In the first of this season-closing double-bill, ‘A House Divided’, Finch is still being held captive by Greer, meaning that the week’s tasks have to be divided up among the rest of the team. And with the stakes rising, as they always do on Person of Interest at this stage of the season, the tasks aren’t trivial: the Numbers of the Week are Control, Senator Garrison, a presidential aide, Greer himself, and a fifth unknown person. (Although since it’s the person currently sitting across from Greer, it doesn’t take too much working out.) It’s Peter Collier and Vigilance who are after the Numbers: Reese and Shaw are, therefore, in the uncomfortable position of trying to save Control’s life – with some unexpected help from Hersh, who turns out to be a nicely droll yet vicious addition to the team – while Root and her team of hacker fanboys try to stop Samaritan.
Added to that we get Collier’s backstory, which provides the detail of how he became radicalised: we go back to 2010, in which his brother is interned after being photographed talking to someone who had terrorist connections. Collier complains to anyone who’ll listen, but without getting anywhere: “Surveillance”, he’s told, “doesn’t lie”. And on one, very superficial level, that’s kinda sorta true: there are indeed photographs of someone standing next to someone else.
But it’s what you make of that information, of course, which counts. And here Person of Interest grapples, as it has before, with a fundamental question for the West in the 21st century – just how much freedom are we prepared to surrender in order to be safe? Or, at any rate, to feel safer? I suspect the answer to be “quite a lot”, and anyone who has recently been in an airport, watching demoralised queues of passengers shuffling around without shoes and belts, might agree. Governments are unlikely to lose votes by promising to keep people alive, even if that means collateral damage when innocent people are imprisoned without trial, and followed by innuendo and suspicion even after release.
In case this all sounds too cerebral, it should be said that there are lots of guns as well, and a cool sequence in which Vigilance manage to turn off the lights across New York City, allowing them to hoover up the Numbers – now including Finch, of course – and put them on trial, using a feed to broadcast it to the world.
Which is where we pick up in the season finale, ‘Deus Ex Machina’. Collier promises the five Numbers a fair trial, including a bussed-in-at-gunpoint jury and defence counsel, although since his first act as prosecutor is to call one of the accused as a witness, then shoot him, even the Roberts Supreme Court would probably regard it as oppressive. Reese and Hersh are trying to find out where the trial is taking place, Root and Shaw are still tinkering with Samaritan, and just as Collier is about to shoot another “accused” – Control, this time – Finch admits to being the creator of The Machine. He then defends his intentions, while conceding that it’s perhaps not a world he would want to live in, all things being equal: it is, he tells Collier, by this stage priapic with righteous ideological fury, “the best I could do”.
But Collier himself has been duped: Greer and Decima have been calling the shots all along, with the intention of false-flagging the Government into giving them – and therefore Samaritan – access to the information it needs to work. And Greer’s purpose is much bigger than simply stopping the occasional terrorist. His view of the technology is essentially the same as Root’s: Samaritan is nothing less than a god, and the question for humanity is how best we can serve him.
Root has known this all along, mind you, and recognising that she can’t kill Samaritan she’s aimed for the next best thing: compromising the servers so that Samaritan won’t recognise her and her colleagues as threats to its existence. Thus Finch, Reese, Shaw, and Root are obliged to leave the library – for those of us who have been watching since the start, poignant in itself – and take on new identities. (This is all soundtracked by Radiohead, which is always worth an extra point or two in my book.) And, with Samaritan now fully operational, Greer is able to ask it the question he’s been waiting to ask: what commands does it have for us?
It goes without saying that both of these episodes, ‘Deus Ex Machina’ in particular, are extraordinary, and round off a season which, as far as I’m concerned, is up there with the second season of Scandal and the fifth of The Good Wife as representing the best of recent network TV. For British viewers, though, accustomed to Channel 5’s inexcusably shoddy treatment of Person of Interest, it might be a while before we get to see season 4, if we ever do: I didn’t hear a “will return next year”, or anything like that, from the continuity announcer. Perhaps Netflix will take pity on us: this terrific show deserves better.