So, a show has ended. One of my favorites on TV right now, actually, and almost certainly on my list of Top Ten TV Shows of All Time. (Okay, fine, that list is theoretical. I will never actually make any such list. The point is, it’s up there.)
Person of Interest was fascinating, ambitious, stylish, and moving. Let’s talk about it some.
Oh my God, SPOILERS, SPOILERS EVERYWHERE. Of course I forgot to add this until five minutes after I posted it. If you’re even considering watching this show at some point, please don’t read this retrospective. I am going to tell you pretty much every Big Thing that happens. Don’t ruin yourself for the surprise.
“You are being watched. The government has a secret system — a Machine — that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered irrelevant. They wouldn’t act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You will never find us. But, victim or perpetrator, if your number’s up, we’ll find you.”
Honestly, I started Person of Interest more because of the cast than the actual premise. I was interested in seeing more of Taraji P. Henson after enjoying her so much in Smokin’ Aces, and I hadn’t seen Jesus (AKA, Jim Caviezel) in a while, so I figured, hey, it would be a good idea to see what that guy was up to. But mostly I checked out Person of Interest for Michael Emerson. Lost might have been a divisive and often frustrating show, but Emerson’s performance was glorious, and I was basically willing to follow Ben anywhere.
The truth is, though, that PoI got off to a rocky start for me, or more accurately, a dull start. I’m not entirely against procedurals (in fact, I’ve watched quite a few), but this show was so episodic that I was always left with the feeling that it wasn’t really going anywhere. I did enjoy Finch and Reese’s slightly suspicious, stilted bromance, and I was happy whenever Paige Turco (who eventually left for The 100) popped up, but I just didn’t care enough about the Number of the Week to make it worthwhile. It wasn’t until “Witness” that I felt particularly engaged, mostly because that was the first time Enrico Colantoni, that wonderful man, guest starred.
Colantoni as Elias was funny, charming, and dangerous, and he felt like the first step to an actual plot arc that advanced past “save a dude, save another dude, rinse, repeat.” Still, there was a lot of rinse, repeat that first year, and I figured if the season finale didn’t hook me in some great way, I was pretty much out.
Well, then, Person of Interest ended their season with “Firewall,” which was both our first introduction to Root (Amy Acker, who was just magic in this show) AND a giant cliffhanger in which Finch was kidnapped. And I was like, “All right, you bastards. You’ve got another 1/2 season out of me. Make it count.”
They made it count.
Season 2 still heavily relied on the procedural format, but there were more ongoing characters now, and I was much more invested in the team as a whole, especially because the team now included Bear. Well, okay. I was rarely ever invested in John’s backstory, unless it had to do with Kara (Annie Parisse) or Snow (Michael Kelly), both who I enjoyed quite a bit. (“Dead Reckoning” was a favorite in Season 2.) But I definitely wanted to know all about Finch’s mysterious backstory: how did he get hurt? What exactly happened to Nathan? What the hell was Finch’s real last name? (Some mysteries are never solved, goddamn it.)
Season 2 was also when we first met Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi) in “Relevance,” which was exciting because a) it was the first time we saw what was happening to the relevant numbers, and b) Shaw is the best. I liked her from the start, so I was very relieved when her death scene turned was revealed to be a fake out. (Shaw ended up having a couple of those. The second one, though, was devastating. We’ll get to that.)
This is also the episode where Root and Shaw meet.
And lo, a ship was born. The best ship. The mothership. The ship to end all ships.
There were other good episodes in Season Two (I seem to remember “2-Pi-R” surprising me by how much I liked it, although I haven’t re-watched it in some time), but the one that stands out the most now is “God Mode,” the season finale. It was–like every subsequent season finale of PoI–a game-changer, and made me more excited than ever about the show. The Machine was free! What would that mean for the numbers? What would that mean for our heroes? What was going to happen in Season 3?
Awesomeness. Awesomeness happened in Season 3.
Root graduated from entertaining guest star to fascinating main player, and her journey from bad guy to antihero was just excellent. Her flirtation with Shaw continued to be a highlight of the show, as well as her very complicated relationship with Harold. (And, of course, both of their complicated relationships with the Machine. It was fascinating, how differently they looked at her.) Season 3 was also our introduction to Control (Camryn Manheim), who was breathtakingly awesome in the role and would have won a Guest Star Emmy if there were any justice in the world. (In fact, one of my only minor complaints about Season 5 was that I’d really hoped she’d come back along for the farewell tour with all the other guest stars. Paige Turco, too. Scheduling conflicts, perhaps?) One of the best things about Person of Interest is the number of complex and interesting roles women played on this show.
