Person of Interest
Season 5 Episode 10: “The Day the World Went Away
Tuesday May 31, 2016
So I know I have been playfully talking about the emotions that Person of Interest makes me feel throughout the season (aka the past 4 weeks), but in all seriousness, I think this is the hardest recap that I will ever have to write. Since it took me so long to get this done, I think most people know which members of Team Machine died last week, Root and Elias. It is hard for me to explain why this Person of Interest has such a profound effect on me, and that is mostly because I am not sure myself.
It is rare for me to be this emotionally impacted by a show. The first time I ever remember crying during a television show was nearly two decades ago, when I was nine and watching the Season 2 finale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer “Becoming:Part 2.” Buffy had just thrust a sword through Angelus’s chest, only to realize a moment later that Willow had succeeded in turning Angel good again. She had just condemned the love of her life to an eternity in hell. I remember my chest tensing up, my breaths getting shallower and then hot tears come from my eyes as Buffy realized what she had just done. And that is when the sobbing began and I became undone. It was so powerful that thinking about it now still gets me a little emotional.
Since then, there have been only a handful of shows that have made me feel this way, Fringe, Doctor Who, and Teen Wolf to name a few. I guess what my point is, is that while yes, I do watch a lot of TV and enjoy the stories that are told, it is rare that a show impacts me on a level such as Person of Interest has.
This week, two characters of a show didn’t just die. No. This week, we lost two characters who exemplified that previous bad deeds do not define who you are. That redemption is possible. That one can go from being a killer for hire, or a ruthless mob boss, to die trying to save humanity.
Harry comes home to the subway where Root is waiting for him, ready to confront him about his decision to close off The Machine’s access to the open system. Even though Harold had yet to tell anyone of this plan, the Machine knew because that is what he created her for. To predict people’s moves. To understand them. Root takes the conversation a step further:
“I know why you didn’t give her a name. You don’t name something you may have to kill. You had to kill the first forty versions of her. But like it or not Harry, she is your child, and she is gonna die unknown. Unmourned. She’ll simply vanish without a trace. And you couldn’t even give her a real voice to ask you if it needs to end like this. ”
Harold argues that he did not name The Machine because he was hoping that one day she would name herself. As for a voice, he decides they ask her to pick one for herself. I want to take a moment and call bullshit on that self-naming nonsense. What kind of new school parenting BS is that Harold? I do not believe you for a second.
All hell breaks loose a little bit later when Harold’s number comes up. Harold made the mistake of going to the cafe where he and Grace had their first date ten years earlier and Samaritan figured it out. After saving Finch at his “day job” as a professor, the team regroups at the safehouse. Everyone on Team Machine is making it out like this is Finch’s first mistake. The whole reason Decima got its hands on Samaritan, the whole reason there is an ASI apocalypse is because of the mistakes Harold has made. His constant need to make decisions based on his ever fluctuating “moral compass.” I think Root describes Harold’s actions perfectly earlier in the episode:
Root: “We have the most powerful ally in the world, but you are too high-minded to let her help us. So we are going to end up the most principled corpses in Potter’s Field.”
Root pulls Harry aside in the safehouse and lets him know that she has placed a code in The Machine to allow her to defend herself, but the only way the Machine can access this defense system is if Harold asks her to. This is a perfect example to show how far Root has come since we first met her in season one where her only goal is to set The Machine free. She could have changed the code of The Machine herself, but she respects Harry a person as much as she respects The Machine, her god.
The gang decides their best chance of survival is to split up and Elias’s job is to keep Harold, his friend and ally, safe. He brings him down to the Double B highrises in Brighton Beach. The location where John brought Elias to keep him safe four seasons ago is the same place where Elias brings Harold to keep him safe. While Elias’s story ends at the same place it began, the man who died protecting Finch, is not the same man John met four years ago. John first met Carl Elias in season one when the alias Elias had assumed, Charlie Burton, came up. Charlie Burton was an unassuming teacher in Brighton Beach, and John thought he was just protecting another irrelevant from the Russian Mob. As it turned out, Elias used the cover of a teacher in Brighton Beach so he could learn the Russian mob’s secrets through their children. I don’t think anyone could have guessed the course that the relationship between Elias and Team Machine would run throughout the series. Team Machine got Elias arrested, and then aided in his escape from prison while ensuring HR didn’t murder him.
