In most series, there’s a “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment, a point when a character wonders if their friends, family and neighbours might have been better off by their absence: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air did it, Buffy the Vampire Slayer did, heck even Doctor Who did it. The trick is nuance, does the character in question being missing from their own life result in an unyielding hellscape where evil wins, like what George Bailey saw, or does it mean everyone’s life is bright and shiny? The Dallas series finale was all about the Devil showing J.R. that every would have been much better off by his being missing their lives. So what was the Person of Interest “It’s a Wonderful Life” going to show us?
As Finch struggles with the implications of launching the Ice-9 virus, which will effectively kill Samaritan and the Machine by eliminating its common conduit, the internet, the Machine shows Finch what the world would look like if she never existed. It’s no secret that Finch has very mixed feelings about having invented the Machine, but writers Greg Plageman and Erik Mountain don’t paint the world without the Machine as either doom and gloom nor wine and roses, it’s just the world. Except that Samaritan was taking over unabated.
Basically, for every good there’s a bad. Sure, Joss Carter lived, still beat HR, and became a lieutenant in the NYPD, but Fusco never experienced his redemption and was drummed off the force despite rolling over on his HR colleagues. And yes, Nathan Ingram lived and continued to enjoy business success with BFF Finch, who was never injured in the ferry bombing, but poor old Mr. Reese ends up in a pauper’s grave since no one was there to give him a purpose. Shaw’s still capping people for the government, along with the assistance of her long-dead wingman Cole, but Root ends up finding religion with a new god, Samaritan.
The Machine draws a picture of a world that still spins without her in it, which is, in its way, a very uncynical message about the nature of people from a show that frequently comments on how cynical our society has become. The point is that humanity is good at getting itself into trouble, but its also good at getting itself out of trouble, and as much as we want some outside force to swoop in and save us from ourselves – aliens, A.S.I.s, Trump – we are the only ones who can save us, and we always do even if we do so only begrudgingly.
That was all foreplay for the final confrontation – literal and philosophical – between Finch and Greer. Finch sneaks into the NSA to plant the virus, but Team Samaritan is on to Finch before he’s able to utter the password that will activate Ice-9. Greer offers version 431 of his “Hey, Samaritan’s not so bad” speech, and lays out a vision where Samaritan and the Machine become companion A.S.I.s leading humanity on a spaceship arc to another planet. I think that’s what he was getting at, because frankly that sounds kind of awesome. Of course, it’s all in the name of evil, but still…
Long story short, Harold refuses the offer, but it’s all a stall because Samaritan wanted to see if Finch left the password with the Machine so that she could activate the virus in the event he couldn’t. Satisfied that he didn’t, Samaritan decides to seal the room and suck all the air out to kill Finch, but not just Finch. We’re long past the point of being surprised that Greer might willing die in service to Samaritan, but you have to admire the fact that he had the full force of his beliefs and laid down his life for his god. Admittedly, I would have been more satisfied if Travers had been the one to die and permanently wipe that smirk off his face, but so far as denouements go, this was a good way for Greer to go out.
In the end, the Machine shows her mercy again as it turns out she knew the password all along, but left the decision in Finch’s hands. It is, after all, the essential dichotomy between the two systems, that one lets us make a choice and the other takes our choices away. It’s a matter of faith, and one couldn’t help but feel that Finch’s long shuffle to terminal room in the end was a spiritual journey of one man walking to meet his end. It racked the nerves too wondering how this would play out, was something fiendish about to happen to Finch before he could make the killing blow against Samaritan?
The Machine also demonstrated it knows it has to play the long game too, bringing in Reese and Shaw to help Finch unwittingly. There was a fun intersection of reality and fantasy when the duo break into the NSA evidence locker and use a router confiscated from Edward Snowden as a way for the Machine to access the NSA’s protected networks. In the midst of the seriousness of alternative realities and pending consequences, it was through Reese and Shaw we got a couple of good laughs, none more so that Reese evoking Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at the idea of crawling through the Fort Meade’s labyrinth of shoots that feed documents to shredding. Now all I can think about is the what happened to the fat German kid.
As all this was going on as Fusco was left again to his own devices. In New York, those bodies buried in the demolition that almost killed Fusco were discovered, and it’s assumed that it’s the work of a serial killer. On the flipside though, it’s the work of Special Agent Martin LeRoux, killing, as suspected, on Samaritan’s orders. You couldn’t help but lose your breath for a minute when it looked like LeRoux had killed Fusco, but we do sometimes forget how wily Lionel is. He was wearing a vest, and he gets the drop over on LeRoux leaving him with a paradox: does he let the agent going knowing almost certainly that he’ll try to disappear the detective again, or does Fusco show him the same courtesy? We don’t find out what Fusco decided, at least this week.
So where do we go from here to next week’s series finale? Although it looks like Samaritan is done, there’s still huge Samaritan infrastructure that has proven again and again that they are will to fight and die for it, which raises another questions: is Samaritan really gone? Is the Machine? Probably not, and from the looks of the preview there’s going to one last showdown at the subway station, and that will neatly tie this season into a circle and how Team Machine fought back (to the finish?). Is the reason that the Machine, with Root’s voice, in the beginning of the season said that she’s not sure if they won or lost because everything is reset by the end of that final hour? I guess we’ll find out.