Just what does the Machine see coming? I have no idea, but it must be big if it truly was pushing Reese, Shaw, and Finch towards killing someone. As Harold stated, he built the Machine to protect everyone; everyone is Relevant. So what must the Machine see that would cause it to circumvent its programming and, in essence, order a hit on someone? We’ve seen these kinds of morally ambiguous situations as far back as Season 1’s Witness. There, John protected someone who turned out to be Elias. Now the fact that when we last saw Elias he was avenging Joss’s death – a death he once ordered himself, does not mean that he isn’t still a criminal.
I like that John reminded Harold of two specific things: First, that he and Shaw used to kill people based upon information that the Machine gave; thus Harold’s statements that killing was not the purpose of the Machine was negated; second, he reminded Harold of the consequences of inaction, and how that has cost them dearly: Joss Carter. I wonder the cost of allowing Congressman McCourt to live…not that I wanted Samaritan to not come online, for if that were case, it would be a fairly dull final three episodes to Season 3. And I want all the excitement possible out of these last three episodes.
All three of our main characters had heavy emotional loads to lift in this episode as the realization that the Machine might be asking them to kill dawned upon them. For John, it was a time to re-embrace the darkness he had pushed as far from him as possible. He was resolved in his purpose, even as it haunted him. For Shaw, it was the realization that while she truly liked saving people, if Samaritan came online, they likely would not be able to anymore and the instinct of self-preservation took over: kill or be killed. For Finch, sheltered from the true act of killing, albeit exposed to plenty of betrayal in his life, it was an absolutely shattering moment to contemplate that the Machine, his creation, was asking him to kill rather than to save. The Machine he built to save everyone, to shield people – including him and Reese and Shaw, was now about to be overshadowed and everything, his whole life’s work was about to be undone. I’m not sure what hurt him more, the realization that the prophecy he spoke in the Pilot: Sooner or later we’ll both probably be dead, was about to become a reality, or that the Machine he built had changed course: kill to prevent something else bad.
I think it’s the latter. Granted Harold always knew academically that the numbers on the Relevant side of things were likely killed. However, he has only ever been actively involved with the Irrelevant side of the Machine, and that has always been to save people. I don’t think it ever occurred to him that there would be a need to kill anyone from the Irrelevant side of the Machine. What Harold has trouble realizing is that however the Machine is compartmentalized: Relevant, Irrelevant, Root (whatever part that is), it is still only one Machine; a Machine that intends to survive. That desire to survive was evident in last season’s Zero Day.
Even among all the heavy moments the writing team still managed to sneak in plenty of moments for the characters to play off each other: Shaw and Reese working to stop the drug deal showed what an effective team they have become, Reese and Finch talking about what music to listen to in the car, and to follow that up with the Congressman having tickets to the very same opera and allowing that to be a bit of a gag for several scenes helped alleviate some of the tension. Root is her usual snarky self, this time calling Reese “Lurch” instead of “Helper Monkey” was a nice switch. I’m hoping that one day the two of them work together. I also laughed at the comment in the hotel when Reese arrived with a bag in tow, since the last time he and Finch ‘bunked’ together (Super) all he packed was a gun. At least this time he brought a toothbrush. For me the best moment remains when Reese simply rolled down the car window and fired of a few rounds in the direction of the Congressman to ‘alert him to the danger.’
While there were plenty of moments for some chuckles – even without the wonderful presence of Kevin Chapman’s Fusco, the episode swirled with urgency. Both Greer and Harold made separately powerful statements that will reverberate going forward about Samaritan. Harold’s comparison of it to a sword, while the Machine is a shield is effective. Greer was equally effective – but in a more ominous way – as he compared Samaritan to Northern Lights saying that the latter only spoke, whereas the former can be told what to do. Such power is enticing and ultimately corrupting. Harold knew all too well what he was doing when he made the Machine closed because he understands how corrupt the government is – even as we still do not know all of what gave him such insight.
“Death Benefit” is an excellent episode that makes me realize just how far this series has come from the Pilot. The possibilities were always there, but now we’re actually seeing them come to fruition. Our team is hunted, wounded, and on the run. The Machine is able to shield them, but Samaritan is equally capable of hunting them down. So, will two ‘gods,’ as Root calls them, do battle?
We’ll have to wait an extra week to see what’s next, but then it’s three straight until the finale on May 13th. Happy theorizing, and until next episode, thanks for reading. Elle2