A picture of God

Deus ex machina.

God from the machine.

I avoid predicting television shows because viewers rarely have enough information to make good ones. I tried earlier this season with Person of Interest and it blew up in my face, so I’m loathe to do it again. But I will.

My prediction for the Person of Interest season finale is that Harold has to choose between The Machine and Samaritan.

I am pushed to the point of prediction by the dialogue surrounding Harold in the past two episodes. Look at some of these lines:

“I can’t help you make a picture of God.” – Grace said to Greer as he seeks information about Harold.

“Perhaps you can.”

This conversation between Greer and Finch was amazing.

“I want to talk about the future. And who more qualified for that conversation than the father of artificial intelligence?” – Greer to Finch while Greer has him captive.

“I’d always imagined it was about the power of creation.” – Greer

“Now your God has disappeared, operating on its own accord. Children can be so disappointing.” – Greer

“I’d be aware of false idols, Mr. Greer.”

“As the father of AI you’re the only one in the world that can destroy it.” – Greer. Noah? The flood? Anyone?

“Having built something significantly smarter than myself how could I possibly anticipate its evolution?” – Finch

“You’re a destroyer, not a creator,” – Harold. OH MY GOD.

“The father became fearful of his son.” – Greer

“I built the machine to save lives. But how could I be certain that it wouldn’t one day determine that all of humanity was irrelevant?” Finch, to Greer.

“It’s pure hubris to think that you could control something so powerful.” Finch, to Greer.

“That is the most important man in the world. The father of a new age.” – Greer about Finch.

Father, creator, evolution. Shows don’t run up to their season finale with dialogue like that by accident. Greer’s search for Harold has now spanned two seasons and it will come to a head in a season finale entitled Deus ex Machina. Making Harold the subject of all this talk – the one who created this intelligence and imparted into it his humanity – leads me to believe he is approaching his moment of truth.

Covering my bases:

In the midst of a double-bogey this morning I was thinking back to the end of last season. The Machine went into “God Mode” and spoke directly to Root and Reese after shutting itself down due to a virus unleashed by Decima. Everyone converged on what they thought was The Machine, only to find out it had dissembled itself and shipped its components off to parts unknown. We still don’t know where it went, and it hasn’t been very much of a subject this season. I doubt that facet of the story will be brought up in this season’s finale, too.

But it got me thinking. God from the machine. The Machine evolved from what Harold first created. It knew enough to hide from Root, then it initiated an “analog interface” to use Root to prepare for what she (The Machine she, not Root she) saw coming, which we now have to believe is Samaritan.

There’s a literary meaning to deus ex machina that symbolizes when a story suddenly comes together in such a preposterous way that it is almost comedic. Writers try to avoid it for that reason, but it doesn’t have to be that literal for the season finale. It can mean The Machine does something no one – Harold, Greer, Collier – expects. Something like take herself apart and ship herself somewhere else.

One last thing bugs me from the most recent episode: Who sent Collier that text? He just found out his brother committed suicide for wrongly being accused of a crime by The Machine and – bam – he gets this text from someone who claims to be able to tell him what happened. My crackpot theory: The Machine sent it to start the process that will end in the season finale. My even more crackpot theory: Samaritan did it.

We’ll find out Tuesday.

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Person of Interest: The perfect scene

root_tbThere are just some scenes. As you watch them, you know you’re watching the writers, actors, editors and everyone involved at their best. Michael Emerson gave us a lot of them as Ben Linus; he gave us another one as Harold Finch.

The plot from last week’s Person of Interest was too complex to summarize here, so click over to CBS for the full recap.  It brushes over the scene with barely a mention, so that is where I will focus.

It is the last scene. Jason Greenfield is on his way to Cartagena, Timothy Sloan is safe, Jason Collier is still free. Much to her frustration, Root is not. Shaw clubbed her after they helped Greenfield escape the CIA and turned her over to Harold.

Here it is.

Everything thing about the exchange is gold. The dialogue is crisp and the footage is edited for perfect timing, showing the right reactions to the right words at the right time. Harold and Root. He wants to keep The Machine hidden, she wants to set it free. For the moment he has the upper hand. Physically, he has her trapped and cut off from any electronic communication that could connect her to The Machine. (You remember what a Faraday cage is, I hope.) Mentally, he poked a hole in her belief that she has a special communion with it. They kept the shot of her face reacting to Harold’s final line so we could see her realize he may share it, too. Perfect.

What Harold knows about The Machine’s new third category, which Jason Greenfield fell under, is unclear. He may be holding Root because The Machine needs him to or because he wants her cut off until he can figure out what is going on.

What is going on with Root and The Machine? The episode gave us a little more to add to the piece I posted last week.

Watch it here from CBS.

