No "You are being watched" intro this week. We have no time for credit sequences. Because this penultimate episode of Person of Interest's third season, "A House Divided," must challenge alliances, raise even more moral questions, squeeze in the obligatory gunfight and cover 90% of the plot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier in the course of 60 minutes. Seriously, the only difference between this episode and that movie is that no one on Person of Interest has a biomechanical arm. Yet.
Since Finch was kidnapped by Greer, Reese and Shaw have been fruitlessly searching for him. Their pursuit has been complicated by the fact that people keep throwing themselves off of buildings at the sight of them. Root arrives and tells them that since Finch's chance of death is a mere 70%, they need to focus on other things. She reveals the team of smart guys she's been collecting over the course of several episodes
, who are doing something smart with the truck full of servers she stole from Decima. I have an English degree, so this crap is beyond me.
Since Decima and Vigilance now know about the Machine, it's easier for them to avoid being tracked by it. As such, the team now has to help the Machine get intel by taking pictures of license plates. Not really sure how a digital camera is more effective than an all-seeing supercomputer, but whatever. This crucial license plate belongs to the Secret Service, and from this the Machine generates five numbers. It takes a while to identify them all, but the ones they figure out quickly belong to Control, Senator Garrison, presidential advisor Rivera and a general who happens to be with them. In other words, all the people the team would most like to see die are now the people they have to protect.
All of these people are together because they're trying to figure out what to do about Samaritan. Greer refuses to sell it, but he will sell the info it collects to the government. That way, the government maintains plausible deniability in case there's another information leak, but they can still maintain national security. Control is not happy about having to buy back something that was stolen from her in the first place, but she decides that the benefits of allowing Samaritan use of the government feeds outweigh her displeasure.
Short Version: Samaritan is Bad News
We should probably take a break here to discuss exactly what is at stake if Samaritan gets access to these feeds. The obvious issues that have arisen in past episodes involved the two AIs getting into a Clash of the Titans-type situation and a private corporation having unlimited power over the entire world. We now learn that Samaritan is a threat in and of itself.
Finch and Greer have philosophical discussions about the Machine and Samaritan while Finch is being held hostage. Greer doesn't want to cause him any harm, but wants to make sure that Finch won't destroy Samaritan with his brain before it becomes operational. Greer seems personally offended that Finch would "muzzle" his Machine by making it answer to him and have limited reasoning ability. Finch explains that he had to cripple it because, when he first started running it, it began evolving at a pace far beyond his expectations. He realized that he'd created something much smarter than himself, and that if he didn't prevent it from growing it would be unpredictable and totally unstoppable.
Greer is not afraid of this terrifying future for Samaritan, which has none of the checks Finch installed in the Machine, because he was a child during the London Blitz and that really messed him up. It made him crave logic in a ruthless world, and so he's willing to let Samaritan do as it pleases. It's actually very similar to Root's philosophy, which also sprung out of childhood trauma and disillusionment. A hug or two might have prevented all this.
Violence is (Unfortunately) Not the Answer
Back to the main action: Rivera is deeply opposed to green-lighting another government surveillance system after the PR disaster that was Northern Lights. Control fairly easily changes his mind by telling him that his kids probably would have been killed in a terror attack had the Machine not prevented it. It's not looking good for freedom, and Shaw is getting increasingly angry that she can't just solve the problem by killing everyone.
But where freedom is in jeopardy, Vigilance will be there! Reese and Root are at a coffee shop waiting for something, and they approach a hipster on the Machine's orders. The hipster responds by opening fire on the entire shop. It's almost comically easy to take him down, and Reese and Root find out that he's Vigilance and armed with a computer virus. Vigilance is the reason they received all those numbers, which means Shaw really can't kill anyone. It's not a good day for her.
Root takes off to do something with her geek squad and Reese goes to help Shaw at the hotel, where Vigilance is beginning to arrive. But an entire power grid goes out, revealing the purpose of the computer virus. Shaw reveals herself to Control and company, begrudgingly offers her help and gets into a gunfight with Vigilance. The general is killed, and Control and Rivera are taken by Vigilance, but Shaw doesn't get shot so that's a nice change of pace for her.
Reese finally arrives, too late to help with Vigilance but just in time to have a standoff with Hersh. The three point their guns at each other for a while, explaining that they are temporarily on the same side and debating if it would really be so bad to just give in to their hatred and shoot each other. The decision is made for them when Root calls to say that Greer was the mysterious fifth number, meaning that Finch is now in equal danger. Since neither Hersh nor Team Machine want to see their bosses die, they decide to put aside their differences and shoot each other later. But by the time they get to where Finch was being held, everyone is already gone.
All Aboard the Backstory Express
Through all of this action, we occasionally get flashbacks into Collier's pre-Vigilance life. Back in 2010, he's Peter, a law student who loves his brother very much. This brother, Jesse, is a recovering alcoholic, single father and a seemingly decent person. But he's suddenly arrested by the US government and held without reason because they claim he poses a threat to national security.
Peter tries to use his law student skills to get his brother out of prison. The man he meets with shows him surveillance photos of Jesse with the cousin of an Islamic terrorist. They say that Jesse had fallen in with him before he'd gotten sober and therefore posed a national threat. Peter seems to believe it, not because he thinks his brother is bad person, but because he thinks he's being manipulated. After all, "Surveillance doesn't lie."
Eventually, the government lets Jesse go, but by this point it's too late. He'd lost his job, his reputation, his son and, most important, his hope. Jesse falls off the wagon and kills himself in despair. After his funeral, Jesse's alleged terrorist friend shows up to pay his respects. Peter is initially furious, but the friend explains that Jesse was his sponsor and had saved his life. The government had taken circumstantial evidence and created a false story around it, ruining an innocent man's life in the process.
Peter meets with them again, but they are unmoved by his completely valid anger. He tells them that they aren't protecting the world from criminals, they're creating them. As he leaves, he gets text messages, presumably from Vigilance, and becomes one of the criminals the government creates. All in all, it's an excellent backstory that makes for an even more complex moral dilemma at the heart of the show.
Robespierre Would Be So Proud
Now, after four years, Collier finally has what he wants. All the most responsible parties, including Finch, are in his custody. And what does he do with them? He puts them in the middle of a full-on, French Revolution-style kangaroo court. After all of the crimes they've committed, the US government is finally on trial. We're left with the team watching this via video feed, with Root preparing to go on some kind of suicide mission and me already counting down the minutes until next Tuesday.