Person of Interest: s04 e05 – Prophets

Kill me if you can

The early episodes of season 4 have been about accustoming us to the new reality of playing the Numbers game in a world ruled by Samaritan, but this is the point at which our beleaguered cast are drawn back into the higher but more basic conundrum of having to unpick the lock that Samaritan has upon our lives. From every angle, this was a storming episode, tight, taut, thoughtful and full of more developments than the average show could handle in less than three episodes. And fully coherent too.

Funny to go back and see that all this develops from a PoI-style comedy opening. ‘Riley’ and Fusco chase a crook up six flights of stairs to a rooftop where he leaps onto the parapet and threatens to jump. ‘Riley’ talks him into an attempt to grab a gun and shoot him, which leads to the traditional busted kneecap: ‘Hey, I saved his life’ is the detective’s plaint.

Less foreseeable is the two-part aftermath, a mountain of paperwork which keeps him off the job for the next Number, and a mandatory referral to Internal Affairs for counselling and surveillance over his propensity for shooting people.

So Reese is mainly peripheral to the Number, wizard pollster Simon Lee (Jason Ritter), spectacularly successful with ten winning campaigns already, an unbroken record and on the case of New York Governor, James Murray, all his figures pointing to a 52-48 majority ensuring re-election.

The race is won by challenger Michelle Perez (Caris Vucjec). By 52-48.

Simon can’t believe it. The numbers were right, they were locked down, he couldn’t have been wrong. Some of it is ego, but some of it is being right. Simon was correct: they couldn’t lose, but they did. Ergo, the Election was rigged. And it was. Simon’s big problem, which becomes a massive problem for the three people directly involved with trying to keep him alive, is the identity of the rigger. Which is Samaritan.

Samaritan has a plan for humanity’s appropriate governance. It’s not for Michelle Perez, who dies of a ‘medical complication’ in the middle of her victory spech, but for her successor, running mate Nick Dawson (Kevin Kilner), an eager-to-please, lacking-in-principle junior whose gubernatorial reign will benefit from advice from Liaison officer John Greer. Dawson’s one of 58 across the United States. Careful, thoughtful, controlled leadership. Power. Absolute Power. No need to remind us what that leads to.

And we’re given evidence of that in the form of flashbacks, of a kind we’ve not enjoyed for some time. These are all to between October and December 2001: an uncrippled Harold Finch is developing the early versions of the Machine, alongside Nathan Ingram (ah, Brett Cullen one more time). But these early iterations of the Machine are dangerous and uncontrollable except by killing. They write their own code, they try to escape, they are ruthless, they try to kill Harold over and over and over again. We can see the very good reason Finch has to fear Artificial Intelligence, and not merely Samaritan.

These flashbacks tie us to the extremely important middle of the episode. Root turns up in the Batcave, stripping out of one persona and becoming another. Reese, Finch, Shaw, they all have one life but the Machine has designed obsolescence into Miss Groves’ cover. Every 48 hours she changes, name, identity, occupation, chameleon-like, for purposes of which she knows nothing, but which she sustains from her absolute faith in the Machine.

Harold takes a step into the dark, welcoming her as an ally, as a comrade, but most of all as a friend. She has become a part of the team, in his eyes, and he is as concerned for her welfare as he is for Reese, Shaw and Fusco. And he’s acute enough to know that her contact with the Machine, the voice in her artificial ear is now non-existant, a severed line disguised by static and indirection, to save two lives: Root’s, and the Machine’s.

This is a war that can’t be won but mustn’t be lost. Root is coldly aware that there will be casualties, and that those casualties will encompass their little group. The Machine has changed her, but she remembers her old life: after that, a good death will be a privilege. Things can happen at any time – Root will in fact be wounded in a gloriously funny but brief shootout between her and Martine Rousseau, two hot women directed by two AI’s, firing two guns through floors and ceilings to keep each other busy – and if anything happens to her, Root want something said to Shaw. That teasing, flirtatious approach Root takes to Sameen is built upon something more, a subtext that a high proportion of the PoI audience started obsessing over, to the disgust of the neanderthal element that didn’t want girls playing in their boy’s game to begin with.

