, and her fans can rest assured that she will always strive to deliver fully developed characters to their screens.

One day, being a strong woman on television won't be a talking point. Strong women will just be the norm, and while I think we're nearing the cusp of that, the industry still has a bit more work to do, but until that day comes, Shahi will remain a shining example of a strong woman tackling strong women characters in a true to life, powerhouse way. She isn't just a standout performer but a standout woman and whatever role she takes on next is sure to be as extraordinary as all the others that came before it. Her acting prowess and steadfast dedication to her craft will keep her employed and gracing our screens for a long time to come. While Shaw may have departed our screens, we can rest assured that they won't be void of Shahi for long. I bet even as I type this, casting directors are fighting over the opportunity to cast her in any number of projects. Shahi is a truly unique performer and her fans are anxiously waiting for the next time they get to enjoy her work.

Due to the sheer volume of extraordinary work Shahi did in June, it was impossible to cover all of Shahi's outstanding moments. Feel free to use the comments section to talk about any of the moments that this article was unable to cover.

Sarah Shahi was your fan pick as the most Outstanding Actress of June. Hit the comments below to tell others why you think she earned this title and what you most enjoyed about her June performances.

Big thanks to Bradley Adams for helping to edit this article!

PLEASE READ: This is an article to recognize Sarah's work and to honor her performance in June on Person of Interest. Shipper-related bashing will not be tolerated in the comments, even from Sarah's fans. Honor the performer and her performance. Have fun and be kind to one another.

Note: This is a generic warning to avoid any issues in the comments section and to help keep this a fun and safe place to gush about the winners.


About the Author - Aimee Hicks
Aimee works for a newspaper in North Carolina and has a BA in Broadcasting and Cinema. She has been a TV lover since before she really understood what TV was. She has a long list of shows that she loves to watch and can be found on twitter (@ahicks83) live tweeting about each new episode whenever she can. If the show is sci-fi, fantasy, comic book based, drama, or action the odds are good she watches it or has at least watched a few episodes of it. She also has a love for comedies 2 Broke Girls and Mom. She was the original creator and co-founder of LOST Video Island (lostvideo.net) which is still operating under the management of the very capable and skilled group she turned it over to.
You can email her at aimee@spoilertv.com.
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