Person of Interest: s05 e06 – A More Perfect Union

The moment before…

Take a line from the American Constitution, add in a wedding (Ahhh), cross-pollinate it with both a seduction and the groundwork for breaking a relationship, and what we have is an episode that tries to ofer itself as a Number of the Week but which also embodies the fragmentation of Person of Interest‘s primary goals.

The wedding is that of heiress Phoebe Turner and underpaid Public Defender Will O’Brien. Finch suspects someone, probably Phoebe’s racehorse owner father Kent, doesn’t want to see Will come into a share of the Turner fortune, so he contrives, in an amusing manner, to get both himself and ‘Detective Riley’ invited to the wedding to ensure the marriage goes ahead. Root, who’s feeling lonely, gatecrashes as a supposed caterer.

The seduction is Sameen Shaw. Her rejection of the simulation has now reached over 7,000 iterations and the smooth, urbane, arrogant and utterly despicable John Greer is finally starting to realise that he’s getting nowhere. So he releases Shaw for a field trip, into the real New York. He shows her men making deals, corrupt deals that will enrich themselves but which will lead to deaths on a far larger scale than the individual lives the Machine plans to save.

And the broken relationship is Detective Lionel Fusco. Fusco’s gotten involved with the missing persons angle after last week’s disappearance of Krupa Naik. Root, via the Machine, gives him an angle, Howard Carpenter (Russell G. Jones), dispenser of permits, on the take to see these go to construction companies owned by the mob. Howard has received a permit request, no. 44802, without a payment. He’s having a meeting in the Park with Bruce Moran (James Le Gros) about the payment. But it’s not one of the Five Familes’ companies.

And so we go towards our endings. The Victim at the wedding is not Phoebe or Will, nor even her father Kent, whose house is surrounded by protesters over his alleged dioping of his horses. The doping is real but it’s not Kent but his elder daughter Karen and the victin is family photographer Maggie (Purva Bedi), who accidentally snapped Karen in the act. Reese and Root save the day.

Sameen remains resistant to this softshoe shufflle of an approach, to Greer trying to get her to see Samaritan as the good guy. But she doesn’t try to escape And then there’s a shock ending, a demonstration of the outcome from not stopping Chechen militants from bombing the Russian Consulate; a hyper-rapid escalation to all-out War and a nuclear weapon strike on NYC. Because this too is a stimulation, one in which Shaw hasn’t died by her own hand.

And Fusco, patient, persistent Fusco who’s had Bruce plant in his head the idea that his loyatly might be misplaced if it’s given to two people who have never told him the truth, good cop Fusco traces Permit 44802 to the demolition of an underground tunnel. Where he finds dead bodies, laid out in a row like the photographs on his pin board. Carpenter’s there. So too is Krupa Naik. But the first one he sees is Bruce Moran. And then the demolition starts, with Fusco still inside.

One last scene, back at the Wedding. All’s gone well, the day’s an idyll, Karen hasn’t spoilt it. Root asks Harold to dance. She tells him she knows his experiment with the baby AIs is not going well, that the Machine is losing heavily. Once again she urges him to make the Machine open, give it the tools it needs to survive. Once again he is cautious, fearful of how having such a Machine might corrupt him, them.

Three faces at a table, relaxing with fine bourbon, enjoying a wedding. Three faces fallen in anticipation of the crash that is to come. There is no room in the world any more. Everything has gone wrong. And seven weeks to put it right.

Person of Interest: s05 e04 – 6,741

A resourceful woman

Shaw is back!

There’s a twist to this episode, hinted at throughout and not quite as concealed as it might have been, and thus not so much a surprise as in a perfect world it would be. I’m going to reveal it at the bottom. But not here.

Helter-skeltering through Person of Interest first time, I read somewhere that Sarah Shahi was originally going to be absent for something like eighteen months, which would have meant her return somewhere either late Season 5 (would have made for a brilliant season finale) or early Season 6 on Earth-2. Which became untenable with the reduced final order, so here we have her back, as intense and cynical as ever, and every bit as active.

‘6,741’ is Shaw’s show. It starts with her undergoing an unwilling operation, to have a microchip implanted in her skull, to make her compliant, turn her into a good little girl who’ll tell kindly old John Greer where to find the Machine. It fails, in wonderfully dry, undemonstrative manner: Shaw, after nine months imprisonment (nice touch there), is still Shaw.

Indeed, she’s more so. After a second operation, implanting a second chip, Shaw sits and broods and calculates, as a result of which she escapes. It’s a proper, wonderfully destructive escape, Shaw at her most Shaw-like, improvising like crazy, breaking things, breaking people, stealing a boat and returning to New York.

Of course, she needs to get the chip out of her head, and she needs to find her friends. So she phones in a call suggesting she’s about to murder an innocent and ineffectual drugstore clerk, knowing it will attract Samaritan. It does. Shaw defends herself, but she is not totally Shaw: she’s crippled with bouts analogous to epileptic fits, flashing lights, flashback visions, mental distraction, physical unsteadiness. Is she alright? This one lets the last Samaritan retriever get the drop on her. No need to bring her back actually alive… until the traditional offscreen shot fells him.

