At this stage, we probably don’t need any more evidence of this remarkable show’s ability to create a sense of dislocation and unease with economy and wit, but in the opening sequence we get it anyway. The PlayStation-powered Machine has just about survived last episode’s brush with death, but all is not well: Finch’s opening “You are being watched…” speech breaks up, normally a clue that the Machine is on the fritz. To start with, its facial recognition capability isn’t functioning properly – it sees Finch’s words, for example, coming out of Root’s face, which requires the show’s cast to impersonate each other. It’s both amusing and sinister.
Some more powerful processors are procured, but the Machine, when rebooted, has no sense of context or time, and it identifies Finch, Root, and Reese as threats. “The Machine thinks we’re monsters”, murmurs Finch, and we’re shown a catalogue of behaviour which – if you hadn’t seen the first four seasons – might lead you to think that it had a point. It is, of course, the context which counts, as it so often does in real life; I may be stretching this – and I know that these episodes were shown the best part of a year ago in America – but it seemed to me that Person of Interest might have been echoing a common failing among progressives: as we endlessly debate means and ends (“OMG! Does punching a Nazi make us Nazis too?!?!” Uh… no?), the human Samaritans of this word sail serenely on, untroubled by such trifling moral considerations.
The Machine also fires out 30 Numbers, which Reese and Fusco triage one by one. Most of them, because of the Machine’s malfunctioning, are bogus – although, as we will see, not all – but Reese ends up with a pretty tourist, and Fusco with a gambler being terrorised by the Mob. Unfortunately Reese’s tourist turns out to be a hit woman hired by the Machine to take him out. And while that’s going on, Finch is trying to persuade the Machine to let him reprogramme it, or at least to remember the lessons he gave it on distinguishing good from evil, a distinction which is always worth bearing in mind when, say, casting a vote.
It’s yet another dazzling, astonishing episode from a show which has turned out more than its fair share of them; and, fittingly, it concludes with what looks like a happy ending, but one which quickly becomes creepy. Person of Interest rarely allows us an easy way out.