Person of Interest: Mining The Machine

If you’ve watched the show since its premiere you probably once had the same thought I did, “What do the yellow boxes mean on Person of Interest?” We caught on quickly to the way The Machine detects faces and assigns them a box based on their classification. Yellow boxes know about The Machine, white for regular people, etc. The Person of Interest wiki has them all listed, plus other boxes for cars, boats and more. Check it out for a good background on POI’s most mysterious character.

I am not going to repeat the information from the wiki, but I do have several screenshots from the first five episodes of season three that provide insight on how the machine works. Some of them have probably been present since the beginning. Some are new to this season and really open up the way The Machine picks out numbers and judges threats.

The Opening Sequence

The opening sequences features Finch explaining The Machine over a series of shots showing the cast.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine accesses a camera.

The Machine taps into everything to gather information including a camera on this NYPD helipad.

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This slideshow shows the records The Machine will analyze when it tracks someone. In this case the lucky subject is Fusco.

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These shots show The Machine classifying subjects. Reese, of course, is not missing just like Shaw is not dead. These shots were from the season premiere when The Machine may have believed she was but it still identifies her that way five episodes in.

The Machine analyzes Fusco's finances
The Machine detects Reese’s camera.

The Machine doesn’t just find a camera, it identifies it. In this case it accessed the wifi in Reese’s camera to determine what it was shooting and details about the camera itself.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine gathers all kinds of information on a potential threat.

Being able to access so much information in its databases allows The Machine to identify the type of gun this threat is holding (it is hard to see the red triangles around the weapon). Like Reese’s camera, The Machine reads all kinds of information about the gun.

Gathering Information

This slideshow shows four ways The Machine gathers its information and uses it to connect dots between subjects.

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Tracking Root

Episode three was Root-centric and gave us the best look into The Machine we’ve ever had. First it showed how it identified her and connected her to her different aliases. The Machine then went into its archives to show her walk with Finch last year when he neutralized her threat, albeit temporarily.

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This sequence is interesting. It shows Root answering the yellow phone at the end of last season from The Machine’s perspective. Notice how her box goes from yellow to yellow and black. According to the wikiPossibly indicates individuals who not only know about the Machine, but have the ability to communicate with it. The Machine internally designates these individuals as “Analog Interface.” The third photo shows it in her meeting with Dr. Carmichael.

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Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine begins to generate predictions.

This is the shot that prompted me to do this post. I don’t recall the show ever giving us a look at exactly how The Machine goes about determining potential outcomes and their probabilities. It is The Machine on all cylinders, tapping into all of its databases and its vast amount of predictive ability.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The first calculations surrounding Root.

These are the initial predictions. Violence at 30.19 percent, asset activation at 28.44. I’m not sure which asset it means, I assume Root?

Person of Interest - The Machine
More possibilities come from The Machine’s predictions.

The predictions begin to branch out. Notice how they maintain the color coding system. Red for violence, yellow for assets. Blue is labeled “OPERATIONAL RELEVANCE.” Blue boxes are for government agents pursuing numbers, so this could mean The Machine predicts an outcome where Root will cross paths with someone pursuing The Machine’s true purpose. Note that the percentages have changed. Violence is now more likely, Dr. Carmichael is in serious danger, an administrator may die and asset activation has edged up slightly.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine continues developing predictions.

The predictions really begin to sprout. Dr. Carmichael is marginally more likely to survive and a mass casualty event is now predicted at 9.54 percent. Look at all the yellow predictions. Almost 63 percent odds that the asset gets captured, 17.56 percent the crisis is averted and 2 percent for something called Aux Admin. Notice, too, the probability of violence eeks upward.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine sees Valentine’s Day.

While The Machine predicts a small chance Root will trigger global thermonuclear war look up in the left corner. The Machine covers all possible outcomes, even the 0.04-percent chance that Root and Dr. Carmichael will get married and have kids. Aww! ❤

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine assesses the likelihood that Root escapes.

The Machine sees a good chance that Root will successfully escape the hospital and a small chance she will die. It’s not pictured but Dr. Carmichael’s percentage changed to 19.9. Things are looking up for the doctor! In the final scene before her escape Root tells him she won’t kill him. The Machine is giving her instructions not to kill people, including Hersh.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine believes it is likely Root will be intercepted.

A new and very likely outcome is predicted: Asset interception.

Person of Interest - The Machine
The Machine reaches a conclusion.

This is big. The Machine predicted a 97.23 percent chance of violence and determined an intervention is necessary. It then found Harold near a pay phone and alerted him. Look at all the lines connecting to various bits of information The Machine relied on for its predictions!

Look at this slideshow as The Machine continues to analyze data and make predictions. The data connects different subjects and even identifies the possible death of a subject who’s name is redacted. Hmmm.

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Target Proximity

Having determined Root is in danger, The Machine plots her location on a map with Hersh’s as we see Hersh leaving a hospital after failing to find Root. The Machine identifies other places he might look before finding the quickest route between his location and Root’s. Another great example of all the information The Machine can pull, process and interpret.

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Archives

The Machine has gone back in time throughout the series to show us things that happened before the show began. This slideshow tracks The Machine as it scrolls through its timeline to tell Shaw’s story. Again going back to the wiki, when The Machine sees this old footage it analyzes it for the first time, but I’m more interested in where the information comes from. Harold began to train The Machine in 2001, it didn’t go online until 2003. Is it accessing some vast archive? Could it be linked to previous attempts at mass electronic surveillance and data gathering? We don’t know.

