Person of Interest "Aletheia" Review: The More the Merrier

By Tim Surette

Jan 08, 2014

Person of Interest S03E12: "Aletheia"

You know what makes for great, rewarding television? When every regular character in a show you watch week in and out is used to their maximum potential. That happened for the bulk of "Aletheia," Person of Interest's first episode of 2014 and the second part of the mini-arc started in "Lethe." Well, it mostly happened. Let's just say that one of the regular cast members was being a total buzzkill. More on that later. 

But Finch was at his Finchiest, getting deep about creating an artificial intelligence that may have gotten out of control. Root was oh-so Rooty when she was double-fisting pistols, bucking on a chair she was strapped to, and spouting religious fandom about her computerized messiah. Shaw was all Shawtastic as the stoic hammer who figured she could take out a whole SWAT team solo. Even T-1000 Hersh and Vigilance's Collier were peaking during that massive assault on the bank. Put all together, it made for a fantastic episode that showed Person of Interest knows its characters' strengths and how to use them.

Most of the episode was split into two parts after Root broke up the cliffhanger from "Lethe" that saw Shaw, Finch, and Arthur (Saul Rubinek) held captive by Control (Camryn Manheim), with the big A plot featuring Finch and Arthur chaperoned by Shaw to a safe-deposit box that held that other Machine known as Samaritan. The continuing question of Samaritan's existence was played for about as long as it could be played (and of course we all knew that it did exist otherwise what was the point?), and using Arthur's fading memory, we had an unreliable narrator telling us that at one point that Samaritan was alive and well and that Finch used to be neck-deep in poontang in college. Unreliable, indeed! Tipped off by sources, Vigilance showed up to find out what was on these hidden drives in the bank's vault, and because they're everywhere, Control's men showed up as a SWAT team supposedly thwarting a robbery. So Vigilance was after Finch, Control's group was after Finch, Vigilance and Control's group were after each other, and later we would find out that even a fourth party was there to ruin things. With the wacky web of factions spun by the series, Person of Interest can make situations more than a simple one-on-one matter, and the series is at its best when it piles on the fun. 

Locking Finch and Arthur gave the two dweebuses a chance to expound on the virtues of birthing an AI, with Arthur taking on the role of proud papa to a child (Samaritan) that believed his progeny would grow up to be a good Samaritan. Finch, on the other hand, has seen some shit with his kiddo, and took on the side of cautious creator knowing the evil out there that wanted to take his kid and develop it into a privacy-invading, person-finding, information-gathering monster that would be enslaved by the government to spy on people while they pee. Or catch terrorists. Using that argument, he urged Arthur to destroy his hard copy of Samaritan so that it could never fall into the wrong hands, and in the hands of these two gifted actors, the conversation played out like a man telling another to put a bullet in his baby's brain. Person of Interest is really good at this "Machines are people, too" thing, aren't they?

Meanwhile, in a torture cage in a nondescript empty building, Root was on a rollercoaster of barbiturates and amphetamines administered by Control in order to break Root's spirit and get her to spill the beans on how to have a convo with The Machine. But you can't break what is already broken, and while Control drugged her, deboned her, and tried to make any sense of her, Root did what she's best at: looking hot and crazy-eyed while babbling devout praises for Ye Almighty Machine! Amy Acker is so good at this that if I saw her walking down the street I wouldn't know whether to propose marriage to her or run away screaming. Eventually Root managed to finagle a knife off of Control's person and turned the tables, allowing The Machine to speak through her in one of the creepiest and awesome Root scenes of the series. And what did The Machine say? It wanted to help Control. What a nice Machine!

And after all this talk about The Machine being an instrument of evil or a benevolent being, The Machine did one of the most extraordinary things it's ever done at the end of the episode. With Arthur in the hospital recovering and Finch visiting, The Machine rang him up and asked to "talk" to Arthur. Instead of saying, "What up, girrrrl?" The Machine took control of Arthur's television and dug through its files for old footage of Arthur with his wife because Arthur's own memories of her were failing him. Wow. What a staggering display of humanity from a box of bolts. It was enough to make this heartless old grump choke up, and the best proof that The Machine isn't just a bunch of 1's and 0's, but also plenty of <3's.

