Mark Watches ‘Person of Interest’: S04E11 – If-Then-Else

In the eleventh episode of the fourth season of Person of Interest, this might be it. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Person of Interest

Trigger Warning: For discussion of homophobia, specifically the “Bury Your Gays” trope.

I am holding out a sliver of hope, y’all, even though my instinct is telling me not to. My hope is that the people running this show—the showrunner and the writers—are not treading the literal same ground as they were last season. Because if they are, lord, am I ever going to be angry. That would mean that Sameen Shaw is killed off in almost exactly the same way as Carter, something that I am still bitter about, for the record. (Seriously. Killed just after kissing someone for the first time?)

Obviously, there’s another meaning to this that would make me even furious. I can’t tell if this show is borrowing something from the Joss Whedon/Jason Rothenburg playbook, or we’re just being tricked. Something tells me that Greer is going to want Shaw to be kept alive, though I can’t figure out what that reason might be. For the moment, though, I’ll put my anger aside until this is confirmed for me. We haven’t seen a body, and this episode did feature the deaths of Root and John at one point, so I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to trust.

Once I put this aside: Holy fucking shit, this is the best episode. From the writing to the acting to the editing to the design of the threads of simulation… this is probably going to be the pinnacle of storytelling on Person of Interest because I genuinely don’t know how the show is ever going to top this. HOW. How!!!!!!!!!

I’m sure this episode has been written about extensively prior to me getting to it, and I’m certain I’m not going to say anything original. I was talking with a friend this past week, and I learned that this show was RIDICULOUSLY successful in terms of viewership. I expected that it maybe got a million or two viewers per episode on average, but NOT EVEN CLOSE. Like!!! What the fuck, how did a show that’s so openly a speculative fiction narrative get so many people watching it??? And why have I almost never heard it in spec-fic spaces???

I bring all this up because it’s always weird to exist in a space where I’m coming to a show years after it has ended and having to do critical analysis while ignorant of the fandom itself. This is gonna be repetitive, but I’ll take that as a sign that this episode really is that good, that this bold style paid off. And I do think it’s a bold episode, since it manages to evoke the whole Groundhog Day trope while not being that trope at all. The three scenarios that unfold are our first chance to see how The Machine makes decisions, how it is able to find pathways and escape routes and how it uses statistical advantages to push Root and the others in specific directions. From a purely worldbuilding standpoint, it’s fascinating and satisfying, something I never expected the show to give us. But I’m thankful they did!

From a storytelling perspective, however, it’s goddamn brilliant. In the first scenario, we’re shown just how impossible this escape is, and Harold dies. In another, Root and Shaw openly confirm a physical and emotional attraction to one another. I didn’t realize at first that this wasn’t actual reality, but the Machine wouldn’t have come up with those specific details out of thin air, right? They’re based on the Machine’s observations, right??? The same with the second scenario, in which John shoves Fusco out of the server room to sacrifice himself to save everyone else. That’s precisely the kind of decision that John would make given his character. Indeed, all the scenarios and what actually happens contain sacrifice from one of the characters, and that’s not the Machine bullshitting its way through a possible future.

Oh, no, that’s saved for the third scenario in which the show’s writers make fun of the dialogue and character tropes they often employ, and it might just be my favorite part of the whole episode. THE MACHINE HAD TO SPEED THROUGH THE SIMULATION SO IT JUST GAVE THEM ALL THE SIMPLIFIED VERSION OF WHAT THEY NORMALLY WOULD SAY. Help me??? It was so amazing??? It was hilarious while still being heart-stopping and thrilling?

It’s like everything came together in just the right way. It’s commitment. Person of Interest committed to this premise so wholly that the episode feels almost otherworldly, like it’s a full-length film about chance and possibility. It’s gorgeous and heartbreaking and somehow hilarious and uplifting, all at once. AND I HAVEN’T EVEN ADDRESSED THE FLASHBACKS. Harold taught the Machine. IT REMEMBERS!!! It has to! It remembers that Harold taught it that people are not game pieces, that their lives cannot be treated with dismissal or arrogance.

The Machine can learn THE MACHINE STILL HAS A MORAL CORE.

I am so furious at my own schedule because I now have to wait a week to find out if Shaw is alive. What is this waiting thing? It’s like I’m watching TV like all of you, I REFUSE.

The video for “If-Then-Else” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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