Recap: Person Of Interest S 03 E 11

Season 3, Episode 11:

Lethe

Arthur: After 9/11 the government had everyone under the cat try to build a system that could watch everything.
Harold: It came to you as well.
Arthur: Yes. I told them the only way they could achieve what they wanted was to build something that not only watched but understood what it was watching.
Harold: An A.I.
Arthur: I know you always said artificial intelligence was a fool's errand, Harold... I was this close.

After Carter's death has been avenged, Reese hangs up his suit and drops off the map to drown his sorrows, leaving Finch and Shaw behind to safeguard their latest number, Arthur Claypool, a friend of Harold's from college, now a retired NSA programmer whose terminal brain cancer does odd things to his memory - sometimes he can't remember things at all, and sometimes he blurts out what he now remembers no matter how classified it is to whoever's around.

The flashback scenes of the episode show a young Harold (and yes, that really is his name, though a surname is never mentioned in those scenes) growing up in Iowa with his increasingly forgetful father, demonstrating his talent for taking things apart, breaking into computer systems and expressing a desire to make a machine that can genuinely think.

  • 10-Minute Retirement: Finch debates quitting after Carter dies and Reese runs off to Colorado. Only the prospect of Shaw running around without supervision stops him.
  • Actor Allusion: Like Michael Emerson, Finch is originally from rural Iowa.
  • Alma Mater Song: Finch sings one with Arthur.
  • Ambiguously Evil: Look closely at the end. Hersh's box is yellow (knows about The Machine), and not red (relevant threat).
  • Animal Motifs: There's a birdcage in Finch's boyhood home, and as a boy he was always asking his father to identify birds.
  • Beneath the Mask: Control has to reveal herself after Arthur reveals that his wife has been dead all along.
  • Bilingual Bonus/Genius Bonus: the word "lethe" in Greek literally means "oblivion", "forgetfulness", or "concealment."; perfectly suited to Arthur Claypool's predicament.
    • In ancient Greek mythology, it was the name of the underworld's "river of forgetfulness." If you drank water from the River Lethe, you forgot everything.
  • Cliffhanger: The episode ends with Control holding Arthur and Finch at gunpoint, saying that the one who discloses the location of their Magnum Opus machine gets to survive. The Machine starts calculating some probabilities; specifically:
    • Death, 46.18%: Arthur T. Claypool
    • Death, 43.68%: Admin
    • Death, 84.98%: Sameen Shaw
    • Death, 26.50%: Robert N. Hersh
    • Death, 11.65%: Control
  • Continuity Nod: Arthur mentions that Samaritan was shut down on February 25, 2005. According to the flashback in "Super," Alicia Corwin told Nathan Ingram that the first "number" The Machine gave the government had turned out to be accurate the day before that, on February 24, 2005.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Control is Diane.
  • Dead All Along: Diane Claypool.
  • Exact Words: Reese tells Fusco to sit at the bar. He didn't say anything about drinking alcohol, so Fusco orders water - because he's now a teetotaler.
  • Foreshadowing:
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus/Rewatch Bonus:
    • When Root puts the three books together to make Arthur's number, and admonishes Finch that he should stop ignoring The Machine, the green book in the middle is called Remembering the Tabulator.
    • "Sameen Shaw" is an alias, according to the Machine's probability tree at the end of the episode. Her real name is redacted.
  • Gambit Pileup: Hoo boy. Vigilance attempts to kidnap Arthur, but are foiled by Finch and Shaw. At the same time, Arthur's wife Diane is really Control in disguise, who was keeping an eye on Arthur in an attempt to find Samaritan. Oh, and whatever Control is up to has gotten her designated with a red box.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Fusco tries this on Reese, but it's not very successful since Reese is a significantly better fighter than Fusco, despite having a good deal of whiskey in his system.
  • Heroic BSOD: After the events of the HR subplot, Reese goes through one and goes to drink himself to death in Colorado.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender: Arthur said that he only needed a few more weeks before the government shut down Samaritan, and he could have done what Finch did - created an Artificial Intelligence of his own.
  • Idiot Ball: Was it so hard for Arthur to say that his wife was dead?
  • Meaningful Echo:
  • Missing Mom: Harold's mother is never mentioned in any of the flashback scenes.
  • Oh, Crap: Shaw's face is priceless when she figures out who "Diane Claypool" really is.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Finch ignoring calls from the Machine and Reese not stopping a man from getting beat up.
  • The Reveal: Samaritan is not as destroyed as the Machine thought it was.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • In one of the flashback scenes a teenaged Harold gets a pay phone to connect him to a random number in Paris (with a period-accurate dial tone!) for free using a plastic whistle. This was an actual method of phone phreaking during that time period, which was most commonly known to be used by John Draper, AKA Captain Crunch.
    • The transistor memory circuit Finch built in 1971—not only is it possible to build one out of transistors, the prop they built actually works.
  • Take That: to the NSA's real-life surveillance program PRISM—Arthur says it's a kludge used only as a decoy to keep people from discovering the truth about The Machine.
    • The Machine itself designates PRISM as a decoy.
  • The Teetotaler: Turns out, Fusco became this after working with Reese.
  • Understatement: Finch's reaction to finding out that Samaritan was one of the Machine's contenders:
    Finch: Sounds like quite a project.
  • Wham Episode
  • Wham Line:
    Arthur: Diane is dead. I buried her two years ago.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Root gives one to Finch about his deliberately ignoring messages from the Machine. No explanation was given as to how she got Arthur's number without leaving the Faraday cage. The next episode revealed that Root can hear messages from the Machine at a frequency many people can't hear, and knows how to pick simple locks like the one on the Faraday cage.
  • You Look Familiar: The actor who plays Finch's father previously played a fraudulent foster parent in an episode of season 1.