Person of Interest: “B.S.O.D,” “SNAFU,” “Truth Be Told, ” and the Beginning of the End

Person of Interest Binge LogoSo here’s the problem with last acts: You have to pick up after the splat of the crisis (“Oh, my god, we’ve lost!”) and show how the protagonist charges back into action without stopping to explain too much. My favorite solution to this is one from an old radio series (although this may be apocryphal) about Jack Armstrong who at the crisis point falls into a tiger pit and is surrounded by snarling cats who advance on him . . . followed by “Tune in next week!” Then the next week begins, “After Jack Armstrong got out of the tiger pit . . .”

But 2016 has a much pickier audience than the 1930s, so there’s no “after the Machine Gang escaped from the Samaritan forces,” PoI has to show how they did that, which gives us “B.S.O.D.” aka, “The Blue Screen of Death,” which is what you get when a computer (and a big plan to save the world) crashes.

I recognize that the PoI writers had to cram a helluva lot of explanation into this first episode, but it still feels “As You Know” heavy, crammed too full of action with lucky breaks.

BSOD

B.S.O.D.

The problems started for me with the very beginning which I strongly suspect is schmuckbait: Root talking over a black screen in 2016, intoning that she doesn’t know where anybody is:

“If you can hear this, you’re alone. The only thing left of us is the sound of my voice. I don’t know if any of us made it. Did we win? Did we lose? I don’t know. I’m not even sure I know what victory would mean anymore. But either way, it’s over. So let me tell you who we were. Let me tell who you are. And how we fought back.”

Or possibly it’s the Machine using Root’s voice. Or it’s Root and she’s part of the Machine now. Obviously, the writers don’t care, they’re just trailing bait in the water, hoping we’ll go for it.

Then the show flashes back to 2015, which is when our Gang was under fire, and I realized that this entire season is going to be a flashback.

Okay, the writers are stuck with that; if they have to pick up where they left off last year, they’re in 2015, and if the entire series is set then, it’s not a flashback at all until you start with a voiceover in the present, dummies. This is probably where I should confess that I hate flash-forward intros ten times as much as I hate flashbacks, so we’re talking passion of a thousand firey suns here. So they could have skipped the “Oh-my-god-everything-is-lost” beginning and just picked up the action, but instead they do flashbacks within the flashback that isn’t really a flashback because the whole thing is a flashback . . . . Okay, what I really hate is the schmuckbait, the idea that the viewing audience is sitting there going “What if they’re defeated????” Look, we know this show. We know it’s entirely possible that they’ll be defeated, that some of them will die. So doing the Ominous Flash Forward of Doom is unnecessary, not to mention flat-out annoying. The only good thing about it is that if that’s Root, at least she survives. Except that might be the Machine using her voice. SO ANNOYING.

But even with its flaws, there are still wonderful moments in this episode, including how bonded Finch, Reese, and Root are. I loved Root telling Finch that the Machine must be good because he built it; it’s a testimony to how far they’ve come and what a close relationship they now have, one of the few male/female friendships on screen that has no romantic subtext. They just believe in each other and in the work they’re doing, and it’s great. Reese coming after Root after he’s gotten Finch and the Machine to safety is another great community move; as he tells Finch “We don’t leave a man behind,” so clearly Root is one of the boys he’s going to protect. And when he finds her under fire and tells her to escape to help Finch, and she refuses to go and fights beside him, it’s another big moment written small. Meanwhile, Fusco, who is still in the dark about the Machines, finds himself navigating very tricky territory while trying to stay honest, even though Reese tells him he either lies or dies. Fusco as the moral center of the story is probably the strongest part of this episode: he’s totally at sea and still pursuing the truth. And any story that can make me tear up at the sight of a cursor on a screen is doing something very right. So a slow start with some annoying misfires, but a solid one nonetheless.

SNAFU

SNAFU

So we’ve gotten our protagonists out of the line of fire and into their subway lair, now it’s time to raise the Machine.

