Person of Interest: s03 e11 – Lethe


Two geniuses

From the opening moments – The Machine showing flashbacks of recent events – we feel as if we are in a different dimension. There’s a disorientation to things, made manifest in John Reese’s rumpled and empty bed and Harold Finch’s pretence to Sameen Shaw that there are no new Numbers, which is only true because he is ignoring the Machine’s efforts to contact him.

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is leashed upon the world. Reese has left, in silence, gone to Colorado where he sits in a bar drinking whisky, ignoring the litle man getting a beatdown from a bigger thug. ‘Lethe’: a Greek word meaning Oblivion, or Forgetting.

And the flashbacks return, brief vignettes from the life of a bright, eager, intelligent boy in 1969 and later, a boy interested in birds, learning about them from his father. Ah yes, his father: a man with some kind of illness that is slowly eating his memory, a father being looked after with love and devotion by an extraordinarily bright boy, who will restrict his own life to take care of his father. We do not need to be told the boy’s name is Harold.

But if the Numbers can’t come one way, they will come in another, via Root, still caged, but now voluntarily, in her Faraday Cage in the Library, yet able to piece together the Number: Arthur Claypool, a man in late middle-age played by Saul Tubinek, about whom there is a very small digital footprint. But a man about whom Finch has a natural advantage: Shaw is too eager to return to action to recognise that Harold knows Arthur.

But Arthur Claypool is in Hospital, with a brain tumour. He is a dying man, joking with Shaw, posing as the Doctor she once was, about being a honeybee rather than a dragonfly: a dragonfly has a life expectancy of four months, a honeybee of four weeks. As long as you don’t mayfly on me jokes Shaw in return.

But the hospital is no laughing matter. Claypool is surrounded by security, Secret Service security. That’s because Arthur works for the NSA, the National Security Agency. He is privy to secrets, but his condition destoys some memories but floods others out, uncontrollably. The name of Samaritan is mentioned for the first time. It will be mentioned in every episode to come.

Claypool is a target. He’s a walking leak, a magnet for agencies who want his secrets and a magnet for agencies that want his secrets locked up real tight, maybe even dead tight. Rudy has them, he says at one point, under the influence of sodium pentathol: has what?

But Claypool is a target for Vigilance, our privacy-terrorists who’ve laid mainly low hilst the drame of HR has been working itself out. To get everyone out, Finch has to do the one thing he’s been trying to avoid all along, appear before Arthur Claypool. His old friend, his fellow genius, his ‘brother’ at MIT. Harold knows Arthur and Arthur knows Harold.

They flee to a safe place, Finch, Shaw, Claypool and Diane Claypool (Camryn Manheim), Arthur’s wife who he doesn’t recognise, sweet, helpless, gentle, distraught that her husband doesn’t recognise her, but we who have been here before recognise her (I’m pretty sure I had her pegged first time round).

Why does everyone want the dying Arthur. It’s that name: Samaritan. Samaritan was a Machine built and designed by Arthur to accept, analyse and interpret all surveillance feeds post-911, to pre-identify terrorist activity. An AI, an artificial Intelligence that could learn, remember and grow. Samaritan doesn’t exist. It was scrapped, a few weeks before Arthur could complete it, in 2005, along with a host of other prjects all with the same intent. Arthur knows why Samaritan was scrapped: because somebody else got there first, somebody built a Machine that did it, that worked.

Arthur’s memory is full of holes. He remembers Harold, but he doesn’t remember Diane. Unfortunately, he remembers why he doesn’t remember Diane.

Let’s cut away though, to Reese, in his Colorado bar. Not just Reese, but Fusco, assigned to watch over Reese but also concerned himself for the Man in a Suit who gave him the impetus to turn himself around. Reese will let Fusco stay provided he doesn’t talk and accompanies him in drinking himself into oblivion, into Lethe.

But Fusco has changed more than we think. He’s on bourbon and soda, hold the bourbon. Reese is in despair. A genuine war hero is celebrated in this bar, with photos and clippings. Fusco spots the resemblance: Reese’s father, a Vietnam vet. Who survived the war and was killed at the oil refinery. Reese is burned out. No matter what they do, bad things happen. Doing good things is pointless, entropy always wins, why bother raging against the dying of the light? Fusco will have none of this. Reese changed his life for the better, is he saying that was pointless. Fusco provokes a fight, out back, in the driving rain. at first, Reese merely dodges but Fusco is a tough little bugger. They’re starting to fight in earnest when the lights and the siren of a cop car interrupt them.

And why does Arthur Claypool not remember Diane? Because she’s not Diane. Diane died two years ago, Arthur can remember the exact date he buried her. ‘Diane’ is another whose real name we will never know. The name we will know her by is Control. Agents bust into the room, outnumber and overpower Shaw. Hersh enters. What is it all about?

It’s about Samaritan. It may have been scrapped but Arthur still has the discs and Control wants them. As a bonus, she has the creator of the Machine. She wants to know where that is. One of them will tell her what she wants to know. That will be the one who lives…

This is a two-parter. And it’s a gateway. We have already stepped through it.

