Tuesday, June 21, 2016

REVIEW: 'Person of Interest' - John, Finch, Shaw & Fusco Carry Out One Final Mission Against Samaritan in 'return 0'

CBS' Person of Interest - Episode 5.13 "return 0"

Finch, John, Fusco and Shaw embark on one last mission to prevent Samaritan from destroying the Machine and cementing its hold over mankind.

This fifth and final season of Person of Interest opened on a shot of the subway station empty with Root talking in a voiceover saying she now only exists as a voice and doesn't know if anyone is listening. She details the pain and difficulties the team has had over the past few years and shares their story with the audience. It was an ominous way to start the season. It indicated that things were only going to intensify further in the war with Samaritan before the series was over with for good. And indeed, they did. Shaw was resurrected but forced to go through painful simulation after painful simulation. The cover identities of all the heroes started being blown and Samaritan targeted them much more openly. Root gave her life in this war just so Finch could live and possibly kill Samaritan. That added even more potency to the opening narration. It wasn't Root speaking to the audience. It was instead the Machine who took Root's voice as her own personality. And now, she is finally sharing what all happened to these characters at the end of their journey together.

This final season has had its ups and downs. Most of it has been pretty great. The war with Samaritan has escalated in interesting ways while the show never lost sight of its episodic nature either. The true hindrance came from only being asked to produce thirteen episodes this year. It forced the creative team to truncate things a little bit. That was never a problem until last week's episode where a lot of strong ideas got crammed into one episode that ultimately made the whole hour weaker. It was important to see just how far Finch was willing to go to end this war with Samaritan. He broke all of his rules in order to emerge victorious. That was a crucial personality shift that meant something. He continues that here as well because the war with Samaritan isn't over with yet. It sure seemed that way by the conclusion of last week's episode. Greer gave his life just so Samaritan could continue its takeover of the world and humanity. But Finch was successful in uploading the virus that would eradicate any artificial intelligence from the communication system - including the Machine. It was the last move he could possibly make. And he did so knowing that it would kill his beloved AI as well.

What Finch did was very successful. But it has also thrown the entire world into chaos. Plus, the threat from Samaritan still exists. It wasn't an instantaneous fix. It's a slow moving process. It takes time for the two AIs to completely shut down. Until then, Samaritan is doing whatever it takes to survive while the Machine is ensuring that it doesn't. It's the two AIs facing off with each other. It's exactly what Finch was preparing the Machine for with all of the simulations. Of course, it failed in every single one of them. So, the deck is stacked against the Machine. But because of the virus, Finch has made it a more even playing field. It's much more difficult for the Machine to foresee events and be able to rescue the team before they are killed. And yet, she's determined to protect them for as long as she still has power. This battle is far from over and everyone is still passionately fighting. Everyone feels like a team again as they make this last stand together. Finch isn't just acting as a lone wolf to save his friends from the grim fate destined for him on this mission. Everyone understood this mission could turn fatal at any given moment when they first signed up. But now, that threat is very real and the consequences of it do happen in this series finale.

Finch wants to be the one to make the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the team. He's the one who started this war by creating the first artificial intelligence. He feels responsible for Samaritan coming into existence because he had invented the Machine. He feels its his purpose to ensure that Samaritan doesn't take away the free will of humanity. Samaritan ultimately views it's doing all of this to save humanity from a horrifying and broken world. Finch is taking that away from it. He has backed Samaritan into a corner and the AI needs to understand why. This decision is too big for one man to make. And yet, that's exactly what Finch is doing. He probably shouldn't be making such a massive decision. But he's doing so nevertheless. He needs to do something in order to guarantee the world he loves will continue to exist even if he is not a part of it. It's tragic and poetic. He started this war. And now, he's determined to end it. Death has finally come for him and he willfully embraces it. The Machine is by his side when he makes that decision. He is bleeding out on the rooftop of a building to ensure that the Machine can get to the one last place Samaritan can escape to. He's willing to die just as long as Samaritan does as well.

