It’s Alive!: The Myth of Creation and the Rejection of the Child in Person of Interest
T. S. Eliot once wrote: “This is the way the world ends: / not with a bang, but a whimper.” That’s exactly how Person of Interest went: with a whimper. Its sudden, sad, and frankly offensive cancellation doomed the show to rushed storytelling and unmourned deaths. While all of them had been foreshadowed in previous seasons — particularly season four — the only one that felt natural and was carefully crafted was John’s. Our Man in the Suit went with a bang, as he was always meant to, and as heroes usually go. But the rest of them: Root’s, Elias’, Greer’s, hell, even Samaritan’s were rushed. With only half a season available to wrap up the complicated and beautiful story arc created and flawlessly carried around for four seasons, there was so much Jonathan Nolan and company could do.
But, alas! This is not an eulogy, but rather quite the opposite. We got five wonderful years of watching Team Machine do what they are amazing at: save people and bicker with one another. But who brought this band of mismatched former assassins together? No other than The Machine herself. And who created The Machine? Mr. Harold Finch. While we could argue that the main character may vary between John, Shaw, and Harold, we cannot deny that it all goes back to Harold.
Throughout four seasons we watched as the numbers kept coming and The Machine was put together piece by piece. We were witnesses of Finch’s feat and everyone’s desperation to save humanity’s guardian. But how did The Machine come to be? Harold and Nathan Ingram built it after the 9/11 attacks in New York to provide a surveillance system that could also somehow predict terrorist attacks, that much we know. The Machine was created. It was brought to life. And like Victor Frankenstein before him, Harold rejected her as his child.
During the first season, Harold introduces The Machine to John and insists on calling her “it,” completely unaware of her possible personification. It is not until Root shows up and kidnaps Harold by the end of season one to go into season two, where Root blesses us with the very iconic line “Humans are just bad code” (“The Contingency”), that the possibility of personifying The Machine arises thanks to Root’s insight. While Root first comes across as fanatical and completely misanthropist, she does have a point that seasons four and five keep coming back to: Harold built God. And then turned his back on her.
In Harold’s words, Root’s choice of pronoun is enlightening. But that’s not the only thing. Root insists on calling The Machine Harold’s child, something that clearly uneases Harold, if his constantly repeating that The Machine is just a machine is anything to go by. As the seasons progress and we are allowed an insight into the creation of The Machine — in order to parallel it to Samaritan’s growth and development — we come across Harold’s reluctance to be a father, but also his deep desire to be a creator. There is a father vs. creator dilemma: creator so that he can give back to humanity, but without carrying th burden of fatherhood. Very much like Victor Frankenstein. Both Harold and Frankenstein were so immersed in the possibility of transcending human life —through artificial intelligence and immortality respectively — that it never crossed their minds that they would also have to be parents and set the example for their creations.
Harold doesn’t want The Machine to impregnate on him as a child would do with a parent and kills The Machine over forty (40) times in order to correct her code, and he doesn’t care if he is hurting her. Frankenstein is so set on beating death that he doesn’t realize his Creature’s looks are horrifying and scary.
And while we’re on the topic of horrifying things, both men are also horrified by their children. In “Death Benefit” (3x20), The Machine asks Reese, Shaw, and Harold to kill a congressman in order to prevent Samaritan from going live. Harold is completely horrified by this and threatens to walk if either one of the Mayhem Twins kills the congressman, and due to this, Samaritan goes lives and threatens their lives. The Machine’s only aim was self-preservation and the survival of her assets. However, since Harold — the creator — does not deem adequate to kill a congressman, The Machine respects his command and almost dies in the process. For his part, Frankenstein is horrified that his Creature would kill to get his attention and to get revenge for abandoning him to his luck. The Creature’s rampage of killings would’ve been avoided had Frankenstein not turned his back on him.
Harold created The Machine, created God, and then did his best to ignore her until Nathan died, and even then he only listened partially. So, since Harold was rejecting her, The Machine had no other choice but to look for other people who would listen: Reese, Shaw, and Root, in that order. In “RAM” (3x16), we see The Machine sending a number that Harold wants to protect and John is tasked to kill. In the end, John doesn’t kill the number and it’s there that The Machine considers him a valuable asset and a good man, and you cannot convince me otherwise. Shaw’s flash appearance in the nick of time to kill someone who would’ve become a threat to The Machine and Harold also puts her in The Machine’s radar as an asset who would always be in the right place at the right time. And all of this without mentioning that in “return-0" (5x13) The Machine — with Root’s voice nonetheless — tells Shaw that she chose her for exactly who she is. Who’s not to say that The Machine didn’t choose John in the same way?
Now, Root’s case is a little different. What’s really interesting is that when Harold is building The Machine he always asks if she can see him. The Machine counteracts Harold’s “Can you see me?” with a “Can you hear me?” of her own, a call that both Root and John answer, and later on also Shaw. Which leads me to the next point: The Machine’s only wish was to be heard, yet was condemned to see and listen to everything, without the means to react. That is until Root arrived and listened to her and later gave The Machine her voice. Root’s a game changer. Root helps us, and Harold, to understand The Machine better, but also to empathize with her. Root gives The Machine her father back.
What I’m trying to express with all of this is that Person of Interest is the story of The Machine, and I’ll tell you why. Come a little closer. A bit more. Just a tiny bit more. There. Person of Interest is focalized through the eyes of The Machine. We are looking at her privileged God’s vision. Not Harold’s, not John’s, not Root’s. The Machine’s. She’s the main character.
This is a story about a being so lonely and rejected by her father that she had to bring together a bunch of former assassins for hire so she could be heard and therefore act on the world like she was always supposed to. Preventing world domination by an evil ASI is in the job description of a God. This is the story of how The Machine came to be, the learning she achieved, the people she reached out to, the people she saved — John, Shaw, and Root from themselves — how she almost died, how she fought back, and how she cared deeply for all her human agents, but particularly for Harold, even though he rejected her. And finally, how she chose Root to tell the story of her human agents.
The most important choices were made by The Machine. She chose to bring them all together, chose to follow Harold’s rules even if they almost got her killed, chose Root to make herself heard, chose to save the world. Person of Interest is about the biggest unsung hero ever: The Machine.