Person of Interest s5 ep 13

Machine vs Samaritan spoilers

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“Everyone dies alone. But if you mean something to someone, if you help someone, or love someone. If even a single person remembers you. Then maybe, you never really die at all.” – The Machine

The final episode, and therefore the final battle between The Machine and Samaritan, which it would be reductive to call a fight between good and evil; as we have seen, Person of Interest, and real life for that matter, are more complex than that. The Ice-9 virus is causing worldwide havoc, but Samaritan is scrambling to stay alive: first, it uploads a virus-free copy of itself into the Federal Reserve, then to a satellite, with a view to downloading itself back to Earth when Ice-9 has run its course. Meantime there are Samaritan agents everywhere, with Jeff Blackwell having established himself as a particularly nasty little piece of work: he stabs Fusco and shoots Shaw, with Finch also taking a bullet from a Samaritan operative.

The Machine tells Finch that the only way to kill Samaritan once and for all is to upload, from a building in New York City, a copy of The Machine to the same satellite as Sam, where they can kill each other off. Only problem: Samaritan is aware of the plan, and has targeted a missile on the building from where the uploading is to take place, meaning that whoever does it will end up dead. Finch, of course, won’t allow anyone else to offer themselves for a suicidal task, so locks Reese in a vault in the Federal Reserve and heads off. But when he gets to the building specified by The Machine he realises that he’s on the rooftop of the wrong one, and looks over to see Reese on top of a neighbouring building: with the help of an unusually playful Machine, Reese has arranged to sacrifice himself for the greater good, and for Finch.

And this means that, perhaps surprisingly but nonetheless gratifyingly, everyone in Team Machine does get a happy ending, of one sort or another. The Machine itself destroys Samaritan and then manages to download itself from the satellite back onto Earth. Although Root is dead, it’s pretty clear that The Machine, with her voice, is really just Root reborn, a point which is driven home this week by having Amy Acker appear as, well, The Machine. Fusco lives, and as we saw in last week’s Sliding Machines counterfactual history, his life has been transformed for the better by his encounter with the team. Shaw has also survived, unrepentantly shoots Blackwell in cold blood, now seems to be The Machine’s go-to human (in a scene which takes us full circle from the pilot), and gets custody of the dog.

But the show’s OTP, Finch and Reese, get the happiest endings of all. Reese doesn’t survive his act of sacrifice; in fact, Samaritan’s foot-soldiers get to him before the missile does. But he, more than anyone else, has been saved and redeemed by The Machine and by Finch; his work for The Machine has been a resurrection of sorts, and he knows it. Little on this show has been more moving than Reese’s satisfied half-smile on getting his final sight of Finch, which is Finch accepting that his own destiny is to survive. And Finch himself does what he’s been spared to do: Samaritan having been vanquished, he can allow himself to return to something like normal life, part of which means revealing himself to Grace.

It’s fitting that Person of Interest finish its run with yet another remarkable, memorable, and emotional episode. Everything works: it’s no surprise that the acting and writing are terrific, but on top of that ‘return 0’ is given a subtly different look and sound (the evocative and haunting Philip Glass music is quite something in the context of the episode) which gives the episode an additional significance befitting the series finale of a show as great as this one. In the network TV hierarchy I’d put Person of Interest in just behind The West Wing and The Good Wife, although you could argue that its exploration of complicated and important ideas was, at times, even more challenging. Either way it isn’t going to be forgotten, which, as The Machine told us, means that it’ll never really die.

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Person of Interest s5 ep 12

There’s no sign of Person of Interest flagging as it reaches the finishing line; quite the reverse. There’s enough material this week for four or five episodes. Reese and Shaw, on Machine duty while Finch is off virus-hunting, get a Number and some co-ordinates, which point them towards Greer and Fort Meade, the headquarters of the NSA, where Greer works under an alias. They assume, with good reason, that it’s going to be something to do with Finch – whether as victim or perpetrator –  and head over there.

