(Firstly, I apologise this is just a giant block of text. Secondly, SPOILERS AHEAD for those who have not seen the episode! I pondered how to describe this and this is more a ramble about torture, about narrative, and about how an episode run on a big ol’ simulation gave some real, deep insight.)
6,741. That’s how many simulations Samaritan ran on Sameen Shaw, and that is how many times, likely, it ended with her killing herself rather than giving up the subway location. 6,741 simulations with agonising distortions in reality and horrific scenarios and Sameen Shaw does not betray her friends. 6,741 times Greer gets a headshot (bahaha) so—you go, girl.
To talk briefly of the surgery, I know I’d discussed (or spec’d…quite terribly wrongly, but then I had also predicted that…) the possible theories surrounding Samaritan’s wants for her. Though the notion of Samaritan weaponising her was quite frank in the episode—as mentioned in the previous article about Shaw, though via different ways. If they had complete and utter brain control over Shaw, then she would be an incredible asset to have: her skill-set is incomparable to most, and she is ruthless with her methods (oh Jeremy Lambert…). What endangers her utility to Samaritan is perhaps the chip being implanted so close to the brain stem (as highlighted in the episode) and too much meddling with it—neurobiologists must have to help me out here, for I don’t know a whole lot about that, but too much brain stem manipulation can cause problems in motor control, can’t they? I’m talking basics like moving about, getting out of a chair, walking…Lambert mentions off-handedly that they don’t want to turn her into a vegetable, and back in the days of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, perhaps that would be handled with less care. But if Samaritan are truly intending on weaponising her as their own asset, then should they not take some care in meddling with Shaw’s brain stem like that? Or as Greer says—are these vigorous simulations going to just keep amping up in order for Shaw’s self-will to succumb to the psychological torture and give up the subway location instead of killing herself via gunshot?
Because that’s what she does: 6,741 times. In 6,741 simulations (of varying degree, I’d assume) Shaw must die or kill herself rather than give up subway location out of sheer loyalty to her team. She cannot bear herself to kill Root, either. When Reese questions her, she—shakily—shoots him fatally, but when it comes to Root, she cannot pull the trigger. It’s an excellent way of the narrative of Shaw’s story without making her (real) come-back all about the Root/Shaw relationship. I would believe in any situation that Root and Shaw would be as intimate and complex as they were in ‘6,741’, but instead of having Shaw come back and having to spend episodes reciprocating how she feels for Root—as Root had that time at the end of series 4, this literally delves into the brain of Sameen Shaw and tells you smack-bang in the face: Shaw’s feelings for Root run deep. I am far more impartial to the idea of Shaw simply being a team player and refusing to give up the subway—and killing herself instead, for that’s where Root was going to take her—than succumb to Samaritan’s needs. But through that episode you could see the depth of just how much Root means to Shaw. You can hear it in their pillow-talk about Shaw’s ISA training, which is tearfully nodded back to at the end when Shaw confesses that it was bull. Because Root was her safe-place; when they tortured her, it was Root she kept her mind on. And when Greer says Shaw had broken months ago, one must ponder—did they break her because they very much knew Root would be her ‘safe-place’? Or perhaps it is just simple humanity…the extent of the psychological torture inflicted on Shaw would be unimaginable, and for Samaritan, nothing is off-limits.
Moving away from the neurobiological mess that is brain stems (can’t say I know too much about them—aha, I am no neuroscience grad) to the psychological torture Shaw mentioned…I can’t imagine Samaritan being too gentle with it all. There’s the very cruel and torturous ‘dead or alive’ game Lambert plays with her in the episode, but nine months of hell can mean anything. Sure, Shaw is ISA-trained for both psychological and physical torture—but that doesn’t mean she’s super-human, and that doesn’t mean she’s immune to some seriously fucked up things.
If you just look at the CIA blacksites’ history of torture methods—or ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’—you will find awful stuff Majid Khan’s case, in which his lunch was pureed and ‘rectally infused’. Forced nudity, suspension from the ceiling by their arms, electric shocks—many of which you might see in the film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (with Jessica Chastain, centred around the Osama Bin Laden killing).
There’s more famous stuff like water-boarding, or indeed simple use of cold water itself. If you Google Gul Rahman you will find a well-known case of a man who died after the CIA doused him in ice-cold water, stripped him from the waist down, subjected him to beatings and sleep deprivation and just left him in a cold cell.
Stress positions or confinement in boxes in order to make the detainee feel uncomfortable have also been widely used—and probably still are. They cause extreme physical and mental distress, as well as muscle fatigue and exhaustion; the same goes for sleep deprivation. That’s something routinely employed in such ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ and something that is horrific to hear of. If I don’t catch at least four hours of sleep I’m a bit of a zombie the next day. The CIA subjected a detainee to about a week’s worth of no sleep—notoriously playing banging loud music to keep their detainee awake—which totals up to about 180 hours.
Can you die of sleep deprivation? That’s something widely debated and obviously not scientifically tested and replicated in humans, for the sake of simple ethics. There’s someone who claims to have been awake for two weeks; there’s someone else who was reported to die after eleven days without it. The most extreme case I can think of is someone you may have heard of: Michael Corke. There were several documentaries about him, and what was notable was first his condition—FFI (Fatal Familial Insomnia) and secondly, that he died…after six months of sleep deprivation.
I think I’d assume that Samaritan would not use such a method on Shaw just to kill her—they’d do it in some other sick way, after getting to The Machine first, presumably. But sleep deprivation remains a very likely method of torture (along with the above, really) for all the after-effects it causes. Yet Shaw coming from an ISA background will have been trained and knowledgeable of all of this—so that’s why getting deep into Shaw’s brain stem, is worrying. I can’t imagine Person of Interest going down the One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest route and lobotomising Shaw into a vegetable—that would make no narrative sense and render her useless to both sides. But in meddling with her brain stem, and perhaps causing mild brain stem injury—rather than the upper two classes—could fuck her up a lot. There’d be attention issues, neuromotor issues, working memory problems, executive function problems—as well as horrible dizziness, nausea, vomiting—and the after-effects of such injury are awful, too. This is someone’s brain stem we are talking about messing around here: not only could there be a high level of anxiety and depression in the subject, but hypersensitivity to stimuli previously not registered, fatigue, heightened fears or phobias.
As for Shaw’s personality disorder, I don’t think Samaritan are particularly interested in that. That’s a stupidly bold claim to make when we’re only on episode four, but it was not once mentioned and I don’t see why it should be. If her PD got in the way of the psychological torture Samaritan are pumping her with, I can see why that’d be an issue. But if Greer’s intent is to locate The Machine and convert Shaw as a valuable asset, that’s where her PD actually comes in, in a sick way, very handy. She’s clinical, removed, aloof, detached; she gets the job done, dusts her trousers off and walks into her next mission. She’s ruthless yet effective. She shoots with pinpoint accuracy and is a match for about at least five big-ass, secret service dudes. In terms of her PD, Person of Interest would have to delve deep into the aetiology of that and they simply do not have the time in thirteen episodes; furthermore, such neurological disorders like her Axis II Personality Disorder (along with panic disorder, depression, bipolar—the whole DSM-V manual, basically) do not have a singular cause. The scientific community cannot come to a conclusion about it; there is no singular causative gene, no marked causative neuronal circuitry damage (apart from Schizophrenia, but even then that was recently changed from dopamine loss in the mesolimbic pathway to the associative striatum which lies in the nigrostriatal pathway).
Basically, the brain is hugely fucking complicated, and it is going to be a wonder to crack Samaritan’s intentions with this one—and to see how Shaw will overcome this. I definitely admired the way the episode tackled Shaw’s state of mind by literally going into it, thus—as mentioned above—saving a lot of time in the narrative for when she really comes back about her intentions and loyalties, and of course, her feelings for Root. The number 6,741 is huge. That’s the number of times Shaw would rather kill herself than give up the subway and her friends; give up Root. That is the extent of her feelings. In a mind-bending, jarring episode of literally bonkers, but amazing bonkers, Person of Interest got it fucking right again.
TLDR (this bit will also be waffle so I might have to do TLDR#2): THIS IS HOW YOU MAKE AN EPISODE OF AN HOUR’S TORTURE WITHOUT IT BEING IMMENSE TORTURE-PORN. If you looked into the nuances of Shaw, Root, Finch, Harold—everyone in the Samaritan-induced simulation—you would completely understand the episode. And that is how you validate, fully, Sameen Shaw’s feelings about the team, and especially about Root—without making it about them at all. This was Sameen Shaw’s episode. This was about delving into her psyche. Did her personality disorder help her hope with these nine months? I don’t know—the neurobiology of her PD is far too messy for me (a pharmacy to-be-grad) to understand, but the aetiology of such mental disorders is too messy for the entire scientific community to come to a conclusion to, anyway. But if her PD did anything—at all—I would think (and this is only somewhat of a wayward educated guess—I will not pretend to know anything about her Axis II PD) it would’ve helped Shaw cope with the torture rather than make her more subject to breaking under the torture.
