Person of Interest: s02 e21 – Zero Day


So, this is where we come to the end of the beginning, the first of a two-parter to end season 2 and change things for ever. The guest list runs on forever with names we know, the action is low-key but non-stop, the accent is on apprehension, the Machine is on the fritz, cracking in Finch’s opening monologue, breaking it down, breaking down. It’s Zero Day, the day Decima’s virus goes active at midnight and all the rules come up for re-writing.

There’s a nervy edge throughout as the Machine’s constant insertions flash, split into code, blur the sound, racket crazily about until you’re twitching just from watching it. Reese  is twitching: there have been no Numbers for ten days (nor any Relevant ones wither as ‘Miss May’ – our dear pal Root – deploys an unusual method of handing in her notice to Special Counsel). Reese is reduced to ‘ambulance chasing’, following the Police bands. He’s too late for this one, two Elias men, one innocent, but gets to speak to Carter, who’s determined to bring down HR, a decision that will have consequences for her.

But the game’s on, a Number forced out, Ernest Thornhill, millionaire owner of payphone companies, who seems to operate wholly on-line, whose company employs people to spend all day copying code out of one computer and typing it into another. Thornhill (are we remembering North by North-West yet?) even hires a car to drive nobody back from the airport, a car bombed by a drone, a drone set up by Decima Technologies.

The Machine, reeling it seems, goes into flashback mode. A whole Finch tells Nathan ingram that he plans to ask Grace to marry him on her birthday. Nathan’s engaged in rebuilding the company after seven years non-profit work developing their ‘project’. Nathan’s also engaged in drinking a lot. It’s day 1 of a new life for Finch: no, the engineer in Finch corrects, Grace’s birthday is tomorrow. That makes today Day 0.

There’s a complication, brought up jocularly by Nathan, but there’s something else under his voice. Under what pseudonym will Harold marry? Will Grace become Mrs Ostrich? But Harold is intending to become his real self again, for the first time in a long time. That will cause certain legal problems. It appears Harold’s real self is still wanted for youthful transgressions: sedition, mayhem. Still, the company can afford good lawyers…

And Harold proposes to Grace, as far away from surveillance cameras as he can, and out of earshot, the whole bended knee. And she accepts.

Everything is turning, falling in upon itself. Root callsFinch on his mobile phone. Time is running out. Whatever’s going to happen will happen at midnight. Everyone except Harold seems to be in urgent mode. Only he knows better.  But despite John’s insistence on protecting him from the ingenious hacker, Harold goes to a meeting with Root without telling. He has to: it’s outsideGrace’s home. Root has made friends with Grace.

So Harold Finch unwillingly starts working with Samantha ‘Root’ Groves. And, following the trail of Ernest Thornhill, a ‘ghost’, a non-existent person crated as a front, John Reese starts working, a little less unwillingly, with Sameen Shaw, who’s still following Root’s trail.

Things start to converge. Finch spots Nathan Ingram acting suspiciously, follows him to his ‘lair’, a disused Library, discovers Nathan and his back door into the Machine, his non-Relevant numbers, his less than fifty percent success rate (hence the drinking). Finch is stern in his opposition to this use of the Machine, obdurate in the face of faces who will die without intervention, callous in his assessment of Nathan’s remaining skills, and permanently shutting down the access. Out he storms. The last Number the Machine issues before it shuts down in Nathan Ingram.

Root knows far more than she should about the Machine. Decima knows a hell of a lot of it too. At midnight, the Machine will shut down. It will undergo a hard reset and call a payphone. Whoever answers will be given total access and control over the Machine. Decima know this. Decima wants the Machine. They’re guarding all the payphones, they want ‘Thornhill’ dead because ‘he’ owns them. Reese and Shaw, tailing Finch and Root, meet Greer, a confident, dry, wholly composed Greer, who drops a bombshell: their virus was built from code in a briefcase, the briefcase, the Ordos briefcase Reese and Kara Stanton were supposed to retrieve/destroy. The creator of that code was a man called Harold Finch.

Meanwhile, Carter’s being taken out of the game by HR. Terney has a lead on Beecher’s shooter, but it’s a set-up, a raid in which he’s meant to kill her. But a shooter appears before them. Carter draws and kills him, a good shoot. But not when IAB arrive, and both the gun andTerney’s rcolection of seeing it disappear like the morning mist…

And Root and Finch, ten minutes ahead. Finch is confident. Yes, the Machine will call a payphone at midnight. But only he knows which one. Except that Decima know it too. And there’s more. Root realises that the print-outs, the endless code recycling, ae the Machine’s memories. To limit the Machine, Finch programmed it to dump all its memories at midnight. Every day it is reborn. Root’s horror infects us. Every night, Finch kills the Machine. We anthropomorhise as much as she does, see the Machine as a person, not a thing.

