Monday, May 16, 2016

REVIEW: 'Person of Interest' - Shaw Returns as a Changed Person from Samaritan's Torture in '6,741'

CBS' Person of Interest - Episode 5.04 "6,741"

Shaw escapes her captors, but the team is unsure of her mental state when she begins to act paranoid and reckless.

There was so much ambiguity last season on whether Shaw was alive or dead. She made a meaningful and significant sacrifice for the rest of the team at the end of the terrific "If-Then-Else." It seemed like her fate was sealed. Sarah Shahi had to be off the show due to her real-life pregnancy. But the rest of the season still toyed with the idea that Shaw wasn't as dead as everyone was led to believe. Root refused to give up hope that she was still alive. To this day, she is still passionately searching for her. Root is her true love in this world. Their relationship at times can play solely as fan service. But deep down, there are a lot of genuine emotions between the two of them. And now, after being teased with answers for so long, some clarity finally comes. It's not surprising at all considering the creative team has been very upfront about Shahi returning for a good chunk of episodes this season. But Shaw is now a dangerous wildcard who can really add some new stakes and energy into the main plot.

"6,741" delves deep into the journey Shaw has been on for the past few months in Samaritan captivity. She survived the ordeal in the stock market. Samaritan has big plans for her. And none of them are very good. This show has always wonderfully amplified the real-life themes of paranoia and suspicion regarding government surveillance. But this episode takes those emotions up another notch. Shaw has been through a particularly grueling experience with Greer and Samaritan. They are searching desperately for answers from her because the Machine and team are the only ones who stand in their way for complete control of the world. At first, it seems like all of their attempts have failed. Despite everything the team has been led to believe, Shaw has not been broken. She is still fighting all of these months later. It's a challenging experience. One that will have lasting repercussions on her mental state. But that creates such a thrilling and unique viewing experience throughout this hour.

Shaw manages to escape from her prison and reunite with the team. It's a daunting mission but it's one that she is able to handle expertly. She is still a trained assassin after all. She understands the realities of this world. She can't just reach out to her friends. She needs to be very careful about every move she makes. She is able to survive and reunite with Root, John and Finch. But she emerges as a changed person. Samaritan has implanted a chip next to her brain which has been delivering some powerful and violent subliminal messages. It makes it so she can't even trust herself in this existence. That's a powerful story thread. She is so dangerous in this world. It's rousing to see her find her way back to the team without compromising the machine's safety. But it's also so painful to see her walk through life so uncertain with her actions. She is at a loss for everything that she does. She's increasingly paranoid. Her recklessness forces a confrontation with Samaritan. One that makes more progress than any previous mission. But that only further sets up further destruction.

All of this happens plus the show finally gives the audience the Shaw-Root hookup they've been craving for. That sequence has been earned by the show. And yet, the creative team really leans into it as well in order to reward the fans for their patience over the years. It is a little forced. It's so surprising to Root to see Shaw as the threat to the latest number. But it's a happy and uplifting moment as well. She wants to completely disregard John and Reese's concerns about Shaw because her love has returned to her. She wants to pick up things right where they left off with that kiss. That's the key moment that shows that Shaw may be manipulating the team for personal and nefarious gain. She gets closer to Root than she has ever been before. That forces Root to drop her guard a little bit. It's still told from a very uncertain and mysterious perspective. Shaw doesn't know what's happening to her. She gets random flashes of violence that could threaten everything she loves in this world. That's with purpose as well.

This episode covers a lot of story. It makes bold strives forward with the main conflict. Shaw convinces John and Root to engage Samaritan in battle. The success in that mission leads them to the A.I.'s base of operations. They manage to kidnap Greer while Root gets injured during the battle. It's a thrilling sequence that also delivers hope for the future. Shaw desperately needs this war to be done. She needs Samaritan eliminated so that she can have a happy existence with Root. She needs Greer to have the key to Samaritan's destruction. She needs that so badly right now. But the speed with which this episode tells stories also indicates that some big twist is about to happen. The final third of the hour is particularly eventful. Shaw kills Greer because he spins a tale of her being a double agent and not even realizing it. She shoots John while also allowing Samaritan to track down the machine. But all of this has a great cost to it as well. It's so overwhelming to Shaw that she actually chooses to kill herself than continue relying on her happy place with Root. It's a brutal final sequence.

And yet, that's not the end of this story. A last minute twist shows that all of this has just been one big simulation that Samaritan has run on Shaw. The surgery was a success and they were able to connect with her brain waves. They are delving deep into her subconscious looking for a way into the machine's base of operations. It's a mission that has failed 6,741 times. This was the audience seeing the latest trial run of the operation. It's brutal and manipulative of Samaritan and Greer. It shows the horrifying lengths they are willing to go to in order to eliminate Team Machine completely. They haven't been successful yet. But Shaw won't be able to hold out forever. One of these times they are going to be successful. And when that happens, the team better be prepared because Shaw will be a force of nature that could destroy all of their lives. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "6,741" was written by Lucas O'Connor & Denise Thé and directed by Chris Fisher.
  • For a moment, it seemed perfectly reasonable for the show to kill off both Greer and John this early in its final season. It's not surprising that it didn't. But it could have provided a different driving force for the final episodes as well.
  • This is a fantastic return episode for Sarah Shahi. Even though she had to take a break, the writers haven't forgotten just how important and tragic this character can be. But they also make her absence have purpose as well that helps drive the story forward in compromising ways.
  • A nice parallel could be made between "6,741" and "If-Then-Else." They mark significant starts and stops for Shaw. But this hour plays its conceit straight whereas the previous one was much more playful and stylish.
  • The Shaw-Root relationship was much more important. But it was still significant to see Finch interact with Shaw again considering he truly believed that Samaritan killed her.
  • It was nice to see Shaw get a reunion with Bear as well.