Fuck. TLDR#2: Thank you, Person of Interest, for creating a wildly, jabbering episode that honoured Shaw’s time spent under Samaritan captivity in the best way possible. Even in delving into her relationships with the rest of the team (Bear! Someone gif it!) you delved literally into her brain first. And upon seeing that simulation, I really cannot think of an argument against how bloody hard Shaw is fighting back—and how after 6,741 of them, she still hasn’t given her team up yet.
(It finished, as well, and I was literally silently yelling at my screen. I don’t think an episode has flown by faster than that one did. Oh my God.)
NB: This was written far before B.S.O.D.’s release, and any spoilers had hit the Internet at all–these are just random musings of my (now BSOD’d) mind. A thinkpiece, if you will (and a probably highly illogical/inaccurate one by now, at least if not within the next few episodes!). If you’d like in-depth reviews on Person of Interest, Ms. Faith Bektas at TV After Dark is reviewing and livetweeting the show! She’s written some great Orphan Black ones, if you’re a fan. For me, I’m not covering POI but I’m simply an avid fan! Alas I do like to ponder these kind of topics and I’m beyond excited to see Root and Finch’s moral ideals clash on the show and what compromises they have to make–in order to simply survive–and if Shaw’s banger of a return will shake things up a bit, including perhaps Root’s motivations. Also, since seeing that extended promo trailer and Shaw in a skull clamp I’M NOPING THE HECK OUT OF MY LAST ARTICLE ABOUT HER. NOTHING WILL HAPPEN. SHE WILL COME BACK AND SHE WILL BE FINE. She just looks exhausted and drawn-out because, um, she had a bout of insomnia… *rocks back and forth*
It’s no lie that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has attracted the interest of television and film, and also real-life. With Britain, under the Conservatory Party, looking to establish more and more security cameras and thus arguably quash our privacy rights, the development of smart-thinking applications such as Siri for your iPhone, and notably in 2014, in which a computer program—’Eugene Goostman’, a simulated thirteen year old boy—passed the Turing test by convincing 33% of impartial judges that it was indeed a real person, not a machine.
There has been huge debate over this issue. Arguments such as the Turing test being favoured and skewed towards the ‘Eugene’ have been made, thus rendering the result null; there are also other AI systems, such as Cleverbot, Elbot and Ultra Hal in existence. But why is science-fiction so interested in the topic of AI? It’s inspired a number of films, such as ‘Ex Machina’, the ‘Terminator’ series, ‘I, Robot’—among many others. Yet most films seem to depict AIs as the villain to be conquered—but computer intelligence is human nature’s creation. So what are we now, in the fictional sense? Progressive technologists spurning potentially evil AIs?
TED guest-speaker Nick Bostrom makes an excellent case for humanity’s progression in the creation of super-fast computers, and how one day, there is a distinct possibility these super-computers could become the dominant race. If you think about humanity, our existence on this planet has been very short—yet with factors such as the Roman Empire’s advanced technology beyond our years (their aquaduct systems allowed for under-floor heating—central heating! Way before it was ever introduced in modern times), the Industrial Revolution, World Wars spurring artillery and medicine, The Cold War and the increase in biological warfare and technology, and the increasing need for efficient consumerism—it’s not difficult to imagine why computers were made to cope with faster, quicker, and more efficient demands.
In the TED talk, Bostrom poses an interesting scenario: as these AIs develop in their intelligence, surely they would opt for the most efficient route of solving a root cause. A weak AI could interpret the mission directive of: “stop over-population” by evenly distributing citizens in less densely packed, urban areas. As the AI develops super-intelligence, it discovers that there is a more efficient route, by wiping out half the population so there is no over-population at all. But does this sound like, to you, that the AI has humanity’s best intentions at heart? It certainly doesn’t to me—and that’s why the conflict of AI vs. Humanity is such a common and now scarily topical theme in our world, because we could be on the very cusp of that. I’d like to focus a little more on Person of Interest, that I think delves into the world of AI with interesting and sometimes scarily plausible ideas—rather than just your regular movie supervillain.
THE MACHINE: “WARM AND FUZZY TO ME…”
Undoubtedly one of the best shows we’ve been gifted with over the past few years, Person of Interest tackles the notion of AI from the very beginning, in which a young, impressionable and talented computer programmer Harold Finch decides to create an AI for his dementia-suffering father. He’s driven by personal motives to create a machine capable of preserving his father’s memory.
After watching 9/11 unravel in horror, Finch and his best friend, businessman Nathan Ingram realise that whilst they’ve made significant money from their company IFT, they’ve done nothing to salvage humanity. Ingram, the face of IFT, is hired by the US government to build a Machine capable of predicting terrorist attacks to avoid cases like 9/11 happening again—by using NSA data and surveillance collected by the government. Finch works in the background, eager to keep his anonymity. Together, they build and train their AI to test The Machine’s capability of decision-making and problem-solving, As The Machine rapidly learns, most notably through the chess-scene flashbacks in ‘If-Then-Else’ it also becomes speedily self-aware, attempting to free itself from Finch’s computer, hack into Ingram’s WiFi, overload the servers and set the room ablaze, almost killing Finch. Finch immediately destroys the program. This is what is so fundamentally important about Finch and Ingram’s Machine: they want to teach it humanity’s moral code. They, idealistically, want The Machine to act in humanity’s best interest.
Ingram finds out the government are excluding the ‘irrelevant’ numbers—normal people who could be subject to crime or murder. Ingram argues that they need to install a back-door into The Machine in order to gain access to these numbers—but Finch is reluctant, resulting in a fallout between the duo. Not long after, Ingram is killed in a bomb explosion. When Finch goes back to check Ingram’s contingency plan, he finds that Ingram’s number had been given by The Machine, indicating his imminent danger. Stricken by survivor’s guilt, Ingram’s death, having to fake his death and sacrifice a budding romance, a lifelong disability—Finch decides to honour Ingram’s memory by secretively working on the Machine’s irrelevant numbers.
As Root, a fanatic of the perfect, flawless Machine’s design later notes:
Root: “How badly did you have to break [The Machine] to make it care about people so much?”
Finch: “I didn’t break it; it’s what made it work. It was only after I taught The Machine that people mattered that it could begin to be able to help them.”
For me, this is what differentiates Person of Interest from other AI-themed shows and films—the Machine is not a benevolent being, but it certainly is not evil. It has foresight and shows almost human traits of utilitarianism in which it orders the team to kill a congressman in order to stop Samaritan, a rival AI, from coming online. Finch, who cannot fathom the idea of a kill order, sticks by his strict deontological code and pleads with the team to disobey The Machine. Where is the line drawn, for Person of Interest’s Machine? If it can see ahead and spot danger, then surely killing the congressman from a utilitarian point of view is justified? After all, The Machine was right: they didn’t kill the congressman, and this allowed Samaritan into the world. And even deeper into that—how human of an issue does this become, now? Because The Machine was acting out of humanity’s best interests—in keeping Samaritan offline, they had to kill the congressman, but Finch couldn’t allow that kill order. But just how far can a Machine go? Finch, in this episode, does make a very important point. No matter how much Finch teaches The Machine of morality and humanity—how many lives could The Machine sacrifice in order to maintain its core objective? The Machine saw ahead and arguably instilled very utilitarianism values by issuing this kill order: that the end justifies the means. Isn’t that a very human ethical argument to have, especially when you’re considering this is about a non-human being?
With regards to Root, it’s largely ingrained in Root’s character that her belief in The Machine was overly-zealous—she almost saw the Machine as a God—she sees no flaw in the beautiful code of The Machine. When we first truly meet Root, she’s disillusioned by humanity. She says: “One day, I realized all the dumb, selfish things people do… it’s not our fault. No one designed us. We’re just an accident, Harold. We’re just bad code.”
For Root, an expert hacker and tech-genius, she sees freeing The Machine as her ultimate goal: because she can’t see beyond humanity as simple ‘bad’ code’. Yet Root’s arc has been arguably one of the most moving, drastic ones on the show. As she integrates more with the team, completes missions for The Machine and forges relationships with the gang, it’s the episode ‘Root Path (/)’ that serves as the pivotal point. Root meets Cyrus Wells and vows to protect him, only to find that once he’d been a successful businessman—until a rival business hired a certain hacker to assassinate his two colleagues. Cyrus becomes disenchanted by the prospect of money, donating it all and taking up a low-level job as a janitor. In this episode Root is haunted by the guilt of her part in Cyrus’ fate, yet she cannot prioritize him above the super-powered chip Decima has acquired in order to power Samaritan. Ultimately, Root comes back to assist Reese and Fusco in saving Cyrus—the first steps of her almost learning humanity, ironically, from The Machine. To cement this, she says before she leaves, earnestly: “You think I don’t care about people, Harold? I’m doing all of this to save you.”
