Person of Interest: Beta

“Two gods playing with the same deck of cards.”

Here are the rules: Samaritan can see everything the Machine sees, but only in New York City. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: do not die.

Person of Interest has always been light on romance. There was the short lived Reese/Carter connection, the flashbacks to Reese and his dearly departed Jessica, and whatever’s going on between Root and Shaw. Finch’s relationship with his ex-fiancĂ©e Grace has been the show’s most drawn from well on that front and for good reason.

Finch faked his death to keep Grace safe. Does it make total sense? No. But, like superhero secret identity tropes, it’s best to just enjoy the tension it creates without examining the logic behind it too closely. After said fake death, Finch has literally stalked Grace ever since. Somehow, it ends up being sweet and not creepy. How did they accomplish that? Here, we see Finch engineering a job for Grace in Italy. It’s manipulative and controlling, yes, but Finch is directing Grace’s life in order to save it. Still, if/when Grace finds out, I wonder if she’ll be happy about it. Thinking you got a job on merit and then discovering it was your undead ex-fiancĂ©’s machinations that helped you succeed... that’s a tough day.

I got the feeling that Grace knew Finch wasn’t telling her everything but chose to trust him despite that. When Greer asked Grace for things that were true about Harold, she immediately went with personality traits. I feel like given the same question, most people would respond with hard, biographical facts. Name, hometown, etc. Grace said she was good at spotting lies, never once did she say that Harold never lied to her. I’m relatively sure she doesn’t know he’s still alive. I’m also relatively sure she knows there was more to her “freelance software designer” than met the eye. Her language in her speech to Greer (see Quotes, below) is extremely careful. She said Harold would never break her trust. She didn’t say he would never lie to her. What constitutes a breach of trust in her view? Lying about your history or lying about your feelings?

The exchange of the hostages was extremely tense. I so wanted her to see him, for him to speak to her, something, anything to tell her Harold was still alive. They touched and for one second I thought that might somehow be enough, but no. This is not Once Upon a Time. True love does not conquer absolutely everything, no matter what, all the time, always. We’ve probably seen the last of Grace for the season, but I hope she’ll be back for season four and learn the truth. Maybe she can join the team in some capacity? They probably don’t need an illustrator, but you never know.

Enough about romance, on to the action. This was a largely action-packed episode starting from the opening Machine POV shots. MPOV has never been more important to the story. Right after their version of a Previously On segment, the Machine tells us it is engaging “Protection Protocol 7” and “Consolidating Operations, Protecting Assets, Obscuring Digital Footprint.” This explains how and why Root was able to show up to help in the latest Save Finch operation (you’ll remember, she was the culprit in the last Save Finch operation). The Machine is prioritizing the lives of its assets over the lives of others, which makes sense. No more assets, no more numbers saved. Would the Machine have given Reese Grace’s number if she hadn’t been connected to Finch? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Machine POV then switches to Samaritan POV. Circular identifiers instead of squares! A white background instead of black! It was different enough to be a constant reminder of the peril our heroes were in. SPOV gives us the system’s parameters: “Dominant Mandate: Eliminate Threats to National Security [United States]. Auxiliary Mandate: Eliminate Threats to System Survival.” Two things. First of all “[United States].” If I’m interpreting those brackets correctly, and I think I am, that means that Samaritan could be used by any foreign country to “Eliminate Threats to National Security.” Something tells me “Eliminate Threats to National Security [North Korea]” would look drastically different and much scarier. Secondly, at the end of the last episode, Greer told Samaritan to find Harold Finch. It’s not doing that. It’s not finding Dude X just because its overlord told it to. Instead, its auxiliary mandate is to “Eliminate Threats to System Survival.” Does that mean that it was going to try to track Finch down regardless of what Greer said? Was Greer just being sinister when he told it to find Finch? And, hey, why does Greer need Finch? Does he still want the Machine? Samaritan seems to suit his purposes far better. The Machine is a closed system while Samaritan is capable of targeting. Does he want to have Finch on hand in case he needs some tech support? Does he just have a hard time making friends?

