There are few things I love more in this world than goofy hacker talk in a techno-thriller, and we got that in abundance this week on Person of Interest. But you know what I love more than that? When this show delivers an absolutely paranoid conspiracy theory that I secretly believe is mostly true. Like the fact that Cisco is in the pocket of the Chinese government. Spoilers ahead!
This was one of those awesome episodes where we have a number of the week, and we manage to delve into both our local city corruption plotline as well as the overarching national intelligence plotline too. The number is a tech entrepreneur named Monica Jacobs at a company called Rylatech that makes software that runs on internet routers. There's a lot of talk about how Rylatech is the backbone of the internet, and that hackers are always trying to mess with them, and it's pretty damn obvious that Rylatech is basically Cisco.
(Also, is Rylatech a play on R'lyeh from H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos? Ponder that!)
So Finch goes undercover at Rylatech, pretending to be an IT guy, and manages to impress Jacobs immediately with his prototype Nexus tablet thinger and some talky-talk about chip architecture. And he uses some kernel root kit talk to smack somebody else around. If you are a computer security person, this episode is basically made for your amusement. But I digress, dear haXOrz.
Once Finch has Jacobs' phone rooted, he sees clearly that there's a plot against her. She's discovered that somebody in the company is sending encrypted files to who-knows-where. But then as Finch watches helplessly, an evil hacker fills Jacobs' phone up with fake calls, emails, and appointments that frame her for sending the files. And when somebody at the company breaks the encryption, we find out that they are company seekrits that she was about to send to Juniper and HP and maybe even Google! Now she's really in danger, because probably whoever framed her is going to try to kill her.
Which in fact, they do. But first, Reese has a special encounter with Shaw. He manages to track her down by hanging around outside the house of her dead partner's parents. She knows she can't visit them, because it would put them in danger, but she yearns to tell them that their son wasn't the traitor that the news made him out to be. When Reese finds her, he says he knew she'd be there because "that's what I'd do," and you can tell that his sympathetic badassery is starting to make Shaw trust him and Finch.
With the Shaw bonding moment over, Reese is able to catch up with Jacobs and prevent her from being shot — by spies from the Chinese government! In fact, it turns out that half her senior employees and her boss are actually in bed with the Chinese, and are giving them backdoors into internet routers which in turn allow them to do their cybernasties all up inside banks and the government and other vulnerable computer systems.
Let me just say that this conspiracy theory ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE. Cisco is famous for helping China build its Great Firewall, which they use to censor internet traffic entering and leaving the country — as well as to spy on their own citizens' internet activities. So if Cisco is willing to do that, why not also (for a price) let China play around with router software elsewhere in the world. I mean WHY NOT. As Jacobs' evil boss says once they find out about the conspiracy, there are no national boundaries anymore. There is only money. And routers. Oh, and this:
Did you try the web interface? This is my favorite scene ever, because it reaches such goofy, epic proportions and ends with that classic cheesetastic hacker movie thing: a firewall that can make a laptop light on fire!
Alright, so we've established that major router companies are helping the Chinese government oppress its own citizens and spy on Americans — as well as probably helping the US government do the same thing — we can move on to the saga of HR and Elias back in New York.
Early in the episode, Elias plays a symbolic game of chess with Finch, and indicates that there is somebody unknown pulling the strings behind HR. That unknown person — AKA Quinn — also helped set up Carter's buddy for death. So now we know something that Finch and Elias don't: the real big bad in city politics. But then Quinn's godson Cal starts sniffing around trying to figure out why Carter's buddy died, and learns too much. So the cold-hearted Quinn sends his slabular white cop HR buddy to kill Cal, just when Carter was starting to believe that Cal wasn't a dirty cop and she could maybe date him. So that happened. Quinn's a badass motherfucker, and I like it.
So where does that leave us? The Chinese government has backdoors on all Cisco routers. Quinn is part of a two-man HR operation that controls the city. Elias is trying to figure out who Quinn is (or maybe who some uber-boss of Quinn is) and take him down.
But how is the Machine doing? Well, Finch has figured out the encrypted email nonsense at Rylatech is linked to a virus that was designed especially for the Machine. Does that mean Chinese hackers are trying to gain access to the Machine? Maybe not, since there's a very white, very British-sounding dude who forces Jacobs' boss to shoot himself when the gig is up.
OK whatever because Shaw has broken into Finch's library/hackerspace in the middle of the episode and she's sort of kind of willing to maybe work with Finch and Reese now. Especially because Finch hacked into the CIA's computers and leaked information to the press about how her partner was actually a hero. Also, working with Finch means she can go after Root, whose picture she finds on Finch's bulletin board under the "hacker ninjas who have kidnapped me" label.
So the episode ends with Shaw about to be hot on Root's tail (heh yes I said that). And HR has sent a pretty clear message to Carter and Fusco. And Jacobs is about to go work at a chip company. I hope somehow Jacobs' new chip will come into play when we finally find out what's up with the Machine and its virus and China and everything.