Person of Interest: s05 e02 – SNAFU


Step two in the latest and last reconstruction of Person of Interest. The Machine’s existence has been saved physically, and it is now in the room, down in the Subway, where Ms Samantha Groves is currently a permanent resident, shorn of cover identities that will keep her alive overground.

But the Machine may have been saved in ‘body’ but what about its mind? In short, is it still sane?

This was the subject of this episode, which broke itself down into ill-fitting parts, comic and dramatic, in order to illustrate the confusion in the mind of the Machine as Harold Finch brings it back online. There’s a tinkering with the monologue – not for the last time – as Finch’s words blur and crash and reverse, and a frenetic sequence where facial recognition goes decidedly out of kilter. Heads get swapped, or appear multiple times over, a blur of silliness linking Finch, Root, Reese and Fusco, as the cast play each other in changed heads.

But there’s a serious point to be made. Reese is super-frustrated, they’ve been out of the game for two months now, lives have been lost. In the Police world, Homicides are down but Suicides are up. Beware the foreshadowing line. The Machine responds by offering thirty numbers at once, giving Reese and Fusco something to do whilst they catch up.

But there’s something seriously wrong. The Numbers include a kid who phoned in a bomb threat to get out of a school test, an actor in a Victorian play, a long-dead Mafia boss, an ex-con painting a house. Beware the foreshadowing moment.

Only two – is it only two? – Numbers on that list are valid. One’s a guy with massive gambling debts who earns Fusco special praise when he saves the man’s life. The other is Oklahoma tourist Laurie Grainger (Paige Patterson), who walks into the Precinct and straight up to John ‘Riley’. One’s a Victim, but the other’s a Perpetrator. Nice looking Laurie, the pretty girl with the big smile, is a hitwoman, a professional, hired to take out Reese. Has Samaritan penetrated his identity at last?

Of course it hasn’t, as a moment’s thought would tell you, if the episode stayed still long enough for that moment of thought. (They’d have come in truckloads of men in dark suits, none of whom can shoot straight, you know that).

So who did hire Laurie? The same one who locked Finch and Root in the now-wired-for-sound Subway carriage: the Machine.

Because the Machine is full of glitches still, the biggest one being that it is lost in time. Everything it has ever seen is happening Now, because the Machine can’t distinguish one day from another. It has re-uploaded its memories, including Finch’s original teachings about things that are unforgivable, such as murder and assault. By it’s current lights, John Reese is a monster. So too are Harold Finch and Samatha Groves.

Whilst John fights off his assailant, Finch fights off his (Root is too vulnerable, the Machine is literally in her head so, to remove herself as a bargaining chip, she places herself under anaesthesia). How to persuade a Machine that he has personally ‘killed’ 42 times, each one of which said Machine is reliving in its eternal Now is a hard task, and it is done by resetting the parameters of Good and Evil by reference to the common condition of all of us: trying to do the best we can. And the history of multiple Numbers saved helps establish a viable context.

So all is well, so well that our quartet can enjoy a picnic in the park (and Amy Acker can wear a modestly short skirt: mind you, Reese turns up in the violently yellow polyester of a Police Bowling league team). It’s a moment of sunlight marred only by the remembrance that these four are in an underground war that no-one around them could understand if they knew. Let them enjoy the respite for a moment.

Thirty Numbers and only two that were valid. Or was it two? I recognised the ex-con as soon as I saw him, Jeff Blackwell, played by Josh Close. The Machine was unmoored in time but no-one thought that it might be detecting a future threat that belongs to more than just the immediate future. Jeff Blackwell needs a job. An employment agency has one for him, ready-made, no application, no HR meetings, just start straight away. A Samaritan-style box appears round his head: Asset 702. Potential for Violence: 70%. Something is coming towards us.

7 thoughts on “Person of Interest: s05 e02 – SNAFU

  1. “SNAFU” [5×02]
    Written By: Lucas O’Connor
    Directed By: Chris Fisher
    Originally Aired 9 May 2016

    “SNAFU” is a Lucas O’Connor script….and you know what that means. If you want to start off a season on the right foot, he’s the guy. Fast-paced, funny, quirky, and ultimately a little sad, I never get tired of re-watching this one. “SNAFU” is ultimately about the moral ambiguity of its leads. It reminds us that they’ve all done terrible things. But they’re trying to be better–hollow words they might seem, considering that this idea of good and evil being within everyone has been done to death by now. But this is one of the best applications of it that I’ve seen. Because of the unique way the Machine understands human nature, it rings true. It’s also got plenty of humor that you never would’ve expected back in Season 1. The face-swapping at the beginning. Reese joining the bowling team. Root having a girl scout badge for kneecapping (god, I love the writers of this show, even with their bad guys who can’t shoot straight).

    And oh yeah–The Machine needed a Constant. Hell of a climax to an episode.

    Grade: A.

  2. Every single episode now reminds me of how terribly little space there is left to cross. The better the episode, the more terrible the prospect of the end.

    1. This was a really good one to me. I got the feeling it impressed you as well. I have a personal preference for shows that can expertly blend tragedy and comedy. I would say that this is one of those shows.

      This episode in particular is so good because it cuts to the heart of what the series is really about, and introspective beginning for the final season. Also I didn’t really notice many small errors or lazy tropes in this episode that sometimes pop up (you’ve pointed out several).

      1. I loved it. And yes, I do point out slips and tropes, usually as a joke, but like you said last week, this is nit-picking. We’re on a roller-coaster now, and there are no more stops until the last one.

      2. I noticed some head scratching plot slip ups and lazy troops as well. The show certainly has some. Not that big a deal at the end of the day to me because it does so much else so well, not that big a deal at the end of the day to me because it does so much else so well, And there wasn’t anything that broke the show or anything. And there wasn’t anything that broke the show or anything.

        Criticizing a show for not following its own rules is fine. It’s just not the *only* thing that matters.

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