Tuesday, June 7, 2016

REVIEW: 'Person of Interest' - John, Shaw and Fusco Head to D.C. to Protect the President in 'Synecdoche'

CBS' Person of Interest - Episode 5.11 "Synecdoche" 

The team must unravel a conspiracy and stay ahead of the Secret Service when the President of the United States becomes their newest POI. Also, Finch separates himself from the team and considers taking drastic action to combat Samaritan.

Person of Interest is now in the home stretch of its final run. The stakes were wonderfully and tragically raised in last week's standout hour where Finch's number came up and Root was killed trying to protect him. That was a huge and significant episode for the show that saw a key shift happen within Finch. And now, the show isn't letting up at all. The characters are all in mourning. Root meant something to each of them and they'll struggle to move on without her. But they still have a world to protect. The stakes are only getting higher too. The threat from Samaritan is still active. It's growing more powerful while Team Machine has received another devastating blow and has separated a little bit. Finch is off on his own personal journey while John, Shaw and Fusco are tasked with heading down to Washington, D.C. to protect the President of the United States. That's a huge mission for the team that truly shows just how much power and control Samaritan really has over the entire world at this point.

The privacy vs. security debate has always been a very topical main premise for the show. It was a strong central idea in the pilot and it remains just as important over a hundred episodes later. It's a debate that continues to get more and more complicated in real-life politics. It's something that has gotten so much messier and complex over the last few years. The show has admirably taken on all the twists and turns so that it too can mirror real-life. The threat to the President in this episode comes because he proposes radical changes to the country's surveillance program. That's why Samaritan wants him eliminated. It doesn't warn the government's monitoring service that this threat is imminent. Samaritan isn't responsible for the attack but it's still willing to reap all the rewards that come from the leader of the free world being assassinated. That's very dangerous and raises the stakes throughout this episode.

The specifics of the main story do get a little fuzzy though. An anti-surveillance group with government connections is responsible for this assassination attempt. It's a fun reveal that shows that a threat of this magnitude can really come from anywhere. This is something this collection of people want to do despite the major repercussions of such an action. They believe in protecting citizen's privacy and are willing to fight and take action to ensure that they'll have it for years to come. It is a pretty blunt way to get the main point across. But it's still a very effective plot beat as well. These people want to make a difference and fight for their beliefs. It's just taken root in some radical actions that John, Shaw and Fusco now have to stop. However, the privacy vs. security debate gets a little murky as well because this group needs to rely on the government's technology in order to carry out their plan. They are planning on use a drone against the President to show the public just how devastating this technology really is. So they are using surveillance in order to build support for their anti-surveillance initiatives. Again, that's ironic but it also feels like a part of the conversation happening in real-life politics as well.

John, Shaw and Fusco are the only people capable of saving the President and ensuring stability throughout the entire world. That's much more important and grand than their typical case-of-the-week adventures. The severity of the situation is appropriately felt throughout the hour as well. This case helps Shaw feel something again in the wake of Root's death. She's in mourning but isn't actually doing anything to deal with it. This case forces her to act. It's dangerous in a couple of instances. She gets close to the leaders of the assassination plot and then rushes to the President's speech to ensure that he's not in the drone's final target. This action forces her to come alive a little bit. It's still twisted that it takes firing a gun at multiple people or torturing someone for her to feel something again. But it's entirely fitting with her character. Root meant something to her. It's easy to understand why she would be so out of whack despite believing this all to be one big simulation. It's not. It's real. She starts to feel and accept that as the hour goes along as well. She and John are able to save the President by making sure he's not in his vehicle when the drone strikes. It's a dangerous situation that requires Shaw to fire at the President. But at the end of the day, they are still successful in their mission.

But saving the President isn't the big resolution to the story of the episode. No, the much bigger twist happens when John, Shaw and Fusco are the ones who need saving. That's a nice twist on the series' formula. They have a surveillance program in the machine that allows them to help people when they need it the most. And now, John, Shaw and Fusco need it. They are being labeled as threats against the country who tried to kill the President. The secret service and national guard see them as the targets that need to be eliminated as quickly as possible to restore order to this world. So, it's so unexpected but very rewarding to see the team get out of this situation with a little help from some friends from the past. Over the years, the team has changed the lives of so many people. The machine has done a lot of good. And now, they are able to see the effects of all of their hard work. Usually, they eliminate the threat and that's the end of the numbers' stories. But here, the show presents a reality where John, Finch, Shaw and Fusco aren't the only team working on the machine's behave. Now, the machine has enlisted past numbers Logan Pierce, Joey Durban and Harper Rose to serve as another team getting numbers and making a difference in the world. Their lives changed because they ran into John and the team. And now, they are returning the favor. John, Shaw and Fusco emerge unharmed because of the support they got in the field from this new team. It always seemed like something was up considering John kept running into past numbers in D.C. and not New York. But the end twist made things feel so satisfying as well.

The big reveal of the episode also shows just how much good the machine has actually achieved. The team has always operated on the belief that they were the only ones being sent the irrelevant numbers. It was up to them to protect the people the government refused to help. But murder isn't something solely confined to New York. It happens throughout the entire world. So it does seem natural that the machine has assets elsewhere trying to help as well. Logan, Joey and Harper are nice stand-ins for Finch, John and Root. And yet, Finch is in a spiral right now because he believes his rules have forced the team into this position. He believes it's his fault the team is losing in this war with Samaritan. He has limited what the machine is capable of doing. She wants to be a more active part of this world. She believes she was created to do good and wants to expand on the work she's been doing with the team. It turns out that she has already done that by enlisting Logan, Joey and Harper to the mission. But that's not information Finch is made aware of. Instead, he's traveling across the country to Texas for unknown reasons. He's not going there to mourn Root's death. It takes him awhile but he finds the machine's use of her voice strangely comforting given what's about to happen. He plans on unleashing a virus on Samaritan that could have costly consequences elsewhere. He knows the risks and is willing to embrace them to win. Finch is no longer the man with strong morals. He breaks into a facility and threatens the life of a security guard's daughter to ensure he gets what he wants. The machine is protecting him and helping him with this mission. But it's a dark turn for the character. He's not able to rely on the support from the rest of the team. They are able to process their emotions about Root's death because they are united. Finch is all alone with the machine. It's still a meaningful conversation that helps him through this difficult time. But it's building to a significant change in the status quo as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Synecdoche" was written by Jacey Heldrich & Joshua Brown and directed by Tim Matheson.
  • Fusco's mourning of Root was really moving. It was expected to have Shaw and Finch as the most grief-stricken of the group. Their reactions are great. But the unexpected ones can be just as compelling. It's made even more meaningful because Fusco knows just how passionate Root was about this cause.
  • It appears the machine is now able to create new cover identities for Shaw instead of Root. That helped Root move about freely in this world and could be a huge asset for Shaw moving forward.
  • This final season has had a recurring theme of faces from past investigations coming back for the team to deal with again. Sure, it requires the audience to remember these specific characters years since they were last important. But the idea of another team out there receiving number was just a pretty cool thought to add to the mix here.
  • It was clear something was up when John said he felt like he was being watched. That was meant to get the audience on high alert. Logan was able to exist as a part of the main story as an important player. But as soon as Joey showed up, it seemed pretty obvious that a twist was about to happen.
  • Finch questions if the machine can feel love and grief in the same way that he and the rest of the team can. But the machine counters with seeing Root die in thousands of simulations and being powerless to stop it in all of them. That makes her death a severe loss for her as well.