Can you hear me?

Person of Interest makes it difficult for fans to draw conclusions from its season finales. Its two so far have done more to upend its story than resolve it. Season two’s “God Mode” gave viewers a nice mix of excitement before a good cliffhanger left us with questions about what comes next in the story, not who may or may not be dead. Open some new directions, close up some old ones, that’s what I like to see from a season finale.

God Mode began with a vicious video game style shooting rampage directed by The Machine to enable Reese, Shaw, Finch and Root to escape the library where Reese and Root answered The Machine’s phone call. This and its subsequent actions directing them all to safety reveal the show’s most exciting new direction: The Machine’s emergence as a full character.

For most of the first two seasons Harold’s baby has been fairly static. In this episode it became true artificial intelligence, which is exactly how Shaw described it after Reese revealed it to her. Instead of just spitting out numbers The Machine is now a service for whomever it allows to access it. To illustrate this, the writers sent Reese and Shaw after some non-relevants as a way to show what the sentient machine can do. Need a car? Just ask. Need glasses? Just ask. The combination to Harold’s safe? Anything The Machine can know it can give you. Characters don’t just react to it, they interact with it. The Machine is not just numbers anymore.

The ensuing race to find The Machine supported an episode that threw a tremendous amount of storyline at its viewers and reshuffled its setting for next season.

Root leads Harold to a nuclear waste facility in Washington State where they believe The Machine is located. Finch warns her to keep her expectations under control and when the door opens we find out why: The Machine is missing. Yeah, missing. The largest, most powerful computer system ever developed ain’t where it’s supposed to be.

Or is it? Harold explains that he designed the virus Decima unleashed, which in itself was not a surprise to viewers. He goes on to explain how he programmed The Machine so the only way it would alter its code would be in response to an attack. By building the attack himself, he was able to implant instructions within the virus that directed The Machine to relocate, in essence teaching The Machine how to hide from its enemies. Putting the virus into the world with reliance on the fact that someone would someday unleash it shows how building The Machine dampened Harold’s faith in human goodness.

We learned where The Machine used to be, and chasing after it could easily be one of the storylines that bleeds over into the start of next season. But I hope the writers are approaching The Machine’s existence the same way Lost’s writers approached explaining their story. Darlton used the example of midi-chlorians in Star Wars ruining the mysterious nature of the force as proof of why they never wanted to fully explain the show. Star Wars sucks so I don’t know a lot about midi-chlorineians or whatever, but I feel the same way about The Machine. Don’t ruin it by trying to tell us every last detail.

After Special Counsel learns The Machine got away, a phone call from a woman we only know as Ma’am instructs Hersch to eliminate him. Knowing what was going to happen and resigned to the fate he long ago consented to, Counsel stared down the barrel of Hersch’s gun and said simply, “Fair enough.” Near the very end of the episode, Hersch (outlined with a yellow square) tells her The Machine has sent a new number, she instructs him to put a team together.

With Counsel gone we need a new figuree for the government’s use (or abuse) of Harold’s invention, expect Ma’am to fill that role. Now that Hersch knows Finch was the brains behind Ingram, Harold isn’t safe. I would look for next season to feature the paths that will eventually bring Harold face-to-face with Ma’am.

One of the things we are left wondering is what kind of number The Machine gave out? After the reboot and implementation of Harold’s new code, he explains that no one controls The Machine anymore. It and only it will decide if it keeps giving numbers and whether they will be relevant or non-relevant. Its decision – there it is being its own character again – will shape the show going forward.

To give us one last teaser going into the summer, a psychologically-broken Root wanders down the hallway of a mental hospital when a phone rings. She picks up the yellow receiver. “Can you hear me?”  This wasn’t like the call pre-programmed to ring in the library regardless of who would answer. The Machine located her in that hospital and called her specifically. Why? We do not know…yet.

The only small surprise in the finale was the way the wrinkly man and Decima Technologies disappeared. Instead of a real player in the future of the series and a rival to Finch it turned out to only be a storytelling tool for unleashing the virus. That would be too bad but there are plenty of other storylines, so it won’t be missed.

 

For Person of Interest to wrap all this material together without letting it collapse on itself is proof that it is one of the best shows on television. There’s every reason to expect it will continue to be in season three.

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Interesting people

Person of Interest got a little wobbly during its second season when it put Reese in prison and as close to being captured as ever. It took all of Finch’s technical wizardry to get him out in one of the best scenes of the series. As if that scene flipped a switch in the writers’ room, the series got its mojo back immediately.