After that, their relationship became mutually beneficial. Elias would help Team Machine while dealing with shady people and providing them intel and connections, and Finch and co. helped Elias with The Brotherhood. Somehow, as most relationships on this show seem to manifest, a mutual respect and understanding between Finch and Elias organically formed into a friendship. And while Elias is by no means a “good guy” he does live by his own moral code. A code that at its core is built upon protecting the people he cares about and his city. And that is what Elias did, he died helping protect the people he cared about. One of the most sad and touching moment of the episode is when John sees Elias’ body, removes his glasses, and closes his lids.
RIP Carl Elias.
Meanwhile Root and Shaw are holding down the fort at the safehouse killing every Samaritan lackie that gets in their way. While the two are waiting for the next round of bad guys to come, Root tells Shaw that she doesn’t regret being in this mess at all.
Shaw: “It’d be nice if we could go back. I guess none of us has the life we want.”
Root: “Actually Sameen, I’ve been hiding since I was twelve. This might be the first time I feel like I belong.”
Root finds Shaw hands, and holds it, and Shaw does not flinch or pull away. They sit there, with each other in their safe place, for just a moment until the next round of Samaritan operatives arrive.
The pair heads off to save the utterly defenseless, if not “morally upstanding”, Harold from Samaritan and find themselves in an epic shoot out. Root uses this moment to try to talk to Sameen about their personal issues, including Shaw’s “Simulation Thing.”
Root: “Anyway, Schrodinger said, at its base level the universe isn’t made up of physical matter, just shapes. I thought that might make you feel better.”
Root: “A shape, you know? Nothing firm. What it means is that the real world is essentially a simulation anyway.”
Shaw: “You are the last person I should have confided in about this.”
Root: “I like that idea, that even if we’re not real we represent a dynamic. A tiny finger tracing a line in the infinite. A shape. And then we’re gone.”
Shaw: “That’s supposed to make me feel better? I’m a shape.”
Root: “Yeah. And darling, you got a great shape.”
Shaw: “I swear to god you flirt at the most awkward times.”
Root: “I know. Listen, all I’m saying is that, if we’re just information, just a noise in the system, we might as well be a symphony.”
There are so many things that I love about this conversation. The fact that they are having it during a shootout. The fact that Root thinks that this crazy notion that only she understands will make Shaw feel better. The fact that she can get Shaw to smile. I don’t think the two could have had more fitting dialogue for their last conversation.
After the shootout, Root tries to take Harold to safety, begrudgingly leaving Shaw behind to fight off Samaritan. During the car ride Root begins another philosophical conversation, this time with Harold about the people they have lost:
“I’m not talking metaphysics Harry. You built it but you refuse to accept what you created. I mean, Shaw’s a little screwy right now but she’s not wrong. We’re all simulations now. In order to predict what we do, she has to know us, and she’s gotten better and better at it. And the people she watches the most she knows the best. Better than we know ourselves. Nathan. Elias. Carter. They’re all still in there. The machine’s still watching over them. She’s watching over us too.”
This leads to the MOST EPIC CAR CHASE IN TV HISTORY!
It is just amazing. Root has Harold hand her a scrunchy because no one needs to deal with hair in your face during a shootout (also adorable that she calls it a scrunchy), crawls out of the sunroof with a huge ass guns and shoots some mother fucking Samaritans while DRIVING WITH HER FOOT.
After kicking ass, and shooting out the hood of the Samaritan truck, she casually gets back into the driver’s seat to continue her conversation with Harry.