Enter two familiar figures, responding to a Number. Not expecting to find a friend. Root is almost overwhelmed.

But even without her confession of having been chipped, Root and Reese are cautious, paranoid you might say. They won’t take Shaw to a safe house or to the Machine: is she compromised? Rousseau said she’d been broken.

They take Shaw back to Root’s place, for Root to look after her. This leads to some wonderfully passionate and excited love-making (or, as one imdb reviewer puts it, nasty lesbian sex, and he/she doesn’t mean nasty in a favourable sense).

But Shaw feels her team-mates’ distrust and won’t put up with it. She’s still having the fits, even after her chip’s been extracted. Shaw will not be controlled by anyone else. She leads everyone in a direct attack on Samaritan that seizes Greer. Greer, the Primary Asset, the ex-MI6 Agent who won’t do anything without an out. Greer will have a kill-switch and he will have it on him. Or in him: a chip implanted in his arm.

But it’s all a trap. Greer talks his usual, imperturbable, self-satisfied bollocks but this is directed to Shaw, his ally, his asset, the one who set up this trap to murder all her friends.

It’s breaking down. Shaw shoots Greer. Escaping, she and Reese wind up in a dark alley. Reese suspects Shaw of warning Greer. She shoots him in the back, kills him. This is absolutely the last point at which you should have realised where we are. Shaw is nervous, sweating, disoriented. Root comes to her. Shaw takes her to a kid’s playground. She fought being broken by constructing a safe place to go to in her mind: this park, Root. Root was her safe place. But not any more. Shaw is driven to kill Root. Her only escape is to put her gun to her own head and blow her brains out.

We return to Samaritan’s hospital. The simulation has failed. Once again Shaw fried her own brains without getting them anywhere near the Machine’s whereabouts. At least it took her a whole hour longer to kill Greer this time. They try again, from the beginning. This one is simulation 6,742…

This is one dark, intense and horrific episode of Person of Interest. Sameen Shaw hasn’t just spent nine months strapped to a bed, she’s spent that nine months under intense psychological torture intent on breaking who she is and re-creating her as an ‘asset’. Just think for a moment: this simulation, taking place in her head, is the six thousand, seven hundred and forty-first time she has been induced to believe she has escaped, has been taught to see herself as suspect and unreliable, and been driven to destroy herself to protect her friends. Sameen Shaw has experienced dying 6,741 times. So far.

This is more than frightening. How many of us could survive that a handful of times?

I’d also like to come back to the love scene between Root and Shaw. Their relationship, Root’s flirting, was the cause of much adverse comment during the season, from unreconstructed types who didn’t want to think about such things let alone see them. Root and Shaw were women, and that was enough for the neanderthal brigade. They shouldn’t even be in an action, macho show, they’re girls!

So this scene, and that’s as far as you’re going to get, was always going to be an intolerable provocation. And all you get is Amy Acker in a black bra, the visual metaphor of crockery being knocked off a dining table and smashing on the floor (??!), and a side-by-side face-down scene in orgasm afterglow. And it never really happened. Some people…

Person of Interest: s04 e22 – YHWH

An appropriate word

If it had ended here, it would have still been a good ending. It would have been an ending in defeat, almost like the infamous and controversial ending to Blake’s Seven almost forty years ago, the nature of which still rankles with me. The difference is that the ending to Season 4 would have left a shaft of light, a glimmer of hope, that it wasn’t completely over.

Ratings fell during Season 4. The nature of the show changed, it slid from series to serial. Some people hated Samaritan, some just didn’t like change, there’s always some. Person of Interest was in danger of cancellation. Once upon a time and not very long ago that would have been it. Networks are commercial entities, governed by income from advertising. Without eyeballs there is no advertising, without advertising there is no show. Person of Interest would have died then.

But things have changed. DVD box-sets give shows a long tail. Who, though, will spend for four box-sets of a show without an end?

If Person of Interest had ended here, where would it have left us? Like last week’s set-up, there were three elements: Control’s attempts to divert the Correction, Reese, Fusco and Elias’ capture at the hands of Dominic and the Brotherhood, and Finch and Root’s attempt to rescue the Machine.

It began with a revelation, as a Thornhill Industries box is fixed to a telegraph pole. What it was for we had to wait to see, though it’s later description as a Line Modulater was meaningless to me. whatever it was, we, or at least me, instinctively understood that it was the Machine, that all of them were. Two years ago, when the Machine vanished, it didn’t go somewhere, it went everywhere. Into the National Power Grid.

And now Samaritan knows where it is. Power surges and brown-outs are occurring all the way across the United States, the Machine’s visual feeds are fritzing and blurring. It is being driven East, until there is nowhere left for it to go, until it can do nothing but die.

