“Two gods playing with the same deck of cards.”
Root says the above about the Machine and Samaritan, but as soon as “Beta” both begins and kicks off the countdown to the end of this season, it’s clear that Person Of Interest is also going to be playing on this godlike level. As if Person of Interest weren’t already firing on all cylinders this season, there’s now a clash of the mixed metaphorical titans, if you will. Person Of Interest isn’t winding down as its third season comes to an end; in fact, I’ll be shocked if it doesn't completely drive off a cliff (in the best way possible, of course) come finale time.
“Beta” follows the 24-hour Samaritan trial period that started in “Death Benefit,” and it’s quite the stressful 24 hours, for both the protagonists and the viewers. From the moment the Frederick E.O. Toye-directed episode begins, it’s all about the tension that stems from Samaritan being active for even just a short period of time. There’s no “You are being watched” introduction from Finch. There’s no warning. It’s straight into the Samaritan beta test, complete with declarations of the machine’s “dominant mandate”—helping the government eliminating threats to national security—and “auxiliary mandate” — eliminating threats to the system’s survivals. Those threats to the system are of course Reese and company, but they’re far from auxiliary in this story. Barely five minutes of screentime are even dedicated to the supposed dominant mandate of the program.
Samaritan and the Machine see the same things, but there’s a difference between the way they both do business. Think of it as the difference between the T-800 in Terminator and the T-800 in Terminator 2, respectively.
Simply put: The situation with Samaritan is so dire that Root is essentially Reese and Shaw’s only protection from Samaritan.
Of course, it’s not just team that is at risk. Greer’s need to have Finch in his possession leads to Decima going after Grace Hendricks (Carrie Preston), the closest thing there is to a strictly personal tie to Finch. Reese and Shaw do as much as they possibly can to protect Finch’s one that got away and take her to the precinct for safety, but now with all the cameras that have been recently installed, not even that’s a safe place. Then, Fusco has to deal with Reese’s fake cop cover being broken almost immediately and Root MacGyver-ing her way through the precinct’s telecom box. New York is already a terrifying place to be, but when your entire job relies on being stealth and living in the shadows, it definitely creates a more hostile work (and life) environment.
Decima does get their hands on Grace, and we get some fascinating interactions between Grace and Greer out of it. Interestingly enough, Greer compares himself to Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. With a character like Greer, one would assume that he would be egotistical enough to compare himself to God. Instead, he revels in his role as the artist, painting the broad strokes that will eventually become something truly great. Like Root said, the Machine and the Samaritan are the gods, but people like Greer and even Finch allow for those gods to live on forever with their work.
A few episodes back, Phil wrote about Person Of Interest making the transition from being an ass-kicking procedural to being a show about working toward redemption. I’d argue that it’s also a show about sacrifices. Finch has compiled a team of killers who he often expects to go against their natural instincts. But as the season races toward the finish line, it’s becoming clearer that these natural instincts may be the only thing that can possibly win the war against Decima and the government. It’s also becoming clearer that even though Finch has created a way for people like Reese and Shaw, and even Root, to find some sort of redemption, he never truly believed he was deserving of such a thing. Before he trades himself for Grace, he tells Reese and Shaw as much: “This moment was inevitable. This moment was always looking for me. I have to accept it… there was no other way.”
It’s a defeatist proclamation for sure, but it all speaks to Finch’s pragmatism. Finch’s separation from Shaw and Reese at the end of “Death Benefit” was the result of his inability to accept murder as an option, but now, with the possibility of Decima laying a hand on Grace, Finch is willing to allow Reese and Shaw to “kill them all.” Finch has to sacrifice himself, both physically and morally (though no one has needed to be killed, yet) in order to save the world. It’s not the first time, and it most likely won’t be the last.
The clock on Samaritan may have run out, but the clock on the end of this season has just gotten started. It’s amazing what can happen in 24 hours. This was just a test run. Let’s see what can happen in two more.
I’d like to thank Phil for allowing me to fill in for him this week. It’s my first review for The AV Club, and I’m happy it got to be for as great a show as Person Of Interest.
Shaw’s leg wound from “Death Benefit” apparently wasn’t that bad. Thank you, TV gods. Now that means I can be upset with her for wasting perfectly good ice cream in the beginning of the episode.
It probably sounds strange to describe her this way, but many times during this episode I found myself calling Root “delightful.” Come on, you can’t deny it. She’s delightful, in a ruthless kind of way.
My heart broke for Grace when she told Greer that she knew Harold never lied to her. Hopefully her new life in Italy treats her well and no one fakes their death or kidnaps her ever again.
Also, between her appearances on both Person Of Interest and The Good Wife, there should be a mandate that Carrie Preston appears on any and all CBS shows. Next up: Bad Teacher, where Carrie plays an even badder teacher. Then: 2 Broke Girls, where Carrie plays the ultimate broke girl; a homeless girl. Think about it, CBS.