Finch, meantime, has managed to infiltrate Fort Meade impersonating Emile Bertrand, a French (Belgian?) NATO official. He hesitates before introducing the virus into the system; it could kill Samaritan, but it might also kill his Machine, which he used to regard as his child, but is now essentially Root reincarnated. Which gives Greer another chance to capture him. This time Greer explains that Samaritan wants to work with the Machine to rule the world. It’s rather sweet that Samaritan is looking for a playmate. And Greer is so determined that this is going to happen that he’s prepared to sacrifice himself to stop Finch: he seals the room he and Finch are in, and starts to extract the oxygen from it. Greer dies, but Reese and Shaw get there in time to save Finch.

And the police have discovered the secret stash of bodies in the tunnel. Fusco is abducted and shot by Agent LeRoux, revealed to be the killer; fortunately, Fusco is wearing a bullet-proof vest and turns the tables on LeRoux, leaving him to debate whether to kill LeRoux to keep himself safe. In what has otherwise been a remarkable final season, the tunnel-bodies storyline has been, in my view, the least successful. This is in no way the fault of the outstanding Kevin Chapman.

Meantime, though, as we near the end of the series, the Machine doesn’t want to miss out on its own lap of honour. So as Finch ponders whether to deploy the virus, which might bring down the Machine as well as Samaritan, it shows Finch – and us – what the world would have been like had it never existed. It’s A Wonderful Machine, if you will. Reese is dead, of course, in an unmarked grave, without the Machine to give his life a purpose. Fusco is a drunk ex-cop, and only not in prison because he ratted out his HR buddies. Finch himself is still in business with Nathan Ingram, although whatever they’re doing – and unless I missed it, it isn’t specified – is somewhat trivial compared to what they in fact did. And most chillingly of all Shaw and Root, with no Machine to show them an alternative path, are working for Samaritan, which is the only show in town. Because whether or not we’ve got a Machine, we’re certainly getting something like Samaritan; and, unchecked, who knows what it might do? It’s an episode which defies easy summary, and it’s also magnificent TV; the scene at the end, when Finch finally talks to Samaritan, is very nearly overwhelming.

Person of Interest s5 ep 11

Fan service spoilers

Finch is off in San Antonio, Texas, digging out a computer virus which he hopes will bring Samaritan down, although there might be some “collateral damage” along the way, which given the high stakes in this show is unlikely to be minimal. He’s also processing his grief over the death of Root by talking to the Machine, which now has Root’s voice, and even at one point calls him “Harry”. So it’s basically Root, I ‘d say.

Back home, though, after watching Root being buried in an unmarked grave, Reese and Fusco have a Number, and it’s a biggie: the President of the United States of America himself, who has been targeted by an activist group opposed to his surveillance programme. To Washington, D.C., then, where they have to protect POTUS at a charity event, which Shaw attends as an improbable Congressman’s wife. Then the activist group goes after him with a drone. I always like a drone in a procedural.

Neither attack succeeds, although after the fact it becomes clear to Team Machine that they’ve had an assist that they weren’t aware of, and – in a dazzling piece of fan service – it came from the Washington, D.C., branch of Team Machine, consisting of some returning guest stars: there’s tech billionaire Logan Pierce, season 4’s delightfully ambiguous Harper Rose, and season 1 deep cut Joey Durban. Which answers a couple of long-standing questions – are there other people getting Numbers, and what if the Number isn’t in New York – while still leaving open the possibility that there might be yet more Team Machine franchises.

The episode itself, therefore, as well as being great fun, is something of a lap of honour for Person of Interest, and a bit of a pause for breath before the final two episodes. We’re given a clue to what might be coming by Shaw’s realisation that Samaritan doesn’t think it worthwhile to intervene to save the President.

Person of Interest s5 ep 10

Spoilers. The series finale is approaching. Shit’s getting real.

Finch is at a cafe where the waitress claims to recognise him, a suggestion he deflects somewhat unconvincingly. But something else has seen him there: this time, Finch is the Number of the Week, as he discovers when, as Professor Whistler, he turns up for work at his college, and Reese appears seconds before several carloads of Samaritan operatives. And his cover has been blown in spectacular style: the safe house has been compromised as well. Finch is reluctant to accept the offer of help and put others in harm’s way, but Reese won’t hear of it: “I’m just protecting a number, Harold. It’s what you hired me to do”.

