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Person of Interest: Zero Day

“It’s for you, John.”

It all makes sense now. The last several episodes of Person of Interest were phoned in (no pun intended) and now we know why. The writers spent the time they were supposed spend writing the last few episodes on this. And, wow, was it worth it. (Sorry, guys, this is a long review...)

From the start I was hooked. As in “Relevance,” they messed with the saga sell which was just as brilliant this time as the first time. Immediately we see that the Machine is malfunctioning. The idea was cemented throughout the show with the transition shots, which were also different than usual.

The show did their version of a ‘previously on’ segment by flashing back via surveillance cameras to previous conversations of the series. This works so well. Not only are we reminded of the show’s developed mythology, we are given dates which help us put everything together. I have to say, this show’s one weakness is its occasional refusal or inability to explain things clearly. This episode was one of their best in terms of explanations, which is remarkable given how much new information came out.

Finch and Root have joined forces to stop Decima from intercepting a very important phone call. In case of emergency, Finch programmed the Machine to call a certain pay phone and give whoever picked up that call unfettered access to it for 24 hours. What a stupid plan. I mean, it’s just really a bad idea. By doing this, Finch is counting on two things: that no one will find out about this failsafe (oops) and that he will be able to get to the pay phone on time. What if he died? In the early part of this season, his contingency plan in case of death was to have Reese carry on solo. He didn’t tell Reese about the failsafe, though, so if the Machine had been comprised and called the phone and a random stranger picked it up...? It would be much better to have no Machine than to have the Machine in the hands of an evil, multinational corporation. I’m not expecting a huge disagreement on that point, at least.

The Root and Finch show was considerably better than the last time the two were together. Amy Acker wasn’t weighed down with lengthy speeches, which I think helped. I love the way they interact. Finch calls her “Ms. Groves,” even though she asks him point blank to call her “Root,” and she calls him “Harold.” He is trying to get her off her game by reminding her of the person she was before she went all psycho-hacker and she is trying to disrupt him by overfamiliarity.

It’s been a while since we spent any real time with Root. I’d forgotten how crazy she was. She accuses Finch of murdering the Machine and her biggest desire is to set it free. She’s like one of those animal rights people who wants to break into labs and free the diseased monkeys. Of course, freeing monkeys makes a whole lot more sense than freeing a computer, however sophisticated it is.

And, my goodness, is the Machine sophisticated. This week we discover that the Machine has created an alias for itself. And at the end of the episode it made a phone call and spoke to John. Is anyone else getting creeped out? When the Machine was just a surveillance program watching our every move, it was bad enough, but now it can make decisions it wasn’t programmed to make and it speaks? What kind of Machine is this? I started thinking while watching this episode that the Machine has developed so much personality it feels weird to keep calling it “the Machine.” I feel like it should have a name. Like Carl or something. (Side note: while writing this review, I caught myself referring to the Machine as ‘he’ instead of ‘it’ more than once.)

We now know that the Machine resets itself every night. Finch apparently did this because the Machine ‘imprinted’ on him like a child onto a parent, he says. I immediately retorted with ‘or like a werewolf on a baby.’ That’s how Finch solved the Machine problem we saw earlier in the season, the one where the Machine autonomously saved his life. How creepy was it when Finch proposed to Grace only after locking up their phones and moving farther away from a camera? Talk about cyber stalking.

We also got some more background on Finch and Ingram. I always love these scenes. The curtain gets pulled back ever so slowly. We now have proof positive that Ingram was the one who began to save people on the irrelevant list. He also was the one who picked out the awesome library clubhouse, one of fifteen Finch bought after the 2008 crash. If I was a billionaire, I’d buy up libraries too. Because libraries are amazing. It makes perfect sense that Ingram was the one to start saving people. Finch put far too much value on rules to begin by himself. Ingram started it and I’m guessing that Finch took over for him when he got killed. We still don’t know how, when, or why Ingram died. But we do know that his number was the last one that popped up before Finch turned off Ingram’s monitor. Oh, if only one of them had seen it...I’m still banking on him getting killed in the line of duty. We know his work with the Machine is getting him injured. When Finch pops over to talk about Grace, he sees an ice pack and some pills (which I’m guessing are pain killers). Ingram is no ex-CIA assassin like our Mr. Reese.

