In the second episode of the fifth season of Person of Interest, the activation of the Machine comes with some frustrating complications. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Person of Interest.
UGH, THIS IS SO GOOD. It’s such an odd little episode, both in terms of the placement within the larger arc, and because tonally, it’s kind of silly and INCREDIBLY, DEATHLY IMPORTANT AT THE SAME TIME. That combination between humor and suspense works incredibly well, especially since this episode is about complexity and nuance. Humanity contains multitudes, and for the Machine, all of that disappears when it internally becomes dislodged from any understanding of time.
And I’m just now realizing this, y’all: IT’S SO IRONIC. When the Machine was first awakened years prior, Harold had to stop it from learning, from evolving, from understanding itself. And now? Harold desperately needs it to learn and evolve, to see humans as creatures capable of growth, of wanting to do good, of actually doing good in the world even if they’ve messed up terribly in other ways. Without that context, however, the Machine can’t fully grasp the violent acts it reports through the numbers. It’s the first episode where the team is sent on a wild goose chase. One man killed someone… twelve years prior. Another was about to kill someone, but Fusco discovers that it was within the context of a play. Fictional characters are reported to the team, and other numbers have been dead for decades.
But it’s the act of trying to calibrate these mistakes that brings about disaster: the Machine comes to view John, Harold, and Root as threats. And who can blame it? After reviewing the history of the surveillance feeds, and without any sense of time to give any historical context to what it observes, the Machine only sees all the horrible acts of violence that these people have perpetrated. The lying. The betrayal. The torture. Thus, they’re “bad,” designated as such because of the early lessons Harold gave the Machine when it was first awakened. So how do you teach an intelligence that views goodness and badness with such mechanical efficiency? How do you show it that there were reasons for some of this violence? How do you get past the creeping realization that maybe the Machine is right, that there wasn’t a reasonable justification for what you did?
An episode like this feels like something that comes near the very end, given that it works so well as an examination of the entire series. Indeed, there are references within “SNAFU” that stretch back to the first season, that remind the viewer just how far these characters have come. (It’s hard to remember a time when Root was an antagonist, but WOW. No one has changed as much as she has.) And instead of merely having Harold tell the Machine that they’re all good or tricking the Machine long enough to change the Machine’s code, the writers take a much more challenging path. MY GOD, DO I EVER LOVE THE SCENE WHERE HAROLD APOLOGIZES TO THE MACHINE. I love that he anchors the Machine by giving it all the details of the cases the Machine helped them close! I LOVE THAT I AM SO EMOTIONAL ABOUT AN AI, HOW DID WE GET TO THIS WORLD, Y’ALL. It’s a testament to how well written this is, y’all, that I care so much about this. I care about this Machine and how it feels about Harold, how willing it is to learn, how it apologizes. AN AI APOLOGIZES. What show am I watching?
I am quietly thankful that I didn’t get to watch John bowl, though. Something about that seems chaotically wrong. DON’T DO IT, PERSON OF INTEREST.
The video for “SNAFU” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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