Person of Interest: s05 e13 – Return 0

This is the third time I have watched the final episode of Person of Interest. I have watched it desperate to see how it all falls out, I have watched already knowing what fates are determined. This is the first time that I have forced myself to wait a whole week before watching it. This has, as I suspected, been absolute torture, but you should keep your promises, especially those made to yourself.

It’s been torture because I know what happens, especially in two moments where I am bound to cry. I know a man ain’t supposed to cry, Marvin Gaye sang, but these tears I can’t hold inside. And as the years go by and this world gets ever darker, the vulnerabilities build up and fiction touches me in ever deeper places, places I no longer allow reality to encroach upon. I know I am going to be awash with tears as John Reese and Harold Finch meet their inescapable fates. I know when, and why, and that my response is uncontrollable.

We begin at the beginning, Amy Acker’s words as delivered at the start of the season: If you can hear this, you’re alone. The only thing left of us is the sound of my voice. I don’t know if any of us made it. Did we win? Did we lose? I don’t know. Back then, we didn’t know who it was that spoke them, or why, or when.

Begin on a rooftop, with Harold Finch, clearly in pain but under rigid self-control. He has the suitcase, the one that contained the compressed Machine. He has eight and a half minutes until something is overhead. We do not have to wait to see that he is bleeding from a gunshot wound in his belly to know that he is dying, because he is talking to a voice in his head. The voice of the Machine, the voice of Root. It too is dying. Harold Finch sees and hears his creation as Miss Groves. Who tells him, even as all knowledge and learning fades away, what she has learned, about human beings, about what they are and who they can be and how you can’t tell until their end. Everybody dies alone.

And the faces roll by. John Reese, kneeling with a gun to the back of his head. Lionel Fusco, clutching at two holes in his stomach. And Shaw, staring at a gravestone marked only with a number, the last resting place of Root.

It’s all crumbling. Ice9 is spreading. Everything has gone to pieces. John is outed as the Man in a Suit, but the Police plan to execute him and Lionel, until the final shots from offstage, across the harbour, a sniper freeing our two men to follow Finch back to the subway, there to divide into two missions, to divide forever.

Samaritan is trying to preserve itself, a duplicate in an air-spaced server, impervious to the virus. Using the pretence that he is carrying a thermonuclear device, Finch gains access to the server and uploads Ice9. Desperately, Samaritan creates and despatches duplicates. Finch intercepts them all, except one. It will be uploaded to a quarantined satellite.

The only last defence is to upload the duplicate of the Machine to the same satellite, there to fight Samaritan. It has lost billions of simulations: this time it can’t afford to lose. And though Finch has forgotten, it has Root’s modifications, giving it the power to fight. As soon as the upload is done, the building will be destroyed by a rogue Cruise missile. So that only he will die, Harold barricades John in to keep him safe.

The other two, Sameen and Fusco, have been left to defend the Subway, the Machine itself, that stranded Subway train carriage. Samaritan’s men, led by Jeff Blackwell, will attack. The Machine intervenes: the train is live and so is the Tunnel behind the wall. Blow it up, ride away. Blackwell gets on board, shoots Shaw in the arm, is taken out by Fusco.. Shaw examines his bag, forms the impression he’s shot a friend of hers… but as they reach the next station, Blackwell pulls a knife from his boot, sticks Fusco in the gut, twice, runs before Shaw can shoot him.

So we come back to the rooftop on an early, bright morning, Now we know why. Harold the Fisher King, lame from the beginning, wounded honorably. Hallcinating his Machine. Only the Machine has been doing one last job. It has been distracting him. Distracting him from realising that the aerials on the rooftop the Machine has led him to are not sufficient. Not like those on the taller building across the street that he now doesn’t have time to get to. On which stands another man. It is not Harold who will sacrifice himself today. John Reese has had his own deal with the Machine. He is going to pay it all back in one go.

It’s the end of his course. John Reese is going to die now and we are going to watch him die. No bullets will be fired from offscreen this time, no deus ex machina will plot a miraclous escape. Greater love hath no man.

And they come from two directions, and John spins and shoots. The upload goes into space. Harold has left, in time to seek medical aid? But at last a bullet hits Reese. Then another. What Harold the mysterious stranger said in the opening episode comes to pass. John Reese has gone beyond all further regrets before the cruise missile vaporises the rooftop he went to on his final job.

