There 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.
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.
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.
Root serves a valuable role on Person of Interest. Harold Finch, The Machine’s creator, wants his baby kept hidden from the public and the government that uses it. Root is a hacker, not opposed to The Machine’s electronic dragnet but angry at Finch for keeping it locked away. POI fans crave more information about The Machine — what it looks like, where it is, how it works — information that Finch would never give us. Root is the fans’ voice for wanting those answers and the driving force behind the stories that reveal them.
Her character began with misdirection: An otherwise ordinary number-of-the-week is manipulated into killing a U.S. Congressman, but after peeling back the layers we learn the story we thought we saw was not the story we were supposed to see. The killer was set up by a mysterious hacker, Root, as part of a “honey trap” to lure Harold into a scenario of her making from which she could access his systems and get closer to The Machine.
Not content, Root tricked the team again by setting herself up as a NOTW so she could kidnap Harold at the end of season one. Season two began with her holding Harold and Denton Weeks hostage. Weeks commissioned the project that became The Machine, leading Root to believe he or Harold knew its location. She shot Weeks when he refused to give it up and Reese saved Harold after Root escaped. She later popped up as Special Counsel’s secretary before forcing Harold to take her to where The Machine was supposed to be. When it wasn’t there, she suffered a psychotic break prompting Harold to put her in a psychiatric hospital.
Last week Root reappeared after escaping the hospital, and this week’s episode will be about what she does next. Her time in the hospital and her unprecedented relationship with The Machine deserve a deeper look.
Root ended last season wandering through the halls of Stoneridge Hospital. A pay phone rings. She picks up the handset, yellow with a blue seal around the cord, and hears a familiar question, “Can-you-hear-me?” “Absolutely.” It was the same question she and Reese heard when The Machine rebooted after Kara Stanton uploaded a virus meant to take it down. The reboot triggered a 24-hour “God mode” during which Root and Reese could communicate with it directly. We saw the 24 hours end when Root couldn’t retrieve a key code to open a door in the nuclear facility where The Machine was hidden. That’s what made the call to Root in the season’s final scene so perplexing; God mode was supposed to be over but here was the same voice asking her the same question.
This season we saw the same scene through The Machine’s eyes. Root knew about The Machine when she answered the phone so it gave her the usual yellow box as it“retasked,” the asset. The moment she said, “Absolutely,” the box changed. The corners and crosshairs remained yellow but the rest of the outline turned black and she was given a new designation: ANALOG INTERFACE. Here we have to turn to Pedia of Interest:
Black box with yellow corners and crosshairs: Possibly 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 Machine retasks Root…
…and desginates Root “ANALOG INTERFACE.”
Root can now communicate with The Machine similar to the way she did under God mode, but at a new level. Her sessions with her psychiatrist, Dr. Ronald Carmichael, detail how complete their communion is.
In the season premiere:
Root: “I have a direct line to a higher power. It speaks to me.”
Dr. Carmichael: “What are those voices telling you to do?”
R: “It’s just the one voice really. It wants me to stay here and work thru some issues.”
Dr.C: “What issues would those be?”
R: “Methodology, we’re discussing how I go about things.”
Dr.C: “Do you have feelings like you’re being watched?”
R: “Every now and then.”
Later, after Dr. Carmichael takes away her phone:
R: “I’m sorry, doctor, but it’s important we be in contact. We’re in the middle of a…disagreement.”
Dr. C: “A disagreement with the voice? I know you believe you need a phone but I am here to tell you that you don’t. I believe that by separating you from it and all other forms of technology it’s really the best course of action. So it’s time to unplug.”
R: “Please, don’t do this. It’s not good for us to be separated.”
He orders her to solitary confinement.
R: “For a psychiatrist, you’re really a terrible judge of character.”
Near the end of the episode Root shocks the doctor:
R: “The truth? The truth is a vast thing, I see that now. Just how much truth there is. Where would we even begin? The truth is you are not very smart. In fact, you’re only the 43rd smartest person in this building.”
Dr.C: “43rd? Okay, um, did your voice tell you that? That’s based on what?”
R: “Every standardized test you ever took averaged together not including your medical boards, which you cheated on. The truth is you smoke an average of 9 cigarettes a week in the parking lot when you think no one’s looking. The truth is you visit a massage parlor once or twice a month and you pay for it with crisp hundred dollar bills that you get out of the cash machine at the 7-11 across the street. The truth is that you fantasize on online forums about having sex with some of your patients. Though not me, yet. I guess I’m not your type. The truth is, God is 11 years old, that she was born on New Year’s Day 2002 in Manhattan. The truth is that she’s chosen me, and I don’t know why yet. But for the first time in my life I’m a little scared about what’s gonna happen. The truth is I’m stuck here for now and the only dialogue you need to be worried about is between me and her which is why you might want to give me my phone back. Because I’m having an argument. Would you like to know the truth, doctor? About what we’re arguing over? Whether or not I’m gonna kill you.”
Several noteworthy things pop out of her dialogue. She got all of this information despite being in solitary confinement without her phone. How? The date she mentions, January 1, 2002, is when Finch first began teaching The Machine how to recognize subjects. The most notable piece? She and The Machine are arguing, implying real-time two-way communication through the “Analog Interface.”
The analog interface then sounds like exactly what it sounds like: A way for The Machine to communicate (interface) with Root without the apparent need for a digital (analog) connection. To do this, The Machine “retasked” her, an audio term meaning it changed her function to handle a different input. What type of input? We aren’t yet sure. In episode three Root describes her (h/t Joan Osborne) as merely a voice:
Dr.C: “You seem calmer today, Robin.”
R: “I am, it’s almost time for me to leave.”
Dr.C: “Where is it that you’re going?”
R: “You know that’s a good question. I’m not certain yet.”
Dr.C: “Because the voice is going to tell you?”
R: “You’re catching on.”
“Is the voice speaking to you right now?”
Doctor Carmichael points out her phone isn’t connected to a wireless carrier.
R:“God doesn’t need AT&T. Haven’t I already proven to you just how powerful she is? It’s not a condition, it’s the future. By the time you figure out what’s really happening, I’ll have transcended this reality.”
Presumably not being connected to a carrier is no obstacle for The Machine. The opening sequence of every episode shows it connecting to the wifi card in Reese’s camera.
What does her last sentence mean? It sort of feels like a message to the viewers. By the time we realize how The Machine has changed it will be too late.
Root’s next scene shows how the two interact. Through the dead cellphone she instructs The Machine to control a prescription dispenser by having it entering the password and dispense three vials of Desipramine, an anti-depressant. Her escape plan is underway.
Then The Machine appears to take on a dual personality. While it helps Root engineer an escape plan it also predicts it will turn violent, prompting it to find Harold and warn him. My guess is this is The Machine making sure Harold gets to the hospital before Hersh because Root he is a danger to Root. But who knows? Anything could be on the table at this point.
Maybe Root isn’t dealing with The Machine at all but rather a “bad twin” or offspring unintentionally created by the reboot. Maybe the relocation spread its servers across different sites and each site is developing its own intelligence. Maybe, juuuuuuust maybe, Harold cleaved its artificial psyche when it split the phone call so Root and Reese could interact with it in God mode?
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.
The Machine taps into everything to gather information including a camera on this NYPD helipad.
This slideshow shows the records The Machine will analyze when it tracks someone. In this case the lucky subject is Fusco.
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 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.
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.
This slideshow shows four ways The Machine gathers its information and uses it to connect dots between subjects.
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.
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 wiki: Possibly 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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! ❤
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.
A new and very likely outcome is predicted: Asset interception.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.