In the mid-season finale of Person of Interest, we took some time to ponder Finch's past and find out more about what motivated him to become a hacker. And then the show dropped a major, major bombshell. Spoilers ahead!
As the episode opens, everybody is still freaked out and pissed off by Carter's death. Finch is refusing to answer the Machine's calls. He's also a little humiliated that he's had to call on Root to help out with HR, and still obviously upset that Root has a special relationship with the Machine.
In a series of flashbacks, we discover that Finch was partly prompted to become a technologist because his dad was so encouraging. And then, when his dad developed what seems to be Alzheimers, Finch dreamed of a day he could create a machine that would never forget anything so that it could become a helper for people like his father. So we can see why he has an intense, emotional reaction to the Machine. It's sort of his child, and sort of his father. And of course Root sees the Machine as a mother.
Though Root urges Finch to reach out to the Machine, he refuses — so the Machine somehow contacts Root with the number of the week. We have no idea how.
Turns out the number belongs to Artie from Warehouse 13 (OK I know he's not Artie, but I want him to be so bad, especially when he and Finch sing the MIT song together). He's an old MIT classmate of Finch's, whose work with the NSA has put him in danger now that he's got a brain tumor and tends to blab about any old classified project that pops into his head. The evil, Anonymous-like group Vigilance is after him, and so are a bunch of shady government types.
Shaw tries to protect him, but it's hard — especially when he recognizes Finch and confesses that he's been working on a program for the NSA called Samaritan. Turns out Samaritan was to be exactly like the Machine, or an AI that can synthesize data and predict acts of terrorism. Apparently the government had a ton of these projects going on, but shut them down suddenly after Finch perfected the Machine. Or did they?
I adore this scene where Artie and Finch talk about Samaritan, and Artie name-drops a bunch of hilariously real-sounding names for government projects. Then he says all of them were shut down "except that piece of crap Prism," which was just a decoy project to keep people from looking at what was really going on. Ohhh, poor Snowden! He only got documents on the fake NSA project! This is the kind of moment that makes Person of Interest such a sly, smart show.
Meanwhile, Reese has skipped town and is drowning his sorrows in twenty thousand whiskys at his dad's old bar in Colorado. Fusco has to go out and find him, and get him into an inexplicable fist fight. I mean, it's always worth it to see Fusco's fight face, but this whole subplot felt like it should have been a little more zany or a little more sad.
I hope that Reese's manly moments with Fusco make him feel better. Nothing like a fist in the face to help you cope with grief?
But back to the important stuff. The more we follow the story of Artie, the more we realize that he's in danger. He can't remember his long-suffering wife, who is constantly at his side. But he does remember that he was really close to perfecting his version of the Machine. Unfortunately, Shaw and Finch don't manage to figure out that the person who is the biggest danger to Artie has been sitting in the room with them all along, learning their secrets.
How cool is it that Artie's fake wife turns out to be the mysterious Control, who headed up the Machine project at the NSA? Plus, Camryn Manheim plays her as a total badass. Loved her about-face when she goes from playing Artie's "confused wife" to being the don't-fuck-with-me boss of everyone in the room.
Though Artie is convinced that the government shut Samaritan down, Control insists that the AI is out there still, somewhere "on those drives." Unfortunately Artie is so far gone that it's very possible that he did unleash Samaritan on the world, but doesn't remember it. Control doesn't really give a shit — she just wants to know where Samaritan and the Machine are, and she's willing to kill anybody who gets in her way.
She and her henchmen have Finch, Artie, and Shaw at gunpoint, and that's where this episode leaves us. While our heroes are in danger, Reese is off bromancing Fusco in Colorado, and apparently there's another AI out there whose powers match those of the Machine.
Which totally punches all my Neuromancer buttons, since the climax of that novel (spoilers for a 30-year-old novel, you whiners) comes when the two AIs — Neuromancer and Wintermute — actually meet one another and become an altogether new being. Also, I started wondering whether maybe Root's machine is Samaritan, though I think there's way too much evidence that it actually is the Machine. I suspect we haven't actually met Samaritan yet.
Here's the best part. As the episode ends, the Machine's newest POV appears on screen. Now its mind is depicted like a swirling neural network, and it's becoming more brain-like than ever.
And then, it starts thinking about all those other government projects to create AI. And the status of Samaritan goes from "deactivated" to "unknown." Plus, we learn that the Machine has a category of "competing systems" that it's been monitoring. This is a major shift for the show, whose premise has been that the Machine is unique.
Also, note that in the lower right corner we see Prism has an "active, decoy" status. Oh, Person of Interest — so snarky! I can't wait to see where this new "competing systems" subplot will take us in January when the show returns.