Person of Interest Recap: Finch and Reece Face Multiple Surprisesby Alan Eggleston / February 18, 2015
This week’s episode of Person of Interest, “Q&A,” had some interesting surprises.
We met two young women working in the computer world: Claire Mahoney and Anna Mueller. At first their worlds appeared very far apart, but then they intersected at the end. That’s one surprise. The others come toward the end.
Two Very Interesting Characters
Claire Mahoney, a person of interest from a 2014 episode titled “Nautilus,” returns to seek Harold Finch’s help against Samaritan. (See this page for some details on the “Nautilus” episode.)
In 2014, Claire was a coder pursuing a dangerous game called Nautilus that Harold discovered was created by Samaritan. The game posted hints in a treasure hunt, and one hint in particular was a lost-dog poster that Harold again finds posted on the street with the exact duplicate details. He decides to seek her out, and when he finds her hiding in a city parking lot, snipers fire at her, hitting her in the arm. Harold takes her to the nearest place he can think of with the tools he thinks he will need to give her first aid, which turns out to be a mortuary.
Anna Mueller moved to New York with her sister, Jill, from Munich when Anna was 14 and went on to earn scholarships and honors in judo and kick boxing. Now she works as a transcriber for Fetch and Retrieve, a very successful Internet Search company, on a search and retrieve program called VAL, an acronym for Voice Activated Lookup. But Jill is sick and bed ridden, taking chemo therapy, and Anna uses her judo and kick boxing skills in amateur competitions to help her earn extra money and achieve some sense of fighting her sister’s illness, a battle she has no confidence she is winning.
Initially, Harold is working with Reece to track down Anna, who has been identified by The Machine as its next person of interest. But when he finds the lost-dog poster, he becomes intrigued and is determined to find Claire.
Anna and the Manipulation of Data
Reece looks for hints of danger and tailing her leads him to an illicit caged multi-martial-arts fighting venue. It’s an illicit event, but not the real danger. Then Reece learns that Anna’s real threat is from her work. As a transcriber on VAL, she has stumbled onto the case of a user who suffered from depression and was seeking help, but rather than being helped, he was emotionally manipulated into taking his own life. Anna had sent emails up the chain of command but gotten nowhere. She sought the help of a friend at work, but he told her he had spent too much time on it already and to drop it. The company’s CEO, Lauren Buchanan, also suggests Anna drop it or the company might have to reconsider her future there.
Anna goes back to her work area to talk to her friend, Naresh, but his desk is cleared and his photo I.D. is sitting by his computer. She is afraid he has been fired or he has quit – or something much worse.
Trying to leave for the evening, Anna is attacked by two hooded thugs. She fights back, but as they try to place a bag over her head, Reece comes to Anna’s aid and wrestles with the thugs. Anna fights them, too, and almost tangles with Reece until she recognizes him as someone from security at Fetch and Retrieve. Reece then shows her his police badge and takes her to the precinct for protection. “I’m a cop,” he says. “From the looks of it, you might need my help.”
In the precinct interrogation room, Reece and Anna are joined by Detective Lionel Fusco. Wondering who the men were who attacked her, Anna’s only clue is the depressed man whose life she tried to save, Paul Zimmerman. She shows how the VAL program was supposed to work, but that it worked differently for Zimmerman than for others. She plays Zimmerman’s voice requests for depression and suicide help. Fusco wonders, Zimmerman can’t be the only one who asks for that kind of information. Anna demonstrates what others get when they ask for it: an ad for a suicide hotline. Then she shows the same response when Zimmerman asked for it: information tailored for a man on the edge, essentially nudging him over.
Reece and Fusco are sure that someone at the company is after her. Now Anna is also worried about the disappearance of her friend, Naresh. Reece offers to check on Naresh while Fusco protects Anna.
Reece finds Naresh in a brand new office as VP of Data Access. Naresh explains that the promotion came up suddenly. When Reece brings up the Zimmerman problem, Naresh tries to explain it away, but then says he isn’t supposed to talk about it. Reece leaves it there for the moment, deciding that Naresh has been paid off for his silence.
