Ten years ago The West Wing offered political escapism to people dealing with less-than-perfect politicians in real life, and today Person of Interest is stepping into the gap that show left behind. Except instead of imagining a better White House, Person of Interest imagines a better system of surveillance and law enforcement. Last night's episode, "Super," was a perfect distillation of this show's idea of how surveillance technologies could be used for the forces of good, instead of privacy-invading authoritarianism.
One of the best-rated episodes of the season, "Super" demonstrated that this series has finally found its footing after a few hiccups. At last, Detective Carter has started to work with big data genius Finch and his ninja sidekick Reese. The Machine that predicts crime every week, spitting out the social security numbers of people at ground zero of the dastardly deed, has started to develop a personality. When we get the Machine POV overlaid on surveillance footage, now we see bits of metadata like red boxes around suspects - and when Carter stops a crime using one of the Machine's numbers, we see a text box pop up that reads "violence imminent" and then "status: averted."
We got even more Machine personality in one of the season's juiciest flashbacks yet, to a period in 2005 when Finch and his (now mysteriously dead) partner Ingram first got the DOD hooked on their number system. I love this scene, included at the top, where Ingram tells the intelligence agents that he'd rather have a machine watching him than "somebody like you." Plus, if a machine spies on everybody, "technically no one's Fourth Amendment rights are being violated." Really? So evil and awesome! That's when the Machine, talking with Finch in the next room, tags the DOD guy as a "threat to system" - and Finch whispers, "I know." The Machine is more human than ever here, and even seems to be protecting its own interests.
Plus I just love the idea that the power of surveillance and crime prediction represented by the Machine can't be placed in the hands of an actual intelligence agency. It must remain in Finch's control, so that nobody's privacy is violated!
And in this scene, which opens the episode, we see a perfect example of how surveillance can be used for great justice. Finch has discovered that an immigrant working in a coroner's office is actually a brilliant surgeon who can't afford a U.S. medical license. So he brings the wounded Reese to him and offers him enough cash to get the license if he'll repair Reese with no questions asked. Yay, a nice immigrant gets the money he deserves so he can be a doctor again! "Good" surveillance reveals that people from the Middle East are good guys. But the DOD wants "bad" surveillance that will "target" certain people - presumably people like our talented doctor.
Another great thing about this episode was the pacing - Reese and Finch caught their bad guy, a stalker who is menacing a terrified chef who works for his company; and Carter joined forces with Finch to stop another crime. Plus, Finch figured out a way to throw the cops off Reese's trail, and randomly nabbed a jewel thief by using his smart phone (yes, really). It was the perfect balance of action, fun, and paranoia.
We also got a nice teaser for what I hope will be the final arc of the season. The episode ends with another flashback to 2005, right after Ingram convinces the DOD to use the Machine to catch terrorists. As Ingram and Finch leave the office for the night, the Machine gives us a final message: "Possible threat detected. Subject: Ingram, Nathan C." So the Machine predicted Ingram's impending demise? What does this have to do with Finch faking his own death?
Yes I sure as hell will be tuning in to find out.