Lodgings

Late one evening, a knight was riding from here to there. Behind him a storm was coming on. He could hear distant growls of thunder and wanted very much to rest until dawn. Soon it would be dangerous to be on the road. Now on this particular road there was only one house that could offer shelter. When the knight saw it half-screened behind some trees, he turned off the road.

The house belonged to a man who kept pigs. There was a full house with a shed, and across a muddy yard there was a barn. Not just a roof and posts but enclosed – doors that shut. Fancy for pigs. Expensive for a swineherd. But these were not bacon pigs. They were dark and clever and tender of nose: they were truffle pigs. And they had made the father of the house wealthy.

SP: Person of Interest 115, Blue Code

Summary

Our Number is Michael Cahill, a smuggler who turns out to be merely the cover for an undercover narcotics cop named Tulley. Reese goes undercover in the smuggling ring and takes the fall for Tulley as the ring tries to smoke out their mole. Meanwhile, Finch gets Fusco to break in and destroy the files on Tulley’s undercover stint before the dirty cop working with the smugglers (remember HR?) can expose him. Fusco is caught by a dirty Internal Affairs cop and taken to the woods to be killed.

Tulley won’t leave the job without arresting the supplier LOS – who turns out to be a CIA agent selling drugs to fund the War on Terror. Agent Snow (remember him?) turns up to spring him from jail only to have him killed for being sloppy and disruptive. Reese gets to Fusco in time to save him, and has him get help from HR to cover up the death of the dirty cop so that Fusco can infiltrate HR.

Throughout the episode we get flashbacks to Reese taking some time off from his job and meeting Jessica’s new fiance. Stanton intervenes and convinces him to leave his past alone.

 

Surveillance Report

Our Heroes are firing on all cylinders – not necessarily succeeding in their goals, but working together to allow interesting narratives to occur. Reese undercover, Carter trying to help him, Finch and Fusco breaking into a highly secure police facility – all this would have been too complicated to fit into one episode at the start of the season. And our Number has some good thematic tension with Reese. The meshing of character gears rather makes up for an uninteresting villain and a mole hunt that lacks suspense. We also get a particularly well-written and -acted flashback that illuminates John’s present character struggles. Good episode – it’s just that the peaks and valleys aren’t where you expect.

 

We are the dark

Once again we get to see Reese longing for the normal life and family that he can never have. Ugh. But this episode actually shines some light on why he can’t have it: because that’s the philosophy Stanton taught him. She found it impossible to find real connection or understanding with normal life after she began killing people for the ISA (not that we’ve encountered that acronym yet, don’t worry about it). “We’re not walking in the dark,” she says, riffing on something we saw her say earlier in the season, “we are the dark.”

As a response to the isolation that her job causes, Stanton constructed this idea that people like her stand outside morality and society: the Shadows. This is something that Snow encourages as well, when he’s hesitant to even discuss what the person being kidnapped has done. Justice is not on his mind. Cause and effect are not Reese’s concern. We can see that Stanton is on the same page as Snow when she mentions the “locals” – and we discover that this means Americans. Stanton does not see herself as a citizen, or as an employee in the service of the public good of America. She is something beyond that society.

Reese is, I think, still pretty much on the same page as Stanton. He can’t talk about what he’s done, he can’t move on from what he’s done, he can’t live in normal society as others do – and these inabilities blend into each other and reinforce each other. It’s a powerful example of how both trauma and guilt isolate the individual – as Bonhoeffer said, sin wants to have the individual alone. A sinner and victim (for Reese is both) needs a forgiving and loving community. But to reach out and do their part to create that community is beyond them.

What Reese needs is a community that comes pre-informed. He has found this in Finch (who knows what he has done) and Fusco (who is also a sinner seeking redemption). He will find it in some future characters with similar backgrounds. But notice the limit of this community: because only people with similar backgrounds can approach Reese, his community consists only of people like him. It can never be a full community, which requires difference and tolerance.

Partly because of this lingering separation, Reese is less than helpful when it comes to Fusco’s desire to change his ways. Fusco has just started to like working with Carter, being a good cop, helping people with Reese and Finch. And now Reese uses the dead HR member to get Fusco undercover within HR. In the service of justice, yes; but destructive to Fusco’s life and character. Doing good should mean not just making society in general better, but helping those people involved in the project. Reese is burning Fusco to heal New York. That is not a fully-orbed pursuit of the good. Because Reese has very little concept of an ultimate goal that helps rather than hurting its instruments.