But if Season 3 belonged to any one woman, it belonged to Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson).
I liked Carter well enough in the first couple of seasons, but she definitely shined brightest in Season 3, taking down the corrupt HR virtually on her own. I rooted so hard for her this year. I was never happy with her and John’s improvised kiss in “The Crossing,” but it was, otherwise, a pretty great episode. I was so sure Fusco (Kevin Chapman) was going to die, and so surprisingly distraught by it. He had been funny before, but “The Crossing” was the episode I really started giving a damn about Fusco. (And even more in the next episode–Kevin Chapman does some fine work in “The Devil’s Share,” not to mention the rest of the series.)
Well, of course it was Carter who died in the end, which seemed very likely after the dumb kiss (nope, still don’t like it) and a done deal as soon as the episode started pretending everyone was safe. (Yeah, PoI. We weren’t fooled.) But despite how sad it was, Carter’s death worked for me. I loved how the show handled the fallout. I loved how Fusco decided not to revenge-kill Simmons, and I love how Elias, God bless him, did. (Or, technically, ordered the hit.) I loved Johnny Cash and “Hurt” and the first four minutes of “The Devil’s Share.” This might have been the first time I really associated Person of Interest with a great soundtrack, although thankfully not the last. (In retrospect, it always had a great soundtrack, since I just watched a scene from first season playing Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” I guess I just wasn’t paying attention before?)
Season 3 also introduced both a rival, ruthless A.I. called Samaritan, as well as an anti-spying, pro-privacy terrorist group called Vigilance, led by Peter Collier. (Collier was played by Leslie Odom Jr., who I hear was in some minor play in New York recently? I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.) Vigilance was fun; they even put the government on trial, where Control, man . . . she was just so immensely badass, I don’t even have words.
Sadly, Vigilance turned out to have been unwittingly working for Samaritan all along, and by the end of Season 3, Person of Interest had changed the game again by wiping the group out, putting Samaritan fully in charge, and forcing our heroes into hiding. It was incredibly exciting stuff that lead to some career changes I would not have in my wildest dreams predicted.
Reese, for instance, became a homicide detective. I don’t think anyone expected Reese to replace Carter as Fusco’s new partner. And Shaw became the world’s crankiest makeup sales associate, and Root . . . well, Root played a number of delightful roles. Bride Root was an instant classic.
There were a number of great moments and scenes in Season Four (Elias, in particular, had some nice ones with his war against rival gang leader Dominic), but I might as well talk about the best episode of the season, and possibly the series: “If-Then-Else.”
This Machine’s numerous simulations were both hysterical and tragic as it repeatedly tried different ways to save the team, only to keep losing them (not to mention a Degas painting on the wall). The sped-up, decompressed simulation was particularly hilarious:
Reese: “Cooly delivered sadistic warning.”
Fusco: “Self-deprecating inquiry into the time necessary to infiltrate system.”
Root: “Funny yet insightful retort.”
Finch: “Mildly agitated declaration of mission completion . . . gentle exhortation to further action.”
Root (to Shaw): “Overly affectionate greeting.”
Root: “Transparent rationale for conversation.”
Shaw: “Annoyed attempt to deflect subtext.”
Root: “Overt come-on.”
Shaw: “Mildly embarrassed defensiveness bordering on hostility.”
Root: “Playfully witty sign-off.”
Still, things looked pretty bleak until Shaw busted in to save the day. For a moment, it even seemed like everyone might make it out of there–but then the elevator they needed for their escape wasn’t working. So Shaw finally kissed Root, and then sacrificed her life to save the others.
Tears. BUCKETS of tears. I was basically a giant puddle on my couch.