Root goes into god-mode, constant communication starting from a telephone built into the walls of the Subway, walled over (Amy Acker swings a mean sledgehammer). This sends them on a helter-skelter scavenger hunt, for an improbable collection of things whose purpose is unguessable. It also has them break into the offices of Caleb Phipps (Luke Kleintank), reintroduced in episode 16, who was once a Number. The moment Finch steps forward to be recognised, to congratulate Caleb with genuine pleasure at his success, Caleb gives him the compression algorithm, no questions. Whatever the man who saved his life in season 2, episode 11 (2 Pi R) wants, he can have. Caleb’s belief is absolute.

Elsewhere, the Reese situation is relieved with almost bathetic simplicity. Dominic continues to rule the roost. He demands from John the same arrangement Elias has, with Harold as his inside man. What Dominic doesn’t understand, or believe, because his life and career conditions him to see things only within one pattern (he’s not the only one we’ll see doing that this episode) is that there is no arrangement.

And it falls apart rapidly. Dominic sends Floyd to kill Fusco, but Harper (no, sorry, still can’t stand her) has picked the lock on his handcuffs, he’s got away and he returns with the FBI to arrest everyone, including Dominic and Elias. It’s the pugnacious little fireplug’s moment of glory, and it earns him a handshake from John, who’s now free to slip off to first warn Iris Campbell to get out of the city for a few days, then join Finch and Root, the faithful muscle guarding the techsperts, the core of Team Machine on one final wild ride.

So that’s that. But it’s not. We’ll return to this. But for now, Control is fighting back against the Correction. Shipman, her right hand woman in the nerve centre, cannot detect any potental flashpoints, Senator Garrison regards her as paranoid and unbalanced when she wants Samaritan shut down and areversion to Northern Lights, which never lied to them. She and Grice (Nick A Tarabat) invade a Quarantined house in Washington where they find evidence of massive bomb-making. The target is the Supreme Court, hearing an anti-surveillance docket. Control steers greer into a private meeting at which she triumphntly advises him that it’s all over, in a moment he will be black-bagged and taken to a hole so deep and dark that Samaritan can’t see it, where he belongs. But remember what I said about people whose life and career have conditioned them to see things only in a certain pattern? It’s a bomb. It has to be  bomb.

Team Machine has reached its destination, an electricity sub-station concealed in a suburban house. Here at last Finch understands where the Machine went, and explains for us. Thornhill Utilities. Thornhill. The company that, in ‘God Mode’, exactly two seasons ago, was the Machine’s human alias. The Machine is dying. it is being forced out of existence. But with Caleb’s compression algorithm, a part of it, a ‘strand of DNA’, can be downloaded via a series of laptops, into a collection of high capacity RAM chips, stored in an indestructible briefcase. It can live.

No-one knows if it will work, if the Machine can survive wiithout the equivalent of brain damage. A screen lights up. The Machine talks to its Father, to Finch, its creator, who it feels it has failed. Father to son/daughter to Father, a completeky human exchange. With its last power, the Machine puts Reese into god-mode too, continual direction that enables him to take down an entire army of Samaritan operatives. Then it’s gone. God in the Machine becomes God in the Briefcase. If it’s worked. A shaft of light. A glimmer of hope.

Elsewhere, Greer is his usual superior, unconcerned self, despite Control and the gun with which she will kill him. It’s a bomb. But it’s not a bomb. Greer explains in his philosophy that the vast majority of human beings are docile and do not cause trouble (he doesn’t quite call us cattle or sheep but the words hang in the air). There are only a few hundred trouble-makers at any time, the ones who disrupt, who question authority. After a year, Samaritan has identified these people. The Correction has been a colossal bluff, a careful manipulation and a loyalt test. It is a surgical strike, nothing so crude as a bomb.

And the wagon taking Dominic and Elias downtown is rammed by one of Elias’s men, who helps him out of the wreckage. Dominic hauls himself out too, having grabbed aweapon. He is about to shoot Elias when he is stopped, again, by Fusco, who has his gun on him. Who will shoot first? in true PoI tradition, the shot comes from offscreen, a bony-faced man we’ve seen in the street before, a sniper’s rifle set-up on a rooftop. Corrections. He kills Dominic. Elias makes it into the escape vehicle ut is shot through the window. He appears to be dead.

Shipman’s dead, lying on the floor in Control’s nerve centre. Grice is dead, sat behind the wheel of a car outside the Supreme Court building. Others are dying. Control is black-bagged, to be taken to a hole so deep and dark, only Samaritan can see it. Where you belong, Greer states, with relish.

It would have been a good ending as it was. A week after this episode was broadcast, it was announced that it had been renewed, for a final season. That’s where we go next week. Now we are on the countdown

Person of Interest: s04 e21 – Asylum

It’s all gone pear-shaped

This is how it’s done. This is how to go from a standing start to a cliff-edge climax in which everything is placed at risk in only 43 minutes. This is how to race, headlong, at a brick wall, and still not show the impact. That comes next week, in the season finale.