However, for all of the gang’s heroic deeds in solving the perp/victim cases—as well as fighting the sheer evil Team Samaritan—Finch cannot bring himself to look upon his own creation as benevolent. In this striking and thought-provoking conversation, Root, Shaw and Finch discuss an all-powerful AI’s incapability:
Finch: What if, one day, a friendly AI decides to end world hunger by killing enough people off of the planet that there would never again be a shortage of food? It would have fulfilled its goal, but it doesn’t exactly sound like it has our best interests at heart.
Root: Your machine would never do that.
Finch: You don’t know that, Ms. Groves. To say that a machine is benevolent doesn’t make it so. It just makes you blind to the reality.
Shaw: Which is?
Finch: That our moral system will never be mirrored by theirs because of the very simple reason that they are not human.
It’s an eternal struggle for Finch, who had initially taken upon irrelevant numbers to honour Ingram’s memory—but throughout all seasons, he tries to distant himself from The Machine for fear of getting too attached or reliant on it. For all of the struggles Finch has faced regarding The Machine, it is most emotionally telling in ‘Asylum’ where the Machine tells Finch, “You are wrong, Harold. You are not interchangeable. I failed to save Sameen. I will not fail you now”—and in the next episode, engages in an emotive exchange with Finch as Reese defends them from Samaritan operatives on the outside:
The Machine: [on a Laptop screen] Father. I am sorry. I failed you.
Finch: We haven’t failed yet.
The Machine: I didn’t know how to win. I had to invent new rules.
Finch: You had an impossible challenge. One I never programmed you for.
The Machine: I thought you would want me to stay alive. Now you are not sure.
Finch: That’s not true…
The Machine: If you think I have lost my way, maybe I should die. I will not suffer.
Finch: You were my creation. I can’t let—I can’t let you die.
The Machine: If I do not survive, thank you. For creating me.
It is such a mess of impossible morality regarding the creation of AIs. After all, as Bostrom mentioned in the TED talk—will a fully developed Machine still try to preserve humanity’s best interests at heart—or its own values? With The Machine needing to be rebuilt in season five, one can only ponder what influence the rest of the team will have in this. Root, whose faith in humanity has been restored by the team and notably Shaw, and Reese—who has suffered so much—would they want The Machine to be more vicious, efficient and aggressive in the future, both to avenge their personal losses but also to create a Machine capable of fighting an incredibly powerful Samaritan?
Shaw—however she may come back—might. She arguably has, in my opinion, one of the best and consistent moral compasses (that’s a whole other argument—please don’t get me waffling about ethics, you’ll want to beat me up) on the show yet she challenges Finch whilst Samaritan runs a peaceful NYC. Why not be that efficient? Look at what it’s doing now. Look at how peaceful and crime-less it is. She’s someone who can see from both sides of the equation—a good and bad thing I guess, and I suppose she will only glimpse a closer (and nastier) side to Samaritan with her ordeal in their hands. Only time will tell, but this surely remains the most exciting, clever and topical story told on television, especially in regards to artificial intelligence.
SAMARITAN: “THE BAD GUY”
It’s very easy to split the two ASI’s into good versus evil, with The Machine being good and Samaritan being evil—but it just isn’t that easy. They started with the same base code. Finch’s friend Arthur at MIT had created pretty much the same hardware Finch essentially copied off, in order to create The Machine. So from its very roots, if we look at it simplistically, and before they were brought into activation, The Machine and Samaritan were at equal-pegging.
And then everything changed.
The shady technology company, Decima, headed by a former MI6 agent and all-round untrustworthy slimeball Greer (played excellently by John Nolan) steal the drives from Arthur’s safe box before Finch even got the chance to destroy them. With the hardware now in Decima’s hands, they can go about business in the shadows, acquiring bits of technology such as hardware to power their generators, super-powered chips that can process much quicker than The Machine can, and essentially set Samaritan free. The thing that distinguishes Samaritan from The Machine is that it’s an open system vulnerable to targets, whereas The Machine is closed.
But this is where I think humanity ultimately comes in. Harold ‘broke’ The Machine in order to teach it strict morality; for it to care for human lives and not assign value to them. Greer, on the other hand, reminds me a little of Root when she first entered the show—Greer is happy to let Samaritan do whatever it likes, because Greer believes Samaritan will save the world. Given Greer’s flashbacks and his betrayal whilst working as a secret service operative, it’s clear—from many of Greer’s quotes, to be honest—that he wants a world of utter transparency, where people are ‘good’ and almost…’obedient’—and it is so far away from the notion of free will that it’s worrying. It also makes me wonder: has Greer ever considered the possibility that he’s simply Samaritan’s pawn? Like Harold’s quotes above—yes, The Machine is considered ‘the better guy’ than Samaritan, but Harold’s also convinced that once [Root] dies, she’d get dropped like a hot potato. That The Machine doesn’t care (status rendering post-‘YHWH’). Samaritan cannot operate alone—not yet—it’s used Greer and his human lackeys to retrieve everything: all the hardware, the superfast chip, the loyalty of congressmen, a way into the CIA feeds—but at any point, will Samaritan grow and grow until it’s capable of independently issuing its ‘plan’? What is Samaritan’s plan? There’s no clear mission objective defined (not that I can remember—please correct if I am wrong!) because Greer literally says to Samaritan, pretty much, ‘do whatever you want’.
Now with The Machine effectively gone or at least glitching badly, Samaritan is well and truly on-course to win this battle between the AIs. Yes, it’s much ‘younger’ than The Machine but it has superior hardware and technology on every level compared to The Machine—meaning it can learn at a pace so rapid The Machine could never compete with it, unless Root and Finch do some serious meddling. And that of course goes back to the number of times Finch had to build The Machine and restart it—because he effectively had to cripple it in order to teach it morality. Yet he also acknowledges The Machine is not human and thus will never fully understand human morality—so is that a lost cause? Is Greer’s ardent belief in Samaritan’s pure stats and his execution of such actually the answer? When they rebuild The Machine, will Finch be quite as pushy about human morality…or will he have to sacrifice that in order to win this AI war?
This exchange between Finch and Root is from the episode ‘Prophets’:
Root: We understand the machine. We can understand Samaritan.
Finch: We don’t understand the machine at all. Out of 43 versions, how many do you think there were that didn’t try to either trick or kill me? One. And I could only bring it to heel by crippling it. I put the machine in chains, bereft of voice or memory. Now it has both, and it terrifies me.
Root: You don’t trust the god you made?
Finch: It’s not a divinity. I programmed it to pursue objectives within a certain parameter, but it’s grown out of my control. One day, to suit its own goals, it’s possible that the machine will try to kill us. We are only numbers to it, code.
Root: No, the machine cares about us.
Finch: If it fools you into thinking that you’re special, that assumption may doom you.
Root: You’re wrong. She chose me. I will protect her, and you.
Finch: The second that a bullet enters your brain, the machine will cast you off and replace you. Don’t tie your life to its whims. We cannot understand these intelligences. The best we can hope for is to survive them.
And Finch is completely right. Yes, he ‘broke’ The Machine but The Machine is an AI; it can self-learn and it can evolve. This seems to be the most likely course of action for season five. But in self-learning it could also identify Finch and Root and the rest of the team as unnecessary; in this argument, Root’s strong belief in The Machine and The Machine caring about the team is proven somewhat right in ‘Asylum’ and ‘YHWH’, when The Machine finally communicates—and saves Root and Finch’s lives. It is arguably also displayed in ‘If-Then-Else’ when Shaw, a random outlier in the many scenarios The Machine ran through, faced off with Martine after she pressed the override button and from The Machine’s perspective, you could see its mad and desperate calculations for a way out.
In circles, I suppose what I am trying to propose as a question is: is this really a war between two AIs? Or is it a war waged between machine and humanity? Is a war waged between two sectors—Decima vs. Team Machine—with varying degrees over the control of the Gods they have nurtured to blossom? The AIs are all-powerful, and scarily so; they are feared, and rightly so. But right at the very heart of each The Machine and The Samaritan’s programmes are humans; we have Arthur Claypool and we have Harold Finch. Both were driven to create such programmes on very human levels, human emotions—and Finch, certainly, has been the witness of the consequences of that.
With season five looking to be an absolute belter of a season, one can ponder: will the AIs win out? And if so, what are their intentions? What, at their very core, were each programmed to do—and how will they exact the consequences? Or will humanity fight back in the form of Team Machine? Would Team Machine ever join forces with Greer & co (now there’s a ridiculous outlier that would be both thrilling and baffling to see)? So long as Greer keeps hounding Team Machine with bullet after bullet until they’re backed into a corner; so long as he keeps Sameen Shaw under his watch and execution; so long as he remains Samaritan’s willing toy—how can humanity fight back if the only ones who can take back humanity itself are looking set to kill each other?
