It’s a case of be careful what you wish for in Monday night’s episode of Person of Interest. The gang gets the Machine back, but not only do they have to run a gauntlet of numbers in order to figure out if the Machine’s back to fighting strength, they have prove to the Machine itself that they’re worthy to receive them. “SNAFU” was a convergence of POI’s intrigue with the ongoing machine-on-machine war, it’s snappy action heroes battling against the odds, and its moral debate about the nature of power and information and its proper use. In other words, it was the total package.
The theme this week was trust. There’s what people say, and what they do, and despite Finch and Root’s assurance to the newly reawakened Machine that they’re trustworthy, Finch’s own description of the good guys versus the bad as explained to the Machine in its nascent days, condemned the team. Reese becomes the target of an assassin hired by the Machine to take him out, and the Machine attacks Root through her cochlear implant. It’s jarring that the Machine, the passive friend that looks out for us and its assets, would suddenly turn against them, even if it’s in the name of protecting itself.
“SNAFU” sets up what might be the prevailing question of the season, how can our heroes change the Machine to allow it to even the playing field against Samaritan? Finch is still gun shy about leaving the Machine as an open system, but in its reaction, the Machine churns up more emotion in its maker. Finch killed the Machine 42 times before he “got it right”, and the Machine was experiencing all those. Who is Finch to decide what version of the Machine works best? Perhaps both man and machine have to accept the fact that they’ll both have to do their best no matter the situation, and Finch only proves his goodness by going through all the people the team’s helped case-by-case. It wasn’t always perfect, but together they tried to make a better world.
In that reading, the show may be preparing us for the inevitable: our heroes may win, but it may not be in the way that we want, and it may not see any of them make it out the other side. In contemplating the end of Person of Interest, I’ve long suspected that it will end either one of two ways, with Fusco alone left to wonder the fate of his friends as they receded back into the shadows, or with Finch alone, with the Machine, forced to start again from scratch by giving a man a purpose. And how strange was it in “SNAFU” to see Finch’s words echoed by a Samaritan agent recruiting the poor ex-con house painter?
The seriousness of the situation was buttressed by a great amount of humor. The scene with the Machine’s facial recognition confusion that let the actors slip into each other’s shoes was shown last summer at Comic Con I believe, but it still landed well. Reese and Finch’s heist was also good for some laughs, as was the site of Reese in a bowling shirt. The buddy cop moments between Reese and Fusco were at their hilarious best this week, but there was a slight shade as Fusco tries again to talk about almost being killed be the Samaritan sniper. Is that a thread that’s going to be demanded to be pulled all season long? Might Fusco finally be let in on the secret?
For Finch the journey may not be as straight a line. He agrees with Root that there are advantages to keeping the Machine as an open system for now, and while that opens up a new world of possibilities, will it be possible to put the Machine back in its box when the fight is over, and will it let itself be boxed again? On top of it all, the Machine is now mobile on the subway train, which adds an intriguing layer to the season opening shot of the abandoned subway base. Might in the end the Machine be both physically and mentally free, and what does that mean for the world at large? Stay tuned.
***Because of CBS’ moronic decision to burn off POI in six weeks with two viewings a week, we’ll try posting two short reviews per week, one for each episode Monday and Tuesday. So remember, Tuesday night, CBS is airing episode three. Do not go about your regularly scheduled programming!