Person of Interest
Season 5, Episode 13: “Return 0″
Tuesday June 21, 2016
A few weeks back I said that writing the recap for Person of Interest’s “The Day The World Went Away” was probably the hardest recap I would have to write. Well, I was wrong. This here, “Return 0”, will probably be the hardest recap I ever have to write (at least until the next really hard one) because like many people, I am not good with endings. I don’t like the finality because I don’t know how to handle it. And this applies to television. In all honesty, I usually put off watching series finales for as long as I can. I didn’t watch the final season of Parks and Rec until 6 months after it aired, until I felt like I was emotionally ready to bid the show farewell.
“Return 0” was perfection. From the acting, to the directing, to the editing, to the score, it was a perfect farewell. But seriously. The score of this episode and the instrumentals were chillingly perfect. The finale encapsulated everything that made me fall in love with this show in the first place.
The episode starts off with the same voice over as the season premiere:
Machine-Root: “If you can hear this you’re alone. The only thing left of me is the sound of my voice. I don’t know if any of us made it. So let me tell you who we were, and how we fought back.”
On a NYC rooftop Harold is nursing a gunshot wound to the abdomen and starts talking to The Machine. The Machine is glitching though. She doesn’t know if this is the present or the past or a simulation of the future. As he sits there, waiting to die, he finally has an honest conversation with his creation, and he asks her if after all these years she had learned anything
Machine-Root: “ I learned that everyone dies alone. There was more to it than that. I can’t remember”
Harold doesn’t seem pleased with her answer, so she elaborates:
Machine-Root: “You built me to predict people Harry, but to predict them you have to truly understand them. And that proved to be very difficult indeed. So I began by breaking their lives down into moments. Trying to find the connections. The things that explained why they did what they did. And what I found was that the moment that often mattered the most. The moment that you truly found out who they were was often their last one.”
After not hearing from The Machine for a few minutes, Harold is afraid that she has left him. But when Harold turns his head he sees the face of god. We all see the face of god.
Root has visually manifested.
Harold is happy that she is back, although he would be content without continuing their morbid conversation.
Machine-Root: “It’s what you built me for. To watch people die.”
Harold: “I thought I built you to prevent that.”
Machine-Root: “Yes, but first I had to learn why people die. 56 million people die in this world every year, and I was there with all of them. You didn’t give me the capacity for despair Harry. I had to make it for myself. There were so many people I couldn’t help and after a while I came to appreciate it. The beauty of it. Human life is ephemeral, which makes you precious.”
There is an amazing break in Amy Acker’s voice when she says “I had to learn why people die.” I am not sure if it was supposed to be an audio malfunction to convey the Machine dying, or if it was the emotion behind the words. Either way, the effect was profound.
She tells Harry that there was something she once heard that helped her make sense of all of this death, but she can’t remember:
Machine-Root: “Everyone dies alone, and then something else.”
The timeline of the episode is not linear, which makes sense because The Machine isn’t able to anchor herself in the present, so when we first see Shaw it is earlier that day and she is standing in front of Root’s unmarked grave.
Shaw: “If this digital armageddon turns out to be a full-blown armageddon I figured I should say goodbye. Sorry Root, this, just isn’t my thing.”
While Shaw may think this, the very fact that she came to say goodbye to Root proves that it is her thing. After living her life not feeling things the same way other people do, Shaw made herself believe that she was incapable of feeling period. But it was just that she didn’t feel it the same way. Nobody can force Shaw to do something she doesn’t want to do. She went to Root’s grave because she wanted to say goodbye not because she felt like she had to. It’s her thing, she just does it in her own way.
Machine-Root calls Shaw while she is standing at the grave, and tells her that Samaritan dug up Root’s grave. This is horrifying but Shaw really can’t concentrate on what The Machine is saying because she is trying to figure out how she could be hearing Root’s voice right now:
Shaw: “Is this? Are you..?”
