I'm of two schools of thought on Person of Interest's Season 2 finale. On one hand, some of the series-long questions that have been nagging us forever were answered spectacularly through flashbacks, and their answers tied in nicely to what was happening in real-time. On the other nitpickier, never-satisfied, spoiled hand, some of the present-day action felt a bit underserved, and the impact didn't quite reach the heights of Season 1's stellar closer, "Firewall." But "God Mode" did leave us in a fantastic place—a frightening place, too—for Season 3 and broke new ground on the importance of the show's most intriguing character... The Machine.
Picking up where last week's excellent "Zero Day" left off—after the two most important phone calls ever made—The Machine created multiple admins and gave Root and Reese access to its goodies. And one of the perks of being the Mayor of Computertown is you get all sorts of help that only an all-knowing super machine can provide. Free cars, building plans... this thing could probably also order you a pizza if you asked it to. It's like Google Glass but you don't have to look like a dork, plus it actually works. And most importantly, it lets you do this badassery:
Person of Interest is no stranger to moments that leave you panting and saying, "Whoa." But a bluetooth headpiece connected to The Machine giving Reese the whereabouts of imminent threats through clockspeak was ridonkulously awesome. And it turned the series on its head again. The Machine as an active participant in Reese and Finch's lives had been teased before, like when Reese spoke to it in "Firewall" and demanded help from it, but The Machine acting as Reese's eyes and ears opens up an entirely new relationship. Suddenly The Machine's ability to save lives—which seemed distant and disconnected when all it did was survey the world and type out social security numbers—is now right at hand. It's no longer a database of suspects, it's the next step in super-soldier integration! Reese powered by The Machine? YOU HAVE NO CHANCE, BAD GUYS! I can't wait until it starts talking to Bear.
From there, the episode spent most of its time on the hunt for the whereabouts of The Machine, the idea being that Root was attempting to set it free like it was Mumia Abu-Jamal or something. Root and Finch formed one team; Shaw and Reese comprised the other and set out in hot pursuit of Finch. And unbeknownst to all of them, madman assassin Hersh and his boss Special Counsel were the uninvited third party.
But despite some great action capers from Shaw and Reese, the search for The Machine's whereabouts was wasn't as thrilling as it could've been. Maybe it's because I felt like the exact location of The Machine didn't matter much from a viewer standpoint. What did matter to me was who got there first, and that important fact didn't translate as well in the hunt for clues. Reese played "Where in the World is The Machine?" but Finch knew where it was all along; Finch created one thread that had Reese stumbling onto Finch's old clues and another that relied on Finch changing his mind and revealing what he knew. It wasn't as exciting as the cross-country chase would've had us believe, when you think about it, but that bar was raised pretty high in "Zero Day."
When Root and Finch arrived at The Machine's supposed location (in my neck of the woods, the Pacific Northwest), the big secret came out: It was gone. The warehouse in the nuclear storage facility it was supposed to be housed was emptier than Reese's gun clip at a Bad Guys in Shorts fashion show (oh those delicious un-shot legs...). And that's when Finch revealed the truth: He had already set The Machine "free," or at least given it the ability to set itself free. When she saw that her sole purpose in life was crushed, Root was pissed and turned her gun on Finch, but she was stopped just in time by Shaw and Reese (phew!). I love Amy Acker, and her performance in this episode was outstanding, but for some reason I really enjoyed seeing her get shot. No one points a gun at my bud Finch and gets away with it! Don't worry, it was just in her pretty little shoulder, which is a nice contrast for Shaw relative to Reese's limb of choice. Those two could travel the country making quadriplegics out of everyone.
Finch had some 'splainin' to do to ALL of us. And his plan to save The Machine was a crafty (and slightly hokey, but I expect that from this show) solution. Finch explained that The Machine was no longer accessible by anyone, but it could defend itself and alter its code if it was under attack. Knowing that someone would eventually try to control of The Machine, Finch coded the only kind of virus that could attack it—the virus Decima used—and included a sneaky virus within the virus to give The Machine the ability to sprout legs and roam the countryside. Well, sort of. The Machine was able to draft orders, by faking it was Special Counsel, to have itself shipped piece-by-piece to a new location entirely, in order to keep it out of the hands of the wrong people. That would have seemed ridiculous without last week's idea that it created its own fake persona, but now it not only works, it's genius.
