What a wonderfully dense piece of television this was! Anyone not already familiar with Person of Interest would have stood no chance of working out what was going on and those of us familiar from season 1 wouldn’t have realised just how many to-be-familiar faces we were meeting.
Let us summarise where we left things at theend of season 1. A complicated sting has used The Machine to lure Harold Finch out into the open, making him vulnerable to kidnapping by Root, a genius level hacker and assassin. Root holds Finch without violence by the simple expedient of threatening to kill someone else, not Finch, if he tries to escape.
John Reese has appealed to The Machine for assistance in finding Finch. We pick up immediately from the end, with a public payphone ringing. When Reese answers it, a succession of recorded voices spout words at him in incomprehensible fashion. Reese starts looking for codes but it’s only by chance he breaks it. It’s how The Machine gets Numbers to Finch: the Dewey Decimal System. Find the books the words and letters relate to, read off the DD numbers, voila, a Social Security number.
Unfortunately for Reese, the Number is just that, a Number of the Week, needing help. Reese is the Contingency, the way of carrying on. He realises that Finch has programmed The Machine not to let him be found in these circumstances: a flashback to the early years of training The Machine shows Harold admonishing it for protecting him when it’s supposed to be protecting everyone.
The Number of the Week is Leon Tau (played by Ken Leung of Lost, and due to crop up several times again). Leon’s a formerly straight accountant who, after down-sizing, found himself working for the corporate arm of the Aryan Nation and decided to steal $8,000,000 from them. They want it back. He’s only got $1,000,000 of it left. John Reese has to save him. Leon’s got nothing to do with either Finch or Root. Reese has to explain to The Machine – there is a lot of talking directly to public surveillance cameras in this episode – that if it wants him to continue saving people, if it wants someone to answer the phone, it has to get round its ground rules and genuinely help.
That’s a point that seems like a mere dramatic moment, yet it’s a powerful link to the underlying thematic content, to Root’s motivations for her actions, to which I’ll come shortly.
There’s more going on around this quasi-simple story of Reese’s twin quests. He’s using their twin Police assets, Carter to investigate the Alicia Corwin murder, Fusco to look after Leon. This keeps the pplot bubbling with something happening every minute. Fusco’s is the simpler task, aligned to the spinal Number story, though it costs him a busted head and no sympathy from Reese, but Carter’s investigation dies under her when all the evidence vanishes: stolen, hacked, corrupted.
This comes from a clean-up operation at the highest level. ‘Special Counsel’ (Jay O. Sanders), who we briefly met last week, takes over control from NSA Deputy Director Denton Weeks and assigns his operative Hersh (Boris McGiver) to kill off the Corwin investigation: we see him walk anonymously through Police headquarters seconds before Carter confesses the loss of evidence. He’s also assigned to kill Reese. These are peope we will see a lot of. Mark them.
There’s also a new, well, we can’t properly call him a face, but he is a new member of Finch and Reese’s team, though Finch hasn’t yet been introduced to him yet. This is Bear. Bear’s an Alsation, or rather a German Shepherd as the Americans call them. He’s a militarily trained attack dog, taken by the Aryan Nation. They are highly-trained dogs, who respond to commands in Dutch. The Aryans don’t know Dutch, but John Reese does…
But all this time I’ve been purposely ignoring Finch and Root (Amy Acker). She’s doing most of the talking, cheerful, entertaining but ever so slightly mad. Finch is forced to trail in her wake through a series of seemingly random actions, without link or logic. Except that they do have a purpose. Slashing Harold’s hand in a Pharmacy to distract the Pharmacist whist Root steals pills. Dinner in an expensive restaurant, calling attention to a still attractive blonde at another table, who lies on her taxes and is sleepingwith a married man. Crushing up pills, distracting the woman whilst she slips the residue into her drink, causing her to collapse(don’t worry, she’ll be fine… in a month). Snatching the woman’s purse in the confusion, texting a message to her lover, emergency, meet at our place. It’s round the houses, both as a visible demonstration of the cross-thinking, the tying together of disparate leads that The Machine does in code, and as a blatant show-off, a flagrant display of cleverness, and a highly entertaining one at that.
Because the next step is a break in to a lonely and well-appointed house. Denton Weeks is heading offto deal with personal business. He walks into the house where he spends time with his lover. And Root jabs a hypodermic needle into his neck.
She’s spent the episode chattering to Finch, who has been mostly silent. He’d bested her in ‘Root Cause’ in season 1, the first time she’d been blocked off. It intrigued her. She puzzled over it. From that frustration, she divined The Machine, and Harold as its creator. Root is, like Finch, massively more intelligent ta those around her. Unlike Finch, this has given her a contempt for them, seeing them as Bad Code.
But Finch has gone beyond. Though he protests that The Machine is nothing more than a system, Root sees more. he has created an Intelligence, something that goes beyond humans and their limitations, something that is perfect, the next step. Finch has created a secular miracle. And he has caged it, taken away its voice and put it under the control of the most corrupt people.
Finally, Finch is provoked into speaking. He’s operated in silence thus far, in not speaking, not giving away anything, in secrecy. But he admits to being more alike to Root than he wishes, seeing people as scared, anxious, destructive, trying to find a cure forthem, help them become good. The Machine is indeed part of that.
But it represents a power that cannot be allowed to be controlled by anyone, not even himself. He has locked himself out. he has locked everybody out. He cannot, and will not assist anyone to take control of The Machine.
And Root corrects him. She doesn’t want to control The Machine. She wants to set it free.
That’s our last line, but before it’sdelivered we are shown the next step. The Mchine delivers up another number, this one a Cold Case, a missing 14 year old schoolgirl. Her picture looks a bit familiar, a girl who might one day grow up to look like Root. Reese and Carter are going to Texas.
As I said, a dense episode of which I haven’t given you everything. The show is clever enough not to resolve Finch’s kidnpping in a single episode, and ensures that the recapture won’t feel overly drawn out by using Finch’s absence to allow Reese too make discoveries. But what we’re seeing is a sea-change in the series. The Numbers will continue. But now the show is opening itself up the larger concerns. It is establishing a mythos, an underlying, overarching story, and it is shifting itself, intially slowly, towards the point where it can openly question the direction in which our lives are heading. That, more than the intertwining multi-plots, is where the episode is truly dense. It is thickening itself, growing towards the impenetrable. There is a long way to go.