It’s almost midnight. Appropriately, the payphone is in a Library. Everybody’s headed there. Root is determined to take the call, to enter God Mode, to free the Machine. Reese and Shaw are shooting Decima bad guys. Harold diverts the call to the payphone heand Root are at, by rewiring the junction box. At midnight the Machine shuts down. Two payphones ring. Root answers one, seems pleased with what she hears, drags Finch off saying that the fun starts now.

The other is answered by Reese. The voice of the Machine asks, “Can you hear me?”

On original broadcast, the audience had to wait seven days for the second part. Now, so do I.

Person of Interest: s02 e08 – Til Death

Marriage guidance…

Would you believe that a high-concept, high-tempo, action-thriller procedural could successfully tell a story about love? The evidence is here in the latest episode of this Person of Interest re-watch, one of which is a moment of fate, moving someone’s life off the trajectory it occupies, towards a destiny impossible to suspect from here.

The episode began with a flashback to 2006, picking up on the last flashback two weeks back. Harold has begun to see Grace Hendricks. They talk in a bar, halfway between a confident surface and a nervous interior, sharing thoughts and experiences, far more than we’d ever expect to see from the seclusive Harold. The flashbacks will multiply, show us more of their courtship, ending with thir first kiss. Michael Emerson and Carrie Preston bring to these scenes a depth of emotion that is more than acting, being married in real life.

That first flashback cuts back to 2012, and Harold walking Bear in the Park, the one just outside Grace’s home. He keeps his self-imposed distance as she descends her steps and sets off to where she intends to paint. There’s a moment of simple symbolism as a payphone rings, delivering a new Number: by the time Harold can re-direct his attention to Grace’s progess, she is gone.

The Number is the second love story, though that should be Numbers, two of them, Daniel and Sabrina Drake (Mark Pellegrino and Francie Swift), husband and wife, of differing backgrounds, rich, joint CEOs  of a small but successful Publishing Company facing a buy-out offer. The Drake’s are divided on how to respond to this offer: he, take the money and run, she, fight to retain control.

There’s an obvious external threat to the Drakes, but this is the red herring. The twist in the procedural is that Daniel’s hired a killer to off Sabrina and Sabrina’s hired a killer to off Daniel. We should have known: after all, they bicker all the time only it’s not bickering. This is a couple in whom love has turned to hatred (the second flashback involves Nathan Ingram, reading the reason for Harold’s inner glow, but relating an awfully painful account of meeting his ex-wife, at a wedding, for the first time since their settlement, and concluding that there is a thing worse than love turned to hate, and that is love turned to indifference. He’s right, you know).

Lamenting that the Drake’s couldn’t just have gone to marriage counselling, and rejecting Harold’s suggesion that they let them get on with it and go help someone deserving, John needs to devise a solution that not only stops this over-privileged pair from killing each other today but stops them wanting to kill each other tomorrow. The violence part is easy to accomplish, but John procures the other by locking Danny and Sabrina into a larder and leaving them with nothing to do but talk: overdue talk about a miscarriage, about misunderstood motives, about silences in which the wrong words form in mistaken minds and a narrative based on what people resent instead of what they really mean slowly firms into what we’ve seen.

The Drakes are last seen getting arrested, each defending each other, summoning high-power lawyers: a short sentence and a long renaissance of the love that was always there, re-exposed to the light. A bit simple, a bit optimistic, but the ending we wanted and beautifully performed.

These do not exhaust the stories on hand. Fusco’s getting shifty refusing to answer John’s calls, something’s going on. Indeed it is: Fusco has a date, a blind date with Rhonda (Tricia Paoluccio), an attractive but not spectacular woman who, wenttheir dinnr is disrupted by a summons to work (from Finch), comes along and has a great time. It ends with a goodnight kiss. But it ends: Rhonda never returns.

Detective Cal Beacher (Sterling K Brown) does. Thus begins a momentum none of us can foresee. Ironically, it’s Harold who starts things, who is the pebble, sending Carter to Beacher for information on the cheaper of the would-be assassins. Beacher likes the look of Carter. She owes him one. Normally, he’d ask for a bottle of liquor, but in this case he’d like a date. So too would Carter. Threads, streaming out into the future. Love. The lack of it. Kisses that begin things, kisses that end things. Talk is cheaper than assassins. Grace Hendricks and Harold Finch, on their way to tragedy.

Love is such a small word for something that is so vast/for in it lies the future, the present and the past (c) Alan Hull.

Person of Interest: s01 e22 – No Good Deed

Grace Hendricks

It’s a measure of the confidence – and security – that a strong first season brings that Person of Interest can invest in its own future with a strong episode like this one, that enlarges the show’s mythos in so many ways, doing so by fractions and implications that raise questions, the answering of which will take time, a lot of time. The show knows it has that time.

In addition to stirring the pot in such a fashion, the episode also introduces two new characters, both of whom will recur in future series, having a substantial role to play in the show’s gradual but inevitable transformation from procedural to a complex and thought-provoking extrapolation on our near future.

