Michael Emerson, Amy Acker (CBS)

This episode explores agendas, the priorities that must be rigid enough to move humans to action but flexible enough to allow for evolution and negotiation. The case of the week involves a bounty hunter named Frankie who is working undercover as a hostess at an illegal gambling ring in order to target her boss, Ray, who is wanted on charges of conspiracy. Business becomes personal when she discovers that Ray is also guilty of killing her brother, and Frankie’s mission changes from intent to capture to intent to kill. Harper Rose returns for another episode, acting as a mediator instead of an agent of chaos for once as she orchestrates the negotiations between the various parties interested in Ray’s fate. Frankie is persuaded to abandon her mission of revenge in order to save Harper Rose and keep the peace. Ray is brought to justice via a compromise that meets everyone’s needs.

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The case of the week isn’t rich enough to function particularly well on its own, but it’s thematically relevant to the rest of the episode and a nifty fight sequence involving handcuffs is always welcome. Frankie is one of many characters who’s engaged in some light, fairly chaste flirting with Reese, but this time there is satisfaction to be had, if only because this is a way for the writers to work up to Iris’ romantic confession. For a show that doesn’t hesitate to grapple with adult material like violence, Person Of Interest is fairly cautious about delving into storylines involving romance and sex. This probably has less to do with being puritanical and more to do with exercising caution, focusing on the premise of this show instead of what other shows are doing and not trying to be edgy just to be edgy. This is a wise choice, but the unreciprocated attempts at flirting and innuendo with a stoic character like Reese can get awkward for the many women who have tried to pierce that adorable, impenetrable shell. (Poor Zoe.) The chemistry and compatibility with Iris is difficult to assess because Reese is Reese, so the jury’s still out on this development. It’s clear that Reese is much more in need of a therapist than a girlfriend, so this could work as long as he still gets help somewhere. Iris knows that her desires to be both for him are incompatible; she chooses between two competing agendas with Reese’s best interests in mind. Iris ends their working relationship because she may not know if she’ll ever be with Reese, but she can’t be his therapist when she has feelings for him.

All of the aforementioned material is overshadowed by the storyline involving Finch and Root, however, because this pairing dominates every episode lucky enough to feature it. There is a lot of foreshadowing in this episode; enough that it will be very rewarding on second viewing but not so much that Root’s secret motives are given away. Finch is ready to make good on his plan to extract information from Samaritan via a Trojan Horse in Beth’s laptop. Despite his affection for Beth, Finch is willing to betray her trust in order to exploit Samaritan’s Achilles’ heel. The reveal that Root knows about the Trojan Horse and is planning to kill Beth is legitimately surprising; the emotional reveal that she prioritizes Finch’s life over the mission to destroy Samaritan, as well as the Machine herself, is legitimately touching. Finch and Root have spent a good amount of time negotiating one another’s values, ideologies, and priorities in some of the series’ best scenes, and the debate regarding the importance of Finch’s very life is another excellent installment. Of the two, Root seems more ruthless, but Finch wins the hand when he resorts to the ultimate debate strategy—swallowing some poison. It’s a difficult move to counter.

These effective scenes are a testament to not only this unique pairing, but the extent to which the past informs the present on Person Of Interest. Both parties’ positions are understandable—except for the murdering part—because of what each of them has been through. Root will do anything for Harold because, well, he’s awesome, but also because she can’t stand to lose another friend after Shaw disappeared. Harold is prioritizing Beth over himself because he cares about her, but also because he can’t stand the guilt of being responsible for another person’s death. It’s a reminder that Reese may have his own PTSD storyline with his therapy sessions, but Finch is also hurting. Finch has also seen a lot trying to save people, and he’s the one who has to bear the burden of knowing that he’s indirectly responsible for the very artificial intelligence that his team is battling. One of the most meaningful lines in this episode is delivered by Root, when she provides insight into her affection for Finch, information that’s especially relevant after seeing what she’s willing to do on his behalf. Root idolizes Finch because he sits at the top of the pantheon she worships, which is interesting given that this very role in the creation of the Machine and Samaritan is what haunts Finch himself.

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In the end, Root proves her devotion, saving Finch and disobeying the Machine in turn. Beth is spared but her relationship with Finch is destroyed because it’s too dangerous. The end sequence is wonderful; the writing, direction, and performances honor the complexity of the relationship between Finch and Root. Root knows that what she’s done could have destroyed her relationship with Finch, but she has no regrets. Finch understands that she has saved his life, but he can’t forgive her betrayal just yet. These two are at a crossroads, and the usual rounds of debate can’t fix what’s been broken.

Stray observations:
• Amy Acker does an excellent Scooby Doo impression because of course she does.
• The conflict between Finch and Root was very well-executed in this episode but I’m not sure that it made logistical sense. Isn’t Finch’s life always in danger, as is the rest of the team’s, considering that their primary mission is to defeat Samaritan? Operation Trojan Horse may have the most chance at success but Team Machine is already on Samaritan’s shit list, to say the least.