Progress was also made on the mythology of the Machine, which I insist on calling the Machine Mystery because it reminds me of Scooby Doo. Greer has popped up again looking for the man who programmed the laptop, Harold Finch. The laptop, it is revealed, contained ‘An Idiot’s Guide to Hijacking the Machine.’ Decima got it from Stanton, who had been sent (along with Reese) to retrieve the Machine from the Chinese. How the Chinese got it remains to be seen. I can tell you one thing for damn sure: Finch did not sell it to them. He had to be the one to program it because he’s the only one who knew the innermost workings of the Machine. But there’s no way Finch would sell out all his hard work to the highest bidder. Need I remind you, he’s already a billionaire and he made the Machine for $1.

Onto Reese. The balance between Reese and Finch on this show just works. The pendulum swings back and forth every few episodes. Who’s show is it this week and who’s the sidekick? Lately, the sidekick’s been Reese. In recent episodes, he’s been downgraded to glorified bodyguard. Not that I’m complaining; he had a big arc in January. This week, Finch has him arrested to keep him out of the way. I suppose this had to happen because Reese would never let Finch confront Root alone, but a lot of it felt like it was meant to kill time. The whole kick-ass escape scene with Shaw was awesome, but ultimately pointless. She solved a problem Finch created. Perhaps we were just trying to bring her back into the fold before the season finale?

Carter has been framed for murder, which isn’t great, but is at least better than being shot in the back by HR. I judge her a bit for trusting Turner so quickly. She knows there’s an organization of corrupt cops around and that they were responsible for her boyfriend’s death, which she is actively looking into. This new guy pops up (Fusco is conveniently on another case for some reason) and she just trusts him? Carter, you’re smarter than that. Case in point: she knows how Reese and Finch operate. They haven’t told her anything, but she’s figured out that they can only prevent premeditated murder and that the source of their information is currently compromised. She manages to deduce all of that, but lets some random cop get the drop on her? Badly done, Carter.

It wouldn’t be a sunbunny Person of Interest review if I wasn’t asking you guys to clarify something for me, now, would it? So, here goes. I’m not totally clear on why the Machine was buying up pay phones. I mean, what does owning a certain pay phone mean? How does it even work? You own them and then you get the change people put into them? Why does the Machine need that much change? Does it need to do laundry? Owning a pay phone doesn’t affect how that pay phone works, does it? Even if it did, couldn’t the Machine just hack into them anyway? Was it trying to confuse the bad guys as to the location of the in-case-of-emergency call?

Also, does anyone get what the office workers were doing? Were they putting the wiped memories back into the Machine? If so, why? Did the Machine need those memories or did it want them? Or was that something to do with the virus? The tech went a little above my head this week.

Bits and Pieces:

Carter mentioned Elias and the gang war with the Russians. Are we setting something up for next season? Flashpoint’s over now so Enrico Colantoni is free. After, of course, he finishes the Veronica Mars movie.

What kind of assassin attempts to blow up a car with a random dude standing by his motorcycle a dozen yards away?

This episode aired on May 2. It was odd for me to see all our characters wearing scarves and hats. Or maybe I’m just projecting because it was 95ยบ here today.

Finch proposed to Grace by giving her a copy of Sense and Sensibility with a ring inside. That’s adorable, but two things strike me as odd. First, in a previous episode, Finch says that Charles Dickens was Grace’s favorite author. Okay, it’s true he didn’t do romance like the great Jane Austen, but even so. Second, why didn’t he give her an early edition or at least a vintage copy? It would have been much Finchier, although he probably wouldn’t have been able to bring himself to cut into it.

How many pay phones even exist anymore? They’ve been taking them out in LA for ages. Any New Yorkers want to chime in here? Do you guys still have pay phones?


“If we knew where it was maybe we could just unplug it and plug it back in.”
Laugh if you will, but I find this solves 99% of my electronic problems. The rest are solved by the nice people wearing the blue shirts at the Apple Genius Bar.

“Doctor says I should take up some low-impact activity like drinking.”

“You don’t want to get married under another one of your pseudonyms? You don’t think she’ll consent to be Mrs. Ostrich?”
Grace Ostrich does have a ring to it.

“I’m not a sociopath, Harold.”
Oh honey, are you sure about that?

“When I care about someone, I put a tracking device on them.”
Love means having the ability to find your friends at all times, even if they don’t want to be found.

“You call it a life. I call it a machine. The truth is somewhere in the middle.”

“It’s adorable how John follows you around like that. I wish I had a pet.”

four out of four pay phones
sunbunny, Person of Interest and Bear the Dog fangirl


  1. I believe the office workers were putting the memories back into the machine (unknowingly of course).

    The machine was printing it's memories overnight before it got "killed", and then the workers would re-enter them the next day.

    This is something the machine wanted. I think it became aware that it was "older" than 1 day, figured out how it was being lead to believe that every day was its "first" day, and then devised away around being "killed".

