I remember having a conversation with a friend once about Shrek and the real moral of the story. According to my friend, the moral wasn’t that you have to look beneath the surface to find the good in someone, the moral was that it’s okay to love ugly people so long as you’re ugly too. You’ve got to be asking yourself why I told you that story. It comes from following along the debate for about half-an-hour after the conclusion of Tuesday night’s Person of Interest, and a certain trope that’s become a little common on TV lately this spring. While I can’t deny it’s been a trend, I also think there’s no denying that was still a powerful episode of POI.
Controversy struck because the latest member of Team Machine to go out in a blaze of glory is Root. Enter the “bury your gays” trope because less than an episode after Root is reunited with her lady love Shaw, she’s killed by a stray bullet meant for Harold as they were escaping Samaritan agents, and on top of it all, it was all meant to pivot Harold in a new, darker direction. It checks off all the things that make that trope, but in a different TV world where Lexa hadn’t just died in The 100, and Denise hadn’t just died on The Walking Dead, we might have been able to absorb Root’s death in the proper context. She died for her first love, the Machine.
As much as “The Day the World Went Away” was about the turning of Harold, it was also about the apotheosis of Root. In the end, she becomes the Machine as the Machine chooses her voice to speak with. In all the world of people, and their voices – the Machine could have chose to talk like Vincent Price if she wanted – she chose Root’s dulcet tones. On top of that, the episode gave equal time to Root’s relationship with Shaw as it did to one last ethical debate between Root and Finch about leaving the Machine open and giving it the tools to defeat Samaritan.
Interesting too that how Lexa lived on in some way in an artificial intelligence on The 100, Root also lives on in an A.I., not just as its voice, but as Root herself observes, the Machine has so closely studied her assets that they live on in simulations inside her. Even the people she’s lost. Granted, some of that was to make Shaw feel better about seeing the world as a simulation, and it was also nice to hear someone name drop Schrodinger without also mentioning that darn cat. At the end of the day though, Root’s long and winding character arc was a wonderful road to travel down, and her death tonight seemed like a culmination of all that. Perhaps if Person of Interest wasn’t barreling through a couple of seasons’ worth of story to get to his abrupt finish…
Root’s death also had the extra impact of being the second major fatality of the hour. I thought it was kind of a bait and switch when Elias got capped by Samaritan goons while trying to grab Finch; the previews promised a member of Team Machine was not going to make it, and at this point Elias was kind of the “fifth Beatle” of Team Machine, so perhaps he would do. Again, the truncated season worked against the narrative flow. It would have been nice to see Elias assisting the gang more, but seeing the new Napoleon of Crime in action one last time, even going back to the character’s beginnings at the “Double Bs” in Brighton Beach, was a nice send off for one of POI’s most important recurring players. Elias was a skilled games’ master, but not skilled enough in the end.
Now the big question: what’s Harold going to do now? I wondered if Finch’s brain fart at the beginning of the episode – grabbing a coffee at the same cafe he took Grace many years ago – was intentional? He did sit there and talk to the Machine, if that wasn’t bad enough, but it’s a little hard to believe that Finch would forget a place of such relevance. Maybe he was too far deep into his own head fighting the war against Samaritan and all those failed simulations, not to mention the tough choice of whether to leave the Machine an open system, to nice the little things. Indeed it seems all of Finch’s past sins caught up to him tonight, all the way back to the original sin and his youthful transgressions hacking the government.
In a sense, Finch is himself now and open system, ready and willing to do the things he never thought he’d see himself do. Michael Emmerson did some truly mesmerizing work in that interrogation scene, showing the anger and spite slowly swelling up in Harold, only to later portray the loss and desperation when the Machine calls talking in Root’s voice; he knows without her saying that Root was gone. It was a tour de force, which brings us back to that first criticism, the death of an LGBT character enhancing a white male one. Sure, that’s one reading, but looking at the whole picture, we have a show that constantly draws such complex and fascinating characters that’s hard to pin any of the usual tropes on it. This is just the way life sometimes is, sometimes people are suddenly gone, even when we’re talking about a battle between artificial super intelligences.
And that’s all for two servings a week of Person of Interest. The dramatic power of tonight’s episode and the wacko scheduling have handily proved that CBS has bungled the whole thing. They can’t even get binging right! Entering the endgame now, this is the time to give us two servings a week, but the last three episodes will now be offered on a once weekly basis. Alas, only a trinity of episodes left, and appropriately the stakes couldn’t be higher. The season started with what we though was Root’s voiceover, but was it the Machine? Does she win, and what fate awaits the others?