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On Person of Interest, we confront the tragedy of AI life

There's only one more episode of Person of Interest left this season, and if last night's episode is any indication, we're headed for interesting times. Finch has revealed the true nature of his relationship with the Machine, and it isn't pretty. Spoilers ahead!


Before we delve into what I consider to be the most interesting part of this episode — the Machine — let's get a few conspiracies out of the way.

Conspiracy Update

First of all, Carter is investigating Cal's death, which gets her into serious hot water. When she shoots a bad guy with a gun, HR slips away with the gun and frames her for shooting an unarmed person. Meanwhile, there are hints that the Machine's numbers may be doing more harm than good when it comes to organized crime. Now that Elias is in prison (thanks to the Machine Gang), the Russians are in control, and there are more murders than ever before.


It doesn't help that the Machine is now totally glitched out, so the numbers it would normally spit out just aren't coming.

We also find out what British Guy's relationship is to the virus that's crippling the Machine. He was pulling the strings on the intelligence community, and it seems that he may have orchestrated the mission in China where Reese and Stanton were supposed to kill each other after retrieving a laptop. British Guy got the laptop, and you already know what happened to Reese and Stanton.

You know what was on that laptop? The code that created the virus. And you know where that code came from? That's right — Finch himself. In this episode, we realize what a shitbag Finch really was before he saw the (cursor) light and formed the Machine Gang. Also, we find out why British Guy unleashed the virus. When the Machine finally crashes, it's programmed to call a certain phone booth in the New York Public Library and offer admin access to whomever answers. And dammit, British Guy and his gang want to be the ones who get that access.

Crimes Against AI

So there's a race against time to reach that phone booth. But before that happens, we discover the full extent of Finch's crimes. Root has coerced him into working with her to rescue the Machine from the virus, by threatening his wife Grace. Now things get interesting.


They've figured out that the Machine has created a dummy corporation where every day, people are typing strange strings of characters into computers. They've all been hired online, and none of them have any idea why they are doing it — but hell, they're being paid. In the clip above, you can see what happens when Root and Finch finally break into this corporation to find out what the hell the Machine is doing.

It turns out that the Machine, as it got glitchier, was using this company as what Root calls "an external hard drive" to protect its data. But it's even more profound than that. Because Finch reveals that he knew that the Machine was developing an identity, and feelings for him — we already knew that the Machine tried to protect and help Finch. It even arranged for him to meet Grace, the love of his life.


But the Machine's growing sentience spooked Finch. So he programmed it to delete its memories and identity every night. That way, he hoped, it wouldn't develop into a fully-fledged sentience. To maintain its sense of self, the Machine prints out its encrypted memories every night at the dummy corporation, and then humans type them back into the Machine every day. Root is rightfully horrified when she realizes what's happened. "You killed it every night," she says, appalled. Yet the Machine was so very much alive, and had such a strong sense of self-preservation, that it invented a weirdly clever way to preserve itself even though its creator wanted it to die.

Holy crap. It's a fascinating comment on Finch's relationship to what is basically his child. This is a tremendously interesting way of exploring how an AI might try to preserve its selfhood in the face of deletion. We are also realizing that Root isn't quite as wrong as we thought before. She has good reason to be angry with the way Finch has treated what is clearly a form of life, complete with a survival instinct.


We also get an intriguing parallel here between the way Finch mistreated the Machine, and the way he mistreated his former business partner Ingram. In this episode we get a glimpse of how the Machine Gang started. Right before he died, Ingram was using the library space that is now Finch's, and trying to save people whose numbers come up. When Finch discovers Ingram there, he is outraged. He instantly writes a quick script to prevent the Machine from ever sending Ingram the numbers again. Unfortunately, Ingram's number comes up right afterward, and nobody sees it because of Finch's script.

Finch has some serious shit to atone for, and we're going to find out more about that next week in a season finale called (appropriately) "God Mode."


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James Ryan

Did anyone else catch this bit?

The fact that the Machine's identity, the person it created to set up the dummy company, was one Ernest Thornhill...

...who happens to have the same last name as Richard Thornhill, Cary Grant's character in North By Northwest, who spent that movie running from spies by pretending to be someone he wasn't...?

It's not the first time the series has had individuals take clever alternate identities (Root posing as "Doctor Turing" last season), but sometimes you have to wonder if maybe Reese and Fitch need to name check others more carefully before they blunder into a plot point the rest of us are seeing from the couch and going "Oh Crap!" watching at as they hurtle towards complication...