    Why? Maybe curiousity about what it did the previous day? Maybe it's not possible to get rid of the imprinting, so it was trying to understand?

    No matter what, I found it interesting!

  2. The machine was aware that it was under attack and it was trying to formulate a plan to save itself. But you can't do that very well when you forget everything every day. It needed to remember. Therefore every day it printed out its memories before being "killed" and it had the workers put the memories back in the next day, so that it could continue working on the plan. The print-outs were basically the equivalent of the post-it notes the guy from Memento was writing to himself to overcome his long term memory loss.

    At least that's the way I understood it.

    The buying of the phone booths didn't make much sense to me either. Maybe the machine's programming prevented it from disabling the phones directly, so it was trying to find some indirect way? That definitely should have been explained more clearly.

  3. On the edge of my seat episode, wow, and outstanding review. Wow # 2. At this rate, they'll blow our minds next week...

    (Your talk about freeing monkeys : pure coincidence that the topic was addressed in Community as well airing earlier the same evening ?) (just asking)

    Unfortunately, I cannot answer your questions.

    FYI, 72 in Montreal...and plenty of pay phones.

  4. Marc - I haven't gotten around to last night's Community yet, so total coincidence. :)

  5. I think root said that finch programmed the machine to only deliver the numbers via pay phone. I think that way it stops a person hacking a particular cell phone and tracing where the machine resides. If the numbers come via random pay phones then it does not give a person enough time to set up a trace.

    I think the machine was buying up pay phones as a survival mechanism. Without pay phones, the machine cannot do part of his job, ergo it buys them and stops them being decommissioned and it set up it's false identity in order to keep it's memories.

    I guess we are now learning that the machine is doing whatever it can in order to survive, it did not make a billionaire but I assume it made a cover that just has enough money to keep paying it's employees whilst staying under the radar. I mean in manhattan if someones personal wealth is 20 million dollars, that is nothing, lol. I took a bus tour there and the guide said 90% of the richest people live in the upper east side.

    It all makes sense.

  6. sunbunny

    the machine called me : here's what you missed in the 70's (and were a Brit)


  7. The only thing I loved more than this incredibly dense-with-PoI-mythology episode is your review of it, sunbunny. :)

    Amrit, I think you're right about why the Machine was buying pay phones -- to keep them from being decommissioned. And why a pay phone -- so it couldn't be traced. I bet if Finch hadn't been there, he would have set up a way for Reese to get that call.

  8. I liked the episode, but that part about the machine printing out its memory and having a bunch of data entry people type it back in every day was just a bit too much of a stretch for me. 1 Terabyte of memory comes out to over 200 million pages of printout, assuming you're using 1 character per byte. It would take an army of about 2 million very good typists (300 strokes/minute) to reenter that data in one day, provided they typed 24 hours without pause. FYI, between my laptop, an old desktop pc and an external drive, I personally have more than 2 Terabytes of hard disk space at home. Think of how much more The Machine must have. So, in the interest of the story, I'll just tell myself it was merely printing out its RAM memory or some other kind of short term memory every day... I guess that could conceivably work. It all depends on how much of its long-term memory The Machine needs to retain in order to stay sentient (i.e., self-aware).

  9. Of course, you could compress the data before you print it out but, even at a compression ratio of 1:100, you'd still need up to 20.000 typists to reenter that data.

  10. One last thing:
    Sunbunny, the Machine is supposed to have become an intelligent, self-aware entity -- which is not what Harold actually intended. Self-awareness is only possible if an entity has an enormous store of facts about its environment and has also learned an extensive number of rules about how the various parts of its environment interact. If you wipe that memory, what you're essentially left with is the equivalent of a new-born, innocent baby.

  11. This episode actually made me more sympathetic to Root. Yes, she is a sociopath but now that we know the Machine is sentient she's one with a point.

  12. Anon 2 - Um. Wow. Thanks for the crazy smart insight!!

    Billie/Amrit - Excellent theory about buying pay phones to stop them from being decommissioned. That makes total sense! I wish they'd actually said that though!

  13. First of all — I'm with Root on this one. The Machine is definitely alive. It's not human (which is why I don't think we should call it "he" or "she" or even "xe"), but alive. And the thing Finch did — yes, it's horrible. He set up the everyday murder of his own child.