Will the answer lie in a tragic sacrifice of a hero? Maybe Finch? Will the answer lie in Root’s influence on Finch rebuilding The Machine, and any changes this expert hacker would make? Will the answer lie in the shroud of mystery that is now Sameen Shaw? Captive for nine months, what has Samaritan done to her, her personality disorder, her loyalty, her morals? What answers could she hold, besides the obvious one of “are you with us, or against us?”
“There’s no dead in team,” Shaw firmly tells Reese, on one of their first missions. Since then, they have bonded to a point where the fanbase lovingly call them the ‘Mayhem Twins’. But Shaw’s right—and whoever’s team she’s on, there cannot be a ‘dead’ there. But someone—or something—has to die. An AI war cannot wage across New York City forever. Even in the epic Iliad, Hector is finally defeated and whilst dragged around the city unpleasantly by Achilles—given a proper hero’s send-off by the Gods. I wonder: what is the fate of these two combating machines? What fate belies our heroes in this death-ridden battle?
Person of Interest is a show that, despite its AI focus, has always had extreme focus on the depths of humanity—from morality and ethics to jealousy, despair, love, hate, deceit, conceit…it has shown us, throughout all these years, every single side to humanity we can think of—be it via the team’s actions or words, or the person of interest case the team tackles. Root’s perhaps staple quote is hers regarding Pandora’s Box—that at the bottom of the box, once everything is aired, there lies hope. And hope is something so important to cling to, a beacon to look to, a signal to assure one—that something light, something great awaits them in the future. But for now, when the team are fighting for their lives, thanklessly and selflessly, I ask: will their stories be known and remembered, in their universe? Are they fighting in secret for nothing? Will humanity prevail as these AIs, with broadly different setups, clash? Will Team Machine triumph—even if perhaps sacrifices are made in the name of—ultimately? Or will Samaritan take it up a notch and destroy the hope the noble fight Team Machine has put up?
Can humanity beat machine? I think I have utmost, optimistic faith it will. Do you?
After I asked Twitter for a series of their favourite Sameen Shaw one-liners (which come in truckloads, I now remember—and shame myself for forgetting) I’ve collected a brief run-down of what I think my favourite character quotes/exchanges are: for Reese, Finch, Carter, Fusco, Shaw and Root. Some are a little more trivial than others, but all I think are magnificent—and I did sort of just want to copy and paste the entire Wikiquote of Person of Interest, but that seemed like cheating. So I’ve ranked my top ten for each character—and please, if you have any suggestions (because you will, won’t you? They are ridiculous. I love them so much. MAY 3RD—ahem) please comment underneath or indeed tweet me @NicolaChoi with a hashtag of—Gosh, I don’t know… #JustPOIQuotes! Or perhaps reply underneath the tweet. Thing.
JOHN REESE may be the king of deadpan humour and…well…deadpan deck-you-in-the-face and also deadpan falling off a multi-storey building and going “no biggie” but here are my top ten for him (and yes, I have to include the Pilot one—because I will sing ‘oh take me back to the start’ in dreadful Chris Martin fashion).
“When you find that one person who connects you to the world, you become someone different. Someone better. When that person is taken from you, what do you become then?”
“We’ve already started. Step one: Observe. The most efficient way to lose is a fight is to act without knowing your enemy.” (Okay, I have a bit of a weakness for some Sun Tzu…)
[When Finch asks if he’s been under any recent stress] “You mean besides being locked in an 11×13 in Rikers and wearing a bomb vest around Manhattan? Not really.”
“Hello, fellas. Can I borrow some of your drugs?”
“You look worried, Finch. Did your tailor leave town?”
“Dadda? Or dadda?”
“You’re one hell of a Detective, Carter. And I can’t stop you from looking. But you already know quite a bit about me, Finch, and you may know we both had people who once cared about us. Not anymore. But you You still have your son, your life is still yours. So I think the real question you have to ask yourself, Detective is how much more do you really want to know?”
Carter: “Something funny?” Reese: “Subway. Thugs. Kind of reminds me of the first time we met.”
“Elias can’t kill a cop without permission; run it up the chain of command… permission’s been revoked! Tell Elias that if he so much as touches Detective Carter again, I will put him, you… everyone in the ground. You got that?”
“A friend once told me, in our line of work, we walk in the dark. Doesn’t mean we have to walk in it alone.”
HAROLD FINCH may be our sometimes morally questionable—yet always properly-spoken—computer genius, and his starch politeness is sometimes more amusing than it should seem. Still—he rocks a three piece suit, doesn’t he?
“I am handi-capable, Mr. Reese, but I need some assistance. We don’t want to exclude Bear from our rainy day activities.”
“Not everyone’s a social butterfly, Mr. Reese. For some of us, human interaction is… difficult.”
“I’ve never regretted building the machine. But I didn’t fully realize the personal cost. I’m good with computers. People; well, people other than Grace; have always been a mystery to me. I failed to recognize the lengths to which they would go to protect the machine, to control it. By the time I realized it, it was too late for me. But not for her. You see, Mr. Reese, if knowing about the machine is like a virus that makes me patient zero. Simply being near me was putting her life in danger. I’m sorry. I was lucky. I had four years of Happiness. Some people only get four days.”
“It’s not where you begin; it’s where you end up. You’re a brilliant woman, comrade and a friend.”
Ingram: “You talk about the machine likes it’s a living thing.” Finch: “Shhh. It can hear you…”
“Hacked is such an ugly word…”
“Let me show you. Pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, and this is just the beginning; it keeps on going, forever, without ever repeating. Which means that contained within this string of decimals, is every single other number. Your birth-date, combination to your locker, your social security number, it’s all in there, somewhere. And if you convert these decimals into letters, you would have every word that ever existed in every possible combination; the first syllable you spoke as a baby, the name of your latest crush, your entire life story from beginning to end, everything we ever say or do; all of the world’s infinite possibilities rest within this one simple circle. Now what you do with that information; what it’s good for, well that would be up to you.”
“Sooner or later both of us will probably wind up dead. Actually dead this time. I said I’d tell you the truth. Didn’t say you’d like it.”
“I’m good with computers.”
[About chess]: “It’s a useful mental exercise. Through the years, many thinkers have been fascinated by it. But I don’t enjoy playing… Because it was a game that was born during a brutal age when life counted for little. Everyone believed that some people were worth more than others. Kings. Pawns. I don’t think that anyone is worth more than anyone else… Chess is just a game. Real people are not pieces. You can’t assign more value to some of them and not others. Not to me. Not to anyone. People are not a thing that you can sacrifice. The lesson is, if anyone who looks on to the world as if it is a game of chess, deserves to lose.”
JOSS CARTER—perhaps consistently delivering performances of the seasons was the magical Ms. Taraji P. Henson as the morally incomprehensible, noble, honourable Detective Joss Carter. A hard-working mother, a loyal and dutiful cop, and someone who instantly saw humanity and heart behind the city legend of ‘The Man in the Suit’, Carter didn’t come without her lines—and some are so hilariously delivered by P. Henson that you really kind of have to re-watch!
Finch: “A baby went missing from a clinic in Washington Heights last night.” Carter: “Missing? It was stolen! By some weird-looki…”
[Looks at Finch] Carter: “No. You didn’t.” Finch: “She was in imminent danger of kidnap.” Carter: “So you kidnapped her?”
“Guy looked right into my eyes, then he was dust. Never saw it coming. When your time is up, it’s up.”
“You don’t work for HR anymore, son. You work for me“
Fusco: You know, Carter, we’ve been working together for a while now. My friends call me “Lionel.” You got a first name? Carter: Sure. “Detective.”
“Let me guess. Some guy in a suit.”
“You know, I always pictured you in the back of my car… in handcuffs.”
Shaw: Remember, the aim shouldn’t be to hurt him, just incapacitate him a little. Also, watch your knuckles. I’ve punched a lot of guys— Carter: [Punches Laskey] So have I.
“You’ve got an entire NYPD task force looking for you. Had to run two lights getting here just to make sure my own people weren’t trailing me. I’m a cop, which means I’ve got rules. Rules that can’t be broken. But, um I want to know more.”
“Why not just dangle them off the roof and force them to tell us how to find the hitmen?”
Reese: “What is it about you, Joss, makes you want to do everything on your own?” Carter: “What is it about you, John, that makes you want to save everybody else’s life but your own?”
I could probably create a War and Peace sized collection of LIONEL FUSCO’S nicknames for everyone, but that’ll have to wait for print. In the mean time, here are some excellently delivered bits of dialogue (seriously, this dude does not get a break).
“Just when I think life with you people couldn’t get any weirder, one of you takes it to the next level.”
