The death of Joss Carter

I haven’t watched Person of Interest since the writers’ decision to kill Joss Carter. Here I’ll explain why that decision continues to upset me.

Joss’s role as one of the three main characters was to bring the show back down to earth, to add believability. The idea of a guy with genius programming abilities and virtually limitless funds joining forces with a guy with action hero powers to fight crime might almost be silly if not tempered by real-world considerations. And as an audience, we can’t truly identify with the superhero. Like Bones needs Booth, like Holmes needs Watson, like Superman needs Clark Kent’s relationships with regular people, the John-and-Howard superteam needs Joss. And so Joss was there from the beginning, balancing John and Howard out.

At first, Joss was something of an antagonist, then she became a protector, and then she struck out on her own. After Fusco’s story arc, Joss’ may have been the richest of all the characters’. We see it as it happens, whereas John and Howard’s character development has largely been flashback.

Beyond being a necessary counterpoint to John and Howard, Joss was the only relatable female character in the show. Root is fascinating, and Shaw is a lot of fun, but neither of them is a person the audience can really identify with. Root and Shaw are also lithe; Joss’ full figure was a welcome change from the Hollywood stereotype. Joss was also the only person of color in the main cast.

In one fell swoop, the writers have transformed Person of Interest into a show about a bunch of larger-than-life white people. Yawn.

The decision to kill Joss was bad enough, but then they had to do it so badly. Don’t get me wrong, the suspense and twist at the end were well done. But there was a completely unnecessary element: Joss and John’s supposed love story.

I have never picked up on a romantic relationship between Joss and John. Retconning it in at the last minute cheapens her death. It seems to say that the reason her life meant something is because she was John’s love interest. That she had no worth beyond that. That John wouldn’t have found her death as tragic if not for that element. (And they’ve already done a star-crossed lovers story for John. No need to do another one!)

Downgrading Joss from main character status to love interest status also reinforces the fallacious notion that men and women can’t have relationships without romantic love eventually coming up. If this were true in the real world, we’d never get anything done.

Joss and John were comrades. Buddies. Friends. Yes, of course they cared about each other, but I would argue that it was in the same way John and Howard care about each other. I highly doubt the writers would shoehorn a love story into an episode about Howard’s death.

I also highly doubt the writers will kill Howard, or John. I don’t feel that Joss’ death has suddenly made the show more “dangerous”, in which “anything can happen”, as the producers seem to be claiming. The writers were able to kill Joss because she was a she and a person of color, therefore traditionally expendable.┬áHer death relegates her to “token black character”. It doesn’t matter that removing her character from the show changes the concept. Audiences have plenty of precedent for minority characters being offed regardless of their importance. We understand it, and unfortunately we accept it.

I have no doubt in my mind that the writers consider killing off John or Howard much more difficult–that such a thing would break the show. Yes, it would change the concept. Joss’ death also changes the concept. But unlike Joss, John and Howard are two white guys, and therefore their stories are “essential”. The producers joke about killing John, but if they do, I imagine it won’t be until the last episode of the series.

Want to know another way in which the show isn’t “dangerous”? They very carefully made it clear that the kids would be okay. First they retconned in Joss’ ex and showed that he had changed, so we know her son will be taken care of. And then they saved Fusco’s son. If this show’s concept was actually changing into a Game of Thrones-style story (ugh), no one would be safe, not even children. No, this show isn’t “dangerous”. Killing the solitary minority character is not a groundbreaking move that changes the paradigm. It is simply a weak decision that follows decades, perhaps centuries, of lazy storytelling tradition.

Feel free to prove me wrong, writers. I never wanted any of the characters to die. I love them all. But now that you’ve killed the “expendable” minority, how about you put your money where your mouth is and make a truly dangerous decision about who to off next?


  1. This is really good commentary. However, I disagree about Carter / Taraji P. Henson being full-figured. She is only a Size 6, which is still on the slim side. POI sometimes placed her in bulky clothing to disguise her body.

    1. Oh, and sorry that I posted before I finished typing. I disagree also with the part about the lack of romantic interest hints between Carter & Reese throughout the seasons. It may not have been as overt as in Carter’s final episode, but the writers dropped hints like the flirting in several episodes and Shaw asking Reese if there was something between him and Carter. It was not super obvious, but there were hints.

      Mileage varies, but I agree that killing Carter was a dumb move that will have a negative impact on the show eventually.

      1. When Shaw asked that question, I thought the writers put it in as sort of a joke, like “Boy, she just jumps to conclusions without understanding nuance.” To me that interpretation went along with my understanding of Shaw as not being particularly perceptive about interpersonal relationships.

        It might actually have been meant that way originally, given that the producers didn’t plan to have Joss and John kiss, and it was the actors who added that. Who knows.

        1. Ah, but listen to the dialogue in “The Crossing” even if the kiss is removed.

          “I can’t lose you.” “You’re stuck with me, remember?” “If my number was up, nowhere else I would rather be than with you” and Reese reminiscing about when and where they met. On any other, show those words and actions would be considered romantic.

          So keeping the dialogue in mind, it seems like Shaw’s guess that Reese had feelings for Carter was intended to say to the audience, “Wait, Reese has romantic feelings towards Carter.” Reese’s response of “We’re just friends” is a very common TV trope that writers use to say that the person who is denying it indeed has romantic feelings for the person.

          Also, in the Season 3 premiere, the first scene was of Reese checking out Carter in uniform and saying to her in a sexy voice, “You look kinda badass in that uniform.” That was sexual and not a platonic look.

          Plus, the writers made sure to have Laskey (incorrectly) say to Carter that he thought that Reese was her boyfriend. The writers could have left out the word boyfriend but chose to include it.

          All I am saying is that there were hints throughout Season 3 that Reese was romantically interested in Carter, although it was never super overt.

          If you go back to Seasons 1 and 2, there were flirtatious comments and actions, too, but I am just pointing out the more recent ones.

          Like I said, mileage varies.

          1. Maybe my fervent desire for a male and female lead on a show to have a close relationship but NOT become romantically involved caused me to do some wishful thinking.

            Having them confess love for each other just seems so…cheesy. Pat. Trite.

    2. Well, I don’t know if there’s a better term for what I was trying to say, but basically women come in lots of different shapes. Tall and slim is the Hollywood standard. Tall and even more slim is the supermodel standard. Conversely, the Playboy standard is enormously busty, with larger thighs. Joss isn’t particularly tall, and she has a figure.

      In other words, I wasn’t saying she was in any way overweight (I certainly don’t think she is!). I was saying her body type is different from what we normally see, and I appreciate that.

      (I’m not a fan of these “standards” and I wish we could just see a variety of body types everywhere.)

      1. Hmm…ok, although I want to point out that Sarah Shahi is quite short.

        Regarding Taraji P. Henson, I think the word that you can use is slim yet curvaceous at a Size 6.

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