Person of Interest: s04 e15 – Q&A

Wanna fight?

It would be stating the obvious to say that this was a complex episode. It was composed of two contrasting stories, one each for Reese and Finch, that led to a foreseeable link at the very end and it featured one of the most satisfying and unexpected deus ex machina saves the series has produced. Let me explain.

Reese’s story continued the partial reset aspect of the show’s current phase. Number of the Week was Anna Mueller (Bella Dayne), a transcriber working for Fetch and Retrieve, the latest, hottest, most successful search engine, and its new programme, VAL, which is basically Alexa. The company is headed by Lauren Buchanan (Helene Yorke) and its chief technical officer is Calvin Mazer (Nick Westrate). Anna transcribes verbal queries for the record.

She alo has a very sick sister, Jill, who’s getting home chemo, and she’s a very aggressive and effective MNA fighter in illegal private bouts. She can’t help Jill but she has got something she can kick. Victim or perpetrator?

Victim, definitely. Anna has pursued a case, Paul Zimmerman, who made multiple requests relating to depression and suicide. The last query should link only to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline but in Paul’s case (and thousands of others) it threw up guides on how to do it, and in Paul’s and thousands of other cases, he did.

Someone doesn’t want this known, and is willing to have Anna killed to prevent it. Anna, a slight, dark-haired slip of a girl, is well capable of looking after herself, though ultimately she needs Reese – or rather Detective ‘Riley’ – to make sure it all comes out well. It’s an algorithm designed by Calvin behind the back of Lauren that turns VAL into the greatest manipulator of emotions for vulnerable people and thus the greatest advertising tool the world has ever known. Lauren would never have allowed it, because it’s wrong. Bear that in mind.

That’s Reese’s portion. Finch’s is functionally separate, though the pair stay in constant communication by phone throughout, without impinging on each other’s work. Finch’s story starts with discovering another Nautilus puzzle poster, identical to the one in episode 2 of this season. Only it’s not quite identical: a hidden message is embedded in the image, saying ‘You Were Right’ and the puzzle decodes to a place on the shadow map, where Samaritan cannot see.

We realise and look forward to seeing the young, fanatical programmer, Claire Mahoney (Quinn Shephard again). Finch promised her aid and she’s reaching out for it. She’s seen inside now and is horrified/disgusted with Samaritan. She wants out and wants Finch’s help, even though she never knew his name. A Samaritan sniper interrupts the meeting, shooting Claire through the shoulder: Finch takes her to a nearby morgue to fix her wound.

She’s full of remorse and regret, not to mention determination to bring Samaritan down and save the world. It was at that moment that I smelled a rat and wondered if she was playing a double game. Partly this was because I’ve seen this episode twice before and if I don’t consciously remember exactly what happened, my subconscious is far more retentive, but the larger part is that this is Person of Interest, and after 82 episodes prior to this, you learn to anticipate reversals.

Claire’s got a flashdrive, stolen from Decima. It can be used to access Samaritan and destroy it. It can also be used to access Finch’s network and identify all his friends prior to killing them, or so he fears. Is he right to doubt, or is he paranoid? Sweet-faced Claire is convincing, but she can’t help the light of fanaticism, which marked her in episode 2, from shining out of that sweet, desperate face.

Finch decides to take the chance on her, but is wrong to do so, for Claire slips and calls him Harold when he still hasn’t told her his name. He turns to find her holding a gun on him.

She takes his laptop and phone. She’s bringing him in, but Claire is too much the fanatic to just simply complete her mission, which she believes is to get Finch on their side, make him an asset.  She takes him to see Samaritan, but to her Samaritan is a saviour, out to improve everything for everybody. To Claire, Samaritan is a bright, bustling, effective Charter School, promoting a new, more effective manner of education (to Finch it’s education in what?)

It’s an echo of The Last Temptation of Christ. It’s a portrait, true enough in its way, of what an overarching intelligence could do to make what we do with our world healthier, wiser, more efficient, eliminating waste, ignorance, pollution etc. The most deadly eneny is happiness or contentment. But Finch knows what Claire will not, cannot ever see, that Samaritan is also Sauron’s Ring, that it’s first duty is to itself and which, by its very nature, is corrupt and self-serving.

He won’t join them, not even the true believer Claire, so he’s to be taken away. This is where we anticipate the god in the machine, shots to ring out from an unseen source, but how can Reese have tracked him? Reese can’t, but Root can, goddess in the Machine, to rescue him and bring him home before setting off on her next, enigmatic task.

And that link? At Samaritan HQ, where Finch’s laptop has proved to be the bust we all knew he would have ensured, Claire is desperately apologetic for her failure but Greer is avuncularly forgiving, appreciative of her fanaticism. Though Claire has a question: the bullets were supposed to make Finch sympathetic towards her but they were also supposed to miss; what if they’d killed her? Then, my dear, the smiling Greer replies, you would have died in a good cause.