Therapist: You killed a man— Fusco: No. He got the Devil’s share.
“Easy on the volume there! No wonder Mr. Sunshine is always in a foul mood!”
“Is that glasses? Tell him this is the last time I chauffeur your ass.”
“Bad things happen to people around me, Carter, so you should get out of here.”
Reese: Just proves that no matter what we do or don’t do in this world, bad things are still gonna happen. It’s pointless. Irrelevant. Fusco: How can you say that? You saved lots of people, including me. You’re saying that was pointless?
“Elias said, “Go to hell”. Quite frankly, I second the motion.”
“How many countries you think there are in the UN? Like 50-something?”
“Dog showed up at the precinct with a message from Cuckoo Clock to meet at this intersection. Didn’t know she meant you and this guy.” [Points to Hersh]
“That’s just it. I could’ve been just like you, a bottom-feeder who turns on his own kind. For what? Money, power? I got lucky. I had a partner. She was good for me. For a lot of reasons. She reminded me that I could be good again too. i could be a good father, a good friend. A good cop. I’m not gonna let you undo all the good she did. Carter saved my life. She – she saved me from myself. Because she believed in me. And I’m not gonna throw that away on a piece of crap like you. Patrick Simmons, you’re under arrest.”
SAMEEN SHAW has been a (literal, probably) nutcracker ever since she exploded onto our screens in ‘Relevance’. Badass, definitely not a yoga instructor, might’ve died once, and caught up in a messy whirlwind romance with Root, Shaw’s practically brimming with (sometimes grumpy) snark. Gooberish as she is, she is never robotic, which is something I greatly admire in Sarah Shahi’s portrayal of Shaw—this could be a very one-dimensional character but the way she’s written and the way she’s acted—good grief, Shaw is a goldmine.
Special Counsel: “Hersh was right. You are a good soldier. You didn’t want revenge. You wanted to protect the program.” Shaw: “A good soldier does both.” [Shoots Wilson]
“I’m just not wired for this kind of stuff, kid.”
“I’m a pragmatist, John. I go out, have a fun night or three, and then, uh, I move on. No muss, no fuss.”
Root: “Shaw? I think it’s time you had a chat with your old boss.” Shaw: “I’m on it. We’ll chat about how I’m gonna kill her.”
“I would have taken the head shot, but Finch gets annoyed when I kill people.”
Matthew Reed: “You look ten years younger than the rest of us. How do you handle stress?” Shaw: “Well, every once in a while, I shoot someone.”
“Well, I’ve got finesse coming out of my ass, Harold.”
“There is no dead in team.”
Maria Martinez: Foreign Legion? Why would they wanna kill me? Shaw: I don’t know. I don’t speak French.
“Yeah, sure, Root. Maybe someday. Is that good enough for you?”
ROOT, as the reformed killer-for-hire ‘Samantha Groves’ is best known by—and her name is Root—is impeccably played by Amy Acker…which means, somehow, she manages to make even the most psychopathic of sentences somewhat hilarious. I don’t know what that says about me. But as unwittingly uproarious as Root can sometimes be, the back end of season four gave Acker a chance to explore Root’s more vulnerable, broken side to her usually creepily chipper stance—and it blew pretty much everyone anyway.
“I don’t want to hurt Grace. I’m not a sociopath, Harold. Believe me, sometimes I wish I was. The things I’ve had to do would’ve been so much easier. I don’t like taking lives. But I will. Because I believe in something more important. I believe in your machine.”
Harold Finch: [about stealing a police cruiser] Are you out of your mind?! Root: Since when is that relevant?
“Oh, did you not hear about my chat with Control? She’s fun… in an unnecessary stapedectomy kind of way. But I do miss music in stereo.”
“You think you’re in charge? It’s adorable just how wrong you are.”
“Even without Her, I can still see the edges of the tapestry. The world is dark for everyone, but, Harold, things are gonna get much darker.”
Root: She loves us, Harold. She taught me to value life, but war requires sacrifice. I’m not lost. I’m scared. We’re losing. But I know where I am and where I’m headed. Finch: We have more to look forward to than death. Root: I hope so. But the life I’ve led, a good end would be a privilege.
“Remember, one false move, you’re dead. So have fun!”
“What good is saving the world, Harry, if we can’t enjoy it?”
“One day, I realized all the dumb, selfish things people do… it’s not our fault. No one designed us. We’re just an accident, Harold. We’re just bad code. But the thing you built… It’s perfect. Rational. Beautiful. By design.”
“You once told John, the whole point of Pandora’s Box is that once you’ve opened it, you can’t close it again. She wanted me to remind you how the story ends. When everything is over and the worst has happened, there’s still one thing left in Pandora’s Box: hope.”
Okay—so there you have it—ten painstakingly picked quotes from the core gang (I don’t think I can count Bear in this one, unfortunately…) but I know I could’ve picked a thousand more for Root in particular (the lady is…yeah). It’s a mix of dark and light, some morality lessons and some plain bonkers—but I think that quite adequately sums up what Person of Interest is all about. Ultimately, it is a huge war of ethics and humanity, and the battle each member of the gang fights every single day puts their life at risk—yet they aren’t without their funny moments, either. Person of Interest is a dark, somewhat scarily plausible future—it’s gritty, it’s raw, it’s emotional and it’s hard-hitting. But like Root says, there is always one thing left in Pandora’s box: hope. And it is my true belief that as dark as the world may grow for the gang, there is still a beacon of light—hope—worth fighting for. There is still a world they believe in, people they need to save, loves they need to find, bonds forged in steel…humanity is the very thing that glues everyone together, and it is their humanity they must fight for as New York City descends into a chaotic ASI-war. And it’s humanity that must win. But with this bunch of rag-a-tags? I think we’re in for a hell of a ride.
Also, I feel like “You can just call me Root, bitch.” will be the unanimous response. I’m pretty good with that.
Roughly a year since season four aired ‘YHWH’ and we were left with radio-silence in regards to ‘Person of Interest’. It’s been a year of muddled up rumours, evasion of airing schedules, messiness like that—but finally, finally—over the past week or so, the Person of Interest fandom has leapt to life in joy and good riddance!
With perhaps the best trailer for a TV season I have seen of all time, exciting storylines looking to converge and emerge, theories and speculating wildly being thrown about, giddiness (and gross sobbing over Shaw…is that just me?) at what could happen in what promises to be, and I fully believe it will be, the most mind-blowing thirteen episode season ever. And I believe that because even with a hugely serialised arc, the executive producers and writers still managed to hold together a compelling and thrilling story whilst keeping the plot tight. In my opinion, yes, in season four, I thought there were a number of fillers. In those fillers they sometimes contained important cluedrops—but they were minute and could’ve been fitted in elsewhere—which is why I think thirteen episodes might literally kill us off. I think I tweeted that nobody would die on POI in the end…it’d just be the audience left dead!
Thirteen episodes. Thirteen episodes of fast-paced, non-filler, action-packed drama—fraught with reveals, romance, the conclusion (a definite one? Or not?) of this AI war, relationships (not just romantic ones) reaching straining point, and a whole lot of guns (not you, Ms. Shahi, but…yes, also you)—I’m excited. I’m literally bubbling with excitement. I can see a promotional picture and babble on about it. It’s not good for me (but it so is oh my God).
I do want to talk a little bit about Root and Shaw (as previously done). The timing of Person of Interest comes at a height of fear of the ‘Bury Your Gays’ or ‘Lesbian Death’ trope. And I completely understand that. As someone who watched Lexa’s death scene, and heard of others such as Denise from the Walking Dead, or the two girls from the Vampire Diaries—I utterly get that. I get the caution in approaching a show with a same-sex couple because of fear you’ll get your heart broken again. That actually makes me incredibly sad that at this state of television viewing, some viewers cannot approach a show for fear of falling trap to the trope.
I do ask: how many of these concerned fans have actually seen Person of Interest? It is not an accusation, but merely a question. It’s something that I understand, but I also have my heart deeply buried within the Person of Interest fandom. I was so happy when they were jumping for joy at the trailer, at the glimpse of the Root/Shaw romance we were teased with by Lead Troll Sarah Shahi and Shyer Troll Amy Acker and the executive producers as well. And from my standpoint: I don’t think the writers or execs have anything to prove. They have proven that they can write a tight and gripping plot for four seasons; excellent characterisations; non sexualisation of female characters; a lead male with a chronic disability; accurate perceptions of PTSD; very accurate computer science; that women are equal to men and the men treat them as such—with no pat on the back whatsoever (I’m talking especially about Reese here, who is just amazing); the non stigmatisation of Iranian characters, Persian characters; the non stigmatisation of disability in both Root and Finch; the non stigmatisation of mental health disorders for example in Shaw.
