Person of Interest "A House Divided" Review: Hang 'Em All

By Tim Surette

May 07, 2014

Person of Interest S03E22: "A House Divided"

"A House Divided" was a whopper of an episode, a mouthful of moving parts and hazy pathways that had me repeatedly wondering, "Where are they going with this?" for much of the first half. Heck, we weren't the only ones left in the dark. Even our team—fractured and struggling to find order with Finch in the hands of Greer—didn't know what they were supposed to be doing (Shaw continuously asking "Can I kill Control yet?" like a child asking to eat dessert before dinner was a highlight). 

But when "A House Divided" came into focus, OH MY GOD. The more this episode sinks into that spongy mass inside my skull, the more I'm blown away by how awesome it was. It didn't have all the hallmarks of Person of Interest's greatest episodes—deep, personal stories about a main character; laugh-out-loud action-flick talk; a gorgeous music montage—but it appeared to be something bigger. This was a statement episode that exploded out of our televisions and into the heated social climate that's making us all sweat. It gave voice to the fringe element in this prescient discussion of surveillance, the anti-government yahoos wondering if ANY of this technological assistance in the war on terror is necessary. "A House Divided" was all about Vigilance, and even more than that, it was about the man behind that anarchist movement, Peter Collier. 

It was also a fun scenario acting out the great debate about spying on the masses to weed out the few bad terrorist apples. Jonah Nolan loves this shit, and I do too. Finch took the side that an open system (Samaritan) is potentially dangerous as an autonomous machine might render all of humanity "irrelevant" and send toasters to murder us all, Skynet, basically. He believes in the human touch assisted by a powerful, uncorruptable rig that can see more than we do and is really good at math, hence The Machine was created. Greer is all about Samaritan, a judge, jury, and executioner program that removes the human element because he sees man as greedy liars. In a great one-on-one, Finch said, "It's pure hubris to think you can control it," repeating something he's said over and over about Samaritan. Greer counters with a nasty retort that's chilling enough to turn your toes blue: "Who ever said I want to control it?" Oh dammmmmmmmmn.

That's been most of the debate for this back half of Season 3, and it's a good one and oh-so-relevant to today's culture and revelations about NSA leaks, Edward Snowden, and the Xbox One's always-on Kinect camera. Nolan and Greg Plageman have an incredible understanding of the discussion, and are able to establish each side and play it out to the extreme in this world they've created. Do we want limited surveillance that aids our hunt for bad guys and strikes a balance between privacy and effectiveness, or do we want total "all hail our robot overlords" surveillance that squashes terrorism forever? Believe it or not, there are good answers for both. With Finch's plan we retain some autonomy, free speech, and are only blown up sometimes. With Greer's vision, terror can become a thing of the past, we'll just be all miserable chumps scared even to send a text message. 

But there's a third voice that became the loudest during "A House Divided." That of Collier. Collier doesn't subscribe to either Finch or Greer's hoodoo. He wants it ALL gone. And his side was wonderfully expressed through a series of flashbacks, an origin story for a supervillain (or champion of the people?). Collier's brother was wrongfully detained by the government for suspicion of being in league with terrorists when in fact he was an AA sponsor for a man turning his life around. OOPS. Fraught with despair, his brother killed himself (so they tell us), leading Collier on a crusade to end unnecessary measures in the War on Terror and give one pencil pusher at the government a piece of his mind in an incredibly effective scene, the type that Person of Interest has mastered. "You took the wrong information and twisted it," Collier told her in 2010, slamming some files on her desk for emphasis because slamming files shows you mean business. "You're supposed to lock up the criminals, not create them." (Little did he know he was talking about himself at the moment.) One thing Person of Interest does so well is provide motivation for its bad guys, and Collier's drive was beautifully set in motion in this episode. Heck, by the end of "A House Divided," even I didn't know whose side I was on. Collier made some damn good points. That's outstanding television writing. 

Collier's plan in 2014 became clear at the end: he rounded up those government goons and techo-nerds responsible for deprivatizing the country, including Senator Garrison, Control, Greer, and *gulp* Finch, for a pirate broadcast of them on trial. With cameras televising live to the country, Collier spilled these tough truths: "Now is the time to expose the truth to our fellow citizens. The truth that has been lurking beneath the shadows for so long. That their country's no longer theirs. That their freedoms have been stripped away, one camera, one cell phone, one megabyte at a time. Now's the time to pull back the curtain. Welcome to your trial, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the trial of the United States Government. Court is now in session." Oh. My. Lawd. 

