In the twelfth and penultimate episode of the fifth season of Person of Interest, Harold makes a decision. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Person of Interest.
Trigger Warning: For brief mention of suicide
It all came down to one choice.
In the end, whatever happens in this show’s finale, I’ll remember how much free will matters in Person of Interest. When this show is on top of its game—when it is surely one of the best speculative fiction narratives I have ever seen—it deals with the messy implications of choice. Sure, I think there have been a couple odd missteps and writing decisions made over these five seasons, but by and large, what makes this show so compelling is that the scripts make everyone deal with the implications of every action taken. This show has consistently escalated the main mythology by dealing with the choices all these various characters have made.
Which is why it’s so important that we get those simulations spread throughout “.exe.” As Harold makes plans to spread the one virus that will take out Samaritan but will inevitably destroy the Machine as well, he wonders: was this worth it? Were the choices he made long ago prudent? Wise? Necessary? And it’s interesting to me that the Machine does not provide the kind of answer that Harold necessarily wanted. Instead, she paints a portrait of a probable timeline that seems… different, but is it all that better? Fusco was never turned away from HR. (And it’s an odd portrait to watch, given that that version of Fusco seems so far away. I can’t imagine him as anything but the super principled man he is now.) Shaw continued to work for ISA. John saved his ex-partner, but was never steered toward a life of purpose. He never met Harold or Carter, and he didn’t survive because of it. Harold, on the other hand, found success with Nathan, but never met Grace. They’re all deviations from the history we know, but is that necessarily worse? The world seemed less chaotic, less full of danger, less terrifying. So was it all worth it?
It’s Root’s alternate future that removes any ambiguity from this narrative, and it’s one thing I absolutely love about this show. No matter how many “good” things are accomplished by Samaritan, the show has always remained firmly on the side that Samaritan, Greer, and all those on the side of that horrific AI are antagonists. They manipulate reality. They murder, and not for some random, superficial reason. They kill people because they believe it makes the world a better place. The fabricate the world so that there is the illusion of choice, but in reality, choices were made long ago, by a force that people never see, cannot counter, cannot reject. Thus, Root’s future is the final nail in the coffin. Yes, it’s a glimpse of a world where she never found Harold and never found a way to fundamentally change her outlook on life. But it’s also a glimpse of a horrifying reality, in which dissent and disagreement is no longer allowed. Samaritan decides all things, and even the mere act of questioning that reality gets you killed.
So, that changes the question being asked: Is it worth it to live in a reality with the Machine if that means that Samaritan is still in existence? For what it’s worth, as stress-inducing and tension-filled as “.exe” is—it’s truly among the show’s best episodes on this front—I found this script to be beautiful intimate and quiet. At its heart is a conversation between a creator and their creation, one that is unique and heartbreaking and compelling and emotional. I have truly seen nothing like it, both in terms of the content and the context, and it felt special. It helped that Emerson played Harold with a muted sensibility throughout this episode, as if he was already quietly mourning the decision that was inevitable. By the end of the episode, we find out that the Machine knew what Finch was going to do, at least with a high level of certainty. She could have enabled that voice password (DASHWOOD, OH MY GOD, SHAW EVEN LOOKED AT THE BOOK EARLY IN THE EPISODE) without Harold, but she respected him. She knew he had to ultimately make that decision.
There’s a finality to this episode, and it ALREADY felt like the last episode. BUT IT WASN’T!!! THERE’S STILL ANOTHER ONE! Which is good because I’d like some things wrapped up for the other characters, too. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON WITH FUSCO. He’s got the Samaritan agent responsible for all the bodies found in “A More Perfect Union,” and I don’t see him killing LaRoux. And was that truly the last time Shaw and John got to see Harold??? PLEASE DON’T LET THAT BE TRUE.
Y’all, I’m not ready for this show to end. HOW.
The video for “.exe” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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