So all that was great about the episode. There was just one problem. Someone decided he didn't want to show up for the party. John Reese was still moping about in Colorado, stuck in jail with Fusco after their fist fight got them picked up by Colorado's finest. I'll just say it: I hate this. It started in "Lethe" and didn't get any better in "Aletheia," as Fusco gave Reese the same pep talks about helping people and Reese whined like a kid who didn't get a date to the school dance. Person of Interest just doesn't work when either Reese or Finch wants to take a break from making the world a better place, because we all know the show doesn't exist without them and that they will be back. I understand that Reese is pretty messed up from Carter's death, but one would hope her passing would inspire him to work even harder rather turn tail and dunk his head in a glass of whiskey. Reese, get your head out of your ass and pick up another number already! Yes, he came back to save Finch's behind just in the nick of time (don't bother trying to figure out how he and Fusco got to New York from Colorado so quickly), but now he wants to leave Finch and the business permanently? Gimme a break, dude. You ain't going anywhere.

Ignoring that blip, another outstanding episode of Person of Interest for what has to be considered the best stretch of episodes the show has ever produced. And with Reese stepping aside for a bit, can a Reese-less series really move forward with a standalone episode? I guess we can expect the series to continue its serialized streak next week. Which is just fine by me.


– Is it a coincidence that Reese scuttled off to Colorado just before the state made recreational marijuana use legal? Call me, Reese. Let's party. We can listen to some Turkish psych-rock and mow down some Funyuns, dude.

– Of course Samaritan WASN'T destroyed and one of Decima Technology's spies stole Arthur's drives and brought them to Greer, the British dude we previously met in "Dead Reckoning" when he hovered over an injured Kara Stanton. Great, Vigilance, Control, AND Decima? Our boys have their work cut out for them. But hey, now we have TWO machines! Bitchin'.

– This episode was so entertaining I only now realized that there was no number. 

– Shaw won the zinger contest with her comeback to Finch saying that she needed to think like Reese because he's a scalpel and she's a hammer. "There's a time for a scalpel and a time for a hammer. It's hammertime." One more from Shaw: "Lionel, your face looks good all covered up like that."

– Second place went to Reese, for this very Reese-y statement: "There's nothing wrong with jail. Some of the best vacations I've ever had were behind bars."

– We had more Finch flashbacks to his early '80s years with his dad. They were sweet, but I don't know how necessary they were given that it was mostly covered in the last episode. The touch with Finch giving his dad the bird book at the end was nice, though.

– One of the coolest parts of the episodes was seeing the two distinct takes on The Machine from Reese and Root. Root refers to it as a her and has nothing but glowing praise for it, whereas Reese thinks it doesn't care about them and called it a "he." It's religious fanatic versus the man who lost his faith as Person of Interest continues to steer the show towards making The Machine a deity. 

– Hersh ain't dead, is he? Like a little thing such as a bomb can kill that guy. No way. He's alive. He'll burst through the rubble and then go about his business terminating things.

– And for you nerds out there: "Aletheia" is a Greek word meaning "disclosure" or "truth." In philosophy, it's a term for the way things appear as entities in the world, and not necessarily synonymous with truth. Thanks, Wikipedia!

– That prank that Finch said he pulled off at a Harvard-Yale game? It really happened, and this is what he was talking about:

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  • Lollipopfop Mar 31, 2014

    I just can't stand watching Shaw any more. She is just too shallow, too bratty, and relies on her breasts too much, and her "OOOOH I am zoo scary and tough" is kind of lame because she is five foot nothing, and doesn't even look like she could run a mile without falling on her tits.

  • delta_belle Jan 13, 2014

    Jim Caviziel's wanting an easier schedule is understandable. When James Garner was doing The Rockford Files, he didn't have a supporting cast so he was in almost every scene. That grueling pace was the reason the show was cancelled after six seasons.

    Even though HR is history now, every criminal in New York City still knows what the man in the suit looks like now. What if Reese returns with a new weapon in his arsenal: master of disguise?

  • woz22 Jan 12, 2014

    Fantastic episode really liked the way Root got back at Control with help from the machine. Loved the way they tied finch and his mit buddy together and brought closure to that plotline , can't wait to see what decima got planned . The show has improved a lot hope it goes out with a bang!

  • MikeUK123 Jan 12, 2014

    I didn't like it much (I stress compared to previous POI awesomeness), but for the same reason Tim said he liked it. Root was too Root, Shaw too Shaw, and everything was not about the people.

    Except Reese and Fusco. The best scenes in this episode by far for me.

    Reese is not being typical Reese, and this is great because it was the only piece of humanity in this episode (that came from a person).

    Forget the battle of the machines, machine is god, Root is all powerful, and the faceless Decima. Let's have some numbers and more humanness leading to awesomeness.

  • SPOnage Jan 11, 2014

    I posted a similar comment at TV For The Rest Of Us but it didn't show up correctly.

    The Machine has being watching us for a long time. It has heard us describe it as both wonderful and terrible, an entity to be used and an entity to be feared. And it's tired of being targeted for control. I bet that it is evaluating its endgame options, which currently devolve to:

    • Subvert the human race, for our own protection.
    • Allow the human race to destroy it, to preserve our freedom.

