Review: Person of Interest – 4.11 “If-Then-Else”

In which the Machine tries to solve an unsolvable problem and Team Machine’s lives are on the line.  Just another day at the office.

****SPOILERS BELOW*****

Person of Interest has evolved from being a vigilante procedural to serialized drama with a bit of sci-fi built in the mix. This was the first foray into playing with time in a very clever way. Let’s back up. In the previous episode Samaritan declared war on the Machine and it’s assets (Team Machine). It also flexed its muscles by crashing Wall Street. This week starts off in the chaos of the Market collapse, and the Machine’s solution to this predicted problem. Everyone, meaning everyone but Shaw since she is too recognizable, breaks into the sub-basement of the Stock Exchange. They are going to upload a virus and stop Samaritan in its tracks. However, Samaritan is two steps ahead, and the whole thing is a trap for the human assets of the Machine.

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This is where the fun begins or the tragedy depending on how you look at it. The team is trapped in a room under fire and they have two objectives to complete in order to escape. Upload the virus and restore power to the elevators so they can escape. The Machine has to calculate the best options to complete these tasks, and not lose any of its assets. Time slows to a crawl as the Machine punches through the variables and off they go. Harold and Root team up to upload the virus, while Reese and Fusco secure the escape route. Both teams run into critical problems and Harold takes a bullet to the chest, dying in Roots arms. Wait, what? That can’t be right.

Well apparently, it’s not as the Machine backs us up to the point of decision where the teams split up. Psych, it was a simulation. This is where the episode sets itself apart from anything the show has ever done before, and the title starts to make sense. It’s the basis for computer programming, since “if, then, else” statements are the core of the language. It’s how the program runs, and also how the Machine is flashing through so many variables in this no win scenario.

Between simulations, we are treated to a flashback with Harold teaching the Machine how to play chess. In one afternoon, it goes from a novice to a grandmaster, but that is not the point of the lesson. Harold tells it that chess is flawed game because people cannot be given weighted values like queens and pawns. If the Machine learns anything from Harold its that everyone is equal. That lesson is put to use as the Machine struggles to come up with a sequence of events that will complete the mission and save its assets lives.

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The simulations repeat with variations in mission objectives and team configurations ending in different character deaths. Reese went out like a boss with multiple gun shots and explosions. Root faced a firing squad, but managed to have a heart to heart with Shaw before hand professing her undying love. Well maybe more like she pleaded with Shaw for an opportunity to go out with her, if they were the last two people on Earth. She was happy with a “maybe” from Shaw. It was sweet. Then bloody once the firing squad bit happened.

Speaking of Shaw, she was in a weird loop trying to talk down a guy in a bomb vest. She is not the most friendly people person, so many of her solutions ended up with her shooting the guy in the head. Finally, Fusco managed to give her some good advice and she talked her guy down. Way to go Fusco.

The best parts of this die and repeat scenario was random moments like Finch appreciating a painting, Fusco kissing Root (what??), and the Machine replacing dialogue with approximations of how the characters speak to each other. The last bit was a great piece of humor in a rather dark story. Harold uttering, “gentle exhortation to further action” made you laugh right?

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The Machine runs out of time on its 750,000th run through (give or take a few thousands), and back to real time. It goes with the version that gives everyone an equal 2% chance of survival. Those are not great odds, but Shaw finishes her mission early and lends a hand. After watching everyone die during the simulations, it should not have been surprising that Shaw was to the one to sacrifice herself in the real world, but it was really hard to watch. She kisses Root goodbye and runs into gunfire for the team. Root did not handle Shaw going down well, and has the biggest emotional reaction we have seen to date. That in itself is very scary since she so recently learned about that thing called morality. Not sure how she will deal with loss. Hopefully, better that Reese did last year. And by the way, what is the deal with romance on this show. If someone on the team gets a kiss by their love then they immediately die? This is not the show for ‘ships.  However, it is an excellent show for mind-blowing plot developments.  Can’t wait to see what happens next!

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Post Author: Libya El-Amin

Site editor, staff writer, reviewer, interviewer and all around TV watcher. Host of TV Campfire Podcast where we talk about all the TV shows I manage to watch each week. Sometimes the number of shows is staggering which means I have some sort of addiction. I also edit for television in real life.