Season five of Person of Interest is rapidly coming to a close. With only two episodes remaining the stakes have risen and there is no clear end in sight for the team. Episode eleven, titled Synecdoche, took a short break from the previous narrative and went on a bit of a tangent. What at first appeared to be a clunky and out of place episode finally slotted into place in the bigger story line during the final scenes. In a twist that worked, the writers reminded the viewers that at the bottom of Pandora’s Box there is still hope.
At the end of season three, as Samaritan came online and Team Machine ran to hide beneath their new identities, Root had a message from the Machine to give to Finch. It concluded as follows:
“But the Machine asked me to tell you something before we part. You once told John, the whole point of Pandora’s Box is that once you’ve opened it, you can’t close it again. She wanted me to remind you how the story ends. When everything is over and the worst has happened, there’s still one thing left in Pandora’s Box: hope.”
When all seemed lost for the team, with their enemy coming on in full force, the Machine reminded Finch that there would always be hope. It is one of the key themes that appears, rather purposely, to get muddled and lost in the resulting seasons. Season four outlined the rise of Samaritan and the fall of the Machine, and season five picked up in the midst of chaos, with the team alone and grasping at straws to try and fight a force they don’t appear to be able to get ahead of.
Root’s words at the end of season three were pretty, but there seemed to be very little hope as the team pushed through the majority of this season. Things appeared to be especially hopeless when she ended up shot and killed, leaving the team tattered, Finch on a deadly mission, and everyone else trying to catch up and regroup. As an individual in the audience, I felt the opposite of hope. Instead, I experienced a profound sense of hopelessness. Finch went off on his own to a mission that will probably end with him dead, Root died, Reese, Fusco, and Shaw were still at risk.
Everyone was alone, everything had fallen apart. Then episode eleven came along, and the writers gave the audience a gift. Synecdoche was the proverbial calm before the storm. It harkened back thematically to Root’s message at the end of season three which was appropriate given that it came right after her death. Even when everything is chaotic and wrong, there is still hope; people prevail. The world is bigger than Team Machine’s struggle against Samaritan.
The writer’s choice to swap the team’s role (minus Finch and Root) was artful and clever, keeping the audience in the dark up until the last minute. They tossed in a few returning characters, but did not connect the dots for the viewer. Rather, we as the audience had a chance to experience the episode as it played out from the perspective of our heroes. We saw what Reese, Fusco, and Shaw saw, nothing more and nothing less.
Unless, of course, you’re cleverer than me and saw the writing on the wall.
What made the conclusion so profound, then, was the fact the audience experienced it at the same time as our heroes. This is typically the reverse. Usually the audience knows who is being saved, and who is doing the saving. The audience, the majority of the time, is clued into what is happening because we’re seeing it through the eyes of the heroes. However, this time around, our heroes didn’t understand what was happening, therefore neither did we. The reappearance of these past numbers seemed quaint, if not a bit clunky and bizarre, but the writers were merely taking us on a ride.
In the end, what they gave Team Machine, and by extension the audience, was hope. All along the world was much bigger than it seemed. While Team Machine faced down Samaritan alone, the Machine actually had bigger plans. She was building a team, probably multiple teams, all around the country, maybe the world. The burden to protect everyday people was not one to be carried by Reese, Fusco, Shaw, even Finch, alone. In a season where they appear to be irrelevant, the Machine gave them a beautiful reminder that they deserve to be saved too.
No one is irrelevant, which is and always has been the primary theme running through the show. So this past episode wrapped it up and hit it home to the audience that the Machine’s core value has never changed or wavered.
Our heroes might die, but the work they’ve done for five seasons will continue. After this past episode I think the ending of the series will probably shock us all. I don’t expect a happy ending, and I imagine this week’s episode will drag us back into the harsh reality of Samaritan’s world, but Synecdoche offered us a breath of fresh air. It was the moment of rest in the eye of the storm, to give our hearts a little break before the writers turn around and break our hearts.
Episodes like Synecdoche are why Person of Interest has remained a powerful show for five seasons. Ratings come and go, as do characters and villains, but the core of the show has never shifted. It has always been about fighting for the little guy and protecting everyone, because everyone matters. No one is irrelevant, which Nathan Ingram realized back when the Machine was born, and his belief has carried Finch and the team he has assembled through five entire seasons of protecting the irrelevants.
In the end, regardless of what fate our team will face, there will always be hope for the future and people working hard for it.