Person of Interest "/" Review: Computer Lessons

By Tim Surette

Mar 19, 2014

Person of Interest S03E17: "/"

In addition to its running themes of personal loss, redemption, and shooting someone in just the right spot in the leg, Person of Interest has always been about man's relationship with machines. Specifically, how we can machines to think like we do by creating artificial intelligence that can learn from us and, in extreme cases, adapt on its own. And hanging over that idea is the ever-present notion that the robot uprising will eventually follow, as machines become sentient and realize that metal is a lot harder than skin and bone. This week's excellent episode of Person of Interest, the Root-centric "/" (computer speak for "root directory"), took that idea a step further and put a new spin on it in an hour that asked a different question: What if, for once, WE learned something from the Machine instead of the other way around? 

Finch's Machine has had an affinity for us meatbags ever since it first opened its camera lens and said its first word: "Admin." With a little bit of tinkering, Finch taught it to appreciate human life and made it the badass people-saving entity it is today, and that's never been more apparent that it was in "/."

Root, however, has always been quite the opposite of the Machine, "feelings"-wise: She's robotic and detached, and I'm still taking the show's word for it that she's actually human. She's the Machine's analog interface for its "tertiary operations," a devotee who will blindly do whatever it asks her to do because she believes in whatever cause the Machine is part of. Imagine one of those Apple fanboy freaks, but a million times more crazy.


Together they make one hell of a team, and part of me thinks that Root's disconnection from the world is part of the reason for that. Because Root is so DFW with the Machine and doesn't weigh the consequences of its requests like a normal, rational human being would, she's more likely to do whatever it asks without thinking twice. But something funny happened in "/." The Machine taught Root how to be more human. Whoa

The number of the week in "/" belonged to Cyrus Wells, a seemingly unimportant janitor with a shady past. Root got his digits first, and it wasn't until she found him that the Machine passed his number onto Reese and Finch as well, the idea being that Wells' contact with Root instantly made him a potential victim. And not to take anything away from the Machine's powerful algorithms, but given Root's history of leaving bodies in her wake, it was an assessment that even a Speak N' Spell could have made. 

Long story short so I can make the rest of this story longer, Wells' status as one heck of a janitor meant that he had retinal access to one of the floors in his building that housed a super-computer manufacturer that made an extremely fast computer chip (yes, it was a weird place for a company like that). And it was the kind of computer chip that could handle the processing power required by the dormant Samaritan machine, which Decima Technologies now had in its possession. As Finch put it, Decima had the software (Samaritan), and now they just needed the hardware (the chip). Without the chip, Samaritan was a brick. Kind of like my 16GB iPhone 4s trying to handle iOS7. Seriously, how does my phone suck already!?!?

Very coincidentally, Wells was the victim of an attack in 2009 that killed his coworkers and friends after their company made it big in the stock market. And the perpetrator of that attack was Root, in her old days as a paid assassin. After Wells was taken by Decima, Finch and Root had a fantastic conversation (aren't all Root-Finch chats fantastic?) in which Root confessed that the Machine was telling her over and over again to save Cyrus when getting that chip was her main goal. "How badly did you have to break it to make it care about people so much?" an incredulous Root asked. "I didn't break it, it's what made it work," Finch said. "It was only after I taught the Machine that people mattered that it could begin to be able to help them. I'd like to be able to do the same for you if you'd let me." Awww. But Root wasn't on board with Finch's "human life is precious" lesson; in fact, she was practically offended that he'd even think such a thing. 

It wasn't until later, when she was faced with grabbing the chip or saving Cyrus's life that she chose Cyrus, making her God happy. "Was it just a coincidence, Cyrus and me? Or was the Machine trying to make some sort of point?" Root asked Finch. "You'd have to ask the Machine," he said. "I did, she's not telling," Root said. And so the Machine reared its divine head again, its analogy to God perfectly fitting its refusal to answer questions while letting its subjects arrive at the answers on their own. And in convincing Root to save Cyrus, the Machine absolved Root of her past sins. 

