"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.