On Person Of Interest, It's Always A Trap

Last night’s episode of Person of Interest felt ridiculously rushed, with 100 important developments crammed into an hour and a lot of implausible twists. But it still had some really fascinating ideas — including the question of how quick you should be to deem other people expendable. Spoilers!

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Basically, “Asylum” was about people walking into traps. There were three of these storylines crammed into one episode: 1) Reese and Fusco get involved in the Elias-Dominic gang war and wind up getting trapped with Elias when Dominic’s men attack — except that it’s sort of a trap that Elias has set for Dominic. 2) Finch and Root go to rescue Shaw, except that they’re walking into Samaritan’s headquarters and it’s a trap to get the Machine to reveal its location. 3) Control captures one of Samaritan’s agents, who’s masterminded the infiltration of Control’s staff, and learns that Samaritan is planning some kind of apocalyptic event called the “Correction.”

The episode definitely suffered from trying to move too many balls forward at once — including the reveal that Shaw is alive but has been brainwashed to become an agent of Samaritan. (This didn’t work all that well, partly because apparently Sarah Shahi isn’t actually back, so we kept “just missing” her.)

There were also a number of implausible twists — like the Samaritan agent having “the Correction” written in her day planner. REALLY? Also, how did the Machine not know that this abandoned asylum was Samaritan’s main base of operations? I get that Root blackmailed the Machine by basically threatening to commit suicide unless it helped her rescue Shaw, but the Machine could have shared what it knew. Also, Dominic, the mastermind who’s one step ahead, can’t see through one of the most obvious con games I’ve ever seen. This episode also suffered from some of the weaker melodrama I’ve seen on this show, with the normally excellent Amy Acker having a hard time making this material work.

It’s entirely possible that I’ll see next week’s season finale and the payoff will be so excellent that “Asylum” will retroactively seem great. But for now, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity — particularly since the show has spent the past six or seven episodes somewhat treading water on the Samaritan storyline.

That said, the central motif is sort of interesting: how much you value human life, particularly that of your friends. In the “A” storyline, Elias’ goal is to trick Dominic into executing his right-hand man, in retribution for the death of Elias’ sidekick, Scarface. Elias uses a complicated scheme involving pneumatic tubes, courthouse massacres and bank vaults to make Dominic believe there’s a mole inside Dominic’s organization, and it’s his lieutenant, Link. Even though Elias is doomed, he’s managed to damage Dominic’s credibility with his own men, as well as turning the tables. (And meanwhile, Harper is working for Dominic but seems to be secretly scheming to get Fusco and Reese out of danger.)

In the “B” storyline, we get another confrontation between the Machine and Samaritan, this time with no creepy little kid involved. Samaritan doesn’t seem to care when its operative Martine is killed, and Greer says that “we’re all irrelevant.” But the Machine cares enough about Root and Finch to sacrifice itself to save them — and let’s hope the Machine has a hole card here, since otherwise next season will be just our heroes running from Samaritan endlessly with no respite. Anyway, the difference between the two A.I.s is that one of them sees its human agents as nothing but tools, while the other cares about them, and about human life generally.

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And in the “C” plot, it’s fun to watch the Samaritan agent try to play the “mom” card with Control, only to find out what happens when you fuck with the spymaster. I really hope next week’s episode is just Control breaking people’s heads, right and left, for an entire hour.


Contact the author at charliejane@io9.com.

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DISCUSSION

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amp0730: now part of CJA's pelvis throne

Holy. Shit. I said I was going to save my Cool_Breeze style review for the finale, but fuck that noise. The more I think about it, the more I realize there was actually quite a lot I didn’t like about this episode. But holy shit the crazyness makes up for it, full stop. And we’re splitting this up because both storylines were great. We’ll start with Root and Harry. And MOTHERFUCKING CONTROL.

1. CONTROL DOING CONTROL THINGS. You magnificent bitch. Seriously; Caroline Manheim is not particularly busy, I want to see more of her next season (if she survives the finale, ohgodohgodohgod). Anyway, I loved how she immediately saw through the ‘mommy’ angle and totally tore down the Samaritan handler. And props for finally figuring out who was behind the curtain.

2. Root and Finch in the subway! Ok; Root has collected a chip, a massively powerful compression algorithm, and a case that can is nigh indestructible. The chip is getting something funky put on it, and then it’s going in the case. And then where is this case going?

3. SHAW’S PHONE RINGS?! Wait, why the hell do they have Shaw’s phone? Uh, ok. AND HOLY CRAP ITS SHAW CALLING...oh come on, this is so obviously a trap. To Root’s credit, she acknowledges as much, and even though she clearly loses her rational edge when Shaw is involved, this seems like a bit much, even for her. But, if it means we get more crazy Root, I’m all for it. But then! To get The Machine to give up Shaw’s location...Root threatens to kill herself? wtf is up with these characters risking their own death to get what they want? Wasn’t a big fan of the whole exchange, but The Machine relents and fun follows.

4. Getting into the asylum was hilarious. “I don’t know...she’s really fixated on this shovel.” “You put me in a psychiatric clinic, this turnabout is totally fair.” “I didn’t dress you like a homeless person when I dropped you off though!”. “Tell Lenny they stole his spaceman.”