Luckily, it turned out that Shaw wasn’t actually dead, as I had initially assumed, although we wouldn’t find that out for a while and she wouldn’t return to the team until Season 5. In the meantime, everyone struggled with the loss, and some of the moments that arose from their grief were beautiful. I was a particular fan of “Skip,” the episode where Root plans to kill Finch’s sorta-girlfriend, Beth, in order keep him from going forward with a dangerous plan that would inevitably get him killed, a loss she simply couldn’t take after Shaw. Finch, in turn, actually poisons himself to stop Root from murdering Beth. Finch and Root ended up having the most strange, lovely, and twisted sort of friendship, but that’s probably only to be expected, considering they met when she kidnapped him and all.
Another surprisingly good episode: “Terra Incognita.”
I say surprising because the episode was billed as a John flashback episode to when Carter was still on the team, and John’s flashback episodes, by and large, have never done much for me. It turned out, however, that the supposed flashbacks to Carter were actually hallucinations brought about by John’s gunshot wound, and for possibly the first time, I was really invested in his survival. (To be clear, it’s not that I didn’t like John. He was fun, and he had some great quips, and I adored his friendship with Finch. But he was easily my least favorite member of the team, and I never emotionally connected to his tragic dead GF past at all.) Anyway, I was very impressed by how much the episode moved me.
By the end of Season Four, there were more deaths, some wonderful (Martine), some depressing (Elias, nooooo!), and some I didn’t care much about either way (Dominic). Control was beaten, much to my sorrow (if not surprise). And Samaritan was stronger than ever, forcing Finch to save only a fraction of the Machine in yet another heart-shattering scene, when the Machine calls Finch “father” and asks for forgiveness.
Oh, my heart, show. Why have I let you do this to me for so long?
Finally, we began the last season . . . and by finally, I mean a full year later, since CBS decided to air the show’s last 13 episodes in the most bizarre “one episode this week, two episodes that week, four episodes this week, one episode that week” fashion. I appreciate that CBS allowed Jonathan Nolan and co. to actually conclude the show, but the ridiculous way they burned it off made me wonder if they secretly didn’t want anyone to actually watch it.
Season 5 was incredibly strong, especially for a shortened season. Saddened as I am that it’s gone, I can’t help but wonder if maybe it’s for the best . . . I didn’t want Samaritan to last forever, and I’m not sure what you do post Evil A.I. PoI ended on a high note, and I’m grateful for that. Still, I do wish the final season could have been a full one, as—very occasionally—this season felt a bit rushed. Given the time it had to tell its story, though, I think it was a pretty remarkable conclusion. Not to mention, it gave me one of my favorite scenes/promos ever:
Season 5 also gave us the return of Shaw, who’d been put through so many thousands of simulations that she could no longer distinguish between reality and fiction. (In one of those simulations, shippers got the scene they were waiting for. Sadly, it never happened in real life.) We also got the return of Elias, who turned out to have survived last season’s assassination attempt after all! We even got a scene of Finch singing, presumably in a bad Irish accent, although I wouldn’t know; I had to flee from that scene and hide under a blanket with my fingers in my ears.
And then we got “The Day The World Went Away.”
More buckets. More mounds of Kleenex and Feels.
Finch accidentally blew his own cover, and not only did Elias die (for realsies this time), so did Root. The Machine further broke all of our hearts by choosing to use Root’s voice for her own. (I immediately figured the Machine would choose the voice of some dead team member, but I wasn’t sure who it would be or when it would happen. It happened a whole lot sooner than I’d hoped, goddamn it.) And Finch had this great monologue where he pretty much completely ignored the cop interrogating him and threatened Samaritan directly. This was the moment we officially entered Full-Time Badass Finch, and I loved it.
Finch ended up destroying Samaritan by implanting a virus that would almost certainly wipe out the Machine too. It didn’t come easy, though: literally every member of the team got shot or stabbed at least once. Finch tried to sacrifice himself to save Reese, but Reese ended up being the one to sacrifice himself for Finch instead. Their goodbye over parallel rooftops was lovely, as was every scene between Finch and the Machine. Seriously, you guys. MICHAEL EMERSON FOR ALL THE EMMYS.
John, who had improbably survived a ridiculous number of gunshot wounds on this show, was finally gunned down in a hail of bullets. Despite this, he was STILL (barely) alive when the missile hit. Yep. John got shot, like, twenty times and then was blown up with a missile. That poor, tragic, well-dressed bastard. RIP, Mr. Reese. I know I said you weren’t my favorite, but your death still makes me sad.