Machine-Root: “You know who I am, sweetie. Big sister.”
Shaw: “You took her voice.”
When Shaw hears Root’s voice, there is a calm that comes over her face and their amazing banter immediately begins. The conversation is cut short though because Samaritan shows up. Samaritan always ruins EVERYTHING!
Meanwhile, Fusco and Reese are getting into trouble at the station. The NYPD finally realized that they are rarely at work, and when they do show up they just ask cops to help them with unauthorized investigations. Also, the cops got a tip that John is the man in the suit. I wish we got more than a one line reference to the storyline that dominated the first two seasons, but I will give the writers a break on that one. Anyway, the two get arrested but since this is a corrupt NYC institution they are brought to a waterfront to get murdered instead of to jail.
On the way to their execution John and Lionel have a heart to heart. John apologizes to Fusco for getting him involved in this whole mess. Which isn’t really true, Fusco got involved in this whole mess because he was working with HR and was ordered to kill Reese. Which, he failed at. What John should have apologized for was being an absolute ass to Lionel for the first season and a half of the show. But, that is all water under the bridge now, and Lionel knows that ASI apocalypse or not, he is a better man for meeting Team Machine.
Luckily, The Machine hired some snipers to save these two, and Harold comes to usher them to the subway where Sameen is waiting for them. It is finally time for Fusco to meet The Machine
Shaw: “The Machine asked me to give you a copy of her core code.”
John: “To do what?”
Shaw: “She hasn’t told me yet.”
“She hasn’t told me yet.” That was Root’s famous line. I just can’t.
Harold is able to figure out what The Machine wants. Samaritan made a copy of its core codes as well, aka Baby Sammy, and they are located in an air gap chamber. New order of business: Shaw and Fusco will stay and protect The Machine while Harold and Reese kill baby Sammy. It is time for Team Machine to say what very well may be their final goodbye. Harold minces no words, just says “Goodbye then” and walks out while Reese’s final words to Fusco are “try not to die.” And true to form, Reese and Shaw do not need any final words. They can just look at each other and understand each other. They are soldiers first, they have the same drive. They don’t need words.
Shaw and Fusco
Shaw and Fusco prepare for Samaritan to raid the subway when Machine-Root tells Shaw that there is a change of plans. The new order of business: blow the fucking subway walls apart with a shit ton of C4 and get the fuck out of there. Man, I loved this scene. I just couldn’t help but smile because it was so badass and so rewarding.
The subway car pulls out of the station but that stupid Samaritan recruit Jeff hangs on like a barnacle. He comes in and shoots Shaw. This asshole needs to stop shooting all the characters I love! Luckily Fusco’s got Shaw’s back (never thought I would utter that sentence). After they tie Jeff up, Shaw realizes that this is the guy who killed Root:
Shaw: “Is this the guy who killed you? Killed her I mean?”
Shaw not being able to fully grasp that she isn’t talking to HER Root is heartbreaking.
Machine-Root: “Shaw, that doesn’t matter right now. You need to get off this train at the next stop. They might be waiting for you.”
Shaw: “What about you?”
Machine-Root: “I don’t think I have much time left. There’s something else I wanted to tell you before I’m gone. ”
Shaw: “Is this the part where you tell me that I should live out the rest of my days in peace? Grow an herb garden or something.”
Machine-Root: “No. I chose you for exactly who you are. But there is something I think Root had wanted to say to you. You always thought there was something wrong with you because you don’t feel things the way other people do. But she always felt that was what made you beautiful. She wanted you to know that if you were a shape, you were a straight line. An arrow.”
There is so much to unpack here. The MACHINE picked Shaw. She saw her for who she was. She knew who Shaw was and still wanted her. I also love how this reinforces how intertwined The Machine and Root really are. I know. I know that it isn’t Root. But it is also more than just her voice. They both love Sameen. They both think the same way.