What would Reese or Fusco find if they walked into my church? I am concerned that they would not find preaching or teaching ready to wrestle with the deepest depths of the human heart, or a community that is fully alive to and able to forgive any past sin. A church that is of no help to a murderer is a pale, half-living church.

We should also consider whether our churches are reaching out to people who are spiritually paralysed and unable to take the first step. Jesus took the first step towards the sinner so many times: calling his disciples, speaking to the Samaritan woman, deliberately moving along as he preached to reach more people. Are we doing anything analogous?

 

Stubborn but boring

Cahill/Tulley stands up to the CIA by bringing in LOS despite the risk to his career. But Reese’s warning of futility is proven right. The whole incident displays how warped and broken the internal mechanisms of government are. A drug-dealing CIA agent is sprung from facing justice and then immediately kidnapped and murdered in order to prevent his screwing up further. The CIA takes care of its own, as Snow says. That’s precisely the problem – the CIA is not meant to be a tool of justice, against its own agents or anyone else. It engages in the process of justice without the clarity and rules that should govern human justice. The normal process of human justice through the courts is powerless to reach CIA agents – but that’s a situation the CIA themselves created, wary of exposure or bad publicity or being held to account by the domestic institutions they are meant to protect but hold in contempt.

When powerful institutions claim immunities or exemptions from normal procedures of justice, we should always be suspicious. There is a reason that courts look the way they do. Anybody that tries to behave like a court without the duties of a court should get little respect from us.

 

War on insert name here

It’s a little silly for LOS to be a CIA agent using the drug business to fund the War on Terror. Do you know what the CIA’s budget is? No, because it’s a secret. But it runs into at least the tens of billions. Somehow I don’t think they need to earn their crust selling drugs. What would be more plausible is the CIA using drug-running to launder money, to turn money connected to the government into cash that can be used for anything without leading back to the US government.

Preacher, you can’t make fun of computer games

Maybe there was a time when you could do this in a godly and profitable way. Maybe there never was. But either way, you cannot any longer.

 

The people you’re trying to talk to won’t listen

Try to put yourself inside their head and heart. If you were playing computer games so much that it’s preventing you from living up to the responsibilities of your life, or you were valuing computer games so much that it was crowding out your devotion to Jesus, how well would you take it when someone made fun of computer games? Not well at all. Preacher, even if (for the sake of argument) it’s truthful to make fun of such games, it’s not particuarly likely to change hearts.

A bit of carefully considered mockery can be very helpful. But it needs to be alloyed with an appreciation of the spiritual goods of computer games (I’m serious, we’ll get into that) and a presentation of Christ’s call applying to the entirety of our lives as Christians. Making fun of young men in their parents’ basement playing video games may get laughs. But the people laughing aren’t the people you’re trying to change.

 

Do you apply an even standard?

“I saw these young men in a field the other day, just moving an oddly-shaped ball backwards and forwards. Backwards and forwards. Like two competing games of fetch.”

Any game can be described in a way that makes it sound silly. Games are inherently a little absurd. Do you make fun of soccer and rugby too? Do you laugh at the silliness of young men who think their skill at sport makes them real men, or successful human beings? Now, there are significant differences between physical team sports and computer games. I’m just pointing out that they’re equally absurd and (cosmically speaking) pointless enterprises. Let’s not pretend that goals need to be scored any more than zerglings need to be squished.

 

Computer games can be serious business

Syed Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan, born 1999

This is SumaiL. He is currently eighteen years old. He has won several major computer game tournaments with his team Evil Geniuses, earning millions in prize money. He is widely acknowledged within the Dota 2 community (his game of choice) as one of the most skilled players alive, a master not only of reaction time and manual dexterity but of tactical decision-making. How do you think he would respond if he was in your congregation, and you made fun of computer games as a time-wasting hobby that holds you back from real adult life?

Professional computer gamers (e-sports players) often practice ten or twelve hours a day. They make sacrifices for their careers. They build enduring friendships and rivalries in e-sports, just like physical athletes. It becomes a core part of their identity and self image; it becomes part of their vocation, their contribution to the wider world. And you can’t condemn them for that without condemning all professional athletes or sportspeople.