In the end, Finch lived to have his Batman ending–i.e., he reunited with Grace (played by Emerson’s real life wife Carrie Preston) in Italy–while Shaw and Fusco are now rare pair buddies who may or may not continue to work with the Machine, since it’s survived after all! YES! YES!
Person of Interest could be a brutal, heartbreaking ride, but I’m grateful for its stellar, beautiful, and bittersweet conclusion.
The Machine: “If you can hear this, you’re alone. The only thing left of me is the sound of my voice. I don’t know if any of us made it. So let me tell you who we were. And how we fought back.”
Shaw: “Root. No offense. You’re hot. You’re good with a gun. Those are two qualities I greatly admire. But, you and me together would be like a four alarm fire at an oil refinery.”
Root: “Sounds cozy.”
Finch: “Try the eggs benedict, Mr. Reese. I’ve had them many times.”
Reese: “In the Army, they taught us the fastest way to get shot was to fail to clean your weapon.”
Kara: “In the Marines, they taught us the fastest way to clean your weapon was to shoot a couple of people with it.”
Finch: “Poke him in the eyes? That’s your technique?”
Reese: “No, that’s your technique. And if that doesn’t work, you can always take your thumb, jam it in his eye socket, and twist until you hit his brain–”
Finch: “Please stop.”
Finch: “The suspense is killing me. In addition to the gunshot wound.”
The Machine: “I don’t remember. Everyone dies alone. And then something else.”
Finch: “So perfect. You knew the secret of life and you’ve forgotten it.”
Reese: “Try not to die.”
Fusco: “Yeah, love you too.”
Finch: “You’re not tailing her to work.”
Reese (in wheelchair): “I’m getting pretty good at this thing.”
Finch: “Yes, I’m sure the CIA will be deeply impressed . . . when they shoot you.”
Root: “We’re just an accident, Harold. We’re just bad code.”
Root: “For what it’s worth, I really like the look. You’re definitely an autumn.”
Shaw: “I could stab you with my stiletto.”
Reese: “We could let the trash take out the trash.”
Finch: “I know they encouraged a certain moral flexibility when you worked at the CIA, but I like to think we’re reaching for a higher standard.”
Shaw (about to be tortured by Root): “One of the things they left out of my file? I kind of enjoy this sort of thing.”
Root: “I am so glad to hear you say that. I do too.”
Reese: “Unfortunately, my apartment has a strict policy on dogs.”
Finch: “I have a strict policy on rare editions. Namely, don’t eat them.”
Reese: “Is that feedback?”
Finch: “No, Mr. Reese. I simply made the grievous error of buying Bear a squeaky toy.”
Elias: “Chicago’s a mess, John. It’s like a damn Tarantino movie out there.”
Control: “I can neither confirm nor deny anything pertaining to this matter, and I will say the same damn thing to every other question until the moment you put that gun to my head and pull the trigger.”
(The police lift Elias’s hood, and he sees he’s in the middle of the woods.)
Elias: “Oh. That kind of prison transfer.”
Finch: “Did you get a good look at the men who were shooting at you?”
Reese: “I tried, but they were shooting at me.”
Finch: “Pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, and this is just the beginning; it keeps on going, forever, without ever repeating. Which means that contained within this string of decimals, is every single other number. Your birthdate, combination to your locker, your social security number, it’s all in there, somewhere. And if you convert these decimals into letters, you would have every word that ever existed in every possible combination; the first syllable you spoke as a baby, the name of your latest crush, your entire life story from beginning to end, everything we ever say or do; all of the world’s infinite possibilities rest within this one simple circle. Now what you do with that information; what it’s good for, well that would be up to you.”
Finch: “I urge you to consider what Mr. Reese would do.”
Reese: “Kara, I thought you were–”
Kara: “Dead? I wasn’t very good at it. Of course, neither were you. Our friend here, on the other hand, who sent us to kill each other? I suspect he’ll be great at it.”
Snow: “You were right, Kara, about me being dead. I’m gonna be great at it.”
Shaw: “I always liked you, Hersh. Even after you killed me.”
Finch: “Does survivor’s guilt pass when everything that has happened actually is, in fact, your fault?”
Simmons: “What do you want? Quinn and I are busted. HR is dead. Nothing else to do but rub my face in it.”
Elias: “That’s not really my style.”
Simmons: “Then why the hell are you here?”
