Season three of Person of Interest has built on the surveillance state exposed by Edward Snowden in style. Instead of NSA and GCHQ peons going through endless video footage there is a machine, built by Mr. Finch (Michael Emerson) which outputs two types of number, one for the NSA, a threat to national security (yes, I wrote it that way deliberately!), and one from the “not important” pile, which Mr. Finch and his burly offsider, Mr. Reese (Jim Caveizel) use to help people. Assisted by Detective Carter (Taraji Henson), Detective Fusco (Kevin Chapman) and newcomer, Miss Shaw (Sarah Shahi), the dynamic duo prevent wrong-doing and basically go on a technologically fuelled wish-fulfilment adventure, because let’s be honest, what could be more fun than cracking the heads of bad-guys and saving people from themselves or others.
That’s the surface story at any rate.
What lies beneath, as with things of that ilk, is somewhat murkier.
The machine sees all and it learns from what it sees. At the conclusion of season 2 and so-far in this season, it has become clear that the machine is alive. Through #Root (Amy Acker), it acts on the information it gets in an attempt, as we found out in episode 12, to “save us”. The machine is now doing four things at once, the aforementioned numbers given to the NSA and the dynamic duo, protecting itself and moving forward with a grand plan for some as-yet unknown purpose. The statement “Trust in me, I am always watching” from the machine as uttered by #Root was reminiscent of the eye of Sauron in The Fellowship of the Ring: “I… See… All…”. Is the Machine working for us or against us? Is it a benevolent or malevolent god? Mr. Finch created it, but can’t control it, and #Root is it’s physical presence in the world. The Machine, though has managed to move itself lock-stock and barrel from a protected facility to locations unknown. The scene where the team found this out was reminiscent of the episode “Pressure Point” in series 2 of Blake’s 7, where the crew went after the Federation’s Über computer, “Control”, found the location, and broke-into an empty room. The shock-value then and now at finding exactly nothing after all that work was a great twist.
However, the absent Machine has somewhat irritated its owners, who have come after the dynamic duo in an attempt to neutralise them and find their lost system. Also gunning for the team are Vigilance (as-in Thomas Jefferson’s immortal quote, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”), a militia group that somehow know about the machine and are acting to try to stop it. They popped-up earlier in season 3 as another faction working against the team. Finally there is Decima Technologies, a shadowy technology organisation which managed to corrupt the machine in season 2. They wanted administration access to the machine, but thanks to some cunning telephonic work, #Root got it instead.
Season 3 has moved rather quickly forward, reminding me of the seasons of Babylon 5; there’s been less concentration on the upper-level stories of saving people and much more delving into the underbelly of the series, the Machine itself and the people who seek it. I think this is a sign of a great series, but unfortunately when there’s a standard story, I get cranky. Screw the little people, I want to see what happens in the bigger picture!
At the conclusion of the first half of season 3, (episode 11, Lethe), Mr. Reese left the team, dejected after the death of Detective Carter (who died the conclusion of the PR storyline), leaving Mr. Finch to go it alone with the help of Miss Shaw. They were trying to save Mr. Finch’s old college friend, Arthur (Saul Rubinek) who surprisingly created a similar machine — Samaritan — which is being sought by a group which turn-out to be those who have hunted Mr. Reese all through season 2 and 3: the NSA themselves. Mr. Finch, Arthur and Miss Shaw are captured and all seems lost. Meanwhile Detective Fusco and Mr. Reese are participating in a backwater Fight Club and get arrested. I’m scratching my head as to how this “B” story could have been handled better, as it felt a little tacked-on for my liking but in the absence of a constructive suggestion, I think it has to stand. Mr. Reese is pissed off and so is Detective Fusco. Men like this clearly hit things to express emotion.
The return of the series with episode 12, Aletheia is a sprint to the finish and our heroes are dropped into a cascade of traps and near-misses. They are rescued by the increasingly bizarre #Root from the NSA leader, Control (shades of John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy here), trapped in a bank-vault after Vigilance turn up on the doorstep, rescued again by Miss Shaw, then captured again by Vigilance goons.
Something to note here is that as much as I like the show, I think there’s an eventual cost to putting your heroes into so many near-death situations only for them to miraculously escape. It’s what Douglas Adams was trying to avoid in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with Arthur and Ford in the Vogon airlock: for them to escape without a scratch would be a cop-out. Adams was forced to invent the Infinite Improbability Drive upon which much of the rest of the book was built. Carter’s death, I think, was an attempt to say that these heroes aren’t bullet-proof, and perhaps the Machine itself is the show’s Infinite Improbability Drive, which excuses the first escape from Control and her cronies, (and that of #Root from Control’s evil clutches) but not so-much the other two in this episode, that from the safe and from the assembled members of Vigilance by the surprising appearance of Mr. Reese and Detective Fusco who had been putting their feet-up in a cell for a manly chat. I’d very much like the series to have consequences of actions, and for the heroes to be a bit more careful about their identities in the real world. That they reveal their faces to all-and-sundry is a bit contradictory for people who spend so much time working in the shadows. Some ski-masks at the very least would be great, and I’m pretty-sure angle-poise lamps can’t be that hard to come-by for shining in the eyes of people you’re helping or need information from.
Another aspect of this two-parter has been the flashbacks to Mr. Finch’s childhood and the loss of his father to Alzheimer’s disease. We watch through the “eyes” of the machine as we scroll back through years of surveillance footage to different periods. That he first started working on early iterations of the machine to act as backup memory for his dad, and then realised one already — in part — existed was both funny and sad all at once. He has been on the run from the government, seemingly, for a very long time.
As with many of the story-arc episodes of Person of Interest, we’re left with more questions than answers, which to my mind is a great way to do business. Mr. Finch and the team survived, but Mr. Reese has lost faith; #Root looks like she’s hanging out somewhere in Asia, and Decima has managed to obtain Arthur’s Samaritan thanks to a switcheroo at the bank.
Anything could happen next, which is what I’m counting on.