“As I was saying, this is the next world Harry. The world you built, and as long as the machine lives, we never die…Listen, I know you have apprehension about what the machine is. About what she will become and I trust you Harold. I walked in darkness for a very long time until you guided me to light. And I wouldn’t change any of it, but we are not going to win this way. We can’t afford to lose. When the time comes, you’ll know what to do. And I know this is an ugliness you never wanted, but sometimes you need to fight a little.”
As they drive past, Root looks up and sees stupid Jeff up on the roof and throws herself in front of Harold to save his life. To me, this is not just a case of Root sacrificing herself for a “white man” as I have read some people claim. First, every character on this show lives every day under the assumption they probably will die. I can’t even count the number of times I have heard them say “It’ll be a hell of a way to go out” or an iteration along those lines. They are fighting in an AI apocalypse, of course there will be casualties. But besides that point, I view Root’s decisions in two ways. The first is a purely logical mindset. Root has programmed the Machine so that ONLY Harold can grant it full access to the open system. And the only way that they will win this war is if The Machine has access to the open system. The only way her friends and her god survive is if Harold survives. Therefore, if Root lets Harold die, then the war is over, they have lost. The second is, Root cares about Team Machine and their lives more than she does herself. The second is the emotional mindset. Root cares about Harold. She cares about humanity. She cares enough to sacrifice her life.
The pair is stopped by the police. Root is taken to the hospital and Harold to the police station where he has a one on one conversation with Samaritan. At first I thought he was talking to the machine, but upon second viewing, I am pretty sure it is Samaritan. He sits there staring up at the camera and says “I have played by the rules for so long.” The rules that he created to try to ensure that he was on the moral high ground. I understand the impact of this speech, of Harold finally deciding to take action, but it was hard for me to fully buy into it when Harold’s “Rules” seem to fluctuate as he sees fit. He takes the moral high ground when he sees fit. I think part of my frustration has to do with the condensed season. If the writers were able to spread out how annoying Harold was about his “rules” throughout 21 episodes instead of 13 aired two times a week over a one month period, I would have felt the gravity of this speech more. But really, what he is saying is that he is about to ask the Machine for help. Use the backdoor code that Root programmed. And, so, when he walks into the hall, he hears a payphone ring and when he picks up, it is Root’s voice on the other end.
The Machine: “Can you hear me?”
The Machine: “No, Harold. I chose a voice.”
The machine has chosen a voice, and that voice is Root. It is here that we discover with complete certainty that Root is dead. And it is heartbreaking. And devastating. But also amazing. The truth is, The Machine was Root’s first love. Root transcended into her god, she became one with her god. The one thing that gave her hope, that made her believe in humanity, that brought her to the woman that she loved. And to talk about the evolution of a character, I mean the growth of Root has been amazing to watch. When Root first kidnapped Harold in season one, she said to him:
“You may have told yourself that you were helping people but the real reason you built The Machine is because the world is boring. Human beings have come as far as we’re going to go. I wanna see what happens next.”
To Root, people were just bad code. They were inconsequential. Her new life goal was to set The Machine free. But then, The Machine chose Root to be her analog interface. She showed her that she didn’t need to kill people. That human life has value. The Machine introduced her to a group of people who finally made her feel like she belonged. She introduced her to the love of her life. And watching Shaw learn that Root is dead is one of the most heartbreaking parts of this episode because she can’t react or feel these emotions as normal people do.
But in the end, this is how Root would have wanted to go out. She is still living in The Machine. The Machine chose her. I am not mad at the show for killing off Root. It is what the character would have wanted. What I feel is profound sadness. Sadness that only a few shows have made me feel. Sadness that makes me feel stupid that it is coming from a TV show. And I think it is this that makes this episode, this show, so difficult for me. I almost wish that she died in a shitty way because then I could feel anger. Anger is something I know how to handle, how to process, how to sit with. But to be incredibly sad over the death of a character you have grown to love, but also understand it is what she would have wanted, how do you deal with that?
So with that, RIP Samantha “Root” Groves.