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.

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.

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.

Catching up with Person of Interest

CBS landed as many Lost graduates as any network in the post-island era. Daniel Dae Kim and Terry O’Quinn stayed in Hawaii for the seemingly dull remake of Hawaii 5-0, and now Michael Emerson is limping (literally – the character has a limp) his way thru Person of Interest (Thursday, 8pm) with Jim Caviezel. Emerson’s character is a billionaire technology wizard who developed a vast electronic surveillance network designed to catch terrorists. Now living off the grid, Emerson exploits a back door to the system that alerts him to people who are in the path of a possible crime. The kicker here is that the machine isn’t too smart for the show’s own good, it can’t tell whether a name it identifies is going to be a perpetrator or a victim.

Enter Caviezel, the reclusive former Jason Bourne-type military fighter who Emerson hires to be his brawn and creeper. He is, of course, a phenomenal combat fighter and a marksman. His job is to follow the names the machine spits out and determine their role in the crime the machine sees them committing or being the victim of. And the machine is never wrong.

Person of Interest is a variation of the crime-tech shows that CBS has perfected with CSI and NCIS. Lost snobs like me scoffed at those shows over the years for being too simplistic and lacking compelling serial stories, and thus far P of I doesn’t appear too concerned with satisfying us. But that’s not a bad thing here. It uses an inquisitive New York Police Department detective trying to piece together clues about this mysterious man who appears at seemingly random crime scenes to build a story that you can see lasting for the duration of the first season. The man is, of course, Caviezel.


Got this one kind of wrong. I think Person of Interest is very much trying to not be a week-to-week who-dunnit cop show. I think it is succeeding at being deeper. /addition

Early episodes have also left enough open storyline possibilities that you can count on future episodes being more important to the larger story than the person of the week plot. At some point the machine will get a name wrong and either Caviezel or Emerson will have their sheltered world punctured by the inquisitive detective or the uber-character that is smarter than the usual villains.


Bingo! /addition

If strong stories aren’t enough to keep Person of Interest on the air, Caviezel’s magnetic portrayal of his character will. He portrays his reserved but quietly tortured character with ease, giving him a mix of confidence and mystery that can’t be ignored. He’s simply someone you want to see on the screen as much as possible. Emerson’s character isn’t as strong – yet, which could be the show’s effort to lure fans with the more well-known Caviezel. Lost fans watching for Emerson will give the show enough time just to see him, so they can afford to neglect his character at the outset.


They got more into Emerson’s character as the season went on. Ending the season with his apparent kidnapping shows they are ready to have him be the show’s most powerful storytelling character. /addition

With a curious premise, strong stories and impeccable acting, Person of Interest has a chance to curate the kind of loyal following that will keep it on the air for years to come.


Person of Interest is the best new show of the season that I watched. It is more mature than Revenge but gives something back for straight drama. Now that both main characters are established I wouldn’t be surprised to see next season move toward more explanations of the machine and how it came about. The season finale and mystery women who made herself visible to the machine in order to find and kidnap Finch would seem to indicate that. I wasn’t wild about how they handled that character in the finale, but I’ll get over it. I hope she doesn’t displace the two cops – both of which are now in on the game – because I view them as very much part of the show’s core. 

Prediction: Finch will stay off screen for a notable number of episodes to start season two. We know they aren’t going to kill him off, but I think they will leave us wondering for a good long while so Mr. Reese can take a more aggressive lead. 

Carrie Preston had a spot role in season one, amusing of course because she and Michael Emerson are married. She had one scene in Lost playing Ben’s mom before she died shortly after giving birth. Here, she played Finch’s ex-fiance who thinks he is dead.