This episode was a little odd for me because it’s so damn funny. The world is on the brink of an AI apocalypse, but the Machine’s problems with its facial recognition software, which is a major drawback, is played for laughs in a great series of shots where she mixes personalities with voices, which is genius because these actors are all excellent and they’ve been playing these roles for years so they really know each other’s characters. (I could have SWORN I’d seen this before, though. Am I losing my mind?) Reese in a bowling shirt is also good value. But this humor is also just odd in itself, and it works that way: the world is a lot weirder now, they all have to pretend to be people they aren’t, and the fact that they’re spinning into Earth 2 territory kind of fits with the absurdity of the horror they’re facing. And there’s also the giddiness of successfully avoiding Death By Samaritan.

Which is short-lived. The Machine comes online as an open system with dangerous glitches like the facial recognition software, ut the worst is its inability to contextualize, which means that it sees the Gang as the killers they are and tries to eliminate them. Hello, worst AI nightmare: it’s going to turn on us. Plus the Machine isn’t the only one with a glitch: Finch keeps seeing Grace where she’s not. Making the glitches personal takes the cold tech out of the series reboot as the Machine reboots.

My big question: When the good ex-con gets hired by Mona, is that Samaritan or the Machine setting up its own Gang? The general consensus is that it’s Samaritan, but using the same words that Finch used to hire Reese.

One other thing: I will admit when I saw Amy Acker in the Girl Scout uniform at the picnic, I rolled my eyes because it seemed like basic “hot school girl” vanilla porn, but then I found out about her badges:

Root's Badges

At which point I fell in love with the PoI writers all over again. There’s the ax from the escape from Wall Street, and a nice one for kneecapping, a gun of course, and best of all, a rainbow. Shoot forever.

Truth Be Told

Truth Be Told

The opening here–Finch and Greer’s voice interchanging over the images–is chilling. “You asked for this . . .”

But the story is oddly weightless. Reese’s number is looking for the truth about his brother’s death, his brother was a traitor and Reese killed him, but Reese lies to him and tells him his brother was a hero. But I don’t care about the number or the brother, and remember this is a show that can make me cry over a cursor on a screen. Plus huge coincidence that Reese is the one who killed the brother. Then John telling Iris that he can’t see her any more is so unemotional that even Iris doesn’t seem upset. (I never liked Iris, so I cheered when she left. Where’s Zoe?)

On the other hand, Root as a UPS APS driver is worth a lot, and it’s a fun way of introducing the wonky plot point that Samaritan is affecting all the devices it can get its digital hands on.

So if the first three episodes are the beginning of the end, what have they set up?

The first and biggest idea is the difficulty of telling good from evil, something that goes straight back to the pilot when everybody assumed the pretty District Attorney was the victim and she turned out to be the perpetrator. These Season Five episodes seem to rest on the idea that nobody is all good or all evil; as Finch says, most people are just trying to do the best they can. That also goes back to Greer, who trusts Samaritan to keep the world safe far more than he trusts people; he really is trying to make the world a better place, and if that means killing some people, well, hey, the Machine Gang does that, too. Person of Interest was never really black-and-white, but it’s a lot grayer this season.

The second and more ominous idea is that it’s time for metamorphosis, which seems to be foreshadowing the Machine becoming something else along with everybody in the Gang. I think the Machine has a target on its screen, but it may not be death that’s coming for it, it may be an evolution into something completely different. The characters in this story have traversed huge arcs–they’re all (barring Finch and Bear) murderous loner/sociopaths who have not only learned to shoot people in the knees instead of the hearts, but have bonded into a family (that picnic) willing to die for each other–but they are still essentially the same people–computer genius, computer genius, hired gun, hired gun, cop–so the foreshadowing of the first three episodes seems to indicate that they’ll transform, cocoon into butterfly, and become something greater.