It occurs to me I’ve never discussed the name of Samaritan, so I’ll do that now. It’s obviously taken from the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan. In case you weren’t tortured by years of Catholic school, here’s a quick summary: So this dude was robbed and beaten and left to die on the side of the road and this guy walked by, saw him, but didn’t help him. Then another guy walked by, saw him, and didn’t help him. Finally a Samaritan guy came alone and helped the dude. (Luke 10: 30-35. I may have paraphrased a little.) Tellingly, the new spy machine isn’t called the Good Samaritan. It’s not designed to help, only to see. Unlike the Machine, Samaritan is a system without a conscience.

That is compatible with Greer’s ‘information is power, power is good’ doctrine. Finch, the Good Guy, has a system that understands that life is valuable. Greer, King of Amorality, has a system that can be used for good, evil, money, power, or to find that guy you used to have a crush on in seventh grade. It’s fitting that a man whose loyalties are so changeable would have possession of a surveillance system just as flexible. But this clever mirroring leads me to my big plot problem with the episode: Why would Virgil kill himself? Typically, people willing to kill themselves for a cause have, well, a cause. Virgil just had a grumpy boss who craved power and money for himself. Why not flip on him? Why blow off his own head for someone else’s sake?

Bits and Pieces

Shaw’s leg has miraculously healed. Last week she was hobbling around, leaning on Reese for support. Now, just over a week later, as Shaw helpfully points out, her leg is fine. At least she mentions it. I suppose that’s something.

Avian alias of the week: Harold Martin. I’d really like to see a ‘Harold Penguin’ or a ‘Harold Flamingo’ used one day, okay?

Fusco calls Root “Cocoa Puffs” again. Also, “Princess.”

Root could’ve walked into the police station waving her FBI badge, but, being one to value dramatic flair, she gets herself arrested on a weapons charge instead.

Clearly, Samaritan being online has taken its toll on Root’s personal grooming. Her usually immaculate nails were chipped.

Quotes

Minimal quips this week. It wasn’t a huge blow, action made up for most of it, but I did miss the sarcasm.

Grace: “What is going on? I barely believe this is a police station.”
Is it weird this made me laugh?

Shaw: “Never thought I’d love the sight of New Jersey.”

Grace: “My dad was an alcoholic. Nearly tore the family to pieces. The thing about growing up that way, you get good at spotting lies. So good that you start expecting them from everyone. So how do I know what Harold told me was true? Because when he came along, against every instinct, I gave him my trust. Somehow I knew he would never break it.”

Shaw: “Next time we need to hide from an all-seeing super computer, we’re getting separate trunks.”

Finch: “If they harm Grace in any way, kill them all.”

three out of four stolen servers
---
sunbunny, Person of Interest and Bear the Dog fangirl

16 comments:

Freeman said...

I liked the off the grid feeling of this episode. The group got to do some espionage action instead of going around guns blazing. It was cool that they were able to use Samaritan's, at the moment, limited AI against it. It was practically chill inducing to hear Harold give Reese and Shaw a kill order, and you know he meant that. I find it a little weird that Grace instantly clicked when she saw the Stills poster, like there couldn't possibly be any other cop named Stills, but I guess she was on edge, and was looking for any excuse for an out.

I loved the moment when Fusco locked the Decima goon in the interrogation room with Reese, such a Batman moment. And speaking of Batman, Reese totally gave Root the Batglare in the Jersey diner. http://img2.tvtome.com/i/u/39ec55c9861e4245c2303636abc81b1f.gif

I don't think Shaw's leg was actually fully healed. I'm pretty sure she was just being hero macho, seeing as Reese was cautioning her not to overdo it on her leg.

Josie Kafka said...

This is not Once Upon a Time. True love does not conquer absolutely everything, no matter what, all the time, always.

What a heartbreakingly true statement. I am not ashamed to admit that tears came to my eyes during the bridge scene.

They probably don’t need an illustrator, but you never know.

Everyone needs an illustrator.

Unlike the Machine, Samaritan is a system without a conscience.

Excellent explanation.


I really liked this episode, and I hope that the minimal Finchiness means we get a lot of Finch next week. (I didn't watch the promo, so I have no idea what to expect.)

