In the final episode of Person of Interest, I will remember. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Person of Interest.
I move through fictional universes all the time with this whole Mark Does Stuff project. Some of them affect me more than others, and some of them hit me squarely where they need to. In terms of timing, Person of Interest came at an odd time in my life, when the world feels more evil and overbearing than usual. It’s not that my country has even been particularly less monstrous about its imperialism and its mistrust of its citizens. When you exist on the margins of a society like mine, you have to look for silver linings, for exceptions to the rule. But it’s also undeniable that we all live in a particularly trying time, one in which it feels more and more like we all slipped into some monstrous alternate universe.
And then Person of Interest barged into my life. Look, y’all know I love heists; you know I love stories about the downtrodden or oppressed finding justice; you know I am WAY into serialized stories, especially ones with mysterious elements within them. If I had watched this at another time, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it as well. It’s got so much I love, and y’all probably knew that when y’all started recommending it to me. But the subversive elements of this show took me by surprise, and thus, it still came as a shock to me that the end of Person of Interest would be such a heartfelt examination of mortality. Is it what I expected? No, not at all, though it makes a hell of a lot of sense. But most of what this show has done over five seasons was surprising! I did not anticipate a show that would openly criticize the surveillance state, that would address the complications of being a lone person against forces bigger than one could conceive of, that would touch on the messy nature of complicity and passivity.
And in the end, it even surprises me with things I don’t normally like.
This show ends as it began, and it cycles back around to both the first episode of the whole show and the first episode of this season. As I listened to Root’s voice narrate the aftermath, I realized that I’d been tricked. Root didn’t survive; we were always listening to the Machine. I suppose there will remain a bitterness about the loss of Root, but one of the other reasons I generally dislike this trope is because writers so rarely deal with the actual ramifications of a death. What does it mean? How do people truly grieve? How can a death shape the lives of those who survived that person? What is the material and figurative aftermath? If these things are addressed and dealt with in real, meaningful ways, then a death doesn’t feel like a plot twist meant to shock the viewer/reader. It feels like a way to explore reality. And in the three episodes after “The Day the World Went Away,” Root’s death has demonstrable ramifications for practically every part of this story. The Machine gets a Voice; Harold abandons his non-violent principles and begins to utilize the Machine to his own ends; Shaw finally gets the last thing she’s needed to begin to accept herself. And in her death, Root gets to live much longer through the Machine in a strange way, but it’s one in which the survivors can make the world better.
I suppose I’m tempered by the fact that Root wasn’t the only person to sacrifice their lives for a better world, and despite that this season SCREAMED at me to realize that John was gonna die, I still missed all the clues. (Literally, the previous episode included a line about how John was on borrowed time. STILL DIDN’T CATCH THAT CLUE DESPITE THAT IT WAS THROWN AT MY FACE.) It may seem a little silly, but if only Root had lost their lives, I would have called foul. That doesn’t mean there is no means to criticize this choice regardless, and I’ll be the first to say that I mostly dislike every use of the Bury Your Gays trope.
My point is that there is a closure provided here that doesn’t make me feel miserable, that doesn’t make me feel like a tragedy was exploited for the sake of it. What did Person of Interest need to tie up before it bowed out? I needed Blackwell to be held accountable for what he’d done. (Indeed, complicity is an important narrative thread over this whole show, so if they’d left this unanswered, I would have been frustrated.) I needed to see the ramifications of Harold’s choice. I needed to know the outcome of the final battle between Samaritan and the Machine. And I needed to know… could these characters find a life after the end of the world? Was that even possible?
“Return 0” does a lot with very little time, and I’m thankful for the quiet moments in “.exe.” They act as a spiritual pair to the conversation that Harold has here with The Machine, though he actually envisions the Machine in the body of Root. This episode is loud and chaotic—particularly as the world begins to crumble around the ICE-9 virus that Harold unleashed—and yet, there’s so much space for some of the quietest, most soul-crushing scenes we’ve gotten in the whole show. So, in one moment, I was on the edge of my seat, uncertain who would die, who would survive, how this would all turn out. In the next, tears were brimming my eyes and there was a lump in my throat. (Well, until I just outright started crying. Damn this cold, I WAS SO CONGESTED I COULD BARELY BREATHE LMAO.) I went from believing that John was dead due to the opening scene to being horrified as I watched Harold lock him into a vault at the Federal Reserve. I went from joy to sadness, sometimes within the same scene.
And while it’s hard to comment on every single little thing that this finale accomplishes, I did want to say that I felt satisfied in the end. Fusco gets to see the Machine before it “dies,” and the show fulfills the promise it gave back at the start of season four by having the train car actually go mobile as needed. John gets to fulfill his promise to Harold by paying him back for the purpose that Harold gave him by recruiting him five years prior. He gets to go out fighting right up to the end. John’s sacrifice allowed the Machine to be uploaded to Samaritan’s final location WHICH IS LITERALLY IN SPACE, I LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH, Y’ALL. And he gets to say goodbye. It was awful to watch it, and that’s when I really started crying, but I was glad that John got to leave on his own terms.
Then there’s Shaw. I can’t imagine a more romantic thing than the Machine’s decision to relay Root’s thoughts, built perhaps through approximation or from confidence, and to tell Shaw that she is perfectly fine just the way she is. The callback to the “shapes” conversation is well-earned, but the comment that she’s a straight line? That she’s an arrow? WOW, I AM ABSOLUTELY DEAD INSIDE. And more than anything, it allows Shaw a moment to grieve, to accept that she was loved for precisely who she is.
It’s an important scene, not just for the closure, but because when we find out that Shaw, Fusco, Harold, and Bear survive it all, it provides hope. It provides us with the tiniest window of possibility of a life beyond this nightmare, of a world where these three people continue to try to make a difference. I’m including Harold in that because I love the idea that he tells Grace the truth. I love the idea that she loves him regardless of it all. I love the idea that these people continue to work with the Machine because a single life still matters. Even in the end, there’s something subversive about a show that argues this reality, given that we live in a world where numbers define the fate of millions of people. Especially in an era of neo-fascism, arguing that we cannot discard people because they’re inefficient, different, damaged, complicated, or flawed feels like a big deal. It lends power to John’s sacrifice, since he spent five years learning that a single person can still change the world, and that’s exactly what he did in his final moments.
I’m really, really happy with this show. It isn’t perfect; I still think there are missed opportunities and missteps. (Namely in Carter and Root, and I was quietly holding out hope that Carter might have some role at the end, given how important she was to this story.) But as a whole, this was an incredible ride, and I’m so happy y’all got me to go on it.
We start Alias on Monday, friends! Which is neat, since we’re jumping from one program associated with J.J. Abrams to another! HOW MANY PEOPLE FROM LOST AND PERSON OF INTEREST WILL BE ON THIS SHOW i don’t even know.
Thanks for this journey.
The video for “Return 0” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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