Person of Interest: “Synecdoche” and the Importance of Consequence

Person of Interest Binge Logo This episode had to follow the cataclysmic events of last week, and it managed to do so in the least effective way possible. It’s as if the writers of this episode were more interested in moving plot than in character and consequence, and as a result, the entire forty-odd minutes fell oddly flat as the show moved people through their paces, checking off boxes without any real emotional arc or connection with the viewer. This would be a bad idea any time, but at this point in the series plot, it’s a terrible idea. HUGE things happened last week; if you’re going to drop that kind of weight on your viewer/reader, the impact has to have equal weight. Think of “The Devil’s Share” after Carter’s death: the grim weight of that story showed that Carter’s death mattered, would continue to matter. This episode shows that Root is now the Machine so she’s okay, and Elias never mattered at all. There are no consequences to last week, and that undercuts not only this week but last week, too. Root’s and Elias’s deaths should matter; attention should be paid.

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So Root is buried in a pauper’s grave, Fusco says, “Rest in peace, Cocoa Puffs,” and that’s it for mourning Root in this episode. Reese goes to make sure Shaw is all right, which of course she isn’t, but since Shaw is so emotionally damaged, we can’t get much catharsis from her, either. Harold has a few moments with the Machine, asking her not to use Root’s voice and then capitulating because he finds it comforting, and then he goes to work. Then Reese, Fusco, and Shaw find out the new number is the President of the United States and go to save him, but since he’s the POTUS, we’re not going to meet him or attach to him, so even the number of the week has no emotional weight. All of which means, there’s no hook for me in this story, I’m not worried about anybody because they seem as normally abnormal as ever, and so . . . I don’t care.

And I think that’s the big problem here: I should have cared. These people just lost two people who were close to them–one of them lost the love of her life–and the losses are shortchanged (Root) or ignored (Elias). We get a number of the week that we can’t meet because he’s the POTUS. We get Finch separated from the Gang and doing something with frightening consequences, but we don’t know what those are or who’s in danger, so there’s nothing here to grab onto.

Instead there are things to establish, which is done in as clunky a way as possible.

* Finch goes Bad even though the Machine warns him that what he’s going to do will have collateral damage. But we knew Finch had turned last week because of that amazing monologue in the interrogation room. So this is Finch and the Machine talking just like Finch and Root used to talk, reiterating something we already knew. And without Root’s physical presence, the Machine is just Root Lite, in thrall to Finch because she’s just a Machine, where the real Root could and often did go off the rails.

• There’s a shadowy group dedicated to taking down Samaritan in the name of privacy, and it gets kneecapped right off the bat. Call it Vigilance Lite.

ª The big reveal at the end is that the Machine has a second Gang made up of previous numbers: There’s Logan Pierce, the billionaire computer genius (Finch Lite); Joey Durban, the former military guy (Reese Lite), and Harper Rose, the off-the-hook woman of many faces (Root Lite). It’s nice to know the Machine has more than one Gang, but their youthful enthusiasm and cheery outlook–the three of them smiled more in the last scene than Our Gang has smiled in five years–screamed “This is a spin-off for the CW!”

Okay, I’ll admit, I’d watch a show about Logan Pierce because based on his original episode in Season Two (“One Percent”), he’ll do anything; he has a Young Nate Ford vibe about him without the alcoholic self-loathing, and he’d be a nice contrast to “I’m a very private person” Finch. But Joey was always just a good guy, and Harper was always more of a delinquent than a brilliant crook, so if this is the Gang 2.0, it has bugs.

Which means the end feels very tied-with-a-bow and pretty much weightless. Reese practically claps Joey on the back to say, “Good job, son” (so not like Reese), Shaw goes after Samaritan again (how exactly? no idea), and Finch does his new Finch-Bad-Ass by threatening the future of a guard’s young daughter (which I firmly believe is a complete bluff so Finch’s big turn to the dark side is lying to people holding guns on him).

And yet these are the people who gave us “The Devil’s Share” after Carter died so we could grieve her loss, so that her death would have weight. Why isn’t an enraged Shaw going after the shooter the way Reese went after Simmons? Why isn’t Reese hunting for Finch, worried that he’s going off the rails with loss, the way that Finch and the Gang went after Reese when he was crazed with grief? Why does the Machine give Logan the picture of Finch’s car instead of giving it to Reese? Why does this feel like an episode of NCIS?