The third category and what we know about it may not be any more than what Harold does. Root’s mission from The Machine was to use Shaw to help Greenfield escape CIA custody and flee to Cartagena in Columbia. There he will seek out a bar with a man named Ruiz. Why? Root does not know, she leaves big-picture questions to The Machine. It sees itself (I’m going to avoid using feminine pronouns to describe The Machine for the sake of simplicity in writing about an inanimate female character and an animate one) facing an existential threat that, apparently, Root can help it neutralize. That’s why one of its first acts after rebooting was to retask Root to the “Analog Interface” and break her out of the psychiatric hospital.

The source of the threat could be Peter Collier. Collier is revealed to be the leader of a hacker group by the name “Vigilance.” Wayne Kruger, you’ll recall, found a data mining company that made him a target for Collier in the season’s second episode. Murdering Kruger was the event that caused Jason Greenfield to report Vigilance to the government, which is how he ended up in a cell next to Root at a CIA black site. That is exactly where The Machine knew he would be, and putting Root there to break him out shows how well The Machine can predict events. It makes you wonder how far into the future it can see.

Vigilance protests government surveillance. Jason Collier, meet Edward Snowden. I said before I down want the show to incorporate that affair into its storylines, and I can’t be certain this wasn’t the direction the writers planned for season three last spring. After Harold and Reese saw the week’s number to safety — Jason Greenfield’s brother — Reese expressed his suspicion that we haven’t heard the last of Collier and his band of hackers. I guess that’s how it will be. Person of Interest is a well-done show, as evidenced by the scene I broke down at the beginning, so I trust they can do the story well.

Image credit: CBS.com

Note: I’d have the video embedded instead of linked if I knew a d*rn thing about how the Internet works.

Fall catch-up: Person of Interest season three

Shaw on Person of Interest
Samantha Shaw (Sarah Shahi) on
Person of Interest Photo: CBS.com

The final episodes of Person of Interest’s second season were fantastic, but as I look back on them they feel more like a series finale. The start of season three reinforces the feeling. The two-man team of Harold Finch and John Reese is now a team of five. We knew it would expand to three with the addition of Samanatha Shaw, but I did not see Fusco and Carter coming so fully under Harold’s umbrella. The plots The Machine involves them in are more complicated now and require the extra people. This is great for the show. The Harold and Reese duo was beginning to grow stale. I think it is better to shake that up now before it turns into a drag the show can’t recover from.

Shaw’s snarky and no-nonsense style plays well against Finch, and Reese appreciates her style for the way it knocks Harold off his guard. The most recent episode gave us the background we need to appreciate her character and her…odd…range of emotions. The writers did a great job of showing how her personality was present at a young age and contrasting her childhood and adulthood with a young girl from Russia who fancied herself a spy. The end of the episode took care to show us that Shaw has emotions, they’re just muted. Now we can wait to learn more about how  she became involved with Hesch and Northern Lights.

Detective Fusco got his new lease on life late last season and is now a normal enough detective that he has the freedom to answer Finch’s every call. Joss Carter on the other hand was demoted for snooping too close for HR’s comfort after it took out her boyfriend and fellow detective Carl Beecher. The HR storylines have never been my favorite part of the show. I hoped after both seasons it would recede from the show, and it appears that hope will again go unfulfilled this season. Officer Carter’s partner is, you guessed it, in HR’s pocket, but she was onto him and forced him to work for her in a great scene at the end of this week’s episode. HR wants to find Mr. Reese and I have to say I have no desire to see this storyline.

The most mysterious character in Person of Interest has always been The Machine. Last season climaxed with it rebooting and self-relocating out of its original hiding place inside a nuclear facility. How it came back and how it changed was set to be a major part of the season, but it has been almost nonexistent.

When it does play out, it comes via Root. She got the final scene last season to answer a call at a yellow pay phone a psychiatric hospital. The “new” Machine took it upon itself to help her break out by speaking to her in the same “God mode” it did while ,it rebooted. Amy Acker’s perfection for the role of Root shined in her counseling sessions with the hospital’s psychiatrist. After telling him for weeks that “God” was talking to her, she predicted to him exactly what was about to happen before she escaped during their final session. His reaction was fantastic and Acker played up every bit of the patient curing the doctor.

How The Machine interacts with her could provide clues to its new personality. We have no reason to think Finch created or knows of a way for it to access its own God mode to interact with anyone. In fact he seemed bewildered when he arrived at the hospital after Root’s escape. Is this a new ability it created for itself? A side effect of the virus-within-a-virus Harold created that infected it last season? We will find out.

We will also find out who the mysterious Ma’am was that Hesch visited at the end of last season. He and Ma’am view her as enough of a threat to warrant his attempt to eliminate her in the hospital; Harold obviously feels the same because he locked her away in an institution. Maybe those two will team up this season to ensure she isn’t able to achieve her goal of freeing The Machine?

I have one bone to pick with some of the early storylines. Not long after last season ended, the Edward Snowden story launched government surveillance to the top of the world’s radar. Every time a new revelation came out about the government tracking phone calls, reading emails or hacking bank accounts I couldn’t help but think, “That’s The Machine!” It was kind of spooky.