18 thoughts on “Person of Interest: s03 e11 – Lethe

  1. Here we go. I’ve been waiting for this. Previously, I’d enjoyed the show a lot as a crime series with SFnal overtones. With Lethe/Aletheia, the show morphs into a science fiction show with crime overtones. The transition could not be clearer, and it happens in these 2 episodes. I can think of few (or any) other series that so brutally (this is a compliment) upended their nature in so short a time. Watching it 1st run the effect was thrilling. The viewer sits there stunned, processing what just happened. Rewatching, it loses none of its power.

  2. Indeed it does not. These two episodes form the hinge-point of the series and the season, of which they are as near to being the middle episodes as is possible with an odd-number order. So very far we’ve come. So very far to go. From here, we have an all-but-continuous serial.

      1. Some of the one-offs I like, and others I’m indifferent to. None that are actually bad, though. Whereas I pretty much adore every episode related to the main story. But the line between the two formats becomes blurred, as the writers realized that they could never fully escape the CBS format. So they blended the two together.

  3. Happy New Year! I forgot what day of the week it was.

    “Lethe” [3×11]
    Written by: Erik Mountain
    Directed by: Richard J. Lewis
    Originally aired 17 December 2013

    “Lethe” is a springboard to the second half of the series, and it is a damn effective one. All 3 parts of the episode relate to the title, which is the name of a certain river in the Greek Underworld that erases one’s memory. If I remember correctly the stories from my childhood, it’s filled with souls who cannot remember who they are. Reese is struggling to do that same thing in his segment. He’s no stranger to loss, but the latest death cuts deep. He joined Finch to prevent tragedies, yet they couldn’t save one of their closest friends. What kind of world is that, and what kind of machine wouldn’t tell them in advance? He’ll get his answer soon. The flashbacks show a young Harold who is a precocious young boy extremely skilled in engineering. Of course, the significance of this is that his father is suffering from a disease slowly erasing his memories, as well as giving us a look at Harold’s childhood. Did he have brothers? He told Carter in “Super” that he did, but apparently he was lying. The main plot deservedly gets most of the focus. Arthur Claypool is one of the most compelling POIs due to his close relationship with Harold and the parallels between him and Harold’s father. The story flows logically and quickly, and the tension is ramped up even more at the end as one of the show’s most interesting characters makes her debut: Control.

    Grade: A

    1. He broke into the tv writing business by winning a national script competition. I joke about supposed meritocracies a lot, but this guy earned his spot on the writing staff. His contributions so far have been “Root Cause” (1×13), “Many Happy Returns” (1×21), “Triggerman” (2×04), “Dead Reckoning” (2×13), “Trojan Horse” (2×19), “Nothing to Hide” (3×02), and this. He will go on to write “Death Benefit” (3×20), “Panopticon” (4×01), “The Devil You Know” (4×09), “Terra Incognita” (4×20), “Truth be Told” (5×03), and “.exe” (5×12).

      1. I should pay more attention to, and give more credit to, the individual writers, given my own work. But American drama series, with their writing teams, are a far cry from the British TV industry, where scripts are the work of writers, singular or plural, who will write an entire series (soaps excluded, naturally). That’s always been true of comedies, going back to the Fifties, and it’s becoming increasingly so in drama.

      2. From what I’ve read, POI was very much a team effort. Whereas with British series like ‘Doctor Who’, I think the writers just send their scripts in to the show-runner or script editor. So the episodes have a distinct stamp, and possibly hit higher highs than a lot of American serialized dramas which can blend together. But sometimes the character development doesn’t quite match up due to a lack of communication. Which can be frustrating as a viewer. But I think the writers of POI still feel a lot more distinctive than most American series. Whether or not that’s true, I’m not sure. It could be that the episode credits are meaningless, just like most other shows right now. But it wouldn’t surprise me if that was not the case.

  4. I’d agree with you on PoI and, going back a bit, Homicide: Life on the Street. And also Lost, for the most part. A strong showrunner with a clear vision can assemble a writing team that works in concert towards an overall goal.

    1. Or, in the case of Lost, you can have a show-runner who royally messes up the mythology, then throws his hands up in the air, and say “Hey guys, it’s always been about the characters!”. I haven’t seen the Leftovers yet, but apparently he did do better with that.

    1. I liked Lost as well, and I still kind of do. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have been frustrated by the ending. In fact, I wouldn’t have watched it until the ending hoping it would live up to its potential. But maybe Lost is next in your re-watch list? I have a lot of suggestions for you, haha.

  5. I have thiought about Lost, yes but PoI and Lou Grant will see me through this year and I have another series lined up to replace one of them. I’m not about to add a third regular TV series, not when I already have four other ongoing series running, on top of which I have novels to write and a 371/2 hour working week…

    1. I’m very curious as to that replacement. Guess I’ll have to wait until the end of the year. Also, didn’t know you’re writing novels!

      1. Yeah, well, been in the self-published business for a dozen years, and the book-writing for nearly a quarter century. I’m currently working on the second draft of my tenth, with four others in various stages of incompleteness that I want to finish. Search my name on Lulu.com for what’s publicly available.

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