Person of Interest: s04 e10 – The Cold War

On the horns of a dilemma…

Frankly, it is extraordinary that an episode conceived primarily to build tension towards a climax to be withheld until another day could be, in itself, so brilliant. ‘The Cold War’ is a bridge between last week’s outing of Sameen Shaw and the events of the following episode (another why-does-it-have-to-be-seven-days away).

We behin with comic tones, Finch carefully directing the making of a sandwich by a resentful street vendor, followed by his accessing the subway in a manner that carries the flavours of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the 1966 Batman series and Get Smart. In its way, it was a moment of absurd genius, even though it really belonged in a different series entirely.

The sandwich is in propition for the irate Shaw, tranked and handcuffed. It’s an understated sign of how humanised she has become that she doesn’t just kill them both on the spot, that she understands why they acted as they did, and that she is prepared – up to a point – to co-operate in becoming part of the background team.

Reese is out there taking care of the Numbers. Or rather he isn’t, Samaritan is. The Great Enemy has arrogated the Machine’s task to itself, rendering Reese redundant. It saves an abused wife from killing her husband out of despair, but it does so by killing him in a very personal way, tampering with his diabetes-reminder to suggest he needs another does of insulin, so that he OD’s – icky.

In fact, Samaritan is everywhere, doing everything, giving New York a perfect day: no homicides, oodles of criminals exposed and brought in. Fusco’s overloaded but it’s going well.

The next day is the opposite extreme, a day of nudging the populace into indulging its baser emotions, running riot, deaths and collisions and chaos.

Some of this is set-up to create the space for John Greer to articulate his philosophy, which is, stripped of its pretentions, to be a boot stamping on a human face, forever. People need a strong hand to keep them in line, to eliminate the wars and fights that have endured forever, all in the name of that pathetic notion called Free Will. This is supplemented by a series of Samaritan flashbacks, to damp and dirty, grubby London 1973, where Greer is a young but highly efficient MI6 operator (an excellent job by Emrhys Cooper). He’s also unpleasantly smug, until he is jolted out of his superiority complex by learning that the KGB agent he’s been sent to ‘disappear’ is not only an MI6 double agent but has been recruited by Greer’s chief, who is himself a KGB double agent.

For some reason, young Greer takes this revelation as an earth-shattering discovery, undermining his beliefs and causing him to decide to impose order on chaos in the eventual form of Samaritan.

That Greer is so easily shocked is a weak point in an otherwise convincing reconstruction of that era, though I’d quibble about the Cold War being pinned to 1973 when it was at its coldest and most desperate in the late-Fifties, and the white-on-black numberplate on Greer’s car would have been very much an anachronism by then.

The whole thing, Order and Chaos in equal measures, has one purpose: Samaritan wants to talk to the Machine. Greer’s right-hand man, Lambert (Julian Ovenden, playing a character to deliberately match young Greer) approaches Root, there is much discussion between the human agents and, in the end, the meeting is arranged, over the severe reluctance of Finch, who fears the clash between two Articial Super-Intelligences who do not operate to Human moral codes.

It’s two analogue interfaces, meeting in a school in La Rochelle, each speaking the words of their avatars, Root for the Machine, a ten year old boy (Oakes Fegley) with a far too adult smug grin.

There’s an unpleasant echo to the conversation, a clash of philosophies, the fascist Samaritan, the humanitarian Machine, the growing sense of concern and fear in Amy Acker’s eyes as she recieves Sanmaritan’s final words. It wanted to talk to the only other of its kind, it refers to itself as a God and, in an echo of Kruschev’s threat to ‘bury’ the West, it intends to destroy the Machine.

Everyone’s worried about Root, alone and exposed. Finch actually calls her Root twice, instead of his usual courteous Miss Groves.

And Shaw isn’t prepared to sit on her hands when one of their very small team is out there, visible. She packs a weapons bag, promises Bear she’ll be back… and that’s where we wait to turn to next week’s episode, which comes exactly halfway through the season. Remember what happened halfway through season 3? Will Person of Interest repeat itself?

Seven bloody days…

4 thoughts on “Person of Interest: s04 e10 – The Cold War

  1. “The Cold War” [4×10]
    Written By: Amanda Segel
    Directed By: Michael Offer
    Originally Aired 16 December 2014

    What would it look like if two gods went to war over a city? This is the high-concept question that “The Cold War” seeks to explore. Samaritan shows Finch, and the audience, what a world would look like under his control. Perfect, ordered, all the subways in New York City running on time for the first time….ever. Or the havoc it could wreak by showing us for what we really are–supposedly. One wonders why Samaritan doesn’t just do this all the time. That ASI comes off as a mad scientist, tinkering with us in favor of a ‘noble’ end goal. It lacks real empathy. The episode accomplishes this goal very nicely, hitting almost every note that I like to see in this show, making this one of the most underrated and surprisingly re-watchable episodes in the series. The comedy lands, the character beats land, the pacing is tight, the music is superb, and it ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. The dialogue is really well done for the most part and touches on Person of Interest’s favorite themes. I say for the most part because the scene with Gabriel and Root trading blows overdoes it just a bit–it’s mainly that the kid fails to seem like an alien intelligence as Samaritan had been portrayed before. Thankfully, he barely appears after this.

    Greer’s backstory is another interesting part of this one. Season 1’s “Flesh and Blood” chronicled several key points of Elias’ life in a brilliant way, that brought surprising depth to the character despite the brevity of the scenes. “The Cold War” zeroes in on one specific aspect of Greer. That is, the end of his British patriotism that was instilled in him during the Blitz as he mentioned in “A House Divided”. It’s not the fact that there are double agents present in MI6 that gets him–every intelligence agency uses them, after all. It’s the fact that it goes all the way to the top. It’s not an explanation of how he got from this point to his own futurist brand of authoritarianism, but it’s not all that necessary either–we’re not meant to empathize with Greer. The writers instead trust John Nolan to ably sell his fanaticism, and he comes through nicely.

    1. I still find that the weakest part. a man of Greer’s history and experience, in his profession, has a fit of the vapours like an old woman when he discovers his section chief is a double agent. They did that sort of thing long before in ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ (which I read once and thought was crap) and that was written by an actual Intelligence Agent, who didn’t have anyone quite so weak-minded (is my sensitivity to American TV trying to present credible British characters showing?)

      1. A fair criticism. MI6 agents would probably just turn their boss over to the government and move on with their lives as usual. Though the writers gave it a shot. Perhaps if it was shown just how important loyalty to the country was to him. Then it would make sense that he’s disturbed by how easily it can be thrown away for personal gain.

        Either way though, it at least explains his dislike of patriotism.

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