Our Number is Henry Peck, an NSA analyst with so little personal life that it’s difficult to imagine him as a victim or perpetrator. Then Peck is framed for drug possession and run out of his job. Turns out that he has been asking questions about certain details that get added to his reports and end up exposing terrorists. This is of course how the Machine’s relevant Numbers are being disseminated.
ISA gunmen show up hunting Peck and Reese has the difficult job of protecting a Number without revealing his presence. After Peck goes in and out of police custody, Finch turns up and confirms Peck’s suspicions that the Machine exists before giving him a new identity. Corwin listens to their conversation.
In flashback we find out that Finch was quite happy ignoring the irrelevant Numbers, and that Nathan Ingram coded a backdoor into the Machine.
This episode works pretty well because Finch’s emotion gives foundation to Peck’s. But Peck himself doesn’t contribute much to the proceedings. He drives the plot, yes, but his reaction to what is going on doesn’t show us anything new about the themes of the show. Slight missed opportunity.
However, the show starts gearing up for the big arc across its five seasons; and it is both appropriate and good storytelling to explore this arc through the procedure of saving Numbers. The episode also draws a number of parallels between characters in different timeframes, helping us understand one through the other.
Ingram and Peck
Both Ingram and Peck are good men whose virtue places them in danger. The morality that governs the shadowy group trying to discredit or kill Peck is a totalising one – it does not allow other approaches to right decisions, it does not even obey the laws of the country they seek to protect. There is no idealistic understanding of the USA in play here, only a brutally realist and humanist one. America is the people. So do anything to keep more people alive – even silencing inconvenient good people.
This materialist-patriotic kind of shadow will gradually be replaced across the course of the show by a super-national that does not care about ordinary people or their safety or even the present state of the human race. The threat in this episode treats people as something to be conserved as a whole; what matters is that the USA as broad institution is not destroyed by terrorist attacks. The new threat will see people as a whole as something to be transcended and revitalised through submission to AI.
In both cases the focus on abstract universals rather than individuals leads to tyranny and a free use of violence. It is only by applying abstract ideals to real people that Our Heroes can provide a counter-argument.
Ingram and Finch
We find out that it was Nathan Ingram, Finch’s friend and cover story, who couldn’t handle the irrelevant Numbers and started to do something about it. The ironclad commitment to helping Numbers, the sense of universal justice applying to every individual, is something Finch learned from his friend. Once again the show says that morality is as much about the right relationships as the right beliefs; being friends with good people makes you better, as both Reese and Fusco have shown.
Finch and Peck
Finch sees a great deal of himself in Peck. Ingram wanted justice and that led to a desire for truth, but Peck is purely interested in truth and understanding. Like Finch he is a natural system-thinker. And that has put him in the same place as Finch: on the run, hiding in the shadows from others who live in the shadows.
This episode shows us the normal life that Finch (like Peck) has lost: a relationship with a woman named Grace. He isn’t bitter because he got far more time with her than Reese ever had with Jessica. But connecting these two relationships can’t help but critique Finch. When Reese left Jessica behind out of a desire to protect her, out of emotional cowardice, that led to her death. Giving up life and love to live in the shadows is a bad thing so far in this show. I wish that it remembered that more often.
Finch and Corwin
By empathising with Peck (the main way Our Heroes save Number, it seems) Finch reveals himself to Alicia Corwin. She has also been driven into the shadows. Becoming aware of Finch’s existence will bring her back next episode…