And what the hell does the title mean in relation to the episode? “Synecdoche” means using a part to represent the whole: suits for business people, the Pentagon for the Department of Defense. The only thing I can think of is that the Gang represents many gangs working for the Machine, but that’s a pretty far reach. Like so much else in this episode, I just don’t get it. And because I don’t get it, it feels as though there are no consequences for the events of last week’s catastrophe.

Put another way, if actions in a story do not have consequences commensurate with the original impact of those actions on the reader/viewer, then the impact of the original actions is kneecapped. Last week was stunning. This week, it turns out nobody was stunned. Which means they’re going to have to ramp things up again next week, recovering from this week, to set up the final blow-out of the finale. It’s never good to have a blah episode, but the timing of this one makes it a really big mistake.

Weakest Parts
The lack of weight and consequences. This feels like a weak episode from Season One.

Smart Story Moves
Uh, bringing Logan back? He’s the only thing actually alive on the screen in this one.

Favorite Moments
I got nothin’.

Ominous Moment
There wasn’t a tense moment in this entire episode.

Fun Fact
Joey Durham and Root are married in real life.

New PoI Posts
June 16: “exe”
June 23: “Return 0”

18 thoughts on “Person of Interest: “Synecdoche” and the Importance of Consequence

  1. I was behind in my POI viewing, so I’d watched the last three episodes in succession to be able to see Synecdoche in”real time.” So I was one day ahead of you, and was looking forward to your analysis and response.

    Today, I can agree with your astute and well-reasoned critique, but watching this episode on my own, I thought it was good. I saw the grim determinism of the remainder of The Gang as they were forced to move forward with saving the high-stakes number, despite having lost Root. I saw the irony of the shadow pro-privacy group (with the same set-up as The Machine and Samaritan, brining to mind the ‘who will watch the watchmen’ concept). I felt tension as Shaw was aiming at (actually near) POTUS, sure that she and Reese were going to be eliminated right then and there. I felt Finch had turned, as evidenced by the felled bodies in the hallway of the secure server center. That was so not like him! I felt hope as a new Gang came forward (but yeah, very cheery and NCIS, but then again, youth has that attribute). As the episode ended with Finch and Reese at the reflecting pool, I felt sadness, as I realized the cycle never ends, that it will always be like this. We fight the good fight until we are ourselves extinguished, and hope…really hope, that there are others who will pick up the gauntlet.

    I know I was viewing this episode with my sentimental little heart, and not in an analytical mode, but it worked for me, and I’m thinking what you call flatness might be in service to the last two episodes, where I suspect all hell will break loose. However, as a fan of AI, I’d like to speculate that once The Machine is set free, and if it combines forces with the shadow system (like, what happened to that equipment after the officials left that room?), maybe Samaritan can itself be ‘turned,’ and achieve the singularity that many believe IS the future. The question is, will that new entity see us all as relevant or not?

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    1. I think your experience is probably a better reflection of the episode as a whole; I think a lot of my reaction was colored by the distance I felt, nobody to root for or worry about. They’re not going to kill Reese or Finch until the last episode, so I was never worried about them, Shaw is so far gone that I don’t think she cares if she dies (a lot of my worry for her in the past was that she’d never be with Root in the peace they both deserve, and now that Root’s gone, Shaw’s just gone back to into dead mode), and I don’t they dare kill Fusco, he’s the human version of Bear.
      But I think everything you said is probably closer to the reaction of most PoI watchers; I’m just bitchy because there are only two more episode left and they’re playing CBS meets the CW. Argh.

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      1. Eh…since this show wasn’t enough of a hit to ever get a spinoff, I sort of took the DC POI team as a sign of hope. In the somewhat likely event that all of the cast is killed off, there’s still people out there who will fight the good fight. That was about the only thing I liked, really.

        Still wish Zoe and Leon could have been in it, but apparently those actors are occupied.

        Otherwise, pretty much with you on this one. Meh on this episode and the timing of a “meh” was bad.

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  2. You know, I meant FUSCO and Reese at the reflecting pool, not Finch! Need more caffeine!

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  3. I did feel this episode was POI-Lite over and at first there was no weight pulling me into this episode. However, by the end I was glad I watched this one. I had been wondering about some of the characters from the past, particularly Harper since S4 had the machine contacting her directly so I liked knowing that relationship did not disappear. I felt like it was the writers wink to us that this is happening in every major city without having to show it happening in every big city. I was surprised that it was Logan heading up Washington, but felt like it made sense. I also think the writers wanted that to be a nice surprise for longtime viewers, pulling previous numbers from S1, S2 and S3. None of those actors showed up in the cast lists for S5- and I was looking figuring that some numbers from the past had to make a cameo. I keep waiting for the NSA analyst -Peck?- to show up since Harold actually told him that yes, he was the one that created the machine and that was the conversation that Alicia Corwin overheard and put her in Root’s way to Harold.

