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.