Of course, that could also mean death. Go back to Root’s flash forward:

“If you can hear this, you’re alone. The only thing left of us is the sound of my voice. I don’t know if any of us made it. Did we win? Did we lose? I don’t know. I’m not even sure I know what victory would mean anymore. But either way, it’s over. So let me tell you who we were. Let me tell who you are. And how we fought back.”

I don’t for a minute think they all died. (Schmuckbait.) But what this does seem to foreshadow is that they transformed. I’m willing to bet that Samaritan and the Machine merge rather than fight each other, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Root becomes one with the Machine, giving it her voice. But really? That’s all schmuckbait, a hook that has no meaning because of course they fought back, and of course it will be over at the end, this is the final season. So they’ll transform, some by death, some by uniting with the Machine, some by starting entirely new lives, completely untethered by what’s gone before.

Or not. I really have no idea what’s going on here, but it’s the Machine Gang, so I’ll keep watching.

Weakest Parts
• Flashforward. Flashbacks. Flashbacks within flashbacks.
• All that As You Know Dialogue.
• How does Reese keep surviving these horrible car crashes?

Smart Story Moves
• The glitchy openings through the Machine.
• Showing the team so firmly bonded; they’re not going to waste time wondering if Root will turn on them.
• The story’s use of low-value tech, something they’ve done throughout (the Machine contacts them through phones, the TV antennas, etc.)and something that Samaritan in its efficiency might not include in its calculations.
• The Machine seeing the Gang as the killers they are. It’s a nice acknowledgement of the carnage they’ve unleashed in their pursuit of salvation.
• Finch talking to the Machine. If it wasn’t a full-fledged character before, if theirs wasn’t a character-to-character relationship before, it’s real now.
• Using the previous numbers to site the Machine in time and site the show back in its original premise: saving people.
• Root taking the “enormous risk” by loading the Samaritan malware onto the laptop. “It’s no risk, no reward, Harry,” which is going to take them out of defensive mode, never as exciting as offensive mode.

Favorite Moments
• Root’s shopping list, then kissing Finch on the cheek, and then the slap on the butt.
• The heist. Finch as a badass in a ski mask is a wonderful moment. “I’m getting felony nerves.” Then a Finch/Reese fist bump. (Remember when the Obamas did that and Fox called it a terrorist sign? Idiots.)
• Bunny Slippers
• Bear with Bunny Slippers.
• Root’s bedroom in the subway.
• The Machine trying to recognize them.
• Fusco inviting Reese to join his bowling league.
• The Machine hiring a hit woman to kill the Reese-threat, which ups a funny glitch to real danger.
• Bear standing guard over the sleeping Root.
• Fusco’s phone message: “The Fuscinator can’t answer the phone right now . . .”
• “You’re no cop.” “I’m trying.”
• The picnic, especially Root’s badges.

Ominous Moment
The Schmuckbait, which is really lazy Ominous Writing.

New PoI Post
I get the episodes the day after they’re shown, so I’ll probably post on them the day after that, so two days after broadcast. I have no idea what craft topic I’ll be looking at until I watch that week’s episodes a couple of times, so the list below is just dates and episode names. We’re flying blind here, folks.
May 19: “6741” and “ShotSeeker”
May 26: “A More Perfect Union,” “QSO,” and “Reassortment”
June 2: “Sotto Voce” and “The Day the World Went Away.”
June 9: “Synecdoche”
June 16: “exe”
June 23: “Return 0”

10 thoughts on “Person of Interest: “B.S.O.D,” “SNAFU,” “Truth Be Told, ” and the Beginning of the End

  1. I’m normally fine with flash fowards (at least they give us new information that I might care about, unlike most flashbacks), but I concur that this one was annoying schmuckbait I was hating.

    “(I could have SWORN I’d seen this before, though. Am I losing my mind?)”

    No, this made it to the Internet awhile back. I don’t know the origins of it, it was probably shown at some comic-con or other. I thought it was a gag reel joke, but apparently not!

    “But I don’t care about the number or the brother, and remember this is a show that can make me cry over a cursor on a screen. Plus huge coincidence that Reese is the one who killed the brother.”

