We pick up where we left off: Shaw, on her cosmetics counter, has been spotted by Blonde Female Samaritan Operative, who is apparently called Martine. They eyeball each other and then the shooting starts; fortunately, Shaw just happens to have stashed a machine gun under the eyeliners and lipsticks. Shaw is helped to get away by Root, but her cover has been irrevocably blown, which means that her yearning to get back into Number-helping action isn’t going to be satisfied: in fact, Root has to sedate her, drag her back to the subway car, and cuff her to a chair, just to keep her the hell out of the way.
Because Team Machine, as we saw at the end of last week, has a Number; in many ways, The Number: Elias. Dominic and The Brotherhood are determined to take him out, while Reese is equally determined to protect him. On one level this involves a degree of moral flexibility, given Elias’s history. Finch, though, rationalises that keeping Elias in position is helpful in maintaining a level of stability in NYC; he is, as the episode title has it, the devil you know. On top of that, though, there seems little doubt that Reese and Finch have a level of regard for him, perhaps almost verging on… affection?
To start with, Elias isn’t minded to accept help from Reese, but a few bullets fired in his direction by The Brotherhood change his mind. So he goes on the run with faithful lieutenant Anthony in tow, and Reese providing backup. They hide in a derelict building which Elias owns, and which we will learn has huge and painful significance for him. The scenes set in this building are among the best of the season so far, which is saying quite a lot. To start with there are excellent action sequences, which turn the physical restrictions of the building into a virtue, as The Brotherhood try to blast Elias, Anthony, and Reese out. Although Elias and Reese escape, Anthony is wounded and captured, and Elias goes back in to try and save him. And at this point it becomes about the characters rather than the guns. Enrico Colantoni, as Elias, is absolutely wonderful this week: his usual rueful, almost regretful ruthlessness remains, but he subtly manages also to convince as a man in late middle age forever outrunning his childhood, offering us – and Dominic’s muscle, Link – an alternative model of loyalty, someone who one might be prepared to die for out of love, rather than fear. And someone will die (“Morior invictus”), but Elias will survive (“Invictus maneo”).
It’s a great episode, and the next one, ‘The Cold War’, is even better. The Number is a woman who is about to kill her abusive husband, but Brunette Male Samaritan Operative intervenes first, ensures that the husband is, uh, handled, and allows the woman to go on her way. So is Samaritan muscling into The Machine’s territory? Well, it kind of is to start with – a few “irrelevant” Numbers are helped by Samaritan, which prompts an agonised debate in Team Machine’s subway hideout: Shaw thinks it’s a good thing, because whatever way you look at it lives are being saved. But Root is unconvinced, as is Finch – who, as we know, is not in any way convinced about the intentions of his own Machine: “To say that a machine is benevolent doesn’t make it so”, he observes. “Our moral system will never be mirrored by theirs for the very simple reason that they are not human”.
Samaritan, it turns out, wants to sit down and have a chat with The Machine, which is the sort of high concept this show thrives on – both straightforward and head-spinning. Two hyper-intelligent supercomputers talking to each other. How’s that going to play out for the human race? Particularly given that The Machine is all that’s standing between us and the reign of Samaritan. Except… as I’ve said before, one of this show’s many themes is whether, given the opportunity to trade privacy for safety, the public would take that deal. I watched these episodes no more than a couple of days after the Brussels bombings.
This becomes pertinent: the Machine doesn’t want to play, so Samaritan ups the stakes. And it does so, firstly, by creating precisely the sort of society in which order is to be established and crime suppressed no matter the cost; it effectively takes over the running of New York City. With positive results: mass transit works perfectly; long-unsolved crimes are solved; crime levels fall away to almost nothing. Then it pulls the rug away, and chaos reigns; in addition, a database of witnesses in protection is published, leaving them open to being killed, and leading to Numbers pouring in.
So The Machine agrees to meet Samaritan, and it’s a scene I don’t think I will forget in a hurry: The Machine’s chosen emissary is Root, and she meets Samaritan’s proxy, about whom I won’t say anything, because that would be a spoiler, but it’s creepy AF. Nothing is resolved, though, and by the end Samaritan is planning something which will have a global, rather than local, impact. And on top of all of that we also get a little Greer backstory: a series of flashbacks, as we see him working as a MI6 agent in the London of 1973, given the task of killing a KGB operative. Another remarkable episode.