Elsewhere, Detective ‘Riley’ sits down with his counsellor, Dr Iris Campbell (Wrenn Schmidt). The Doctor’s too good looking to be taken seriously (ah, that red hair!) but the woman knows her stuff. Reese is under the handicap of having to lie about everything, but Iris is well aware of how ‘Riley’ is handling things, manipulating and concealing, and she has a grip like a steel trap. She even gets our split man to open up to something real, that he doesn’t like shooting people (you could have fooled us), in fact he hates it. It’s extremely odd from the John Reese we’ve loved these 72 episodes we’ve already watched, but Jim Caviezel sells it. He’s good at it, but most importantly, he gives his philosophy, that there are too many bad people in the world and not enough good ones, and if he doesn’t save these, who else will?

In the end, Finch saves Simon, but to do so he has to break him. Simon’s numbers change, showing his analysis to be wrong rather than there be any rigging. He’s destroyed either way but this way he gets to keep on breathing, and whilst in the PoI universe, that is seen as the greatest good, at least one member of the audience wondered if allowing his death might not have been the kinder end.

The episode ended on twin tracks. Samaritan wants to find the Machine. And Harold Finch confronts a camera and tells his creation that it’s time for them to talk. There are now thirty episodes left.

23 thoughts on “Person of Interest: s04 e05 – Prophets

  1. “Prophets” [4×05]
    Written By: Lucas O’Connor
    Directed By: Kenneth Fink
    Originally Aired 21 October 2014

    This is the episode I’ve been waiting for. As you pointed out, there’s three parts to this story, and Lucas O’Connor balances everything incredibly well in an episode that stands out no matter which way you look at it. The flashbacks are definitely some of the most noteworthy we’ve gotten in a long time, providing us with more information about the origins of the Machine. Which are some of the most interesting parts of the whole show. I think they fully justify Finch’s caution regarding Artificial Intelligence. Probably not a bad idea to listen to the man whoa actually built one. The second part ramps up the Samaritan story-line. Simon Lee, definitely one of the most interesting people the team has saved in a long time, has his efforts undermined because Samaritan is now making moves to take over elections in the US. Just the US so far–it’ll probably extend its hand to the rest of the world at a later date. It’s only a glimpse of what it/he plans to do, but already we know it favors totalitarian methods. Anyway, the Root/Finch dialogue sparkles, the action is kick-ass, and the story is the most engaging of the season so far. Which brings us to John Reese. Joss Carter’s death hangs over every frame of his scenes with Iris. Her death continues to inform his character until the end of the series–that’s how you handle death. Again, Lucas O’Connor’s gift for dialogue aids him here as well. This episode probably contains the strongest Iris/Reese scenes. His perspective makes a certain amount of sense, and unlike if Shaw said it, I buy his distaste for killing. He’s brought it up several times, from the end of “Cura Te Ipsum” to the scenes with Alonzo Quinn in “The Devil’s Share”.

    All three of these moving parts complement and inform each other. The flashbacks fuel Harold’s POV in his debates with Root, and Reese’s scenes underline his, and the team’s motivation for stopping Samaritan. Because if they don’t, who else will? Reese abides by that famous quote by John Stuart Mill, that all bad men need to compass their ends are for good men to look on and do nothing.

    Grade: A. Same grade as “Panopticon” and “Wingman”, but certainly a cut above them. This is surely one of the very best singular episodes the show ever pulled off.

    1. Absolutely. Some episodes stand out, like beacons in the night, and this is one. Like beacons, they mark our place even as they warn of what lies ahead. Here we stand, under a little light. With luck, we will see from one to another. Because the alternative is not just too awful to contemplate, but if it comes about, there will be no contemplation left. You quote Mill, I quote Orwell. Imagine the future. Imagine a boot stamping on a human face. Forever.

      1. Exactly. But it’s for the greater good! Supposedly. I can’t think of an example of a virtuous world being built by Samaritan’s methods. Its counter-argument would be that it’s not Fidel Castro; it’s not even human. But still.

        And don’t even get me started on the neanderthals (good way of describing them) in the PoI fandom who were convinced that lesbians were ruining the show. Just……..argh.

      2. Last weeks’ installment, “Brotherhood”, stumbled because it stepped out of POI’s wheelhouse into other shows’ territory. Any show covering how poverty causes crime should be very careful, since ‘The Wire’ covered that ground so well. This week was right back to classic POI, and notably, it is territory than no show has covered like this–certainly not with all the action, dialogue, flashbacks, etc. Plus Amy Acker.

      3. It requires a delicate balance. A good “Person of Interest” script basically has to handle everything. Dialogue, action, emotion, depth–you have to nail all of them. And this one certainly passes with flying colors.

  2. I do think they were and are the minority. But several things made me doubt that— mainly, how loud they are. They also line up in a neat venn diagram with those who hate route and Shaw and the later seasons in general. Turns out bad taste in television and bigotry line up quite well in this case.

