See, these kinds of ideas are exactly why this show is one of the best on TV. The central conflict in Person of Interest could very easily throw all its marbles into some generic “good guys vs. bad guys/good AI vs. bad AI” setup, but the writers understand how to transcend the basics and really delve into the complexities of the human experience. The above quote wonderfully captures the show’s understanding of not just human beings themselves, but also human beings as they relate to the technology they craft. Finch, Root, and Reese are all just trying to do the best they can, trying to utilize The Machine to save as many lives as possible. They’re trying to change, and that counts for something even given their histories. However, one could also easily take a look at their actions sans context and condemn them, and that’s what “SNAFU” spends its runtime exploring.
“How did you teach your machine to be good?” Root asks Finch early on, and the response is interesting: “By example.” This is consistent with the premiere’s big point–that The Machine is a reflection of Finch–but it also raises the question of whether a good or a bad example was set. This episode’s big point is that it’s a reflection of Finch and all his flaws, that context matters when evaluating situations like these. It isn’t excusing any of the team for the hurt they may have caused, but it acknowledges that they are looking to change by helping people. “He’s fighting his hardest to be good,” Finch tells The Machine about Reese.
So, it’s more complicated than what Finch says in the flashbacks, and he certainly realizes that as this episode progresses. He talks about how The Machine was supposed to “separate the bad people from the good”, how “everything was so clear then.” “We were waging the grand campaign: good and evil,” he says. “These days, black and white just dissolves into greyscale.” The show occupies this complex middle ground of sorts, still siding with its heroes but recognizing that they haven’t always done heroic things. They can do their best moving forward, though. I’ll let Finch close out my review, considering he says it best at the end of the episode:
“There is good and bad in all of us, but this action–saving lives–is a pure good. I can’t promise you that we’ll always do the right thing, but we’ll do the best we can.”
Damn right they will.
-This is also an extremely entertaining and light-hearted episode, even given it getting pretty heavy at the end. In particular, having everyone do impressions of each other is so much fun to watch.
-Michael Emerson is so damn good. His best acting comes out when he’s reacting to a computer, and it’s impressive to watch.
-I’ll be reviewing tomorrow night’s episode as well. See you then.
Photo credit: CBS, Person of Interest