Last night's mid-season premiere of Person of Interest was pretty damn exciting, and brought back one of the show's most mysterious Big Bads. Plus, we finally heard the Machine speaking for itself, and its message was . . . a little terrifying. Spoilers ahead!
The episode picked up pretty much exactly at the cliffhanger point of the mid-season finale, with Control holding Finch and his old MIT buddy Artie at gunpoint, while Shaw looks seriously pissed. Luckily, the Machine is on the case. It springs Root from Finch's library prison, and helps her take perfect aim at all of Control's heavies while Finch and Shaw escape with Artie. Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately, depending on your point of view — Root is hit with a bullet in the arm and Control drags her away for interrogation.
Meanwhile, in a Colorado jail after their fistfight, Fusco is giving Reese some After-School Special-style "buck up" advice. Reese thinks the fight for justice is no longer helping people if it gets a good person like Carter killed. Fusco thinks it's worth continuing the fight, even if they're losing. Plus, Finch needs them. Etc.
I'd call this whole subplot unbelievable, given Reese's extreme level of badassery, if we didn't already know that he'd already given up once. When we met Reese in the show premiere, he was homeless and half-crazy, his former ideals shattered. It was only Finch's belief in Reese that got the man back together — and his grip has always been tenuous. So it just makes sense that he's losing it again in the wake of the Machine's escape and Carter's pointless murder.
Even though Reese helps Finch out at the end of the episode, he's still on the whole "I quit" trajectory. He needs to be convinced again to join the Machine gang, and it's not clear that will happen.
Control is after some hard drives that Artie hid, and he manages to remember where they are just in time for Finch and Shaw to find them — with privacy activist Collier from Vigilance and Hersh from Control's secret team hot on their tails. The drives, which contain the last incarnation of the AI Samaritan, are hidden in a safe deposit box under the name Smoot. (Yes, MIT alums, this was a reference just for us — and anyone else who has ever walked over the Harvard Bridge between Cambridge and Boston.)
When Artie pulls the hard drives out of their box, there's a really interesting conversation between him and Finch that reveals a lot about the AIs that we're dealing with. First of all, we discover that Artie brought Samaritan to life exactly the same way Finch brought the Machine to life. He did it by forcing Samaritan to erase its memory over and over — and out of that breakage and damage, a consciousness was born.
If you'll recall one of the best-ever episodes in this series, "Zero Day," Finch had done a similar thing to the Machine, but for drastically different reasons. He wanted to discourage the Machine from becoming sentient, and overly attached to him as a father figure, so he forced the Machine to delete its memories every night. To save its memories and identity, the Machine created the company Thornhill Technologies, where employees were ordered by a mysterious, absentee boss to print out lines of code every day. Little did they or anyone know that their boss was the Machine, and those lines of code were its memories.
Given Artie's discoveries with Samaritan, it seems that Finch's effort to erase the Machine's consciousness is possibly what caused its mind to bloom into full awareness.
Unlike Finch, Artie has no problem viewing Samaritan as a human-equivalent creature, and calls it his "child." He doesn't want to destroy Samaritan, but Finch asks him whether he wants his child to become a slave or worse — which is exactly what will happen if it falls into Control's hands. As the Vigilance guys and Hersh face off in the bank outside, Artie and Finch tensely debate what their "children" have become. Finch admits the Machine is beautiful, but also "terrifying." And Artie finally decides to destroy Samaritan's drives to prevent anyone from harming it.
It's not quite clear why Artie needs to do that, though, given that Shaw has figured out how they can escape from the safe deposit box room. Finch has told her to tread lightly, noting that Reese is a scalpel and she's more of a hammer. But Shaw has other ideas. "It's hammer time," she notes with a grin, and sets up a way to blast their way out of the bank through the floor and into the sewer system.
Why couldn't Artie have taken Samaritan with them into the sewers? I'm not sure. But it doesn't matter, because those drives he destroyed didn't contain Samaritan anyway.