And then there is what Root said. What Root wanted Shaw to know. That there is nothing wrong with her. That she is who she is. She is a line, a constant, and that is what makes her beautiful. And THAT is why Root was Shaw’s safe place, because she didn’t just allow Shaw to be herself, but she loved Shaw for being herself. And for the first time ever, we see tears come down from Sameen’s eyes. That small little sociopath who has no feelings just cried. She listened closely to those soft whispers of emotions muffled on an old tape and heard her feelings.
Harold and Reese
Harold and Reese head down to the Federal Reserve where The Machine helps Harold and Reese navigate the caves of Gringotts and then opens the huge ass vault for them. I couldn’t stop thinking how much easier everyone’s life would have been if Harold had just LET HER ACCESS THE OPEN SYSTEM. When they get into the vault Harold starts doing his computery thing while John is busy doing his fighting thing. I am really going to miss watching John’s hand to hand combat scenes. This scene is even better though because he knocks the guy out with a BRICK OF GOLD! Like how badass is that? The intertwining of action and emotion is just amazing. Why is this show so good? Why is this show over?
As Harold is uploading the virus onto baby Sammy though, Sammy initiates some backup measures that uploads a second baby Sammy onto a space satellite where the virus can’t reach. This leaves team machine with one final option: upload the last remaining core codes of The Machine into outer space where the final Machine vs. Samaritan Battle Royale will commence. Harold is apprehensive. He has run this simulation over a baggillion times and The Machine did not win once. What is different now? The Machine assures him that what is different is that she has no other choice but to win.
The big downside to this plan though is that Samaritan will launch a missile attack to wherever the Machine is uploaded. Whoever uploads The Machine will have to sacrifice their life. Since Harold started this fight he wants to be the one who ends it. So, to make sure John doesn’t try to stop him, Harold locks John inside the vault where they have a final goodbye.
Finch: “When I hired you I suspected you were gonna be a great employee. What I couldn’t have anticipated was that you would become such a good friend.”
Helpless, John just screams out at him trying to stop him. This was so sad that I felt like I was going to throw up.
Harold leaves to complete his mission but get stops by Samaritan in Time Square. Every New Yorker knows never to walk through Time Square EVER, unless it is 100% necessary. Via all of Time Square’s jumbotrons, Samaritan tries to convince Harold that Samaritan is the good guy. But Harold knows what he needs to do, and continues on with his mission.
Standing on the roof, ready to finally end this war, and meet his fate, he realizes that he isn’t on the right building. And then he hears John through his earpiece:
John: “The right building Finch. For you.”
He looks over to the adjacent building’s rooftop and sees John. John had made a deal with The Machine that if someone had to sacrifice their life for this fight, it would be John.
Machine-Root: “Sorry Harry. A deal’s a deal. You know as well as I do that he wasn’t gonna let you die.”
Finch: “This wasn’t supposed to be the way.”
John: “Sure it is. This is what I do remember? When you came to me you gave me a job, a purpose. At first well, I’ve been trying to save the world for so long, saving one life at a time seemed a bit anticlimactic. Then I realized, sometimes one life, if it’s the right life, it’s enough. Goodbye Harold.”
This scene gets to me so much that even writing about it days later makes me feel nauseous.
The evolution of this partnership has been amazing to watch. They saved each other’s lives. They gave each other companionship and meaning. When I think back on their relationship I can’t help but smile. When the two of them take care of a baby in Season One or when they are trying to give Bear a bath together in Season 2’s “In Extremis.” But more importantly I love how John will drop everything he is doing in order to save Harold. This was how it had to end for John. This was his fate. His purpose.
The Machine promises Harold that even though she is dying, she will stay with John for as long as she can. And, as she is convincing Harold to save himself, so John would not die in vain, she finally remembers the quote.
Machine-Root: “It was a police officer. He’d had to notify a family of a death. The thirty-fifth notification that he’d had to make over the years. And afterwards he said something I’d remembered.”
