Mark Watches ‘Person of Interest’: S03E17 – /

In the seventeenth episode of the third season of Person of Interest, Root befriends a janitor who becomes a major player between Decima and Vigilance. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Person of Interest.

It seems that what I wrote about for “Last Call” regarding this show’s thematic mythology – of people struggling to do good in a world where so much bad happens – can now apply to one of the other main characters. There’s a carelessness that once played a part in all these characters’ lives, but for Root, that sense of apathy toward other humans never seemed to go away. Even Shaw, who has difficulty expressing her emotions or empathizing with others, had begun to be compelled to help others out of a genuine care for their well-being. But Root… well, she was always an unknown variable. She had a purpose before, but it was a chaotic one. She valued herself based on how good she was at what she did and… well, that was it. She didn’t care about saving the world or having friends or being a good person.

Yet “/“ suggests that I’m thinking about this wrong. By the time that final scene unfolding, I had to accept that the acting moral agent in all of this was the Machine. It was the Machine that had put Root in the path of someone whose life she had unequivocally changed. Why? To stop that chip from falling into Decima’s hands? To save Cyrus Wells? It’s unfair to claim that the Machine is single-minded in nature at this point, because you could easily argue that all of these things were unfolding at once. But I believe that as the human analog interface – or the avatar, I suppose – of the Machine, Root is being pushed to be more human. Initially, she seems so far from that place, and it’s hard not to interpret her that way. Her scenes with Billy were nicer than usual – I think she would have probably just let Billy’s fate fall where it may if this had all happened earlier in her own timeline – but she certainly didn’t seem to care about these people.

And then the Machine sends her after Cyrus Wells. WHILE THE MACHINE GIVES CYRUS’S NUMBER TO THE TEAM, FOR THE RECORD. In that sense, I see the team as being the Machine’s contingency plan: the Machine wanted to teach Root a lesson about empathy and remorse, but just in case, it still couldn’t let Cyrus be harmed. ALSO, THE CHIP. ALSO: DECIMA IS TERRIFYING. So, yes, there’s a lot going on here, but every hint we’ve gotten about the Machine’s development has shown us that it is an incredibly advanced AI. It’s not exactly out of the question that the Machine, trained  by Harold to believe that people are worth saving, that they matter, would then turn around and teach the same thing to others.

What better way to do that than with THE MAN WHOSE LIFE YOU NEARLY RUINED? Remorse is another part of the Person of Interest wheelhouse of themes, and this ends up being the first time we have ever seen Root express any sort of remorse for what she used to do. That has to be intentional, right? At the very least, the Machine pushed Root in that direction. Still, I don’t want to ignore the choices she made. She chose to talk to Harold about all of this. (And seriously, that scene where she argues with him about whether or not she cares about humans was INCREDIBLE. One of the show’s best!) And then, when the time came, she chose to comfort Cyrus rather than go after the chip. That’s her humanity in action. Which is fascinating because there’s this whole transhumanist narrative that exists due to that implant she got??? So we aren’t getting a story where Root does something to make her body less human while becoming less human, too. I AM SO FASCINATED BY THIS?

The same goes for Shaw, for the record. This episode tracks Root’s growth for the most part; she’s definitely the star of “/“. (She also is like… openly flirting with Shaw??? Is that for real? I really don’t want it to be queerbaiting, but like… that’s canon, right???) But Shaw, when faced with Collier and Vigilance, makes an important choice, too. I still can’t believe CBS aired a show that openly talked about how the US government is executing people with drone warfare because????? Yes???? THIS SHOW DIDN’T MAKE THAT UP, MY COUNTRY ABSOLUTELY DID THAT, IT’S ONE OF THE MOST DEEPLY IMMORAL THINGS THE US HAS EVER DONE and I don’t mean to spoil this for you, but the American empire is really fucked up.

So I imagine that if Shaw had met Collier before she met Harold and John last season, she might not have been so eager to turn down the offer to join Vigilance. She does want revenge, and she knows that the government has done terrible, terrible things, many of which she was asked to do on their behalf. Yet the distinction here is important: she wants revenge, but the means by which she gets that revenge matter. They don’t for Collier and Vigilance. The end justifies everything else, and we’ve seen what they justify. That’s the sort of shoot-first, ask-questions-later nonsense that Shaw is trying to escape, you know? She followed orders for years. Collier really thought she was going to go back to a world where she couldn’t question what she was being told! NEVER AGAIN.

What a great, great episode, y’all.

The video for “/“ can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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