5. Oh hey, Samaritan HQ. That’s probably not good. And then we get to Shaw’s interrogation room and...oh boy. Samaritan has a creepy brainwashing thing going on about obediance and duty, etc. Martine goes off on how it took a few months, but they broke Shaw eventually! Seriously...I hope not. Brainwashing? Computer chips in the brain regulating brain chemistry and such? Ehh...no. This show is at its best when it stays in the realm of what we actually have, and all of that seems too over the top. I still think a more compelling story is for Shaw to have flipped sides without any real coercion, agreeing to kill relevant threats for Samaritan as long as she doesn’t have to be the one to take out The Machine Gang. Also, they broke her and got the info about Root’s cochlear implant...but not the subway hideout? I don’t know, I’m not really buying any of this, but again, these freaking writers have proven that they deserve some patience. Super bonus points if Shaw received messages from The Machine to give Samaritan just enough info to make a mistake.

6. Root killing Martine...while enormously satisfying was really, really terribly done. Whatever happened to Root’s derringer? Should have used that. Neck snapping? Dumb.

7. Back to the Artist formerly known as Control: so, Samaritan is about to execute a plan called...”The Correction.” That...sounds bad. REALLY bad. OMFG NEXT WEEK CAN’T GET HERE SOON ENOUGH.

8. HAROLD, YOU ARE WRONG. YOU ARE NOT INTERCHANGEABLE. What? I’m not crying, you’re crying!

Where are John and Fusco? Why, in the middle of a massive gang war!

1. So, so clever using a pneumatic tube system for sending messages across the city. This kind of stuff is great; I’ll dig into why in a little bit. Anyway, John figures out where Elias is hiding out, and goes to meet him. But, shortly after he shows up, all hell breaks loose and Dominic and The Brotherhood show up. Dominic smartly covers all exits, and all 3 end up tied to a chair. Again.

2. “Looks like you got shot. Give him my regards.” “He’s dead.” /utter look of terror on Link’s face.

3. SHOW ME YOUR BRIGHT LIGHTS, AND CITY LIGHTS, OH YEA, I’M TALKIN ABOUT HARPER ROSE! Another character I want to see more of next season. Goes with the soft deception, but later reveals that she was sent by Thornhill! Holy crap.

4. Dominic is quite an interesting character. He doesn’t want to kill Elias, John and Fusco until he figures out how they get their information. But, he has no idea how deep that rabbit hole goes. I think Elias has it fairly well figured out, which is how he stayed off the radar for so long. Still, credit to Dominic for figuring out that there is a shell game going on, but it will be interesting to see if he lives long enough to be able to exploit that.

5. Even though Dom is in a position of considerable power, Elias pulls one over him even while being tied to a chair. He tricks Dominic into thinking there is a mole in his ranks, and Dominic is quick to kill his 2nd in command, Link, to prove a point. Problem is, Elias made it all up. He just wanted Dominic to kill his 2iC out of spite, because he knows Dominic is going to win. But by doing that, Dominic will have lost a lot of respect for his gang members. Dominic’s ruthless demeanor hasn’t won him any loyalty; it’s his ability to get results. The moment he starts screwing up, his people are going to turn on him. Still very curious to see how all of this plays out.

So here we are; Root and Finch are going to try to stop “The Correction”, Fusco, Reece and Elias are tied up and at the mercy of Dominic’s gang. When the Samaritan handler was talking about people not making it, I was SUPREMELY NOT HAPPY they chose that moment to pan over Fusco. But it’s pretty obvious plenty of people aren’t making it out of the finale. And whenever Sarah Shahi has it in her to return, I imagine a horrifically traumatizing arc for Root will follow. Horribly, in her efforts to save the only two people she’s ever cared about in decades, Root might have doomed The Machine in the process, which I’m sure she’ll take well.

My prediction for the finale: Neuromancer. I think The Machine is a step ahead of everyone, and already has a plan that everyone is unwittingly following. I’m pretty sure The Machine has already gotten most of its servers and/or source code onto Samaritan’s servers. Without the source code to Samaritan that Finch was going to acquire, it can’t full on take-over Samaritan; but I think it will sacrifice itself to merge the part of it that cares about people into Samaritan. Which, hopefully, will lead to something that I kind of want to see in Season 5(if the show gets re-upped WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK ARE YOU WAITING FOR CBS?!?!?!): They need to make the show smaller. PoI is at its best when it shows how much of our society we have already turned over to machines and computer programs; and how close we are to creating this horrible dystopia featured on the show. That’s what was great about the pnumatic chutes system; this process has been going on for centuries, but we are now finally reaching a point where we are creating an environment that almost doesn’t need us. What the hell happens then? Nolan and Plageman have frequently referenced the Cambrian Explosion, and I think that’s where the show should be going. Sure, keep the big threats from the government and Decima, but make that background noise. Make the show about how individual AI’s could start to shape the world around us. The Cambrian Explosion reference is an apt one; half a billion years ago, the oceans were positively teeming with very simple life. After a few evolutionary sparks, complex life arrived and everything changed. The primordial oceans in this case would be the massive amounts of data that is stored on and off the internet. Once Samaritan stops killing people reseaching AI systems, who is to say what will pop up?

This. Damn. Show.