Person of Interest Season 3 Finale Review: Rise of the Machines
Because you'll wanna, here's Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)" to listen to in the background.
Though it doesn't engage in the same types of psychological horror as, say Hannibal or American Horror Story, Person of Interest can be one of television's darkest shows when it wants to be. So it shouldn't be too surprising that "Deus Ex Machina," the riveting wrap-up of the series' strongest season yet, ended on a total downer and turned us all into nervous wrecks. Making us completely paranoid and scared for our future well-being is what Person of Interest does best, because unlike any other show on television, it's grounded in a very possible realistic near future.
When Root, ever the optimist behind those cuckoo eyes, said, "This was never about winning, it's just about surviving," we knew we were in trouble. Season 3 concluded with our team dispersed and separated from each other and assuming new regular-Joe identities to avoid the all-seeing eye of Samaritan, which is now juiced up with NSA feeds and running nationwide to hunt down deviants. I'd like to think that Greer's relationship with Samaritan as a new take on the film Her, with Greer playing the part of Joaquin Phoenix and Samaritan in the Scarlett Johanssen role as they forge a fun new friendship, but if anything, it's much more like Terminator 2 and the birth of Skynet. Person of Interest has already gone way further down this path than I ever expected (but secretly hoped) it would, and it deserves every bit of praise it receives for unraveling such a bleak future in a real-world way as it transitions away from science-fiction and more toward science-maybe.
The meat of "Deus Ex Machina" focused on the continuation of the trial staged by Peter Collier to expose the crimes of the government and those involved with the expanding surveillance of the American people, and furthered Jonah Nolan and Greg Plageman's ongoing debate over the role of technology and privacy as they pertain to terrorist-huntin'. Things got pretty tense! I mean, how often do you see a prosecutor make an objection with a shotgun blast to a witness's chest? (The objection was sustained, if the blood and the lifeless body were any indication.) That display of legal know-how started the unveiling of all the secrets behind Northern Lights (a.k.a. the Machine) as the cross-examinations heated up. Garrison cowardly gave up Control as knowing more about the program than he did, and for her part, Control was prepared to die before spilling the beans, defiantly falling back on the government's go-to dodge of, "I can neither confirm nor deny blah blah blah." Looking to put an end to the madness, Finch began singing like a canary in the shower, explaining that he was the father of the Machine and broadcasting his biggest secrets to the world. Oh geez.
But "Deus Ex Machina" had one hell of a surprise up its sleeve once the truths and hidden agendas began raining down on us. It turned out that Finch wasn't blurting out all of his backstory to the world, because Greer had orchestrated everything. And Collier wasn't broadcasting his kangaroo court to millions; he just thought he was, because Greer made it appear that way via some sneaky computer trickery. So that's why we never saw the classic shot of random people watching the trial on television screens in a storefront window!
Also, it was Greer who created Vigilance and set Collier on his path of supervillainy through anonymous text messages. Why? Because Greer needed a terrorist group to do bad things, because that would help convince Senator Garrison to give Samaritan access to the NSA feeds so that Samaritan could stop bad guys. Decima faithful assaulted the courtroom, Greer shot Collier, and then Greer staged a terrorist attack in the heart of New York City that killed innocents in the name of Vigilance. One phone call to Garrison later, and Greer had his feeds, Samaritan was online, and we were all fucked.
Then it was musical montage time (YES!), with Radiohead's slow-yet-alarming "Exit Music (For a Film)" providing the tunes, and we got our first glimpse of the world under the robo-police state of Samaritan. "Deviants"—as the opposition was called—were hunted down and shot in the streets (and in police stations) with the justification that they were potential terrorists. The feeds from Samaritan were polluted with data interpretation as every citizen was secretly violated and watched under the guise that it was for the greater good. Greer practically bowed before his Samaritan shrine, and Samaritan asked, "What are your commands?" Greer replied, "I assure you it's quite the other way around. The question is what, my dear Samaritan, are your commands for us?" HOLYSHSIHSIOAHIAHSHAISHTITS!
