When we last saw Harold Finch, he had just stolen Ice-9, a lethal computer virus with the ability to basically destroy the Internet. He planned on using it to destroy Samaritan, but deploying the virus would also lead to tons of collateral damage, including the death of The Machine. Is defeating Samaritan worth the price? That’s one of several questions asked in tonight’s penultimate episode, where Person of Interest explores what a world would look like without The Machine.
As Finch makes his way to the NSA to unleash Ice-9, The Machine-as-Root — using her immense knowledge of her beloved assets — shows him what the lives of his friends and compatriots would look like had he never created her. There are a few bright spots in these alternate realities, but ultimately Reese, Shaw, Root, and Fusco are worse off in that world. (This sort of thought experiment feels kind of right, though, since we’re so close to the end.)
First, The Machine tells Finch what his own life would be without her. His and Nathan’s company would’ve prospered, but Finch would’ve also been rather dissatisfied with it all. In this alternate reality, Finch feels rather purposeless and worries that he missed his opportunity to do something “meaningful” by not accepting the DoD contract to create a surveillance system. Although this Finch still has his best friend, he never met Grace, so there’s obviously a lot missing from his life.
While Finch travels from San Jose to Washington, D.C., Fusco is back in New York dealing with the fallout from the NYPD’s discovery of those bodies in Queens. Special Agent Martin LeRoux, who interrogated Fusco in the season premiere, returns to the precinct and questions him about the bodies after finding the evidence board hidden in the conference room. By juxtaposing Fusco’s independent investigation of those missing people with The Machine’s alternate reality, we’re reminded just how far Fusco has come since the series’ pilot.
In a Machine-less world, Fusco would be a drunken and disgraced cop who narrowly avoids going to jail with the rest of HR, thanks to snitching right before Det. Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson, who sadly doesn’t appear in the episode) brought HR down. The only upside to this reality is that Detective Carter lived and is now a lieutenant.
In order to break into the NSA’s headquarters, Finch kidnaps a NATO employee and steals his identity. The NSA’s headquarters is a building-sized Faraday Cage, so once he goes inside he’ll lose contact with The Machine. Before he enters, The Machine tells Finch what would’ve happened to Shaw in that alternate reality: She’d still be handling relevant threats for the ISA, since the government still would’ve gotten its hands on a massive surveillance system. In fact, she’d probably be the one to kill NSA analyst and whistleblower Jacob Pitts (Henry Peck) — a former POI from season 1’s “No Good Deed” — who discovers the existence of the surveillance machine. After hearing this, Finch takes some solace in the fact that Shaw would’ve been spared the pain of losing Root. (One would hope these flash-sideways would absolve Finch of some of the responsibility he feels for creating the current world… if he hadn’t done it.)
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Finch manages to infiltrate the NSA, where he makes his way to a server room and uploads the virus. Unfortunately, Samaritan operatives — led by Greer’s other right-hand man, Travers — capture him before he has his chance to complete the voice-activation process necessary to deploy the virus.
NEXT: Kill The Machine, save the world