It’s unlikely that any of your congregants will turn gaming into a career. But it’s far from impossible. And if there are people whose lived experience contradicts the point you’re making, maybe it’s best not to make it.

 

It’s usually not about being alone

It’s easy to think of computer games as something that removes people from community. But these days, with Internet so fast and widely available, it usually doesn’t. Computer games are usually a place that gamers find a less difficult community: one where all that people expect from them is ability to play a game, and sometimes not even that. Because games can be very complex, particularly multiplayer games, dense webs of mentoring and explanation spring up between players. Gaming can be a chance for people to teach other people and feel valued and important; and because gaming interposes layers of absurd mechanics, it can be a chance for people to relate to others in a low-risk and depersonalised way.

Don’t think that gamers are fleeing community. Often they are fleeing from a community that they find too difficult or confusing to navigate, and to a community whose rules and goals they understand and enjoy. There is probably sin here. But it may be quite where you expect.

SP: Person of Interest 114, Wolf and Cub

Summary

Our Number this episode is Darren, a teenaged boy whose older brother was murdered by criminals a few days ago. Darren is out for vengeance; unable to divert him, Reese lets Darren “hire” him for a dime and dismantle the criminals’ operation the smart way. Darren eventually breaks off and holds his brother’s killer at gunpoint – but can’t kill him. Reese, Carter, and Fusco combine forces (though Carter and Fusco aren’t really aware of it) to protect Darren and put the gang behind bars.

 

Surveillance Report

Again, some kinds of thematic resonance or personal chemistry between Our Heroes and a number or opponent is what makes an episode work. The criminal boss is set up to be more interesting than he really is, but Darren and Reese working together is so interesting to watch that I didn’t care about the episode’s flaws.

 

Ronin

Sun Tzu, man.

Darren calls Reese a ronin, a disgraced samurai without a master who wanders about. The title of the episode is a reference to a Japanese manga and series of movies with a similar premise. And Reese is a ronin: he is a man of violence whose former allegiances and code of honour only led him to personal destruction. Now he is searching for a new code, new allegiances, a new way of being both a man of violence and a full human being. Because that’s what being a samurai is (at its best), that’s what chivalry is, and the codes like them: structures that killers used to stop themselves from being only killers. To insist that there was a difference between murder and killing. That there was some kind of moral order to the violence, not just a yawning void of moral ambiguity.

It’s obviously tempting to see Finch as Reese’s new master, but he’s really not. He gave John a job (as the show will remind us about 8,000 times). But he did not do what the CIA did, which was make himself John’s conscience. Reese has substantial freedom of action. He questions and distrusts Finch – partly because Finch keeps secrets, but also because they are partners rather than in an hierarchy. Eventually they become friends, and they remain friends even when they make different moral decisions.

Part of the ronin’s appeal (the gunslinger, the knight errant, Jack Reacher, and so on) is that because they have lost their allegiance to an institution or master, they are open to the universal moral responsibilities that specific loyalties can deflect. The stranger in town is not afraid of the local gang; the stranger does not need to protect their family, because they don’t have one. They can identify and stand against evil in a pure and unconflicted way. Speaking of which…

 

Untrammelled

While writing this post I remembered a web fiction story I read called Shadow Unit. At one point the team encounters a precocious child who needs special care and understanding, and the team leader retires to raise her. Now obviously this is a major narrative and character moment that we can’t expect from the middle of a show’s first season. But John and Fusco watching Darren go into foster care made me feel a little…ill. Foster care can be good. But for all that John is nostalgic for the possibility of a normal life, he seems rather uninterested in the kinds of responsibilities that create it. And this pattern plays out with a number of Numbers throughout the coming seasons: chances for ongoing relationship that pass Our Heroes by.

It’s true that we should pay attention to our absolute and undifferentiated moral duties as human beings, and that the wandering person of violence is a useful narrative tool for reflecting upon this. But we shouldn’t pose moral agency over against local and specific allegiances. The local and the universal are not opposed but complementary; loving one person, exercising a specific moral duty, trains us in loving and being dutiful towards strangers. And no one can sustain virtue towards strangers without reaching out to them from within an extant place and set of relationships.

