In the twenty-second and penultimate episode of the first season of Person of Interest, the team’s newest case centers on someone who may have discovered the Machine. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Person of Interest.
Let’s have a good laugh at my expense before I get into this incredibly serious episode of Person of Interest: I completely misinterpreted that line at the end of “Identity Crisis” as Finch saying John’s “real” name. LOOK, I JUST FORGOT THAT INGRAM’S FIRST NAME WAS NATHAN. Also: my god, that makes that scene so much more heartbreaking? So it’s a thematically appropriate mistake since it allowed me to appreciate the endless tragedy that is Finch’s life.
If we accept “Many Happy Returns” as an exploration of the cost that Reese paid for what he does, then “No Good Deed” is the same idea, but for Finch. It is a devastating hour of television because it offers such a bleak future for everyone who has been “tainted” by knowledge of the Machine. It’s the piece we needed to understand why Finch refuses to let anyone in. Maybe the man likes his secrets, but his justification for it is littered all over this episode.
Of course, I had no idea just how important Henry Peck’s story was to the greater arc of Person of Interest. This is the kind of case that’s perplexing until it’s all spelled out for the audience, and it’s a brilliant way to build suspense. We watch Peck’s life fall apart with such systematic efficiency that we can’t help but expect the worse. Framed by planted drugs, effectively fired from work, and on the run from government trained assassins, it seems like each new scene was an example of everything getting worse for Peck. But why would the NSA so thoroughly turn on one of its own, and only for asking questions?
But there’s a more harrowing dilemma here than merely saving a victim. While Finch and Reese are heavily invested in protecting Peck from his own government, there’s a deeper problem at play: Peck guesses correctly that the US government really did have a surveillance machine built. It is entirely “right” of him to want to tell others! And in any other context, I believe Finch would have assisted Peck in becoming a whistleblower. But Peck, like Reese, stumbled into something so much bigger and more frightening than he expected. Not only does the government have a vested interest in keeping the Machine secret, but so does Finch! We find out that it was his partner, Nathan, who built the backdoor exploit that allows Finch to still access all the “irrelevant” numbers that the Machine ignores. (You know, it’s possible that these are two separate things, for the record. The backdoor could be something entirely different than Finch’s method of accessing the list.) And over the course of this season, we’ve seen how Finch has tried his hardest to use that list of numbers to do good in New York City. Is it guilt that inspires him? He claims not to regret building the machine, but I do wonder if he feels terrible about what the Machine is being used for. We know for certain that the only person he ever trusted with it was Nathan Ingram.
Yet the existence of the machine has caused nothing but problems for almost everyone who has come into contact with it. Nathan is dead; Alicia has been on the run for years; Finch is alone because HE KILLED HIMSELF OFF IN ORDER TO BREAK TIES WITH HIS FIANCEÉ. Oh my god, the eerie parallels between Reese and Finch are TOO MUCH FOR ME TO HANDLE. No wonder they work so well together! The point being, of course, that Finch not only wants Peck to be safe, he wants Peck to be quiet. If Peck reveals the truth, there are so many terrible things that could happen. No one could believe him, and he’d get ostracized, for one. But even if they did, who’s to say the NSA wouldn’t double down and just move the Machine while denying its existence?
There’s an immediate concern, too. No big deal, just WAVES OF ASSASSINS, all loyal to a fault and willing to take orders without question. WHICH… lord, was anyone else disturbed by that scene where Reese kills one of the men who came after Peck? That man admitted that he didn’t even think to ask why he was killing Peck. He was just following orders.
Yes, this episode is heartwrenching because Peck, like Finch, can never have a “normal” life ever again. In a weird way, he’s “lucky” that he had no attachments or relationships in New York City because that means he can start over easier. He doesn’t have to FAKE HIS DEATH in order to spare his loved one’s life. But “No Good Deed” ruined me for another reason: it feels so hopeless. It’s not that the show ever hid the scope of government power before. Indeed, much of Person of Interest touches on corruption on power on numerous levels. But when you think of the sheer access to power in all forms that the NSA has here, it really is the scariest part of the show. How can you fight a faceless organization? How can you stand up to someone who can frame you for any crime they want? Who can manipulate “facts” to push a narrative? Who can send highly-trained men to murder you and make it look like an accident? Finch learned the hard way just how ruthless the owners of the Machine are. And if this is what they’re willing to do to Peck, what happens when they learn about Finch’s backdoor into the system?
Oh, I am not ready for this season finale, friends.
The video for “No Good Deed” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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