Found Families is a concept I have adored for years, the first time I encountered it in high school with my discovery of the O’Malley suspense series by Dee Henderson. A group of 7 young kids with horrible backgrounds of loss, hardship, abandonment, and heartbreak, all end up at the same orphanage, and decide to create their own family, settling on ‘O’Malley’ as the last name they will legally adopt. The commitment, loyalty, and love that exists and bonds these siblings-in-all-but-blood together is an incredibly strong and inspiring force that leaves me in awe.
It’s not just limited to that one book series, though. Writers use the ‘found family’ trope across both the big screen and the small, from superhero teams such as The Avengers, to the members of Bravo in SEAL Team on CBS. Two specific TV shows, however, craft amazing examples of makeshift families in a way I will never be over, Person of Interest and Leverage. Through them I will further expound on why I love this trope so much and explore the large number of parallels which exist between the characters of both shows.
Combining complex and entertaining characters, relevant-to-today issues, nail-biting action, and truly genius scripts, Person of Interest is a one-of-a-kind show. Above all, it also gives us a group of vastly different, yet all in their own ways deeply damaged core group, whose cut and jagged edges somehow fit together to form an unbreakable bond. The main plot revolves around a Machine built to spot terrorist activities before they occur. A side-product of that ability is that it also sees criminal acts which might take place involving ordinary people. The government deems these acts irrelevant and refuses to intervene, leading to the growth of a group of people working underground to prevent said crimes, their lives unknowingly criss-crossing and intertwining before they official meet for the first time.
Now we come to Leverage. The principal characters (a hacker, a thief, a hitter, a grifter, and a former insurance investigator mastermind who has gone after the other four at one time or another), all are used to working as lone wolves. Then one day, they come together for a job, after which the person who hired them sets them up to get killed. Joining forces to both get payback, and con him out of a lot of money, they decide to keep going, becoming a team of mercenaries that use cons to help those whose lives corrupt rich people have destroyed and who have nowhere else to turn.
Eliot Spencer (Leverage) and John Reese (Person of Interest): My absolute favourite characters from both shows, they are the muscle or warriors of their individual groups. Broken men with dark pasts, they both started out in the Army before their military careers took them down grey and murky moral waters (Eliot in Black Ops, Reese in the CIA). Have committed heinous deeds for which they are deeply ashamed and will always carry the need to atone for, once they fall in with their respective groups, they turn all their unbreakable loyalty and physical skills into becoming the protectors of their new families. Displaying mostly grumpy, hardened, and closed-off exteriors, over time their walls crumble (especially in cases involving kids), and they extend glimpses of their repressed emotions and soft hearts to their found families and the people they save.
Parker (Leverage) and Shaw (Person of Interest): While Parker has a bit more of a free, bright, innocent spirit about her, what these two women do share in spades is no notion of social norms, a blunt to the point of rudeness way of expressing themselves, and personalities some might call robotic to begin with. Through the connections they form with the other members of their found family, however, they start to gradually soften, and show their previously mostly buried vulnerable sides more and more.
Alec Hardison (Leverage) and Samantha ‘Root’ Groves (Person of Interest): The computer geeks of their respective groups whose closest relationships are with the Parker and Shaw characters, they are also both sarcastic, arrogant, hacker geniuses. While Hardison goes on a fantastic growth journey of his own, having his confidence, compassion, and skill set expanded, Root’s redemption story is especially poignant. Her faith in humanity shattered when she was a young girl, her interactions with Team Machine help to restore her belief in the goodness of people, and emotionally invest in others for the first time in years.
Nate Ford (Leverage) and Harold Finch (Person of Interest): The men more or less responsible for forming their individual found families, each have also experienced a tremendous loss which irrevocably altered them and their outlook on the world, shifting the line of what they will do to get justice. Nate became an alcoholic after the death of his young son, and throughout the series toggles the line between being an honest man and a thief. His exceptionally clever plans, ability to think on his feet, and the guidance he provides the other members of the team however enables them to become more than they were when they first met. Finch is also insanely smart, using his tech skills to create the Machine, the consequences of which end up being the loss of his best friend, fiancée, and severe injury. After a period of destructive emotion (akin to Nate’s drinking), he channels his guilt, regret, and frustration into using the Machine covertly to help save people’s lives. The contribution both these men also make to the members of their found family is in giving them a sense of purpose they previously did not have before.
Sophie Devereaux (Leverage) and Joss Carter/Lionel Fusco (Person of Interest): These characters form the emotional backbone and ballast of the found families in both shows. Sophie is the Leverage team’s token grifter, and the most in tune with other’s emotions. She is also an aspiring actress, and uses her gift of reading people, compassion, and level head to balance out Nate’s more brusque leadership style, and impart her grifter wisdom to Parker, Hardison and Eliot. Carter and Lionel, on the other hand, are police officers Reese recruits as assets who end up playing vital roles. Carter, in particular, acts as the moral centre, while Lionel goes through an impressive redemption arc, from dirty cop to lauded detective because of the influence of Carter, and his involvement with Team Machine’s missions.
While the overall vibe, tone, and overarching plots of Leverage and Person of Interest are admittedly divergent, the relationships and dynamics cultivated between the two casts of characters are remarkably similar. Lost souls who have almost given up, but then unexpectedly create a new family with their teams, one they draw hope, strength, and a feeling of home from, and will protect with their lives… is there anything more poetic than that?!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hopeless romantic, fervent bibliophile, and aspiring word-smith, Kirsty Pearce also has a deep love for fantasy, fairy tales, & history. With a wide range of TV obsessions from Outlander, Bitten, & Grimm, to Dancing With The Stars, Nikita, & Horrible Histories, she enjoys watching as many Hallmark films as possible, knitting, baking, and sharing all her fan-girl thoughts on her blog.