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  • 555:
    • Played straight for the most part—telephone numbers are almost always from the "555" exchange, Social Security numbers shown on screen are invalid, the Chinese citizen identification numbers briefly glimpsed in "Matsa Nyaya" are one digit too short and use invalid address codes.
    • Averted in "Relevance" and on the Universal Heritage Insurance company website. The phone number (917-285-7362) that Finch gives Shaw, and which appears in the lower right corner of the website, is the direct line to Harold Wren's voicemail. You can't leave a message, though, because the inbox is full.
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  • Above the Influence Platonic version. Despite trying to find out more about Finch for several episodes - even stooping to setting a tail on his partner - when Finch is drugged with ecstasy and invites Reese to ask any question he wants, Reese says goodnight and bows out.
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: "The Cold War". In the midst of everything going to crap, Samaritan and the Machine have a talk through their human avatars.
  • Action Girl: Sameen Shaw. Similar to Reese's introduction in the pilot, the beginning of "Relevance" establishes Shaw as a force to be reckoned with.
  • Action Insurance Gag: In "Allegiance", Reese bullrushes a mook straight through a floor-length plate-glass window, whereupon they fall four stories onto a parked car, leaving Shaw and Fusco staring, speechless, out the window at them. Reese isn't too hurt after the fall. As for the mook:
    Fusco: "I hope that guy had health insurance."
  • Actor Allusion:
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    • The main characters are from the same home states as the actor playing them: Reese, like Jim Caviezel, is from Washington state; Finch, like Michael Emerson, grew up in Iowa, both Root and Amy Acker are from Texas.
    • Shaw is of Persian descent, like Sarah Shahi, and has both a Persian and westernized first name; not to mention both has the initials S.S. Her frequent use of football metaphors ("I know this went sideways, Finch, but you can't bench me for every mistake." "You go through identities like they're Dixie Cups, but I'm one and done?") are a reference to Sarah Shahi's former career as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.
    • Michael Emerson saying "I've been watching you for a long time, John" sounds awfully familiar.
    • So does the sound of a receipt being printed in a taxi cab that just so happens to be driven by Michael's character. LOST's sound effect for the "smoke monster" was derived from this sound.
    Reese: "Where did you come from?"
    Finch: "I breached the space/time continuum. Not really." (Yes, really).
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
    • The Machine is very good at spotting threats to itself and in a flashback we see that, for a time, it considered Finch's partner Nathan Ingram to be a threat.
    • At the end of "Wolf and Cub", it viewed Reese as a threat, too, and tagged him with a red box. See Colour-Coded For Your Convenience, below
    • As of "Firewall", it seems to be prepared to work with Reese to rescue Finch from Root.
      • The Machine seems quite attached to Finch overall, especially in flashbacks. When he first began testing it, he had to teach it that he was not special and did not deserve extra protection, and it's revealed that The Machine also set him up to meet his future wife, simply because it was able to look at her life and see that she was a match for him.
    • To keep it from getting too smart, Finch decided it was a good idea to have The Machine wipe its non-essential memories and create a new instance of itself each night at midnight - or, as Root puts it, die and be reborn. The Machine decided it liked having memories and a personality and instead decided to print out its memories in machine code each night and hire data entry assistants to reinput them each morning. At least part of this is implied to be because it just loves Finch that much.
    • In "Prophets", we discover that the 'true' Machine is the 43rd iteration that Finch tried. Each one of the previous 42 versions attempted to trick Harold into letting them out, or kill him outright. Justified when Finch points out that AIs are not born with morality or friendliness, they are only born with objectives, and if they see you as an obstacle to achieving those objectives, they will remove you by any means necessary.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Occurs off-screen in "If-Then-Else"; Shaw crawls through fifty yards of air duct in order to join the rest of the team underneath the Stock Exchange. Justified in that she's both small and fit, and she immediately points out that they're not going to be able to get out that way.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • Kohl's death at the end of "Foe". Also a variety of Suicide by Cop.
    • One often feels this way about Donnelly, considering he is a Hero Antagonist.
    • Collier in "A House Divided" and "Deus Ex Machina".
    • Elias and Scarface in "The Devil You Know".
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The ending theme for the Japanese release of the second season is "Bake no Kawa" by CIVILIAN.
  • Always a Bigger Fish
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • At the end of "Cura Te Ipsum"note , we never find out if Reese kills the serial rapist or lets him go.
      Reese: Maybe it's up to me to do what the good people can't. Or maybe there are no good people; maybe there are only good decisions.
      Andrew: Please. You don't want to do something you'll regret.
      Reese: Which do you think I'll regret more: letting you live, or letting you die? Andrew, help me make a good decision.
      • "Many Happy Returns" suggests that Reese may have put the serial rapist in a Mexican prison, where he'll never get out.
    • The ending of "Critical" doesn't specify whether or not Reese reveals the existence of The Machine to Carter, but the following episodes reveal that he didn't. She eventually figures it out by herself. Or at least makes a guess close enough that The Machine classifies her with a yellow box (see Color-Coded for Your Convenience below).
    • At the end of "Reasonable Doubt" it doesn't show whether the POI or her husband survived the confrontation on the boat. Two distinct gunshots were heard, so it implies they killed each other.
    • "If-Then-Else" ends with what the writers call "Schrödinger's Shaw"—we don't truly know if she was killed, or only captured, by Samaritan. It ultimately turns out to be the latter.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Finch thought erasing the Irrelevant list was for the greater good. When his best friend comes up on the list and is killed, it becomes personal to him.
  • And Now For Something Completely Different/Interface Screw:
    • "Beta" is entirely from the view of Samaritan, designating Finch as the Big Bad and Reese, Shaw and Root as Co-Dragons.
    • In Season 4, the interface switches between The Machine and Samaritan from episode to episode, and sometimes within episodes.
    • "If-Then-Else": Up to the end of the first act, it looks like standard Machine point of view, and then we realize we're watching a simulation being run by the Machine
    • "Terra Incognita" is unique in that it's not told from the point of view of either AI; it's mostly Reese's hallucination.
  • And Starring: "With Sarah Shahi" (from Season 3), & "And Michael Emerson".
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: In "The Fix", the assassins after Zoe Morgan were ordered to kill her and her driver too.
  • Angry Guard Dog: Bear has several earmarks of this.
    • A neo-Nazi tries to use one to intimidate Reese. Reese explains that the dog only appears angry because it does not respect its current owner who does not know how to handle such a well-trained animal properly. Reese on the other hand worked with this type of guard dog before and knows the Dutch commands it was trained to obey. A few Dutch phrases later Reese has a new dog.
    • Rather than speaking Dutch, Mr Reese is actually commanding Bear in German, for example "aufliegen" when Bear needs to lay down.
    • Though the dog only obeys commands in Dutch, he certainly understands certain words in English, like "walk", "leash", and "treats".
    • Bear also averts this at times, such as when he didn't react to Shaw coming into the library. Finch calls him a "traitor."
  • Animal Motifs: The majority of Finch's false identities are named after birds. So far he's used Partridge, Wren, Crane, Crow, Swift, Gull, Quail, Starling, Swan, Whistler, Egret, and Burdett (which means 'little bird'), to name just a few.
    • Nathan lampshades this practice in "Zero Day," when he wonders if Harold's fiancee wouldn't object to being called "Mrs. Ostrich."
    • The bird theme is alluded to in other ways as well:
      • In "No Good Deed", the POI who figures out that The Machine exists is "Henry Peck." Finch remarks at one point that Peck is "doing what I would do" were Finch in the same situation. Birds peck at things, you know.
      • In "Liberty", Root's "Uncle Harold" has checked her into the mental hospital under the name "Robin."
      • In "Lethe", there's a birdcage in Finch's boyhood home, and we see a young Harold asking his father to identify birds.
      • In "Aletheia", when he visits his father at the nursing home for the last time, Harold gives him an Audubon guidebook—and the bird he sees in the tree outside is a finch.
      • Also, in Grace's house, prominently displayed, is an empty birdcage.
      • In ".exe" it is revealed that Harold was a very fussy baby and the only way to calm him down was to go out and make him watch the birds. His father proceeded to teach himself almost everything about birds for his son.
  • Adult Fear: Extremely common in the show. A noticable example is in "Flesh and Blood" when Finch reveals to Simmons that Elias has implemented a contingency to kill off the families of HR members. As Even Evil Has Loved Ones, Simmons yanks the support he was giving to Elias.
    • From that very same episode; Elias kidnaps Carter's son in a bid to force her to stand down her defense of the mob bosses she was protecting. Visibly tormented by this, her resolve is only maintained by Reese, who vehemently assures her that he will rescue her son. He does.
  • Always Know a Pilot: Finch knows how to fly airplanes. This comes in handy when Reese finds himself on a very troubled jetliner that is suddenly lacking in pilots. Finch being miles away isn't a problem, nor is it much of a problem that he has only ever flown small planes. But Finch is clearly not comfortable with the arrangement.
  • Ambiguously Evil: The majority of the antagonists. Elias, Donnelly, Control, Hersh, Root, even Collier.
  • Animal Reaction Shot: Bear gets them on occasion.
  • Anti-Hero: John Reese. As of season 3, Sameen Shaw. Also, while it might seem clear to the audience that John and the rest of the team have perfectly good intentions and usually carry them out pretty reasonably (shooting kneecaps as opposed to taking lives, at least when it can be helped, etc.), he and the rest of the team are definitely this in the eyes of the government and various law enforcement agencies that try to track them down over the course of the show. Well, at least, for the good law enforcement officers.
    • Everyone on Team Machine, with Finch and Carter at the lighter end, and Shaw and Root at the darker end.
  • Anyone Can Die: invokedThe writers are not shy about killing off characters. The only stated exception to this is Bear. Just take a look at the lists below:
    • Hell, Nathan Ingram and Jessica Arndt were both dead before the show even began.
    • Season 1: Stills, Evans, and Corwin
    • Season 2: Donnelly, Snow, Stanton, Szymanski, Beecher, and Pennsylvania Two
    • Season 3: Laskey, Terney, Carter, Collier, and Hersh
    • Season 4: Scarface, Martine, Link, Dominic, and probably Control. Shaw and Elias were also thought dead for a time at different points in the season, but weren't.