If last week's "A House Divided" was designed to serve as the opening argument for the privacy debate, "Deus Ex Machina" was the follow-up, where the two extremes began to sound like the preachings of a man in a tinfoil headdress and a fanatic founding techno-religion. Collier's explanation that he never killed an innocent person was true in his eyes, but flawed in the fact that he was the only one deciding who was guilty. Greer was ready to do Samaritan's bidding no matter what it asked him to do, which is unequivocally insane. I can't even keep up with my iPhone's reminders to clean out the litter box, let alone go on a rampage as instructed by a supercomputer.
It's clear now that in this debate, Nolan and Plageman stand firmly in the middle with Finch, believing that limited use of technology to assist with human intervention in terrorist acts—while still respecting people's privacy—is the way to go. Sure, this may have been obvious from the moment Person of Interest premiered, seeing as how Finch is our hero and all, but Nolan and Plageman did one heck of a job of illustrating all sides of the debate. Now, like Finch, we need to sort through the mess and ask ourselves how to properly find a balance between invasion and protection, determine whether the government is trustworthy enough to take on such a task, and consider the possibility that it's all moot because we're already too late. The Pandora's Box has been opened, and there's no going back. Person of Interest is a show that gets you thinking, and sometimes the resulting thoughts aren't all good, but this is the kind of stuff that takes the discussion out of the television and into the real world. What a fantastic season.
NOTES OF INTEREST
– Guys! Just because Samaritan is online doesn't mean we're all doomed. It's important to remember that Greer is the bad guy here, not Samaritan. After Greer asked it what it's commands were, Samaritan's screen filled up with "Calculating response." Well, what will that response be? Person of Interest now has a cool opportunity to examine artificial intelligence in the same way that we wonder about the natural state of man. Are we inherently good people or bad people? Isn't a sophisticated form of artificial intelligence subject to the same question? Presumably, Samaritan will be governed by logic, and on its own it would make calculated decisions. That takes the human element out of everything, which means a lot more sacrificing of one for the lives of two or more, but how different is that from what the Machine did when it asked Reese and Finch to kill Garrison? The idea that Person of Interest could apply the nature-nurture debate to artificial intelligence blows my mind.
– We spent so long wondering what Root was up to on her side quest, and now we have the answer. Unable to stop Samaritan from going online, Root planted Samaritan with seven blind spots—seven identities that would not register on Samaritan's list of people to kill, seven identities that were assigned to Root, Finch, Reese, Shaw, and the three super hackers of Root's army. Shaw wanted to just blow up Samaritan, which seemed like a good idea to me, but it was shot down with Root saying that Samaritan's facility was just one of hundreds all over the world. Well, that's news to me! Believable? Sure, I guess.
– A couple nitpicks about the episode. The reveal that Greer essentially created Collier is kind of a letdown, as Collier was a fantastic addition to the series as a freedom fighter who commanded attention and compassion. But he was just a puppet? That's a bummer. "Deus Ex Machina" also suffered from Convoluted Bad Guy Plot Syndrome, as Greer's multi-year plan to create a terrorist organization that would serve as his opposition just so he could have a valid reason to get Samaritan online stretched the boundaries of plausibility. C'mon bad guys, keep it simple.
– Something I forgot to add last week, and that counts doubly for this week: Leslie Collins, Jr. has been amazing as Collier all season long. I'll be keeping an eye out for more of his work, which he deserves much more of.
– It's crazy to think about how far Reese slid backward as the season's main storyline heated up. I'm sure we'll return to him being a centerpiece moving forward, but right now, he's just a guy who shows up in the nick of time to save people.
– Also crazy: As much as I like the mythology build-up, I'm actually looking forward to a few caper-of-the-week episodes.
– ARGH! R.I.P. Hersh, you big lug. I loved seeing him blast dudes in the face while Reese and Shaw gave him "that's not how we do things" looks.
– Finch: "Why would you ever choose a career where this is an occupational hazard?" Reese: "Well, I tried to quit. But some jackass told me I needed a purpose."
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