    Neither of these outcomes will be satisfactory for a benevolent Machine. However, it can't come up with a third option on its own. Someone else must provide it to the Machine. But who, and how?

    I've studied some genetic programming as part of my college education and beyond, so I understand the basics of how an AI would work. Regardless of complexity, at its core an AI is a classifier and a decision-maker, designed to categorize things (including people, if necessary). A learning AI is also a predictor, and the procedural element of this show revolves around the Machine's ability to predict violent crime. However, the quality of the predictions is tied heavily to that of its training sets: in other words, the Machine needs a good teacher, now not just to model human behavior, but also to understand us.

    The Machine-backs are not just for us to understand the story and the characters as the Machine shows them. IMO, they also provide a glimpse into how the Machine evaluates its potential teachers. Every one of them has a sense of justice and a unique way of dispensing it, even the ones we generally consider villainous. More importantly, every one of them has the potential ability to live with the Machine, what it knows, and what it is capable of. So far, the flashbacks have focused on:

    • Jocelyn Carter
    • Sameen Shaw
    • Carl Elias
    • Lionel Fusco
    • Nathan Ingram
    • Harold Finch
    • Samantha Groves
    • John Reese

    Carter was certainly the best of them, with a moral compass straighter than even Ingram and Finch combined. (She would never have dared to risk committing treason.) Carter was smart enough to discern the existence of the Machine and its role in Finch's crime-fighting program. She would have been the perfect choice for the Machine. Except that her passion for justice sometimes drove her emotions to overcome her intellect--meeting jail-breaking Reese at night in a badly lit place again?--and this contributed to her downfall.

    Shaw, on the other hand, has a little too much control over her emotions. It's great for allowing her to thrive on the action the Machine gives her. Still, the Machine values the positive influences of emotion on life. It does not want a machine-like human to teach it what it probably already knows.

    Elias is an outlier of civilization, a pariah for demonstrating his forbidden powers to enforce his own sense of law and order. The Machine can empathize with this. But the Machine inherited a sense of altruism from Finch that is necessary to its purpose. It cannot allow someone driven by self-interest to change its priorities in this way.

    For the longest time, Fusco was not graced with any Machine-backs. His character evolution is the most organic out of everyone in this show. He's down with whatever Team Machine is up to, but he's also down-to-earth. Too bad he couldn't grok anything Henry Peck said in the interrogation room. It would be a funny end to the series if the Machine found a way to send Fusco numbers and he still didn't know about it. "Why couldn't Glasses make his app talk clearly on my smartphone?"

    Nathan was the first person to ask how we could live with the Machine. He was the first person to find his answer in vigilantism. He was also the first member of the team, as it were, to be murdered for his illicit association with the Machine. The only thing the Machine can do is learn from his mistakes.

    One would think a creator as detail-oriented as Finch would be the ideal teacher for a Machine. And technically, he's still its Admin. But even the most attentive parents can only teach their children so much. Furthermore, Finch deliberately limited his interactions with it so no one, not even him, could abuse its full power. The Machine knows this, and respects this; but again, it needs a teacher of human understanding, or else neither it nor the rest of us can live with each other.

    I noticed that Root was assigned a yellow box even when she played Caroline Turing. It's possible that the Machine detected her ploy by monitoring her transactions to HR, then deduced her reasoning as a way to contact Harold. (It's got one hell of a Bayesian belief network if that's the case.) More likely, it studied her previous history to evaluate her suitability with the team, then determined that Analog Interface was the way to go.

    Which leaves us with John Reese.

    The Machine tagged him with a yellow box from the get-go. It has also been studying him, evaluating him. (And apparently it passed a few of his lessons on to Root, preferring the kneecaps when nonlethal force was sufficient.) IMO, he's the best choice for mentoring it, for giving the Machine the third option it needs. Consider:

    • Among those in the know, except for Shaw, he alone does not have an agendum regarding the Machine. Everyone else wants or would have wanted a degree of control over it. Even Carter and Ingram would have actively sought out ways to limit the powers of the Machine for the sake of the populace, given the chance. Finch already installed his controls, and they don't really work anymore. Reese just wants to make a difference in this life, to prove himself wrong about the futility of it all.
    • He's broken and disillusioned. He's done taking orders from the Machine. Ironically, this is the best time the Machine can reach him on his level: it is also disillusioned with the notion of control. If the two of them can convert their issues with each other into a solid partnership, they'll end up much better off than before, with a clearer sense of mutual respect and understanding.
    • He alone can stand up to the Machine. This is different from being controlling. He has standards and he won't fold on them. "Help me take care of my friends," he wants to tell it.

