Person of Interest “If-Then-Else” Review (4×11)

6 Jan


“The lesson is: anyone who looks on the world as a game of chess deserves to lose.”

Person of Interest has always dealt with the intersection between humans and machines, with the meaning of humanity in the context of a technologically advanced world. In “If-Then-Else”, easily one of the show’s most thrilling, heartbreaking, and entertaining episodes, that issue is at the very forefront. It plays a role whether we’re seeing Finch and the Machine playing chess, Shaw trying to take care of the bomb vest situation, or the Machine calculating success rates, and it’s an absolutely fascinating question handled with aplomb. That’s Person of Interest for you, folks. It’s one of the best shows on television.

Over the course of the season, we’ve seen the society these characters live in referred to as a “game”, as something that we all play, as something that ends up in a group of winners and a group of losers. Most notably, we’ve heard it from characters like Dominic, and it’s a fairly cynical worldview that assumes that many people are simply pawns, that something like Samaritan will control and restrict what we do. “If-Then-Else”, though, counters that point with a lovely piece of writing delivered by none other than Harold Finch; he’s the guy who was afraid of what The Machine could eventually do, but he’s also the guy who imbued The Machine with a resolute faith in humanity. “I don’t like chess because it was a game that was born during a brutal age when life counted for little and everyone believed some people were worth more than others,” he says. “Chess is just a game; real people aren’t pieces. And you can’t assign more value to some of them than to others. Not to me. Not to anyone. People are not a thing you can sacrifice.” It’s human, it’s genuine, it’s moving, and it’s marvelous.

It’s also pertinent in an episode that deals with sacrifice itself. With the subway scene, for example, Gary assumes that blowing up the bomb vest will serve a higher purpose, will allow him to rage against the injustices leveled upon the lower class. However, in the first two scenarios, he ends up with a bullet between his eyes. In the latter scenarios, he decides not to do anything, and he does so because he simply listens to those around him. “Life is crap,” Shaw tells him. “Welcome to the human race. The good thing is: you’re not alone.” Gary “sacrificing” himself won’t do any good because he’s trying to topple the institution that surrounds him, the “game” he presumes to be present; if he truly wants to die, then he should “die for something [he loves]”. He should realize that he’s not alone, that other people have difficulties and families and fears of their own. Most importantly, he should realize that he’s human, that people can’t be sacrificed, that he’s not just a pawn in a larger game.

In addition, him deciding to refrain from detonating the vest helps Shaw obtain the necessary code for the team (Shaw also embraces humanity in those latter scenarios). As we know, the team represents the tight-knit groups that can form between different people, the emotional connections that we can share with others, and by listening to humanity, Gary furthers that idea. It’s a really lovely connection of thematic ideas and subplots here, and it’s beautiful watching it unfold.

And of course, this is the Machine-centric episode we were all hoping for. Aside from the rich themes, it’s also incredibly intriguing to see through the lens of something that’s always been a major part of the show, but has never truly felt like a fleshed-out character. Here, the simulations themselves provide a unique insight into The Machine’s inner workings, and even though we know that each scenario is not necessarily real, it hurts to see each of these characters “die”. What’s wonderful about this, though, is that we’re seeing The Machine as a character, as something influenced directly by Harold’s view on humanity, and as a result, we see the humanity present in The Machine. We also get to see some amazing action scenes and nerve-racking tension, and as I’ve written before, this is better than many action films I’ve seen.

At the end, though, we return to the idea of sacrifice. Reese and Fusco reference the Alamo several times throughout, and that’s apt because the Alamo is considered a place where people made the ultimate sacrifice. Here, the ultimate sacrifice arrives in the form of Sameen Shaw, who saw humanity in the face of a bomb vest earlier. What distinguishes this sacrifice from the sacrifice of a pawn is the fact that Shaw does this to save others. She is not being pushed around by a more powerful force; she is looking at the people around her, seeing their humanity, and deciding to do what she feels is right. As the elevator doors close, we see the face of a woman who saved her friends, not the face of a pawn. Try to beat that, Samaritan.



-The “simplifying” scene is one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen…in any show. Here are some of the lines: “Self deprecating inquiry into the amount of time necessary to infiltrate system.” “Mildly agitated declaration of mission completion.”

And of course, the Root/Shaw exchange:

“Overly affectionate greeting.” “Greeting.” “Transparent rationale for conversation.” “Annoyed attempt to deflect subtext.” “Overt come on.” “Mildly embarrassed offensiveness bordering on hostility.” “Playfully witty sign off.”