At the outset, John Reese is tailing Harold Finch, still trying to find where his secretive partner lives. Like Fusco before him, he gets nowhere. He does see Finch appear to take a call at a public telephone, or rather listen to something. Almost immediately, Finch contacts him to say they have a new Number.

This is Henry Peck (Jacob Pitts), a quiet, thirty-something Stocks Analyst who lives alone and has a higher level of personal security than anyone to date. This is because he is not a Stocks Analyst but an Intelligence Analyst working for the National Security Agency: a good one as well. Reese recognises the set-up the moment he tries to get into the building: not many attractive young Receptionists hold 45s under the desk on their unexpected visitors.

Henry Peck’s life is about to change drastically. The Police enter his apartment, find a stash of drugs planted there, the arrest has him placed on administrative leave, he’s wildly trying to contact various figures, among them an Alicia, and when he goes home, there are pills and booze everywhere and a Government assassin waiting to make it look like an accident. Why?

Because Henry Peck has noticed an anomaly, sixnames added without his knowledge to six of his reports, all figures involved in major terrorist activity. 100% accuracy. Peck analyses how this could have come about, and starts asking question. The only way this could happen is as a result of massive – and massively illegal – surveillance. Peck is asking questions about the Machine. Which means that if Reese and Finch are going to save him, they must do so at a distance. The more Peck learns, the more danger he’s in. Not just him but anyone he comes ino contact with. Peck is like a virus.

Here, let us divert to the flashbacks, to 2009, to an uninjured Finch and his friend, partner and ‘Corporate beard’, Nathan Ingram. It’s the eve of handover: tomorrow, the Machine is sent out as six train carloads of decommissioned computer eqipment that, at a given and unknown point, will be diverted by the Government, operating via Alicia Corwin, to the intended and secluded home where it will operate. Alicia meets Nathan for drinks; she’s nervous and jumpy. That transmits itself to Nathan. He talks to Harold about a failsafe, a means of shutting the Machine down if it is being abused. Harold dismisses his concerns: he has built the Machine to be infallible, impervious, immune to alteration. At night, Nathan reactivates the Machine, to add a new programme. Titled ‘Contingency’.

In the present of May 2012, it is of course impossible to save Henry Peck without getting up close. Peck’s running wild though, unwilling to trust anyone, constantly disappearing. He speaks to Alicia, who is as we expected Alicia Corwin, who in paranoid manner, ‘explains’ things by the word ‘Sibilance’ (code for an NSA security sweep) and simply tells him ‘Run’. He also contacts the office of Special Counsel, the Washington office that protects whistle-blowers and the like. A man we will only ever know as Special Counsel (Jay O. Sanders) identifies Peck’s co-ordinates and puts the assassns back on him.

There is only one solution. Peck proposes to go to the Press (Special Counsel orders the reporter be killed as well). To prevent everything, Finch himself goes to the meeting, at a table at an outdoor diner. He confirms Peck’s suspicions, that the Machine exists. He hands him a clean passport, plane tickets and bank details for a well-funded account, and tells him to find his own secrets. And Finch confirms he built the Machine.

Secrets. There’s still a coda, and little hints have been dropped here and there. Finch’s seeming difficulty with humans as opposed to machines. Nathan’s jocular reference to Harold finding someone. Reese finally picking up a trail: multiple copies of the same magazines, coffee cups from the same vendor. He finds a house, a fine house in a nice, central location, Finch’s home.

But it’s not. The sole occupant is Grace (Carrie Preston, Michael Emerson’s wife), an attractive redhead. She’s an artist, draws magazine covers. She’s outmoded in this digitalage, but every time she thinks she’s run out of jobs, another commision comes through: she has a guardian angel. She also has a photo, of her with Harold. He used to live there with her, but noot any longer. She lost him, an accident, two years ago.

John leaves, feeling a little guilty, at having pried. Harold is sat opposite. Whilst he doesn’tregret building the Machine, he didn’t realise until too late the personal cost. He has built an app that warns him if he gets within 100m of Grace. They think him dead, and so her life is safe. Nakedly, for once, Harold quietly speaks of having four years of love, and how some people get only four days.

As he walks away, we flashback, this time only a matter of hours. Finch sits with Peck in an outside diner. On another table sits a directional microphone, pointing at him as he ttells Peck that he built the Machine. We pan up, slightly. The microphone is being used by Alicia Corwin. The look on her face is shock. And terror.

It’s the last episode of season 1 next week, and there is an immediate response to a part of this episode. But most of it is trails. I know where these lead, but it is less than two years since I first watched Person of Interest, bombing through season 1 in less that seven days. I know where these trails lead. I know what we have yet to learn. I know fates and outcomes and who has yet to become part of the story. We are now beyond the ‘mere’ Number of the Week, though the show’s great gift is that these will come and come and come, without fail, and that they will branch into the overarching story, and amplify it. The procedural is not dead, but it is no longer in isolation.

Next week:the first season finale. And the first cliffhanger.