Movies/TV

Person of Interest – If-Then-Else Review


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… Jesus. Okay. I was never a huge fan of the episode The Crossing from season 3. That was the episode in which Detective Carter was gunned down and, while I think it was a daring move that ultimately paid off from a narrative perspective, I always felt that the episode itself was of questionable quality. It felt like an event episode. We knew someone was going to die, so The Crossing spent most of its time trying to convince us that it wasn’t Carter… even though she was the most predictable option given the story so far. It felt like I could see the strings of the puppets at work and it dragged me out of the experience. If-Then-Else is everything I wanted The Crossing to be.

The central conceit of the episode initially annoyed me, but Person of Interest succeeded in selling me on it.  The Machine’s agents, minus Shaw, attempt to break into the Stock Exchange in order to prevent Samaritan from collapsing the global market. However, it turns out that Samaritan’s intention was not to cripple the market, but rather to trap Reese and company. With the power to the elevator cut, the Machine has to find some way to ensure that the markets are protected while also extracting its agents. This is where the plot device that irritated me comes in. The viewer plays witness to a number of scenarios played out by The Machine as it tries to find the most favorable one. At first, the viewer isn’t really aware that what they are viewing is a simulation so it does come as a shock when Finch is shot and killed… and then the scenario resets. I was frustrated when it happened, because it was an obvious attempt to shock the viewers and throw them off track. The thing is… it worked. What’s more, once the plot device was revealed and established If-Then-Else had a lot of fun with it. Once the episode is fully underway it plays out as one part Groundhog’s Day to one part Lola Rennt, and the various callouts to the fact that it is a simulation successfully draw upon the strengths of the scenario. One of my favorite scenes (I had a lot) involved The Machine attempting to cut down the time it took to simulate a scenario by cutting the dialogue down to simplistic statements like “Coolly delivered sadistic warning,” and “Self deprecating inquiry into the time necessary to infiltrate system.”

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Aside from providing a fresh basis for the show’s humor to work off of, the structure of If-Then-Else allows for insight of The Machine’s perspective of the world around it. This is further complemented by the flashbacks which present a day back in 2003 in which Finch sought to teach The Machine how to play chess. Initially this appears to simply be a reinforcement of how The Machine perceives the world, as well as foreshadowing a sacrifice by The Machine, but, as the episode approaches its end, it reveals something much deeper. Finch claims to not care for chess due to the fact that the pieces all have different values, but from his perspective a person’s status or role should not determine their worth. As a result, the flashbacks foreshadow not The Machine’s decision to make a sacrifice, but rather its refusal to make one.

If-Then-Else is the best episode of Person of Interest’s 4th season so far, and one of the best episodes of the series to date. The Cold War may not have succeeded in getting me particularly excited for a new year of Person of Interest, but If-Then-Else might just be the best start to the year that I could ask for. Talk about putting your best foot forward. I have largely avoided talking about specifics in regards to the manner in which the episode itself plays out, but that is because I feel I would be remiss if I gave too much information. Plus, the promos for Control-Alt-Delete call into question aspects of the ending, though I suspect that that is a ploy to keep viewers in suspense. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be an episodes centered around the subject of denial. Either way, this is an episode that needs to be seen, not simply relayed. Watch it.

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Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:

  • The Machine’s sense of humor really shines through in this episode which helps serve to counter the immense weight of the episode. Fusco kissing Root because “Why not? We’re in a simulation,” was another of my favorite moments.
  • One of the most heartbreaking moments at the end might have been seeing The Machine panic as it was forced to watch something that it was helpless to stop. The image of it running through countless strategies with “No valid options” flashing on the screen while the probability of a favorable outcome rapidly decreased hit me in the gut.
  • I would have commented on the simple and repetitive setting of underground hallways, but simplicity of the setting helps create a sense of familiarity and understanding as various hypotheticals play out.
  • It can sometimes be easy to take the main cast of a show for granted, but everyone brought their A-game for this episode. I honestly can’t think of a weak link here. Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson, Amy Acker, and particularly Sarah Shahi all deserve praise for their work here. Also, happy birthday to Shahi.

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Person of Interest - If-Then-Else Review

Final Thoughts

Person of Interest has decided to start the new year off with a bang. I'm hard pressed to think of any legitimate flaws with this episode. It had me guessing from start to well after it had finished.

Overall Score 5 Superb

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