One of the great strengths of the Christian life is that we are always in relationship with God, and God is present everywhere, and his commands to us bear upon our personal context. The abstract is pursued through the specific and the abstract frames the specific. It’s sort of hard to imagine how Reese keeps finding compassion for these people when he hardly knows real people. And to be honest, it’s a poor sort of courage that is willing to save people but unwilling to have a coffee with them. Where is Reese’s emotional courage?

This isn’t a criticism of Person of Interest. It’s an empty space thematic space, a missing area that I’ve noticed in contemporary shows that involve violence. Sitcoms stay in the same place and involve deep relationships between the same people; shows with action rarely show their characters putting down roots in this way. There are some exceptions; I’m talking about general themes.

Audience and Congregation

I often encounter the word audience in books on preaching. Every time I do, I perform a sort of full-person wince (with body, soul, and mind) and desperately hope that the writer simply means the people that physically hear the preacher. In that sense the use of ‘audience’ is perfectly unexceptionable.

The reason I wince is the connotations of the word. These days audience is often shorthand for target audience: the subset of the population at whom you have aimed your communication – your marketing.

A communicator’s relationship with their target audience is adversarial. The object is to convince them of something or to alter their behaviour in a particular way. These are of course legitimate aims in preaching. But they are subordinate aims; the preacher mainly desires to display and offer Christ to the congregation.

The person of Jesus is the only means of spiritual worship, the only ground upon which we can approach God. All manner of right doctrine and right ethic is only dust and ashes if a congregant does not possess Christ. It is futile to preach for Christian truth or Christian love without preaching Christ himself. Where the person of Jesus is absent, only a rough facsimile of Christian life will follow.

Since connection with Christ necessarily changes our hearts and works, preaching him will involve convincing and convicting the congregation. The person of Jesus has incalculable effect upon what we can certainly know and need to certainly do. Jesus said this about himself repeatedly. But the effect of the person can only follow the person. So rather than an adversarial or agonistic relationship between preacher and congregation, we find a primarily declarative relationship.

The target audience is an inadequate view of the preacher’s congregation because it puts too much stress on discrimination of those who hear. The marketer matches their product to a target audience and fires their marketing at that audience like an arrow at a tiny bullseye.

In most situations, the preacher has no such ability. When speaking in church they are speaking to a congregation: an assembly of certain actual people. The preacher must preach to these people, and has no license to narrow or widen their scope artificially. God is concerned with all of these people. Jesus is on offer to all of them. And because Jesus stands beside us in all of human experience, if he is offered then the preacher will have something to offer any possible person.

The fact of a congregation constrains the preacher’s imagination. They cannot aim at one particular problem or life situation only; they are not preaching to a target audience but to a complex and confusing congregation. Nor can they take aim at one person or one subset of people in the congregation. To do this would forfeit their commission as the preacher for this congregation, the whole group. So the preacher will often be preaching for the benefit of people they dislike, or who dislike them; preaching for the occasional unbeliever and the more common slipshod Christian. None of these can be rejected by the preacher. No one can be ruled out of the congregation who receives the word. Some may receive it as judgement rather than grace; what is that to you?

I am not arguing against addressing more specific topics of Christian living or considering who is in your congregation before you preach. Both of these practices – if done rightly – are actually part of preaching to the whole congregation that is present. But topical preaching needs to be done in the context of the whole Christian and the whole Christian life – that is, it is no use preaching on marriage in a way that only considers married people. The fact is that Christian marriages do not exist in a vacuum; they ought to exist within a church. How does the whole church support and encourage and even discipline a married couple? This also is part of Christian topical preaching.

But more fundamentally, the question of topical preaching is whether Christ is the fountain and assessor of the topic. Does preaching on marriage flow from Christ’s love for his bride, the church? Does preaching on baptism begin with our baptism as a symbol for death to the old self and washing with the Spirit? Does preaching on the eucharist first show how Jesus became our spiritual food and drink?

As for knowing the congregation, this is vital for a preacher. It is why guest preaching can be useful but really ought to be uncommon. But when considering the congregation before preaching, the preacher should not focus on particular sins or difficulties that are present. Speaking to every one of these is impossible, in one sermon or five hundred. The main thing is for people to worship Christ and feed upon him spiritually. This will address every possible kind of congregant.

In conclusion, I greatly prefer the word congregation to audience because it carries with it a sense of limitation and particularity.