‘Asylum’ took what felt like half a dozen weeks of story and crammed them into one episode, without short-changing any aspect of what was needed, whilst touching upon a million angles, whilst flirting with the greatest of disasters, and bringing in a host of guests, only one of whom was new to the series. Control, Greer, Rousseau, Elias, Dominic, Link, Harper, without cramping or overload.

Instead of the by-now-common two stories there were three. A middle-aged primary school teacher named Shelley Spencer (Erin Dilly) had her brakes cut and crashed on a deserted parking garage ramp. She’s black-bagged, a dead blonde is placed in her car, it’s blown up. Shelley Spencer is dead, and she’s going to be, unless she admits what she is to Control. Admits she’s an agent-handler for Samaritan, including moles in the ISA. But Shelley is merely a frightened middle-school teacher, a mother of two, the victim of a desperate mistake, doomed to be killed for being unable to give answers she doesn’t have.

Detectives ‘Riley’ and Fusco are called to a murder scene, four dead Brotherhood soldiers, without warning from the Machine: how could that happen? But the Machine has a warning, a Number, two Numbers: Carl Elias and Dominick. The War is coming to a head. It needs to be averted for the sake of the innocents between who will be killed. There’s a canister that explains everything and gives away Elias’s whereabouts, a pneumatic canister, a relic of the pneumatic tube system of communication that underlines Manhttan Island, incapable of electronic interception or surveillance, because it isn’t in any way electronic.

Riley and Fusco visit Elias’s headquarters. They are not welcome, nor are their efforts to intercede. But before they can leave, the Brotherhood attack in force. They take the bank, they take everyone. Dominick is leader but can he lead? He wants ‘Riley’ and Finch working for him now. He wants Elias to acknowledge his leadership. He taunts him over his role in Anthony’s death: what does that feel like? Be careful what you wish for, Elias replies.

Dominick also wants Harold and his network. How does he even know about Harold? Someone told him, someone for whom only money matters, who constantly lies, cheats, twists and who has not an atom of loyalty in her body except to herself. Harper Rose will sell out nyone for the right price.

And this, not either of her first two appearances, is why I loathe Harper. She has no conception of Good or Evil, just of Me and Them, and by her actions she has betrayed half our team to death, destruction and the end of the world.

But that leaves Finch and Root, the cerebral half of the battle. A message rings through on Sameen Shaw’s phone, a half-line, a plea for help. Shaw is alive. It’s a trap, the most obvious of traps, but that doen’t deter Root. Shaw is out there, she has failed her once, she will not do so again. It takes playing chicken on a ledge thirty floors up, placing her own life in the most proximate of danger, but Root forces the Machine to give up Shaw’s location, a government-run Asylum. Just like the one Finch put her in. Now, Root commits him as a means of getting both into the building.

Which is Samaritan’s base of operations. Rousseau confronts Root. They are both captured. Greer will have Root’s cochlear implant cut out to locate the whereabouts of the Machine. Rousseau will torture Harold. Everybody will die, the whole thing is over, Samaritan will win.

And the future will be a boot stamping on a human face, forever.

But we are not done. Control proves Shelley is lying. Shelley’s character turns in an instant. The Correction is coming, on May 6, something that will change the world forever. It’s nothing more than Control has done all her life. Shelley says “Go home to your loved ones. Hold your daughter tight, because a new day is dawning. And those who impede progress – the disruptive, the aberrant – will be systematically purged from our society. There will be no mercy. No stay of execution. For some, this will be the end. But for others, a rebirth. A second chance to live the life they were designed for. Every life given a purpose. Samaritan will build a new world. A better world.” Control says “Too bad you won’t live to see it.” and shoots her through the chest.

Dominick realises Elias has a rat in the Brotherhood. He tortures Elias, he tortures ‘Riley’ and Fusco. He threatens Elias with having all his loyal men killed unless he gives up the rat. Elias painfully accedes, provides a bank account number. It is traced. Dominick asks Link, his right-hand-man, his trusted lieutenant, his oldest friend, what to do about this traitor. Link repeats his already given advice: you don’t just hit back, you put them in the ground. Dominick guns him down. Link was the rat.

But he wasn’t. There was no rat. It was a beautifully executed play by Elias, knowing he was going to lose the War anyway and undermining Dominick first. Dominick can’t trust anyone now, he’s killed the only one he did. His men won’t trust him.

And he knows what it feels like to be responsible for the death of a friend.

In the asylum, Rousseau will make Finch’s torture painful. Root warns her not to lay a hand upon him. In response, Rousseau carresses Finch’s face. Then she leans over Root. Who, in a moment of shocking brevity, pins Rousseau’s hand to the bed, grabs her neck and snaps it. Harold is shocked by Greer’s complete indifference to the loss of an ally, threatens him with the prospect that one day Greer will be found dispensible by Samaritan: Greer sneers that Harold is arrogant to think that any of them are indispensible. He’s about to get a lesson.