We won’t see Claire again, which is a pity, but Claire is just one of a thousand details and time is limited. A full Fifth season order would, subject to Quinn Shephard’s availability, have brought her back, I’m sure, and shown us whether the chink in her belief healed over, or split wide open.

But the smiling Greer has a meeting to attend, under Mergers and Acquisitions, a promising company with a very special algorithm to identify and manipulate emotions, that’s vulnerable due to a recent fall. Greer’s going to a meeting with a rather subdued Board and a CEO named Lauren Buchanan. Who, very recently, placed right and wrong ahead of profit. Where does that stand in relation to survival?

Power corrupts. What the hell else is it for?

10 thoughts on “Person of Interest: s04 e15 – Q&A

  1. “Q and A” [4×15]
    Written By: Dan Dietz
    Directed By: Stephen Semel
    Originally Aired 17 February 2015

    The second half of Season 4 drew a lot of criticism at the time that it aired for being too slow and not as cohesive as its predecessor. On re-watch though, I realized that the stretch from 4×14-4×18 really isn’t as bad as people say it is. And the fact that we don’t see how every single one of Samaritan’s plots fit together is by design–we’re painting a picture of how the AI views the world.

    “Q&A” is a pretty damn good episode of the show on multiple fronts. I don’t have that much to say about the Reese investigation. It’s pretty standard for the show, not landing in the most interesting cases or among the worst. But the fact that it’s tied into Samaritan’s plot to take over society elevates it quite a bit (and the fact that this is a tech-based show, so they can’t resist showing us tech companies). Again, just as in “MIA”, it’s experimenting as would a scientist in a lab. Shaking the ant farm to see what happens. Manipulating people’s emotions would be a useful way for it to study human psychology, which it needs to do if it wants to save us from ourselves, as it claims is its goal.

    The other part focuses on the return of Claire. Unlike Root, she succumbed to her worst instincts, and has become a misanthropic Samaritan drone. Even Harold can’t crack through her shell and make her see reason. But a seed of doubt is planted in her head, just as with Control. Unlike with Control though, there is no follow-up. She’s hardly the most important plot point that they needed to focus on in Season 5, so I understand why they prioritized other things. Nonetheless, it does detract from this episode slightly.

    Grade: B+

  2. I’m convinced that Claire’s story would have been resolved in a full-scale season 5, very possibly as part of a never-written finale that would have led to an upping-the-ante Sixth and final seson that was never to be.

      1. Interesting thought. I rather suspect Quinn Shephard wouldn’t have been available for that many episodes, however, given her film commitments at that time – one of them her own project. It would have been good to see her in the role, though.

  3. Also: you are one of the only writers I’ve seen who has correctly noted that a Deus Ex Machina isn’t inherently bad or lazy. It’s simply a device from Greek plays. It can be very effective if deployed properly (also see: Avatar: The Last Airbender).

    1. Compliment appreciated. The deus is frequently the lazy thing you describe, a tool for a writer who’s written themselves into a corner from which exit can only be achieved by cheap manipulation. Let’s be honest,how many episodes of PoI wind up with somebody about to be shot dead only for the sound of the bullet to come from another direction, usually John or Sameen arriving ‘in the nick of time’. It happens so often we just have to learn to live with it, treat it as a trope. The beauty of such thingsis when the commonplace expectation is overturned, as with this one. And with the way that the show refuses to use Root as a regular get-out clause when it would be so tempting to make use of her that way every week.

      1. It depends on whether it fits thematically with the story. Greek plays are often all about what happens when the gods interfere in the lives of humans. So it makes quite a bit of sense that certain stories (like The Odyssey).

        Lots, especially early on. It’s not my favorite trope. It was wonderfully subverted in ‘The Crossing’ at least. Fusco earned his escape there.

      2. Not being that knowledgeable about Greek plays, I wan’t aware of that. It certainly justifies the original use of the device.

        I had to remind myself of the details about The Crossing: ah yes. A magnificent and emotional use. Fortunately, what I write for myself has no reason for deus’s, though even asI write that, the thought occurs that the one that I’m going to do after the current one might well give me an opportunity to flex my muscles. Might be fun…

      3. Odysseus only ended up on his journey in the first place because the gods cursed him. So why shouldn’t the story resolve in the same manner? In this episode, Root quite literally has a god in her pocket. As opposed to the ‘just in time’ trope often indulged in by the first two seasons (later seasons too, but I did notice it decreased over time), where their timing is perfectly spot on every time.

  4. Your comments on Osysseus put me in mind of ‘Wrath of the Gods’, a mythlogical adventure strip in first Boy’s World then,when the comic was merged into Eagle, rapidly run down because it was too similar to an existing Eagle strip. Orion cursed the gods for letting his wife and child be slaughtered whilst he was away at the wars and so wasrequired by them to undertake perilous adventures on their behalf. Some brilliant art in full colour from Ron Embleton and John M Burns.

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