Michael Emerson already has an Emmy for his performance on LOST, but he really deserves one for Person of Interest. Last night's episode, "Skip," was an hour of incredible drama, exploring the twisted relationship between Root and Harold Finch. I lost count of how many times I yelled at the screen. Spoilers ahead...
Actually, when I was at the Game of Thrones premiere the other night, I got sucked into a long conversation about Person of Interest, and all the many things this show does right in terms of torturing its characters and deepening its mythos. It felt funny to be talking about Person of Interest, a show that's been largely passed over by the prestige machine, at the party for a show that's one of the biggest prestige magnets.
But in any case we were wondering, at the Thrones party, why Person of Interest hasn't gotten the Emmy love that it deserves. Because it has some of the smartest writing on television, even if it's covered with a veneer of "procedural" patter and case-of-the-week plotting.
And indeed, last night's episode had bravura performances by both Emerson and Amy Acker, as two friends who find themselves at odds. See for yourself in the clip above — it's heartbreaking and startling and clever, and emotionally grounded.
As Root carefully reminds the audience, when she and Harold first met, she kidnapped him and killed a couple of people, because she wanted to get access to the artificial intelligence he'd built, the Machine. But even back then, she was in awe of Harold, "the man who built God." And now, there's a second A.I., and in the course of the failed effort to prevent its creation and the fight against it, she and Harold have become friends. Root's even gotten a bit of a conscience.
In last night's episode, "Skip," Harold is close to hatching his plan against Samaritan, the evil A.I. that's in the process of taking over the world. Several episodes ago, he struck up a flirtation with Beth, a math genius, in Hong Kong. And he got access to her laptop, installing a trojan virus, a limited A.I. of his own design.
Now, Beth is finished developing her new predictive algorithm, and she's ready to give it to her angel investors — who happen to be the associates of Samaritan. Harold is rekindling his thing with Beth, partly so he can activate the trojan so it can give him (or Root, maybe) some of Samaritan's source code — a potent weapon against this new would-be god.
[Side note: This is the second time in the past few episodes that the idea of getting hold of Samaritan's source code has come up as an idea. Seems likely that this will be an ongoing issue — and I wonder why nobody's dug back through the original research of Samaritan's creator, aka Artie from Warehouse 13.]
At the exact moment that Finch has breakfast with Beth, her number comes up, making her either a victim or a perpetrator of an upcoming violent crime. So Finch teams up with Root, his hacker friend who's the "analog interface" of the Machine, to protect Beth. Only to find out that the threat against Beth isn't from Samaritan or from Beth's ex-husband — it's from Root herself.
Root and the Machine have deduced what Finch is up to, and Root is willing to kill Beth to prevent him. Because even if Finch succeeds in getting a trojan into Samaritan, he'll be caught and killed for sure. And Root can't stand to lose him, so soon after Shaw's apparent death. Root decides to kill Beth, even after the Machine tells her not to.
The depth of Root's feelings for Finch is kind of startling, especially considering she's always seemed to put the Machine first and maybe Shaw second. She blames herself for Shaw's death, because she asked for Shaw's help (even though Finch tries to take the blame too). And she can't stand to lose Finch, even if it means a key victory against Samaritan
So Finch does the only thing he can think of — he drinks the poison meant for Beth, because if he's dead, then there will be no reason to kill Beth to save his life. Even after he's already dying, he won't let Root call an ambulance, and insists with fragile dignity that he won't go to the hospital, and legally, they can't make him go without his consent. He only relents when Root promises not to kill Beth.
Instead, Root forges a letter from Finch to some math journal accusing Beth of fraud in a paper from five years ago. And she steals the activator for Finch's trojan virus (she claims it was destroyed, but I've got a bridge to sell you). The final scene, where she says she'll understand if they're no longer friends, is super sad. Finch, for his part, just looks down and says he doesn't want to see her for a while.
The episode also has a pretty entertaining "A" plot, involving a scrappy skip tracer who's hunting for the guy who killed her brother, and there's lots of double crosses and people being handcuffed to things and each other, and vengeful gangsters, and standoffs, and stuff. [And meanwhile, Reese hooks up with his therapist, Dr. Cannon-Fodder. Want to lay odds on her winding up dead by the end of the season?]
But there's a surprising reveal towards the end of the bail-jumper/gangster storyline — Harper Rose, the grifter we met a couple episodes ago when she stole some medical-marijuana money, has been getting texts from the Machine, setting her up with lucrative gigs. Is the Machine recruiting her? Setting her up to play a role in some upcoming scheme? And how many other people is the Machine assisting in a life of crime?