There’s a deal on the table: Harold and Root’s life for the Machine’s location. Despite Root’s imploring not to do it, that Harold is right to say she and he are interchangeable for the Machine’s purposes, the Machine disagrees. It apologises for failing Shaw. It will not fail Harold and Root. They must be released first. Samaritan accepts the offer. The Machine reveals its location. Samaritan marshalls its forces. It is the end. Everybody lost.

Forty-three minutes.

Person of Interest: s04 e19 – Search and Destroy

Nice Wig

We’re a very long way into Person of Interest‘s fourth season without the usual sense of something building to either a conclusion or a cliffhanger, as we would normally expect. For weeks we’ve been experiencing individual stories without connecting threads. For the first time in a long time, this episode starts to deliver on its arc.

Not at first. New Number Suleiman Khan (Aasif Mandvi) is a man whose life has been destroyed in an instant. His company, Castellum, has grown from a garage operation to the world’s largest purveyors of anti-virus protection, automatically installed in 86% of the world’s computers. And it’s been hacked, in an instant, everything revealed, down to the nude photos of his estranged wife that he swore he’d deleted. Not just everything, but more than everything, including evidence of things he’s not done, like major embezzlement.

Khan’s life collapses like a souffle prematurely removed from the oven. Everything is stripped away, any avenue along which he might be able to fight back is closed off, practically the only thing they don’t remove is his expensive, hand-tailored suit.

What can lie behind this? Finch and Reese know but fantastic and arrogant as it may seem, Khan has worked out that he has been targetted, very specifically, but an Artificial Intelligence: Samaritan.

What’s the plan, Stan? It’s very simple, but before we go there, let us just collate the little semi-detached strands that decorate the episode. There’s Paige Turco making her final appearance as Zoe Morgan, fixing Castellum’s problems, twitting John about his relationship with his redhead, acting as his ear in a meeting. There’s John trying to teach Harold how to shoot a gun, since he won’t always be here and he wants to know Finch will be safe. There’s Root, going to great lengths to steal a virtually atom bomb proof suitcase, not for the beautiful Faberge egg it contains and which she chucks away, but for the suitcase: why?

But the plan is simple, and so in one sense, one fatal sense, is Khan. It’s his besetting flaw, his insatiable curiosity. Why him? Why has he been targetted? In the end it gets him killed. Rather than escape he goes back inside, is taken to Greer and Martine Rousseau. He wants to see the face of Samaritan, of God. His wish is granted, shot through the heart by Greer.

Because Samaritan has been using Khan’s code to search. Search the word for the presence of unknown code. For the whereabouts of the Machine. And it will find it. That is inevitable. And Detective Riley and Professor Whistler. How can one withstand a God forever?

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?

Person of Interest: s04 e13 – M.I.A.

The Mayhem Twins

Very recently, and in the context of Person of Interest itself, I discovered the term ‘schmuck-bait’. It refers to television episodes that threaten the life of a permanent member of the cast. It’s termed schmuck-bait because only a schmuck would feel genuinely threatened by the prospect of a star character being killed: I mean, it’s just not going to happen, is it?

I bring this up in the context of this episode of PoI  because the whole episode is a prime example of what the term means. Two episodes ago, Sameen Shaw sacrificed herself to save the rest of the team. Is she still alive? Is she dead? Don’t be silly, she’s a star of the show, her name’s in the opening credits… Well, actually it’s not.

The episode divides itself into two strands. Reese and Root have trailed a refrigerated truck to the upstate small town of Maple. Maple’s a nice town, a happy town, a lucky town. It’s the epitome of small town America, couldn’t be more apple pie and Mom’s cookies. six months ago, it was broken: it’s only industry collapsed, everyone was going to be out of a job, but a new Company, Carrow, took the plant over and everybody prospered. Maple is also a puppet town, with people shuffled into jobs and roles that most suit them. Everyone loves it. Maple is also an omelette. A few people don’t fit. A few people get broken, like eggs, and like eggs, once broken they don’t get up and walk around.

Reese and Root don’t care. They’re here for one thing only and that’s Shaw. She isn’t dead. But she is Schrodinger’s Cat, in that until Finch and Co get an answer, she is both alive and dead and neither. And we know from last week that Finch believes the worse. Root is ultra-positive: this cat can’t be killed. But Root is positive because she has to be. She can’t let herself entertain the least doubt. Where is Shaw? The truck arrived in Maple but it never left.

But even as the Mayhem Twins rampage upstate, back in New York the Numbers keep coming, in this instance a real sad sack of a guy, Albert Weiss (Mason Pettit). Finch takes the folder to Fusco, at his desk in the precinct, his ears ringing, just stewing. Fusco’s as badly hurt as the rest: he wants a Number to give him something to do, to alleviate his feelings.

