Person of Interest: Death Benefit
Did the Machine really give them a number that, if murdered, would eliminate a threat to its existence? To the existence of the team? Was it really its intention that Reese or Shaw pull the trigger? This episode, more than previously, looks at the ethics of taking action against a threat, even for those who purpose has always been to save lives.
I wrote just a week ago, for the need for us to have a healthy disillusionment with our government representatives, and this congressman who is this weeks number, perpetrator and potential victim, even though fictional, is a great representation for that very need. He is loved by all his constituents because he can appease even the staunchest of detractors. He even tries to use his “magic” to wheel and deal his way into the psyche of Finch, not even aware of the threat to his existence being debated and struggled with in the next room. He has made a contract with his wife that even affairs don’t matter to him, the people around him and, if it ever came out, to the public. Appealing to everyone just to survive is not governing a people, it is an ineffective diplomacy that creates an illusion that you are getting what you always wanted. This congressman says, “The simple truth is, the people want to be protected, they just don’t want to know how.” At the same time his representative battle against surveillance, he is making back door deals with the same group he has a rallying cry against, and he doesn’t see any conflict of interest with it.
Are all representatives of the people who have such duplicity deserving of death? These people are traitors to those they represent, if they don’t deserve death they at least deserve being kicked-out, but even that process reveals the red-tape we have to tear apart just to find out what happened, what were the motivations behind their actions. It is a sad commentary of this once great idea, and how easy it is to give our freedom away for drama.
But enough ranting about the plight we have put ourselves in, let us get back to the aching struggle of choice against purpose that is tearing the team apart. This episode reminds me of a film called Arlington Road, where the suspected hero turns out to be the perpetrator the whole time. The team realizes that the Machine has drawn their attention to a number that is a threat to everyone and everything. Do they murder this threat? I don’t know… and again this issue is brought up about programming and true self-realization. A few episodes back the Machine opened up Root’s mind to the possibility that there is a grander purpose in knowing everything; that you can either destroy or save lives. Root opened up to the possibility that the Machine “cares” about people and in fact “cares” how you feel about the people you are called to protect. Just Monday night they showed the episode where Shaw suddenly starts caring about the people she saves through the little “spy” girl. Coincidence? I think not.
So then we come to this ethical dilemma: I am going to present my theory. I believe the Machine predicted Reese or Shaw would not be able to eliminate the threat. For what purpose then did it lead them to threat? The Machine always “knows” of the human element involved is not always predictable, but, that is the way Finch created it. There is the human element involved and the Machine is exemplary at knowing what that human element will do. It has been online for several years and has stopped many terrorist threats because it know humans so well. So why put it’s administrator in a position where there is a deep personal struggle to choose what is right and what is wrong. For me the choice is… almost… clear cut: eliminate threat. But for our team whose values toward life, purpose, and meaning have been elevated through the interactions with each other and the Machine, the choice is not so clear. Whose life is more valuable? Who gains more by the choice of redeeming a life? It may be one of the biggest regrets our team will face, but they did not go against their values that have been built up and bonded each of them to the other, and that is what is the most important choice they have made.