Belated thoughts on last week's Person of Interest series finale (which aired during my vacation) coming up just as soon as I've learned the secret of life and then forgotten it…
“I've been trying to save the world for so long, saving one life at a time seemed anti-climactic. But then I realized, sometimes one life is the right life. It's enough.” -Reese
“Return 0” had everything I had hoped for from the series' penultimate episode but didn't quite get: stakes, grandeur, and a real sense of finality. Obviously, the last episode of a show has some advantages in those areas, particularly that last one, but where “.Exe” seemed to be racing to wrap up as much material about Samaritan (particularly with Harold's use of a previously undiscussed super virus to solve most of Team Machine's problems) as possible before CBS realized the show was still in production and tried to shut things down early, “Return 0” almost never felt rushed(*) as it brought the stories of this war, and these characters, to a powerful close.
(*) Okay, one rushed area: how does Fusco not only remain free, but a cop, after being identified as a co-conspirator to the Man in the Suit? I'm sure that could have been hand-waved away with an extra 20-30 seconds worth of dialogue about how the captain who figured it out was on Samaritan's payroll, didn't tell any real cops, etc., but to go from Lionel lamenting his lost pension to him simply being back on the job was the finale's one head-scratching moment.
You may recall that my journey with this show was so haphazard largely because of how much I disliked Jim Caviezel's performance as Reese. So I was particularly impressed with how much the finale made me feel for Reese, not just in the moment where we learn that he has convinced the Machine to let him sacrifice himself to save Harold, but even in smaller earlier moments like him telling Fusco with real affection, “Try not to die.” At times over the years, Caviezel was able to modulate that whispered delivery to great effect, and particularly here. And of the surviving members of Team Machine, his sacrifice made the most sense. Fusco has a son to live for, Harold had Grace (even though I imagine there are going to be some very uncomfortable conversations between them once she gets over her initial joy at seeing him alive), and Shaw has Bear (and was never nearly as troubled by her past sins as Reese was). Reese has been a ghost for the whole series. Finch gave him purpose, and Carter might have given him something more had she survived, but ultimately these five years were a chance for him to reconnect with his humanity and work off a lot of karmic debt. He got that, and had no regrets with the timing or manner of his death, and that hit very, very hard.
This was also perhaps the most unapologetically sci-fi episode of the whole series, with Samaritan appearing to Harold in the middle of Times Square, and the Machine (appearing to Harold as Root herself, because why only use Amy Acker's voice if you've got the whole package available?) losing time and struggling to recall all the lessons it learned on its own over the years. That one of them involved young John Reese himself getting an early glimpse at true heroism brought things nicely full circle, and the Machine's victory over Samaritan didn't feel like a cheat for a happy ending because it was a Pyrrhic victory, with both computers dying in the combat, and a new version of the Machine booting up from the backups the old one created. I like the idea of straight line Shaw and the reformed Fusco forming the core of a new team (though they'll need a new hacker at some point); she's been changed slightly by her time with the old team, but not so much that she would stop herself from killing the man who killed Root. Before the season began, the producers talked about the end of the series as something that would provide fans with necessary closure while also suggesting more story. I don't expect anyone to greenlight a spin-off built around Sarah Shahi and Kevin Chapman, and while I'd enjoy watching those two characters more, the story of the Machine itself – which ultimately turned out to be the show's most important character – feels done, so this is more a fun hint of stories we'll never get to see than a tease for something real.
But on the whole, “Return 0” was an incredibly satisfying end to the story, and not just because it fulfilled Chekhov's famous rule about how if you introduce a decomissioned subway car in season 4, your characters must actually ride on it by the end of season 5. I'm glad I finally caught up, and glad I got to watch most of the final season in real time. This was a treat.
One week later, what did everybody else think? Did the ending do right by all that had come before it?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org