It's starting to sink in that the entire United States is in danger from one of the most powerful authoritarian regimes ever to challenge the nation. On last night's episode of Person of Interest, we watched Samaritan make its first major power moves.
From the opening credits (from Samaritan's POV) to the plot arcs of the episodes, it's clear that season 4 is going to take a long, hard look at Samaritan's world. Which really means we're investigating the nature of A.I. itself — the more we see Samaritan and the Machine doing battle, the more we understand their superintelligent minds. We're also seeing what this show can do with a less episodic structure than its ever had. Yes, we're getting new numbers in every episode, but they all tie tightly into the Samaritan vs. Machine story.
Samaritan's Mystery Hunt
In this episode, Reese gets the number of a brilliant math student and chess grand master We're not sure whether she's in danger or causing it — she's carrying a gun and obsessively playing some kind of deadly Mystery Hunt-style game in New York, solving puzzles that are leading her ... somewhere. Who created this game, and why are they able to embed clues in everything from graffiti to biker bar patches? Also, why is Reese the one getting numbers now? I guess Finch and the Machine are still having drama.
Anyway, the creator of the puzzle hunt game is so smart and such a fast hacker that it can only mean one thing ... Samaritan itself made the game. It's using it as a recruiting tool. So now it's up to Finch to try to tempt this fellow supernerd over to the light side where they kill and spy for great justice (mostly). Reese and Shaw help out, when they can get some time in between police paperwork and heists.
Ultimately Finch can't persuade the number to stop solving the puzzles, partly because he refuses to tell her the full truth about what she's doing. So she can't really make an informed decision, and besides her puzzle OCD has been made a lot worse by the fact that her parents were killed recently in a car accident. There's an interesting scene where she admits to Finch that she feels like all meaning has been drained out of life, and the puzzles give her the meaning she craves. Somehow, it doesn't make her feel better when Finch says reassuringly that life is just random and you have to accept it.
So we've got this person whom Finch is trying to save, the way he does with all the numbers. But at the same time, the number is also a clue to what Samaritan is up to, and what its powers are. It can stage these incredible tests on tons of people at once, slowly building up an army of brilliant, emotionally wrecked people who are seeking meaning and order.
The Authoritarian Personality
The recruitment stuff sounded to me like something straight out of Theodor Adorno et. al.'s famous book, The Authoritarian Personality, about the kinds of people who become fascists. Often these people are deeply traumatized and emotionally vulnerable, seeking an authority figure who will take care of them, protect them, and tell them what to do. Fascist dictators play on the desires of these people by coming across as a commanding father figure, protective but also firmly in charge.
And of course, the instant that our number solves the final puzzle, Samaritan takes on the authoritarian role. First it saves her by murdering some bad guys from Silverpool (you know, like Blackwater), who are trying to kill her for stealing their private data during one of Samaritan's puzzles. Then it says "I will take care of you now" on the special Samaritanphone she finds. Awww, she's found a new daddy.
What's great is that Samaritan is a fantastic evil multitasker. Because once it's got the number firmly in hand, it releases the data she stole from Silverpool, revealing that they killed a bunch of civilians during a recent military conflict. So now one of the main competitors for Greer's company has been taken down, and Samaritan is likely to keep its job.
Batcave Fuck Yeah
Oh and also? Finch made a blisteringly awesome Batcave inside an abandoned subway car, which is now stuffed with wires and monitors and looks seriously badass. So I guess Shaw, Reese and Finch have a new place to hang out with Bear and look all industrial emo together. Love it. And I'm glad to see the gang back together, with their cleverly anonymized tech lair and cryptophones.
Root won't be hanging around too much, though she does randomly show up to give people mysterious updates on what's happening. I'm intrigued by the fact that we never see the Machine's interface anymore — it just speaks through Root now. And it barely tells her anything. At the moment, she's kidnapped an airline pilot, and is pretending to be a flight attendant. Who knows what that means?
I'm not afraid for this show to take us on a season-long arc where every number ultimately ties into the larger conflict brewing between the two A.I.s. I think one of the best parts of this show is that it dares to ask what a non-human form of intelligence would be like. And I'm glad we're getting to see some answers this season.