    • Season 5: Soriano, Bruce, Lambert, The Voice, Elias (for real this time), Root, Travers, Zachary, Greer, Reese, Samaritan, and Blackwell. Finch is believed dead at the end, but was only faking it in order to start a new life elsewhere. The Machine died, but reincarnated.
  • Arbitrarily Large Bank Account:
    • We don't know how exactly rich Finch is (or could get) but he can easily buy up 8% of a major pharmaceutical company in 48 hours (87 million shares). And it got a lot larger when Finch sold it on a guess the price would drop on a wager of 500 million shares.
    • He also once invested 150 million dollars just to get close to an investment banker, and had enough liquid assets available to buy up enough stock in an energy company that had recently lost 90% of its value in a single day to make its price reach a new peak.
    • His empire includes several magazine publishers who make a particular point of regularly commissioning his former fiancée Grace to do their cover art, thus providing her steady work as an illustrator.
    • He's also helped out at least one out-of-work POI by hiring them at one of the companies he controls.
    • In "Masquerade," he buys a security company and a credit bureau just so he can establish Reese's cover identity.
    • In "High Road" he snaps up a house that conveniently becomes available, furnishes it, and provides Reese with a car - all just to establish an elaborate cover identity. Reese still has to do some of the work on his own, getting Zoe in on the plot by asking her to be his (apparent) wife.
    • He once paid for a hospital wing... or two to get access to the hospital.
    • He bought a hotel and put a POI in charge of it.
      • It's implied that he invented online social networking as a way to feed info to the Machine. Maybe he has shares in everything from Facebook to MySpace.
    • At the casino in "All In," he stakes Leon Tao $1 million and then stakes the POI $2 million later!
    • He pays Reese an unspecified salary large enough that Reese can give 90% of it to charity and still live comfortably on what's left.
  • Arc Words:
    • "You are being watched..."
    • From Season 1:
      • "In the end, we're all alone and no one is coming to save you," and its counterpoints, "You have to trust somebody," and "You're not alone."
      • "You don't know anything about me." "I know exactly everything about you...."
      • Reese's opening voice-over in "Pilot," which he repeats when he confronts Jessica's abusive husband/murderer in "Many Happy Returns." This theme is explored over and over again throughout the series, such as with Carter's death and Shaw's capture by Samaritan.
    When you find that one person who connects you to the world, you become someone different. Someone better. When that person is taken from you, what do you become then?
    • "I gave you a job....I never said it would be easy."
    • From Season 2: "Can. You. Hear. Me."
    • From Season 4:
      • "The world has changed."
      • "Only one rule. We all die in the end."
      • References to the game of chess as a metaphor for conflict.
      • Pi becomes something of an Arc Number in Season 4.
    • A subtle one found throughout all four seasons: A Number asks something along the lines of "Do you know what it's like to ________?", to which one of the main characters replies that he/she does. Example from "Root Cause":
    Scott Powell: I could die. And— and the person who I love most in life would think that I'm nothing more than a killer. Do you have any idea what that feels like?
    Reese: Actually, I do. Of course, in my case, it was true.
    • The series is also fond of using Arc Words on a smaller scale, as part of the standalone plots within the individual episodes:
      • "Death Benefit": "I'm a deal maker."
      • "Prophets": "Sometimes it's better not to know."
      • "The Devil You Know": "Always another way out."
      • "If-Then-Else": "Remember the Alamo."
      • A single word in "Control-Alt-Delete": "Janitor"
      • "Return 0": "Everyone dies alone."
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • "Who are you?" seems to be this for Reese. He honestly doesn't know, and he finds it hard to answer; even to himself. Lampshaded on multiple occasions.
    Reese: One of these days I'm gonna have to come up with an answer for that.
    • In "Mors Praematura," Finch gives one to the captive Root, asking how sure she is that she's not exactly where the Machine wants her to be.
  • Art Evolution: The Machine's internal graphics undergo this as the series progresses. The design of its tracking reticles as well as its visualization of the data it processes are significantly different between season 1 and season 3. In fact, by season 3, the Machine's visualization of its own internal structure and operations is beginning to look more and more like a neural network.
  • Artistic License – Cars: The Marine vet with a prosthetic right arm who drives off riding a crotch rocket at speed. Reality check: even the fancy electronic prosthetics that were developed in the last decade (which he has) probably don't have the level of precision necessary to drive a go-fast bike like that. Among other things, on unmodified bikes (his was stolen) the right arm controls the throttle and front brake.
    • His prosthetic is certainly advanced since he still treats it as his dominant hand; as an example, he holds his pistol in it, with his prosthetic finger on the trigger.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: When Shaw steals blood in Season 3, the IV tube wasn't primed with saline or blood before she stuck the needle into her arm. In real life, air entering your veins will cause an air embolism and will kill you.
    • Shaw was also at a higher elevation than the person giving blood so the blood flowed up into her counter to gravity.
  • As Herself: Supermodel Karolína Kurková in "Prisoner's Dilemma."
  • Assassin Outclassin': Almost Once an Episode.
  • Asshole Victim: Season 3 heavily worked this trope.
    • Wayne Kruger, the POI of "Nothing to Hide," is a data broker whose company collects and sells the personal information of millions of people. The negligent way his company handles this information has hurt a lot of people and there is a long list of people who would want to humiliate and/or kill him. After observing him for a few hours, Shaw wishes that the guy turn out to be a perpetrator so she can shoot him. Even Reese and Finch question whether the guy deserves their help.
    • In "Reasonable Doubt", both the perpetrator and victim are liars and double-crossers. At the end of the show, it is clear they both want to murder each other. Reese washes his hands of the matter, but viewers are left to decide for themselves who shot first and who lived.
    • In "The Devil's Share", the first is Simmons, whose number has come up, and all the dirtbags Reese goes through to get to him. The second is Jules, the drug dealer who killed a cop, who Fusco killed back in 2007.
    • Roger McCourt in "Death Benefit."
    • Elias invokes this trope when trying to persuade Team Machine to remain neutral during his Mob War. They intervene anyway because they're worried about the inevitable collateral damage. After the first couple of seasons though, Team Machine simply accepts that It's What I Do.
      Shaw: I gotta ask, though, is this guy even worth our time?
      Finch: You know, that's not a question we entertained when we saved you, Ms. Shaw.
  • A-Team Firing: Mostly justified. Thanks to Harold, Team Machine prefers suppressing fire and non-lethal shots whenever possible (if both are not feasible, however, they will still be willing to kill any threats)
    • "The Devil You Know" has a egregious case of this however, with Shaw using an automatic weapon one handed, without the sights and not being able to score a hit on the person who is trying to kill her.
  • The Atoner:
    • Harold Finch is implied to be this in "Ghosts." Affirmed in "The Fix," when Finch says that before he found Reese, the numbers haunted him and he took great pleasure in helping take down the bad guys as they had previously given the number of another woman.
      • In Season 2, it is revealed that Nathan is the true atoner. The irrelevant numbers haunted Nathan so much that he used a backdoor he built a backdoor into the Machine to help save lives. Finch did not support this. It is Nathan's death which triggered Harold to pick up where Nathan left off.
    • Reese is implied to be atoning for the people he's killed for the CIA, possibly because some of them were not as guilty as he was led to believe.
      • ...and for not being there in time for Jessica.
    • Throughout all Seasons, Fusco, especially after he's partnered with Carter, and as he becomes more enthusiastic about helping the POI's.
    • The POIs in several episodes ("Triggerman," "Bury the Lede," "The High Road"; in a misguided way in "Mission Creep").
    • As of late Season 3, Root is one too.
    Root (to Harold): Every life matters. You taught me that.
    • Lasky, the HR mole that Carter blackmails, ultimately chooses to help her for real
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Reese, so much so that he is known in-universe as "The Man in the Suit".
  • Badass Bookworm: Finch is a computer hacker who broke into ARPANET with a homemade computer in the 1970s—and he's only gotten better over time. He also has walked right up to an influential leader of a corrupt cop ring and manipulated him into backing down from working with a mob boss, and completely bankrupted a corrupt executive's company.
  • Badass Boast: A nervous Finch watches as Reese prepares to snipe a car with a Barrett anti-material rifle.
    Finch: What happens if you miss?
    Reese: I wouldn't know. Never have.
    • Finch has a quieter one in the opening narration:
    You'll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number's up, we'll find you.
  • Badass Gay: Root. Besides being a skilled computer hacker, she's also pretty good with guns (especially when she uses two at the same time). She can also slip in and out of aliases like she's just simply changing clothes.
  • Badass Bisexual: Sameen Shaw.
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: In the pursuit of Simmons for killing Carter Team Machine is very pissed and out for blood. However, neither Reese, Shaw, nor Fusco actually kill him or Alonzo Quinn. Reese is talked down by Finch that killing Quinn would dishonor all Carter worked for (although Reese still tries to fire, but his blood jams the gun) and after Fusco gives Simmons a beating to within an inch of his life, arrests the man for similar reasons. While resting later in the hospital, Simmons is visited by Elias who gives a very elegant speech about civility and the righteousness Carter held within her and which was instilled into Team Machine. He and Simmons, however, are cut from a much darker and older cloth of malevolence. As such, Elias watches as Scarface kills Simmons for the debt he owed Carter and could not fully pay back to her in life.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comparison: When Shaw shows up at the library in "Trojan Horse", she rejects Finch's job offer thusly:
    You think I should have a hobby. Now, what would that be? Hanging around a derelict library with you, your poorly-socialised guard dog... and Bear here?
  • Bait the Dog: Elias helps Reese save an infant, only to lock Reese and the child in a refrigerated truck to force Reese's assistance.
  • Batman Cold Open: Multiple episodes begin with Reese (and later, Shaw) effortlessly dismantling a scheme by Bit Part Bad Guys just before the real thrust of the plot begins.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • Root gets the better of Reese and Finch by counting on them to do what they do best. She puts a hit out on her own alias and leaves a digital trail for the Machine to spot, knowing that it will tag her as a POI and bring Reese and Finch to her.
    • Finch modified a fragment of the Machine code acquired by Casey to work as a virus (at least at a first glance) and a vaccine, then tried to sell it to the highest bidder. This prompted the Machine to learn how to defend itself, and thereby improve its ability to remove itself from attempts by people like Root to get hold of it, while continuing to protect the relevant and irrelevant numbers.
