Ghost In The Machine — a PERSON OF INTEREST primer

15 Jun

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Stewart here…

CAUTION: mild SPOILERS ahead…

A bit of setup: just on a brief splurge a few years back, I picked up the the first season of Person of Interest on DVD. I had heard about it, but being on CBS, a network I rarely if at all watched (and being one of the only shows without a NCIS, CSI, or Criminal Minds in the title), I had serious reservations. What surprised me was the rather high concept procedural-esque setup was one that evolved over that first season and the seasons afterwards. It reminded me of what happened to another TV show that was produced by J.J. Abrams, Fringe, in that its concept evolved into a more complex, subversive, and morally gray story. Some of that comes from the show’s creator, Jonathan Nolan (brother of big time director Christopher Nolan), who is bringing some big ideas about current and future technology into play in an network action drama.

The setup is computer genius Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) making a artificial intelligence surveillance system for the government, but leaving open a way to receive warnings on “irrelevant” people from the system who are in danger. He enlists help in this vigilante crusade in ex-CIA operative John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a man like Finch who’s running from his tortured past. The tension of each “irrelevant” person they help comes from only receiving the name, but not if that person is the victim or the perpetrator of whatever crime is about to happen. While fighting crime on the streets of New York, the duo enlists the help of compromised detective Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman), while evading a detective on their trail, Carter (Taraji P. Henson).

The show would build on this framework, often filling in the past of its characters with some well-placed flashbacks (among them Reese’s CIA past and the tragedy around Finch’s creation of his system, The Machine), and that past coming back into play hard. As it would introduce new characters into the mix, like super cyber criminal Root (Amy Acker) and droll assassin Shaw (Sarah Shahi), the series would evolve from its premise into a complicated Cold War between artificial intelligences whose ideas of security for humanity are vastly different. Its a show that works like good science fiction, in being both timely and prescient about the future. Also it helps the show is one of the better action shows on network television (and maybe one of the better network shows when it comes to needle-dropping songs into its soundtrack), giving our misfit heroes plenty of badass moments. It could be argued that its growing complexity may have lead to its dwindling ratings and eventual cancellation (coming after months of the show not being anywhere on CBS’ schedule until its final, fifth season of 13 episodes started running in the summer, a year after its fourth season climax aired), but its at least going out with a proper ending.

To prep you for the series (which is available on Netflix to stream, excluding the final season, which should show up eventually), here’s a handy guide to the series’ biggest signposts so far (baring in mind as of this writing, I haven’t seen the final two episodes). Not that you shouldn’t watch the whole thing, but here’s the episodes you should note in your binge-watching:

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The only show where Jesus Christ, Ben Linus from Lost, Cookie from Empire, and Fred from Angel hang out.

Pilot— The setup for the whole series, as Reese is enlisted by Finch to investigate an assistant D.A. that may be in danger from a group of corrupt cops. It’s almost quaint in comparison to some of the other episodes in this set.

Cura Te Ipsum— One of POI‘s best single episodes and a great example of these one-off tales, Reese shadows an ER lady doctor who is being followed by a mystery man. Nothing is quite what it seems though, and the tense, ambiguous conclusion remains one of the show’s longest running mysteries.

Witness— Reese is sent to protect a high school teacher who was a witness to murder, and things get complicated. This also marks the first appearance of sometimes adversary/sometimes ally, crime boss Elias, who adds a lot of flavor in his interactions with Finch.

Many Happy Returns— A suspiciously clear docket of irrelevant numbers leads Reese to discover Finch has hidden one, because of how familiar it is to a traumatic event hinted to in Reese’s past throughout the season. One of the stronger flashbacks is in this episode, as Reese is left to make a decision between mercy and murder.

Fire Wall— This season one finale properly introduces us to then antisocial villain Root (she’d be rehabilitated eventually), while Reese has to protect a psychiatrist from HR, an organization of corrupt cops in the NYPD. Also, Finch has to deal with a face from the past, and somehow all of these two stories culminate in a cliffhanger.

Bad Code— This early season two episode finds Reese getting help from Carter to learn the past of Root, and solving the old crime that sent her on her path.

Dead Reckoning— The CIA past of Reese boils over into the present when his old partner forces him into a high stakes robbery. Its up to Finch and one of Reese’s former associates to stop this explosive plan.

Relevance— With only brief appearances from our heroes, this episode introduces us to assassin and fan favorite Shaw, who goes on the run from her employers after a data breach puts her in danger. It’s hard not to like this badass lady and want to see her again after this episode.

Zero Day/God Mode— In the season two finale, as a virus messes with The Machine, the team runs into Root, who wants to meet the machine she worships up close. We also learn of the horrifying event that sent Finch on his quest for justice.

Endgame/The Crossing/The Devil’s Share— This season three arc brings Carter’s quest to bring down HR to a violent head as she takes the fight straight to them. Things get messy, bloody, and tragic as the team gets thrown into the middle of this to save their ally.

RAM— We discover that Finch had another partner before Reese in this full-on flashback episode. How this failed partnership connects to our current day team keeps this episode full of surprises.

Death Benefit— The team is left with a big choice: to stop a new deadly AI from being created, they have to assassinate a standing U.S. Senator! It’s a decision that becomes a pivotal one for the series.

A House Divided/Deus Ex Machina— In the season three finale, the team has to save Finch and several other big government types from being executed by a fringe anti-surveillance group. What’s really going on is a far more insidious plot that puts our heroes in serious danger for the remainder of the show.

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If you like stuff exploding and kneecaps being shot while having ethical issues brought up by a surveillance state, this is the show for you.

The Devil You Know— A violent gang war between Elias and fledging crime boss, Dominic, forces the team to intervene, which reveals the dark history of Elias in a deadly game of wits between both criminal masterminds.

The Cold War/If-Then-Else/Control-Alt-Delete— In this three-parter, the team’s fight with the rival AI, Samaritan, forces them to stop a series of crimes it has created and eventually keep it from sending the nation’s economy into meltdown. The middle chapter is one of the show’s best episodes, focusing on The Machine’s attempt(s) to find a solution that can save her human assets, which is often hilarious and shocking.

Asylum/YHWH— In the season four finale, Samaritan is closing in on destroying The Machine, so it’s up to the team to save it before that happens. Meanwhile, the plan for a major terrorist attack in Washington D.C. has a more surprising and calculated result to reveal.

SNAFU— As a glitchy Machine is brought back to working order, it ends up questioning its creator and assets about what they have done. It also delivers one of the series’ most hilarious sequences when a glitch causes this:

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ALL ROOT. ALL THE TIME.

6,741— Shaw has been captured, but escapes back to the team, only to find she may be a pawn in a bigger game. The episode delivers a fan moment long in the making, and a surprise ending that is truly terrifying in its implications.

The Day The World Went Away— One of the show’s final episodes sets the ball rolling for its endgame when a random mistake finds Finch targeted by Samaritan. The team scrambles to save him, and the results lead to fatal results for several beloved characters. It’s one of the darkest and most emotional episodes of POI (and certainly high in its best episodes), and one that changes the series in a powerful way.

Well, if you’ve watched the show before this, let’s talk about your thoughts (maybe stay a little non-spoilery for politeness to new viewers) about the series, like favorite characters or episodes in the comments below. You got issue with this list? Let us chat, asset…

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