I've always loved the Machine = God themes, but I like to think that the Machine taught Root this lesson because it requires that Root be on the same page if the two are going to continue their relationship. The Machine needs Root and wants to be closer to Root. And now Root has a sweet communication device implanted in her ear, making her the cutest cyborg on the block and that much more of a machine herself. It's almost like what we do when we create a video-game character; we make it look like ourselves and act like ourselves. And in some crazy sense, the Machine is transforming Root into its real-world avatar. *brain explosion!*

And while Cyrus got his happy ending and the chance to start a new life, Decima now has the chip and is a few turns of a screw from installing Samaritan. Person of Interest is setting up a war of machines, or gods as Root calls them, for a kickass season finale. In one corner there's Samaritan, an open-source powerhouse that will be programmed for nefarious purposes by Greer and his goons, and in the other corner there's our Machine, a program that understands that we humans might not be so bad after all. I know which side I'll be on. 



NOTES OF INTEREST

– The final image of the episode showed the computer calculating casualty probabilities. Among the names was a Maria Martinez. Who is she? Not sure, but I'm guessing she'll appear in the next episode. And based on the number the Machine displayed for her probability of death, she's a goner.

– Shaw is positioned to be the new arch rival of Vigilance, which is a pretty smart move for the show. Just as HR was mainly Carter's beef and that arc paid off beautifully, Shaw can have her own important niche as Vigilance's headache. Without the dying, hopefully. 

– Ha, Fusco. Yeah, he's relegated to being the cop who gets people out of trouble, but he's still popping up to call Root "Cocoa Puffs" and "Cuckoo's Nest." Fusco may be a bit underserved, but he's still making his time count.

– Another amazing performance by Amy Acker, who continues to prove that there is no better actor for the role of Root. And boy can that woman taze!

– Awesome intro AGAIN, with Root providing half of the voiceover. Person of Interest's attention to detail and willingness to go the extra mile is astounding.

– The notion that Root learned the value of human life has huge implications for Root's characters if the lesson sticks. There's obviously been a love affair between the writers and Root, so there's a natural want to bring her over to the "good" side. Yet Person of Interest has pushed her along at exactly the right pace. She may not be entirely on Finch's team, but she's not the psycho she was when she was first introduced, and there's plenty of room for the writers to push her back into that territory if they so choose. She's in the perfect zone right now. As she says, "I know it seems weird but I'm one of the good guys, Harold." Weird indeed. Even Finch admitted that they're going to have work closely together. 

– Yep, that was the dude from Arrow (Colin Donnell) in the opening. Hello, dude from Arrow


– I love that Person of Interest isn't afraid to film in the elements. That scene in the snow was awesome. The weather adds so much texture to the show. Why don't all shows do this?

– While Finch was trying to figure out the secret code in the boner-pill spam message that Root sent him. Shaw: "Seems pretty clear to me, Finch." Reese: "I think she likes you, Harold." With friends like these, who needs enemies?

– "/":Root::"Razgovor":Shaw kinda!

– Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw Root and Shaw.

– This episode, written by David Slack, had that perfect mix of action, character work, mythology, and humor (I especially liked Root referring to Reese as an Australopithecus and helper monkey) that makes up all of Person of Interest's best episodes. Season 3 has been great, and "/" was another outstanding installment. 


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  • AssandroJourn Apr 03, 2014

    I hope Root gonna replace Reese. She's perfect for Machine. Reese is kinda fading away a bit. He's just not that smart.

  • mojoboy31 Mar 27, 2014

    @Tnetenba: (awesome name by the way), Root's two gun aiming without looking has to be the stupidest thing in this show. And nice recall on the Jack Bauer knife through bulletproof vest :D

  • zsandmann Mar 25, 2014

    I swear this show just keeps upping itself. I wanted to see it slowly (SLOWLY) evolve from cop procedural to full on sci-fi and that seems to be just what is happening. Amazeballs!

  • salirun Mar 25, 2014

    Reese is still the machine's greatest asset. The machine is built on Finch's philosophy and Reese is a follower of the same philosophy.

    "That power you have? I've had it too.I know just what it's like to have all those answers buzzing in your ear. But at the end of the day, you still make choices."

