Season two of “Person of Interest” ended on one hell of a dilemma: the “Machine”, a supercomputer that could take all of the nations surveillance from around the world and predict the possibility of violence before it happened, had become self aware. So much so, that it had taken measures to protect itself by arranging to have its physical components moved to an undisclosed location: not even Harold Finch, the Machine’s creator, knows where it is.
It’s an interesting set up for a show that started out as little more than a high-tech police procedural, and season two expanded the show into one of the better science fiction shows on TV at the moment. How many other shows have explored the idea of a benevolent AI? And in light of recent events concerning government surveillance, the show seems more relevant now than ever.
It’s surprising then, that season three begins with such a low key plotline. “Liberty” was a standard number of the week episode that had Reese, Finch, and Shaw (now a regular cast member), working to protect a navy petty officer on shore leave who has run afoul of a group of diamond smuggling Force Recon Marines.
First, an aside: I served in the Marine Corps, and something I’ve noticed in movies and tv is that when it comes to Navy versus Marines, Marines are always portrayed as the bad guy. It’s getting old, Hollywood. While there is a rivalry between the branches of service, it tends to be amicable, especially when said members of different branches are part of, what I’m assuming, the same detachment. That’s been my experience, anyway.
Military pedantry aside, the episode had some great moments. It begins by catching us up with the team. A man gets kidnapped and thrown into the back of a van. It looks like he’s screwed until one of the kidnappers realizes that one of their own is playing a game on his phone. Surprise! It’s Reese, and before everyone can react, he kneecaps them all and the van crashes. The victim runs away, telling Reese “You’re crazy!” Reese laments the fact that no one ever thanks him as a patrol car rolls up. Out steps Carter, no longer a detective after the events of the season two finale.
Meanwhile, Shaw is on a date with scum bag who tried to put one over on the mob. As he tries to sweet talk her, Shaw informs him that she knows what he did, and the only reason she agreed to go out with him was because he had a price on his head. Cue hit team, Shaw jumps up and kills them all, using Fusco (disguised as a horse cart driver, with a fake chin strap beard for some reason) as a shield.
These scenes were pretty silly, but they re-introduced the new team in an entertaining way while also setting up the friction caused by Shaw, who’s proving to be a bit of loose cannon. Later on in the episode, she gets a hold of new sniper rifle and laments not getting to try it out at first. In the episode’s climactic scene, however, she gets to use her new toy, covering Reese from a nearby rooftop. “I’m hungry,” she says once the smoke has cleared. “You’re gonna buy me a steak.” I’ve always found her to be a fun element of the show, and I look forward to see how her character is developed.
I’ve called PoI the closest thing we have to a Batman tv show, and if Reese is Bruce, and Harold a combination of Oracle and Alfred, then Shaw is kind of like the Jason Todd Robin, a young hot head that doesn’t see eye to eye with Reese’s more non-lethal approach.
I had a few problems with the episode. First, while Fusco has been used as comic fodder in the past, the way he was used in this episode was troubling. Reese pretty much leaves him in a room with an active bomb, and then goes to confront the man holding the detonator, having no way of knowing if Fusco was able to diffuse it. This not only puts Fusco in danger, but the young petty officer the bomb is strapped to as well. Fusco does manage to diffuse it, of course, just as the Big Bad presses the button. It was sloppy story telling for the sake of a cheap thrill.
Another problem, during the same scene…when this week’s Number goes to sell the smuggled diamonds to a Russian broker, the Force Recon team just kind of pops up from behind the counter, resulting in a stand off. Perhaps I need to watch the episode again, but right now I have no idea where they came from. Were they already there? That would be odd, considering the Russians had their own team waiting on the floor above. Not to mention the store where they met was owned by the Russian broker. And why send the Number to make the deal when they were planning to pop up anyway?
Now, the good stuff. Carter was a highlight of the episode, as we learn that she’s keeping the show’s super villain, a crime lord named Elias, in a safe house after saving him last season and using him for information. It’s also revealed that she’s actively investigating the murder of a fellow detective in her own time, still working to bring down the criminal conspiracy that killed him.
Another nice element was Reese seeing of bit of his younger self in this week’s Number. When the petty officer expresses a desire for a normal life outside of the military, despite being a candidate for the S.E.A.L.S. and wanting to do some good, Reese suggests that maybe he’s meant for something more than an ordinary life. He also says that the CIA may one day come calling, but if they do, tell them no. It’s a small, but very telling bit of character developement from Reese that the show does very well.
Also strong was the B story involving the hacker Root. Amy Acker continues to deliver in this role, as we learn that she has begun to deify the Machine and is currently in the middle of a debate with it over how she is going to deal with the criminal psychologist who is treating her. “God is eleven years old,” she tells him at the end of the episode, in a chilling scene that raises some interesting questions. What is the deal with the Machine’s continued interest in Root? If it’s making it’s own decisions now (and those decisions are based in altruism…it’s still choosing to send out numbers to save lives, after all) why does it continue to communicate with a violent psychopath? Does it enjoy being worshipped? Has it developed a split personality? Does it plan to use her as a contingency plan? Or perhaps it sees her as a victim that can be saved? Is the machine truly as benevolent as we believe? I look forward to this season exploring these issues further.