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Person of Interest: Death Benefit

“We’re entering uncharted territory.”

As we begin the end of season push, Person of Interest turns to its reliable standard episode plus five minutes of “DID THEY JUST...” formula.

The Machine ostensibly put a hit out on a US Congressman. Let me repeat that: the Machine put a hit out on a Congressman. “Uncharted territory” is right. The show’s delved into grey morality before (I’m thinking of Reese’s attempt to avenge Carter earlier this season) but never anything like this. I don’t know if I’m alone here, but I’ve come to profoundly trust the Machine. Finch designed it to do good and it has done good exclusively. Now it’s telling Finch, Reese, and Shaw to kill Roger McCourt because of the possibility of his non-violent actions threatening the lives of others.

I love the changes in our characters the dilemma brings out. Finch is still steadfastly anti-violence, going so far as to say if McCourt dies by Reese or Shaw’s hand, he is out. Shaw’s violent tendencies, as she points out herself, have greatly diminished. The woman who spent the beginning of the season whining about having to shoot kneecaps instead of heads ultimately comes to the conclusion that contract killing for an AI is now a bridge too far for her. Reese, on the other hand, has always been less homicidal. Even during his time at the CIA, he went against orders to let innocent people live (“RAM”). But Carter’s death has really affected Reese. He’s left wondering if he can live with the ramifications of his inaction. He’s lost Carter. Can he afford to lose Fusco? Shaw? Finch?

Person of Interest has never been a show that shies away from stopping the building action to have an intense personal discussion on the morality of killing someone to save others’ lives and I love it for that. I really liked the last few minutes when we are left wondering if Reese indeed killed McCourt. I’d like to say it was obvious he would do the right thing, but it wasn’t. I also like that they didn’t make a huge deal out of Shaw getting shot. It’s obvious that the PoI ptbs aren’t going to loose another regular cast member so soon after Carter’s death. It would’ve felt manipulative if they’d made it seem like Shaw was in any real danger.

Samaritan is on line, but in a limited role. Still, it’s a very real threat for its first target: Harold Finch. Finch disappears after staring into a traffic camera. Why? At first I assumed he was having difficulty dealing with the guilt that he created a Machine that could send his team to kill someone, but now I’m wondering if it’s a safety precaution. Finch has to know McCourt’s continued existence means Samaritan is inevitable. Did the Machine warn him about the beta testing somehow? Was that little red light blinking in Morse code while the camera was on Reese and Shaw? Whatever the case, the rest of the season is shaping up to be very, very good.

I realize all I’ve written about is the last third of the episode, and with good reason. The first two thirds were extremely unremarkable. As with many of PoI’s weekly stories, this one requires a little suspension of belief. The squeaky clean six term congressman with a love of taking homeless people out to dinner turns out to be a philandering white collar criminal loyal only to the almighty dollar. Not a stretch for a politician, to be sure, but how did Finch miss all of that?

Bits and Pieces

Root called Reese “Lurch.”

I loved Root and Shaw’s vacation with violence to Miami.

Do all English people pronounce it “vin-YARRRD” or is that a weird John Nolan thing?

Finch bought the beef lobby? Why? Surely there are cheaper ways to obtain a safe house.

I wonder how much McCourt told the authorities about his abductors. Reese and Shaw were really working hard to avoid the police back in New York.

The triptych Greer and Senator Garrison meet in front of is “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch. It’s on display not in New York City but in Madrid and has been since 1939.


Root: “We’re gonna steal a jet.”
Shaw: “That does sound kinda fun.”
Reese: “Send me a postcard.”

Finch: “Dare I hope you packed something other than weaponry?”
Reese: “There’s some trip wire to booby trap the room door and a toothbrush.”
Finch: “Oral hygiene is something, I suppose.”

Reese: “Technically, I also shot at you a few days ago.”

Reese: “Look, I’ve never entirely trusted your Machine, but you built it and I trust you.”

