Who would have guessed that when Mr. Reese and Mr. Finch met by the river five years ago that it would have started an epic emotional journey. Primarily, that emotion is anger, because how could CBS burn off and cast away what maybe the most prescient and compelling genre show on network TV since The X-Files? But let’s not be bitter. The end of Person of Interest was as much an occasion to be celebrated as it was to be lamented, as the journey of the Machine came to an end with one last all-out attack against Samaritan. Who survived and what was left of them, and is there still a possibility of a spin-off?
Like the fracturing of the Machine, which was slowly being killed by the Ice-9 virus, the narrative jumped around as if we were watching the Machine grasp on to whatever fragments of memories it could: two cops attending a man dying after being hit by a car, the funeral of a hero where his young son stands at his graveside, and a rare moment of personal revelation by Harold to his fiancee Grace. What does it all mean? That’s exactly the point. The Machine is trying to tell Finch, standing on a roof Midtown, shot in the abdomen, what she’s learned from all those years of watching people.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In a bizarro homage to the pilot, a group of cops given a bounty by Samaritan corner Reese and Fusco at the eighth and take them down to the river to execute them. I realize this was a very busy season, but really, it took two years for someone with the police to realize that the detective in a black suit that knee-capped people was also the vigilante in a black suit that knee-capped people? Those chickens were bound to come home to roost eventually, but this wasn’t that day as Finch saved the two detectives with the help of a sniper hired by Ernest Thornhill. That’s another missed opportunity in this shortened season, to see the full extent of the Machine’s HR offensive.
Back at the subway, Team Machine gathered for one last meet-up. It was Lionel’s first and last entry into the subway station, where Shaw was already plotting the final battle. The Machine had spoke to her in Root’s voice, a surreal experience that gave even the typically stoic Shaw some hope, and now the Machine was looking to the last stand. Shaw and Lionel stayed behind to guard the Machine while Finch and Reese made for the Federal Reserve, where a piece of Samaritan hoped to wait out the cyber-apocalypse. If you were expecting an emotional outbursts, the closest you got was Reese telling Fusco to stay alive.
The ever present danger and pressure of the final mission still allowed for a moment of levity as Finch threatened a guard with a non-existent suitcase nuke as Reese looked on in stark disbelief as Finch found his inner Dirty Harry (so to speak). Underneath the reserve, Reese held back Samaritan goons, while Finch infected the last bit of Samaritan with Ice-9, in the process suffering his bullet wound. But Samaritan, ever crafty, uploads itself to an antenna where it could then broadcast itself to a satellite for safe keeping. Finch, feeling that he’s at his end, leaves Reese in the safe and heads to Midtown to intercept Samaritan’s signal. The Machine will upload her self as well for one last digital showdown in orbit.
Back at the subway station, Samaritan agents start a fire fight, but bringing the season full circle we learn how the train left the station, literally. Shaw and Fusco blast the back wall of the station, and the Machine train heads out onto the open track, but not before our old friend Jeff Blackwell finds a way onboard. Shaw learns that he was the one that killed Root, but the Machine urges her to not go for immediate revenge, there are still more pressing concerns, like getting out of the subway alive. For a minute there though, it looked like Blackwell was about to take out another member of the team.
So it seemed that the tragic finale was set, Fusco had been stabbed several times, and Finch was on a rooftop in Manhattan that was soon to be targeted by a cruise missile, but there was one last surprise. Reese revealed that he and the Machine had an understanding a long time ago that if the moment ever came that Finch was about to die that Reese would step in to take his place. The series began with Finch telling Reese that their journey would likely end with them being dead, and the Machine remarked last week that for years Reese was living on borrowed time, so the journey, essentially, had to end with Reese’s heroic death.
Aside from that bit of sadness, which also featured more emoting and inflection than we typically expect from Jim Caviezel, it was more or less a happy ending from a series that so often observed that reality bytes. Fusco survived, and it seems like he’s back on the force, it looks like Harold finally reunites with Grace, and Shaw gets payback on Blackwell and walks off into the sunset with Bear. And then a payphone rang… The numbers never stop coming.
It was impressive that Person of Interest was able to thread the needle as carefully as it did, the creators treated it like the final season even thought they didn’t know for sure until well after they finished filming, but “Return 0” felt like a natural place to end it on, and it felt, at least, somewhat open ended. Presumably, Shaw will continue to help “Irrelevant” numbers, and presumably she’ll still have Fusco for back-up. There were all those people that the Machine recruited as well, like the DC branch of Team Machine that was revealed in episode 11, and if the Machine did truly beat Samaritan in their satellite-born final confrontation, there’s no reason to think that those partnerships won’t continue. Or expand.
And there were so many great moments in the episode too. There was the moment that the Machine telling Shaw the one thing that Root always wanted to tell her, and how it actually brought Shaw to tears; there was Samaritan using the screens in Times Square to converse with Harold; there was the genuine camaraderie between Reese and Fusco, developed believably after five years, as they faced what might have been their finality together; and Reese’s glorious last stand atop a New York skyscraper, fighting to the very end to save one person, his best friend Harold. It was emotional, it was action-packed, it had great character dynamics, and it left you wanting more. It was Person of Interest.
It’s strange looking back on the unusual journey of the show. When POI premiered in 2011, I, like many people, wrote it off initially as just another dull, old-fashioned CBS procedural. But coming back to it in season two, at the beginning its chrysalis from procedural to mythology driven storytelling, it became can’t miss. Person of Interest was the show of our times, being ripped from the headlines before the headlines had actually happened, and hopefully, in the years to come, more people will join Team Machine and look back on it in fondness. Or as the Machine put it…
“Someone once asked me if I had learned anything from it all. So let me tell you what I learned. I learned everyone dies alone. But if you meant something to someone, if you helped someone, or loved someone. If even a single person remembers you, then maybe you never really die. And maybe… this isn’t the end at all.”
Person of Interest, you will be missed. 🙁