Last night's Person of Interest, called simply / for reasons I'll get into momentarily, got right to the heart of the Machine's motivations in this half of the season. And all our underground conspiracies clashed at once, with Root taking center stage. It was amazing! Spoilers ahead.
From the moment we heard the episode voiceover, where Root's voice broke in to say some of the lines that normally we hear Finch say, we knew this would be a Root-centric episode. But it's also Root as seen by the Machine, which would know her name by its reference to the central "root" directory of a computer, which is written as a / if you're in the command line.
We get to see how Root and the Machine work together as the episode opens. Listening constantly to the Machine's directions in her earbud, Root grabs carefully-chosen people, uses them to get something done, and then ends by doing them some kind of favor. She grabs a car thief out of a police van, spruces him up to look like some kind of security official, and thus nabs a classified package coming out of a secret NSA data facility.
Yep, shootouts are involved, and the Machine Gang watches with wry concern as Finch worries. But the real number of the week is a humble janitor with a past named Wells. Both the Machine Gang and Root are told to go after him, for reasons that are satisfyingly multi-layered.
You see, Wells was once the victim of Root back in her mercenary assassin days. She was hired to kill him and his best friends, who ran a successful investment firm. Once his friends were dead, and he'd nearly died, Wells decided to leave the world of big finance and do something else — namely, cleaning floors. But now, he's suddenly become the target of privacy terrorist group Vigilance and Decima. Is it something about what he used to do as an investor?
Nope. It's all about this piece of paper, which is part of that classified package that the Machine scooped up with Root's help.
As Finch helpfully explains, these are the specs on a supercomputer that didn't exist until a few days ago. Turns out there's a fake company called Maxwell on the top floor of the building that Wells cleans, and it's an NSA front. They've got a supercomputer up there to rival the Machine, and only a few people have access to it. One of them is the janitor who cleans that floor. You guessed it — that would be Wells.
I love the moment when Root nabs Wells from police custody with some impeccable fake FBI credentials and court orders. Later, Reese says to Fusco, "You let him go?" And Fusco retorts, "What was I supposed to say? Sorry boss, Agent King is actually a superpowered nutball — just ask my buddy the urban legend." LOL.
To get the special Maxwell chip that powers the whole thing, Decima is willing to do anything. It's the only chip fast enough to run Samaritan. And Vigilance wants to stop them. Which is good-ish. Except when Vigilance decides to murder a bunch of people to do it. I love the scene where Vigilance leader Collier tries to recruit Shaw by saying that he'll offer her a chance to get revenge on the government that betrayed her and is spying on its own citizens.
"And if I refuse?" she asks. Then Collier says, "To quote Benjamin Franklin, 'join or die.'" Which — dude, get your references right. That was Franklin talking about how all the states needed to join together into one federal republic. Which, given Vigilance's anti-government stance, seems like the absolutely wrong quote at the wrong time.
Shaw thinks so too, because she says that Vigilance's methods are terrorism, and "I kill terrorists." Damn she's so badass.
As Shaw is beating the shit out of Vigilance, Root and Finch are having a heart-to-heart about what the Machine considers to be the number one threat: Decima's project to boot up Samaritan.
But Root realizes that something else is going on, too. The Machine chose Cyrus Wells because it also wants her to confront the horrible things she did in the past, and learn to care about people as much as she does about technology. "Your Machine keeps telling me to save Cyrus," Root says, with tears welling up. "How badly did you have to break it to make it care about people so much?"
"That isn't what broke it," Finch replies. "That's what made it work." Once Finch taught the Machine to prioritize people, it was finally able to help them. And now, it seems like the Machine is trying to teach Root the same lesson. It's even sort of succeeding, since she's on the "destroy Samaritan" warpath in order to prevent lots of people from dying. That said, this show is never as simplistic as "humans over machines." In fact, humans have to merge with machines in order to prevent the apocalypse.
As the Machine Gang races to intercept Decima before they can steal the Maxwell chip, we get a fantastic montage where we see the boundary between machine and human slowly eroding. Root gets a hacked cochlear implant installed, so that the Machine can be in her ear all the time, and Decima can't jam the signal.
Meanwhile, the Decima heavies have kidnapped Wells, set up a temporary computer lab on the roof, and are using him for his eye so that they can pass the retinal scan and get into the Maxwell facility. Wells has been reduced to the status of a key, a rather humble piece of technology. And of course the Machine Gang is working directly with the Machine to stop Decima from getting the Maxwell chip. Everybody is going cyborg, and that's the way this show likes it.
When Root arrives, guns blazing and the Machine plugged into her brain, the day is saved. Sort of. Wells escapes with his life, thanks to Root taking some bullets for him. But Decima got the chip. Here's what the Machine thinks that means.
Lots to ponder here. First of all, mass casualties. Second, we're reminded that the intelligence agents like Hersh and Control are viewed by the Machine as "assets," even though we think of them as the bad guys. And finally, who the hell is Maria Martinez?
I can't wait to find out.