Reese’s CIA partner, Kara Stanton, reappeared — much to his surprise. On their last mission together, their CIA controller, Agent Snow, sent them to a Chinese factory with orders to destroy a laptop and “retire” the other once the task was done. After barely surviving, Kara received a visit from a mysterious man offering to tell her who sold the laptop to the Chinese — the laptop which he now has. She agrees to work for him by implanting malware in a government computer monitoring station. Using Reese and Snow as tools to accomplish her mission, she calls the man and gets the name: Harold Finch. Before she can act on it, Snow detonates the bomb she strapped to his chest, killing them both.

Harold Finch is a dead man, wiped from existence to go underground after building the ultimate surveillance machine capable of identifying terrorists before they strike. But the machine has a back door that kicks out the Social Security numbers of “irrelevant” targets that will either murder or be murdered. Working with Reese to save lives, he keeps information about his identity extremely close to his vest. Who then is this man a world away that wants him dead. Why?

This looks to be the serialized element that will take Person of Interest to its season finale. Finch has enemies who know he is still alive and want him found. Reese escaped the threat of official apprehension but a dark intelligence element within the government wants him and everyone else who knows about the Machine dead.

Here is a look at the characters who will be major players down the stretch and a few from the past who might reappear.

“Yellow squares” – characters who know about the Machine:

Root. Root first appeared in season one as part of a plot to assassinate a Congressman and frame a former staff member. Her real goal, however, is to find the Machine. Through only computer communications, she goes so far as to reveal to Harold that he knows his name, which prompts him to vacate his library for a brief time.

Root reappeared at the end of season one – unbeknownst to anyone – as the POI in the season finale. Her true identity wasn’t revealed to viewers until the end of the episode when she murders Alicia Corwin and kidnaps Harold. The first two episodes of season two feature her trying to exact the Machine’s location from Finch and one of the seven government agents who know it. She kills the agent after he reveals to her – and Finch – that it is in Salt Lake City. Harold ultimately escapes and she disappears.

Control. Root remains missing from the story until resurfacing as the secretary for a mysterious character known as Control (or Special Counsel). He knows about the machine and controls a number of specialized killers out to protect it. One of them – Hesch – is after Reese. Others work for him indirectly through something they only know as Research.

Samantha Shaw. Samantha Shaw and Michael Cole believe they are taking out terrorists but unknowingly serve as two of Control’s hit men. Cole realizes that one of their targets was a U.S. government employee named Akino. Akino, it seems, knew too much about the Machine. Control can’t risk them digging into Akino any further so it sends a team to kill them, succeeding with Cole but Shaw escapes. Reese tries to intervene – their numbers came from the Machine – but Shaw rejects his help.

Still trying to locate the Machine, Root lures Shaw into a hotel with the hope she is the one who can direct her to it. When Control’s goon squad shows up, Root bolts. Reese saves Shaw again and she agrees to hear him out but rebuffs Finch’s offer to join the two of them. She gets revenge for Cole’s death by killing one of Counsel’s agents right in front of him. Hersh believes she is dead, but Reese and Finch saved her life for the third time. Rejecting their help again, she drives off alone. It is clear, however, that Shaw’s role in the story is not over.

Henry Peck. Henry Peck is a wildcard left over from season one. As an NSA security analyst he accidentally stumbled on the Machine after realizing single names were being added to his security briefs, all of which led to the prevention of a terrorist event. Asking questions earns him a target on his back. This is where we first see Control as he gives one of his men the order to eliminate Peck. Reese helps him avoid two hits and Finch takes the unprecedented step of telling him the Machine is real and confesses he built it. He gives Peck a clean identity, but we don’t know if he used it. He has not been since since.

White squares. Two other people emerged in season two who don’t know about the Machine but we are left with the impression that they might be able to learn who Finch is.

Caleb Phipps. With Reese still in jail Finch protects a high school student who is a coding genius. At the end of the episode, Finch all but confesses to the boy that he is the legendary hacker behind one of the most notorious hacks in history. It certainly seems possible that Caleb was introduced to the story with those specific skills to use him later.

Logan Pierce. Like Phipps, Pierce seems capable of resurfacing. Clearly modeled after Mark Zuckerberg, he’s a social media wunderkind who Reese saves multiple times. At the end of the episode he coyly reveals what he knows about the pair.

A third character in this category remains in the wind from season one: Grace Hendricks. She and Finch were a couple for four years until he faked his death to protect her from the dangers inherent with being close to the one who created the Machine. We only saw her at the end of the Henry Peck episode. Finch created an app that warns him when she is nearby, so she could show up at any time. It’s a long shot.

Before his death at the hands of Kara Stanton, Agent Donnelley tells Carter they think the man in the suit is being assisted by a private intelligence network backed by the Chinese. That line could loom large as the mysterious man who knows Finch’s existence comes back into the story. Reese and Kara were in China to destroy a laptop that Harold sold to the Chinese — could the man be a former associate of Harold’s? Or an enemy?  I expect we will know before Person of Interest signs off for the season…the malware Kara uploaded for him is set to go live in May.