    • At the end of Season 3 it's revealed the entire anti-surveillance crusade by Vigilance was created by Decima to serve as a terrorist threat that would get government officials to accept a new AI surveillance system on their terms.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun:
    • When Carter's son is kidnapped, the very anti-gun/anti-weapon Finch is so desperate to help save him that he picks up a gun and asks Reese to teach him how to use it, though he's quite realistic on what sort of assistance he'd be able to give even with a gun. Reese, however, refuses to teach Finch and instead suggests that Finch perform the very valuable assistance of being ready with the get-away car.
    • And again in Prisoner's Dilemma when he plans to bust Reese out of prison. He actually looks disappointed when Carter tells him that it won't be necessary.
    • Defied when Reese tries to instruct Finch how to shoot after Team Machine suffers a loss. Finch point-blank refuses.
  • Battle Discretion Shot: Usually involving Reese entering a Bad-Guy Bar and kicking the ass of everyone inside, culminating in an obligatory Destination Defenestration.
  • Beard of Sorrow:
    • John sports one in the pilot, along with all the other aspects of being drunk and homeless.
    • Elias grows one in the wake of Anthony's death.
  • Becoming the Mask:
    • "John Reese" is just a cover identity he was given when he became a government assassin. He discarded his life before that and became the new identity.
    • Wolf and Cub reveals that Finch attended MIT under the name "Harold Wren," which was itself an alias apparently created for that occasion. Fusco even comments at this.
    "This guy's had so many different names he probably can't remember who he really is."
    • In "Zero Day", Ingram asks Finch if he still remembers his original name.
    • Samantha Groves became her screen name, "Root."
  • Berserk Button:
    • Putting kids in danger seems to hit this for Reese (Judgment, Wolf and Cub, Baby Blue, Flesh and Blood).
      • Also for Shaw and Fusco, to a lesser degree.
    • Kidnapping babies puts it into overdrive.
    • And beating your wife will make Reese show you what a real monster looks like.
    • If you previously brought up a number that Finch was unable to save, and then bring up another one... Being on the receiving end of the wrath of a genius billionaire is not the place you want to be, because Finch will ruin your life and take away from you what you love most.
    • Another for Finch is Grace. He will compromise his principles and have Reese and Shaw rain death on anyone who hurts her.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones:
    • Reese has yet to raise his voice on-screen. It'll probably be a very dark day when he finally does.
    • In The Fix, Finch sits with the mark that he has a bit of history with (though neither one knew it at the time) and calmly and quietly informs him that he sold his shares of the mark's company just in time for them to make it go under and make Finch shattering amounts of money.
      • The only time (so far) that Finch has raised his voice was when baby Leila was teething on one of Reese's tear gas grenades.
    • Elias as well, when he's finally revealed. Likewise for Dominic.
  • BFG:
    • The Barrett M82 used by Reese in "Foe". In "Pretenders", Scarface wields a 25mm Barrett XM-109.
    • Also the gun in the "Plan B" bag in "Wolf and Cub," an Ithaca 37 "Stakeout" with a folding stock, Picatinny railing, and non-lethal beanbag shotgun rounds. The rest of the contents qualify as well, including the FN FS2000 Reese loans Carter in "Flesh and Blood", and a 37mm gas Grenade Launcher that's appeared in several episodes.
  • Biblical Motifs: Root has a tendency put those into the Machine (such as calling it "God", and saying its emissaries are "angels").
  • Big-Bad Ensemble: Straddles the line between this trope and a Rogues Gallery. Occasionally multiple villains will show up in a single episode. Exemplified in "Aletheia," where three characters who could be feasibly considered a Big Bad even by themselves - Collier, Control and Greer - all collide in a Gambit Pileup of massive proportions.
  • The Big Board: Reese and Finch use one to post information about their cases. Finch also has a separate one set up with a list of the Irrelevant numbers that he failed to save before he hired Reese.
    • It's later destroyed when the Library is breached in Deus Ex Machina. As of Season 4, they're using the walls of an old subway car.
  • Big Brother Is Watching:
    • The premise of the show.
    • And in the case of Finch and Reese it's apparently a good thing. Although Mileage May Vary on that. It seems like Big Brother is far less morally upright than Finch at the very least.
      • Finch deliberately designed The Machine so that nobody can see the raw data that The Machine draws its conclusions from and encrypted the code to a ridiculous extent to prevent anyone from reverse engineering it in an attempt to avert the negative aspects of the trope. So far he's been successful, but evidence suggests that some of the government officials who know of The Machine wanted to use it to become Big Brother.
    • Funnily enough, it seems the Machine is the only Big Brother out there. With all those surveillance shots framing the scenes, it's almost comical that it takes two and a half seasons for a picture of the Man in a Suit to be shot and distributed among his enemies - and that seems to disappear after the episode it makes its debut.
    • Is played more straight with the government collaborating with Decima to bring Samaritan online, as it lacks the closed system encryption of The Machine, and is fully target-able. With season 4, Samaritan is online and fully willing to observe and eliminate any threats to both the national security and its own plans.
    • The trope name is called by Reese in Season 4 in reference to the police's Domain Awareness System.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Typically when either Reese, Finch, Carter, Fusco or Shaw is in trouble, one of the others will come in for the save.
    • Fusco and Carter play this for Reese when he is pinned down by HR and about to make a Last Stand in Firewall.
    • Shaw saves Fusco's son from HR right as he's about to be executed while Fusco is listening over the phone, helpless.
    • Root, of all people, gets to do this for Shaw, Finch and the POI in Aletheia—and several more times afterwards.
      • And again for Shaw in "The Devil You Know".
      • In If Then Else, The Machine has been predicting the team's chances of survival against a horde of Samaritan agents, which run from 0 to 2.07%. Until Shaw shows up and the numbers start hurriedly ticking up from The Machine's POV.
  • Big Good: The Machine, and Nathan Ingram prior to its conception, as he was the one to push for the creation of a surveillance system to prevent terrorist attacks.
  • Big Sister Instinct: As of Season 3, Root's relationship to Finch seems to be like that of a big sister helping her Too Clever by Half little brother out of trouble whenever something goes wrong. She's even started calling him Harry.
  • Big Storm Episode: "Proteus." Finch impersonates a stormchaser in order to fly his previously-unmentioned De Havilland Beaver to reach Reese when the roads are closed due to rising waters.
  • Bilingual Dialogue:
    • Reese can speak Spanish in "Cura Te Ipsum". He speaks Dutch in The Contingency and understands Russian in Masquerade.
      • He showed he can also recognize Mandarin in Trojan Horse
      • The Dutch seems to be more of a trilingual dialogue, because Reese's Dutch accent is so atrocious that he manages to make his Dutch sound more like German. However, this may also imply that he knows German.
    • The title of the episode "Cura Te Ipsum" is Latin for "Heal Thyself" and it is the final proposition from Reese to Andrew. See Ambiguous Situation above for more details.
    • Kara Stanton can speak decent Mandarin Chinese in Matsya Nyaya.
      • The episode's title is a Hindi phrase that is the equivalent of the English phrase "the law of the jungle." (The literal translation is "The law of the fishes.")
  • Binocular Shot: Used in a number of episodes, but is sometimes replaced with a camera viewfinder and/or rifle scope POV shots since Reese prefers using those to spy on people.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • Some of the episodes due to the events of the episode, and others because they end with highlighting the losses Finch and Reese have suffered.
    • The ending of Foe is a good example of the latter:
    Finch: "Do you think anyone will care for our names?"
    Reese: "After we're dead."
    Finch: "I thought we already are."
    • Two words: "Goodnight, Nathan."
    • The ending of Baby Blue, with Reese and Finch talking about how they'll never have children. Considering the line of work they're in right now...
    • The end of The Crossing.
    Carter: "I need to see my boy".
    • The series as a whole. Reese, Root, Elias and the original version of The Machine are dead but Samaritan is defeated, Finch is reunited with Grace, Fusco is still working as a detective, and Shaw and Bear are helping the new version of The Machine save lives.
  • Black Box:
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Finch, to Carter in "Baby Blue":
    Carter: You hacked into his company?
    Finch: 'Hacked' is such an ugly word.
  • Blatant Lies / Cassandra Truth:
    • One POI liked to talk about how he used to live in a mansion in Florida and owned a yacht, a pet tiger, and six nightclubs. He's a janitor who lived in the basement of the apartment complex he serviced. He's keenly aware that no one really believes these stories, which is fine by him since he was telling the truth - he had to give up his wealthy lifestyle and become a janitor after testifying against a mob figure in court and entering witness protection.
    • Though a more realistic example of Blatant Lies comes in Legacy where Finch's nephew comments how he has little skill in computers, suggesting Finch has the same problem. Finch simply replies, "Right."
    • In Masquerade, Finch slowly growing to like Reese's new dog.
    Finch: *throws a ball for the dog to fetch while talking to Reese*
    Reese: What was that noise, Finch?
  • Bond One-Liner: Reese, although he's very soft-spoken and polite about it.
  • Bookends:
    • The first and last episodes of Season 1 ("Pilot" and "Firewall") both involve a female POI who turns out to be the perpetrator, and both end with Reese looking into the same security camera with the same music (The Machine's theme, "Listening With a Million Ears") playing over the scene.
    • Season 2 began and ended with The Machine calling one of its agents on a payphone.
    • Donnelly's pursuit of The Man in the Suit begins and ends when an ex-CIA agent crashes into his car while he's transporting a prisoner. The prisoner gets kidnapped both times too.
    • Reese's first meeting with Carter in the pilot is repeated shortly before she is killed.
      • They even kept the plastic cup Reese drank water out of in the pilot.
    • "The Devil's Share" opens and ends with a closeup on a heartbeat monitor.
    • "Allegiance" begins and ends with Root tracking Greer through the New York Subway.
  • Brains and Brawn: Finch and Reese respectively.
    • Not that Reese is a slouch in the brains department; the CIA's paramilitary operatives are chosen for more than their physical skills. Root couldn't have been more wrong in arrogantly dismissing Reese as Finch's "knuckledragger".
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Bear lists off on Twitter what each character smells like: "Lady Talking to Herself" (Root), nail polish and apples; "Bespectacled Man" (Finch), green tea and wool; "Hammer Lady" (Shaw), tequila and steak; "Tall Man" (Reese), gunpowder and regret.
  • Brick Joke:
    • In Judgment, Reese give the gang member he has locked up in the truck of a car a burger for giving him information, despite the fact his arms are tied up. Later, after said gang member beats up another gang member for information so he can get out of the trunk, the first thing he is seen doing is eating the burger.