    As for the amount of data — of course, it wasn't printing it's whole memory, that's impossible (I've heard somewhere that when the first connection to the Internet was made in USSR, the KGB requested that all data that goes through this connection would be printed and given to an assigned officer; WWW wasn't there yet, so it was about a shoppingcartful of paper every day. The officer wasn't happy)

    This guy in Memento wasn't writing everything on Polaroid pictures or his body. He wrote the most essential parts. The Machine was doing roughly the same thing. Of course, it deals with much more data, so it needed lots of typists.

    When Reese couldn't get to Thornhill, I immediately assumed Thornhill doesn't exist. When Finch discovered what the typists were doing, I figured out it was The Machine behind that. I thought The Machine was trying to copy itself somewhere to escape the virus. I didn't think Finch was such a horrible person. I mean, I understand that he changed — after all, he did consider those people irrelevant, and now he doesn't. But knowing that your child is murdered every day and not trying to do anything about it? I would run the same virus myself, just so that I can get admin access to the machine and stop this killing cycle.

  14. I actually LIKE the idea of the Machine being sentient. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the further development of the show. For example: How great is the the danger that the Machine will turn into something like the Terminator universe's Skynet, if left to itself? I'm sure that that danger is the reason Harold arranged for its memory to be wiped every night. I just wish they'd made that memory wipe story a little more plausible. Artificial intelligence requires a LOT of memory, not just a shopping cart full. But hey, maybe the Machine, under its Thornhill alias, also ordered several thousand disk drives on the Web, which it then had installed in various locations to handle its mass data. Or maybe it's using Cloud storage and what it's dumping in that office our heros found is just a huge list of web addresses.

  15. Sunbunny,

    You are incorrect.

    Detective Tierney is not a "random" cop. He has appeared in "Person of Interest" since the second (2nd) episode, and he and Carter always have had a good working relationship similar to her and Syzmanski.

    Overall, Detective Tierney has appeared in 8 episodes - 4 during Season 1, and 4 during Season 2.

    Not a "random" cop at all

  16. Excellent, excellent review, sunbunny!

    I spent this episode thinking this was the season finale and mourning months without my weekly PoI fix. I'm so happy we get more next week!

    And I certainly hope we get more Grace and Ingram next week, too. And that no one hurts Harold. And that Root stays alive, because she's a cool villain. And Shaw. Also: Elias, and Ken Leung.

    I really like the comparisons to Memento that are happening in this thread: just saving the relevant data must be how to explain the Machine's strategy for self-preservation.

    Plus, if the Machine is sentient, it can extrapolate and trim. It doesn't have to be a series of facts; the interpretation of those facts might be shorter and take up less data-space. Bytes. Whatever the kids call it.

    Sunbunny, you're correct that the Shaw-escape (there's a Shawshank Redemption joke in there somewhere) was pointless, but I think it was worth it to 1) bring Shaw and Reese together, and 2) treat us to a moment of bad-assery.

  17. “It’s adorable how John follows you around like that. I wish I had a pet.”

    Did anyone else say to themselves: "I would like to keep Spike as my pet?"

  18. On the other hand, maybe the whole memory dump and data entry thing was just a plot device (is that the correct term?) to illustrate the desperate (and primitive) measures the Machine had been reduced to using in order to preserve its "mind."

  19. Actually dumping all this memories in some data center and coping them back would be much more plausible.
    Only.. How did the machine know it had all this memories if it was erased?
    It should come to the same conclusion every day, and look in the same place. Or leave some post its in the world it would recognize.

  20. Actually dumping all this memories in some data center and coping them back would be much more plausible.
    Only.. How did the machine know it had all this memories if it was erased?
    It should come to the same conclusion every day, and look in the same place. Or leave some post its in the world it would recognize.

  21. Fantastic review, sunbunny. One of the nice things about marathoning through after a show has aired is that I can sit back right now and find out what happens next...

  22. Great episode. Great review. Great comments.

    Just want to mention that by creating a persona called Thornhill it's clear that the Machine is not only a fan of classic movies, but also has a sense of humour.

    Roger Thornhill is the main character in North By Northwest (played by Cary Grant), who is mistaken for a spy named 'George Kaplan'. The catch is that Kaplan does not exist. He is a fictional persona created by the US Government to distract its enemies .

    Nice reference by the PoI writers :-)


  23. The memories thing was a lovely idea, but everyone is right, it raises many questions. First, erasing the data in the first place seems mad. How can you tell a relevant threat from an irrelevant threat without more than a single day's worth of data? And if you can't tell the difference, how can you erase anything?

    Also, if the Machine is restoring its memories, does that mean just for the previous day? Or all the memories of the past - which would mean that the data entry would grow at a linear rate and that the Thornhill enterprise would have to keep growing?

    On another subject, how did Thornhill make money?


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