Reese: “There are consequences to not acting. Like Simmons and Joss.”

Finch: “Since we started this, things have changed. We’ve changed. But the mission, our purpose, has always been constant: to save lives. If that’s changed somehow, if we’re in a place now where the Machine is asking us to commit murder? That’s a place I can’t go. I’m afraid this is where I get off.”

the episode averages out to three and a half out of four triptychs I studied in school


  1. Are the writers going anywhere with all this Root/Shaw flirting or are they just trolling shippers?

  2. I wonder how much The Machine really wanted the congressman to be killed and how much that was just the team's interpretation. The machine is basically doing what it's always done: it detects a crime to be committed and it points a finger at one of the main participants. The rest is up to the team. If they can't find any way to stop it other then killing the congressman, is it really The Machine's fault?

  3. Again the raise the stakes. This show is getting intense man. The team is really up a creek without a paddle at this point. I wonder if Finch has a failsafe for a situation like this. I'd think he'd at least have somewhat prepared for something along these lines.

    I'm with you on this one Mark. It didn't even seem like Root needed Shaw's help with that little stint in Miami. It was probably her version of taking Shaw out on a date doing things she liked, haha.

    Again Reese seems to be playing a little more reckless than he usually does. The way he was walking towards the Decima agent seemed foolhardy and unnecessary. Luckily Shaw bailed him out at the last minute. I wonder if the writers are just upping the cool factor or if this is a developing plot point that will be addressed later.

  4. Person of Interest has never been a show that shies away from stopping the building action to have an intense personal discussion on the morality of killing someone to save others’ lives and I love it for that.

    Me, too. This was one of my favorite scenes ever. It really drove home the new team. I like Shaw more with every episode.

    Has anyone else noticed that she is the one who is constantly eating? First the pancakes while Reese just sat there. Then in the bar with Root, she was eating the fruit from her drink while Root played with the straw in hers. I don't know why, but I think this is a fabulous character beat.

  5. Man, this show just keeps getting better. That ending scene, with the music ('Medicine' by Daughter, in case anyone's wondering). I honestly thought Reese went through with killing McCourt (who had the added benefit of being a slimeball, which I guess made it more believable - I wonder if the scene would've felt the same had McCourt been a totally upstanding guy, or if for instance Reese had to kill an innocent kid instead of a full-grown man).

    I think that even though the Machine directed them to someone that it wanted dead, it still sort of stayed true to its programming by letting them decide. If it really wanted McCourt gone it could've easily sent Root to dispatch him - after all, she does whatever the Machine immediately wants and deals with things the main team don't do. And given that his actions would lead to the cataclysm of Samaritan coming online, it's not hard to imagine it doing that.

    But it sent his number to Finch and co. precisely because of what Finch told Reese back in 4C: there should always be a human element in acting on the information the Machine gives. So the Machine did what it had to - point them towards the enabling element of the whole Samaritan plot, and let the team decide what to do. Now they'll have to live with their decision one way or another. And it's great that the show can provoke these sort of discussions, and what's better is that it doesn't take a clear side - whatever the characters choose, things will happen that they'll have to deal with.

    ChrisB, I noticed that too! Another episode she was munching rather badassedly on a steak on a fork. All these small little character beats and details gives the show that sort of humour that works so well alongside its otherwise serious tone. And I have no idea where the writers will actually go with this Root-Shaw thing, but it's always awesome when it looks like the writers pay attention to what fans talk about and can reference it without looking like they're co-opting fan fiction.

  6. The woman who spent the beginning of the season whining about having to shoot kneecaps instead of heads ultimately comes to the conclusion that contract killing for an AI is now a bridge too far for her.

    Pardon? "I've kind of gotten used to saving people, but the only way we've been able to do that is to trust the machine. And if it's saying this guy's gotta go, well, I think we should still trust it."

    Shaw was on Reese's side that the congressman should be dispatched. She was trying to tell Finch that she wasn't saying it just because killing people doesn't bother her.


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