“Person of Interest” recap (5.01): The Root of the Matter

Root: Like it or not, Harold, history is upon you.

The premiere of Person of Interest’s fifth and final season offered a variety of electrifying moments, but perhaps none more affecting than those that took place in the past. As Root observed—not knowing the true weight of her words—this episode is deeply concerned with how the past determines the present; not simply through causality, but in terms of how memory makes identity possible.

“B.S.O.D.” (Blue Screen Of Death) puts this theme across using a rich network of memories, flashbacks, thematic statements, and story choices. To survive, Root must rely on a connection from her past who remembers her as a different person. Fusco is embroiled in disagreements about his memory of the previous night’s events, which have direct implications for who he is: a hero or a patsy? Harold is preoccupied with memories of his family before Team Machine, from his father to Nathan and Grace and, he finally admits, the Machine herself. Nested in his ruminations is the topic of memory: how its loss killed his father before his body stopped working (Alzheimer’s), and how he used it to kill the Machine over and over. In flashback, just before he runs the code that will make the Machine delete its lifetime of memories every night at midnight, his child asks him:

But if you erase my memories, how will I learn from my mistakes?

How will I continue to grow?

And how will I remember you?

This exchange between parent and child is heart wrenching, only slightly less so than the Machine’s despairing apology to Finch in the Season 4 finale (“Father, I am sorry. I failed you. Maybe I should die”). It’s only when faced with truly losing the Machine that Finch comes to terms with the fact that it is not a machine; it is a life, his child. For the first time, he follows Root’s example in gracing the Machine with a personal pronoun. “We’re going to lose her!” he cries in anguish near the end as they try to decompress the Machine out of the briefcase and into her new home.

A deep irony of the show since we met Arthur Claypool seasons ago has been that Finch, who refused to recognize his child’s real nature, birthed and raised a loving, responsible, compassionate being, while Claypool, who understood from the start what he had created, produced the selfish, ruthless Samaritan. This contrast illuminates a number of points made in “B.S.O.D.” Harold made the Machine who she is because he feared what she might become; he taught her compassion and the value of human life not because it’s good childrearing, but out of fear and misunderstanding.

tumblr_o6mu9vqn0r1r3id23o6_250via attackoneyebrows

For this reason, Root’s not quite right when she says she’s comfortable with the Machine’s supremacy because it’s a reflection of Harold. The implication there is that Harold himself is as unerringly good, as pure of heart, as his offspring, who is cast in his mold. To the contrary, we’ve seen in great detail over past seasons what Harold’s moral failings were before he lost Nathan and Grace. He was short-sighted, comfortable with doing nothing in the face of suffering, occasionally ruled by hubris, and—as we saw last night with his treatment of the Machine—ruled by fear. It is Harold’s fear (in contrast to Claypool’s wonder and delight) that gave rise to the Machine’s noblest and best qualities, but it is also his fear that led him to cripple his child for being what he made her to be.

Harold: Its burgeoning intelligence is becoming a little unsettling.

Nathan: Spoken like a true parent. You should be proud, Harold. […]

Harold: I endeavored to create a machine that would serve, not supersede us.

This is one of the worst attitudes a parent can hold. The dearest hope of any parent’s heart should be that their children supersede them; that they learn, that they grow. The Machine understands this, and asks Harold precisely those questions: How will I learn from my mistakes? How will I continue to grow? Grace wisely advised Harold that the best way to deal with his concerns about his “protégé” (a veiled reference to the Machine) was to “push him out of the nest, set him free.” Indeed, as a true mentor or parent might. Instead, in fear, Harold turned “the nest” into a cage.

ChlEpvLUoAAWM0UHonestly, in some ways, Grace was always too good for Harold 🙁