To start with, though, it’s Elias, now essentially a part of Team Machine, who takes Finch to a disused meth lab in a high rise. This is an Elias stronghold, and – not coincidentally, in an episode which makes so much of the crossover between past, present, and future – the place where “Charlie” the teacher was living, a long time ago. Not for the first time, it’s striking that Elias – originally presented as nothing more than a gangster – has considerable hidden depths, and an ability to generate the most remarkable loyalty among those who know him. But nothing’s going to stop Samaritan this week: wherever Finch goes, he’s followed by wave after wave of gun-toting Samaritanites. He’s captured, and Elias takes what looks like, this time, a fatal shot to the head.

Finch readies himself for his fate. But, as Greer explains, Samaritan doesn’t want him dead, but is instead anticipating a time when he, Finch, will work for Samaritan. This doesn’t look particularly likely to Finch, but Root and Shaw have ascertained his whereabouts. And this leads to a quite magnificent bastard of a shootout, culminating in Root driving away with Finch in the passenger seat, arming herself with a “really big gun… and a hair scrunchy”, and firing shots out of the sunroof while steering a car with her feet. Fuck yeah. But then she, like Elias, is fatally wounded. Still, what a way to go out.

And this time a visibly weary Finch is taken by the New York police, who of course have to expend a certain amount of energy trying to work out who he is: he’s been around a large number of deaths, they know that, and he seems to have an outstanding treason charge in his record, but who is this guy? Well, he’s the guy who’s going to deliver a chilling monologue in which he threatens to kill – well, it might be the cop interviewing him, it might be Samaritan, it might even be the Machine, who the hell knows? But it’s gloves-off time for Finch, who this week has seen quite enough death. In order to free him from police custody the Machine opens the cells, leading to hundreds of criminals escaping, and Reese suddenly realises that the Machine didn’t give him Finch’s number because he was in danger – after all, Samaritan doesn’t want him dead – it’s because of what Finch is going to do. He’s not a victim, he’s a perpetrator.

As ever with the best episodes of Person of Interest, there are a lot of very big topics being explored, and theology is at their heart. Picking a couple: the way in which death might be the end of your corporeal existence, but not necessarily your presence in the lives of those who remember you (the Machine’s new voice, for one). The fact that the person most willing to sacrifice themselves might also be the person who most needs to remain alive. And the loyalty which can be inspired in followers, even to the point of their own death. We know that the Machine – Finch’s creation – is, on one view, a god. So what does that make Finch? Extraordinary television on every level, down to Nine Inch Nails’s towering ‘The Day The World Went Away’ providing both soundtrack and episode title.

Person of Interest s5 ep 9

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Possible spoilers. I’ve done my best.

Person of Interest long ago passed the point at which the casual viewer could drop in and watch an episode. Nonetheless, ‘Sotto Voce’ provides something of a masterclass in weaving together an apparently straightforward Case of the Week and an increasingly complicated backstory. The Number is Terry Easton, a locksmith, who is first seen by Reese breaking into an investment company. Terry’s wife is being held captive, as a result of which he’s doing the bidding of a master criminal known only as The Voice, who we’ve seen – heard? – before. It turns out that The Voice’s plan is to get Terry into Reese and Fusco’s police building, where members of the Templarios gang are being held, so that Terry can use his locksmithing skills to get them out.

In the middle of this, Person of Interest finds yet another way of manipulating its cast in interesting ways: Finch asks Elias for help in tracing The Voice, and Elias – presumably wanting some fresh air – agrees, as long as he can go into the field, which means that we get the two of them working as a partnership. Nor is this merely entertaining: the Case of the Week is resolved by Elias in a way which Finch would undoubtedly not have countenanced, but doesn’t entirely regret.

Meantime, Root has a number of her own: Matthew Stone, a radio engineer. And Shaw is back in NYC, hunting down Samaritan agents one by one. And Fusco has a taxi driver in custody, accused of possessing a firearm which – much to his suspect’s surprise – has been used in an unsolved homicide. The storylines pile up, but it never feels forced or crowded. It’s the sort of episode, in fact, where you kind of know that there’s a twist coming which will connect some of the threads. Even allowing for that, though, I didn’t anticipate the one we got: either the Person of Interest writers and actors are remarkably skilled at misdirection, or I’m unusually gullible, because in all likelihood every other viewer saw this one coming.