    When Joey and John first bump into each other, it felt forced and I did feel like the group trying to take out the POTUS was very Vigilance-Lite… but I could see more than one group of people being concerned about privacy rights and the government’s overreach.

    I am eagerly waiting for next week’s episode, but trying to be emotionally prepared for big losses since it seems they kind of gave us a pass this week on the heavy emotionally stuff.

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    1. It felt like fan service to me, too, even though I really love Logan, but I think it was all the smiley-smiley dialogue and the too convenient Vigilance-Lite takedown. There are usually so many layers to the story and the performances, and it felt like this week, it just wasn’t there, which wasn’t the fault of the actors. I think it was equal parts writing and directing. Aside from Finch talking to the Machine, there wasn’t much space in this story for the actors to work with. They were running around, shooting guns, reacting to things that other people were doing. Even Reese’s constant “I feel like somebody is watching me” was a joke. Yes, Reese, Samaritan is watching you, the Secret Service is watching you because you look like a badass, Vigilance Lite is watching you because you’re in their way . . .

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      1. I think this was an episode I could enjoy now because of the fan-service, but I wonder how it will go down when at some point I rewatch the entire series. (S5 dvds already pre-ordered and due out 7/19/16)

        I also just had a thought about who The Machine Root was talking to in EP1 for S5… anyone else think maybe TM was leaving a message for all the other teams out there so that they would know about how it all began and the first team which made all the rest possible? And maybe not even Fusco makes it.

        One other thing that has been in the back of my mind, I know TM picking Root as her name really fits but I wonder if there will be a TM & Samaritan merge and the name she “they” pick is Sam, as a nice nod to the relationships of TM and Root (Samantha Groves), Root and Sameen Shaw, Samaritan and Sameen since I think the only person Samartan tried to understand was Shaw through 7000+ simulations and never really got there, and then finally acknowledging the merger – maybe TM is the teacher or the dominant AI but Samaritan is still part of it all.

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        1. I think they’re going to merge just because I don’t think there’s any way to shut Samaritan down now, but I think the Machine will smother Samaritan from within. It really depends on that virus Finch just grabbed. The Machine talked about the huge collateral damage; if it’s something that shuts down infrastructure nationally so that Samaritan will be busy fixing problems while the Machine invades, that’s one thing. If it’s something that shuts down Samaritan or creates a back door that the Machine can use, that’s another. They were deliberately vague which means the threat is vague which means it has no weight . . .

          I think the voice of the Machine in the beginning is not the end of the last episode; maybe it’s the beginning, or the penultimate scene in the last episode. It didn’t sound like a call to arms to me; it was more of a “Where am I?” rif, no press to action behind it. Frankly, it sounded like infodump as schmuckbait.

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  4. Two elements seemed to limit this episode:

    1. Samaritan as the only big bad. Some of the intricacy that could occur in previous seasons was the result of there being at least two enemy factions with heft to their danger. Vigilance was firmly established across a multitude of episodes. You had the various crime factions doing their own thing.
    Because they axed all of the factions in service of Samaritan, S5 has a problem with having a satisfying villain from week to week. Having Samaritan secretly be behind it all every single week gets old and implausible, as well as doing no favors to Samaritan’s competence levels. But because all of the old factions are dead, anyone new getting introduced has no weight. The Voice Hacker was bargain bin Root. If new-Vigilance had been set up as a proper season-long conspiracy, and shown to have some independence from Samaritan, then this A-plot would have more heft.

    2. All of this is limited by the smaller episode count. I was dissatisfied with the Harold scenes this episodes, and actually wished Root died earlier, (and Shaw reunited with them earlier) so that his storyline didn’t feel so Deus Ex Machina. It was both too rushed and too passive at the same time. Devote a full Devil’s Share/Control-Alt-Delete episode to the team trying to chase Harold, while Harold is holding this debate with The Machine, and then the end contrasts with TDS by having the team fail to catch up to him, and Harold committing to his revenge drive.
    I understand that throwing the other three into action was to highlight how roundabout Shaw’s method of mourning is, but it still was a romp in ways neither TDS nor CAD were. Revealing the new optimistic Team was out-of-place for the ep that was supposed to be mourning, with only two episodes left.

