Last night's Person of Interest was one of those season premieres that's also a reboot. It was slightly clunky, but we learned all the new ground rules for this show now that our heroes have scattered, assumed new identities, and must cope with constant surveillance from a hostile A.I. named Samaritan.
I suspect that this episode was a lot more rewarding for regular fans than it was for new viewers, just because you had to know a lot of backstory to understand why pretty much anything in the episode mattered. So I'll try to give you a little backstory on each change, so that you get the full NO WAY feeling.
Samaritan vs. the Machine
First of all, one of the really jarring things in this episode was that we got no Machine POV shots. All the surveillance shots and data came from the evil A.I. Samaritan, and they afford us a view of New York that the Machine never offered. Notably, the Machine always reveals every piece of data that it has, while Samaritan often redacts "restricted" information. But more importantly, Samaritan has information on targets that should be "eliminated," while the Machine only identifies potential threats.
Samaritan is owned by the organization formerly known as Decima, and run by the shady international military-industrial mogul whose alias is Greer. It communicates with Greer via his mobile, and seems to offer a lot of advice on strategy (the Machine, by contrast, rarely does this).
Samaritan also has an operative, a new evil ninja character whose current alias is Martine Rousseau. In the episode's first scene, she murders a journalist who has uncovered the Samaritan plot.
We see several scenes where Root's secret server racks override Samaritan's mandate to find and eliminate the Machine Gang. Samaritan will identify Finch, for example, and then Finch's new identity will pop up and Samaritan will transfer its gaze elsewhere.
The Machine, meanwhile is laying low. We still have no idea where it is. It has arranged for all our main characters to have cover identities and new jobs, and it's working hard to help them find happiness — even going to far as to send them a new number in this episode, which ultimately helps the gang develop a way of communicating that evades Samaritan's eavesdropping. But I get ahead of myself! Let's see what else is going on with the Machine Gang.
We have no idea what she's doing, but it seems like she's still in constant communication with the Machine (she does have an implant that connects to the Machine, after all). She shows up a lot to let other characters know to "check your calendar" to see where the Machine has planned rendez-vouses for them. This fits with the role she took on at the end of last season, as a protector of the Machine Gang (she and her group of hackers helped set up the servers inside Samaritan's brain that prevent it from seeing our heroes).
What is Root's new identity, and where are her hackers? We don't know. Root does tell Shaw that she has a job interview that requires lipstick, and later that she needs nail polish for some kind of meeting. All this makes sense once you know what's up with Shaw ...
Poor Shaw has gone from being a badass tomboy ninja to working as a perfume model at a department store. There are a lot of fairly funny scenes where she's forced to do girly things and basically rolls her eyes. Root keeps saying the Machine wants to set Shaw up on a date, as part of her cover, which drives Shaw even more nuts. She has to wear a dress, perfume, and GO ON A DATE? Yuck.
So while she's putting off the inevitable date (which appears to be something arranged through Tinder), Shaw winds up working this week's number with Reese. The number is an Egyptian immigrant who runs a tech store with his son, and he's gotten involved with a local gang called the Brotherhood (Which — really? The black gang is called the Brotherhood? Well, OK.). Anyway, the Brotherhood wants him to hack together a secure phone network for them.
Drawing on his military experience, the number has cleverly hacked one together using abandoned VHF antennae on New York's rooftops. He doesn't want to work with the gangsters, but when he reports the Brotherhood to the police, the cops ignore him. So if he wants to protect his son and his livelihood, he doesn't have much choice.
Once the number is safe again, Shaw finally goes eye-rollingly on her Tinder date. And it turns out once again that the Machine knows what's up. Her "date" is actually the leader of what appears to be a heist (?) gang, and they're "looking for a good wheelman."
Shaw's eyes light up — at last, a job that is pointlessly dangerous and full of violence! She jumps behind the wheel and squeals off. I'm honestly not sure where we're going with this. Is she joining a gang of criminals? Seems complicated.
The Machine has turned former CIA ninja has been turned into a narcotics detective. Which seems like a good fit for his skill set. At least he gets to bust heads. And then, once he busts the gang that has been menacing our number of the week (with help from friendly gangster Elias), he gets a giant promotion. Guess where that promotion puts him? that's right — he's Fusco's new partner.
Reese's reboot plot probably makes the most sense of any of them. It actually mirrors his previous character arc, where he's an intelligence agent has-been who joins up with Finch, then immediately forms an uneasy alliance with corrupt cop Fusco. And with our beloved Carter gone (but alive in our hearts!), the job as Fusco's partner is open. Reese fits, and he and Fusco have good chemistry.
The Machine has gotten Finch a job as a very unpopular professor of ... informatics? Economics? Ethics? Here's his dissertation, written by the Machine, so you figure it out.
Of all the former Machine Gang heroes, Finch is the most cautious. He doesn't want to have anything to do with them, partly fearing a reprise of what happened to his former fiancee Grace last season. Also, the dude is just risk averse. And I think he still feels a little stung that the Machine chose Root over him, even though that situation was seriously complicated and he rejected the Machine first.
Eventually an OCD colleague of Finch's marks every typo in his dissertation, which allows Finch to find a secret message from the Machine. It's the call number for a book about the secret underground spaces under New York City, including a ton of abandoned subway stations. And that leads to a great final scene, where Finch is exploring said abandoned subway stations and clearly finding the new Batcave. Yes! I love it.
With the new batcave and the secret phone network our number made, the Machine Gang is back in action. Also, those cryptophones have really sexy wooden cases. Nicely done, show designers.
Goodness and Problems
I love this soft reboot on principle, because I think mixing things up for the new season makes sense. But some of the transformations here felt really random — they were changes for the sake of changes. Mostly they felt wacky, like when we see Finch as an unpopular professor or Shaw selling cosmetics.
This undermined the show's new theme of survival, where our characters are supposed to be in constant danger. I'm not saying I needed a completely desolate, dark episode, but this seemed a little too zany. There were no harrowing moments with Samaritan and as a result I never felt like the A.I. was much of a menace.
Overall, though, I got the feeling that this was a setup episode, and we'll get into the meat of the arc next week now that the transition is over.