-No Bear. 😦

-Finally, a Shaw-Root kiss! But then…

-Also, a Fusco-Root kiss.

-Kudos to Amy Acker in that final scene. Heartbreaking.

-I wish they would’ve just, I don’t know….shot the button or something. Or threw something at it.

-We’re only a few days into 2015, but I can already tell that this episode is going to be way up there on my year end list.

-The Glitch Mob’s “Fortune Days” is the music you hear in the background often. It’s an amazing choice by the creative team.

– “Sorry, I’m busy making death threats to Samaritan operatives.”

– “Skip the verbal foreplay, Root.”

– “I’m a sociopath; I don’t have feelings.” “And I’m a reformed killer for hire. We’re perfect for each other!”

– “Why did you just do that?” “Why not? We’re in a simulation.”

– “You’re hot. You’re good with a gun.”

-Any people who know art well? I know that’s a Degas painting–“Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper”–that Finch keeps noticing, but what does the painting represent? I may have missed the meaning.

-Shaw is not officially dead yet. There’s still hope! “If you make a mistake, there are an infinite amount of ways to fix it.” Fingers crossed this is the case…

-I’m so excited for next week’s final trilogy installment. I’m also looking forward to the rest of the season. It’s going to be great; I can feel it.

Photo credit: CBS, Person of Interest

11 Responses to “Person of Interest “If-Then-Else” Review (4×11)”

  1. Anonymous January 6, 2015 at 11:26 pm #

    See Degas Creations – Impressionists regarding the meaning of Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper. He left this work seemingly unfinished and vague!
    I love Person of Interest!

  2. Hepburn3 January 7, 2015 at 12:24 am #

    I am so happy that this show is back!!
    Sad about Shaw, so very sad… but I hear that Sarah is pregnant in real life so it is a way off the show for her, but I hope that you are right and that Shaw is not dead!
    It was funny and heartbreaking and so AMAZINGLY ACTED, PLOTTED, SCRIPTED!!!
    This show should be a case study for all drama shows.
    I am now in love with Fusco’s new name for Root Banana Nut Crunch… THE BEST!
    I loved the game motif that has been running through the season, and the idea that chess is the paramount of intelligence in terms of warfare and a sometimes a metaphor of life. All the baddies think this is all a game, Dominic, Greer, Samaritan, Martine, the Avatar for Samaritan even Elias to a point, they all think it a game of expendables and pawns, all except Harold and Team Machine. Well Harold always thought that way that no one is a pawn, or lesser, Reece, Fusco, Root,Shaw and ultimately the machine all had to learn that lesson and they have learned it and the fact that they realize that people do matter all people, bomb vest guy, jagweed stock brokers, subway passengers, everyone does matter. 🙂 I do love that Harold disdains the game of chess and he teaches it to the machine and he teaches it WHY he disdains it! I love that he is in a way at that time giving the Machine a legacy, for he wants the Machine to understand things even after he is gone,much like a parent does with a child.
    When Harold was talking of the queen chess piece as being the most powerful on the board and in the game I thought he was foreshadowing Root’s demise and sacrifice but who would have thought that Shaw was the queen?! I am still hoping that she is ok, slim as that chance maybe, I am hoping she is okay because she did promise Bear that she would be back and you cannot lie to Bear! ( and YES why the dillio did she not use her amazing aim and just shoot the button!??!) Shaw was so brave, she gave her all to her comrades and friends and she even gave Root what she wanted even if it is not really what she wants.
    I love the humanity of this show, the lessons, the morality tests and the ethics that it does impart with such deftness.
    I love that the Machine calculated all of the those scenarios before sending her team out into the breech. That is some good tv there!
    I loved the humour that was laced thorough out the episode, and I really enjoyed Fusco kissing Root (that was hilarious,the Machine has a sense of humour!) and the simplified dialogue, it made me wonder if that is how the Machine actually hears how people talk?

    As for the leitmotif of the Degas drawing, It is one of many trial sketches/images that Degas did before he painted and sculpted his masterpiece. It is called”Dancer adjusting her slipper”. This is important because this whole episode was the Machine making adjustments and calculations before it is about to present its ‘masterpiece’. Artists go through many a run through per se before they produce their final work. This has been seen in x-rays of famous paintings, one can see the prior workings underneath done by the artist before the final product. I think the Degas image was shown as a link to that theme of running things through before the finish product. This is the second part of a three part episode we will see the finished product next week ( IT BETTER BE ON NEXT WEEK!) and we will see how the Machine will win because it knows that it is not a game, despite what Samaritan, Greer and Martine think. They will lose. And when they do it will be epic.

