Person of Interest, Season 3, Episode 20: “Death Benefit”
Written by Erik Mountain and Lucas O’Connor
Directed by Richard J. Lewis
Airs Tuesday at 10pm ET on CBS
Following in the aftermath of Vigilance leaking government documents regarding Northern Lights, the government is forced to shut down what it calls The Machine, rendering all of the relevant numbers that The Machine flags completely unchecked. Thankfully, Root (Amy Acker) has taken over in that capacity, occasionally requiring the assistance of Shaw (Sarah Shahi) and Reese (Jim Caviezel). As Shaw points out, however, it’s still business as usual for them. The Machine gives them a number and they protect that number, simple as that. Just because the political landscape surrounding The Machine has changed doesn’t mean that their job has. Although, the number this week is slightly more interesting: Roger McCourt, an Illinois congressman who outwardly seems idealistically similar to Vigilance in generally opposing breaches of privacy. Perhaps that is why McCourt is being trailed by Decima, the technology corporation that is ever trying to get Samaritan, their version of The Machine, up and running.
“Death Benefit” excels in a couple of really important ways this week. First off, it finally demonstrates why Samaritan would be such a problem for the protagonists. In previous episodes it’s been little more than claiming that it would simply be bad and would kill the main characters. This isn’t something that people can just take on faith. This is episode was great at saying that, unlike The Machine (which is closed off as far as access goes), Samaritan is more like ” a sword”, as Finch (Michael Emerson) describes it throughout the episode, and is waiting to be abused by the wrong people. The government, or anyone else, being able to use The Machine was no real issue because it only gave people numbers. It sends you in the proper direction and lets you sort out the details. Too much power exists in Samaritan and Reese, Finch, Root, and Shaw would be at the top of Decima’s hit-list if it became operational, which it does by the end of the episode.
The other aspect to the episode that is so great and unravels slowly throughout the runtime is the fact that The Machine itself is capable of bringing about an action that is inherently immoral when it sends our heroes on a course to assassinate McCourt. For better or worse, The Machine does think like a human- granted, on a slightly higher level, but still extremely humanlike- and this is a thought that would occur to an actual person in this scenario. The only reason somebody doesn’t follow through is the conscience that bangs away in one’s head, but The Machine is completely absent of that component. Its only thought is protecting others and killing McCourt is the best way to do it. Beyond that, though, it’s the fact that Reese and Shaw are encouraging these thoughts. Like Shaw said, a year ago McCourt would’ve already been dead by then. The important part for her is that she wants to kill him now not because she likes to kill, but rather because it’s the best way to protect people down the road. For Reese, there’s an odd degree of trust that he now has in The Machine, or rather in Finch, but they’re essentially the same person. Reese isn’t somebody that enjoys killing. He wants to do it because it rings the truest in his moral center. All three of them are coming at this from a moral standing, but with different viewpoints on the matter. Finch, for whatever it’s worth, wants no part of it and he might be right in this thinking, but each way feels wrong and right at the same time and Finch himself may even start to regret this decision as the finale approaches.
McCourt is still alive by the end, however, still willing to support Samaritan, and it’ll be interesting to see going forward not only why Reese and Shaw ultimately decide to spare McCourt, but also why Finch parts ways with the duo at the end of the episode. With only two episodes left until the finale airs, events are likely to get more and more hectic with the twenty-four activation of Samaritan. It could very well become a battlefield and that should be nothing less than the type of excitement that gets people’s nerves boiling.
– Drew Koenig