This episode’s Number, Teresa, is presumed dead and has been living that way ever since her family were gunned down. She has sought safety by disappearing from her life, not contacting the aunt who still loves her. The B story of this episode is Reese trying to find out more about his employer Finch. It turns out that he works as a low-level programmer at the company he owns. He has disappeared into unimportance; we see in flashback that he used his friend as a fake CEO, drawing all the public attention. Both Teresa and Finch have kept themselves safe by fading away from human contact. They have left behind the webs of relationships that should connect them to the world.
But Finch has lost his one friend (we find out later that his name is Nathan Ingram). And so he counsels Teresa to reconnect with her aunt; to not give up on the love and human connection that he has lost. The closing scene of Teresa and her aunt wordlessly embracing is one of the most moving scenes in this season. But this episode also says something echoed in many later episodes: human connection makes you vulnerable. It is Teresa calling her aunt that puts the hitman on to her location. Again and again, Our Heroes will be shown to be safe when they are entirely isolated from broader society; that loving or caring about ‘normal’ people creates an avenue of attack. Having lost his friend, Finch knows this. But he still tells Teresa to rebuild her relationship with her aunt.
What I’m not sure about is whether Finch does this because the threat to Teresa is so much less than to him, and she can perhaps manage to keep what he could not; or whether it’s a vicarious desire, the hope that she can preserve what he has already lost. Perhaps a bit of both.
This episode shows us by flashback that saving the irrelevant numbers wasn’t Finch’s idea. He was content to ignore them. (Heartbreakingly, we see Jessica’s face flash up on the screen). It was Nathan Ingram who feels they need to do something; it’s Nathan who can’t really see a moral difference between relevant and irrelevant numbers, the difference that Finch has laboriously coded into the Machine but which (as the mere existence of the irrelevant list shows) doesn’t really exist. Or at least not in moral dignity – in means of protecting life, perhaps there is a relevant distinction. But more on that later.
For now, we have seen that Finch did not start saving lives on his own. He was actually willing to let people be hurt because he needed the Machine to stay secret, so that it could stay turned on and stop terrorist attacks. Something happened – something that gave Finch his limp, changed his glasses from round to square, and killed his friend Nathan. As mentioned in the last entry – moral clarity comes through pain and loss in this show.
The cops didn’t realise that Teresa’s family was a professional hit, rather than a murder-suicide. But John the ex-assassin did. The cops didn’t realise that Teresa was still alive, rather than her body being lost at sea. But the Machine the omniscient AI did. Again and again the show tells and shows us that the system is inadequate and incompetent. It has good and bad people in it. But even the good people are held back – people need more. They need Our Heroes. But it’s important to remember that Our Heroes can only be what they are with the help of the Machine. When people in real life suggest that they need to go beyond the law, to be free from restraint, our response should be: are you omniscient?
In a sense the show is already predicating divine attributes of the Machine: it is never wrong, it always knows, but it has to entrust that knowledge to its imperfect (though ridiculously skilled) human agents.
The anonymous hitman of this episode is a physical match for Reese. It’s the existence of people like him that let Reese be a good guy. Without people like the hitman, or the thugs in the open of the episode, Reese might look like a crazed vigilante. But with people like this, Reese’s highly skilled selfless violence finds selfish violence against which it can match itself.
I have to respect the show for giving Reese an equal opponent so quickly (Reese is forced to use guns and is fortunate to get the drop on him at the end). But that’s weirdly one of the strengths to this show. Its characters do make mistakes, they sometimes try their best but fail anyway, and the story keeps moving. Reese will actually be defeated fairly often: sometimes by numbers, sometimes by handicap, sometimes by being outmaneuvered. In a sense Reese and Finch are defined as people who have already been defeated: who weren’t smart or strong enough, or in the right place, to save the people they loved.