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!