Weiss is a nothing, a sap, a mouse. But he’s also being watched by a former Number, Dani Silva, a welcome repeat for Adriana Arjona.  The pair team-up to check out Weiss, who may look completely innocuous, but who, every time he visits the Big Apple, there’s a Missing Persons report. Someone with gang connections. The sappy exterior is a clever cover for a freelance assassin.

Whilst things are hotting up in Maple, this half of the story looks to be cleverly made but uninvolving. Things don’t go well for this ill-matched pair, Weiss is too smart for them, especially Fusco. And Fusco’s being protective, paternal and patronising in exactly the way Dani is going to hate. Some of it is Fusco’s not overly developed but still present chauvinism, but most of it is his quiet line, ‘I couldn’t stand to lose somebody else today’.

It boils down to a nice little twist. Dani breaks into Weiss’s New Jersey home, discovers a Kill Room, escapes being shot when Fusco intervenes. Fusco discovers that another cop who spotted the pattern between Weiss’s killings went to sleep in his garage with the car engine on. Dani goes home, wanders through a deserted apartment not really turning lights on, goes into her bathroom, strips off her t-shirt revealing her black bra. Only then does she shut the door behind her. Weiss steps out of the shadows, holding a rope by which a cop will commit suicide. But when he opens the bathroom door, Dani’s facing him with her gun in his face. And Fusco’s behind him.

Weiss isn’t done. He slams the bathroom door shut, tackles Fusco, gets his gun, is about to shoot him when Dani emerges from the bedroom, having taken the time to put her t-shirt back on (I get the modesty angle, but is this the best time, girl?) and shoots Weiss twice in the chest.

Apart from Fusco telling her she reminds him of a friend, that’s it for this part of the episode, having climbed to a higher height than at one time I expected.

Manwhile, back upstate, the Mayhem Twins discover that to pursue the trail of Shaw, they need to learn everything they can about Maple, which involves kidnapping and torturing – over Finch’s frantic pleas – the town’s public face, Leslie Thompson (Maddie Corman).

Though they have only one goal, Reese and Root can’t help but learn how thoroughly Samaritan has taken over Maple, and manipulated its people, first to happiness and now to see what happens when you take that happiness away. Maple is Samaritan’s petri dish, though the show uses the metaphor of an ant farm: it’s the microcosm that is embedded in the macrocosm.

Through Leslie, they gain access to the Carrow factory, even though Thompson will be killed for this betrayal. They shoot and blast their way in, they find that the factory is manufacturing transponders, microdots and neural implants, designed to be fitted to the whole population to enable Samaritan to observe and manipulate every human, they find the woman who was carried in the truck from the Stock Exchange. She’s got dark brown hair… but she’s not Shaw. Her name is Delia Jones and she was a secretary at the Stock Exchange. Everything, the only lead they have, was wrong. What’s that about schmuck-bait now?

Because this is the end of the trail. Root goes on a shooting spree, but she and Reese get Delia out. And Carrow pull out of Maple, leaving the town wrecked. Samaritan’s plans have been blocked. But they have no lead, no clue about Shaw. Reese recognises that there is nothing more they can do. Finch talks to the despairing, devastated Root. But she is not convinced, that is, until the Machine sends it’s one and only message, by payphone: Sierra Tango Oscar Pappa. S.T.O.P. Root says ‘Goodbye Harold’ as if it were a final word and walks away.

Shaw is gone. And the audience is treated to a final coda. Greer, in his most sinister-uncle mode, smiles down at a bed. Shaw is cynical: ‘If this is the afterlife, it sucks.’ Greer just smiles more, tells her to rest, she’ll need it.

We know, but they don’t. Schmuck-bait, but of the very highest order.

Person of Interest: s04 e12 – Control – Alt – Delete

You do not use such words to this woman

There is and will be no let-up after the loss of Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi disappearing from the credit as she enters maternity leave), and there will be no deflection from the fight against Samaritan and its ever-growing control of everything. But there can be unexpected angles from which the gathering storm can be seen.

This one was clearly unforeseen. Shaw is gone and Team Machine want her back. No matter that Finch believes she is dead, Reese and Root are convinced she has been taken and are on a violent rampage to determine any lead that will take them there. We don’t see this, all we hear are reports of two ski-masked assailants, one male, one female, blazing a trail whose links we can understand but an uninformed public will only see as random.

So, to fill in the time,and to open things up, we have our dear friend, Control. She’s seen at first in her human aspect, dropping her daughter off at an exclusive Washington private school, before going on to the White House and her Ops Room. There’s a mission, a four-man Muslim terrorist cell in Detroit, identified by Reasearch, i.e., Samaritan. We watch the operation live, three men shot and killed on site, our old friends Grice and Brooks leading the charge. But the fourth man, Yasim Said, isn’t there.

And Yasim Said will turn out to not be a terrorist, but a fall guy, set up as a target on false, deliberately misinterpreted information, not that that will save his life. What Yasim Said is is a pebble.