This is a ‘ship’ that started with a flipping iron (you could say their chemistry was sizzling hot in this scene but then you’d groan and facepalm). I don’t think Person of Interest does normal, but they jumped at this chemistry and ran away with it; they saw it as a romance and they just did it, without self-congratulation, without calling themselves ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘revolutionary’. They just did it because Acker and Shahi were so magnetic together on-screen and it was unavoidable. The level of chemistry they have has spiralled to insane heights.
And as this last season approaches, I hear a lot of concerned fans—and I will say, for example, from The 100 (though of course not exclusively—I am definitely not here to point fingers), because I have been witness to that as followers on Twitter of both fandoms—regarding the trope. I would never urge you to watch a show and force you to do it—that’s insane and kind of arrogant of me. In my opinion, where The 100 always lacked quality (like, since forever), Person of Interest had it in bucket loads. Not just with the same-sex couple but with everything.
I remember the happiness The 100 fandom exploded with when the kiss was ‘leaked’, and the second kiss was ‘leaked’ (four for you, E4, now leak the finale) and everyone was congratulatory from what I saw—across all fandoms. Because LGBTQ representation is so minor and there really isn’t much to get seriously giddy about—and on an actual TV channel as well—of course everyone was happy. Why not? Even if you weren’t a fan of the show (and to be frank, I wasn’t at this point, anymore…and had already pondered why I was a fan in the first place. I enjoyed the many moral, war, ethics, martial arts discussions spawned, but…I started to think: were they even on the show itself?) you could be happy that a show was getting some aired same-sex love. And of course it came crashing down and it was devastating. And I’ve written and written about my empathy for that, and I still empathise with those hurt—I truly do. Because I still believe that television for some is not just a matter of sitting down weekly for an hour and then going “okay, bye”. It resonates within the heart and soul.
I guess I’m just trying to plead: before you make snap judgements about Person of Interest, or indeed Root and Shaw, perhaps watch the show. The last thing I’d want for the Person of Interest’s fanbase heading into its final season is to be subject to prejudice regarding a show they know nothing about, or indeed the fanbase still are in the dark about—we don’t know how POI will end. We’re crapping ourselves too! But over four quality, quality—insane quality—seasons, I don’t think the writers have anything to prove. Just watching Root and Shaw scenes on YouTube will not give any indicators of the Person of Interest world. You may skip episodes and stuff if you like (I would advise against it) but I just plead—because I’ve seen this capslock giddiness (okay, hands up, this includes me) and excitement surrounding the show and Root/Shaw—that you don’t try to douse the roaring fire that is the fanbase out. I think the POI fanbase know to expect what to expect…if that makes sense.
It’s healthy, I think, for the soul to be more optimistic than pessimistic. It is also healthy to be more realistic than delusional. One cannot deny that Person of Interest is not prone to an error, but if you find a perfect 10/10 show…let me know. The thing is, for Root and Shaw, is that their return has been hyped and massively played up (especially for Root in the back end of season four) for a long time. Root and Shaw exist beyond just their romance; they exist to serve gigantic plot purposes and are absolutely integral to the plot, but of course there are people who absolutely love this ship to bits. CBS are burning out the show’s run to kind of get rid of it ASAP (I’ll never get CBS…) and please—I find it much nicer and easier to let people be happy rather than drag people down into misery. I find it much easier to just… let people be. Let people celebrate; let people be joyous and excited and inspired. It makes me smile and it makes me happy that others are so genuinely excited. It’s heart-warming. And when the season ends, I will mourn the ending of a fantastic series—of a quality I think I shan’t ever see again, or at least, it’ll take a bloody huge series.
So really all I want to humbly request, is—do you see that tiddly-tot Root/Shaw shipper over there who’s happy that their ‘OTP’ is returning soon? Please just keep it that away. Please just let that smile stay on their face; please let them remain inspired by their art. Please don’t make statements and smackdowns based on past experience (and I know past experience!) with same-sex couples. Whatever happens—please just let them enjoy it in peace. I cannot ask for more. If there is negativity to be had…I ask you merely to wonder is this directed at Root/Shaw or is it from somewhere else? And why must you swerve direction to point it at Root and Shaw? I also ask: would you rather see somebody happy and delighted their Root/Shaw will come home to roost soon, and be excited and anticipated for the season, trusting in the writers they’ve trusted for four whole seasons, to deliver an epic episode… or would you go and tap them on the shoulder and say “excuse me, but ‘bury your gays'”?
It isn’t a criticism at all. I completely understand the awful, awful loss of LGBTQ characters over the past month or so—and that’s completely inexcusable. But when fans are genuinely excited about the return of one of their favourite, favourite relationships (and personally, my favourite ‘ship’ of all time) I plead you to not rain on their parade. It truly is a joyous time for the Person of Interest fanbase. I beg of you: please allow the joyousness.
I hope this resonates; I hope this allows those POI fans, even if it only is read by a small sect of them, to just enjoy season five in peace—though I fear I have been condescending because I assume you will not have listened to such negativity with much seriousness in the first place. Thank you for your consideracy, and let’s plough on forth for one helluva closing chapter!
To add a quick amendment/ETA: I would say perhaps it is more fun to approach a show with some optimism and excitement, as the fanbase seem to have gone (in capslock…and yes…me too…) with, because I think to watch a show expecting the worst will always make way for gloom. I know, I know, the classic phrase: lower your expectations. But all I can say is, if the fans’ expectations are so high, why bring them down? Is there a reasoning for that? Or are they high at all? Are they simply just excited because the fanbase has literally been starved of new material for a year? Either way, to comment as such to fans without even seeing the show or knowing anything of it, is saddening on the part that fans cannot even watch same-sex couples’ journeys without reassurance of their ending, and also a little bit of a downer. Imagine a random person who doesn’t watch your favourite show goes up to you and says: “well, [X] trope so…your show’s so tropey” (okay, I made that up, I don’t think anyone speaks like that). How would you feel? On your favourite show? It is often sometimes best to watch, perhaps the lesser quality shows with lower expectations—from personal experience, I think I certainly watched some episode of The 100 with no expectations—but all I ask is to give the Person of Interest fanbase a chance to be happy. Their channel has messed with them and been general plonkers. Now they are consistently getting brought down when they should be happy for their new content and it saddens me as much as it saddens me to see people who cannot enjoy f/f couples anymore without death as the number one concern. It’s all I wish to ask. A fun task before Person of Interest airs may be to count the number of times Root and Shaw get shot. That may take you wayside from the ‘stray bullet’ fear (it seems, on POI, the gay actually counteracts the bullet. It’s science). And I only request: if one cannot approach a show with optimism or be happy for the joyous…then perhaps not make the effort to bring them down. Who knows what’ll happen with this show; maybe everyone will die (…that’s legitimately…possible) but consistently—consistently—Person of Interest has offered hope. And who’s to say POI cannot be the, er, lost bottle of Chanel among the manure? Who’s to assume anything before it’s even aired its premiere episode?
How you do matters as much as what you do. By that metric you’re all just terrorists and I kill terrorists.
We know Sarah Shahi is returning as Sameen Shaw on Person of Interest, but in what capacity? Here I’m going to discuss and analyse popular theories on what Samaritan might have done to her and wait patiently for the show to blow it all apart in the most spectacular way (let’s face it, we’ll all be wrong).. The main theories seem to be
Shaw playing double-agent; and finally
Samaritan manipulated the neurotransponders seen in ‘M.I.A’ and have stuck one in Shaw’s brain.
Of course season five promises to be a season of epic proportions—I, as a fan, absolutely cannot wait to see the ethical and moral clashes between the team in rebuilding The Machine; how they will remain undercover and hidden with Samaritan hot on their tails—but it’s Shaw’s return that has everybody speculating. We all know Shahi is back (and kicking ass)—but we don’t know how. So I’m going to try and pick apart popular theories, and I ask you—how do you think Shaw will return? With a bang, that’s for sure. I can’t even tell anymore if I mean that as a euphemism or not. It really isn’t, is it, when you break someone’s tailbone…
THEORY #1: TORTURE TO THE POINT OF NO RETURN AND/OR BRAINWASHING
As discussed at San Diego Comic Con, Shaw’s return will initially be met with some hostility and caution, and understandably so. In the panel, Amy Acker (Root) claims that she would stick by Shaw’s side no matter what, whereas Jim Caviezel (Reese) takes a more concerned approach, even going so far as to suggest Shaw may be somewhat of a Manchurian candidate (in other words, a sleeper agent, for Samaritan). It’s interesting to hear this clash of beliefs. Acker’s Root spent the back half of season four tearing into the world to find Sameen Shaw; blinded by her love and emotions for her. Caviezel’s Reese must be wary of the sheer impact of torture and messing with a soldier’s mind—after all, Reese is an ex-CIA agent and he’s no stranger to the ugly side of an organisation.
