Given that this trilogy has been concerned with the rise of Samaritan and the loss of Shaw, it’s somewhat surprising to see its conclusion shift focus to Control. At the same time, the choice to delve further into Control’s headspace makes some sense at this juncture, since there’s no Samaritan or Shaw as we know them without her. Control is an essential part of the Person Of Interest universe given her prominent role in taking down relevant numbers responsible for terrorist acts, but she’s never been the most compelling character. She’s ruthless and resourceful, but lacks the style and charm that make villains like Elias and Dominic so fun to watch. This episode doesn’t exactly change her character, but it does give her more layers, and even a reason to root for her all the same. Again, Person Of Interest is especially effective at exploring its major players’ motivations, and giving its villains complexity, so it’s rewarding to see Control receive the same treatment here. By the end of the episode, it isn’t even clear whose team she will ultimately be on, and that’s a great way to get the audience more deeply invested in her story. Samaritan’s betrayed Control, and you don’t want to mess with Control. Team Machine’s enemy’s enemy could become their friend, and Control would be a great friend to have under the right circumstances.
This episode’s angle is a good one, but it has its challenges. Spending time with Control means operating in a different world, a world that hasn’t been refined over the course of many episodes in the same way that the team’s world has. As a result, many of the scenes at the White House fall a bit flat; without the regulars, scenes really benefit from crackling dialogue, especially when the chemistry and timing between the actors involved haven’t had the time to develop. In this case, the White House scenes are too bland or too broad; Travers might as well have been twirling a mustache, when he should have been informing Control of his excuse for not giving her full access to the tech to avoid some of the forced conflict. Meanwhile, Samaritan speaking through a child doesn’t work at all in this episode. Some commenters were frustrated by this choice in “The Cold War,” but it was more effective in a heightened situation where philosophical banter about the nature of artificial intelligence was being traded with a strange nymph like Root in a children’s classroom, of all places. Using the trope of the evil child can be cheesy in a more realistic setting, and in an improbable setting that’s somewhat cheesy on its own like the White House? Well, at least we now know what Scandal is missing.
Thankfully, what doesn’t work in this episode is vastly overshadowed by what does. The point of “Control-Alt-Delete” is that Control really isn’t in control at all. She doubles down on her ruthless pursuit of terrorists and commitment to her duty in order to avoid thinking about the deaths that haunt her and the doubts that nag her. On another show, Control might be the hero, waging war against enemies of the United States. Information is power, however—even on an action-heavy show like Person Of Interest—and her tragic flaw is that Control puts all of her trust in some very bad intelligence. It was surely intentional that the dialogue throughout the episode was peppered with references to being “in the dark,” and other variations of that concept. Taking shortcuts when it comes to intelligence can lead to disaster, which it is especially appropriate to bring up the issue of racial profiling in this episode. Control’s case of the week involves a group of supposed terrorists identified by Samaritan. It’s clear fairly early on in the episode that the group is only guilty of doing sophisticated computing work while being minorities, but Samaritan supposedly has all of the answers. Even the victim of Control’s ignorance proves to be ignorant himself; when Yasin worked for Nautilus—a nifty callback to an earlier episode about Samaritan’s underground recruitment program—he followed orders, writing code without knowing its purpose. It was easier for Control and Yasin to avoid asking questions, for fear of what the truth could mean. He loses his life as a result, while she now has his blood on her hands.
Reese and Root are also seeking information in regards to Shaw’s disappearance, which leads to Control’s capture. The interrogation scene between Control and Root is a neat callback to an earlier episode where the former is in control. The writers see enough richness in the character of Control that they devoted an entire episode to her worldview; dialogue-heavy scenes like the interrogations are opportunities to explore that, and draw parallels between her and the team. Unfortunately, the writing and performances here aren’t as successful as comparable scenes from earlier episodes have been, but it’s still powerful to see Harold force Control to confront the truth. Her ultimate decision to actually seek some answers and follow up on Harold’s story about the stock exchange is very winning. Control’s last scene where she finally confronts the cracks in her reality is perfectly executed, with something as subtle as a fresh coat of paint being the thing to upend her world and open the floodgates of the truth. The security chief’s line about not being a janitor is also a brilliant callback to Harold’s cutting remark about her role in cleaning up the consequences of Samaritan’s actions.
“Control-Alt-Delete” may not be the tribute to Shaw that some may have wanted, but her presence is felt throughout. The grief and anger that Reese and Root feel due to the loss of Shaw is palpable. They completely abandon their mission of saving people in favor of finding her, allowing a presumed terrorist to get away if it means capturing Control and torturing her for information. The lost, helpless look in Root’s tear-filled eyes as she drives down the road in pursuit of a lead with a sleeping Reese at her side speaks volumes. At one time, Shaw believed in Control and her agency’s anti-terrorism methods. After discovering her partner’s research into the ISA’s tactics and the Northern Lights operation, everything she thought she knew was called into question, and she pursued the truth. Changing allegiances was a painful process, but it brought her to Team Machine. Terrorists may have threatened her family when she was a child, but Shaw was going to fight this fight in the right way or not at all. It takes a lot of strength to ask the right questions and start all over, but if Shaw can do it, maybe there’s hope for Control yet.
· Yes, I had a screener.
· It’s kind of a big deal when Control has technology issues. Call Andy Dwyer or the guys from The IT Crowd, woman. “Network connectivity problems,” indeed.
· There was a convenient dumpster full of packing peanuts just waiting there to break the fall of anyone who just so happened to get defenestrated in the area. Helpful.
· The ISA’s hitman team may be the most uneven pairing ever: Nick Tarabay is knocking his brief action and dramatic scenes out of the park, per usual, while his partner may be the least convincing hitman I’ve ever seen. Maybe the plan was to make Shaw look even better by setting her former associate up with someone not quite as effective, to say the least.
· Three words: Chekov’s rocket launcher