He’s not there. He’s carrying his laptop. Control wants its data. But Access is Denied, by Samaritan on screen and by Greer’s spy in the cab, Mr Travers (Michael Potts), a round-faced, bespectacled man with far too smug a grin to accompany his manner. The data is irrelevant, he says, and in terms of finding Yasim, he’s correct. But this is Control we’re dealing with, she who delivered a very shortened version of Finch’s opening narrative at the start. She is an arrogant, aggressive, self-satisfied woman whose code-name sums her up: she is in Control, and denial of her wishes is not an option.

So Travers switches Research off, completely, until Control reluctantly relents, having been schooled alongside the President’s Chief of Staff, Mike Richelli, that Samaritan does not belong to them, and they are not allowed to control it. You’re not going to expect Control to take that sitting down, are you?

She diverts Grice and Brooks from killing Yasim to retrieving and analysing the laptop, overriding standard orders: she knows Grice let Shaw go, and this is his reprieve. But Yasim gets away, minus laptop, which promptly fried itself. Control herself ends up in Detroit, trying to intercept Yasim herself, and she would have done it too if not for those pesky two ski-masked assailants, one male, one female, the male one of which finally gets to fire Reese’s prized shoulder-mounted rocket launcher.

Our gang are onscreen after half the episode, holding Control prisoner in a mock-up of the setting where, in season 2, she interrogated and partially deafened Root. Camryn Manheim does such a marvellous job of incarnating the woman: you can see that she is a perfect fit for the role but that that perfect fit requires her to be a loathsome woman, not the least for her impervious ignorance. Once she gets an idea into her head, she will not consider any counter-argument, not the least shred of ambivalence as to the accuracy o what she thinks.

Thus she’s completely unable to understand Finch and Co: what they do, why they do it, what they want of her. Of course they want Shaw’s whereabouts, that’s their whole purpose. Control has no idea, and says so, but it’s equally clear that if she did know anything she wouldn’t tell them. It’s who she is, she gathers intelligence, she does not share it, no-one but her is worthy of knowledge, no-one but her can be trusted.

Finch begins to open her eyes, though she refuses to understand him or waver. She knows nothing of the battle under the Stock Exchange and regards it as a fantasy to undermine her. She will never tell. anyway, she has operatives following jher, even if one of them is a Samaritan implant. Finch tries to educate her as to wht Smaritan is, its own agenda, but the woman is too stupid to listen.

A battle ensues. Reese faces Grice and gets the upper hand, at some cost. He’s about to kill him when, in a far more plausible and effective pre-shadow of the ‘Martha’ moment in  Batman vs Superman, Shaw’s name comes out and the pair realise that in this one, tiny but vital respect, they are not enemies.

The team escapes. Finch has uiploaded a worm into Samaritan’s private network, to search for any mention of Shaw. Root is convinced she’s still alive, Reese demands to follow the least possibility and Finch may doubt but, like Bear, he would want nothing more than to find her alive: he misses her. The trail leads to upstate new York.

Another trail leads to Canada, Yasim Said’s bolthole. Control carries out this mission herself. Yasim explains himself and his friends differently: winners of one of those seashell trails, coders working on developing environmental control systems, set-up to be plausible fall guys, none of this is getting through except to the audience. Wearily, he asks her if she’s ever considered the possibility that she’s been lied to. She shoot him through the heart and says No.

Or does she? Samaritan is reaching out to POTUS via its creepy kid avatar and Mike Richelli. And Control is looking at a sub-basement six floors below the Stock Exchange, reached by a mintenance lift. There isn’t a sign of anything, no evidence that anything ever happened here. Except that the paint on the wall is still wet…

Person of Interest: s04 e11 – If – Then – Else

In my life I have seen two extraordinary episodes of television that have broken all definition of the form, and done so with such confidence and conviction that the outcome has been mesmerising. These are the final episode of The Prisoner, ‘Fall out’, and episode 8 of Twin Peaks – The Return.

I have seen nothing else to set alongside these two. This latest episode of Person of Interest comes close, however. It falls short, if you want to look at it like that, only by staying within the medium. But inside the medium it reaches an extraordinary level.

The set-up is the least of it. After last week’s ‘summit conference’, Samaritan is further showing its hand by manipulating the Stock Exchange, sending it towards disaster but neutralising its failsafes by temporary upturns, just before these would kick in. Team Machine goes in with purpose-built software to prevent this: Finch, Reese, Root and Fusco, everyone but Shaw, who’s still keeping her distance since last week, saving Numbers.

But it’s a McGuffin. It’s a trap, to get the ‘acolytes of the Machine’ into one place and eliminate them. Ordered by Greer, executed by Rousseau. The four are herded into a break-out room, hide behind counters as bullets blast through the door, the coffee pot shatters, a pear is blasted to shreds. Help needed. Help slow in coming. Hell of a time for Finch’s Machine to go on the fritz. It’s got a lot on its minnndddddd…

The first time round, I didn’t get what was going on. I watched in shock as the Machine evaluates options, settles on one that sends Finch and Root to the server room whilst Reese and Fusco head for the machine room to secure their escape route. It goes well. Ok, so a priceless original Degas gets shot full of holes but everyone gets to their places.