Person of Interest 113, Root Cause

Summary

An out-of-work construction supervisor turned Powell appears to be trying to assassinate the Congressman who cut his department’s budget. But it turns out Powell has been expertly framed by a hacker named Root, hired by the Congressman’s business partner to cover up some illegal dealings. With Zoe Morgan’s help, Our Heroes prove Powell’s innocence. The business partner is killed by Root to cover their tracks. And Root has an IM conversation with Finch where she reveals some knowledge of him.

 

Surveillance Report

This episode introduces Root, who is great fun; but because they are more of a shadowy presence they don’t get to liven up the show like they do in subsequent appearances. Powell functions as a foil for Reese’s longing for a normal life and Finch gets to meet a worthy hacking opponent. But Powell doesn’t say anything particularly interesting about Reese and Root isn’t yet developed enough to contrast with Finch. Bleh.

 

The complete life

The opening scene with Finch trying to talk to Reese – while John brawls with a threat – is somewhat amusing, but it also highlights the essential dichotomy of the show’s premise. Finch is distant from the violence; he gathers information and forms it into abstract views of people. Reese is in the thick of the violence and engages with people as they are. It’s interesting to see them as the two forms of late medieval spirituality, the contemplative and active lives.

As a Protestant, I don’t think these two forms of relating to the world should be separated by group. Every person needs both. But that means we need to make space for both, in the church and in the world around us. Everyone is trying to be active all the time; everyone’s trying to save the world. No one is trying to be Finch. It’s also worth noting that Finch was like this even before the bombing; unlike, say, Oracle (Barbara Gordon) this isn’t an aspect of him that emerged after a wound. He was always the quiet recluse restructuring society from a distance.

So many Christians want to be Paul or Luther or Luther King Jr. What about being Thomas Aquinas? Melanchthon? The Lord needs contemplation as well as action.

The part of the Reese-Finch relationship that maps in a different direction is technology. Finch is the supervisor and collater; Reese is the operator. Finch is the commander; Reese is the drone. In many ways this is a repeat of his relationship with Snow in the CIA. Will it prove to be different? In a sense it already has, as Finch is willing to blur the lines of their relationship and subvert its structure when Reese is in trouble. But there are similarities with the CIA in how Finch keeps secrets about the Machine. Hence Reese’s mild distrust and use of Fusco to surveil Finch.

You might think, what further secrets could there be about the Machine? None about how it affects the world. But some about how the world responds to it; and plenty about what the Machine actually is. Finch is keeping secrets to protect people, but there is a certain degree of shame. He doesn’t want to reveal the truth because it’s almost dastardly. In certain respects Finch is a supervillain, who first went corporate and then went altruistic.

 

Being the very best

Reese has lost plenty of fights, due to a poor situation or injury or just bad luck. Being the best doesn’t mean you win every contest on the day. And we see that the same is true about Finch: he is lured and out-hacked by Root in a way that is very damaging to his sense of security, leading him to vacate the library. I like that this show is willing to let its characters fail, not just in occasional dramatic moments but in the small narrative mechanics of each episode. This is something that unfortunately falls away in future seasons due to narrative compression: the more complicated your explicit material, the faster the rest of the narrative needs to move.

Finch has survived for so long through endless paranoia and technical expertise, layers of aliases and secrets sealed inside each other. And now Root punctures through those defences and addresses the real man: Harold. She steals the privilege that only Reese has had this season, of seeing something close to Harold’s real person and motives. But this is important for Harold. Root is a character who rubs him the wrong way, because Root doesn’t ask for permission to enter Harold’s life. They just do. And it’s this kind of unchosen appearance of a new relationship that reveals character: not just the relationships we choose to enter into, but the ones that force themselves upon us.

 

Reveal, conceal

Root comprehensively forges Powell’s digital footprint, completely fooling not just the police but Our Heroes as well. This reiterates a common point of the show that digital surveillance is not infallible. It gives you more data points. But the interpretation of that data can be flawed, or the data itself can be forged. Having more to work with also means there are more points of potential failure or deception.

Digital surveillance in general might give us a more accurate picture of people – or actually, perhaps it merely gives us a finer-grained picture. By itself it doesn’t make surveillance more useful, any more than high definition photos make the viewer better at identifying birds. It reduces ambiguities and situations where there isn’t enough detail. But the expertise still has to exist in the operator.

