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The Machine plays 'what if?' in a breathtaking 'Person of Interest'

Season 4 | Episode 11 | “If-Then-Else” | Aired Jan 6, 2015

A rule of thumb when constructing a trilogy is that the second chapter is always the darkest of the three, usually leaving its characters in a state of flux. In the second of a three-episode arc, Person of Interest does not divert from that adage

Samaritan has its eyes set on the New York Stock Exchange. Or, as Root aptly puts it: “Our cold war just turned hot.” The city is on edge as it watches the stock market wildly fluctuate—a smart move on Samaritan’s part to keep the fail-safes at bay. Fortunately, Root and the Machine have a plan to counter Samaritan’s takeover … but the plan has to be deployed on site.

Finch deploys Reese and Fusco to assist them. As Greer monitors Samaritan’s progress, Team Machine goes to work. Root and Finch enter the exchange and manipulate the camera feed to give the Machine encrypted access. In a delivery elevator, they are met with Reese and Fusco. They all head to the server room in order to release the countermeasure.

Shaw is put on subway duty and eyes an Exchange employee (Chris LaPlanta) who has the code they need in order to bypass the server room’s security. As Shaw approaches him, an argument ensues between two men over the Exchange’s unpredictable behavior. Gary (Mark Gessner), the more heated of the two, cuffs the other and reveals a bomb strapped to his chest, putting Shaw’s mission on pause.

The quartet soon arrive at their destination and immediately realize it’s a trap. A gun battle ensues and our heroes find themselves trapped in the kitchen. Root reaches out to the Machine and as time literally slows down, it reverts back to 2003 for a quick reevaluation.

Finch is seated before a chess board when he is approached by a stranger who asks to play. Finch shoots him down, and as the stranger walks away, it is revealed that Finch is in fact playing with the Machine. As the Machine hesitates to make its first move, Finch gives a lesson in Chess 101.

Back to the present, the Machine tells Root that it’s ready for the first move. Reese and Fusco are put in charge of securing an escape route while she and Finch continue on setting off the countermeasure. Greer watches as he communicates with Martine, who is on the prowl and told to “enjoy herself.”

Reese and Fusco find themselves caught between Martine and her cronies. Back in the subway, Shaw approaches Gary by (of course) pulling her gun. As police approach from outside, Gary raises his hand to push the trigger, but is promptly shot by Shaw. As Root inquires about the code, Shaw is arrested and taken away. Root implements plan B and enters the server room with guns blazing as Finch frantically sets things in motion. Before he is able to get it going, Greer’s men enter and shoot Finch, who dies in Root’s arms.

But wait. All that we’ve seen has been a simulation through the Machine’s eyes. As it realizes that this scenario would be a failure, it begins to reset to real time. (Finch is not dead!)

The foursome are exactly where we left them last, still stuck in the kitchen. Time once again slows as the Machine decides to come up with an alternate plan …

The Machine returns with another scenario for Root, one decidedly different from the last. This time Reese and Fusco end up in the direction taken by Root and Finch earlier, allowing them to intercept communication with Greer, keeping the danger away from Root and Finch. Unfortunately, Reese being free to coach Shaw in bargaining with the subway bomber does not change her story, and he is forced to implement his own plan B.

CBSFusco sets up the system and gets the code from Finch. As Greer’s men approach, Finch leads Fusco to cover in a locked closet as he decides to face them alone. During a scuffle with Lambert, Fusco is shot several times. A smug Lambert watches as Reese says his last words and reveals a grenade that blows them all to kingdom come.

As Root prepares to disable the elevator cables with an ax, she reaches Shaw, sitting in the back of a police car, and promptly pours her heart out before revealing that she has been standing in front of Martine and her men the whole time. As she futilely attempts to complete her mission, she is killed in a hail of bullets.

The Machine is once again dissatisfied with this outcome and goes back to the drawing board. This time, the team sticks together as they all go to the server room (but not before Fusco plants a wet one on Root). This time it’s Fusco who aids Shaw in talking down the bomber, rather poorly. Luckily, Shaw, with the help of the other passengers, is able to save everyone and get the code. While the third simulation inevitably ends with a shootout, the Machine declares it the “best option available,” with a 2.07 percent survival rate.