Essential to this resolution is that Shaw should get a security code for access to the server room. She’s trailing a guy on the subway, except that a desperate guy who’s lost everything creates an unwanted diversion by revealing his bomb vest. He’s been sent to the edge by the Stock Market crashing. Shaw, the sociopath, has to deal with him. No access code, Root shoots the way in, attracts a Samaritan party who enter guns blazing, Finch tries to save Root, is shot and dies. Meanwhile, Shaw prevents Garry detonating his bomb by shooting him between the eyes and is arrested. It’s an utter disaster.

And everything reverses to the break-out room, for this was a simulation, created and run by the Machine, which has already rejected over 330,000 other possibilities as unworkable. The process is reinforced by a flashback to 2003, to the chess tables in Central Park, to Finch teaching his young Machine how to play chess and expounding upon the nature of the game, its infinite possibilities, its tendency to influence people into seeing others as chess-pieces…

We resume. It’s got a lot on its minnndddddd… The new scenario is way into the 600,000s. Reese and Fusco to the server room, Finch and Root to the machinery room. Less preoccupied with killing, Reese gives Shaw advice on talking down a suicide bomber. It fails: she’s arrested. They shoot-out the lock. Samaritan’s agents appear. Reese fights, but is shot. Before he dies, he sets off a Samaritan grenade that kills everyone. In the machinery room, Finch repairs an old generator to restore power to the elevator. Shaw escapes from her handcuffs, receives a call from Root. It’s flirty, it’s uncomfortable for Shaw, who denies that she and Root would make even a workable couple. Thery’re still on the phone when Root severs the cable that controls the lockdown on the elevator, and is shot, multiple times, by Rousseau and co.

And reverse. It’s got a lot on its minnndddddd… Options are now into the 800,000s. The team sticks together. Fusco advises Shaw. She gets Garry to disarm the bomb, obtains the code. Everyone gets into the server room without alerting Samaritan’s goons. Finch connects the software, the market stabilises. Job 1 is complete. En masse in the machinery room, Finch repairs the generator, Fusco severs the cable, it’s all good to go. Except that Rousseau’s team is guarding the elevator and their firepower pins everyone down. Chance of survival: 2.07%. The Machine tells Root to go for it.

So the scenario plays out. The economy is saved. Everyone reaches the machinery room. But so does Rousseau, early. They’re pinned down. Reese is shot and wounded. Root calls Shaw for that final conversation (has she been privy all along to the Machine’s failed scenarios? Does she know? Each time, when the team sets itself to leave the break-out room, Root’s signal are the loaded words, “Let’s Roll”. She speaks them in a voice with a quaver. Until this last time, when she is firm and confident).

But Shaw is the Joker in the pack. She’s there in the basement, reinforcements crawled 80 feet along an airduct. Her fire enables the team to get into the elevator, but it still won’t rise. There is an override button. Outside. Someone has to sacrifice themselves, despite Finch’s warning to the Machine on that cold afternoon a decade earlier that unlike chess, when you play with human beings, you must not sacrifice.

Shaw is the sacrifice. Root has to be held back from preventing her. And yes, Shaw acknowledges the presence of… something. Something powerful. She kisses Root, powerfully. Then leaves the cage. She holds down the override button, despite being shot by Rousseau once. The second time she is shot, she spins around and hits the floor. The lift is rising. Rousseau is approaching. She points her gun at Shaw’s head. As the lift doors close and cut-off the scene, we hear the thunderous rumble of a gunshot. No viable alternatives.

If – Then – Else.

This is an astonishing episode. The plot curls up into itself, like the fractal dimensions of string theory. It plays and replays, details constantly changing. It ends with the team one down, four survivors only. In the midst of this deadly serious game of trying to find a loophole in reality, there’s time for a little playfulness, as the Machine ‘simplifies’ part of the final secnario by reducing dialogue to its component elements, and this interlude is brief enough for us to laugh without disturbing our concern.

I don’t doubt that the majority of this episode was planned in advance, but the ending was an unforeseen factor. Remember that I mentioned, two weeks ago, that Sameen Shaw was wearing a bulky black coat in all her scenes? This was to conceal that Sarah Shahi was pregnant, and with twins. She was going to have to leave the series. So the past four weeks of episodes were all part of an ongoing story, from blown cover to elimination, to remove her from the series.

If you look quickly, when Shaw is hit by the second bullet and soun around, her coat flies open and, in profile, you can see her distended belly.

This episode was originally broadcast in early January 2015, coming out of a three week long Xmas break. That rather surprised me since it would have been perfect to be the mid-season finale most shows build in now.

But then if these are the only quibbles I can make, it’s a demonstration of just how high the standard is for this episode. In comics, they say ‘Things will never be the same again’, and they always are. On PoI I can say that virtually every other week and they’re not.


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…