Last night's Person of Interest gave us a long, hard look at this show's darkest theories about how the government actually works. Plus, it looks like the battle of the AIs is about to begin. Spoilers ahead!
Our number of the week was McCourt, a congressman who serves on the House Rules Committee (which Finch helpfully explains means that he has a crucial role to play in approving or stalling new legislation). Finch and Reese suspect that McCourt is being targeted by the privacy terrorists in Vigilance, but that makes no sense because McCourt has actually been an outspoken privacy advocate who is against surveillance. If anything, Vigilance would be McCourt's ally. So why did the Machine think he was in danger?
They think they have the answer when they discover a guy shadowing McCourt is driving a car rented by a company owned by Decima. If you recall, Decima is the company owned by evil global entrepreneur Greer, who wants nothing more than to bring the AI Samaritan online and make a profit with it. So maybe Decima is targeting McCourt because he's trying to block legislation that would allow the government to do business with Decima?
This seems increasingly likely when we see Greer having a secret meeting with Garrison, the senator who was Control's main buddy in the Northern Lights gang. Greer is trying to sell him on Decima's evil AI project, using soothing assurances that add up to things like "we will destroy all your enemies" and "no Earth is too scorched for us." Garrison is interested, but thinks that all the revelations about spying will make it a tough sell in the senate. Which is when Greer gives him the final tough sell line about how all he has to do is say yes and all opposition will be "taken care of."
It makes sense. After all, the Northern Lights program and all the intelligence "black budget" projects have been shut down. So if you can't get total information awareness that's funded by the government, why not turn to private military contractors for the same thing?
Oh and by the way, while all of this is going on, Root has invited Shaw to hijack a plane with her and go to Miami on a "relevant number" mission. Because now that Northern Lights is dead, the Machine is using Root to stop terrorism. Which makes me feel ... kind of safe? Shaw can't turn down an invite to hijack a plane, so we get some nice comic relief with Root and Shaw sipping girly drinks in a bar full of the terrorist ninjas they've just incapacitated/slaughtered. Before she takes off on another mission, Root reveals to Shaw that the Machine is doing work she will only call "preparation." Ominous.
But those "preparations" leave Shaw free to zoom back to New York to rescue McCourt, Reese and Finch from a firefight with some Decima guys who have been tailing them. She even throws one of the Decima heavies into her trunk for interrogation later. Oh Shaw — you think of everything. Unfortunately, McCourt thinks Reese and Finch have kidnapped him. Plus, Finch still has no idea what the hell is going on with Decima.
As soon as they start interrogating, however, things get really weird. It turns out Decima's little militia has been charged with protecting McCourt. And finally, Finch gets McCourt to confess snarkily that he's been in Decima's pocket all along. They've been feeding him insider information so he can get rich on the stock exchange, and in return he's greasing the wheels of legislation that will replace the Machine's ethical goal of "helping everyone" with Samaritan's bloodthirsty libertarian insanity. But why would anti-surveillance McCourt support such things? "The business of government is business," he explains with a snort to a wide-eyed Finch.
But of course it isn't just business. McCourt won't end his relationship with Decima for any price, even when Finch offers him tons of money. He obviously likes the power that they're offering him. This scenario touches on one of the most powerful themes in Person of Interest, which is that government corruption isn't just about bastards lining their pockets. It's also about, well, genocide. McCourt's decisions may well lead to a nation where Decima's AI will be an enforcer for the most successful authoritarian regime the world has ever known.
Out of personal corruption grows a corrupt state, with the power to destroy millions of lives. And it's that realization that leads to the weirdest and most intense part of the episode.
The Machine Gang is left wondering why, exactly, they've been given McCourt's number. He's obviously a potential victim, but who is the threat? "Us," Reese acknowledges finally. He thinks the Machine wants them to kill McCourt. Shaw reluctantly agrees, but Finch refuses to believe it. Even if it's true, he says, he wants no part of it. With the police closing in on them, they have to make a decision.
Reese approaches McCourt with a gun, but ultimately can't pull the trigger. He's spent too long trying to be good to take assassinate somebody, even if killing that person might save the lives of hundreds or thousands. I have a feeling this ethical decision will wind up biting everybody in the ass, and hard. When we see McCourt later, he's still wheeling and dealing, telling Garrison that he'll push the Decima-friendly legislation through the House if Garrison will push it through the Senate.
Of course Garrison and Greer are making their evil plans in front of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
Meanwhile, Greer has convinced Garrison to let him have access to the NSA's surveillance feeds in New York City as "a demonstration" of their capability. Once they do that, Greer assures Garrison, all their opposition will be "taken care of." The plan appears to be to let Samaritan loose in New York and then just kill everyone who gets in Decima's way. Which — I have some questions about that. First of all, why would Decima want to be a government contractor anyway? Doesn't the government pay way less than private industry? And second, if you want to stake your future on selling your "destroy them all" services to the government, doesn't it seem like a bad idea to kill a bunch of politicians? I'm just saying.
Regardless, Greer has got his wish. As the episode closes, Samaritan comes online and starts accessing New York's feeds. "Find Harold Finch," Greer orders languidly. Meanwhile, a wounded Shaw and Reese are limping through the streets while Finch tries to disappear. They're trying to stay off the radar, because presumably they've figured out that Decima is likely to have Samaritan tracking them.
Here's our first look at Samaritan's interface.
Can Finch's powers of privacy withstand Samaritan's onslaught? What about the Machine? Has it really become an assassin who is willing to take out corrupt politicians to stop its AI rival? Our heroes have held onto their ethics, but at what cost to the future?