    It was so weird that they were doing this episode NOW in season 5, it felt like a throwback to older seasons when things were less problematic. Which is probably why I didn’t care.

    “Then John telling Iris that he can’t see her any more is so unemotional that even Iris doesn’t seem upset. (I never liked Iris, so I cheered when she left. Where’s Zoe?)”

    Hear, hear. Who cared about all of that? Also, YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO DATE YOUR THERAPIST. Believe me, I have heard from my own shrink and a friend of mine who had a crush on one of her shrinks about how this is a no-no and they’d have to go without contact for several years before it’d even be allowed without buh-bye license. Ugh, I literally don’t know why they ever did that plot, nobody cared.

    Anyway…the first three were mostly okay, but I did like the Machine-goes-amuck plot best of the three. But episode four….later on that though.

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      1. Agree with the “but wow”!

        Also agree with… well, everything else, including the annoying opening, the lack of connection to the number in episode 3 (really a low point, it felt like a waste of time), having seen the facial recognition stuff before (released at a comic-con) and Iris, horrible, horrible Iris. She was the WORST therapist ever. She should have lost her license. She should have been fired so incredibly fast. She probably should have been sued. And not just for dating her client — goodbye license there — but for all the other ethical violations along the way. Confronting a client in his workplace? Never. Total violation of confidentiality. Talking to a client on a public street? HIPAA penalty, do not pass Go, go directly to jail. Although probably she would just get fined. Still, it’s a pretty hefty fine. Yeah, she drove me crazy. She was also just a really bad therapist.

        And then episode 4… I believe I literally said “Wow” aloud at one point. Plus “Awww” and “Holy shit” and “What? No!” The AV Club review of the episode said the subtitle should have been “Well That Escalated Quickly” which made me laugh. Look forward to reading your thoughts about it!

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        1. Iris was also the Least Interesting Love Interest Ever. I get the feeling she was shoehorned in to show that Reese could have Feelings. It’s one of the rare character/subplot misfires in the whole series.

          I liked the other commenter’s suggestion for an alternate title for “6741”: “If/Then/OhShitOhShitOhShitOhShitOhShitOhShit.” And ShotSeeker was also excellent. The series appears to be going out in style.

          Damn it.

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          1. The first 4 eps seem to be setting up all the pieces for the season and they already start moving briskly (especially with Fusco’s arc) in ShotSeeker. Looking forward to that post.

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          2. If you think in thirds, the first four episodes would be set up, then the next four escalation, and then the final four the final battle.
            But I don’t think they’ll do it that way. I think the final two or three will be out and out war, and they’ll use the next six to start fighting back. They really haven’t done that in the first three, they’re in recovery. The Shaw episode is Shaw fighting back. Elias’s foster brother is going out to fight back. Fusco is fighting back although he doesn’t realize what he’s up again and they should freaking tell him. And I think the Machine is learning to fight back.

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          3. I’ve actually been waiting (hoping?) for Iris to turn out to be a bad guy/working for Samaritan. Her character would be more plausible to me if she was a plant and the idea that Samaritan is closer and more devious than they think is appealing. But they might have decided that they didn’t have time to work that arc in a season of 13 episodes.

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          4. That would have been excellent, especially if she’d been a stealth Martine.
            Instead of a terrible therapist and a tepid lover.

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  2. Really looking forward to the post on “6741.” That was…intense. Must watch “ShotSeeker” tonight or tomorrow. My antenna only gets two channels and I refuse to pay for cable, so I have to use the CBS website and wait a day. Which I do not enjoy.

    One of the moments I really enjoyed in “SNAFU” was when Harold pleaded with The Machine to call off the hit, and she had to tell him “Paid in advance.”

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  3. The worst part about Truth be Told is that it takes a giant dump all over Terra Incognita. We don’t learn anything new about John, the episode is just him relapsing, but yet stands in contrast to the fact that he has built real connections with his team mates. What message where they even trying to convey???

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