Mark Watches ‘Person of Interest’: S03E20 – Death Benefit

In the twentieth episode of the third season of Person of Interest, I AM SO UNCOMFORTABLE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Person of Interest.

This got SO real, and it’s such a deeply unsettling moment in this show’s mythology. AND THEY DON’T EVEN LET THE AUDIENCE OFF THE HOOK.

One of my favorite things to talk about and write about is the idea of complicity. What do we allow to happen, even when we aren’t the direct perpetrators? What do we profit from? What do turn our gaze away from? For the most part, the Person of Interest cast of characters has had to deal with this head-on. These people killed others; they followed orders that were fraudulent and terrible; they built systems that caused suffering and misery. And the show doesn’t let them forget that! Yes, they are all now struggling to do good, but we’re shown that this is a long path, one that they’ve been on for years, and there’s no single solution to this sort of struggle. You do this shit for life.

And now, the Machine has thrown them all for a loop, and the decision they have to make here is… well, it’s intense. Which still sounds like an understatement, you know??? More so than any number the team was given, the target in “Death Benefit” is utterly perplexing. He doesn’t seem to have any enemies, and every possible threat turns out to be evidence of the fact that Congressman McCourt just GETS ALONG ALL THE TIME. With everyone!!! A huge joke in this episode is that every perceived threat that John uncovers ends up being benign. NOTHING. IT’S ALL NOTHING.

Of course, that’s sort of the point. How does a US Congressman end up so agreeable? That doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it certainly doesn’t happen within a system as corrupt as the US Legislature. Thus, this is about complicity. How does a company like Decima gain access to the feeds they need to run Samaritan properly? How does a government turn attention away from a life-changing new story, like the one where it’s discovered that the government has been spying on its own citizens? IS THIS STARTING TO FEEL WAY TOO SIMILAR TO OUR OWN WORLD?

I don’t doubt that this is intentional. It has to be. Men like McCourt traded away civil liberties and a right to privacy to help enact a massive surveillance network in the United States, and they most likely made a profit from it. And hell, I bet a large amount of them believe in it, too, and it’s not shocking that they’re the ones least affected by the ramifications of a surveillance network like that. The decision is so much easier when you don’t have to worry about your own life, right?

Yet “Death Benefit” turns the heat on the main characters and the audience, too. After struggling to piece this together, John realizes that the Machine reported McCourt’s number because there was a high probability of his death… at the hands of the very people who got the number in the first place. Theoretically, it’s possible: What if the Machine saw McCourt’s work to give Decima what they wanted as an act that would kill other people? To act to save those people, it would ask the team to eliminate McCourt. It’s a clever bit of math, but it’s one that Harold ultimately refuses to do. This whole project of his was meant to save lives, not take them. He’s been incredibly consistent on this front, so I’m not surprised that he walked out of that house before he could even learn the fate of McCourt. Does it matter to him that John didn’t take the shot? Maybe, but the point is that he was driven to a line he refused to cross, and HE LEFT.

And what does this all mean for us? McCourt’s justification for why he would approve Decima’s necessary legislation is chilling, and it’s one of those moments that stretched beyond the show itself. He did it because we would forget. We might cry out in revulsion and shock, but do we really want to challenge how we are protected? I have known people who think the greatest enemies of American history were Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. They were perfectly fine with their privacy being violated – and with the violation of others – if they were “safe.” What does that mean? What does safety look like in 2017? Those aren’t the questions that are being asked, and that’s the point. What do we allow to happen?


The video for “Death Benefit” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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