PERSON OF INTEREST’s episode ”The Cold War” deals with escalating tensions between the two AI units of the series, the serial portion of the show. It’s a theme that for me does not hold a lot of interest. The Human versus Machine detracts from the more interesting arcs of people versus people which the series has done very well with this year in the Elias versus Dominic confrontations. That is more what I would like to see and hopefully this trilogy will end with the destruction of Samaritan and get the series back on track. I, for one, am sad to see the rating’s drop in both overall viewers and demographics that the show has experienced since season three and I can’t help feeling the Samaritan arc is a large part of it. I hope the next two episodes in the trilogy change all that and get us back to what made the show popular in the first place.
Having said that, the mid-season finale, “the Cold War,” is a good episode. First we are introduced to two new characters, or personalities, Samaritan and the Machine, and the well-paced escalation between the two superpowers, or gods as Root likes to refer to them. Seems Samaritan feels it is strong enough to take on its more mature rival and sets out to manipulate the Machine into a meeting. That meeting uses human avatars; Root for the Machine and a 10-year-old hacker prodigy for Samaritan. Using a child to represent Samaritan gave me the chills. It was so creepy listening to a child talk worlds above his abilities. I’m guessing the symbolism there was to show Samaritan was still in its infancy but I would have hoped there would be a better approach to it than that. Still if the idea was to lend the series a more Sci-Fi feel, they did it. And we can all take comfort in the fact that both avatars were just puppets being told what to say through earpieces. 🙂
Anyway, Samaritans tactics began by showing the Machine it could effectively protect the irrelevants as well as the Machine could, though Samaritan’s procedures left a lot to be desired. The number it ‘handled’ involved a woman who planned on killing her abusive husband. Samaritan solved the problem by killing the husband for her, sending false info to his insulin reader causing him to overdose on the drug. Not the solution Reese and Finch would have perpetuated but as far as Samaritan was concerned, it had solved the problem. Noticeably, if Samaritan really plans on emulating Team Machine, it has a lot to learn.
It bolstered its ‘benefit’ position by sending out anonymous email tips to local enforcement leading to the incarceration of several criminals. Fusco was ecstatic about the situation but Reese was waiting for the other shoe to drop…. and it did with a bang.
Once Finch realized what Samaritans was doing he went on a rampage chastising Samaritan for being judge, jury, and executioner. He argued that people can’t trust artificial intelligence because it follows orders without the benefit of human logic. He also reminded everyone about the Machine’s indiscretion when it asked the team to kill a senator (which would have stopped all this destruction from happening in the first place.) It was sad to see Finch still did not understand the Machine’s rational with the incident. Finch has programmed it to protect humans, reveal dangers to them and report them appropriately. That’s what it did. The Machine realized the Senator was a danger, but offered no solution to the problem. That was for human logic to work out if you believe Finch’s speech to Reese in “4C”. Unfortunately the only solution that presented itself was the death of the Senator, which Finch refused to allow. The Machine did what it was programmed to do. Finch was left with the decision to resolve the danger and unfortunately for humanity, Finch made the wrong choice. How many people have die at Samaritan’s hand that would not have died if the senator had? How does that saying go, “The sacrifice of the one, to save the many?” Finch is smart enough to have seen the error of his decision by now and I was sorry to see the writers still will not have Finch acknowledge it.
Anyway, Samaritan’s ‘benevolence’ was not enough for the Machine to grant the meeting so Samaritan upped the ante. It intensifies the tension and chaos, escalating the cold war by making private online information public resulting in the deaths of many innocent people in witness protection, fostering fear and confusion in society and transforming paradise into mayhem.
Now the Machine concedes and Samaritan states its case. It believes it’s justified in controlling society; that humans are not capable of taking care of themselves, that they need someone to provide for them, to protect them. Samaritan argues, and believes it has proven, that it can be a benevolent dictator. All it asks in return is that humankind serves it. I have to say here this reminds me of an original Star Trek episode where an all-encompassing AI unit took over a human society by similar subterfuge. It was eventually ousted by using its own tactics against it. There is just nothing new here and, for me, it’s not as interesting as the Elias-Dominic cold war and how it will affect our characters.
For some reason Samaritan feels it is stronger and more powerful than The Machine, and I fail to understand why. Samaritan after all is a logic-based computer and it has to logically realize that both AI units are at best equal in capabilities. The Machine could do exactly what Samaritan has done, it could believe itself to be of extreme benefit to society by curing all ills but it chooses not to because of Finch’s programming. Samaritan is powerful—but so is the Machine and in many ways much more mature than Samaritan.
On top of that, both AI units have been given ‘personalities’ of their own complete with human emotions. Samaritan displays arrogance on a grade scale, believing itself far above humans. And the Machine is displaying affection for its human counterparts which Samaritan attempts to capitalist on by convincing the Machine to save its team but turning itself over to Samaritan. I loved it when the Machine agreed that is was going to lose to Samaritan. Good tactic used by maturity over adolescence. Feeding into your opponent’s ego makes them much more vulnerable.
Ultimately, Samaritan’s attempts at manipulation prove unsuccessful, as the Machine remained loyal to its programming and the concept of free will, much to the appreciation of the viewers. Of course, the Machine’s concepts will prevail. It is what has always happened in the human vs machine themes. Humans win. It’s predictable and hence not as interesting as human entanglements which are why it isn’t as interesting as the Elias-Dominic conflict is. People are not predicable leaving some room for imagination. However HOW our heroes end the AI conflict will be very interesting indeed!
Anyway, Samaritan is royally angry at not being able to destroy the Machine so it retaliates by upping the ante again. Samaritan intrudes into Wall Street leading to a stock market crash, facing humans with a possible world-wide economic disaster. Nothing like an AI temper tantrum to shake up the world. A world which doesn’t even know the AI units exist. But of course, it’s nothing the Machine can’t fix. The crash however is right up Greer’s alley based on what we learned about him from the episode’s flashbacks. He lives to serve Samaritan and the flashbacks gave us a good look into why Greer turned out the way he did, not that that excuses his behavior at all.
Apparently Greer lost all confidence and faith in humanity when he found out his MI6 boss was a double agent, not all that uncommon during those days and certainly something a seasoned spy should have been able to deal with. How many times has Reese been confronted with CIA indiscretions and he didn’t turn to the dark side!
Nevertheless with an AI unit, Greer feels the human element has been eliminated so it is worthy of his trust and a cause he can follow. Seems he subscribes to the same Techno-god religion Root does. Two peas in a pod? Maybe we are getting some hints as to why Greer let Root live when last they met.
The trilogy started out on interesting footing but where it will end is another matter. With the collapse of the world economy, assuming the Machine allows that, Samaritan may not have many humans left to count as its minions. For me, Samaritan is in a self-destruct mode from which there is no return. And when Team Machine gets its chance, Samaritan is gone, gone, gone. Samaritans current path should leave the door wide open for that, and for me, it couldn’t happen to a nicer ‘personality.’