I do have a question about Root stealing the servers, though: isn't a server that's still in the box like a sheet of paper? It's got massive processing power, but it's "blank," right? Or are the servers pre-programmed to be Samaritanian? (What is the adjective for "related to Samaritan"? Samartian? Smarmy?)

In other words: does having seven of the smarmy servers mean that they have a fraction of Samaritan? Or just that they have a fractional potential to build their own little Samaritan, whom we can call "Sammi," in keeping with the Sameen/Sam grrrlpower vibe on the show?


Four out of four Harold Penguins for your review, Sunbunny.

J.D. Balthazar said...

Josie,

There are two basic parts to the Machine, the software (the program) and the hardware. Decima has the software, but they don't have hardware to make it fully operational. Root effectively crippled Samaritan's computing power. Each server would increase it's capabilities by some unknown quantity. In other words, stealing those servers would be like driving a new car filled crappy fuel, low oil, and almost flat tires.

Josie Kafka said...

Oh.

That's a little underwhelming. Why didn't she just blow the servers up, if the goal is to pour sugar in their gas tank?

Freeman said...

Root essentially has a hostage. She's always been about the Machine and Finch, so her trading the rest of Samaritan for Finch doesn't seem too out of the question.

Mark Greig said...

This episode failed to answer the most important question of all - who was looking after Bear while all this was going on?

Josie Kafka said...

According to Bear's Twitter feed (@beardehond), he's staying in Shaw's apartment and raiding her fridge.

sunbunny said...

I really want to see a PoI episode where Bear has a separate mission: babysitting Sam T. Cat and Duckling.

Sam T. Cat said...

I'd like to see him try.

Baby M said...

Why did Virgil kill himself? The answer is given in last season's "Trojan Horse."

Remember the scene where Baxter is holding Reese and Monica at gunpoint and explaining in perfect corporate PR-speak why he;s about to kill them? Reese tells him the FBI already has the information to bring Rylatech down. Greer then calls him, and says, "Mr. Baxter. Do you recall our discussion the day we sealed our arrangement? .... The time has come. Your family will be provided for." Baxter then turns the gun on himself.

Decima has an "arrangement" with its operatives: if you're ever captured and about to be compromised, kill yourself, and your family will be provided for. By negative implication: if you're ever captured and about to be compromised and you don't kill yourself before you spill the beans, Decima will do something awful to your family.

ChrisB said...

Throughout Grace's discussion with Greer, I was kinda sad that what she thought about Finch/Martin was not the truth. After reading your review, I went back and watched it again.

I think you nailed it, my friend. She does seem to know that, even at the time, not everything was on the up and up. And, she certainly knows now. I do hope we see her again.

Patrick said...

Yes, Root took a portion of Samaritan's intended server farm, and that will certainly slow Decima down. But I can't help thinking that Root and/or The Machine has a bigger plan for that hardware. I still want to know what Greer's endgame is in all of this. Did he really go to all this trouble just so he could build a bigger, better Machine that the government could control more directly than Northern Lights, allowing him to sell it to them and become the greatest name in Big Brother Technology? They're trying to make him come across as too evil for that to be his ultimate goal. So what's really going on here? Or did I miss something along the way?

sunbunny said...

Baby M - Excellent memory! I had completely forgotten about that. Would've been nice of the show to drop in even a little reminder of that scene.

Patrick - Interesting thoughts. I just assumed Root tok the servers to hobble Samaritan, I didn't even consider the Machine might have an ulterior motive.

Patrick said...

sunbunny, it may be as simple as crippling Samaritan, but whenever the Machine gives Root an assignment, there are usually layers...

Billie Doux said...

What a wonderful review, sunbunny. And I enjoyed the comments as much as the review.

The thing that I found the most frustrating, as has been mentioned, was that Grace didn't see Harold on the bridge, or hear his voice. I really wanted her to know. Maybe next season.

Anonymous said...

I think Root took the servers to "level the playing field" between the Machine & Samaritan. She admitted she had never seen anything like but the Machine knew it needed them. Now we need for Root's "Ninja Nerds/Gang of Geeks" that she's been stashing around the world, to come home to momma & beat up the mad guy.