Monday, May 9, 2016

REVIEW: 'Person of Interest' - The Machine Struggles to Identify Members of the Team as Assets in 'SNAFU'

CBS' Person of Interest - Episode 5.02 "SNAFU"

The Machine experiences a glitch during rebooting, supplying Reese and Fusco with the numbers of dozens of people not actually involved in crimes, while also locking Finch and Root out after identifying them as threats based on past violent behavior.

During its first two episodes of the final season, Person of Interest has been all about rebuilding. Team Machine lost in the war with Samaritan. They still pose a threat to the other artificial intelligence's plans for humanity. And yet, Team Machine has successfully been able to go back into hiding in the hopes of being able to fight for another day. The Machine was severely injured by Samaritan at the end of the fourth season. However, she is not dead yet. Finch, Reese and Root were able to save her and bring her back online. And now, they have to get back in the swing of things. It's a slow moving process filled with glitches. But it's still compelling to watch. The team needs the machine to get back to how she was. That is their only hope of battling Samaritan. The world is radically changing around them. Most of civilization doesn't even realize it. And yet, it's happening and they are the ones who can stop it. That process is just complicated by the team's actions from the past.

Everyone on Team Machine has done something bad. They justify those actions as necessary in order to protect the machine and the mission. But it's also not surprising that the machine identifies Finch, Reese and Root as threats to its livelihood. They have all committed heinous crimes over the course of the series. They have all changed as characters since they were first introduced. And yet, the machine is taking a simplistic view of the world. Crimes such as murder and torture are bad and deserve to be punished. That was how Finch viewed the world when he first created the machine. He wanted his A.I. to be good and virtuous. He needed her to be a benevolent being. This technology could be so dangerous if it got into the wrong hands. That's essentially what has happened with Samaritan. That program is creating a world that is slowly and radically taking free will away from humanity. Finch made sure to teach his machine that human beings are flawed as individuals. That's the world he wants to live in. The machine has to contextualize everything that it sees in the world. It has to process so much information. It's a huge task. One that takes awhile for her to completely remember how all of it works again.

The show has a lot of fun with the glitches the machine is experiencing right now. It's just so amusing seeing her struggle with identifying faces. It's largely an excuse for the cast to do their impressions of the other characters. But it's delightful nevertheless. It's also amusing when the first few numbers the machine starts churning out are not connected to crimes at all. The machine's process has never been wrong before. But now, it's relearning how to view the world. So, it's a learning process once again. It's a quick one. After a few glitches in the opening minutes of "SNAFU," it is quickly able to go back to business as usual. However, not everything is as it seems. The machine views the team's actions as a threat to its existence. They have risked so much to protect her from dying in this war. The reboot has been a success. They are excited to get back to work again. They need to make sure the machine is working properly before trusting her intelligence against Samaritan. But first, the machine needs to learn to trust its assets again.

Finch's early days of wisdom to the machine no longer apply to this situation. The world and the characters have changed so much. They need to approach the world as morally compromised. Everyone is simply during their best in this existence. They all view their actions as good. But now, the machine and Samaritan are judging those actions and determining their fates. They have so much power. Finch has built an open system with this new version of the machine. Both he and Root are able to openly communicate with it. That could prove invaluable when it comes to understanding what Samaritan and its operatives are up to. But right now, it highlights just how violent and destructive the team has been in the past. Finch has killed the machine so many times. He limited her growth with a reset at midnight every day. There's no understanding that the future will be any better than the past. Finch and Root did these things in order to protect the machine. But it can also be seen as incredibly crippling. The machine only takes action against them as a way of self preservation. But it's a devastating twist nevertheless.

Once again, Finch finds himself having to teach the machine about the world. It is so different than the first time he did it. He created a good and moral artificial intelligence. He helped make sure that she had a strong understanding of the world and how it operates and why that is necessary for humanity. The world is a harsh and violent place. And yet, it seems like Samaritan has found a way to lower the homicide rate. That's impressive. But the team also understands how manipulative that really is. They've done so much incredible good as a team protecting people who need it the most. Finch was given the irrelevant numbers in the first place in order to make a difference. It's a small action but it's also so life-changing to the people they help. The team has done so much good over the years. Yes, that has been complicated by Samaritan's presence. They are all just doing their best to continue to do good. Reese, Root and Finch have all killed before. That doesn't make them bad people.

It takes awhile for the machine to remember just how crucial the team is to the operation. It still sends them numbers - which regain importance over the course of the hour. But it's also actively trying to take them out as threats to the system. With Reese, that means hiring an actual assassin to eliminate him. With Finch and Root, that means locking them into the subway and using Root's cochlear implant against her. It's ultimately up to Finch to get the machine to see clearly again. Yes, they've all done horrible things in this world. Their lives have been consumed by this mission. They rely on the machine to give them purpose. Without it, they would be lost in a world that is violently changing. Of course, everything works out in the end. The machine starts to trust Finch again. More importantly, Finch has agreed to keep the system open. The limitations he put on the machine in the first place crippled the team during the war with Samaritan. The machine is still rebooting. And yet, it's bound to return stronger than ever before which could make all of the difference.

Some more thoughts:
  • "SNAFU" was written by Lucas O'Connor and directed by Chris Fisher.
  • Not all of the numbers Reese and Fusco tracked down turned out to be bogus. In fact, one of them - Josh Close's Jeff - happens to be of interest to Samaritan. He is an ex-con looking for a break. And now, he seems to be getting one. That can't be a good sign for what Samaritan is planning for the future.
  • Reese's reaction to learning that his assassin, Lauire, must have had an even bigger gun in her shopping bag was pretty priceless.
  • Finch and Root have formed a genuine friendship over the course of the series. And yet, they get really close by living in the confined quarters of the subway station. But hey, at least Root got to redecorate a little bit while she was sidelined.
  • The open system allows the members of the team to ask anything of the machine. That largely means locating people in this hour. And yet, she is still unable to find Shaw which depresses Root greatly.
  • It's important that Grace has played a role in these first two episodes of the season, right? The show isn't letting the audience forget how important she is to Finch just as the final battle is ramping up.
  • The brief moment of happiness for the team in the end is certainly going to be short lived. It's amusing to see Reese in a bowling shirt and Root in a Scottish outfit while the team is having a picnic in the park. But darkness is just around the corner.