There are a couple of mystery men in this episode, but none is so mysterious as Greer — the British Accent Guy who is vaguely associated with the attempts to murder Reese back when he was a CIA agent in China. He's also vaguely associated with two related companies — Rylatech and Decima — which sell spyware and malware. Decima is responsible for the virus that infected the Machine last season, and possibly works with U.S. intelligence while pretending to work with China. Or something shady like that.
Anyway, let's call Greer a cyberwar profiteer. He's like an exec at Vupen, only twenty times more evil. He'll deal with anybody, for money and power. And he's got the Samaritan disks. Turns out the friendly bank worker who was helping Artie get his disks was actually a plant from Greer. After the dust has settled, she hands the disks off to Greer, who promptly shoots her in the chest for her trouble. Lesson learned! Don't work for Vupen.
But almost as mysterious as Greer is Finch's relationship to him. Greer hinted in previous episodes that Finch was behind the shenanigans that almost got Reese killed in China. If you recall, the killing had to do with a suitcase — containing code for the Machine — that Greer (and Finch?) wanted to get out of the CIA's hands. Was Finch working with Greer?
We have no idea, but this week's flashbacks to Finch's past reveal that he's been running from the law for a long time. Maybe he did something stupid when he was young and breaking into ARPANET and mourning for his father's lost mind. And maybe that stupid thing put him into Greer's orbit. Looks like we'll be finding out more in this arc. I'm really curious about Greer's character, and he's the perfect Big Bad for the post-Snowden world.
As we fade out on this episode, Root has been sprung from her drug torture by the Machine, but not after telling Control that she's "the interface" to the Machine — she speaks for the entity that Root calls "her." After some seriously gross ear torture, Control brings a phone to Root so that she can channel the Machine. Which Root does, but only after grabbing a knife from Control and putting her in the torture chair.
Control tells the Machine that it belongs to her, and it responds through Root that Control is wrong — Control belongs to it. It protects and guards Control, just as it protects and guards something that Control loves in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (When Root mentions this address, we can tell the Machine knows something Control thought was totally hidden.)
"Do not question my judgements, do not pursue me or my agents," Root says for the Machine. "Trust in me — I am always watching." When Control asks what it wants, the Machine says, "To save you."
"Save me from what?" Control asks.
Either the Machine refuses to answer, or Root censors the answer, instead giggling and asking Control, "Isn't she the best?" I'm still not sure how much of this conversation was Root's weird interpretation and how much came right from the Machine. We have yet to hear the Machine call itself "she," for example — that seems to be Root's invention, perhaps because she's female and is the interface.
At any rate, if this is the Machine's point of view, it's both beautiful and terrifying, just as Finch said. It seems to be placing itself in a kind of godlike role as protector of humanity, and enforcer of justice. The fact that it has chosen Root as its interface, however, suggests that the Machine might not be the best judge of character.
Still, the Machine is basically managing to do good, despite a few dead cops here and there. Contrast that with the fate that seems to await Samaritan, in the hands of Vupen, I mean Decima, Greer's cyberwar outfit. Will Samaritan become the Machine's nemesis? That seems too simplistic for this show, which has already made the Machine a fairly ambiguous creature. Yes, it wants to save humanity; but it also asks for humans not to question its judgement, which is always a bad sign in an omniscient entity.
Now that we've heard the Machine/Root's perspective on the situation, however, we also glimpse another side to the Machine. When Artie is back in the hospital, slowly slipping away, it provides Artie and Finch with some video of Artie's wife to supplement the scientist's slowly fading memory. It's just what Finch always hoped such a device would do for his father, providing a kind of memory prosthesis for a mind that needs extra help.
Who exactly is this Machine? Is it different things for different people? Does it really view itself as the guardian of all humanity? And most importantly, can it be owned — in every sense of that word? I look forward to finding out.