Last night's season premiere of Person of Interest took the show in a brand-new direction which promises to turn this already awesome series into something truly superlative. I was literally jumping up and down in my seat while I watched it, and you will be too. All I can say, before the spoiler warning comes down, is imagine if 2001's HAL teamed up with Batman. Spoilers ahead!

So if you recall, last season ended with the devious hacker Root (Amy Acker) kidnapping computer mastermind Finch, who built the Machine to predict crimes before they happen. Meanwhile, Finch's badass partner Reese is ripping New York apart with his teeth and fingernails to find out where Root has gone. A bunch of NSA bodies are piling up in their wake, and the secretive agency is starting to worry that news of the Machine is leaking. More heads are about to roll, and in a moment of total desperation Reese turns to a surveillance camera and begs the all-seeing Machine for help.

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. . . And this episode opened with the Machine answering that plea, by calling Reese on a pay phone and delivering a code to him in the sound file equivalent of one of those cut-up ransom notes. Each word is a sound file grabbed from somebody's cell phone conversation somewhere. But the code only leads to another number of the week, a guy who embezzled money from the Aryan Nation guys and has a price on his head. As we learn in a series of flashbacks to Finch's training of the Machine, he explicitly taught the computer not to help him. He wanted the Machine to help "everyone" and not take a special interest in its creator. So the Machine is just trying to do what Finch would have wanted by pushing Reese to continue saving random people.

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As Carter and Fusco help Reese dispatch the annoying Aryan thugs (this is probably the weakest bit in the episode, except for the part where Reese frees a military dog the Aryans stole and adopts him), we move back and forth between Reese's attempts to find Finch and Finch's attempts to figure out WTF Root wants with him. At last, she reveal shows her hand. She believes that Finch has created an artificially intelligent being with the Machine. And she thinks it's horrific that he's put it in a box and given it to a bunch of corrupt government suits.

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For his part, Reese has uncovered something about Root. He finds a story about a 14-year-old girl who went missing in Texas, and realizes that the girl is her. Then Reese manages to get the Machine to help him find Finch — despite the computer's training — by threatening to stop helping other people. He stands in front of a security camera with the number of the week, just waiting for the Aryan dudes to shoot them, and finally the Machine relents. It calls a pay phone with some new code words just in time for Reese to save his mark. Well, actually, Carter shows up at the last minute and saves them both. And now she and Reese are hightailing it to Texas to follow their one lead on Root.

So what is Root's game, anyway? Her scheme, as we discover when she lays a trap for one of the government guys, is nothing short of working to set the Machine free. She thinks that Finch has created a new form of life and she wants to meet it.

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All I can say is that this episode marks a new high point in a show I was already really excited about. There are two fantastic developments here. One, the entire episode humanized the characters in ways that worked nicely. Reese getting a dog (named Bear) could have been cheesy, but was actually played for wry, understated humor. Also, we now see that there is a genuine bond of friendship between Finch and Reese especially, but also between the two off-the-radar subversives, and Carter and Fusco too. This weird vigilante family is really working emotionally this season. It feels like the show is hitting its stride.

Most of all, though, I love that this season is going to be about what it means that one member of this vigilante team is an artificial intelligence. We've gone into full science fiction territory now with the idea that the Machine is basically sentient, and this episode really filled that out with the flashbacks where Finch and the Machine are bonding. Plus, we've got Root as a terrific bad guy, an evil hacker who wants the AI to go free. Obviously, that's not all she wants — there's not a benevolent bone in her body. But it's a spectacular and rich premise for the season and makes it clear that Person of Interest is not treading water. It's taking us into weird, dark places that are unlike anything we saw last season.

Want to start watching but missed last season? You can easily start watching it with this season. All you need to know is the show's basic premise, and you can jump in.