“Person of Interest” recap (5.2): Falling Through Time

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The Machine has been described as God before, by characters like Root and Greer; with Samaritan’s emergence, It was demoted to one member of a pantheon. I think it’s important to think polytheistically rather than reducing the two ASIs to God and the Devil. This episode was a reminder that the audience’s natural understanding of good and evil, arising from our identification with the characters, is too easily turned into a simplistic binary. We are reminded that The Machine can be dangerous and our heroes can be bad because the show wants us to remember that everything is gray, and everyone roots for the home team whether it’s right or not. 

It’s thus a cruel irony that we see Finch talking to the Machine in Its memory about Anubis, the Egyptian god not of death, but of judgment in the afterlife. Harold told the Machine Its charge was to weigh each person’s heart against a feather and, if their hearts are heavy, to “be our last defense against oblivion.” The Machine’s difficulties with time mean that, here, it does two competing things: It strips the characters of their oblivion, their assurance that they are good people whose actions are always justified; and yet it views them through Its own oblivion, the oblivion of memory reduced from a sliding scale to the scales of judgement.

 

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The dissonance mirrors the irony of the Machine’s using Root’s cochlear implant—a sign of their unbreakable bond—to hurt and coerce her. That Root chooses to take herself out of the equation by knocking herself out (using, I’d like to note, a trick lifted from Shaw) shows how much her faith has expanded from the Machine. She trusts Harold with her life; they love each other as the closest of comrades. He would never leave her behind now (how far they’ve come!), which is why—even before he says it—she can trust him to keep her safe when she’s defenseless. Bear helps! I like to think they’ve been bonding over missing Shaw.

Speaking of Shaw, this week also featured a thread of loss: Root misses her desperately, and has the Machine looking for her. Amy Acker’s face, when the search comes up empty, is a pain I am looking forward to softening in my memory, thank you very much. We know they’ll see each other again, and when that day comes I may well start glitching uncontrollably myself. If you never hear from me again, you’ll know why.

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The pain Root is feeling at Shaw’s absence is mirrored in Harold, who desperately misses Grace. Juxtaposing them like this, by the way, definitely reinforces the notion that Shaw is the love of Root’s life, as Grace is Harold’s. In the end, it seems he agrees to keep the system open so that he can look in on Grace in the future. (If this becomes a regular thing, it’s going to get very creepy, but at least in this episode it didn’t bother me.) It’s left ambiguous whether the Machine really showed Harold Grace on the monitor, or whether he imagined it in his exhaustion—that the first instance came during the facial-recognition glitch could mean it’s nothing; the second, with the blurred faces, might mean something quite ominous.

After all that heavy stuff, I’d like to return to some of the lighter moments. (It’s not my fault! This show keeps bringing the feelings!) The Machine’s problems with facial recognition were a delight to witness, as I expected. (Unsurprisingly, of all the actors, Amy Acker does the best job of turning into every character.) While I’m certain The Machine wasn’t actually swapping faces—this isn’t Snapchat—having the actors play one another was a wonderfully engaging way to portray its confusions of identity onscreen (not to mention a healthy serving of fanservice). It was also very rewarding to see them all go for a picnic, out of doors, in daylight, with nobody shooting at anybody. Everyone deserves a moment of peace, including the audience.

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In the end, with the help of Its High Priest, the Machine regains its sense of time in context by being reminded of the true shape of its relationship with Harold and with all of Team Machine. This episode was a stiff reminder that our understandings of the world are context-dependent and shaped by memory, and our heroes may be another’s villains. It was a review in the lesson of the weighing of the heart against a feather: what we remember is unreliable, but it’s all we have. We’ll have to do our best.

Final notes:

  • Regarding the show’s commitment to shades of gray and all things being matters of perspective and context, check out the fourth question in this interview with the Executive Producers.
  • You may be wondering why I switched from “she” to “It” this week. While I respect Root’s casting of the ASI as a “she,” I tend to think the Machine probably doesn’t identify any one way—ask me for receipts in comments if you want!—and is happy for its interlocutors to understand it in whatever way works best for them. I chose “she” last week because Harold’s adoption of the pronoun was such a huge deal and I wanted to acknowledge it; I chose a capitalized “It” this week for the godlike resonances. I’ll probably change this up again at different times depending on what happens in the episode.
  • (I’m just following in Harold’s footsteps here, okay. Back at it again with the “it” and the “Ms. Groves.”)
  • The review was already long, so I’m putting this here: that ending tag! Shit! I’m sad for Jeff Blackwell, who seems like a nice guy trying to build a good life and is likely being steered in Samaritan’s direction. I’m sure he’ll have something to do with Shaw, though, so: his sacrifice is honestly probably worth it. I wonder if he’ll meet Claire, the Baby Root character Harold and Root lost to Samaritan in Season 4?
  • Root in a Girls Scout uniform sincerely freaked me out. Details on her badges can be seen here. (She has one in kneecapping and one in love!) Also: her stuffed animal. Amazing.
  • John Reese in a polyester bowling shirt was hilarious, but not something I ever want to see again.
  • There are ONE MILLION things I didn’t get to in this review, so please feel free to ask me things in comments!
  • #real

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