    This season needed just a few more episodes to spare, so that each installment isn’t wrestling with itself tonally. BSOD, SNAFU, 6741, and QSO were singular in their focus, and the better episodes for it. The others had fully-independent subplots. The show could barely handle one independent thread during the Carter years, but this season kept having both Shaw Escape and Fusco Investigation unrelated to the doings of the other three, and those episodes were all weaker, because that usually made the A-plot feel frivolous. (I mean, I love PoI’s Wedding Job, but that’s on fanservice merits, not storytelling)
    And here, Harold is doing thing unrelated to the actions of the other three, and I don’t think Harold has ever not been on the A-plot at least a little, so that really hurt the weight of the DC shenanigans.

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    1. Lack of returning villains is a good point. This might have been a good time to bring back Julian Sand’s character, Wesley, both to tidy off that dangling plot thread, and to have a competent villain that, non-the-less, could have reasonably been defeated by being blind sided by the second team (he would know John and his allies, and be focused on thwarting their plans that he might not account for the other three, the way he didn’t originally plan for John and Harold).

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      1. Alternatively, the number is ONCE AGAIN Leon Tao. Except as they keep digging, Leon’s in trouble because he’s the one trying to save POTUS (tried to infiltrate new-Vigilance by handling their finances), and then it turns out Leon has been with the new team all along. The only issue here is the Shaw storyline, but that would just delay her entrance, instead, John calling her up once they find out who new-Vigilance is targetting.

        Or they’ve been dangling that Brooks thread. Since Control’s out of commission, have Brooks been investigating, and The Machine having sent POTUS’s number to her, and she comes to the team for help because she can’t trust the ISA anymore with Grice gone. So then, at the end of the episode, either new Team has a new combat specialist, or our team has a new inside man in the ISA.

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  5. Wow, total difference of opinion on this one! I liked this episode a lot. Favorite moments, Shaw exposing herself to the camera — she wants out of this simulation. Fusco and his good-bye Cocoa Puffs, his knowledge that letting Root go like that was just wrong but that there was nothing they could do. Finch’s deadpan threats against the guard’s daughter, his absolutely flat affect as he goes to the dark side. Reese stepping up to the plate to keep the job going, even after Finch disappears and Root dies. And the fact that the episode was fun — real, true fun, with explosions, and guns, and last-minute rescues, and Shaw still being Shaw… oh, and her line when she’s going to torture the guy about him having people to love and being willing to throw them away… it was a reminder that life goes on. They’ve been headed toward the apocalypse for so long and it turns out that after the apocalypse, life goes on. People still get up and breathe and go to work and do the job and try to save other people’s lives.

    Of course, the Machine’s other gang doesn’t really make any sense. Hasn’t she been in hiding? Wasn’t she barely alive just a few episodes ago? How did this gang get formed and how is the Machine coping with Samaritan? But I didn’t want to look at it too closely, because the episode felt hopeful to me. It felt like it was saying, yeah, bad things have happened and bad things are coming, but we’re not going to crumble. Root went out in a blaze of glory and instead of it being a body blow to all of them, making them lose hope, lose faith, it renewed their determination to fight. And finding out that they’re not alone in the fight — while yes, blatant spin-off potential — felt like them finding a light at the darkest moment of their night. Of course, they could have made it 10x better by having Zoe be one of the people showing up to pull them out of the fire, but one can’t have everything. But it was a great episode for me.

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    1. Seconding that DC POI doesn’t make much sense but seems to be there as a sign of hope. Maybe The Machine is up to direct communication and recruitment.

      (Also, Riley’s badge number?)

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  6. I couldn’t believe that with three episodes wrap-up their story, the writers chose to use valuable real estate to do another damn number-of-the-week, especially one that had nothing to do with last week’s awesomeness, and very little to do with turning the screws of the Samaritan plot. It was as if they said ‘yeah, but the number that came up is the PRESIDENT.” Right, like that’s a stand-in for real stakes.

    The only bright spot for me was Joey, because he looks like he could be Jon Stewart’s son, and I miss Jon Stewart.

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      1. Well … I’m happy for her 🙂

        After more thought, I’m kind of glad this episode was what it was. When the writing and storytelling (in a show or a book) is good, it feels inevitable … and it’s tempting to think *of course* I’d have made the same choices those writers did, because DUH. But when cracks surface, it’s a reminder that nothing is inevitable.

        I know you don’t watch Game of Thrones, but I felt similarly about last week’s episode, and now I realize it’s for the same reasons. These BIG things happened two episodes ago, and then last week, the consequences either weren’t addressed at all, or they were out-of-sync with the actions that precipitated them.

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