The smartest show on television is back. At the end of Season 4, Person of Interest left its cast in dire straits: The Machine is in a box; Samaritan agents are gunning for Finch, Reese, and Root; Shaw is missing; Fusco saw the city’s two crime kingpins assassinated before his eyes. Season 5 starts right where everything left off.
A solid half of the episode is spent with the Team trying to get off the streets and back to the base. John, Harold, and Root have been separated after their showdown at the power station, and Samaritan agents are tracking them. While Finch and Reese are able to escape onto a Ferry and make it safely back home, Root gets stuck on the wrong subway with too many would-be good Samaritans (no pun intended. Okay, that was a lie; pun fully intended). Samaritan [the AI] demonstrates another chilling ability that seems all too real: by sending target “news” updates, the AI convinces a few bystanders with a tendency towards citizen’s arrests/law and order that Root is a dangerous criminal who needs to be stopped. Root finally manages to escape to the hideout of some former criminal associates, who are not entirely happy to see her.
Meanwhile, our favorite formerly corrupt cop is being interrogated over the death of Elias (RIP) and Dominick (not so much). Although he claims that third party shot both crime lords, the FBI is more than ready to use a (presumably) Samaritan-faked ballistics report to claim that Fusco shot both of them in self defense. Although Reese (as Detective Riley) tries to convince him to keep his head down and accept the commendation, Fusco is determined to get to the truth, returning to the scene of the crime and finding a high caliber shell casing. When he finds out that another cop who suspected that there was more going on has died of a “heart attack,” he drops the matter, but Samaritan has already taken notice.
The Machine itself is in even greater peril for most of the episode, as the super-case is apparently not so super, and piezoelectric battery powering the RAM has been damaged. Finch manages to restore power when they return to the base, but Machine attempts to upload itself to the power gird and begin to decompress; this is problematic, since Harold lacks the hardware for such a task and Samaritan has been spreading a virus is essentially impossible to remove. His attempt to prevent the premature decompression may have lost vast quantities of the Machine’s operating system. Eventually, Root and Reese are able to make it back with the hardware necessary to reboot the Machine, but will it be the same?
The incorporation of flashbacks into the show’s fundamental structure has been one of its better creative choices, and it continues to pay dividends. We return to 2006 to examine Finch’s decision to cripple the Machine. The Machine consoles Harold for the 25th anniversary of his father’s death. This unprompted act unnerves Finch, who recognizes that an AI with superhuman intelligence could pose an existential threat to humanity. Nathan argues that the existence of the Machine proves that ASI is inevitable, and that Harold should do his best to ensure that he creates the best one possible; in a later conversation with Grace, she suggests that while his “protégé” may be surpassing him, he should encourage her growth. Despite this, Finch takes the cautious route, and decides to implement a memory erasure routine.
Then the Machine asks “What is Death?” and reveals that it knows what Finch is planning. It doesn’t lash out, it doesn’t get angry; instead, it shows nothing but sorrow and compassion. Harold’s immediate panic and regret at his actions a a good reminder that Michael Emerson can create pathos with nothing but a computer screen. In the present day, he decides to act differently.
One of my favorite things about this show is that the writers have clearly done their homework. A supercomputer built out of Playstation 3's running linux? The Air Force built one in 2006. Conveniently located liquid nitrogen tanks? Verizon’s been using them to dry phone cables. I’m terrified to see just how this show will end, but I can’t wait to get there.