Tonight, Person of Interest pulls back on the Samaritan story line to focus on the show’s original ASI: Finch’s Machine. It turns out that the same Machine that was hyper-condensed into that briefcase at the end of last season isn’t the same one that comes out when Finch and Root decompress her and turn her on.
This is immediately apparent from the opening moments of the episode, which finds Finch and Root testing out the Machine’s facial recognition programming. Surprise, it isn’t working properly, and the Machine confuses the team members with each, face swapping them around like crazy. As I mentioned last week, I’m always happy when this show remembers to temper its intensity with some comedic relief, and that’s exactly what this sequence is. The scene, which was actually shown at New York City Comic Con last year, gives every cast member an opportunity to impersonate each other, and it’s great.
The fact that it’s taking the Machine longer than expected to be fully operational has everyone on edge. Reese is restless because not only have there not been any new numbers, but also because homicides in the city are down (Thanks, Samaritan… Oh wait, suicides are up, so maybe I spoke too soon). Root is stuck in the base because she’s a dead woman walking if she even peaks her head above ground without the Machine there to provide her with a cover identity. So, it falls to Reese and Finch to pick her up some supplies — black nail posh and fuzzy slippers, natch — while they steal some servers to increase the Machine’s processing power.
With the servers or whatever installed, it’s time to wake up the Machine. Once she’s up and running, Finch and Root, who can’t understand why Finch ever boxed her up, take her for a spin. First, they have her identify Reese, who is standing in the middle of Times Square. She passes that test. Root’s eager to jump back into fighting Samaritan, but Finch insists that they start up the irrelevant numbers protocol first to make sure everything is in working order.
The Machine gives them 30 numbers. Some of them don’t really pan out because either the person isn’t an actual threat, a character getting shot in a play, or already dead. It seems as though the Machine isn’t processing context and unstuck in time, like the Island in the Lost season 5 premiere. So, Finch decides to run a diagnostic to see how the Machine handles the team. Oh boy, was that a bad idea?
The Machine looks at everything they’ve ever done — especially Root and Reese, but also Finch — decides they’re threats, and takes steps to handle them. First, she locks Root and Finch inside the train car.
While Finch and Root are trapped in the subway car, Reese receives another number: Laurie Granger, who is visiting New York from Tulsa. It’s actually his lucky day because she walks into the precinct seeking assistance, except it turns out that she’s an assassin who was hired by, yep, you guessed it, the Machine. She chases Reese through the streets of Chinatown and into a nearby mall with a gun.
NEXT: The trauma of dying 42 times
Meanwhile, the Machine turns on Root and starts attacking her cochlear implant each time Finch tries to touch the computer. He tries reasoning with her that they aren’t monsters, but then she shows them video of some of their past crimes. Not wanting to be a bargaining chip, Root tells Finch to knock her out and then get to work on breaking into the Machine. That’s exactly what he does.
Now, Finch tunnels back into the Machine, and she shows him a video from back when he first built her and was explaining the difference between good and evil. He admits that things aren’t as simple as they used to be.
“These days, black and white just dissolve into grayscale,” he says. “I was wrong; I supposed everyone feels he’s the hero of his own story, but there are no heroes, no villains — just people doing the best they can… My only justification is that I did the best I could.” It’s an acknowledgement at just how complicated this entire war is. At this point, Team Machine is just doing the best they can to survive. (Also, Michael Emerson knows how to deliver a speech like this. It’s heartfelt and drips with regret and guilt).
“SNAFU” provides the show with an opportunity to look back on how far the characters have come. Root isn’t the hacker assassin we once knew anymore. As she said in the premiere, she met someone — the Machine — and fell in love. Even Finch isn’t the same person he was when we first started. The desperation of this war has forced him to open himself back up again to some kind of personal relationship with the Machine. (But maybe he’s opening himself up to her a little too late?) At this point, everyone is trying to do the best they can and to learn from the mistakes they made, especially John, who Finch says has the heaviest heart of all.
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Finch promises to never hurt the Machine again. “You are hurting me now,” she responds, and he realizes that she’s currently re-living all 42 deaths that occurred in her creation. That’s some serious trauma. The pain on his face is heartbreaking. But Finch has a solution to help the Machine: focusing on the numbers. He starts showing her everyone they’ve saved over the past four years so that those will anchor her in time. “There is good and bad in all of us, but this action, saving lives, it is a pure good. Help us. I can’t promise you we’ll always do the right thing, but we will do the best we can,” he pleads with her. (You can also read this as a defense of the show’s case of the week format).
The Machine re-contextualizes all of her data and frees Finch from the subway car. At the same time, Reese finally manages to get the upper hand against the assassin that’s after him. Oh, and Fusco, who was dealing with a legit number, saves a family from the Lithuanian mob. So, all’s well that ends with a pic right? (Yes, Team Machine has a picnic).
Not really. One of the numbers Reese had earlier was Jeff Blackwell, an ex-con who was just released from prison and is trying to make an honest go at life. Unfortunately, he’s having trouble finding steady employment. Well, that is until he goes into an employment office seeking a job and is recruited by Samaritan, who starts analyzing his propensity for violence.
The Even More Irrelevant List:
- While I liked what the show was doing with this episode, it definitely felt like it slowed down the season’s momentum already. It’s still not clear what this phase of the war against Samaritan looks like and it would’ve been great if the episode has pushed that a little bit more.
- Finch decides to leave the Machine open for the time being because they need all the help they can get and handicapping it the way he did last night might’ve been a mistake. As he said, he’s trying his best and this is part of it.
- Root uses the Machine to find Shaw with no luck.
- Reese decides to join the NYPD’s bowling league because he’s lonely and needs friends. That sounds like a good idea.