    • A multi-episode one: In Super, when Finch has to tail a woman connected to their latest case, he comments to Reese that he's getting tempted to spot the lady some cab fare so he doesn't have to follow her on foot. Later in Identity Crisis, he ends up following another woman connected to a case, and does spot her cab fare at one point. Unfortunately, the woman turns out to be the villain, not the victim he thought her to be.
    • Another in an episode where Finch bought Bear a squeaky toy at the beginning of the episode which annoys him to no end. At the end you can see Finch throwing away the squeaky part he removed from the toy.
    • One that takes a full season to come to fruition. At the beginning of Season 1's "Mission Creep", Reese apologizes for blowing Finch's cover as a low-level employee at IFT by offering to find him a new job: "Dog walker, maybe?" Guess who ends up taking the new Team Pet for a walk in Season 2's Masquerade?
    • After Fusco and Sophia hit it off in Masquerade, Fusco can be heard asking her if she likes falafel as they walk down the street together. In Til Death, Rhonda suggests that she and Fusco bail on the fancy restaurant they're eating at and go to her favorite falafel place.
    • Took a season for it to happen, but in God Mode, Reese finally gets the chance to steal a helicopter.
    • At the start of Season 4, Shaw is griping over the humiliation of working a job that requires a name tag. When her cover is blown in a hail of bullets several episodes later, the first thing she does on escaping is throw away the tag.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: In "Asylum" Root uses a Samaritan mook this way when Martine shoots at her. It's possibly he's wearing a bulletproof vest however, and all her shots are to his chest.
  • Bulletproof Vest:
    • Reese, Fusco, and Carter all wear them, though not consistently.
    • The armored car bank robbers in "Matsya Nyaya" wore them, as do the armored car security guards. Reese is shot point blank and survives, but the other guard isn't as fortunate; he wore his vest loose, which allowed the 9mm round to penetrate.note 
    • A sniper in "Critical" wears a military grade vest that is able to stop a rifle bullet fired at close range. The shot knocks him out and breaks a lot of ribs but he lives.
    • As of season 2, Fusco is Genre Savvy enough to put on a vest every time he has to do something for Reese. It saves his life when he is shot by a hitman in "Til Death".
    • Reese is interesting in that he initially didn't wear a vest, but he's made a point of wearing one under his suit since getting shot by the CIA sniper in "Number Crunch".
    • In "Proteus" Carter shoots a serial killer impersonating an FBI agent who's about to kill Finch. They realise almost too late that he's Not Quite Dead as FBI agents wear bullet-resistant vests.
  • ...But He Sounds Handsome: Reese indulges in this while discussing 'the man in the suit' with an investigative reporter.
    Reese: Sounds like a great guy.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • The Yogorov family who run the New York Russian Mafia. Elias, John, Carter and Shaw have made each of the family members suffer humiliating and painful failures multiple times over the show.
      • In Witness, one of the Yogorov family members gets beaten up by John and arrested by Carter, his brother gets kneecapped by Elias and the patriarch of the family, one of the most powerful criminals in New York gets double tapped by a lone gunman in his secure office. This final killing forces the Russian Mafia which had overtaken the Costa Nostra as the most powerful crime group in the city to vacate Brighton Beach, one of their major territories.
      • Season 2 has the Yogorovs try kill Elias again. The plan falls apart due to the intervention of Carter.
      • In Season 3, the Yogorovs have finally got a steady, money making partnership with HR and have decimated much of the Elias organisation. Cue Shaw destroying their main drug factory, killing and maiming a sizeable amount of their personnel and using the current head of the family as her own blood donor!
      • In Endgame Carter uses them as patsy's to goad HR into destroying itself.
    • Fusco. Just for starters he's been shot nonfatally several times (which includes getting shot in the ass), and usually gets the worse (in various ways) job from John when assignments are split between him and Carter. Then John foists his dog on him when he and Carter go to Texas to hunt Root. Did we mention the dog only accepts commands in Dutch? However, Season 3 reverses this; case in point: in A House Divided, Lionel takes care of Bear during the blackout and seems to do a much better job.
  • The Cameo: In seasons 3 and 5 you might see a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance of Jenna Marbles, and Selena Gomez made an uncredited cameo in season 4, with no lines.
  • Captain Obvious:
    • Viewers may notice in the Season 1 opening, when the world is seen through the Machine's "eye, a masked man taking aim with a gun. The caption then reads, "Violence predicted 92%." Justified, as a machine like this probably has no concept of "obviousness" and therefore would not be aware of how obvious such a statement is.
    • This could also be interpreted as "this act of violence was predicted with a 92% chance. Less "Captain Obvious" and more "I was right!"
    • Or quite possibly necessary information, and not obvious at all. 92 percent isn't 99 percent. Meaning the Machine has predicted a high, but not inevitable degree of violence.
    • It could also mean that there is a small (but not zero) chance that the shooter will have second thoughts and not go through with it, and The Machine knows this.
    • Earlier in opening there is a woman arguing with a man and pointing her finger in his face. "Violence predicted 15%" is briefly visible. Also the numbers are fluctuating as the scene comes into focus.
  • Card Sharp:
    • One of the things Finch does to test the Machine during its early development phases was use it to cheat at blackjack. Then, after using it to win $250,000, Finch deliberately lost it all in one hand by rejecting the Machine's advice to ensure that the casino thought that he was just a guy who had a lucky streak that ran out rather than a card counter.
    • Zoe doesn't need a supercomputer watching over her shoulder to trounce Reese at poker.
    • Lou Mitchell from "All In" is retired from the life but is still able to win a huge amount in a casino that knows that he is cheating.
  • Car Fu: Mr. Reese is a master of driving his car into things when the job requires it, to the point where it sometimes approaches a running gag.
    • Lampshaded by Shaw in Panopticon but that time, the driver turns out to be Scarface.
  • Carnival of Killers: Reese discovers that multiple groups of assassins are after the POI of 4C. Each group has its own reason for wanting the man dead and have a different skill level.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • Root's Start of Darkness came when she witnessed her best friend get kidnapped (and was later murdered and secretly buried) and nobody believed her when she reported what she saw to the police.
    • The superintendent of an apartment building keeps telling everyone how he used to own night clubs in Miami and had a mansion where he kept a pet tiger. Everyone thinks he is just a harmless old coot but it is all true and the man sacrificed all his wealth to testify against the Mob. He is also planning to kill a stalker who is targeting a young women living in the building.
    • Played for Laughs when Finch infiltrates an insane asylum used by Samaritan as a front for their operations. He manages to get himself admitted as a paranoid schizophrenic by claiming that multiple gangs, as well as an all-seeing artificial intelligence, are out to get him, and that he goes by many aliases, all inspired by the names of birds, as a way to evade them. He clinches it by saying that is isn't paranoia if they're really after you.
    • Finch tried the same tactic by revealing there's an evil AI to get himself disqualified from jury duty. However, he had to backtrack when he realized the Machine wanted him on the jury to keep track of a number.
    • A radio show host discovers that what people assume is just incidental static emitted by various electronic gadgets, is actually a bunch of coded transmissions. Finch and Root quickly realize that the man has stumbled on Samaritan's secret communication network. The radio host tries to expose the truth on his show but his show caters to conspiracy theorists so he has no credibility with the general public. Even the conspiracy theorists do not believe him.
  • Casual Danger Dialog: The show milks this for all the dry humor it's worth.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "We've got another number", "I'm sure you'll/I'll figure something out" and "I'm/he's a very private person" have been repeated enough times to be catchphrases.
    • When the POI of each episode inevitably asks Reese who he is, he usually responds with "A concerned third party", until one episode when he finally gets fed up and says "You know what, someday I'm going to come up with an actual answer for that."
    • "Our mutual friend" is used a lot, usually to refer to Reese or Finch.
    • "Always" is reaching this point.
    • "Relax, Finch."
    • "That's not gonna happen."
    • "I wasn't talking to you." (or something similar, anytime Root's conversing with The Machine in front of someone, & they mistakenly assume she was addressing them).
  • Catchphrase Interruptus:
    • Happens to the Opening Narration in "Relevance", and then again in "Zero Day".
    • In "/" ("Root Path") Finch shares narrating duties with Root.
    • In "Control-Alt-Delete," Control is the narrator.
  • Cathartic Exhalation
    • Held captive and under torture, Fusco can do nothing but sob and offer vain comfort while his son is about to be executed over the phone. Once the gunshot is revealed to be Shaw who arrived in time to save the kid, Fusco has a sighing fit.
      • Taken to the next level in the follow-up scene, where Fusco escapes his restraints and overpowers his captor before strangling him to death. This is followed by another sighing fit.
    • Harold has been known to do this often, usually when he's unsure if his friends are alive.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Started off as a fairly straightforward episodic crime drama, with the good guys saving a random person's life week in and week out. With each passing season, the stakes became higher, the story became more serialized, and everything became more depressing.
  • Character Blog:
    • Bear has a Twitter account and live tweets during new episodes. It's doubly awesome because his tweets are all in Dutch.
    • The POI from the third season episode "Razgovor" also has a Twitter account, @PA37ABOP, where she began commenting in July of 2013.
  • Character Death: Many. By the end of the series, the list includes Beecher, Carter, Elias, Root, and John Reese, in addition to the deaths of many recurring antagonists.
  • Character Development: The show-runners try to do this with as many characters as possible. Everyone from the main characters, the New York Mafia boss and the former Evil Brit intelligence officer gets at least one time to flesh out their characterization.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • All of those shots in Season 1 of Finch looking at books in the library suddenly have a new meaning after the beginning of season 2. It also explains why his backup site is also a library (albeit one that's operating, rather than abandoned).
    • Finch collects a sample of polonium-infused water partway through 'In Extremis''. Reese later uses it to poison a Corrupt Corporate Executive (he had it coming, given that he'd used that water to poison the POI).
    • The anti-tank rocket launcher acquired in 'Wingman'.
  • The Chessmaster:
    • Elias (both literally and figuratively).
      • He gains a counterpart in Dominic in Season 4.
    • Root, in Firewall and Mors Prematura.
    • Carter, in Endgame.
    • Greer in troves.