Cop: “They say everyone dies alone”
Cop 2: “Sure, everyone dies alone but if you mean something to someone. If you help someone or love someone. If even a single person remembers you then maybe you never really die at all.”
Machine-Root: “I know I’ve made some mistakes. Many mistakes. But we helped some people. Didn’t we?”
Finch: “Yes. Yes we did.”
Machine-Root: “Goodbye, Harold.”
The Machine finally got the approval that she always wanted from Harold. In her last dying moment, he finally found it in himself to show her compassion. Tell her she had made a difference. Showed her he cared. And in return, The Machine upholds her promise to Harold, and stays with John as long as she can to help him fight off Samaritan.
A Week or so Later
Finch goes to France and is reunited with Grace. To me this was not very important, and actually a bit disappointing. I feel like he just wiped his hands clean from it all and got an actual happy ending when no one else did. I know that is what John and Root would have wanted for him, but after this season, and what he put everyone through, his happy ending makes me a little angry.
Back to things I care about:
Shaw tracks down Jeff, where he begs for his life with the always convincing argument “I was just doing my job.”
Shaw: “In fact a few years ago I would have killed you without a second thought. But then I met some people. Some good people and they taught me the value of life.”
Jeff: “Those people, they wouldn’t want you to kill me.”
Shaw: “You’re right, but they’re all dead.”
And then shoots him straight in the chest and then goes to meet Fusco at an Irish pub. Fusco asks what her plans are and she shrugs and says:
Shaw: “I just came to collect my dog.”
In Season three, when asked why she is working with team Machine she says “I’m just in it for the dog.” And here is a perfect example of how Shaw is a line, a straight arrow. She is who she is through and through.
The Machine continues again with her monologue, her instructions she left for herself if she somehow found a way to survive this war. A way to remember:
Machine-Root: “If you can hear this you’re alone. The only thing left of me is the sound of my voice. I don’t know if any of us made it. Did we win? Did we lose? I don’t know. But either way it’s over. So let me tell you who we were. Let me tell you who YOU are. Someone once asked me if I had learned something from it all. So let me tell you what I learned. I learned everyone dies alone, but if you meant something to someone. If you helped someone. You loved someone. If even a single person remembers you then maybe you never really die. And maybe, this isn’t the end at all.”
During this voice over, Shaw hears a payphone ring while walking the streets of NYC and stops to answer it. As she listens her face again softens and she looks up at a street cam and a huge grin come onto her face. The Machine is back, the mission is back. All I ever wanted was for Bear, Shaw and Root to live happily ever after together. And while I know that didn’t happen, this is close enough to make me happy.
And with that, I very sadly bid Person of Interest farewell.
This was a beautiful episode 🙁
What a great review to my favorite show. I was not ready to let it go either. I still catch reruns on the local station and am absolutely giddy when I find one I haven’t seen. I will miss it but watching those reruns will help the loss.
Great review for a great show, you said exactly what I was thinking. Never teared up at the sight of a character wearing another character’s leather jacket before
Thanks Michelle. So are we sure that was Root’s leather jacket? I know Root had a few of them, and I was trying to compare the one Shaw was wearing to different ones Root wore in the past, and none of the looked identical, so I wasn’t sure if it really was Root’s or not.
Great review. Well-written piece. Still, I teared up when I read your story. Though I don’t know why CBS decided to cancel the show, but I’m glad there is no plans to run a Person of Interest: Shaw or something of that nature. The show did end on a high note and the death of Reese completed the book of a world where we are spied upon…still, I will miss this show. Yet I wondered as well as many PoIers, what would have happened if this was all a simulation with Nathan and Harold deciding to not create the machine?
Regardless, it ended and your story brought back s flood of memories…good job Alyssa
Great review! I’ll admit I cried all over again while reading it. I’m so sorry to see this show go, but I don’t think it could have ended in a better way for me. That shot of Machine!Root with her hand on John’s shoulder!!!