TV Show Review – Person of Interest (“If-Then-Else” episode 4.11)
“Samaritan launches a cyber-attack on the stock exchange, leaving the team with no choice but to embark on a possible suicide mission in a desperate attempt to stop a global economic catastrophe.”
by Alan Eggleston
First, a brief recap – part one
When we last left Harold Finch, John Reese, and company on Person of Interest, in the episode “The Cold War” that aired December 12, the corporate owned but government sponsored Samaritan program had declared war on The Machine and the human assets who work for it.
Samaritan had previously unsuccessfully hunted down Harold, Reese, Sameen Shaw, Root, and Police Officer Lionel Fusco. But then Samaritan sent an agent to signal The Machine that Samaritan wanted to “talk.” Root met with Samaritan’s alter ego and, when The Machine was unwilling to engage, Samaritan triggered a war.
Samaritan had brought a short era of peace to New York City to demonstrate for government officials its abilities, but with the declaration of war between the machines, Samaritan unleashed havoc on the city – to also show what it could do. Neither the New York City Police nor The Machine’s group could keep up. Despite Harold, Reese, Shaw, and Root’s best efforts, they were finally identified by the Samaritan group.
That’s where we are with the beginning of the winter’s new season of episodes. “If-Then-Else,” part 2 of a trilogy that began with autumn’s season finale.
Person of Interest airs Tuesday evenings at 10e/p – 9c on CBS-TV.
The genius of this program is the way in which it deals with its own building complexity.
What’s to love about Person of Interest
I’ve dealt with its increasing complexity over four grueling seasons.
Person of Interest began fairly simply as Harold Finch and John Reese received numbers by The Machine for people in danger, whom Harold and Reese were to shadow to see if they needed protection – or if they were a danger to others. Harold had designed and built The Machine. During those four seasons, we learned more and more about how Harold built, programmed, and trained The Machine.
Over time, the production team added more characters and dimensions to the story. First it involved police officers whom Harold and Reese enlisted as resources to help them track down their “persons of interest” or to help them protect those persons. Then it was interfacing with new bad people who became part of the fabric of the story over time.
New assets to assist Harold and Reese were added: Shaw and Root. Shaw was a psychopathic agent who felt no sorrow for killing her targets. Root was an intelligent agent on the run damaged by her childhood relationship with a twin sister, whom she had lost through violence.
Then one of the police officers died in the line of duty, leaving former bad cop turned good cop Fusco to assist the team.
The team toyed with a rogue police organization and terminated them. Federal agents came after them, and Root subdued them.
Then they ream dealt with organized crime – two powerful but competing factions. They’re still on the loose.
Finally, they encountered a corporation with a competing computer system interested in annihilating The Machine. That’s where we are today, in the second of three episodes.
Now part two (episode 4.11)
In the opening sequence, Harold and Root stand outside the New York Stock Exchange watching the stock market collapse, thanks to interference by Samaritan. Samaritan knows it could get caught, but what it really wants is to drive The Machine’s human assets into the open to terminate them.
Team Machine decides to take action. And this is where the complexity kicks in.
Harold, Reese, Root, and Fusco head to the New York Stock Exchange to hack the system’s servers to stop the financial carnage. Shaw is on assignment to save one of The Machine’s numbers.
I love how the show often inserts some humor into the drama. In this case, Shaw is trying to rescue her victim from attempted suicide – jumping from outside a window high above the city streets – and caught in a conversation with Root about their need for backup, Shaw grabs the guy through the window, grasps his tie, and shuts the window on the tie while the victim dangles on the ledge. He can’t jump, but he’s hardly brought back into safety.
While Harold, Reese, Root, and Fusco gain access to the Stock Exchange, Shaw jumps onto a subway car to get to the team. Sitting nearby are two people who could hardly be any more different – a well coiffed guy in a tailored suit and an unshaven brute in a worn winter jacket. The brute has lost everything in the stock market crash and is fearful for his future. The coiffed investment guy is helpless to help him but seems to care less. Then the brute shows everyone he’s strapped with a bomb. Shaw remarks to Root understatedly that she may have to wait on the help.
Harold, Reese, Root, and Fusco come under attack at the Stock Exchange by Samaritan forces and run into a break room, where they seek shelter from unremitting gunfire.
That clever plot device
In a brilliantly thought out plot device, The Machine considers possible options to help its humans both succeed in their mission and survive the attack.
Through flashbacks to 2003 we see Harold Finch in a city park alone at a chess table playing chess. He’s teaching The Machine how to play chess and in doing so, how to think through different scenarios, how to sort through multiple options. “A second is like an eternity to you,” says Herold in one of the early flashbacks. In another flashback, he tells The machine, “People are real people, not a thing you can sacrifice. Anyone who looks on life as a game of chess deserves to lose.”
In between the flashbacks, you see The Machine consider an option. You don’t realize it at first, but the option shows as a scenario that you watch play out. Root receives the orders from The Machine and the team leaves the break room. Reese and Fusco go one way to fend off Samaritan, Root and Harold go another way to reach the Stock Exchange server room. Shaw confronts the brute with the bomb and has to shoot him to stop him from setting off his bomb and then is arrested. The option ends in failure. Then we return to the break room in a reset.
The Machine considers another scenario. Root receives orders from The Machine and the team once again leaves the break room. This time Reese and Root go one way to fend off Samaritan, Fusco and Harold go another way. After subduing one batch of Samaritan thugs, Harold and Root head off to the server room. Meanwhile, Shaw is faced with the brute with the bomb. This time, she tries to play on the man’s family and the loss his blowing himself up with the bomb would mean to them. The brute still decides to set off the bomb and Shaw has to shoot him and is arrested. Harold and Root stop on the way to the server to reset a generator to an elevator to ensure their escape once they fix the server. Reese sacrifices himself to give Harold and Root more time, but once again, the option ends in failure. Then we return to the break room again in a reset.
Finally, The Machine decides on a scenario in which the team leaves together as a team. Everything executes well. Shaw engages the other passengers on the subway about their lousy day so that the brute knows he’s not the only one experiencing problems. He gives up and Shaw leaves to help the team. The team subdues the Samaritan thugs, restarts the generator, resets the servers, and gets to the elevator. Shaw reaches them and they’re about to escape but the elevator won’t budge. The main Samaritan team is in pursuit. Shaw sees a button on another wall that must be pushed for the elevator to work. She leaves the elevator and pushes the button just as Samaritan arrives and shoots her. As the elevator doors close, we see Shaw on the floor with the leader of the Samaritan team standing over her, guns drawn.
The brilliance here is watching Harold train The Machine how to think, how to sort through scenarios, and work them out in its mind like a chess game while considering their consequences on the lives of people – and watch the consequences played out in action.
Another recurring bit of humor during the episode was a Degás painting on a wall. In each scenario, a different Machine asset stops to notice it in some way and then during gun play the painting is shot up. In the final scenario, Root sees the painting, removes it from the wall and sets it along the floor, and during gun play bullets riddle where the painting would have been. One more instance in which The Machine’s final scenario played out right.
The next-episode promo (third of the trilogy) at the end has Reese saying, “Let’s go get Shaw back.”
Person of Interest ramps it up again
I’ve watched this show morph and mature over four seasons. The characters have grown and matured right along with the plots and plot devices. Just when you thought Person of Interest would run out of interesting ideas, it comes right back with a fresh approach, just like it did this week.
© Copyright 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.