Person of Interest series finale recap: 'Return 0'
The war against Samaritan has finally come to an end. In Person of Interest’s emotional series finale, Team Machine finally triumphed over the evil A.I. threatening to take over the world. Even though Team Machine lost one of its own in the ultimate battle, the hour ended on a very hopeful note — which was rather surprising for such a cynical series, but welcomed and very much earned.
“Return 0” picks up a few days after Harold Finch launched the Ice-9 virus, crippling Samaritan and The Machine’s core functions and throwing the entire world into chaos by destabilizing almost every system. We never see the consequences of the virus, which is disappointing (but also expected because the show probably didn’t have the budget or time for it).
When the episode starts, Team Machine is trying to find Finch and avoid being captured by Samaritan operatives. Samaritan’s goons track Shaw to Root’s grave, but The Machine warns Shaw in time and helps her escape the scene. (The Machine-as-Root also finds time to flirt with Shaw, because of course.) Meanwhile, Reese and Fusco return to the precinct and are arrested by their fellow cops, who found out Reese is “The Man in the Suit” after Samaritan tipped them off.
Instead of taking Fusco and Reese to prison, the cops drive them to a dock where they plan to execute them. Corruption is still alive and well in the NYPD, and these cops will do anything if you give them enough money. As the cops force them onto their knees, Reese and Fusco make jokes and reminisce about how they first met, highlighting how much this relationship has grown and strengthened over the years. But this isn’t the end of the line just yet, because The Machine hires snipers to take out the cops. Finch casually strolls up behind them and says it’s time to finally end this.
The Ice-9 virus defeated most of Samaritan, but not all of it. Samaritan stored a copy of itself in some air-gapped servers hidden in the vault of the Federal Reserves. While Reese and Finch head there to destroy it, Shaw and Fusco stay behind at the subway lair to protect The Machine from Samaritan operatives, who inevitably show up and rudely interrupt the pair’s great banter.
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Thankfully, The Machine gave Shaw and Fusco enough of a heads-up that they were ready to drive the subway car out of the station when the goons arrive. Jeff Blackwell manages to jump on the car before it leaves and shoot Shaw in the shoulder before Fusco knocks him out in a well-deserved badass moment. “Not bad for a guy who practices on cardboard cutouts,” says Shaw.
NEXT: Finch and Reese go after Samaritan again
Finch and Reese break into the Federal Reserve using a Fitbit. Finch tells a guard that the Fitbit is a heart monitor connected to a thermonuclear bomb he’s carrying, so the guard’s only option is to let them by. It’s a hilarious moment in an otherwise very heavy hour. When they reach the vault, Finch starts uploading the Ice-9 virus to the servers while Reese handles more Samaritan goons, one of whom manages to hit Finch with a bullet. The ensuing hand-to-hand combat is quite rewarding for longtime fans because you realize how good Jim Caviezel has gotten at this kind of fight choreography. In early episodes (the pilot in particular), the show used to edit around him in fight scenes.
Obviously, defeating Samaritan isn’t going to be this easy. The Samaritan copy uses Finch’s laptop to escape to servers in a Midtown building, where it plans to use the building’s antenna to upload itself to a Russian satellite. The only way to destroy Samaritan once and for all is for someone to go to that roof and use the antenna to send The Machine to the same satellite — but whoever does that won’t survive, since Samaritan plans on blowing the roof up with a cruise missile. Naturally, Finch decides to lock Reese in the vault and do it himself.
“When I hired you, I suspected you were going to be a great employee, but I couldn’t have anticipated that you would become such a good friend,” says a wounded Finch in a close-up on Emerson’s face. “I’m afraid this is where our partnership ends. Goodbye, John.” (No, you’re the one that’s crying right now!)
Meanwhile, Shaw discovers that Jeff is the one who killed Root, but The Machine, who is also slowly dying, stops her from killing him because she wants to give Shaw one last message from Root. “You always thought there was something wrong with you because you don’t feel things the way other people do, but she always felt that was what made you beautiful. She wanted you to know if you were a shape, you were a straight line, an arrow,” says The Machine-as-Root. The close-up on Shaw’s face combined with Sarah Shahi’s moving and controlled performance — watch the emotion creep ever so slightly into her eyes — make this one of the most moving parts of the episode.
