Synopsis of 4×10: Samaritan is playing god and demands a meeting with the Machine. She obliges. It isn’t pretty.
CBS is evil. This week they gave us the first part of a fantastic episode trilogy that won’t see completion until after the New Year. That’s right folks, this week was the Person of Interest mid-season finale. Now we’ve got to fight our way through the holidays before we’ll get a chance to see what is going to happen to our beloved team.
The episode began as many do, with a number. However, this time the numbers were a bit strange. Everywhere Reese, Finch, and Root turned, another number was being saved by someone else. Specifically, people were being saved by Samaritan’s people. Not only were numbers, irrelevant numbers I should point out, being saved but New York City was running smoothly. All of the trains were on time, traffic was moving, and crime was down. Needless to say, the whole city was in top functioning order, which was a deviation from baseline.
Turned out Samaritan was trying to get Finch and the team’s attention. It certainly succeeded.
The beautiful part about this episode, titled “The Cold War,” was the switch between the current day and the year 1973. Viewers got a chance to learn a little bit about the infamous Greer (played by John Nolan) while they learned more about Samaritan. The writers did a fantastic job putting these two stories together. Switching between the original Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and the current Cold War between the Machine and Samaritan provided another depth to the show. This week was a reminder that we’re talking about science fiction that isn’t terribly far from becoming reality.
We learned that Greer worked for MI6 during the Cold War as a spy. In 1973, viewers got a chance to meet a very young Greer, ready to complete whatever task was asked of him. Even as a young agent he showed a lot of promise and a frightening interest in doing his job well. The flashbacks also provided a subtle history lesson and a parallel to explore. Same war, different machines.
Another thing we got a chance to see was Greer’s team actually working together. Talk about parallels. While Finch and Team Machine hung out in the bat cave trying to figure out what the heck Samaritan is doing, Greer’s team sat in their own hideout waiting to see what the Machine would do. I think the use of parallels in this episode really did a lot to bring together the plotline of this season. We’re not operating with uncertain terms anymore. We, as the viewers, know Greer’s team just like we know Finch’s team, we’ve learned about Samaritan just as we’ve learned about the Machine.
A small part of me wonders how I would view the terms of the show if the entire series had started with Samaritan in the spotlight. It shows how important perspective is, because in the world of artificial intelligence there is a lot of moral ambiguity.
While Samaritan peacocked, the Machine had no choice but to finally relent and agree to a meeting. After creating peace in the world for a day, Samaritan created chaos shortly afterward. Samaritan and its agents not only refused to lift a finger to help anyone, but went out of their way to let the worst of the worst get their hands on information they shouldn’t have. The national list of people in witness protection was leaked, drug dealers had a hay day, traffic was a mess, and everything was chaos. Pandora’s box had been opened, all because Samaritan needed to make a point.
The Machine agreed to meet, but first the various human agents of both artificial intelligences had to meet. There was a certain poetry to this scene as Root sat down beside Lambert and held a gun up behind him, only to have Martine sit behind her and do the same. Finally, Reese raised his own gun from up in the balcony and all of them were at a stalemate, with Lambert playing coy. He passed on the address where Samaritan wanted to meet.
Meanwhile, in flashbacks, we got a chance to understand why Greer is doing what he does. It turns out he was betrayed when he worked for MI6. In the end, his boss had been working for the KGB and ordered him to kill a double agent who knew about it. A friend of his was shot in the process. All of his trust in authority and people had been utterly destroyed. His story parallels Root’s in a lot of ways. Both were young and were scorned by authority. Both lost people close to them. Both turned to artificial intelligence as a way to fix the world, and ultimately themselves, because humanity had been unsatisfactory. Humanity had been imperfect and brutal.
I truly believe the difference between them is that Root met Finch and Greer never took the chance to get to know him. In Finch, Root met a different kind of humanity, one that was long gone. There’s been a lot of discussion about Finch’s morals and whether or not he is truly a good guy or a bad guy, but I think all of those are just peripheral discussions and miss the point. The thing about Finch is this: he is human and embraces it. He understood that, as a human, he would not be able to create a perfect machine and therefore tried to create a machine that could learn to understand humans.
Root was captivated by it, the Machine protected his humanity. Greer never had a chance because all he sees beneath good people is a darkness waiting to happen. He believed that Samaritan would solve that darkness by bringing control to the chaos. While Root learned to seek out humanity, Greer continued to shun it, and in the midst of their own personal struggles two extremely smart computers are about to make life hell.
So Root went to New Rochelle to meet Samaritan’s analog interface in the form of a young boy. Here was another case of beautiful imagery. Samaritan was young, childlike, stuck in the moral development stage that left it to see the world in black and white. The Machine, on the other hand, was older and wiser. Perhaps at one point it too saw the world in black and white, but thanks to its creator it learned that there’s a lot of grey. There’s no perfect world.
I could go into extreme detail about the philosophy behind their discussion, but suffice to say they summed up the arguments about artificial intelligence perfectly. I was captivated, especially by the young man who played Samaritan’s mouthpiece. What a phenomenal young actor.
In the end, Samaritan told the Machine it will destroy her. It wanted to see the fall of an old god.
The calm before the storm has certainly passed and it is going to start raining. Of course, the team is overwhelmed, and Shaw has disappeared. Everything they know is at risk and everything hangs in the balance, but we won’t get to know what happens next until January!