Person of Interest has been one of my favorite TV shows since the first episode. It started out as a “procedural with a difference”, a high concept series of tales of a mysterious “Machine”, a computer that spits out the Social Security numbers of people in New York City who are going to be involved in a crime. The team, consisting of the Machine’s creator and the enigmatic urban warrior he hires as a leg man, had to figure out whether the current Number is criminal or victim, and how the crime is to be thwarted. Two members of the NYPD alternately obstructed and helped them, and all four people, and the Machine, had back stories to explore.
That was the beginning. And, frankly, no reasonable person could expect something so weird to last a whole season on network TV, much less five. And it only got weirder, developing a vast cast of hackers, millionaires, gangland kingpins, artists, accountants, and assassins (plus a great dog), an elaborate science fiction background, and two powerful interlocking themes in the nature of life and the nature of love. The Machine came to life, or had its nature as an artificial intelligence revealed, and everybody ended up fleeing for his/her/its life. It was just great, and I say this as somebody who does not like quotidian stories that grow dark and epic and end up with the fate of the world in the balance. I liked this one, though.
And now it is over.
I’ve been processing this for a number of hours now (having postponed watching my recorded copy of the finale for a couple of days because I was pretty sure it was going to end badly) and I have a few thoughts. But there are maximum-level spoilers, so please don’t click before watching if you want to experience the finale as intended– and what an experience it is. And if you’ve never watched Person of Interest, consider it highly recommended. Pick it up from the beginning and watch it all.
It does end badly, very badly. Yes, the Machine manages to get the Ice 9 virus uploaded to the satellite and kill her evil counterpart at the cost of her own life. Harold stands gut shot and suffering (both literally and figuratively) as John, faithful to the last to both his cause and his master, finishes the job himself. And goes down in a hail of bullets in the manner of a martyr in a Renaissance painting. He, at least, is really dead, and I want to go back and watch the series again because I’m pretty sure that this ending was built into from the beginning. Harold rescued John from death from despair in the first episode and gave him the home and the job he needed to survive. He was on borrowed time all along. Dying for the Machine, and for Harold, was always part of his deal.
Everyone else is in almost equal peril, the Machine dies, and we fade to black with 20 minutes left in the hour. There’s plenty of room for a happy ending, or at least a partially happy one, and if you suspected it at that point you know you ended up being right.
Because the Machine snuck an extra copy of herself into that satellite upload, and she very gradually rebuilds herself. We see glimpses of assassin Shaw and cop Fusco, and Bear the dog, all still alive and more or less intact in New York, and Harold in Paris with his true love at last– and then Shaw is walking the dog past a payphone, it rings, and she answers. Pan out, and we see the street through the Machine’s eyes, with Numbers starting to crop up. If this suggests that the series could be revived with most of the major characters and the basic narrative framework intact, there are plenty of people and petitions working in that direction.
But I also feel that the original run of Person of Interest ended up being a complete story in itself, and that’s not something that happens often in the world of hour long scripted dramas on network TV.