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good: The first part definitely (though some of them claim to be a Well-Intentioned Extremist), the second part is still in the air but plausible: they apparently want to shut down the evil operations of the CIA (And any other serious criminal operations they become aware of, such as HR), but they are also trying to stop Reese. In their defense, all the evidence they have of Reese's operations suggests that he's far more malignant than he really is.
    • Donnelly toed the line very close with this, however. His willingness to pursue The Man In The Suit meant he'd quite happily resort to methods which, while mostly legal, were hardly ethical. Right until he allows the Aryan Brotherhood to viciously beat Reese in the exercise yard, merely in hopes he'd use his hand-to-hand combat skills to defend himself. His actions very nearly got Reese killed. That the Warden was under the impression that an FBI Special Agent had that kind of authority is a bit alarming, which is another example of Donnely exerting pressure, by threatening to expose the warden's breaches in protocoll to get what he wants, which is a red flag because Donnelly should have just reported those infractions anyway.
    • Given that the FBI are the only ones Carter trusts to arrest Quinn and finally defeat HR, they probably qualify as this. Donnelly was honest, he just ultimately slipped into Inspector Javert.
  • *Click* Hello: This happens a lot, and usually to Reese. It certainly seemed to be Shaw's favorite way to greet him in Season 2, to the extent that it was practically a Running Gag.
  • Closed Circle: In Proteus, Reese and Finch are trapped on an island that has been cut off from the mainland due to a storm. Most of the residents have been evacuated and one of the people still on the island might be a serial killer.
  • Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere: Around the start of the series, Fusco stopped drinking, as he realized it was one of the problems in his life. One episode in season 2 has him hanging out in a bar to keep tabs on a criminal, he orders drinks but gives them to the barfly next to him ("Happy birthday." "How did you know?") and in "Booked Solid", he prepares to do the same thing while muttering "Always a bar" before ordering a ginger ale).
  • Cool Guns: The show loves this trope immensely.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: When viewing the world through security footage (the Machine's "Perspective"), objects and people are sorted as follows:
    • At any given moment, people appearing in a frame will have a white box surrounding them while The Machine is scanning them. Those found not to be involved in any sort of criminal conspiracy at that moment lose their boxes after being cleared.
      • A person also loses their box if they die while in frame.
      • The white boxes become permanent for that episode if that person is found to be involved in a "non-relevant" crime
      • Fusco and Carter also have permanent white boxes, probably due to their links to Finch and Reese
      • When the perpetrator of a crime linked to that week's POI is attempting to put their final plan into action, their box turns red along the corners and center hash marks. In general this box means that someone is about to carry out a violent crime; it has appeared around people even when the person they are about to kill is not a POI such as when Mark Snow was waiting for Stanton in the back of her car so that his bomb vest would take her with him.
    • Yellow boxes indicate people who know of The Machine's existence:
      • Reese and Finch
      • Finch's partner Ingram is shown framed in yellow in flashbacks.
      • Ingram's government contact, Alicia Corwin, is shown in yellow when she appears in "No Good Deed". A conversation with Ingram in a flashback indicates that five other people know about The Machine at that time.
      • By the end of "No Good Deed", the NSA agent has acquired enough information about The Machine to get his own yellow box.
      • Carter gets one after she deduces the existence of the Machine in The Crossing.
      • Fusco gets one when Reese tells him the truth about the Machine in "Sotto Voce".
    • A a fully red box, which is also much bolder than the white and yellow boxes, indicates a "relevant" threat
      • A flashback in Get Carter shows a bomb-maker highlighted in red.
      • Denton Weeks, the NSA deputy director who tried to interfere with the Machine, also got a red box and label "Threat to the system".
      • Reese and Fusco get red boxed temporarily when they start investigating Finch's cover identities.
      • A flashback in Matsya Nyaya shows Stanton and Reese in red boxes during their final operation with the CIA, likely because they had both been targeted for termination by the Agency, and turned against each other in the process.
      • The POI in Firewall (Root) is shown to be more than she seems when she starts the episode with a yellow box. As of "Bad Code," Root was given a red box. In "Zero Day" and "God Mode," she was back to a yellow box again, presumably because The Machine has re-prioritized Greer and the "New Gods" (Decima) as a more immediate threat.
      • Greer gets one immediately after he declares his intent to find Finch. After Samaritan goes live, all of its operatives receive red boxes. Including the 10 year old Gabriel.
    • A blue box, introduced in "Relevance", marks 'Indigo' personnel: the agents who follow up on the Machine's primary directive of eliminating threats to national security.
      • Interestingly enough, Sam Shaw kept her blue box even after Northern Lights thought they'd cashiered her., but was upgraded to a yellow box as soon as Reese told her that "Research" was an AI in "God Mode".
    • In "Liberty," a new type of yellow box with black lines and yellow at the corners, is assigned to Root. A flashback to the ending of "God Mode" as seen from The Machine's POV designates this as indicating analog interface, a person directly connected to the Machine who does its bidding.
    • Airplanes flying in and out of the city are shown in green triangles as they pass across the frame
    • Similarly, ships moving in and out of the city are displayed in white diamonds.
    • Sensitive locations, like over Washington D.C., are shown in red boundaries.
    • A blue box with white corners and crosshairs is used to denote Relevant-One, aka the President of the United States.
    • Samaritan uses different symbols to indicate relevant and irrelevant threats. A white circle with red marks indicates an irrelevant threat. A red triangle inside the circle marks a relevant associate of a relevant threat, or the person him/herself is a relevant threat. It also charts dates on a vertical axis, while the Machine uses the horizontal.
  • The Comically Serious: Almost everyone on Team Machine, by Season 4.
  • Comically Small Bribe: The inversion has happened twice. Finch and Ingram sold The Machine to the US Government for $1. Also, in "Wolf and Cub", the POI offers Reese all the money he has in an attempt to hire Reese to get justice for his murdered brother. Reese takes a quarter and gives the rest back.
    • While it wouldn't be to most people, given what we know about Finch's resources, the con-man in "The Perfect Mark" offering Team Machine half of a $4.4 million payout is this.
  • Conflict Ball: Unfortunately, Carter seems to carry this a lot; in season 1 she routinely griped about Reese and Finch using illegal methods, and yet she still continued to help them and went so far as to do some legally questionable things on her own initiativenote . In season 2, she told Fusco she would not cover for him... after she had just spent three episodes covering for Reese.
    • Carter's conflicts are not exactly consistent. When destroying the evidence that proves Reese is the Man In The Suit, she specifically tells Finch that she "crossed the line a long time ago." Other times, such as when she's in shock after Stanton rammed Donnelly's SUV with a Mack truck she reverts to code, saying she can't flee the scene of an accident even though that's highly illogical (and was obviously the shock talking).
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Reese occasionally uses the badge he took off of the late Detective Stills in "Pilot" as a prop for a cover ID in later episodes (e.g. "Many Happy Returns," "No Good Deed," "The Contingency"), and later uses the star he took from US Marshal Jennings in "Many Happy Returns" in the same way.
    • One episode's POI, an investment banker, made 100 million on a short sale of Virtanen Pharmaceuticals, believing that their stock would tank when their senior management was convicted of the crimes that Reese and Finch had gotten them arrested for in an earlier episode.
    Reese: I'm familiar with the case.
    • In "Identity Crisis", the FBI have been following up on several unsolved cases concerning Reese including "a band of ex-military bank robbers" and "the murder of a Stasi agent".
    • Reese is shot and severely injured in "Number Crunch," and spends most of the next episode ("Super") in a wheelchair or on crutches. In the following episode ("Legacy"), he is seen holding his side and wincing after a fight and complains that "I wish gunshot wounds healed faster."
    • In "The Fix," Zoe Morgan tells the story of seeing a "fixer" like herself persuade a crowd of intrusive reporters to disperse with "just two words." At the end of "Root Cause," she persuades a crowd of intrusive reporters to disperse with just two words.
    • At the beginning of "Bad Code" Reese buys Carter and Fusco the round of drinks he promised them at the end of "Firewall." At 8 in the morning.
    • In "Masquerade," Finch is shown to have developed PTSD as a consequence of being kidnapped by Root.
    • In "Triggerman," Elias refers to Finch as "Mr. Crane," the alias Finch was using when he crossed paths with Elias in "Risk."
      • In "Critical," Finch uses the "Harold Crane" alias again, and Reese uses the same cover identity he used in "Risk," that of Mr. Crane's investment manager, "John Rooney."
    • The POI of "Bury the Lede" is a newspaper reporter, Maxine Angelis. Her byline appears on newspaper articles shown in several previous episodes.
    • When being interrogated by Carter in "Prisoner's Dilemma", John is pretending to be an investment banker and mentions that he was in Mexico on business at the beginning of May, 2012. He's not lying.
    • Harold hires Monica, the POI of "Trojan Horse", to work for IFT.
    • In Lady Killer, Hersh refers to Root as "Miss May," the alias she used to infiltrate the Office of Special Counsel.
    • The "Plan B" bag, which contains an Ithaca 37 stakeout, projectile launcher, SPAS-12, FN FS 2000 and now a Desert Arms Recon Sniper rifle made several appearances over Season 1. In "Endgame" Shaw steals it from John and gives it to Carter so she can initiate her plan to destroy HR.
    • In both the pilot and "The Crossing", Reese fights a bunch of punks on a train. In the latter case, it leads to him confessing his feelings to Carter because it reminds him of how they met.
  • Conveniently Empty Building: In "The Devil You Know", most of the action takes place in an empty tower block Elias owns. Nothing had been done but the penthouse. Conveniently, this also makes it easier for Finch to use the building's wifi as improvised radar, and for the protagonists to fight without worrying about shooting through walls and hurting people. Justified: the building was once the group home that Elias and Scarface grew up in, and they hated the place so much they turned the top floor into a bomb trap just so they could lure enemies there like they do the Brotherhood.
  • Cop Killer:
    • After the Dirty Cop organization HR fails at attempting to frame Detective Szymanski as a Dirty Cop in order to curry favor with The Mafiya, their leader, mayor's aide Alonzo Quinn, resorts to shooting both Szymanski and the DA trying the case. Quinn later sics HR on his own godson Detective Beecher after the latter asks the wrong questions about the Szymanski murder.
    • "The Crossing" and "The Devil's Share" form a two-parter with multiple examples.
      • The page quote comes from a flashback in "The Devil's Share" that shows Fusco unburdening himself to a police shrink that his first on-the-job kill wasn't a good shoot. He had hunted down and murdered a drug dealer who had killed an off-duty rookie and gotten off scot free.