An instrument that has the power to reveal must necessarily have the power to conceal.

 

The Dream

Reese really wants to help Powell because Powell has the Dream: wife, children, house, normal life, and so on. Reese knows he can’t have that but he still wants to preserve it for other people. He even ropes Zoe Morgan into this at the end, using her carefully developed power to scatter the reporters and protect the Powells. The strong protecting the weak – the ordinary citizens.

But doesn’t this narrative – the lone hero outside looking into the Dream – doesn’t this dissociate people from the society they profess to protect? If you are willing to give your life for others but can’t talk to them or spend time with them, it’s a curious kind of altruism. It’s certainly not neighbourly love. I’m aware that this distance is the result of John’s massive emotional trauma. But he seems to have given up on healing. I worry that this sort of heroic narrative lets those who do exercise violence on behalf of society too easily detach themselves from the bonds of that society, including the moral restrictions and sociability.

Just something to notice next time you watch an action movie.

NoL: Pointless predictions

Here are some pointless predictions about the next fifty years of Christianity in Australia, and some brief explanation of my reasoning.

 

  1. The most noticeable difference between individual Christians in terms of how they live will be how much they use the Internet. 
    The concepts and liturgies that Christians need to understand and critique their Internet use are still being created. Most Australian Christians seem fine with their smartphone always being connected to the social web. I don’t think this is because they’re actually fine. The church catholic is still assembling the spiritual tools to even begin to identify what kind of damage these practices might be doing. We think the moral question of our age is global warming or minority rights. But it might be choosing not to view people through an algorithmic lens supplied to us by corporations.
  2. Churches that have high to indiscriminate Internet use will sound more and more the same (even when their theological documents are quite different).
    When you’re all swimming in the same river, you all get wet.
  3. The main crisis in society will be a lack of dignified work. 
    Automation + outsourcing of manufacturing jobs + increased complexity of technological jobs = under-employment.
  4. Everybody will continue to suck at evangelism, particularly of non-middle-class.
    The cultural incomprehension of sin, creation, the nature of divinity, etc., will not get smaller but continue to grow. Keep on talking about creation->fall->Jesus->restoration. No one will have any idea what you mean by those ideas.
  5. Pentecostals/charismatics will continue to be the main exception. 
    (1) they are unashamedly supernatural, which is kind of necessary to walk the talk of being a Christian in an anti-supernatural world; (2) they generally do love and community super well; (3) their worship is a serious emotional experience that can’t be found in most Australians’ lives.
  6. Most churches and organisations will struggle to care at all about right theology or right interpretation. 
    I’m not talking about arcane theological trivia. As most Christians know less and less about both the Bible and the ecumenical creeds, Christian organisations will struggle to see why they should care about the virgin birth or a literal resurrection when they don’t mandate a position on, say, baptism. This will mostly affect parachurch ministries, which will have a fair contingent of literal heretics within them. Churches will be confronted with a million criss-crossing interpretations of scripture on every point and struggle to differentiate between the sound and the wicked.
  7. Churches with sound theology will need to continually re-explain doctrine in ways comprehensible to the culture. 
    If they get complacent about “now, now we’ve pinned down how to talk about God to kids these days” they will get whipped about by their kids over the next ten years.
  8. Increasingly radical structures of Christian community and obedience will be attempted. Some will be great successes, while coming under heavy fire from other Christians.
    My case for this is too long to detail here.

See you in fifty years.

SP: Person of Interest 112, Legacy

Summary

Carter and Reese talk a little in a diner and he asks her to unseal the juvie record of this episode’s Number: a litigator named Andrea Gutierrez. Fusco warns Reese that Carter is up to something, and Carter watches Fusco watching her.

At first, Our Heroes conclude that Gutierrez is being targeted to protect Galuska, the parole officer of one of her clients, who collects protection money from his parolees and sometimes frames them to fill up spots in low-occupancy prisons. The con turns out to be creating fake children for the convicts and collecting the benefits. And Galuska is working with Gutierrez’ helpful friend at Department of Child Services. Finch collects the evidence, the guy tries to kill her, Reese gets there in time, and Carter cleans up by arresting him.

Across the episode, Finch pays the bail of Will Ingram, his dead best friend’s son. Will wants to find out more about his father’s legacy, and is curious about the time spent developing the Machine. Finch is secretive about Will, and Reese gets Fusco to tail Finch.