    Root had to be taught that. Reese already knew it.

    Except for compassion, Root is the perfect 'analog interface' for the machine. The qualities she possess makes her the ultra unique candidate for this position,
    Loyalty to the machine
    Hacking skills
    Knowledge
    Assassin experience
    Hunger for direct connection to machine

    Now that she has coaching for "people matters" from Finch and an ever reliable connection, she is on the verge of being the perfect combatant for the machine.

    I still believe the machine wants Samaritan to be up and running. For what, that's yet to be seen.

    Can anybody explain why Root was missing from the threat assessment?

  • delta_belle Mar 25, 2014

    I meant to say, it'd be interesting if Peter Collier were to discover that one or more of his followers is in it just for the guns and fights. Not because (s)he believes in Vigilance's cause.

  • delta_belle Mar 25, 2014

    It'd

  • hopitopia Mar 24, 2014

    Bear in the snow! And opening and closing scenes. For the win. (Everyone else has talked about everything else, seeing this almost a week late.)

  • GirishKrishna1 Mar 23, 2014

    Root's character development has been spectacular throughout the show's run. This was an amazing episode.

  • hopitopia Mar 24, 2014

    Amy Acker! Ladies and gentlemen! I will now go watch Angel and cry as Fred dies....and Illyria is born.

  • Tr4cker Mar 22, 2014

    Am I the only one who doesn't understand the appeal of 'Root'?

    When she first came on the scene, she was by far the annoying and irritating villain I've ever seen in any show or movie. She's a complete psychopath who's incapable of feeling any bit of empathy and her demeanor is of some condescending defensive bitch who acts superior to everyone and somehow gets away with it because of her leet hacking skillz.

    But she was the VILLAIN, i.e. she was going to be put down eventually. You see, this is why we make villains so unlikable - so that when they're defeated, we don't feel bad for wanting them to die.

    What happened next simply baffles me. Instead of dying, she becomes a main character! As in, an unlikable villain is now a PROTAGONIST! Not only that, but she has become MORE irritating, rude and holier-than-thou, especially towards the other protagonists who ARE likable.

    And then the writers decide to give her the equivalent of superpowers. I honestly can't think of a worse protagonist in any media ever in the history of the world, and yet..

    You people seem to like her. Why? Because the actress who plays her does a great job. So what?! If Gary Oldman becomes the next member on the team and he plays his best Ukranian terrorist figure.. are we all going to like that? Of course not.

    Evil characters need to remain antagonists and YES root is evil. Why? Because she thinks like a villain, acts like a villain and is acted like a villain. The fact that she's somehow supposed to be a protagonist without ANY character transition (and yes, I watched this episode - weepy eyes are not character transition. I'm talking about an actual moment where she changes as a person, which is IMPOSSIBLE because she's a fucking PSYCHOPATH!), is the result of nothing less than shitty writing.

    Sorry, Mr. Nolan. You had a great idea at first.

  • SelAromDotNet Mar 24, 2014

    omg yes, I'm with you all the way, especially with when you say "annoying", GOD her character is AWFUL but now they're trying to redeem her and make her likeable. I, like you, only put up with her awful character because I figured eventually they'd kill her, now she's going to be on the team? blah. this show hasn't disappointed me in the long run yet tho, so I still think they'll do it, but I bet you anything she's going to die by sacrificing herself so she dies a hero. boooooooo!!

  • chrelle66 Mar 23, 2014

    No, I don't understand it either.
    All I know is that I think she is awesome and I want her on screen as much as possible.

  • delta_belle Mar 23, 2014

    I hope they kill off Root by season's end. As it is, Reese has to hold his nose while working with her. I can't see him keeping that up indefinitely.

  • Benko1 Mar 22, 2014

    This is really an amazing show. Humor (Where were you before this? Shaw names some Psychiatric Hospital), wonderful character development e.g. Root and Shaw, a great plot line with twists and turns, and an great cast with talented recurring characters e.g. Elias, Zoe Morgan, Leon and a number of gov't baddies.

    Best written show on TV. Kudos.


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