    1. There was a similar pattern with the Big Bang Theory, plenty of longer-term fans angry at the addition of Amy and Bernadette because it made the show less geek and less male oriented. Can’t stand that, but then I *like* women. And I also believe that shows have to progress and change.

      1. CBS has a massive audience–the biggest in America, actually. I guess I’m not surprised that there are always a few people like that who always slip through the cracks.

      2. Change is NECESSARY! For both people and television shows! I can’t express how much I agree with you on this. Not necessarily saying all change is good change, but as a concept it is necessary.

    1. I was told that Britain had fewer problems with racism than the USA? I could be ignorant on this, please correct me if I’m wrong, but this is how most Americans view it. Not sure how much truth there is to it.

      1. Ours is not necesarily as polarised as yours, and it takes more forms, but yes, there are strong racist elements here and always have been. B***it stems basicaly from some maniac nortion of Britain as a white only country, in the Fifties, and an attempt to get back to that justifying throwing the furriners out. We have anti-black prejudice, anti-Irish (‘No surrender to the IRA’), anti-Asian (usually termed Pakistani, or Paki for short, the equivalent of the N-word), anti-East European (Poles, Bulgars), anti-French (centuries of history), anti-German (‘Two World Wars and One World Cup’), anti-Muslim. You name it, we’ve got it. After all, the biggest empire in history offended more nations than anyone else.

        I recommend you look out the film ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, which appeared in America as ‘Stairway to Heaven’. It was made in 1946 as a contribution to post-War Anglo-American relations but it is an astonishing fantasy. It is, of course, dated, and the special effects primitive but gloriously effective, especially for the extended scene before the Court of Heaven to determine if the (Engish) hero is to be granted his life to share it with the (American) girl he hasfallen for during the 19 hours in which he should have been dead…

        I’ve written about it twice in this blog and it is one of my favourite films ever (and it’s not even the best film by the writer/director pair! It has a lot to say about Britain and its history of inflaming hatred…

      2. Interesting. Over here in the 19th century, pretty much anyone who showed up on Ellis Island could stay in the USA. So we had all of those too. Now, I feel pretty confident in saying that anti-Irish, anti-German, anti-Eastern European, etc., have basically disappeared. But the other types are all out in full force. I guess our countries really aren’t all that different in some ways.

  3. We were also a home for refugees, and that’s a part of our history to be proud of. Now, much less so. Immigrants, who form less that 10% of our population but who contribute substantially more than they consume, to our net gain economically, a fact you won’t read in any popular press or Government statement, should go home, even when home is actually Birmingham, Manchester or Newcastle. And B****t means we’ll be able to physically abuse them and call them racist names again, just like we did in the Good Old Days. We even call the disabled scroungers over here. We are not a nice country, but tthen in mny ways we never were.

      1. They want to live in my country too and I think that’s a good thing too. Without those who have chosen to live here, we would not have lasted more than a week with this coronavirus. But I don’t hold out much hope of the bigoted paying much attention to that.

      2. Just a fact–The USA certainly wouldn’t be where it is today if the nativists of the 19th century had gotten their way and the only people allowed in were British and Scandinavians.

  4. Britain’s favourite takeaway food ceased being fish’n’chips a long time ago. It’s chicken tikka marsala, a British variant on Indian curry (i like them both but I prefer pizza)

  5. I know, I didn’t give out A+ grades for the most part, but if I did (restricting it to the top 10/15 POI episodes)….this episode would surely get it. Everything about this is absolutely top notch tv. Simon Lee is one of the most interesting numbers, probably because of the performance, but he really does sell the guy’s plight well.

    Root and Finch’s conversations….my god, you can probably count on one hand the number of shows in tv history dealing with big ideas this meaty. Acker and Emerson are a once-in-a-generation pairing. You really don’t get that anywhere else. Their conversations about ASI emotions and parameters are absolutely fascinating. Again, really something that hasn’t been done before outside of Phillip K Dick/high brow sci fi literature.

    And to think, Lucas o’ Connor started off as an assistant, before becoming one of the absolute best writers on the staff.

    1. It feels like a long time ago that I watched this now. I hanker to g bavk and start again but I have other things to watch still. Hopefully, I may be able to retire soon and longer days with fewer commitments may permit…

      1. I haven’t seen the show in its entirety for a couple years now.

        When I dive back in, I tend to forget how much I love this show. Even watching the ‘lesser’ out of context is still so much fun.

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