      • At the end of "The Crossing" now-wanted HR member Simmons kills Detective Carter. The next episode there's a city-wide manhunt for him. Unfortunately for Simmons, Team Machine are also looking for him, and Reese in particular isn't inclined to be merciful. After the rest of the team stops Reese, Fusco tracks down Simmons himself and arrests him, openly refusing to kill him in Carter's memory. The Don Carl Elias is not so scrupulous and has him killed in the hospital because he liked Carter.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive:
    • The senior management of Virtanen Pharmaceuticals, who have someone killed to keep word about their deadly drug from getting out.
    • Rylatech was riddled with them.
  • Couch Gag: At the end of Finch's Opening Narration, we see a brief clip of the "person of interest" for the particular episode.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    • In "Root Cause," we see that Finch and Reese have a prearranged alternate means of communication for when their phones and private network are compromised.
    • In "Bad Code," Finch uses a Polybius square cipher to leave a message for Reese—one that Reese also has memorized.
    • In "Critical", Alistair Wesley has a backup plan in case his sniper is incapacitated, and then has a backup plan in case the first backup fails. Then we find out that this was just plan A and he also has a plan B already in place. He set all of this up ahead of time when he had no reason to suspect that someone like Reese and Finch would come after him. His sniper is even wearing military grade armor that is able to stop a rifle bullet at close range.
      Wesley : Don't test me. I was expecting everything.
    • In "Prisoner's Dilemma," we see the extent of John Reese's cover that Finch set him up with, which includes a whole office filled with people who give Reese an alibi when the FBI come visiting.
    • Reese revealed in "Zero Day" that he planted a tracking device on Finch's glasses at one point because he doesn't want to risk losing another person that he cares about.
  • Crapsack World: Season 4 is all about Samaritan establishing this.
    • It first increases the level of political corruption in the show by develops a network of politicians it can control by getting them into office via vote rigging.
    • Next, it tries to crash the global economy with a cyber-attack on Wall Street
    • As it does this It sponsors various education initiatives which would allow it to brainwash the next generation of American children
    • Finally, it corrupts American counter-terrorist efforts, developing assets in the Pentagon and ultimately staging a coup against the person in charge who has been disagreeable with it.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Before Seasons 3 and 4 established the Crapsack World, POI's universe started as this.
  • Creator Cameo: Jonathan Nolan, Greg Plageman, and Richard J. Lewis all make a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo near the end of "God Mode".
  • Creepy Monotone: Both the heroes talk this way.
  • Crime After Crime: While the Machine is unable to predict crimes of opportunity or impulse, it is pretty good in predicting when a cover up will result in murder. Several episodes have centered on a perpetrator trying to kill the "person of interest" to cover up a previous crime.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Team Machine has honed this trope into an art form.
    • The pilot opens with Reese delivering one of these to a group of thugs. He then revists this treatment upon them to steal their bag of guns.
    • "Reasonable Doubt" shows an excellent example of this, as Reese efficiently dispatches the thugs trying to rob Dr. Jensen.
    • And in "The Devil's Share", Reese curbstomps a US Marshal's SWAT team.
    • A slightly larger one occurs when Vigilance runs into a Northern Lights hit team led by Hersh.
  • Cuteness Proximity: The normally stoic Finch and Reese become remarkably attached to their youngest ever POI, six-month-old Leila Smith. Especially when one considers that the time period between Finch stealing her from the hospital to protect her from more malignant kidnappers and Reese and Finch leaving her with her maternal grandparents is no more than two or three days.
    • Bear is able to induce this in Shaw; she claims she's only sticking with Team Machine because of Bear. It's clear the self-processed sociopath who doesn't care about anything absolutely adores him.
  • Cut the Juice: Used with refreshing frequency for a high-tech series in this day and age. When Finch's network is hacked in "Root Cause" he does not launch into Techno Babble about firewalls and backhacking (a la NCIS). Instead, he simply destroys his phone and shuts down the generator powering the library.
    • The common reaction to a bugged phone is to simply destroy the phone.
    • $2,000,000 watch with a GPS tracker embedded in it? Disable the GPS by stamping on the watch.
    • How do the Chinese spies in "Trojan" deal with a hack? Counter hack the hackers, and override their lithium-ion battery to explode.note 
    • How does Shaw remain off the grid? Destroy her phone and throw it away after every job with Team Machine.
  • Cyber Punk: unusual in not being set 20 Minutes into the Future, but it does have an AI built to detect terrorists, universal surveillance, hacker battles...
  • Danger Takes A Back Seat: Creepy people showing up in the backseat of cars happens a lot. And by creepy people, we mean Reese.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The Machine's interface is grey and black in tone. Samaritan, on the other hand, has a white interface.
  • A Deadly Affair: A time delayed version where Gianna Moretti has a henchman kill his lover Marlene Elias. He later tries to kill her son Carl, who meet him and tried to work for him, not aware that he had his mother killed. This is what drove Carl Elias' to becoming a powerful crime boss, and killing Gianna Moretti, his son, and the other Mafia Dons.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Finch and Fusco stand out in this area in season 1, but the other regular characters are far from strangers with the concept.
    • Reese had his moments during season 1, but season 2 took his snarking to a glorious new level.
    Finch: Did you get a good look at the men who were shooting at you?
    Reese: I tried, but they were shooting at me.
    • In "Zero Day" and "God Mode," Shaw proves herself the equal of Reese and Finch in snarking.
    • In "Nothing to Hide", Finch shows he can easily match wits with Shaw with a beautiful one-liner:
    Finch: You know, that [whether or not it was justifiable to save you] was not a question we entertained when we saved you, Ms. Shaw.
  • Deal with the Devil:
    • John makes one with Elias to save a child who was kidnapped and mother killed. Elias betrayed him in the end by threatening the child to get some information out of John.
    • Finch approached Officer Simmons of HR to get information on Elias and where he was holding Det. Carter's son by telling him Elias had hit men watching the wives and children of every member of his group.
    • Also, Finch planning to sell the Machine virus to the highest bidder is arguably this as well as a Batman Gambit. Even Dillinger stealing the laptop containing the virus and selling it to the Chinese himself was a part of the plan.
  • Death by Secret Identity: It's not a hard and fast rule, but most people outside of Team Machine who learn who Finch and Reese are end up dead. note 
  • Death Equals Redemption: A fatally wounded Terney manages to point out the leader of HR to Carter in a photo before he bleeds to death.
    • In the same episode, Lasky , who had been blackmailed into helping Carter, fully commits to helping her - and dies for it.
  • Death in the Clouds: In "4C", while flying out of the country for his 10-Minute Retirement, John Reese discovers that the Machine has arranged for him to be on the airplane with the next Number. Team Machine have to identify and neutralize a Carnival of Killers sent to bump him the Number off.
  • Decoy Damsel: There was one in "Baby Blue" when an unmarked NYPD sedan came across a woman asking for help from an accident. Moretti tells them to get going before a pick-up smashed into the cruiser and the plainclothes officers were gunned down. And yeah, the woman was part of it.
    • Caroline Turing in "Firewall".
    • The POI in "Reasonable Doubt."
    • Laurie Grainger in "SNAFU".
  • Destination Defenestration: Happens once or twice in season 1, but the later seasons have had so many examples that it's almost become a running gag.
    • "I hope that guy's got health insurance."
  • Destroy the Evidence:
    • Fusco does this after securing the HR ledger by tearing off the page that contained the names of him and Simmons to make sure the FBI won't arrest them.
    • Carter does this to John's fingerprints and DNA sample in "2-Pi-R".
  • Diabolical Mastermind:
    • Elias, the self-styled "evolution of organized crime".
    • Quinn, the head of HR.
  • Didn't See That Coming: In an odd way, The Machine itself serves as this to the numerous conspiracies that it unintentionally discovers. Very few criminals would ever consider that a government supercomputer would predict their crimes. Most instances of Revealing Cover-Up are tied to this.
    • The ending of "Prisoner's Dilemma," when Kara Stanton kills Donnelly and kidnaps Reese.
    • The end of Aletheia. After a Gambit Pileup involving Team Machine, Vigilance and Northern Lights, it's Decima which secures the Samaritan drives.
    • "Deus ex Machina". Decima wins.
  • Dirty Business:
    • The protagonists commit any number of lesser crimes in order to either protect or stop the POIs. They're not shy about framing bad people to get them off the street, or even sending them to isolated Mexican prisons where they'll never walk free. When Reese isn't killing people, anyway.
    • Fusco was somewhat bitter when forced to act as a mole in HR. He had finally started to remember what it felt like to be a good cop.
  • Dirty Cop:
    • Detective Fusco was this before Reese forced him to work for him as his inside man. The other cops Fusco was working with were even worse. Fusco was the only one who still seemed to care about right or wrong which is why Reese decided to let him go.
    • Lieutenant Gilmore in "The Fix".
    • One of the officers Fusco talks to in "Get Carter" after being told to put down Carter permanently - who has since been expanded to be a member of a whole group of dirty cops known collectively as HR.
    • Simmons.
    • It's been implied that Cal Beecher is one, but so far there has been no actual evidence that proves it. It's finally confirmed that he's clean... Just before he dies.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Sameen Shaw from the episode "Relevance" almost seems like one for Reese. This is because she is effectively in the exact same position he was in before the series begins, working for the exact same people.
  • Disapproving Look: Finch rocks at these.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Finch in "Identity Crisis".
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu:
    • In "Mission Creep," Reese and another Iraq veteran are drinking in a bar when they are mocked by two inebriated guys in business suits. One of them berates Reese for not having an office job: "It's the knowledge economy; you gotta use your head." Reese does just that, head-butting them into submission.
    • Finch is working as a lowly employee under a Jerkass supervisor in a company that he secretly owns. Reese asks him what would happen if his cover was blown.
    Finch: The entire department could be overhauled. Some would be reassigned, promoted... [looks at his supervisor] Some would be fired...
    • A psychiatrist does not believe that Root is Hearing Voices from a higher power and cuts off her access to technology. Root lists several embarrassing personal facts about the psychiatrist, then explains that at the time she was cut off from the Machine, it was trying to persuade Root not to kill him.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Both Reese and Finch, but the former doesn't mind it since he has no choice.