But that's not the fate that Finch ultimately receives in this finale. He has a very illuminating conversation with the Machine about death. She has seen millions of people die every single year. It's one of the big moments that she used to come to understand the world and how people act. She sees death as the true definer of who a person was. How they act in their final moments shows just what kind of human they are. That's very poetic but also very morbid. That's not something that Finch should be hearing right now. For years, he has succeeded with this mission because he has had the support of his team. And now, he is dying all alone believing it to be his purpose. He's dying alone just like everyone else. But the Machine learned more about humanity than that simple fact. She also understands that as long as life means something to someone else in this world, then that person's spirit and memory never truly dies. That's something that Finch needs to accept as the Machine takes death away from him and transfers it to John instead.

There is so much action in this finale. The stakes are high for all of the main characters. Any of them could be killed off at any moment. It's a thrilling way to tell stories. It's also a way the show has earned from a series run of so many great and emotional moments with these characters. They won't all survive this war with Samaritan. Finch wants to be killed during the final strike Samaritan makes. He does so in order for the rest of the team to live. But instead, it's John who perishes in this final battle. He and the Machine agree that Finch should live because the world needs him. John's mission has always been to protect the Machine. He instead found such strong friendship with the rest of the team. They all mean so much to him. The Machine pulled him out of a dark headspace. And now, he is able to truly die as a hero. It's the fate that seemed destined for him since the pilot. But he dies as a signal of hope for the rest of the team. They are able to live and survive in a world without Samaritan in it. They can go back to their regular lives and enjoy happiness for the first time in a long time.

The Machine is able to beat Samaritan in the final battle on the Russian satellite. That also provides a way back to Earth for the Machine. Finch inflicted the world's entire system with this virus knowing it would kill the Machine as well. But it found a way to survive because it emerged victorious in this battle. If Samaritan were to have won, it could have made its way back to this world as well. But it didn't. So it's a comforting final image to know that Shaw will still be getting numbers and protecting people in the time they need it the most. It's also rewarding knowing that she got closure with Root's death by killing the man who pulled the trigger and being able to hear her voice again from the Machine. It's also just as important that all of this gave Finch the confidence to pursue a life with Grace again. She meant so much to him. He had to turn away from her to focus on the mission with the Machine. But now, he feels comfortable knowing he did everything he could to protect this world from danger. He was successful. And now, it's up to Shaw to continue to protect it. He can go off and have happiness with Grace again. That's a sweet fate for him to have despite the tragedy that comes from Person of Interest's final chapter.

Some more thoughts:
  • "return 0" was written by Jonathan Nolan & Denise Thé and directed by Chris Fisher.
  • Shaw and Fusco's big mission is to protect the Machine's systems at the subway station. It's unclear how Samaritan uncovered that hideout. But its agents come looking to eliminate them nevertheless. It's much more important that it leads to Shaw and Fusco fleeing the place via the subway car.
  • However, it is very lame that Fusco gets stabbed in the chest just to add to the overall tension of the episode. That happens just to make it seem like he dies protecting the Machine as well. He doesn't. So it's just a little manipulative.
  • It's also significant that John and Fusco's captain busts them for their illegal activities and wants their badges and guns. But that's just a very minor detail that seems to not matter at all once the world recovers from this devastating attack.
  • Shaw does kill Jeff but not right away because protecting the Machine is much more important. But she still makes sure to track him down and kill him in order to get vengeance for Root's death. Root made Shaw a better person. But she probably wouldn't have any problems with what Shaw does to Jeff.
  • So, John and the Machine made a deal that they wouldn't let Finch die in this war and that John should take his place. That doesn't track particularly well with what happened last week. But here, it still plays as a very effective emotional beat that shows just how powerful that friendship really is.
  • It's nice to know that the Senator who first started the Northern Lights surveillance program is being blamed for what ultimately happened in the world thanks to Samaritan. A detail that could be very unnecessary but the show threw in anyway.
  • But overall, this is a very solid series finale that worked because the emotions of the moment overshadowed any kind of murky plot motivations. This show has been so smart and edgy with its approach to technology. Its brand of stories will definitely be missed. It developed into a great show with something important to say. And it just closed out its run in a fantastic but complicated and really deserving way.