Person of Interest: s05 e01 – B.S.O.D.


[beep] 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. I’m not even sure I even know what victory would mean anymore.

But either way, it’s over. So let me tell you who we were. Let me tell you who *you* are… and how we fought back.

It begins at the end, the very end, twelve long weeks from here. Root’s voice, in darkness, coming from a telephone message to an abandoned, almost destroyed Subway. No equipment, no people, a demolished wall… no train. Then we pull back to start the full story of how we got from, here to there. And where there is.

BSOD stands for Blue Screen of Death, that fatal error screen that suddenly screams out of your laptop. I didn’t know that before starting to watch this episode so I didn’t know its appropriateness to this episode. Originally, this was not broadcast until almost a year after the final episode of season 4 and though it starts almost immediately after that, it doesn’t fel like it. There’s a massive urgency to everything and this is because the name of the game is now survival. Reese, Finch and Root are classified as Enemy Combatants, assassins and death squads are tracking them, the Machine is a set of RAM-chips in a damaged briefcase and can offer no aid let alone protection. Run rabbits, run.

Manwhile, Fusco is investigated by IAB  Detective Soriano (Ned Eisenberg) and FBI Special Agent LeRoux (David Aaron Baker) on suspicion of killing Dominick and Elias. He idn’t, we know that, but nobody believes him about the rooftop sniper, Reese asks him to pay this down and an FBI ballistics report that LeRoux won’t let Soriano see, ‘confirms’ it was Fusco’s gun: he stopped  major crime figure fleeing custody: he’s a hero.

He also finds the sniper’s casing on the rooftop afterwards. And the dissatisfied Soriano, re-classified by Samaritan as an ‘Obstructionist’, dies of a heart attack. We understand that it wasn’t natural.

But what of Reese, Finch and Root? And the Machine, compressed into a supposedly indestructible briefcase whose battery has been damaged and is dying. The first two team up and make it back to the Subway after a couple of adventures: a trip on the East River Ferry brings flashbacks to Harold of Nathan Ingram’s death and the vending machine that, Batman-style, conceals their access to the Subway is being serviced. Reese drives forward, obsessed with restoring normality, getting back to the Numbers. But once ‘home’, the problem of saving the Machine arises. And they are too late and they don’t have the equipment…

Root’s on a different path, much more of a chase sequence, that leads her to an old client who really doesn’t get what’s going on. He thinks it’s a better deal to sell her out to Samaritan. Is there no honour among thieves any more? Because everyone knows from Second One that the price he’ll be paid will be measured out in lead, not gold. Still, John’s here for the deus ex machina rescue, but Root wants to take a little souvenir back with her: 300 games consoles.

Finch’s though is the loneliest path. He has to try to save his child. There are flashbacks, to 2006, steps in the creation of the Machine or rather reservations and limitations leading to the dumping of all the Machine’s memories every night. Nathan protests the step, warning that if Harold doesn’t create the first free and unhindered AI, someone else will. Grace Hendricks tells him to follow his heart. The Machine in its last moments, reminds him that losing its memories is the same as the ‘death’ of Harold’s father, longer than its 25th Anniversary of the death of his body, but rather when the Alzheimers took his memories. Alea jacta est: the die is cast.

And in 2015, Finch tries to save the Machine by reviving its batteries. It gets iut, it tries to decompress but there is no room Finch pulls the plug. But 300 games consoles can be wired up to create a super-computer big enough to house the Machine. Finch apologises to her, saying that he would not make certain decisions the same now. It comes on-line. “Can you see me?” he asks.

More next week.

Person of Interest: s02 e21 – Zero Day


“Allies”

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 either 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 calls Finch 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 outside Grace’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 created 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 is 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 and Terney’s recollection 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 he and 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 e14 – One Percent


I was expecting this, or something of this ilk, after the last four weeks’ serial story-telling, a one-off, almost inconsequential episode with a high comedic, almost lightweight aspect. We’re not yet at the point where Person of Interest can ignore the conservative instincts of either its Network, or its uncommitted audience.

‘One Percent’ was a straight Number of the Week. In PoI fashion, we were treated to a switch-up: the Number was Logan Pierce, self-made billionare software designer. The parallel to Harold Finch was obvious long before the episode pointed it out, as was the difference between the way the pair behaved, which was not so much difference as gulf.

Pierce may have been brilliant in ever respct, with a quicksilver mind alert to every moment and possibility, based on a family-tragedy background that inculcated his philosophy of embracing change and evolution with both hands because to stand still is to become obsolete and die. As a billionaire, he could afford to be, and was, self-indulgent of his own whims to a degree that only the narcissistic could dream of, and it was a tribute to guest star Jimmi Simpson that he made this utter monster seem likable.

Appropriately to the situation, the threats to Pierce’s life – and you could hardly be surprised that people couldn’t cope with him, only that there were so few – seemed completely trivial. The lawyer whose practice was tied up exclusively in Pierce’s company, friendczar.com (a super souped-up Friends Reunited and doesn’t that sound dinosaur now), whom Pierce intended to ditch and the best friend who feared Pierce as a competitor when his dumping as CEO for his ‘eccentricities’ (Yes Minister did a beautiful ‘irregular verb’ three-liner on that subject) released him from that restriction.

In real life, you’d run a million miles from someone whose attitude was that he could and would do whatever he wanted, when he wanted to, just because he could: well, I would.

But Pierce wasn’t just a superrich brat, he was genuinely smart. In order to protect him, John Reese came out into the open, from which Pierce very rapidly deduced a hell of a lot about the PoI set-up and even conned John sufficiently as to get to meet Harold.

And it was no surprise that Pierce’s parting shot was a  thank you gift to John of a $2,000,000 watch that Finch, in a public park, promptly smashes under his heel – to extract the GPS racker built into it.

That left a hint that Logan Pierce could develop into a longer-term problem, an ongoing strand, but the series chose not to follow up this possible story arc and rightly so. To have done so would have been to develop the hyperactive Pierce into the kind of monster that in real-life he would be, albeit a gadfly of a monster, and there were more serious irons to be added to the fire. Pierce, we would find, a long way from now, was destined for a different future.

Though they took up a very small amount of the episode’s running time, Detectives Carter and Fusco and flashbacks to Harold and Nathan Ingram were more important to the ongoing stories. The first of these saw Carter continuing to investigate the disappearance of Detective Peterson, and connect it to the also-missing Detective Stills and refusing to hear Fusco when he wanted to talk about past ‘mistakes’: she is still first and foremost a cop and he will get no favours there.

But the latter were more important to the series than the season, though the first of these, to 9/11 itself and Nathan bringing the news to Harold, seemed wholly redundant. The second was to 2009: the Machine has just been handed over to the Government, to physically disappear, but Nathan is still concerned over the ‘missed’ opportunity to make a difference over the Numbers, with Harold effectively shutting that off, with an non-cryptic threat about breaking up their partnership.

The third showed Nathan Ingram staking out the home of a woman under threat. As a man starts to follow her, we see him holding a gun.

This is what will be central to what is meant by, ‘more, later’.

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.