By the end, though, Root and Shaw have reconciled, Fusco has been read in to the whole Machine/Samaritan thing, and Team Machine is back together; a haunting final shot (soundtracked by The National’s majestic ‘Fake Empire’) makes a point of highlighting just how vulnerable the five of them are considering the forces arrayed against them. It’s a terrific episode.

Person of Interest s5 ep 8

This week’s Number is James Ko, a businessman whose flight is diverted to New York City, where he starts to feel unwell and goes to hospital. It’s an immutable rule of TV drama that when someone starts coughing it never ends well, and sure enough before long poor old Ko is dead of an unidentified illness, resulting in the hospital being locked down with Finch and Reese both inside.

Ko’s death turns out to be attributable to a synthesised virus created by Samaritan, apparently as part of its reaction to a couple of members of hospital staff who disagreed with its approach to automated healthcare. (Once again, I note in passing that Samaritan has a point: human error kills more people than it should, and in the long run greater automation will save lives.) And Jeff Blackwell, recent Samaritan recruit, is in the hospital as well, with the intent of killing the relevant medics. But the plan is bigger, and has a typically Samaritan-esque twist; the CDC requires mass immunisation, as part of which the DNA of the entire population is being harvested by everyone’s favourite supercomputer, for reasons as yet undisclosed.

In a busy episode, all of the main characters get something to do: the increasingly disaffected Fusco requests a new police partner, and enlists Elias in his investigation of who killed the bodies in the tunnel. Elias, incidentally, gets the best line of the week: “Underneath all of that intellect”, he tells Finch, “you’re the darkest of all of us. It’s always the quiet ones we need to be afraid of. I just hope I’m not around the day that pot finally boils over”. I expect he will be. I hope we will all be.

Meantime, Shaw escapes, and finds herself in a prison in Johannesburg, where she shoots that Samaritan henchman with the English accent. Or it’s another simulation. Given that my primary school teachers would have leathered me for using “…and then I woke up!” in a piece of creative writing at age 10, it’s genuinely astonishing how often proper TV writers think they can get away with it. This time, though, I think it’s for realsies, as she hears details of the virus outbreak on a car radio as she drives away. It’s another very good episode, but it falls short of being exceptional, perhaps because the main plot – virus, hospital, lockdown, CDC – has been done so often before.

Person of Interest s5 ep 7

Person of Interest is still doing its very best to keep its structure intact even as it reaches the end of its run. So there’s a Number, and this week it belongs to mild-mannered talk radio host Max Greene (30 Rock’s Scott Adsit), who has a show called Mysterious Transmissions which covers conspiracy theories, the paranormal, and the like. Max is “more paranoid than we are”, muses Finch. Root turns up as his producer, having already cycled through this week’s helping of fan service: cop, dancer, “colonial re-enactor”. I hope Amy Acker is having as much fun as she seems to be.

Samaritan is using the radio station’s network to broadcast to its operatives using a code which sounds like static to listeners. Root tries to use this network to get a message out to Shaw; meantime, Max is in danger, as he has become aware that there’s a pattern to the static. The conclusion of Max’s story will once again emphasise that the Machine ultimately allows for the possibility of free will, even at the expense of the safety of the individual, in a way that Samaritan does not.

Shaw, meantime, is on another Samaritan-led field trip, during which she’s prompted to kill a scientist working on bringing the thylacine back to life (if, that is, it needs to be…), because Samaritan has seen that the consequences would be catastrophic. Everyone talks so much about this being another simulation that it’s reasonably obvious that it’s not; Shaw decides that she’d sooner be dead, but just as she’s about to commit suicide Root’s message gets through to her.

And poor Fusco, who just about survived last week’s tunnel demolition, is getting pissed off with Finch and Reese keeping things from him; it’s ostensibly for his own protection, but that doesn’t really seem to be working, does it? So he hands back his Team Machine phone and announces that he’s out. It’s a bit like the cop slamming his badge down on the boss’s table. It’s another brilliantly cerebral yet entertaining episode. There’s really nothing quite like this show.