Meanwhile, back in the interrogation room, Anna receives a medical alert on her phone. Her sister Jill remains in bed in their apartment, hooked up to a medical monitor and wears a medical-alert bracelet. The bracelet has activated and EMT has been alerted; an ambulance is on the way. Anna wants to go now, and Fusco agrees to take her. But when they get to the apartment, all is quiet. Dashing from the car before Fusco can stop her, Anna rushes inside to see if Jill is OK, but there is no response. She turns to Fusco to call for an ambulance, but she finds him laying on the pavement, a hooded thug standing over him while another thug sneaks up behind her and shoots her with a syringe.
Overlooking the scene at Anna’s house later, Reece is in touch with Harold, who thinks he should get a look at VAL’s code, which may have been tampered with. Fusco has recovered from his fall from grace, so Reece sends him to retrieve the code while Reece goes to retrieve Anna.
Anna, meanwhile, is in the backseat of an SUV racing down an urban side street. She is shackled, but she leaps from the back seat and attacks both the driver and the front-seat passenger, the SUV now swerving all over the road. It’s all the two thugs can do to manage Anna and the car. Reece shows up in the middle of the road and shoots the SUV, causing it to crash into a parked car. Anna is retrieved.
Fusco goes to Naresh’s office and presents him with photos of Zimmerman’s portrait and autopsy, telling him he may be involved in an innocent man’s death – and Anna may be next. Naresh can help by giving Fusco VAL’s code. They go to Lauren Buchanan’s office and present the situation to her. She finds it hard to swallow, but just then, the company’s Chief Technical Officer, Calvin Mazer, enters with two thugs at his side with their guns raised. “Come on, Naresh, I thought we understood each other,” Calvin says. “You keep quiet, everyone wins.”
Lauren confronts Calvin, but he says he’s just cleaning up. Calvin demands Fusco’s firearm, and he reluctantly gives it to him.
Calvin explains to Lauren that when he found his new algorithm for VAL, he knew he had to go it alone. The beta test had gone nearly flawlessly. Soon, VAL would shape the emotions of millions of users and Fetch and Retrieve would be one of the most powerful advertising and content delivery platforms in the world. Zimmerman? He was the unfortunate consequence of a successful test. And Calvin isn’t about to let anyone destroy what he worked so hard to build.
Just then, Reece shows up with Anna, who attack the thugs. Fusco eases Lauren Buchanan to safety. Calvin tries to escape but Fusco comes back in time to smack him down.
Reece escorts Anna back to her home. She’s considering moving to a city where she can use her mixed martial arts skills as a pro and make more money. In the meantime, she has a more important fight right at home: Her sick sister is waiting.
The Trouble with Claire
All during the attempt to protect Anna Mueller, Harold has been with Claire Mahoney at the mortuary. The only place to hide is a room full of coffins, and that’s where Claire is resting, on top of a coffin. Harold has hacked the mortuary security system to clear the surveillance cameras, so they’re safe for now.
Claire wakes up and is about to thank him for saving her life, but realizes she doesn’t know his name. But rather than answer, he wants to know why she’s on the run.
After she solved the last Nautilus puzzle, Claire was taken in by a group. They said the game’s purpose was to recruit people who could help them on their mission, which was to make the world a better place. However, soon she found herself hacking databases, stealing information; they wouldn’t say from whom, just that they were very bad people. But Claire doesn’t like secrets and lets it be suggested that she hacked the group. Every mission she did for them led to someone’s death – and not bad people, ordinary people. She goes on to detail the story of a man they poisoned named Charles Wynn – an event she says she will never forget.
That’s when she chose to escape. To find a man whose name she didn’t even know, the one person who tried to keep her from going down the wrong path before.
Harold confirms the bad news for Claire: Those people who took her in are not making the world a better place. They’re remaking the world in the image of their leader. When she asks who the leader is, he explains it’s a being willing to kill as many people as it takes to keep its own existence secret and its power intact – people like Charles Wynn.
Then Harold explains that this being is an AI (Artificial Intelligence) and it’s called Samaritan. Claire looks stunned. Or is that the look of someone surprised by a checked move?
From behind her back Claire pulls out a flash drive. Before she escaped from the group, Claire says, she took one more thing from its network: a raw chunk of source code from a set of old drives. Whatever was on it was labeled “Samaritan.”
Claire looks up and sees a dead security camera. She’s excited that he disabled it and that Harold is a hacker – just like her. And that means he can help her do what she needs to do. Together, with that code, they can attack Samaritan and kill it.
In private, Harold considers Claire’s flash drive. Instead, he turns to the computer and searches for news on Charles Wynn. Harold finds a news article about Wynn’s death, but nothing that matches Claire’s story, and Fusco can’t track anything close to it in police death reports.