Those wrong hands for The Machine to end up showed up to the warehouse in Special Counsel and Hersh. Some tough talk and a remarkably peaceful exit by Root, Finch, Shaw, and Reese later, Counsel got on the horn and rung up his boss, a shadowy female figure that we met for the first time. There's always someone above, and this particular someone likes to wear lady gloves. (This should be a highly sought after role next season, and I'm sure they'll get someone great.) With Counsel's mission a failure, lady boss asked Counsel to pass the phone to Hersh and gave Hersh orders to kill everyone because the government is efficient like that. Counsel took the job termination like a champ, understanding the program and giving one of television's great farewell lines: "Fair enough" before Hersh plugged him in the chest. That is a GREAT employee. If he wasn't being lowered into the ground, he would deserve a raise.
So now The Machine is hitchhiking across the country or something, enjoying its freedom as a sentient being and crimefighter. But Finch doesn't have an idea of how it will respond to this freedom, and the question remained whether or not it will continue to spew out digits, and if so, to whom? We got our answer quickly in the final moments, as Reese and Finch, the government's "research" team, and Root–now comfy in the robes of an insane person at a mental institution–all got a call from The Machine. Apparently The Machine isn't done stopping bad guys, even when it's rogue. And apparently it doesn't mind having three admins!Intriguing!!!
In my opinion, the flashbacks were stronger than the present-day story and finally detailed the death of Nathan Ingram and the limp of Mr. Finch. But more importantly, we learned a lot more about what drove Finch to become the person he is today and why he freed The Machine. We knew Nathan was desperate to use the irrelevant numbers to help people and that Finch needed some convincing. And when Nathan attempted to blow the whistle on the existence of The Machine, Finch was understandably reluctant to join him. The government had been killing anyone tied to The Machine, and Finch figured it had its sights set on Nathan, and probably him too.
Using a terrorist found by The Machine, Hersh set him on the site where Nathan was going to meet a reporter and blew him up along with Nathan and everyone else around there as a cover for their own naughty deeds. Finch survived, but had no choice to make everyone else believe he was dead to keep the government from killing him. Those people who needed to believe he was dead included his fiancee Grace, answering how that relationship ended. HOW SAD IS THAT? But the best came later. Following Nathan's death, Finch stumbled upon The Machine's most recent irrelevant list and saw Nathan's number right there and realized that he could have prevented his partner's death. And when The Machine rebooted and erased its list of irrelevant numbers, Nathan's included, it was like the truth and the opportunity went with it. Finch wasn't going to let that happen again. It's great inspiration for Finch to think Nathan's crazy dream of using The Machine to save innocents wasn't so crazy after all. We knew a lot of this information already, but seeing it play out and fill in the gaps did more to define Finch and why he's turned into the vigilante computer nerd we see today than anything else, and that's as important to the series as anything.
This is as "kooky conspiracy theory" as the show has ever been, painting the government at its most untrustworthy and touching on what it presented earlier in the season when it introduced this other half of The Machine. And that's a good thing. When Jonathan Nolan pitched Person of Interest before it aired, he talked a lot about the abundance of digital information that's readily available and how scary that is. Now, we're entering the next obvious phase where we see how this information is used, how the government is already using it, and what could happen if the wrong people were to get a hold of it. Whether it ends up in the hands of a zany cybergeek or a shady government organization, it's a cautionary tale to ease up on the secrets you share on Facebook. As we head into Season 3, Person of Interest is at its most paranoid. It's also just as good as ever.
NOTES OF INTEREST
– I didn't want to spend too much time on Carter's storyline this week, which basically saw her keep doing what she's been doing all season long: crazy things that are at odds with her job as a cop. But unfortunately the juiciest part of her story, sitting in a car with criminal mastermind/part-time friend Elias after saving his life, didn't get much time. I hoped that the HR storyline might get more of a wrap-up in the finale, but instead it's still wide open for Season 3.
– One major nitpick I think we can all agree on is the complete absence of Fusco in the final two episodes. That's inexplicable, but I guess there just wasn't enough room.
– But we did get some Bear!
– That Ferrari was totally rad. Such a perfect Shaw car.
– I loved that car flip off the freeway even if we didn't get to see it. How freaky would it be to witness a car careen off an overpass, land on its top, and then have two people, including a hot chick with a giant shotgun, crawl out of it like it was NBD? My question: Did they helicopter over to the Pac NW?
– "Okay look, I already broke you out of jail tonight, I'm not springing you from the funny farm." Shaw, after Reese started speaking to light poles. But Shaw, you would break him out of a looney bin if you had to. You know you would.
– I want a lot more Shaw next season, and I think we'll get it. But I wouldn't worry about a Shaw-and-Reese romance... I think Nolan and company are smart enough to know that isn't what we want. Besides, Reese has Zoe and apparently Shaw is into Bear.
– As a final thought, I'd just like to say that Person of Interest has been a real treat, especially when compared to the rest of the dramas on network TV. And Season 2 was just as thrilling as Season 1. Gotta love this show!
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter if you want to: @TimAtTVDotCom