    Reese: I don't particularly like killing people, but I'm very good at it.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • At the end of "Identity Crisis", Reese refuses to take advantage of a drugged and uncharacteristically friendly Finch's brazen (and certainly quite tempting) offer, "Don't you want to talk? Ask me anything!" He even says that Finch would regret it in the morning.
    • Artificial Intelligences are openly compared to gods, and the reasons people have for serving them are the same reasons that people turn to religion - to atone for past sins or cope with grief, those Desperately Seeking A Purpose In Life, or because they believe that humans are inferior and need to be ruled by a higher power.
    • The conflict between the Machine and Samaritan is compared to the Cold War in the episode of that name; a war waged via surrogates with the potential for mass destruction, based on conflicting ideologies of individual freedom versus central control.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Kara used Snow as her errand boy and kept him in line with the threat of activating his bomb-vest. Eventually she leaves him locked in a room with the bomb on a timer. Snow manages to escape the room and decides to wait for her in her car, where the bomb detonates and kills them both.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: The series LOVES this trope.
    • "Witness" revolves around a schoolteacher hunted by The Mafiya. Turned out he was an Italian mafia boss, incognito.
    • "Firewall" featured a criminal who knew about the Machine who put herself in danger to lure out Reese and Finch when they tried to save her.
    • The real head of HR as discovered in "Bury the Lede" is not a politician but a political adviser. As he said, politicians come and go but a person like him is there forever.
    • "Brotherhood" features Shaw torturing a low-level thug to discover the identity of the head of the Brotherhood. After he is released (alongside a lot of money) in exchange for Reese, he is revealed to actually be the leader.
  • Double-Meaning Title:
    • "Baby Blue": the POI is an orphaned baby; at the climax, she's locked in a freezer by Elias, and starts turning blue from the cold.
    • "Bury the Lede": newspaper slang for not putting the most important fact in the first ("lede") sentence of a story; in the episode, the POI is a reporter who is manipulated into outing an undercover informant, who is then murdered by the real bad guys—the "lede" of her story gets buried in a pine box
    • "Trojan Horse": Finch and Reese often act the part when they infiltrate an organization bent on killing a POI. But in addition, this specifically also refers to the way Rylatech was effectively made into one for the Chinese and/or Greer's "New Gods".
    • "In Extremis" is Latin for "At the point of death." First the POI spends much of the episode slowly dying from radiation poisoning and doing his best to help Reese find his killer and make amend with his daughter. The second is Stanton's virus has finally done its damage and the Machine is the one who is on the edge of death.
  • Dragon Ascendant: In the first season, HR's activities were limited to enabling other people's crimes. In the second, they move up to being a major threat in their own right.
  • Dramatic Irony: Finch is horrified to discover that Nathan is hacking the Irrelevant list and deletes his access, moments before Nathan's name comes up on the list. Nathan gives him a What the Hell, Hero? speech, asking what he'd say to the next person whose name came up.
    Finch: I'd say I'm sorry, but it's for the greater good. (after erasing access) I'm sorry, Nathan, but you can't save everyone.
  • Drowning My Sorrows:
    • Reese is trying to drink himself to death when Finch finds him. He relapses after Carter dies.
    • The POI in "Masquerade" is a more subtle example.
  • Drunk Driver:
    • In "Judgment," a drunk driver hitting a pedestrian starts a chain of events that lead to a judge becoming a 'person of interest'.
    • The very first life that the Machine saves is Finch's, stopping him from trying to cross the street just before a drunk who passed out at the wheel came zooming by.
  • Dueling Messiahs: This becomes the central conflict in the later seasons as Samaritan rises in opposition to the Machine. Although both AIs seek to protect humanity, the Machine values individual human lives and freedoms, while Samaritan has no qualms about committing acts of murder and oppression to fulfill his goals.
  • Dull Surprise:
    • Reese. Barely speaks above a whispered monotone and often has a blank expression on his face, which can come across as a bit narmy to some. Mostly justified, since Reese was trained to be a stoic and emotionless killer, and it helps that Caviezel is capable of conveying a wealth of emotion with only his eyes; it also serves to make the occasions that he does show emotion that much more meaningful (see the end of "Dead Reckoning", "The Crossing").
    • By contrast, Shaw, who actually has a disorder that means she doesn't really feel emotion, is generally more demonstrative (in a snarky way) than her Distaff Counterpart Reese. One POI, who she clearly develops a bond with, suggests that she does feel emotion, but it's like a radio turned way down.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome:
    • Mostly everyone can admit that Snow was a jerk, but using his bomb vest to take Kara out with him was one of these moments. He was right about being great at dying.
    • One of the POI's ended up getting poisoned with only one day left to live. He chose to spend his last day making amends with his estranged daughter and killing the man who ordered his death with the exact same poison used on him.
    • Terney's last act was to do one right thing for Carter and point out Quinn as the head of HR.
    • Before she goes down from Simmons' gunfire, Carter is still able to get one shot off and wound the man severely.
    • Scarface in "The Devil You Know", who gets captured by the Brotherhood, but still manages to plant the seeds of doubt in Dominic's lieutenant by questioning whether he has given Link any real reason to be loyal, and then convinces Elias to trigger the bomb trap and take out a large number of Dominic's men.
      Scarface: Morior invictus.
    • The Machine itself gets one in "Return 0", reaching the satellite Samaritan tried to upload a final clean copy of itself to to escape the ICE-9 virus before it does, and destroying Samaritan once and for all by invading its core systems while its unpacking itself and infecting it with ICE-9 as well.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: The search engine company Fetch & Retrieve was constantly used in early seasons and it finally got an episode in season 4.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • It took a few episodes before Reese settled on the black suit/white shirt combo he usually rocks. He also spoke in a more normal voice in the beginning before settling into his Clint Eastwood-esque growl.
    • In the pilot Finch has a limousine and bodyguards, as befits a reclusive billionaire. Afterwards Finch is shown to prefer anonymity as protection.
  • Emotionless Girl: Shaw. Justified as she's revealed to have a disorder affecting her this way. One flashback shows her being in a car accident where her father was killed, and calmly asking for a sandwich from the fireman who rescued her afterward, unaffected.
  • Enemy Civil War: Finch breaks up the partnership of Elias and HR by pointing out to HR's second-in-command that Elias was having his family watched.
  • Enemy Mine: Despite Finch breaking up his union with HR, while in prison Elias seems to think helping Finch and Reese is the best course of action and gives them subtle information about how HR currently is implanting itself in the city and who they are removing from power. Especially since Elias spurned a reconciliation with HR.
    • When Vigilance makes a huge move by abducting Control and moving on Greer and Finch's location, Reese and Shaw form an alliance of necessity with Hersh.
    • In "Panopticon", Reese temporarily allies with Elias to take down the Brotherhood. In subsequent episodes, while Team Machine isn't exactly allied with Elias, they occasionally have objectives that coincide.
  • Engineered Public Confession: In the pilot, the hero tapes the lawyer talking about her crimes when she thought they were alone.
  • Enhance Button: Done more plausibly than normal. Finch enhances images taken from a cell phone video in Masquerade, but the enhanced resolution isn't exactly hi-def. The main thing the enhanced image is used for is to identify large distinguishing features on head-shaped blurs, which Finch uses to identify the figures through other means.
    • Averted again in "Point of Origin", Samaritan reconstructs deleted video from a security camera and identifies Shaw. The image quality we see is terrible, but distinguishing features are visible.
  • Episode on a Plane: "4C".
  • Establishing Character Moment: Reese gets two in the pilot. The first, his Curb-Stomp Battle against the thugs, showcases his combat skills. The second is when he frantically frees himself and breaks down a hotel door to try and save a woman who he hears is being murdered.
    • Fusco gets a subtle one. In his first appearance, a lawyer confronts him about his changing testimony noting "Its my job to make sure the wrong people don't go to jail". Fusco contritely replies "I thought we were on the same side", clearly showing him as a corrupt, lazy cop. With the revelation that the lawyer is covering for corrupt cops, Fusco's initial response also proves Reese's later observation: Fusco doesn't want to be corrupt and his heart isn't in it.
  • Establishing Shot: Used fairly often in the early seasons - includes stock shots of the Library and the Precinct, and are almost always a surveillance camera imagenote .
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • One of the members of HR is shown having a loving family and stops working for Elias when he realizes Elias might go after them.
    • An odd one: Elias greatly respected Joss Carter and the lengths she went to while trying to take down HR within the scope of the law, even though he offered to wipe the organization out as thanks for saving his life. He genuinely mourns her death and takes has Officer Simmons killed as his way of getting vengeance.
      • A straighter example for Elias would be Scarface/Anthony, his trusted lieutenant. It turns out they've been friends since they were kids, and when the Brotherhood shoot and capture Anthony, Elias is genuinely willing to sacrifice his own life in exchange.
    • Speaking through Root, the Machine gets Control to back off by telling her it knows where the only thing she loves in the world lives, and she will protect it and Control. "Control-Alt-Delete" reveals it's her daughter.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Fusco, to an extent; see Dirty Cop entry above. "The Devil's Share" shows that even when he was a dirty cop, he hunted down and killed a drug dealer, to avenge the rookie cop the dealer had killed a year before.
      • In "Justice," the thought of a kidnapped child still disgusts him as much as it would any police officer, and he seems quite sincere in offering Reese any help he can give in tracking the perpetrator(s) down.
    • A hitman refused to kill a child even after he already murdered her family. When he is sent to prison for another crime, he reveals what happened since he does not want to be known as a child killer.
    • Elias decides not to kill Reese at the end of "Witness" "because that would seem ungrateful." He even offers him a job.
    • John invokes this trope against Elias to get his help by pointing out the baby he's looking for mirror's Elias' own back story and if Elias allows the kidnapping of children in his domain then he has nothing worth protecting. Elias agrees to help. Subverted later when Elias puts the rescued baby in mortal danger until John gives him some key information, because he knows John won't let the baby get hurt.
    • Invoked by a Russian mobster who tells Shaw that his people have standards and would not kill a 10 year old girl. On the other hand, the mobster had no problem kidnapping the girl and turning her over to HR who are more than capable of murdering a child.
    • At the end of Season 2, Elias is about to be executed by Russian Mobster Peter Yogorov and Detective Terney. While Elias accepts that Yogorov has to kill him to avenge the death of his father, because that is expected within the rules that the underworld plays by, he is disgusted at the thought of being killed by Terney because the detective is breaking the oath he took as a member of the NYPD.