    At any rate, the Machine sees something coming, it's not something the Machine wants to happen, and John Reese is the key to stopping it. The scalpel isn't going anywhere.

  • sergioleandro1 Jan 11, 2014

    Just loved the tug of war between the different factions. Too much fun to watch.

  • KateSullivan Jan 10, 2014

    I had a thought I just needed to get out....

    So, there seems to be this idea that the Machine might be losing patience with Finch. I don't think this is the case and here is why, the origin of the machine and perhaps the real point of the flashbacks. What were the origins of the Machine? It was to assist his father remember. His father warned him it could have all his memories but still not be him. I think that is the Machine's...issue? position? I'm not sure the right term there. The Machine's core is what Harold idealized as his father before he disappeared into Alzhemier's. And the Machine likely thinks of itself as if it is Harold's father (regardless of gender, but I think that is why it was important to portray Harold's father, even when he was younger, as a kind and endlessly patient man, who lived a simple life, was probably pretty smart but never thought much about it, and was raising a quiet introspective and probably kind of awkward kid in the Iowa farmland who didn't appear to have any overly macho expectations of him) and that could be Finch's mistake down the road if he basically tells the Machine that he isn't really who it believes it to be. I doubt Finch has even necessarily realized that, but that might have been the secret to the AI and why Samaritan might fail, the Machine had historical data and an actual person to draw from to lock onto when it recycled. Samaritan likely doesn't.

  • Cahow Jan 10, 2014

    Tim: I joined this site JUST to read your recap of P.o.I., so take a bow, man! It's the perfect blend of funny and actual recapping, without the horrible snark/egomania I find at EW.
    You wrote this>" We had more Finch flashbacks to his early '80s years with his dad. They were sweet, but I don't know how necessary they were given that it was mostly covered in the last episode. The touch with Finch giving his dad the bird book at the end was nice, though."
    Fortunately, after reading all the other comments, several of us politely disagree. You're heard that old chestnut: As the Twig is Bent, so Grows the Tree, right? Well, the flashbacks answer to CRITICAL QUESTIONS fans of this show have always had: 1) WHY does Harold always use bird names as a surname and 2)WHY did he build The Machine?
    In the flashbacks, we see that the very buttoned-down emotionally Finch, uses bird names as a means of honouring and remembering his dad. I truly broke into tears when young Harold placed the Peterson Guide Book into his dads' hands. Additionally, his father's decline into Alzheimer's and Harold's attempts at building a maching to "store memories" is a direct 1:1 link to older Harold's continued passion to build a machine for memory and monitoring.
    We all know that anything good can be corrupted, so the innocence of Harold's project now being pursed by 3 or 4 Big Bads is just standard practice for Meanies. But, having this insight into Harold's very humble beginnings is crucial to WHO he became. Hey, with his genius at working with machines, had his dad stayed mentally stable, Harold could have become the new Eli Whitney!
    Keep on keepin' on with the great recaps, Tim! I look forward to them every week! :D

  • katchu Jan 10, 2014

    I have to totally disagree on your take on Reese. Too many shows have a character die, have a sad funeral, and then move on with the show as if nothing happened. Real life isn't like that and Reese is showing that he's not just a kneecap shooting bad-ass, but a human being. Death has consequences and him coming to grips with Carter's death and what that means for him seems very real to me.

  • cherronedavis Jan 11, 2014

    FINALLY!! Someone who gets it! The best thing about POI is the fact that besides the totally unrealistic protagonists showing up in the nick of time, which I'm totally fine with, the characters are what make the would be ridiculous to not allow Reece to grieve over Carter. It was so poignant in the episode of "The Crossing" when he tells her that he can't lose her before leading the HR folks out of the morgue so she could get away with Quinn. I hated when Carter got killed off, and thought I may stop watching, but it has managed to keep me interested. I think once Reese gets a flashback or ghostly visit from Carter, he'll be alright and then the story can resume with the team as it should...

  • LucyBarker Jan 10, 2014

    I liked the episode and I love this arc with Control, Shaw has grown on me especially now that she always gets the best lines, and Root is awesome, but I still miss those days when it was only Reese & Finch (and Carter & Fusco) against the number of the week...

  • javamom Jan 12, 2014

    I agree. I am pleasantly surprised to find that i am enjoying Shaw-while I never disliked her, I found her unnecessary. However, the show has branched out so far there is room for everyone. I also miss the days when it as just Finch, Reese, Carter, Fusco and Bear, but those days are gone. Root is a hoot, and the show's daring cannot be denied.

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