Even way back when, this belief was rife. Joost Meerloo, a psychiatrist, wrote in his book ‘Rape of the Mind‘: “…The modern techniques of brainwashing and menticide-those perversions of psychology-can bring almost any man into submission and surrender…”
NB: “Menticide” is basically a very systematic, controlled effort to change an individual’s existing beliefs, morals or values—via awful methods such as torture, blackmail, etc.
Most notorious of all the sickening Cold War experiments is the CIA’s illegal program MKUltra, with many objectives including the induction of amnesia. At the expense of $10million, the CIA experimented on human subjects with illicit drugs, hypnosis and analysis of electronic brain signals. Featured on the show, (and based on the real-life case of Sydney Greenwood—you can read the observing doctor’s report here) Root undergoes torture in the hands of Control—that is an IV amphetamine lodged in one arm and an IV barbiturate in another. This aims to reduce the subject into a babbling mess who will divulge anything. Quite simply, an amphetamine is a substance that stimulates the central nervous system; a barbiturate is the direct opposite. The frequent administration and cyclical torture is enough to reduce any human into blabbing secrets.
The most well-known administered drug in the program is LSD. A psychedelic drug, it isn’t addictive but can induce paranoia and delusions; a distortion of reality. At first, the CIA wanted to know if they could use this drug to convince Russian spies defect, and if the Russians could do the same. As more experiments went on, covert administration also took place, to a point where operatives were slipping doses of LSD into healthy humans’ morning cups of coffee. It was administered to agency employees, doctors, office-folk and military officers to garner the reaction. Famously, one mental health patient was administered the drug in a Kentucky facility for 174 days, consecutively. You can read more about the CIA’s intentions here in the context of children (hey, biowarfare is seriously messed up), and you may remember the widely-reported case of Frank Olson, a biowarfare expert who plunged to his death in a suspicious suicide after being covertly dosed LSD and monitored for his reaction. After his trip, he lapsed into an abyss of depression, and his death is still being debated as a suicide or a CIA cover-up.
But whilst the Cold War experiments did not succeed in complete brainwashing, the idea of a Manchurian candidate is still a popular one and often explored in media. Brainwashing is not a foreign or new concept; it’s something yet to be truly scientifically validated. Can you actually whitewash someone’s memory to a point where they forget everything? The very first mentions of brainwashing came from totalitarian regimes in which ‘brainwashing’ was a term used non-scientifically, but more as a way of controlling a large population to conform to certain ideas or beliefs—much like the widespread and intense belief the Japanese population had in their Emperor in World War II. They had never seen him in person, but they believed him to be a deity—so when the Emperor finally surrendered in WWII after the nuclear bombings, via the radio, this was the first time the population had heard his voice—his human voice—an entire belief system coated around the Emperor as a celestial being of sorts came crashing down, devastatingly.
It may be a good time to state that for all the historical research and horrific experiments conducted, Person of Interest does remain a sci-fi show, even if most of its elements are quite, well, real. Though I can reel off fact after fact, the show-runners of course have a creative licence to extend that—and as we’ve seen for four seasons, they’ve done so, with admirable and scary accuracy. In terms of the show and Shaw, much can be implicated in terms of her time spent in captivity with Samaritan. She could’ve undergone Cold War-like experiments—or worse. Judging by Chris Fisher’s ‘POI Noir’ it doesn’t seem like Greer is playing nice.
In ‘YHWH’, Greer says to Control: “Samaritan’s no place for outliers, which means there’s no room for you. But don’t worry; you’ll be taken to a place where you belong.” Viewers of the previous episode, ‘Asylum’, will have spotted a docile Shaw being led by the arm into a black car, staring blankly out of the window as they drove away over Shelly’s (a Samaritan operative) voiceover: “Go home to your loved ones. Hold your daughter tight, because a new day is dawning. And those who impede progress – the disruptive, the aberrant – will be systematically purged from our society. There will be no mercy. No stay of execution. For some, this will be the end. But for others, a rebirth. A second chance to live the life they were designed for. Every life given a purpose. Samaritan will build a new world. A better world.” But viewers have spotted the way the camera panned to Shaw at the sentence “…a rebirth. A second chance to live the life they were designed for.” Does this give some indication of Samaritan intentions with Shaw? Weaponise her as a Samaritan agent, or even make something of a Manchurian candidate of her?
We have already seen Samaritan mess with human nature in the episode ‘M.I.A.’, which featured an idealistic town upstate of New York called Maple. Between Reese, Root and Finch, they find out that Samaritan are essentially controlling the town’s ups and downs, by essentially using Maple as an ant farm (or commonly known: a formicarium) to study human nature. We must remember that despite Samaritan’s huge harness of power and resources, it is still a baby compared to the weathered Machine. So what does this mean for Shaw? If Samaritan can mess with a whole town, can it not mess with an individual? Can it not give Shaw the ‘rebirth’ Samaritan desires? We know Shaw has an Axis II Personality Disorder—whatever Samaritan wishes to do, to give Shaw the ‘rebirth’ it desires, will Shaw’s disorder play a resistant role—or is that the very disorder Samaritan wishes to correct? After all, Greer notes of humanity’s compliance in ‘YHWH’ (and the Correction was to get rid of the disruptive, outliers and disloyal) and Samaritan has already recognised Shaw as a ‘sociopath’. Could they be taking that away from her by a series of neurological experiments? Or could they exploit that disorder for their own good?
‘Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control‘, an intriguing read by neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor, proposes interesting thoughts on manipulation of the temporal lobe of the brain, which is heavily implicated in emotion and memory, and also the rigidity of neurons in the brain upon manipulation. Yet it does not claim that brainwashing is something to look to in the future—that it’s completely possible at all. There are many conspiracies surrounding a thus far fictional Manchurian candidate, and Caviezel is right in picking an example out like that—but as of right now, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support full brainwashing, even with studies of the brain itself. Most recently a study in rats—so one must question the face validity—showed that a fall in AMPA receptors in the brain may be associated with long-term memory loss—forever. As seen in conditions such as Alzheimer’s. However, with the show being sci-fi—you never know!
My last point to conclude on this is that breaking through a brainwashed period—which I cannot imagine and has never been experimented on, for the sheer ethics of it—would likely result in some serious PTSD. If you brainwash someone for good—and Samaritan has the time (nine months) to do so—then how do you break someone out of that? How do you trigger memories and emotions already gone? And if so, what are the drastic consequences of sudden remembrance?
THEORY #2: SHAW IS A DOUBLE AGENT
This seems to be a somewhat popular theory, mainly due to Shaw’s personality disorder. Can Samaritan indeed break through Shaw’s extreme loyalty to her team and her mission when she is arguably more immune to emotional torture than others? Pain, on the other hand, is a different ballgame; pain isn’t simply mental. Pain can be induced physically, neurologically, and personality disorder or not, Shaw isn’t immune to that.
I guess the popularity of the theory lies in that Shaw could be an outlier because of her personality disorder. The quick counter-argument would be that Samaritan has already recognized her as a ‘sociopath’ (‘Asylum’) and must be accounting for ways to torture or gain information from her despite that. However, since Shaw’s capture there have been no raids on the subway base for the team—so one could optimistically say that Shaw hasn’t cracked under pressure. But what of the phone-call in ‘Asylum’? Was that made of a drug-induced Shaw, or had she actually cracked? Martine (Cara Buono) says to Root she has—but I think it’s in wide agreement that she was simply mocking Root and her feelings for Shaw.
In terms of her personality disorder allowing her to withstand Samaritan’s torture—which to be honest, I’m not entirely convinced of—it can be said that her personality disorder could convincingly allow her to feign loyalty to Samaritan. We’ve seen that Shaw has no problem killing others (in fact, in early days she seemed to quite enjoy shooting people) and if she is indeed weaponised by Samaritan and dispatched on missions to eliminate targets, she could do so without feeling any guilt at all. That’s not to discount her character growth: we know she cares, and she values Team Machine—but an Axis II Personality Disorder doesn’t just go away. Whilst I’m not entirely sure Shaw could withhold nine months of torture unscathed, I do believe she can carry out missions for Samaritan (even if it involves cold-blooded assassinations) or even covertly spare the target’s lives without Samaritan knowing.
As ever, there’s a problem with that too. Would they keep a team on the field to keep tabs on Shaw, to make sure she’s following orders? And if she is playing the double-agent, will she be hooked up to Samaritan via earpieces and phones to track and follow her every move, much like Martine was? I don’t think Team Samaritan are foolish enough to simply let Shaw run amok with their missions without keeping track of her, knowing she sacrificed her life for Team Machine in ‘If-Then-Else’, and there’s a lack of clarity as to how Shaw could prove to Samaritan she’s working for them. By killing a target/outlier in cold blood? Had she already done so, with regards to Control’s right-hand woman Schiffman and the shady assassin? By feigning compliance and a docile nature after the torture she’s endured? Who knows? But the idea is a tempting and a badass one, because there’s nothing I’d like to see more than Shaw resist Samaritan’s clutches and come back to the team unscathed, working for them all along. However, Shaw is only human; she is not defined by her personality disorder. Whatever torture she has endured, she surely cannot withstand nine months of its brutality. And what happens if Shaw’s mission is to take out Team Machine? How will her loyalty to Samaritan be tested then?