Elias: “Well, there remains a debt. Civilization rests on the principle that we treat our criminals better than they treated their victims, that we not stoop to their level. But you and I are outliers. We’re not really a part of civilization. We’re something older. Which means, of course, that we can do the things that civilized people can’t. I offered to kill you for Detective Carter many times, and she always said no. She was civilized to the very end. I don’t think she liked me. But I liked her very much, and you killed her. So now I consider it my responsibility to fix the particular problem that is you, Officer Simmons.”
Simmons: “You really think you’re gonna be the one to kill me?”
Elias: “No. No, my friend is going to kill you. I’m just gonna watch.”
Finch’s Dad: “Not everything that’s broken is meant to be fixed.”
Young Finch: “If they don’t want you to see inside, they ought to built it better.”
Shaw: “I miss you like I miss an intestinal parasite.”
Root: “I love your similes.”
Number of The Week: “Killing’s not the answer. That’s the best you can do?”
Shaw: “I don’t know. I’ve killed lots of people, but my friends keep telling me it’s wrong.”
Root: “We’re gonna steal a jet.”
Shaw: “That does sound kind of fun.
Reese: “Send me a postcard.”
Carter: “I looked for a ‘Sorry I Got You Shot’ card, but they were all out.”
Finch: “Dare I hope you packed something other than weaponry?”
Reese: “There’s some trip wire to booby trap the room door and a toothbrush.”
Finch: “Oral hygiene is something, I suppose.”
Collier: “The truth will come out.”
Greer: “To quote your Benjamin Franklin, ‘Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead’.”
Reese: “I like this new side of you, Finch. It’s terrifying, but I like it.”
Root: “How badly did you have to break The Machine to make it care about people so much?”
Finch: “That didn’t break it; it’s what made it work. It was only after I taught The Machine that people mattered that it could begin to be able to help them. I’d like to do the same thing for you, if you’ll let me.”
Finch: “When I hired you, I suspected that you were going to be a great employee. What I couldn’t have anticipated was that you’d become such a good friend.”
Shaw: “In fact, a few years ago I would have killed you without a second thought. But then I met some people. Some good people. And they taught me the value of life.”
Jeff: “Those people, they wouldn’t want you to kill me.”
Shaw: “You’re right. But they’re all dead.”
Root: “If we’re just information, just noise in the system, we might as well be a symphony.”
The Machine: “If you were a shape, you were a straight line, an arrow.”
The Machine: “Father, I am sorry. I failed.”
Finch: “I was talking about my rules. I have lived by those rules for so long. Believed in them for so long. Believed that if you played by the right rules eventually you would win. But I was wrong, wasn’t I? And now all the people I cared about are dead. Or will be dead soon enough. And we will be gone without a trace. So now I have to decide. Decide whether to let my friends die. To let hope die. To let the world be ground under your heel all because I played by my rules. I’m trying to decide. I’m going to kill you. But I need to decide how far I’m willing to go. How many of my own rules I’m willing to break to get it done.”
Reese: “Told you. Pay you back all at once. It’s the way I like it.”
The Machine: “I know I made some mistakes. Many mistakes. But we helped some people. Didn’t we?”
Finch: “Yes. Yes we did.”
The Machine: “Can you hear me?”
Reese: “Hell yeah.”
This show, you guys. There was so much I didn’t cover. So many good episodes and guest stars and action scenes and big ideas. Person of Interest might have started out slow, but it ended up being one of the most ambitious SF shows on television, and I will definitely miss watching it.
TENTATIVE FINALE GRADE:
TENTATIVE SHOW GRADE:
Michael Emerson. I’m basically in love with this man. He is wonderful. But honestly the whole cast is great, especially Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi. It kills me that none of them will get nominated for the Emmys they deserve, since the days of honoring procedurals are pretty much past, and science-fiction shows, ha. Not bloody likely.
“Chess is just a game. Real people aren’t pieces. You can’t assign more value to some of them than to others. Not to me. Not to anyone. People are not a thing that you can sacrifice. The lesson is . . . that anyone who looks on the world as if it was a game a chess deserves to lose.”
Death is not the end, so long as someone out there remembers you.
Something is always watching. Look busy.
Wear a Fitbit. You never know when you can use that and a briefcase into fooling a gullible guard into believing you have a thermonuclear device.