 

Surveillance Report

The con isn’t straightforward and therefore the episode feels a bit explain-y. But Reese and Andrea have some good interactions, which makes up for a villain who is mostly a cipher.

I like that Reese is still shaking off his bullet wounds. One of the benefits of long-form pulp is that you can give injuries some weight because you have more narrative space to play around with.

 

Changing your mind

Carter is still deciding whether to work with Our Heroes. Reese accidentally chasing a hitman in front of a garbage truck probably didn’t help. What changes her mind isn’t his methods but getting a chance to see them work (a repeat of last episode, but this time following up after Reese rather than doing the whole thing at the mysterious behest of Finch). The lure of preventing violent crimes is pretty dang powerful for a good cop like Carter.

 

Second chances

The closest thing this episode has to thematic content is second chances. Andrea fought her way up for her second chance; she wants to give them to others; and at the end, she and Reese bond over their shared motivation.

Note that Andrea insists she wasn’t running away from her old self. She was starting fresh – that meant moving on from her past while acknowledging it. Reese hasn’t really done this. And that should suggest where the rest of this season is going.

 

Trust

Reese is annoyed by Finch keeping even more secrets about what he’s up to – a bit funny given the chaos Reese causes by keeping Fusco and Carter on different pages. Each cop is getting suspicious of the other, just like Reese getting suspicious of Finch’s unexplained departures to deal with Will. Reese is holding on to old instincts about asset management.  Finch is holding on to instincts he learned more recently, and quite painfully. Anyone who knows the full truth about the Machine seems to get hurt. Finch is trying to protect Will and Reese.

Our Heroes need to learn trust. But all of them come from Copland or the Shadows and don’t trust easily. Yet without trust, the group will self-destruct and break down. We’ve seen over and over again this season that relationships based on profit or pure loyalty break down. Real love – real trust and sacrifice for another – is what Our Heroes need to survive.

Some reasons why School of Rock is the best school/teacher movie ever made

  1. The teacher’s obvious self-centeredness and arrogance is portrayed as an actual flaw that he overcomes by seeing the class create something better than his efforts.
  2. There is both a reaction against conventional discipline and an appreciation that there needs to be order and some kind of discipline.
  3. Many kinds of talent and ability are recognised and treated as valuable.
  4. The administration in the form of Miss Mullins is treated as a real person with understandable motivations.
  5. The chief source of pressure is the expectations of the parents – but they are also depicted as real human beings.
  6. The epilogue shows a compromise between different forces in education rather than one side being utterly wrong.
  7. Characters believe in something bigger than themselves and are changed by it (rock and roll).
  8. We see actual dedication and practice rather than pure talent.
  9. THE CONCERT

    Apart from the unfortunate gay kid stereotype, it’s almost a perfect movie.

SP: Person of Interest 111, Super

Summary

Reese recovers from multiple bullet wounds in an apartment building whose superintendent is this episode’s Number: Trask is his name (as he loves to repeat). He’s a jovial big-talker who boasts about the nightclubs and yachts he used to own in Miami before giving that all up.

Name’s Trask. I tell you that already?

Trask spends all his time at work so Our Heroes basically surveil the whole building. Trask buys a gun and has surveillance photos of one of the residents, Lily. Our Heroes worry that he is about to kill Lily – or her boyfriend Rick. But it turns out Trask wants Rick the unstable stalker to back off.

Rick enters Lily’s apartment and starts talking stalker-talk. Reese and Trask rush up to intervene. Hampered by his bullet wounds and crutches, Reese can’t end the fight without throwing Rick out a window. He seems to survive. Finch reveals that Trask really was a big time nightclub owner before entering witness protection and moving to New York.

In flashback we see Nathan Ingram showing the Machine’s progress to the government. Deputy Director Weeks immediately wants more control of the system. And Nathan is shown to have some concerns about the Machine’s impact on privacy.

Snow and his Merry Men are surveilling Carter in an obvious way – putting pressure on her to help them find John. But she slips her tail and goes to track down Finch who allows himself to be found. With Reese in a wheelchair, Finch hits two birds with one stone and gives Carter another Number. This shows her what they do and stops a man from killing the banker who foreclosed on his house.