    Again hands down this is the BEST show on tv! I love how it is so deeply plotted and layered from season to season!
    You got a shout out again for your review Polar Bear on the PoI Facebook page! I hope that it brings more people to your reviews! 🙂
    I am happy to have a tv watching home here because your site is an oasis of insightful thought about tv and film. I have to tell you that I simply cannot take the amount of really awful comments that people have about PoI and other shows. It seems that a lot of them come to the Facebook page to whinge about how they miss the show the way it was and they want Carter to come back from the dead as a crime fighting number busting zombie, Reece and Finch just dole out the numbers and they and Fusco save people. I just wish that they would make good on their threat to stop watching (they never seem to) and go watch NCIS Hooterville and whatever else procedural show there is now.
    Again love your review! Adieu until next Tuesday! 🙂

    • polarbears16 January 7, 2015 at 9:43 am #

      Once again, thanks for the wonderful comment! Those are some excellent thoughts about the Degas painting; I’ve never thought about it like that before, but it makes a lot of sense the way you’ve put it. I can’t wait to see the finished product next week!

      Yeah, I don’t understand why people would rather have the same types of crime procedurals over and over again, what with all the NCIS stuff out there …haha, Hooterville 🙂 and CSI stuff. This is a show with a really engaging and smart story, yet people don’t want that, which is sad. CBS is capable of making these kinds of shows, with Person of Interest and The Good Wife. And I’ve heard good things about Elementary.

  3. Tom January 7, 2015 at 1:32 pm #

    And the art piece further down the hall from the Degas. Is that a Dali’? A woman standing with multiple drawers open?…symbolism rich there, too. What is inside. Underneath the surface. Quote by Dali’: “The unique difference between immortal Greece and the contemporary epoch is Sigmund Freud, who discovered that the human body, which was purely neo-platonian at the time of the Greeks, is today full of secret drawers that only psychoanalysis is capable of opening.” He also describe a type of smell that emanates from the drawer. Drawers could also release a different type of smell from a strange kitchen – war. If it is not a Dali, then this post is what it is…an error of perception.

  4. Melkor January 7, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

    Love your reviews! So detailed and thoughtful. The episode was AMAZING, all the reviews I came across so far are overwhelmingly positive. Such a shame that PoI remains underrated among mainstream critic communities. Also, the CBS backlash is starting to kill the show, the ratings are down this season. Really hope that with the show coming to Netflix soon we will get more viewers.

  5. Hepburn3 January 7, 2015 at 5:34 pm #

    Speaking of art, this has been bugging me, just what was that Samaritan Avatar kid drawing when he was “threatening” the Machine? He put it up on the bulletin board, he was intently working on it as he arrogantly talked down to The Machine.
    Do you know Polar Bear?

    • polarbears16 January 9, 2015 at 10:29 pm #

      Hmm, I don’t really remember. This was from part 1 of the trilogy, right?

      • Hepburn3 January 10, 2015 at 11:13 am #

        Yes! 🙂 from part 1 of the trilogy! 🙂
        It looked like a family he was drawing, at first I thought he was drawing Root but then I saw other people in his drawing.
        The reason I ask is that the PoI writers are very “Chekovian” in terms of characters and things. If someone or something is shown it will be eventually utilized at some point.
        So from this I wonder what was that Samaritan kid drawing, also what about the young woman hacker that Samaritan ‘recruited’ during that wacky scavenger hunt? I wonder what part she will play?
        Also I have a feeling that that thing that Harold planted in that technology woman’s laptop is going to come to fruit and it will be a big blow against Samaritan! Oh it is fun to speculate about this show because it is so well done! 🙂 Tuesday cannot arrive fast enough!

  6. Mel January 10, 2015 at 6:08 pm #

    Best hour of TV I have seen all year. The machine fails to save the painting in every simulation but takes time to save the painting in the actual scenario. Amy Acker Amy Acker Amy Acker. I think that was the regret that the machine didn’t plan for. She broke Root in the end. I don’t think she realized that that would happen. The elevator door had to be closed for the button to work. The fact that she knows what each one would say (kind of) is brilliant. Best episode of the series.


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