Harold walks in to examine Claire’s wounds. He interrogates her about Wynn and his method of death. She’s offended.
Claire seems awfully interested in Harold sticking that flash drive into his computer. He seems especially resistant. Harold voices his concerns that a program on the flash drive might seek out every device that his laptop has been connected to and everyone that’s close to him. And Samaritan might use that information to hunt them down. It begins to play almost like a chess match.
Then Harold tells Claire what he learned about Charles Wynn. There was no dramatic death, no trace of poison in his blood as she had described it. He tells her to keep her flash drive and threatens to turn the cameras back on so she can tell her story to Samaritan.
Claire struggles to reclaim Harold’s trust. But Harold has lost someone close and he won’t risk losing anyone else.
She makes one more bold attempt. Claire explains away the poison not reported in Charles Wynn’s blood, gives details explaining away the accident details. She suggests that if he’s wrong about her, Harold is going to lose her, too. Now Harold has to make a difficult decision, whether to believe her. He gives it a brief thought, then as Harold is about to stick the flash drive into his laptop his phone rings. It’s Fusco sending Finch the response algorithm for Fetch and Retrieve’s VAL program.
Harold examines Fetch and Retrieve’s VAL code noting that it was specifically designed to target people whose search histories indicated dependencies like depression, heavy debt, and compulsive gambling. VAL sent them results which would make their problems worse. These people represented huge markets for products currently sold by Fetch and Retrieve’s advertisers. The new algorithm was placed in the system anonymously, but Harold has tracked down the source: It’s someone the team has met before: Samaritan.
Ready to leave, Claire sets the camera surveillance loop to reset and Harold packs up his laptop. She feigns knowing he was so resourceful. “No wonder Samaritan is hunting you down,” Claire compliments him. “You’re not just a thorn in its side, you’re a one-man revolution.” Then as they’re about to leave, she says, “And Harold…” Suddenly he wonders, how did she know his name? As Harold turns around, Claire draws a gun on him. Our suspicion of Claire is confirmed.
Claire confesses she has played a lot of chess, but this is the first time she has almost beaten herself. One slip could have cost her the game. She demands his phone and his laptop.
“You’re a fool if you think I’ll lead you back to my friends,” he warns her. “You will have to shoot me.” She says she isn’t authorized to shoot him, assuming he goes with her peacefully. But to where? How about to Samaritan.
Claire takes Harold to a strange location, one that Harold finds an odd place for Samaritan to set up shop: a charter school. That’s the second surprise.
They walk into a classroom full of students under instruction. Claire explains that Samaritan doesn’t want to subjugate people, they want to save them. Samaritan created the charter school to bring these neighborhood children their only hope for a better future. And that’s not all – one day they may even reduce or eliminate food and water shortages. You can almost feel Harold’s sense of demise at Claire’s foolish idealism.
The stories that Claire told Harold about the group – murder, data theft, and Charles Wynn? She told Harold what he wanted to believe. But beliefs can change, she insists. A foreshadowing.
She wasn’t supposed to bring Harold to the school. Her cover was blown and she was supposed to bring him in. But she believes in her heart that Harold has the capacity to choose to join Samaritan.
When Harold refuses, Samaritan agents emerge from different corners of the room, their guns trained on him. Before they leave, Harold has a question for Claire, one to break through her fantasy about Samaritan: If Samaritan was willing to shoot Claire to get Harold to believe what it wanted, how far will it go to get these school children to believe? She doesn’t flinch and hands Harold over to the Samaritan agents.
As Harold, Claire and the four Samaritan agents emerge from the school, there are four quick, silenced gun bursts. The four agents go down, leaving Harold and a surprised Claire. Root is back! That’s the third surprise.
“Nice to finally meet you, Claire,” says Root sarcastically. “Give your boss a message for me: Hi!” And Root shoots Claire in the arm. Claire runs back into the building.
More Samaritan Mergers and Acquisitions
Later, John Greer, head of Samaritan, is running off for “Mergers and Acquisitions.” He enters a conference room at Fetch and Retrieve headquarters, sitting down at the head of the table. Facing CEO Lauren Buchanan, he says, “Shame to see you’ve hit rather a tragic fork in your road. Shall we see if together we can’t choose the right way forward?” That’s the final surprise.
Oh the twists and turns Person of Interest takes.