 

Surveillance Report

This is a fun episode that plays with expectations, treats stalking soberly and seriously, gives real weight to the consequences of the CIA finding John last episode, and gives Carter narrative space to think about her approach to Our Heroes.

The breathing spaces of a season are just as important as the points of narrative change and thematic tension. This is a breather episode that shows us the consequences of last episode without giving up on telling its own story. A+.

 

Speaking of surveillance…

In this episode Our Heroes demonstrate the breathtaking ease and scope of modern electronic surveillance. Usually we see this filtered through the Machine’s point of view – an inherently speculative and fantastic lens that distances what we see from our own world. But when Finch is blithely hacking into people’s unsecured wifi and taking over every camera with a wireless connection, it feels uncomfortably real. This is where we have arrived in the West. And we mostly put ourselves here. Our Heroes get all these video feeds because people wanted cameras everywhere.

Now, I’m not saying that someone who is surveilled or has their webcam hacked is at fault. I’m saying that if there’s a peephole into your living room from a secret compartment in the wall, it’s not just a question of whether you put a good lock on that compartment. Why is that compartment there? Why is all this access and audiovisual data existent? Basically I’m saying that the technological structures of our lives need to be examined and critiqued. We can’t live unexamined lives even in the area of the devices we have. We need to make choices rather than just do things.

When Carter gets the location data for the phone number of Finch’s pseudonym, Finch telling her that he faked the data to bring her to him doesn’t make the location tracking less creepy. It just exposes how much it’s a tool at the service of those who can exert technical power. Finch can remain lost in the shadows because he is master of the technical – his life cannot be decoded by those without similar skills. But people like Lily, people like you and me – we don’t have those skills. We are the observed. The complex mirror-web of social media and celebrity makes us think that we are observers but we are actually the bugs under the microscope: watched and catalogued by governments, by marketing companies, by companies like Facebook and Twitter and Google that make money off their control of us.

Wow, that got a little dark. Let’s talk about Trask’s amusing demeanour and tall tales!

Name’s Trask. I tell you that already?

Oh wait, the stories he’s been spinning all along are true? This character reminds us that surveillance doesn’t automatically lead to knowledge, and we have to be careful about trusting the images we form of people based on incomplete information and our illusion of omniscience? Oh dear.

 

Flip flop

At the start of this episode, Carter is certainly not on the side of Our Heroes. She wanted to arrest them – the CIA meant that couldn’t happen, and now she’s off the case. She no longer feels a responsibility to active seek out and arrest them. This seems to be a combination of (a) their motives seem benevolent, (b) they’re being hunted by CIA killers, and (c) hunting them is somebody else’s job. That adds up to her being curious enough to talk to Finch. It doesn’t mean she’s on anyone’s side but that of Justice.

Finch tries to “recruit” Carter in a more emotionally mature way than with Reese. He made Reese feel what it was like to get there too late, and then offered the chance to get there in time; with Carter he simply gives her the opportunity to be there. I think this is partly because Finch really needs someone to help the episode’s second Number, but mostly because the job of preventing violence is one that Carter already has. Finch was trying to break through Reese’s emotional trauma and make him consider the possibility of helping people. But with Carter none of this needs to happen; Finch just has to demonstrate what he’s about.

Please note that Finch isn’t just demonstrating what he and Reese do for Carter, he is also (whether she gets this or not) demonstrating their motives: an objective and uncomplicated desire to prevent violence and save lives. The right person in the right place. That’s all they want to be.

 

Stalker

Just a quick note that this subplot isn’t just about crazy male entitlement – there is an interaction with dynamics of wealth and class. Lily is a cook and Rick is an investor or some kind of owner in that world. He tries to leverage this to get her interested in a relationship. And when she’s not interested, Rick just skips over that whole “relationship” bit and goes straight to getting what he wants out of another human being.

Finch is well aware of the dynamics of stalking, and violent ends to dysfunctional relationships. One imagines he’s seen a lot of this through his work with the Numbers. But his broader knowledge still needs to be applied to concrete situations. And means getting to know the people involved. Finch misjudges Trask as a stalker. It’s entirely understandable why – but note the recurring element in this show of people not being what they appear. The human person is a labyrinth of masks and mirrors. And traversing it, as Our Heroes do each episode, requires more than just surveillance.

Name’s Trask. I tell you that already?