I like to think that Nolan and Plageman set this all up beautifully to get us all caught up in Finch and Greer's debate. I, for one, expected these final two episodes to be all about The Machine versus Samaritan in a heavyweight battle between two all-seeing Gods. It parallels the debate raging in real life within our own government. But we forget about that third voice that asks if we should be doing this at all. I'll stop just short of calling Plageman and Nolan anarchists, but I wouldn't be surprised if, given how this mess has played out in their Person of Interest universe and the real world, they wanted Collier and Vigilance to win. And I wouldn't blame them. This was a fantastic episode that was larger than a television show. 


– Those Collier flashbacks, especially the last scene, WOW. So much Dark Knight all over that, but better. Collier was a few lipstick smears away from becoming the joker. But given Person of Interest's real-world entrenchment, all the more believable and all the more scary. 

– Who do you think sent Collier the text message asking if he wanted to know what REALLY happened to his brother? It's in 2010, so it could be anyone. Finch? Ingram? Root? Elias? Someone unseen? 

– When Collier initiated the blackout and said, "Welcome to the Revolution," I didn't realize he meant Revolution the TV show! 

– Ha ha, Hersh's first name is George. 

– "My friend is never wrong, which is as annoying as that sounds." - Shaw on her girlfriend Root.

– Reese: "Is this what The Machine really asked us to do? Drink really bad coffee with unemployed college graduates?" 

– No Fusco in this episode, but this was bigger than Fusco, so I understand. 

– WHAT!? Reese is now sitting in the back seat? What the heck, Shaw? Hersh gets shotgun over Reese? I'm not sure I'm okay with this. Put a leash on Hersh and tie him to the bumper, I say. 

– Collier in 2016!!!

– Guys, I saw Bear in the preview for next week! Yayyyyyy! But seriously, who has been walking and feeding Bear in the past few episodes? There must be dog poop and torn-up books all over Finch's library by now. 

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  • JooPaulo3 May 11, 2014

    Tim your review was great man, I agree with everything and man all the flashback scene was amazing like you mention, the last one was the best of course.

  • Caviezelized May 11, 2014

    On another note, did anybody catch Reese's shoulder brush with the bald "stranger" on the sidewalk? Elias, anyone? I sure hope he's coming back soon.

  • Caviezelized May 11, 2014

    Here's the deal, I think: Vigilance and Decima/Control are two sides of the same bad coin. It's clear what team Nolan and Plageman are on: Team Finch! Finch is their idealized golden mean. His team operates with a blend of the qualities we sympathize with in both extreme sides---a bit of that rebellious, anarchist streak from Vigilance, but also a genuine concern for national and private security. Problem is, such an idealized team operates only on our TV screens. In real life, we're stuck just with the extremes. Our government is like Control, and people who voted for Ron Paul are like Vigilance.

  • Rakim69 May 11, 2014

    Collier and Vigilance are so bad azz

  • delta_belle May 11, 2014

    It would be fun to see Reese/Shaw have a conflict with Greenfield/Daizo/Casey over how trustworthy Root is. The hackers know only the Machine-worshipping Root, who helped them out of serious jams. Whereas Reese and Shaw know the cold-blooded person who kidnapped and murdered without a second thought if it suited her purposes.

  • ILoveTVandDDsBB May 11, 2014

    Did Root just steal a dead man's keys in front of a cop? and it was nice seeing some of Collier's backstory.

  • johnmckenzie338658 May 10, 2014

    Anyone else started to side with Collier and the whole Vigilance movement after those flashbacks ! Amazing episode, well done to the writers for really fleshing out both sides of the argument and not just making it a clear cut case of good vs evil. The Hersche (George!) , Shaw and Reece scenes were hilarious, arguing over their attempts to kill each other lol! and Root has groupies! Poor Harold he has literally been kidnapped by EVERYONE in the show, first Root then Decima now Vigilance.

  • 377221 May 10, 2014

    As great as the back half of this season has (mostly) been, I missed the contrast that the HR arc gave to the ongoing Machine/Decima/etc arc. I mean the HR guys were ambitious, but their empire was only city-wide and their ranks only went as far as someone in the Mayor's office. Greer and Control are great to watch, but they're larger than life, whereas just about anyone could have been Simmons or Terney.

    It was because of that that I dug the hell out of Collier's backstory. I liked him already when he was an enigmatic extremist who always knew where to show up and always managed to slip away when a gunfight went south, but humanising him the way the show did takes his character to the next level. He's now relatable in the way that Simmons and Quinn were. In their case, as Jane Austen said, it is a truth universally acknowledged that an asshole in possession of power must be in want of more power. In Collier's case, as Martin Luther King said, the ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

  • sergioleandro1 May 09, 2014

    "My friend is never wrong, which is as annoying as that sounds." - Shaw on her girlfriend Root. -& I think she meant the machine...

  • sakidele May 09, 2014

    I was literally overwhelmed with this episode. All i could say was: "unbelievable! this is unbelievable!!!!" Bring it on Collier! Finch and I are kicking and punching!

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