This is the review of Zero Day, the first to last episode of Person of Interests second season. While this season has been notably bumpier than the first I am happy to say that the show has been able to get itself back on track. At this moment the sow seems to suffer more from having to many factions and characters than too few. As such this episode excludes some of those for brevity’s sake. Then again, we don’t want every storyline to be resolved now do we?
The plot of Zero Day…
The episode starts with Finch (Michael Emerson) and Reese (Jim Caviezel) eagerly waiting for a new number. As ‘The Machine’ has been infected with a virus they haven’t gotten one in over 10 days. Reese resorts to shadowing the police in order to protect those who might get murdered, but he is mostly failing. Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson) investigates the homicide of some of Elias’s men. Officer Marconi offers her his sympathies for Cal Beecher’s murder. She of course doesn’t know he murdered him. Carter spots Reese and asks why the hasn’t been able to stop any of the murders. She further warns him that the Russian mafia is starting to make more inroads in the underworld.
In Washington DC we see the Special Council making inquires about why The Machine hasn’t been offering any numbers. He states that the entire terrorist surveillance program is in jeopardy. Afterwards Root (Amy Acker), who had been working for him as a secretary, reveals herself and interrogates the Special Council at gunpoint. Finch has in the meantime finally received a number from The Machine, a Mr. Thornhill is either the victim or the perpetrator of a murder. However, Finch can find very little about the man as he has a small digital footprint. Finch does discovers that Thornhill has bought up payphone companies in New York.
Both Finch and Reese decide to visit the company that Thornhill runs but are told that a meeting is out of the question. While there Finch sees people typing in masses of code by hand after it gets printed on paper. Root meanwhile phones Finch, she warns him that she knows that ‘The Machine’ is in danger. She further taunts Finch by asking if he has found out who Thornhill is yet. A flashback to 2010 shows Finch talking about his future with Nate Ingram (Brett Cullen). Ingram encourages him to pursue an ordinary life but warns him that revealing his past might cause a lot of problems. It is alludes that Finch is wanted by the government for sedition. When Ingram leaves to get a drink Finch notices that Ingram’s smart-phone has got texts from The Machine on it.
Back in the present Finch discovers that Thornhill has rented a taxi to take him from the airport. While Reese shadows him he notices that another man is doing the same. Reese is too late to prevent the man from using a drone to attack the taxi, but the Reese quickly discovers that Thornhill wasn’t in the taxi. Finch deduces that Thornhill doesn’t exist. The Machine made him up to make people manually reboot the system by typing in code. A flashback shows Finch proposing to Grace, he seems ready to make a change to his life but also seems to have doubt.
In the present Carter discusses with Reese the problems with the mob and Beecher’s murder. Finch meanwhile receives another text from Root. As the message has come from a place close to where Grace lives Finch fears that Root might harm her. While Reese is staking out Thornhill’s apartment to find out who wanted to kill him Finch makes an emergency call saying that there is an armed man in Thornhill’s apartment. Reese manages to talk to ex-CIA hitwoman Samantha Shaw (Sarah Shahi) about the problems with The Machine before he is arrested.
Carter is meanwhile tipped off by Marconi about whereabouts of Beecher’s assassin. At the park near Grace’s home Root questions Finch about what happens when the timer runs out at midnight. Finch says that a reboot sequence will occur that will wipe the virus from The Machine, but The Machine will also make a phone call to a payphone to give the listener administrative rights. Root quickly calls it the Godmode. The two make an uneasy alliance against the people who want to control The Machine themselves. This group was previously identified as Decima Technologies. Root however let’s it slip that she doesn’t appreciate how Finch tried to limit The Machine abilities.
A flashback to 2010 show Finch following Nathan Ingram. In an abandoned library Finch confronts him about the numbers. Nathan admits he built-in a backdoor into The Machine. So now he also gets social security numbers of people involved in violent crimes other than terrorism. After an argument in Finch makes it clear the government would want to kill Nathan over what he has done he shuts the backdoor down. As he leaves The Machine send one more number, that of Nathan Ingram though both fail to see it.
In the present Root and Finch walk through Manhattan watching as hired thugs from Decima Technologies are guarding every payphone in sight. While in police custody Reese is visited by Samantha Shaw. She tells him that it was Finch who gave the tipoff that got him arrested. Shaw questions whether Finch had anything to do with The Machine breaking down. Reese says he will want to ask Finch that very same question. Together they manage to escape from the police station.
When Root and Finch have broken into Thornhill’s office Finch tells her he made sure The Machine couldn’t grow beyond everyone’s control. He had built a purge mechanism whereby the last 24 hours of surveillance would be wiped out as well as what The Machine had learned from it. Except the information of open case files related to terrorism and homicide. Root thinks he has harmed The Machine by building such a mechanism. Finch contends that the Thornhill operation maybe a rudimentary way for The Machine to bypass the mechanism.
Carter meanwhile finds Beecher’s assassin and kills him when he draws a gun. After on no gun is found when Internal Affairs shows up Carter appears to be set up.
Later on Reese and Shaw also break into Thornhill’s office only to find Greer there. He states what it is as stake, complete control of The Machine. However, he also states that it was Finch who has sold him the virus to take control in the first place. The virus that was on the laptop that Kara Stanton and Reese had been ordered to retrieve from Ordos, China.
Near midnight, Finch and Root enter the library in which they know The Machine will make its call. Cleverly Finch reroutes the call to a phone not guarded by Greer’s men. At the stroke of 12 Root takes the call. Finch also reroutes the call to Reese and Shaw, thus leaving in doubt as to whom has access to The Machine as it reboots.
Zero Day is an excellent episode to lead the audience into the season finale of next week. It is tightly written and in 43 minutes a lot happens. It is a shame that Fusco (Kevin Chapman) couldn’t part of it. As is, there might have been a few too many characters in this episode already. While the revelations about Finch creating the virus and Nathan Ingram trying to protect would-be murder victims are cleverly done they do lose some impact because they were already alluded to before. Carter’s hunt for Beecher’s murderer wasn’t too exciting I fear. Her worries about the Russian Mafia probably means that we can guess what new antagonists will show up next season.
Though I am happy to see Sarah Shahi back as Samantha Shaw in this episode her role was a bit limited. In essence she is another Reese when it comes to keeping a straight face. Maybe that is one too many for this show. Shahi’s character was bit of stand-in for Kara Stanton after the actress playing her had to cancel because of scheduling conflicts. I hope Jonathan Nolan can find more for her to do next season.
As for the overall story arc related to The Machine. I think Person of Interest is slowly developing those science-fiction roots that have for so long been hiding in plain sight. The idea that The Machine is using people to help it remember seems to be an allusion to Christopher Nolan’s movie Memento in which the protagonist suffers from the ability to store new memories. Themes such as globalization and the ever farther reaching present of the internet are also accentuated in this episode.
As said, this episode sets the pace very well for next week’s finale ‘Godmode’. It would be best to consider both episodes as one story arc. So we will have to wait until next week to form a final judgment.
Score; 8.5 / 10.
Person of Interest will be back next week with the season finale Godmode. Expect a preview of that episode this weekend and review next week.