Mark Watches ‘Person of Interest’: S04E17 – Karma

In the seventeenth episode of the fourth season of Person of Interest, the team tracks a controversial psychologist, while Harold deals with the uncomfortable flashbacks the case gives him. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Person of Interest.

Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of grief.

WHO IS SURPRISED THAT I LOVED THIS exactly no one. Grief is one of my favorite themes to tackle within fiction, and holy shit, this is yet another brilliant entry in this show’s continuing mythology. It gives us more of ALICIA CORWIN, y’all, and I never thought this show would go back to provide more depth for her character. Not only that, but the aftermath of Nathan Ingram’s death was clearly a pivotal moment in Harold’s development. And all of this happens in the midst of a frustrating and ethically challenging person of interest? HELL YES.

Dr. Shane Edwards

This show is so good at discussing culpability and complicity that it felt shocking that this episode’s case went straight for ambiguity. But I wouldn’t change that ending, no matter how frustrating it was. “Karma” gives us a glimpse into a form of vigilantism that isn’t all that different from what the team does. They often fool people into incriminating themselves. How many traps has the team set in order to provide justice for the people the Machine directs them to? A whole damn lot at this point. So when it becomes clear that Dr. Edwards is enacting a similar form of justice on people who harmed his clients and got away with it, the team is conflicted. He’s not murdering anyone, and no innocent bystanders are ever harmed. In the case of the man set up by Edwards in the first act of the episode, is there truly a victim? Should they even intervene if Edwards is providing what the existing justice system cannot?

One act makes them hypocrites, and the other means that they enable Dr. Edwards by refusing to stop him. AND THAT’S A TOUGH CHOICE. The man who Dr. Edwards framed for bank robbery messed up someone else’s life, yet wasn’t held accountable for driving under the influence. Is it the worst thing imaginable to let Dr. Edwards provide this closure for his clients?

The truth is, as Harold later says, infinitely more complicated than this, especially once the show reveals why Dr. Edwards has been so hellbent on providing this brand of karma to his patients. It’s a story that both John and Harold know well. (I continue to be impressed with the way the writers for this show manage to do this over and over again without ever feeling stale. IT’S SO SATISFYING.) Yes, they act out their own brand of justice day in and day out, but they also know how loss and grief can combine and act as an incendiary form of motivation… and that motivation isn’t always a good thing.

You only need look at how John dealt with grief over the years. We’ve gotten glimpses of what happened after he lost Jessica, and I’d argue that “The Devil’s Share” from last season was one GIANT examination of this very issue. In the end, retribution never brought another person back. It never filled the hole left in these people’s hearts. And that’s certainly the case with Harold.

Alicia Corwin

I JUST!!!!!! Look what this episode has DONE! Here, we’re provided with a crucial gap to explain how Alicia Corwin became the person we saw at the end of season one. It’s a surprising addition to the ongoing narrative because I assumed we were long past that point. It was also a brilliant way to make Harold’s point: he assumed a certain reality, one that was cold and inhuman. And that’s deeply understandable: the people who ran Northern Lights were executing everyone associated with the project in order to protect it. It makes perfect sense that Harold saw this as a calculated act, one that was carried out without regard for who else would be harmed in the collateral damage. (Indeed, that is true.)

But after plotting to kill Alicia Corwin in order to avenge Nathan, Harold is ultimately stopped by two things: the Machine’s intervention and Alicia’s last-second honesty. I generally love all these early moments in the Machine’s history because they help establish the Machine as a character in its own right, one who grows and develops and affects the narrative in vital ways. Here, we watch in horror as the Machine sends a non-relevant number to Harold just seconds after he threatens Alicia’s life… and it is Harold. The Machine then works to get Harold to stop what he is doing, but it cannot communicate like it does in the present.

So all it can do is call. It merely reminds Harold that it is watching.

That’s coupled with Alicia’s immediate admission of guilt and complicity once Harold traps her in her car. Believing her life to be over, she says something that got through to Harold: that she tried to do something to protect her country, but unfortunately, it got out of hand. It got too big. It wasn’t what they intended. And that’s precisely what happened with Harold. He wanted to help people, but was that the only thing the Machine did (or supported) once the government had control of it? Could he argue that he was blameless in all of this?

The world is infinitely more complicated than how Harold saw it while consumed by grief. That doesn’t mean he should not have grieved, and it doesn’t mean that people should not be held accountable for the things they have done. But both John and Harold learned the hard way that vengeance did not give them the closure they so desperately needed. They had to find that through other means.

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

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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