The Machine’s mystique — fed by its secrecy — is integral to the show’s make up, not just within the show but in viewers’ minds. The thought that government could be capable of the electronic dragnet Finch uses helps us believe in the story. It is too fantastic to be real, therefore it must be entertainment. To find out it exists in real life is as if Harold would turn to the camera in the middle of an episode to confess that he is a real life NSA employee.

How the show deals with this, if it does at all, could elevate the show even higher or sink it. That’s why I would prefer they ignore it entirely and go on with the story exactly as they imagined it before anyone heard of Edward Snoden. Maybe that is what they are doing, but too many of this season’s episodes have devolved into a lecture about online privacy.

I think we are one or two episodes shy of seeing everything we need to know about what this season will contain. For the most part, it’s on the right track to maintain its position as the most enjoyable show I watch.

Finding their way after Lost

Not leaving, no. Moving on.

Where are we going?

Let’s go find out.

It’s been three years since Lost went off the air. It came along at the same time social media gave us a way to interact across the globe in real time and gave rise to what we now call second screening. The show’s sprawling mysteries and rich character development fed perfectly into these new platforms. Fans took online communities to more engaged levels than any show previously, debating theories and sharing background information on things mentioned in the latest episodes. In that way Lost was probably the first truly social television show. Its serendipitous timing helped it create some amazing bonds with its viewers.

That worked out marvelously for ABC and the show itself while it was on the air. How has it worked out for the show’s stars since May 23, 2010? Have their careers continued to grow or have they sunk like poor Michael’s raft? The answer is mixed.

Some found new lives with new characters. Michael Emerson is killing it as secretive computer genius Harold Finch on Person of Interest; Daniel Dae Kim is doing just fine on CBS’s remake of Hawaii Five-0. Emilie de Ravin floated for a while before landing on Once Upon a Time, which is led by former Lost writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. Everyone’s favorite Scot, Henry Ian Cusick, found parts on Scandal, Fringe, The Mentalist and ABC’s recently canceled Body of Proof. Ian Somerhalder didn’t even make it to Exodus but will always be Boone, even though his star has risen on The Vampire Diaries.

Others (no pun intended) have roles in the works that could put them back on TV’s map. Naveen Andrews and Josh Holloway will be on CBS this fall. Holloway sans locks (again, no pun intended) as some kind of cyber cop in Intelligence, and Andrews opposite Stephen Lang in Reckless. Holloway improved as much as any of the actors who stayed with the show from start to finish so hopefully CBS is giving him something to work with. Andrews also has a huge role opposite Naomi Watts as Princess Diana’s lover, Dr. Hasnat Khan, in Diana, which will be released later this year.

Yunjin Kim, who doesn’t do much American work, co-stars with Alyssa Milano in ABC’s upcoming summer drama Mistresses. It’s hard to come to any conclusions about her post-Lost career because I simply don’t pay much attention to Korean entertainment.

A couple fan favorites landed roles on new shows that never made it beyond infancy. Jorge Garcia had a role in FOX’s Alcatraz in addition to three appearances on a Matthew Perry show you’ve never heard of. Terry O’Quinn starred in the short-lived 666 Park Avenue after appearing in 11 episodes of Hawaii Five-0 with Daniel Dae Kim. Elizabeth Mitchell did V and now co-stars in Revolution. Dominic Monaghan’s post-Lost career still hasn’t taken off after Flash Forward was unfairly canceled.

Matthew Fox tried his hand at a movie before Lost was even over. Since The End his most notable work has been the freakish way he transformed his body for the Alex Cross movie, not his role opposite Tommy Lee Jones in some World War II movie. He’s also in World War Z, a zombie movie. Yikes.

Evangeline Lilly is a face for L’Oreal Paris but her only acting work has been in The Hobbit, which she began just three months after giving birth.

This is surprising and probably disappointing to a lot of us who still want to see our favorite stars every week. I think the way we expect actors to move from one successful show right into another ignores how difficult it is to find success in Hollywood. Networks just finished announcing their fall lineups full of new shows that will most likely fail or sputter for a season or two before being put to sleep. Few will make it beyond that and fewer still will become legitimate hits. To expect this handful of actors to be in those few shows is asking lightning to strike twice.

I also have to wonder how much their strong identification with one character might hurt them. O’Quinn did well on 666 Park but will we ever see him as anyone other than John Locke? To his credit, Michael Emerson plays his character so well on Person of Interest that I rarely think of Ben Linus. (Much of that is probably due to his character’s limp.) It’s a sort of catastrophic success unique to Hollywood: Being so good at your job that no one can forget it. Time will tell if Josh Holloway can make us forget Sawyer or if Evangeline Lilly’s freckles will always make us think of Kate.

As Lost’s stars find new roles, on television or the big screen, they will find a dedicated portion of their new viewers who look quite familiar, thinking back and smiling at the show they shared together, with a simple message:

We’ve been waiting for you.

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.