In real time, Team Machine plays out the third simulation, despite Finch and Reese’s insistence to split up. Things seem to play out as planned, save for a few minute differences. (Root manages to save a painting that got shot up in all three scenarios). They all reach the server room and implement the code, stabilizing the stock market. Danger approaches as Fusco cuts the elevator cables. Just like the third simulation, the quartet faces Greer’s men at the cusp of escape.

A shootout ensues. Lambert approaches Finch but is saved by Reese, who takes a bullet in the back. As Finch tends to Reese, Root realizes that she too has been hit. She reaches out to Shaw, much like simulation two. But unlike the second scenario, Shaw shows up in person with kind words for everyone (“You guys look like crap”) and a little souvenir from Gary. As she tosses the bomb towards the enemy and is joined by Root in cover fire, Reese is pulled to safety. In the elevator, Finch pushes the button, but nothing happens. The override button is across the way.

Shaw decides she should be the one to hit it. As Root tries to stand in her way, Shaw leans in and kisses her before exiting and dropping the gate. Shaw immediately presses on the button before finding herself in a gun battle. She takes one of the guys down but, as Root (and the Machine) helplessly watch, is shot by Martine several times. As the gates close, we see a final image of a mortally wounded Shaw as Martine points a gun to her head.

In a season where POI has found itself at a creative peak, “If-Then-Else,” written by Denise Thé and directed by Chris Fisher, will go down as one of the finest hours in the show’s entire run. While the “what-if” plot point has been used in movies (Groundhog Day) and television before, it is given a fresh spin here, as the viewer finally gets an insider look at the Machine’s psyche.

The episode’s relentless pacing is offset by the three flashback sequences of Finch teaching the Machine’s morals through the act of playing chess. These memory fragments are quite poignant, especially considering that they occur duing a moment of crisis involving Finch & Co. Michael Emerson, in particular, should get a huge shout-out here, as he gives Finch a beautifully humane voice in these sequences.

Moving like a rocket, this episode is fast, funny, exciting, and, ultimately, sad, ending with what seems like the loss of another team member. We’ll have to wait until next week for the outcome, but as it stands, “If-Then-Else” is an instant classic.

    Person of Interest airs Tuesdays at 10/9C on CBS.

    TV Families | EW.com
    Mark Harris
    February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

    The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

    Kind Of Family
    TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
    The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
    Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
    Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
    The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

    Family Pet
    The Brady Bunch: Tiger
    The Bradys: Alice
    Married…With Children: Buck
    Thirtysomething: Grendel
    The Flintstones: Dino

    Typical Guest Star
    The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
    The Bradys: There’s no room
    Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
    Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
    The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

    Expression Of Joy
    The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
    The Bradys: Ritual hugging
    Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
    Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
    The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

    Expression Of Rage

    The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
    The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
    Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
    Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
    The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

    Typical Problem
    The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
    The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
    Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
    Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
    The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

    Typical Solution
    The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
    The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
    Married…With Children: They hate him.
    Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
    The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

    House Style
    The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
    The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
    Married…With Children: Roach motel
    Thirtysomething: Enviable
    The Flintstones: Suburban cave

    Clothing Style
    The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
    The Bradys: Made in the USA
    Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
    Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
    The Flintstones: One-piece

    Most Annoying Character
    The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
    The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
    Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
    Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
    The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

    Attitude Toward Sex
    The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
    The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
    Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
    Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
    The Flintstones: Prehistoric

    How Spouses Fight
    The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
    The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
    Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
    Thirtysomething: They stop talking
    The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

    How Kids Get Into Trouble
    The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
    The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
    Married…With Children: By committing felonies
    Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
    The Flintstones: They don’t.

    How They’re Punished

    The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
    The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
    Married…With Children: By the authorities
    Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
    The Flintstones: They’re not.

    What Family Does For Fun
    The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
    The Bradys: Has flashbacks
    Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
    Thirtysomething: Talks
    The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

    Unsolved Mysteries
    The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
    The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
    Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
    Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
    The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

    Worst Behavior
    The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

    The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
    Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
    Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
    The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

    Best Reason To Watch
    The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
    The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
    Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
    Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
    The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

    Best Reason Not To Watch
    The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
    The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
    Married…With Children: She has a point.
    Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
    The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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