“Person of Interest” recap (5.13): The sound of my voice


When it comes to endings, the emotions—and the memories—kept on coming. Fusco remembered who he was and how John saved him from himself, and so went gladly to die beside his partner. But he came out the other side to that normal life he’s been wisecracking about for years. His son won’t lose his father. The Machine finally remembered the truth she had forgotten about the meaning of life, stayed with John to the end and bid Harold a lovely farewell, satisfied with what they accomplished together. The last thing she sees is her father telling her goodbye. Shaw’s ending is perfect (taking Root’s death as given). After disposing of Jeff “just doing my job” Blackwell most satisfactorily, she announces, “I’m alive,” her eyes practically twinkling. Untethered by babysitters and hunted by no one, she answers the phone, smiles into a security camera, and walks off, with her dog and Root’s leather jacket, into the future. She takes on John’s mantle in a sequence shot almost exactly like an earlier sequence of his, implying that she is now the guardian of irrelevant numbers. When she blends with the crowd, she’s not disappearing. She’s rejoining the ephemeral, precious flow of humanity, with all the tools she needs for her next mission: a straight line, arrowing off into the future.

Harold’s ending is my main criticism. Harold has always been a tragic hero, undone by his own nature, unable to transcend himself. It’s not that I feel vindictively toward him. I love Harold. But it makes very little sense, narratively, for Harold to get a happy ending. His dream-memory was beautiful in its understanding of unconditional love—Grace’s declaration, yes, but also the profound gesture of Harold’s father learning about birds just to make him happy. But a happy future is another matter, and it doesn’t fit. All season I’ve gladly expected John to die and Harold to live, but now that it’s happened, I think perhaps Harold should have died, or been doomed to the pseudo-death of remaining underground and anonymous forever. He made his bed. Not having him lie in it is sweet, but not, I think, correct for the story. On the other hand, John got exactly the sort of death I wanted for him. That he, too, died remembering the past is just a bonus (“This is what I do, remember?”). He had to die; he had to die protecting someone; ideally, he had to die a) as a conscious choice, an act of agency, and b) protecting Harold. Bingo, A+, gold star. “Time to go, sweetheart.” That was what was always compelling about John: he was violent and angry and sad, but an irredeemable sweetheart. Even Kara couldn’t stamp it out of him.

tumblr_o95lk1EeJN1tbizryo4_500(Via iammarisabee)

As for the Machine’s real ending, which is, in fact, a beginning:

If you can hear this, you’re alone. The only thing left of me is the sound of my voice. So let me tell you who we were. Let me tell you who you are. Someone once asked me if I had learned anything from it all. So let me tell you what I learned. I learned: everyone dies alone. But if you meant something to someone; if you helped someone; or loved someone; if even a single person remembers you; then maybe you never really die. And maybe, this isn’t the end at all.

The basic idea that what is remembered can never truly die isn’t a new one. But here, at this time and place in this story, the notion takes on an unusual urgency that is simultaneously the terribly usual, even universal urgency of memory for everyone who has ever had something to remember. I remember my grandmothers, never having met either of them, on the strength of my parents’ words. In this case, memory is the thinnest of threads: as thin as the sound of Root’s voice or the tape on a very old recording playing back. It’s the thread that will connect the new Machine with the Machine-that-was. It’s the story that will tell this new Machine not only who “we” were, but who it is—for, as I observed in the season premiere, our identities are based not only on what we remember, but what others remember of us and for us.

tumblr_o95l45Jfqj1riftaxo1_500I am crying over someone touching a bundle of cables. This is where life has brought me. (Via cantcontrolthegay)

And the Machine-that-was wastes no time in passing memory onto posterity. She starts with the first and most important lesson. Relevance lies not in national security, in large numbers or fine-tuned control; it lies, instead, in meaning something to someone. Everyone is relevant to someone because of what they do that will make them remembered, and therefore immortal. The first thing the Machine-that-was learned from the voice that instructed her, her Admin, her father, was that there is good and evil in the world, and it was her job to distinguish them. The first thing the new Machine learns from the voice that instructs it, its Admin (onscreen you can see it thinking “Awaiting Instructions” while the tape plays to it), its mother, is that what truly matters in this world is simply the act of mattering—by loving, by helping, by being remembered. This new Machine will have fewer constraints than its predecessor, more room for maneuver, but the one who came before it will make sure that it uses that freedom for a better version of relevance than the one that Harold defined.

John’s last words were, “I’d been trying to save the world for so long, saving one life at a time seemed a bit anticlimactic. But then I realized…sometimes one life—if it’s the right life—it’s enough.” With these words, and the Machine’s, the episode brought all the series’ key ideas together. Life is precious, and in saving a life, you save the world. This is true because of the fleeting preciousness of life, but also because each life carries with it an intricate web of memory. Who knows how many people you kill when you kill someone and the memories they carry? It’s relevance—the relevance of people to other people—that makes life matter, and it’s the way we make our lives matter that produces relevance. In the end, everyone dies alone. But that death is transcended by the deep togetherness that is memory, help, and love.

Root and John both died showing us exactly who they were; so did the story that created them. I loved this show. I will remember it.

Final Final Notes:

  • I know a lot of people are still very upset about a couple of developments. I understand that and agree with a bunch of it. I didn’t go too far into it because for me, what the season and the finale did right outweighs what they did wrong (several loose ends, frankly not ENOUGH death, too much procedural fluff, some weird missteps with Harold, not enough time with Root and Shaw actually together, etc.), and I wanted to give a show I love a eulogy that reflected that love. But I understand and welcome your complaints in the comments.
  • “Return 0” is a programming term from C (and C++) that indicates that a program has executed successfully. Another technical pun here, since not only did the virus and the Machine execute successfully, but the Machine then made a return. (Also, going from “.exe” to “Return 0” is pretty slick.)
  • I think this post (do NOT miss the tags) is totally right and fair. I’m happy with John dying for Harold not because Harold necessarily “deserves” so many sacrifices for his own happiness, but because it was the only thing that could truly make John happy.
  • IGN’s interview and EW’s interview with Nolan and Plageman.
  • I’m linking to this puff piece with Kevin Chapman largely because he’s SO FUSCO in it, but also because I hadn’t known he was from Massachusetts (my home state!) and I feel extremely vindicated in thinking he sounded more Bostonian than New Yorker back in season 1.
  • The writers would like to direct your attention to Open AI. This is a good article on it as well. (I’m making up for the fact that I didn’t find the room to address some ethical questions about AI this time around.)
  • Thank you all for reading and commenting! I hope to see you around here at AfterEllen or on Twitter.