If it wasn’t insulting enough that CBS is burning off the final season of Person of Interest, and doing it for the puerile economic reason that they don’t own the show, and if it wasn’t bad enough that they showing two episodes a week, they tripled the insult this week by having back-to-back episodes of Tuesday night. I realize that this is the age of binging, and watching a season of show in such quick succession is not unusual at all, but these two episodes could have benefited from some space because not only are they highly consequential, but they put us in a mood to just jump right to the next episode. And now we have to wait until Monday again.
“QSO” was Root-centric, and leant some insight into what it is the analog interface does when she’s constantly switching identities, whether its as a prima ballerina saving a Russian politician, or churning butter at a Colonial America historical site to get a piece of needed equipment. But then the Machine sends Root to an AM radio station and the host of a conspiracy theory-themed show. 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit (Pete) plays the host Max who gets more than he bargained for when one of the theories he’s investigating actually has a basis in fact. Samaritan fact.
Root thinks the main objective from the Machine is a way to find Shaw, or at the very least reach out to her. In the end Root does get a message to Sameen, and just in the knick of time because it seemed that Samaritan was *this* close to finally breaking her, or at least undermining her complete understanding of what’s real and what’s imagined. You can admire Shaw for putting up a strong front, but there is a definite crack in the veneer in the end when Shaw realizes that she actually killed a woman and that it wasn’t part of the Samaritan holodeck.
The sly commentary in the episode though gets to the heart of the Machine/Samaritan dichotomy. Max decides to proceed with the reporting of what he knows, a hidden signal sent between Samaritan and its agents in the AM band. It gets him killed in the end, a Samaritan agent hidden at the radio station as a receptionist does the deed, and while the team is aghast that Max has been eliminated, the Machine makes the point that Max decided to take the risk. He exercised free will. Granted, it leaves Reese and Finch shocked because they’ve dedicated themselves to saving lives, but if fighting Samaritan means fighting imposed order, then that’s going to mean that there are probably going to have to be acceptable losses when people start to choose their own fate.
Speaking of choosing their own fate, Fusco tried to make that case for himself again. Laid up in a hospital bed post-cave-in on Monday’s episode, he spent much of “QSO” laid up resting with Reese and Finch siting vigil outside his room. It’s a quiet but powerful statement of the duo’s dedication to their not-so-silent partner, but in missing the point of the lesson in freewill, they’re still refusing to tell Fusco the secret even though he’s more than ready, and more than earned the right, to know.
In “Reassortment” Fusco takes his desire to know to the next level by reaching out to Elias, who is in the dark about the death of his old friend Bruce and agrees to help Fusco get some answers as long as Fusco shares. The course Elias sets Fusco on leads him to Jeff Blackwell, the ex-con house painter turned Samaritan asset turned conflict Samaritan asset. The surprising thing was that Jeff managed to make it out of the episode alive, the even more surprising thing is that despite the threats from his boss to frame him for a crime he didn’t commit and send him back to jail, and despite the fact that he was asked to kill two innocent people to prevent that from happening, Jeff seemed roused by Samaritan’s plot to get everyone’s DNA. That’s free will again.
“Reassortment” reveled a bigger danger than just Jeff being painted into a corner. Samaritan conflated a situation where a man with avian flu is accidentally given a shot of pure flu virus thus making a contagious super flu. The end run around of the situation, despite Team Machine’s successful attempt to end the potential plague, was to whip people into a lather of health scare. Like how 9/11 convinced people to give up their data voluntarily, a near-miss pandemic convinces people to give up their medical information by choice. That’s very HYDRA of Samaritan.
In so much as these two episodes came down to a debate about trusting in free will, it also set up another equally important debate: how can you fight an enemy that thinks two or three steps ahead? Is the problem with the way Team Machine is fighting Samaritan that they’re focused too much on the numbers without considering the broader implications. Elias warns Finch by giving a copy of the 1948 novel Twelve O’Clock High, which is about a Bombing group led my a man so close to his troops that he’s unwilling to risk their lives but still loses pilots to his poor strategizing. How long will it take for Finch to realize that fighting Samaritan is a job that’s beyond the capabilities of him, Reese and Root alone?
“Reassortment” ends with reason for both optimism and pessimism. On the one hand, Shaw finally escapes and shoots the more than a little smug Zachary in the process, although she is in Johannesburg and thousands of miles from New York. Fusco, meanwhile, requests a transfer to a new precinct where his colleagues might be able to trust him, and he them, and wasn’t it heart breaking when he dropped that porcelain policeman doll in the trash? That thing’s been sitting on his desk for five years (but who wants to bet Reese fished it out of the trash). It seems inevitable that Fusco will come back to the team in any event, but under what conditions, and how close might Finch and Reese be in deciding to share the truth?
For those of you keeping score at home, this was the halfway point for the final season, and there is definitely a feeling that the chess pieces are being arranged for the next phase of the war between A.S.I.s: Shaw’s on her way home, Finch is being pushed into making a dramatic decision in regards to fighting Samaritan, and Fusco’s on the cusp of finding out something that will change his world. While these developments are exciting, it’s also a sad reminder that this show still had so much to offer.