Alas, Jeff Blackwell ruins the moment again, because he’s the worst! He uses a knife he hid to break free and stab Fusco several times in the gut. Jeff escapes from the subway car while Shaw rushes to stop the bleeding.
By this point, Finch has walked through Times Square and made it to the rooftop. He’s losing blood quickly and can barely stand. The Machine is having a hard time telling where she is in time, but Finch assures her it’s the present. As Maker and Creation sit together in their final eight minutes, The Machine struggles to remember the most important lesson she learned about life and death over the years. Finch doesn’t miss the opportunity to point out the irony that she found the meaning of life, but has forgotten it right as she’s about to die. The scenes Finch shares with The Machine on the roof are some of the episode’s strongest ones.
NEXT: The end isn’t the end
As Finch prepares to upload the virus, he realizes the antenna on this roof can’t possibly connect to the satellite. That’s when The Machine reveals she sent him to the wrong roof, because she and Reese, who made it out of the vault somehow, made a deal to always put Finch first. Reese gets on the phone and tells Finch he’s on the right roof, which is across the street.
Reese’s decision to sacrifice himself for his friend is a great payoff for the show’s original and foundational relationship. (All of the jokes Root made about Reese being Finch’s loyal pet are even funnier now, too.) And it makes sense for the character; as The Machine said in the previous episode, Reese has been on borrowed time for a while. After years, he’s finally found a good death, sacrificing himself for his best friend and the world. (It’s not too far off to imagine Reese saying to himself “This would be a good death,” like Batman does in The Dark Knight Returns).
Finch watches from across the way as Reese starts uploading the virus while fending off Samaritan operatives. As he does, The Machine finally remembers what she learned about death. “Sure, everybody dies alone, but if you mean something to someone, or helped someone or loved someone or even if a single person remembers you, then maybe you never really die at all,” says The Machine. That’s a pretty hopeful sentiment for the show to end on, reaffirming its belief in the importance of human connections. (It also works on a meta level and can be interpreted as the show commenting on its own end.) That life lesson convinces Finch to get off the roof and seek medical attention. A faint smile crosses Reese’s face as he was watches his friend escape. Then, the cruise missile hits.
In the days following the missile attack, the government takes a page out of the Selina Meyers book and blames the missile on Chinese hackers. Meanwhile, Shaw tracks Jeff down and then kills him. After that, she meets up with a recovering Fusco to collect Bear before she leaves. Neither of them know if Reese or Finch survived.
Back at the subway lair, the pay phone starts ringing and the computers start turning on. The Machine defeated Samaritan and has returned to Earth and, like Chance the Rapper, it hopes to be better than the last time. As the 44th iteration of The Machine starts reconstituting itself, the previous version of The Machine plays a voicemail for it (“Let me tell you who you are…”). The message plays over a scene, which shows Finch reuniting with Grace in Italy. The smile on her face when she sees her beloved says it all.
Shaw is walking down a street in Midtown with Bear when another pay phone starts ringing. She answers it and another smile creeps across her face. The mission continues.
The final season of Person of Interest has been fun, enjoyable, and one of the show’s best. It did have some pacing problems here and there, and some of the show’s story beats didn’t get as much time as they needed, but this is all mostly due to a shortened episode order. But that didn’t stop the show from knocking its finale out of the park.
The series finale brought Person of Interest in for a pathos-filled and near-perfect end that focused on the show’s relationships. For me, Person of Interest has always been a show about redemption. All of the characters entered the series broken and tortured about things they’d done in the past, and working the numbers — saving people — and building relationships helped them work through their guilt. The show never forgot that, and every character’s ending feels earned and meaningful. (Fusco’s character arc might be the show’s most rewarding.)
There are many reasons to miss Person of Interest. It was great sci-fi in the sense that its world was only a few steps away from our present and commenting on it. Throughout its run, Person of Interest figured out how to juggle procedural and serialized storytelling pretty well (season 3 is a high point) and created strong and moving relationships at the same time. As the show makes clear, it may be ending, but it’s not over, and these characters live on… at least in Netflix.