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Thank you for making it to the end of this marathon post. I appreciate it. I really enjoy these little details they drop into TV shows. Lost did it all the time. It gives fans something to examine that yields a better understanding of the show and shows the producers take the most minute details seriously.

This post took the better part of a Saturday to put together. I reviewed all five episodes this season and went slow-motion through every image we saw through The Machine’s eyes, pausing to scour the screen and take photos. They are iPhone photos and it wasn’t always easy to pause the show at exactly the right moment for the text to be sharp.

I’ll have a future post about what’s going on with Root and the unique relationship she has with The Machine.

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.

Harold of Interest

Wow! The penultimate episode of season two was AWESOME! The only other episode that comes to mind as being near it is when the FBI shot Reese on the parking garage in season one, but still I would put this one ahead of that (the episodes share a director). I saw a tweet on Saturday, I forget from whom, saying how the episode felt four hours long because of all the plot development. Watching it on DVR I kept thinking, “I must be to the final break now” and only finding I wasn’t close yet. Outstanding television episodes fly to their final commercial break. Only the very, very best seem to take forever to get there.

It occurred to me later Thursday night that this was the kind of episode Lost fans begged for during its later seasons – heavy mythology and rapid plot development. Lost’s creative team was reluctant to deliver it because they felt fully explaining the show’s meaning would take away too much of the audience’s imagination. Darlton even noted their reluctance in The End’s script: And here it is. The closest we’re ever gonna come to actually describing it.  That was their very last chance, and they stuck to their core belief in their storytelling. Person of Interest ran this risk with all it crammed into last week’s episode. If the writers weren’t up to the task they would have undercut the finale, but they pulled it off in spades.

I won’t begin to attempt recapping the episode, you can get that here. Instead I want to look forward and see if there is anything that might give leads to what we’ll see this week.

Harold and The Laptop

Harold sold the the virus that Decima used to take down The Machine. The CIA sent Reese and Kara Stanton deep into China to steal it, leading to both of them being nearly killed before the virus fell into Decima’s hands. We’ve known it for a long time, Decima knows it and now, maybe most importantly, John knows it. We don’t know why Harold sold it.

Some possible answers?

He wanted to destroy The Machine. He was not happy about Nathan leaving the back door for non-relevant numbers, isn’t it possible that Harold so feared what he’d built and what Nathan had done with it that he created a way to destroy it and made sure it found its way into the hands of those who would want to?

He wanted to smoke out John. Harold knew he couldn’t protect the non-relevant numbers on his own, couldn’t he have manipulated the entire situation so the CIA would want to retire John, forcing him to escape and go the one place Harold knows he can find him: Off the grid? This one is a stretch, Harold would have to have his hands on an awful lot of moving parts to make it work. But remember when he and Agent Donnelly squared off while Reese was in prison? If anyone could pull it off, Harold could. There’s more here…

Remember Jessica? Jessica was John’s love before September 11 pulled him back into the military. He was about to leave the CIA to reunite with her when he and Kara got sent to China. How would Harold have known about her? Her number kept coming up because of her abusive husband, who eventually does kill her. When Reese learns this at the hospital, he fails to notice a man in a wheelchair who would soon become very familiar: Harold Finch.

That is some deep mythology and nothing in the lead up to the finale suggests it will come up again. But as Harold’s character is peeled back we are starting to see that he may not be the virtuous do-gooder we first saw him as. I’m also hoping for it because Jessica was played by the incomparably gorgeous Susan Misner, who delighted us all on ABC’s Nashville and FX’s The Americans this spring.

Harold and Nathan Ingram

I would be very surprised if the finale doesn’t show us how Nathan died. His number came up a split second before Harold’s script shut Ingram’s makeshift system down. Will it have something to do with Harold’s limp? It could. Although if I had to bet I’d put money on it having to do with him being in the wheelchair as mentioned above. It could also be what changed Harold’s mind about the backdoor. Recall their argument in the library when he told Nathan he would tell the non-relevant people that everyone dies and he can’t play god. Having one hit so close to home could change his mind.

Harold and John

They have been partners until now, Reese even credits Harold with rescuing his life after escaping China. Will John turn against him now that he knows Harold was responsible for the laptop? He didn’t express as much in their short interactions waiting for the phone call in the library, but John will put his personal feelings aside to finish his mission. I think he will have his word with Finch at the right time. Going into season three the show will need to change its dynamic. Finch and Reese at odds could be that change.

Harold

Like I said, Harold’s character is being peeled back as we get closer to the end of the season. Way back at the start of the series I observed they were featuring the more well-known Jim Caviezel’s character more than Michael Emerson’s, figuring he would draw viewers while Emerson’s Lost fans would be comfortable waiting for Ben to be studied. It really feels like we are at that point now. The writers ran Harold’s story up to the key moments in his life thus far: Separating himself from Grace, taking on The Machine’s non-relevant numbers, Nathan’s death, the laptop. All of this will come together, somehow.

Other potential changes could be evident after the finale. It is only one hour, which is disappointing, and maybe nothing can live up to the excitement of last week’s lead-in. But The Machine is off, Root has the Northern Lights director tied up and Decima is closing in. This should be great.