And Samaritan tries to establish itself on the satellite, but the Machine has followed it.

Did we win? The cybercrash is over, and the recriminations start. Senator Garrison, trying to avoid responsibility, claims the threat was of Chinese origin. Oh no it wasn’t, the committee chair contradicts, it was Northern Lights. Either way, it’s moot: the programme is defunct.

Jeff Blackwell packs to go away somewhere, very rapidly, but not rapidly enough. Sameen Shaw enters his apartment. He tries to explain it was nothing personal, just a job. Shaw agrees. She used to do jobs like that. In fact, before she met some people, good people, she would have just shot him. I’m sure they wouldn’t want you to do this, Blackwell tries, hopefully. They wouldn’t, Shaw agrees. But they’re all dead. And she shoots him dead.

Fusco survived too. He and Shaw meet for what’s probably the last time. She comes to collect Bear.

For the third time in this final episode, we witness a small boy standing rigid in the rain at his father’s funeral. His father died a hero saving lives. We cut to the grave of another military man, died 2005: Lawrence Dixon, who ‘died’ when he went into Black-Ops.

The phone rings in the abandoned Subway station. Amy Acker’s voice repeats into a tape-recorder. And screens begin to run, programmes run, a new mission is requested.

John Reese is dead. In a bar in a computer memory, a cop who has had to deliver his thirty fifth message of a death, listens to his partner surmise that everyone dies alone. Except, he says, if someone, even if it’s only one person at all, if someone remembers you, maybe you don’t really die at all. And in Italy, Grace Hendricks is painting with calm and concentration. A man stands looking at her, a few yards away, waiting for her to look up, and recognise him.

And if I can see anything at all by now, so overwhelmed that I am, I see Sameen Shaw, walking Bear in Times Square. A payphone begins to ring. She stares at it, crosses and picks it up. She listens hard. She puts the phone down and starts to walk away. As she does, a smile comes to her face, such a smile as Sameen Shaw has never smiled before.

This is our future. Make of it what you will. And thank you for following me these past two years.

25 thoughts on “Person of Interest: s05 e13 – Return 0

      1. I’m just hoping this will pull in more people to be honest……would be nice to get people to join the POI club.

  1. I’m never late, or early. I comment precisely when I mean to.

    “return 0” [5×13]
    Written By: Jonathan Nolan and Denise Thé
    Directed By: Chris Fisher
    Originally Aired 21 June 2016

    So it all comes to an end with “return 0”. 5 years of complicated plotting, stunning and over the top action sequences, and some of the most interesting sci-fi American tv had produced since the original Twilight Zone. Including foreign series, Australia’s Farscape would definitely be my #2 pick before I’d seen POI, with 1967’s The Prisoner of course taking the top prize. I didn’t expect it to come from a CBS show of all places, especially after JJ Abrams-produced shows Lost, Fringe, and Alias crashed and burned (I know you disagree with me about that first one, that’s fine!). But, thanks to being one of those unique tv shows where every aspect comes together nearly flawlessly… soared. And I think “return 0” is a wonderful conclusion. At first, I wasn’t so sure. I thought pulling a virus out of thin air was deflating, and that it would have been braver for Person of Interest to not put the genie back in the bottle, as it were. On the whole though….I think it makes for a fitting end, especially for the show’s characters, but not too bad for its world, either. After all, this is a show with superhero DNA baked into it. Makes sense for good to triumph over evil, no? Maybe one day our AI overlords will play a greater part in our affairs…but it can’t be Samaritan. As for those characters….wow. Finch is a very interesting character–virtuous in some ways, a hypocrite in others. I like the fact that Emerson hasn’t lost his Ben Linus edge entirely. So on one hand his purely happy ending isn’t entirely fitting for an ambiguous character….but he’s the closest to being a pure hero regardless. His flaws stemmed from an entirely understandable place of caution, humanism, and an unwavering respect for human life. Besides, he’ll have a hell of a time explaining the plot of ‘Person of Interest’ to Grace. And of course Reese was never going to let him die. I believe Nolan confirmed that they indeed made that deal all the way back in ‘The Contingency’. It’s the perfect way to send off their relationship. Fusco remains the same as he always was. Root lives on in the Machine, as does Reese. They all do. The Machine’s character arc is one of the most satisfying parts of the whole–seeing Amy Acker, on that rooftop, putting her hand on Reese’s shoulder sealed the ‘cutting onions’ part for me. There’s even some narrative shifting, in a clever callback to Jonathan Nolan’s first major script, “Memento”. This is how you do a series finale.

