Last night's episode of Person of Interest picked up right where the season premiere left off last week, closing up the storyline about Finch's kidnapping. We got a glimpse of what this show looks like when it deviates from the "number of the week" formula, and it was great. Plus, we got pricked by the season's first thorny moral question — and the answer came the show's usual twenty zillion shades of gray.
Though we had no "number of the week," we still had a mystery to solve. How did nefarious hacker Root become who she is? Last week, Reese tracked her down to a small town in Texas, where a girl had gone missing over two decades ago. Assuming the missing girl is Root, he and Carter hightail it down to Texas to investigate. While we're there, there are some zany hijinks with a crossbow and we find out what kind of place Root came from. The missing girl, named Hannah, has never been found — but people in the town are sure her teen boyfriend did something with her. In the years since her disappearance, the boyfriend has never been brought up on charges but has been beaten up so many times he's disfigured.
And when we find out the truth about Root, which is that Hannah was her only friend in this hostile town, things are even uglier. Root saw Hannah abducted by a local man. Scared, she turned to the only adult she trusted, the town librarian, who happens to have a crush on the guy who abducted Hannah. So the librarian tells Root that she's an evil little liar and never to say anything about the abduction she saw. This was a great backstory for Root, because it shows that she's become ruthless in a world of hypocrisies that lead to her best friend's murder — which, now that Reese and Carter are on the case, has finally been solved after all those years. Of course, we find out that Root used her hacker powers to get Hannah's killer murdered a long time ago.
There's also a great bit where we see Root's mini-hacker powers coming online when she beats Oregon Trail in like 5 seconds. I love how this show always throws us geeky, amusing asides like that.
Speaking of geeky, Reese is using his brain power more and more often in this show. He's gone from pure brawn to brawn-and-brains in a way that's quite pleasing. He and Finch are communicating like equals, now — Reese cracks a code that Finch leaves behind without a second thought. That brings Reese closer than ever to finding Root and her prisoner Finch — which eventually he does, in a train station, where Root still manages to slip away.
But before all that happens, we get to chew on the episode's great moral conundrum. Last week, Root told Finch that she wants to free the Machine from the homicidal jerkoffs in government intelligence. They are humans with "bad code," she says — and now that we know her background, we're pretty sure where she got the idea that people have bad code in the first place. In this episode, she kidnaps one of the intelligence honchos, Denton Weeks, who deals with the machine. She tortures him while Finch is tied to a chair and forced to watch. Of course the guy won't tell her anything, and Finch eventually begs her to stop the torture. At which point she cuts Weeks down, forces him to guzzle sodium pentathol, and leaves the room (with a handy knife on the table).
After a lot of shenanigans with the knife, Weeks beats the shit out of Root. Then he asks Finch if somebody like Root really could get access to the Machine. Once Finch confirms that the Machine can't be tampered with remotely, Weeks grabs Root's gun and shoots Finch in the face — except, of course, Root planned all of this and her gun isn't loaded. So Weeks winds up her prisoner again. "See? Bad code," she gloats to Finch about Weeks. Then she tells Finch — who is clearly her role model in some way — that she is on his side and would make a great partner. "No," he replies intensely. "You are worse than Weeks, you are worse than all of them."
So here's my question: Why, exactly, is she worse than Weeks? Yes she's killed a federal agent, but so has Weeks — and he was even about to kill Finch even though Finch was Root's prisoner. Plus the agent that Root killed was hardly an innocent. She was deeply involved in the secret, illegal use of the Machine to track the movements of everybody on Earth and predict how they'll behave. And it can't be that she's "worse" because she's a renegade vigilante, since Finch and Reese are that themselves. Though Finch did say last week that he gave the Machine away to protect it from people like himself and Root, so maybe the issue is partly that Finch thinks badly of himself. So if Root is like Finch, she is "worse."
Still that's pretty strange logic and I'm not buying it. Given all the horrific things we've seen the NSA and CIA do last season — killing innocent analysts, scrubbing inconvenient agents, selling drugs — I'm not convinced that Root really is worse than Weeks. At this point I don't think the Machine should be in the government's custody, but I don't think it should be in Root's either. At some point, I hope the Machine itself will speak up on its own behalf. That will be fascinating.