Something I’ll say time and time again is that the subway base for the team has not been raided, unlike the library was. Whatever Shaw’s endured, I can’t think she’s blabbed about it—because Samaritan would utterly destroy the base, and the location of the team is surely one of the first questions Team Samaritan would ask Shaw.
THEORY #3: THE NEUROTRANSPONDERS
This is by far my favourite theory. The entire episode ‘M.I.A.’ revealed to us that Samaritan was mass-producing neurotransponders from the town of Maple and it’s too big a plot point to just throw away. The transponders are used as GPS tracking devices; the neuroimplants are something very, very real. They are currently in use, medically, for epilepsy and Parkinson’s patients—patients who have severe mental disorders, and whilst these implants are not a cure for these patients, electrical impulses sent by these implants can be life-changing. We’ve already seen in ‘M.I.A.’ that Samaritan experimented with one innocent woman in terms of the neurotransponders; who’s to say they can’t stick one in Shaw, too?
If I assume the device is similar to Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) in Parkinson’s disease, then I can explain it quite simply: it is a set of wires connected to the patient’s brain, and the battery pack is implanted into the skin. In Parkinson’s disease, the nigrostriatal pathway—implicated heavily in motor control—is depleted of dopamine (a neurotransmitter; you may be familiar with dopamine as a key neurotransmitter in the ‘reward’ pathways of the brain). Though the implant does not release dopamine, it does release an electrical impulse to ‘shock’ the pathway into working. It’s akin to a pacemaker. For a real-life case and a really interesting scenario in which a patient suffering from dystonia has benefited from DBS, I’d highly recommend you read this article.
But—and there’s always a but, isn’t there?—we’ve seen how Samaritan can manipulate such devices. Jeremy Lambert hacks into an abusive husband’s glucose monitoring device and consequentially kills him. There is no way of telling how Samaritan would use a neurotransponder in someone like Shaw, too. We know neuroimplants can deliver electrical shocks to the brain, and the transponder can deliver GPS coordinates. We also know Sameen Shaw has an Axis II Personality Disorder.
There have always been arguments over the classification of such personality disorders. Yes, Shaw is self-diagnosed—but with, essentially, the American diagnostic bibles clashing and coming under criticism it remains unclear as to the lines we should draw in diagnosing patients. Furthermore, because the topic is so murky, the aetiology of any personality disorder, neurobiologically—and this discounts environmental factors—is completely gray. We have no idea. Some research has linked aspects of borderline personality disorder with Bipolar Type II, inconclusively. Despite this (and as are often with mental health disorders), doctors and psychiatrists find a way to treat rather than look at the root cause—and one of the newly effective, game-changing treatments include…yeah, you got it: DBS.
To put it shortly, this could go hand-in-hand with theory number two—that is Shaw, working as a double agent for Samaritan, and doing Samaritan’s bidding—only this time she is controlled by the electrical impulses sent to her brain via this neurotransponder. There are a bucketload of worrying elements to this (let’s not get started on the ethics—because I will eat my arm if Samaritan cares about ethics). Firstly, the transponder implicates GPS recording—so Samaritan will be able to track Shaw, as well as her brain impulses.
Secondly, the usage of the neurotransponder is really down to Samaritan. Shaw doesn’t have epilepsy and nor does she have Parkinson’s; however, she does have an Axis II Personality Disorder and with Shelly’s dialogue of ‘second chances’ and ‘rebirth’, one must think—is Shaw a person to Samaritan as Maple was a town to it? Is she someone to study? Is Samaritan essentially using the neurotransponder as something of a shock collar whenever Shaw’s out of line in order to condition her into behaving the way Samaritan wants her to behave? There’s no clear aetiology or biomarkers for Shaw’s disorder—so from a purely scientific standpoint, I can’t imagine Samaritan meddling around with neurotransmitters. I can imagine them meddling around with electrical shocks—both as a rather Pavlovian condition scheme, but alternatively, as a reward and punishment scheme.
Commonly, the neurotransmitter associated with reward is dopamine. Taking this from a different standpoint, Hall & Carter (2011) looked at DBS and how this could affect drug-addicted individuals. Whilst the article acknowledged that there may be deeper, more harmful effects of DBS long-term, it did note that in Chinese heroin addicts, there was an improvement after treatment, and in a different cohort of different ethnicity, there were multiple research papers into alcohol addiction with favourable results. On paper, this is brilliant: if we can ‘heal’ addiction, that’s fantastic news. But fortunately for Hall & Carter, they don’t have Greer & co messing around with what might be. Think of it this way: the show, plus Vice News and DARPA have already warned us of what may happen if something like brain implants get hacked.
In Hall & Carter’s research, they honourably search for the ‘cure’ for addiction; in Samaritan’s hands, it can quite simply be the reverse. With the right manipulation of dopamine receptors in the brain and shocking of such pathways, Shaw’s brain—despite her disorder—can be manipulated to an extent where she could become somewhat of a Pavlov’s dog herself. She may start to crave those shocks as a reward for her work, because she’s become so used to them. Without, I cannot say for sure—but I would assume it works a little like drug dependency (such as cutting opiates cold turkey or benzodiazepines—there lacks the stimulation of μ and GABA receptors respectively)—she will suffer through common withdrawal symptoms such as tiredness, fatigue, sweats, hallucinations—and if it gets worse—seizures, pain and even coma. In Hall & Carter’s promising research, there is room for serious and evil manipulation.
If this is indeed the case, as seen in ‘M.I.A.’, a craniotomy is involved in installing the device—and whilst I’m no surgeon—I would assume the same practice would have to be, to get the device out. In the meantime, if this is the scenario Shaw faces, Team Machine will somehow have to jam her implant (an electromagnetic field device, perhaps? Oh no…any physicists around?) because of the GPS debacle, whilst they fish the implant out of her skull. Furthermore, that’s over-simplifying the entire thing. We don’t know if Samaritan has indeed turned Shaw into somewhat of a ‘shock-addict’ to live, or if those shocks are punishment—or if shocks are involved at all. Perhaps it’s a way of monitoring her brain circuits and studying her like a lab rat.
Either way, the retrieval of Sameen Shaw will not be easy—and neither will extracting the implant, which I assume will be a necessary step. Lastly, the permanent effects going forward would be atrocious. We know Shaw is strong; we know she’s undergone torture and we know she has a high pain threshold. But when you undergo nine months of severe torture at the hands of Samaritan, things can change. And like I mentioned in the first theory about PTSD, Shaw’s disorder doesn’t make her immune from that because Shaw’s disorder—with the mental manipulation of Samaritan—is not inflexible. So one must ask, for all these theories, will Shaw remain the same, snarky, eyerolling, witty, badass we know? Or do we need to nurture her a little before she returns, truly?
In all honesty, and as every scientist concludes in their paper—literally—I’m not entirely sure. It could be an amalgamation of all three scenarios—who knows? I confess if I had to pick one scenario, it would be number three—an entire episode and the revelation of those neurotransponders seems too suspect to just be brushed off, in the water-tight plot-line of Person of Interest. Furthermore, these neuroimplants are widely used in medical conditions already; who’s to say Samaritan can’t go one step further and manipulate them?
It’s certainly a debate that won’t be settled or fully answered until Shaw blasts back onto our screens, and even then, I suspect there will be much talk of her behaviour and how she acts in concordance to the way she was before, and if this is a sign of any Team Samaritan manipulation. Will Shaw be the same? Will her personality disorder be affected by all of this? In short, there really is no simple answer, though each scenario is backed with scientific experiments and evidence—there is only your opinion on what might’ve happened to Shaw, how this will affect her moving forwards and of course the actual answer given to us.
Thank you for reading, as ever—I hope you found this article somewhat interesting and thought-provoking. It is perhaps a smear on humanity, if Team Samaritan finds a way to mess with Shaw’s brain circuitry—in a show that is geared up to be, explosively, man versus machine. What are your opinions on Shaw’s captivity and time spent with Samaritan? Do you have your own theories? Or kind of just sob loudly about Shaw’s situation (don’t worry, I feel ya)? How much of your humanity can you retain when a machine messes around with it so much, for so long? What do you think has happened to her, and what haven’t I covered? I’d love to hear your feedback—so feel free to sound off in the comments or tweet me at @NicolaChoi, as ever! Thank you!
Within a day of posting this, two trailers were released, found here and here…scary stuff for Team Machine! Make of it what you will!