    Grade: A+

    “I don’t expect you to understand anything I’m telling you. But I know you will remember this—that nothing good ever ends. If it did, there would be no people in the world—no life at all, anywhere. And the world is full of people and full of wonderful life.”–William Saroyan, “A Human Comedy”

    1. Writing about this episode, reliving it a third time, seeing the look on Grace Hendricks’ face one more time as the person who means most to her arises from the dead, is impossible to write about twice. Following the series this slowly, writing thoughts on every stage of its development has burnt it out for me, for a time. Glad to have had you with me, Joe.

      1. It’s been a pleasure commenting each week.

        I finally broke my own self-imposed rules and gave out an A+. I think I was justified.

    1. Not enough Bear for that.

      Also, forgot to include this, but…rank the seasons of Person of Interest. Fairly easy for me: 3>5>4>2>1.

      1. To be honest, though it’s tons easier than ranking episodes in a series, I can’t do that. They are all part of one story. Each has an individual part and an individual point. i don’t find them sufficiently comparable to be able to rank them. I never could do ratings like that.

      2. How about this, then–what are your absolute favorite episodes?

        As for me, I’d go If-Then Else, The Devil’s Share, return 0, The Day the World Went Away, RAM, /, 6,741, Terra Ingocnita, Relevance, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Prophets, and Firewall.

  2. I like how this ending doesn’t entirely abandon the show’s futurist spirit. Is the AI genie best put back in the bottle or not? It’s not an easy question, and so the show doesn’t have an easy answer.

      1. And when a work of fiction poses philosophical questions to its audience, isn’t it best not to give a concrete answer? I always find that such an answer can ring a bit hollow.

  3. Back when I first watched the series through (a few months after you did), I looked up some reviews of this finale. Most were glowing, of course (IGN gave it a perfect 10, AV Club called it a perfect finale, etc.), but I did encounter some reviews who were a bit kvetchy about the plot. I was just a bit gobsmacked at the time. I couldn’t understand how any fan of the show couldn’t find this finale to be a triumph. Personal tastes and all that, but still…….

    1. Personal tastes. I defy you to find a single song, not even one, on YouTube where Comments have been opened, that does not have at least one comment by some numbnutz fuckwit defaming people who have given the song a thumbs down as being musically illiterate at the very least, and frequently worse. The world is full of people who think different things to you, but unfortunately it’s also full of people who think that for someone to have even slightly different tastes or preferences to them is justifiable cause for homicide. To them I want to say ‘Grow up you prannock!’ but I’d be spending all my life doing that if I even started and I’ve better things to do. Like I’ve said before, I don’t really care if you (generically, not you personally) have a different opinion to me. I’ll listen to them, politely, but don’t expect me to shift mine. Unless you’ve made a very good point that I hadn’t previously considered…

      1. Oh, yeah, of course. Everyone’s got a different opinion and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It was more a statement on how bowled over I was by ‘return 0’ than me moaning about how people would dare to disagree with me (though, of course, I AM always right after all).

      1. Do you think the alternate ending–eg, a more mind-bending, sci-fi esque approach–would have suited the series better? I do disagree with some that the ending we got was ‘too neat’, or ‘pat’, or something like that. After all, the Machine’s still out there. She’s still influencing the world some how, some way. She’s just not seizing the reigns the way Samaritan wants to.

  4. Apparently the sequence where Root-as-Machine puts her hand on Reese’s shoulder is somewhat of an homage to the 1987 film Wings of Desire. I haven’t seen that film, but it sounds intriguing–angels coming down to Earth to bear witness to humanity, warts and all. If it’s anything like ‘return 0’, it’s probably a must-watch.

    1. Aware of the film but never seen it. I doubt it’s that muchj like ‘return0’ (what else is?). If you do see it, let me know what you think.

      1. It’s considered a classic. I’ll be sure to let you know what I think when I check it out.

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