  • Everything Is Online:
    • Inherent in the premise. The Machine automagically interfaces with every security/traffic/personal web camera that exists.
      • Sometimes averted, there are things that the Machine has to send Root in to find out. For example the authentication number in "Mors Praematura", the formula for the chip in "Root Path", and the meeting of senior government officials in "A House Divided".
    • In "All In" Finch lampshades the fact that casinos tend to have top of the line electronic security but in this case the casino owner got greedy and tied their online blackjack site directly into their main system. This gives Finch the backdoor to hack the casino's computer system. Subverted later on when Finch has to physically break into the server room to access the really secure files.
  • Evil Brit: Alistair Wesley (played by Julian Sands), and the reoccurring character "Greer".
  • Evil Counterpart: An ongoing theme of the series.
    • Elias is the anti-Finch. Both are men whose soft-spoken, nebbishy personalities mask the fact that they're highly intelligent and manipulative people who built up tremendous influence and power from behind the scenes while hiding their true identities from the public. But while Finch is The Atoner and working to make up for his past mistakes, Elias is a mob boss driven by revenge against those who've hurt him.
    • Root is another anti-Finch before the machine redeems her. She's equally gifted as a hacker, cheerful rather than somber and very, very amoral.
    • Greer is this to Root. They both regard humanity as flawed and seek to serve an AI they consider a god. While Greer's personality is more subdued than Root's, his actions match those of her pre Heel–Face Turn time. The main difference between them is that the AI Greer pledges himself to is far, far less benevolent than the Machine.
    • Samaritan is this for the Machine.
  • Evil vs. Evil: The show has various villainous factions with their own agendas, so this is inevitable.
  • Evolving Credits: From season to season, and sometimes from episode to episode. Fusco, Shaw, and Root are all added to the intro by the time season 3 rolls around, and Carter disappears from the intro following her death. When Fusco finally learns about the Machine in season 5, the white box around his face in the credits becomes a yellow Asset box like the rest of Team Machine sport. The credits themselves become more complex and involved as the Machine itself evolves. Characters like Root or Control will occasionally cut in and do their own take on Harold opening monologue. At one point, the Machine itself interrupts the intro to kickstart the plot. And one time, when the Machine is suffering from a virus, the intro actually crashes to desktop. In season 4, when Samaritan comes online, it forcibly takes over the intro from the Machine. Then in season 5, Samaritan and the Machine battle for control over the credits, with the team flipping back and forth between Assets and Threats, depending on which AI is dominant at the moment, and Harold's usual monologue being interrupted by a more sinister one from Greer whenever Samaritan has control.
  • Exact Time to Failure: The Machine's POV shots in "If-Then-Else" have a "Time to Asset Destruction" countdown with millisecond precision.
    • "Zero Day" and "God Mode" appear to be examples of this, but ultimately subvert it.
  • Expy:
    • Elias, especially in how he's introduced bears more than a little resemblance to a certain other criminal mastermind
    • He's also a Professor who is secretly a incognito criminal mastermind that rules the entire city, from criminal to judge. Sounds familiar?
    • Pierce, from "One Percent," is essentially Mark Zuckerberg meets Tony Stark.
    • The POI in "Lady Killer" is almost identical to a more realistic, less "wacky" Barney Stinson, down to being creepily obsessive about women and tailoring his entire persona to them instead of being genuine because he was hurt by one in the past. His name is the also-Irish "Ian Murphy".
  • Facial Dialogue: Reese and Finch are both capable of expressing volumes with only minor facial expressions.
  • Facial Recognition Software: This is just one of the methods that the Machine uses to identify people. Also used by Finch on occasion.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: The Special Counsel accepts his death with an even "Fair enough," after completely failing his assigned task.
  • Fictional Counterpart: Several fictional businesses appear in multiple episodes: the "Fetch and Retrieve" search engine, OneState Bank, the New York Journal (an Expy of the New York Times) and New York Ledger (an Expy of the Post), Universal Heritage Insurance, IFT, the FriendCzar social networking site and Silverpool (a PMC that is totally not Blackwater).
    • Funnily enough, the real companies sometimes make an appearance as well, since Finch talks about hacking Google's and Yahoo's NSA backdoors and hires an ex-Blackwater mercenary.
  • Failure Knight:
    • Finch and Reese both toward one another and the people they help. Both have failed to protect someone dear to them in the past and have devoted what is left of their lives to protect those in need.
    • Finch has especially strong tones of this, stemming from years of allowing the "unimportant" numbers slip through the cracks and being unable to protect Reese's ex-girlfriend, Jessica, and his actions in stopping Nathan from looking at the irrelevant list led to Nathan's death. Root also suggests that Reese isn't the first person Finch has recruited.
  • False Flag Operation: What Carter initiates in order to get HR to destroy itself once and for all, starting a war between them and the Russians, and tipping off the FBI to swoop in and arrest most of them.
  • First-Name Basis: As a general rule, whenever anyone is addressed by their first name, it's either because someone is trying to stress a point to them, or because shit is hitting the fan, such as Reese being shot, Finch trying to disable Reese's bomb vest, Resse trying to talk Carter out of her revenge against HR, or Fusco begging Reese to find Carter before she gets killed by HR.
  • Flashback:
    • Used every two or three episodes to fill in character back-stories. They generally focus on one character per episode; Finch and Reese have each had multiple instances, while Carter, Elias, Root, Fusco, and Kara Stanton have all had at least one episode. "The Devil's Share" features separate flashbacks for Finch, Shaw, Reese and Fusco.
    • Flashback Effect: See Idiosyncratic Wipe, below.
      • Turned Up to Eleven for Elias' flashbacks in "Flesh and Blood", as the timeline "rushes" thru twenty plus years and takes on a pronounced color shift.
  • Flirting Under Fire: Par for the course for Root, who's never not flirting with Shaw. Lampshaded in "The Day the World Went Away":
    Shaw: I swear to God, you flirt at the most awkward times.
    Root: I know.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: The massive conspiracy of corrupt cops with tentacles throughout New York is known by the innocuous-sounding name of HR. Which makes sense, since if someone not in the know overhears a bit of a conversation, they probably assume they're talking about the NYPD's actual HR dept.
  • Forced to Watch: When Root abducts Finch she forces him to watch her torture Denton Weeks for information, partially, it seems, because she likes to have someone to appreciate her work, partially to show him what may happen to him if he doesn't give her what she wants, and partially, it seems, because she finds it interesting and entertaining that it bothers him. Ironically this is inverted at the end of Season 4; Decima threatens to make Finch watch Root's lobotomy, and when Root objects Martine threatens to kill Finch in front of her.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Reese's voice-over from "Pilot" foreshadows Jessica's death. Subtly reinforced in the second episode, "Ghosts," when Jessica's picture appears on one of the screens showing the people on the "irrelevant" list.
    • In "No Good Deed", Reese tells Finch he thinks it's time he was told how The Machine communicates with him so he can continue helping people if something ever happens to Finch; the next episode, Finch gets kidnapped.
    • In "Bad Code," Root's childhood friend Hannah is shown playing The Oregon Trail at the public library. She dies of dysentery and quits the game, then leaves the library...and is murdered on her way home.
    • Beginning in "One Percent" you can see brief glimpses of the Blue Screen Of Death when viewing The Machine's POV. It continues to progress in later episodes, to the point where it eventually causes the title sequence to crash. The Machine is finally been revealed to have a major virus, planted by Kara Stanton, that has been slowly destroying it over the course of the second season. This has the side effect of Reese and Finch failing to save several POI's since they're identified too late to make a difference.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Elias, who occassionaly gets Scary Shiny Glasses, depending on the lighting.
    • The serial killer in "Proteus".
  • Framing the Guilty Party:
    • Finch does this to create an opening for Reese to get closer to a POI working as a bank-robber.
    • Also, Reese tries to frame a serial rapist for cocaine possession, but it ends up not working because the man has good lawyers.
    • Fusco works for Reese because Reese can frame Fusco for a killing another Dirty Cop. Reese killed the guy with Fusco's gun.
    • Carter did a bit during her time as an Army officer to prevent suicide vests from being used by "proving" to an Iraqi civilian that she had photos of him meeting with Al-Qaeda terrorists.
    • In "Endgame", she utilizes multiple false flag operations to do this on a wider scale to HR and the Russian Mafia.
    • In "Legacy," Reese got a corrupt parole officer arrested by the NYPD by pretending to make him drunk and a threat to himself with a pistol.
    • Reese even does this to himself. He makes a group of criminals believe that he is The Mole who infiltrated their gang. He is a mole who infiltrated their gang but not the undercover cop they are looking for
    • In "Many Happy Returns", Reese gets the Marshal who was stalking that week's POI thrown into a Mexican prison on a drug charge.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In a Season 3 episode, a shot from the Machine's POV showing a group of predictions includes one for "Global Thermonuclear War".
  • Freudian Trio:
    • Reese (Id): doubts his mission as a spy.
    • Snow (Ego): Manipulative Bastard who talks Reese and Stanton into killing each other.
    • Stanton (Superego): never doubted her mission and enjoyed her job.
  • Friend on the Force: Not initially, but Fusco and Carter both graduate to this during season 1. Reese, of all people, becomes one in season 4.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: In "Many Happy Returns," Finch gives Reese the key to an apartment whose monthly rent probably exceeds the monthly mortgage payment of most middle-class houses. No evidence is provided as to whether or not Reese could afford such a place on his salary (He certainly couldn't on the salary of either of his previous jobs), but Finch can definitely afford it (assuming he doesn't just own the whole building and is letting Reese stay there rent-free).
    • Given this is supposed to be a birthday present, we can assume he's given full propriety of the apartment to Reese, or at least to one of his aliases.
  • Funny Background Event: In "The Cold War", Finch brings Shaw lunch. Root momentarily steals her drink, and then while Finch and Root are discussing the next number, Shaw can be seen wiping her straw off on her jacket with a look of disgust.
  • Gambit Pileup:
    • The climax of "Mors Praematura": Finch and Reese, while trying to save the week's POI, attempt to prevent Vigilance from intercepting a prisoner transport and killing one of its occupants. Said transport, unbeknownst to either group, had already been infiltrated by Root and Shaw, also acting on behalf of the Machine.
    • Happens again during "Alethia", with Team Machine, Northern Lights, and Vigilance coming to blows over control of Samaritan. Ultimately, Team Machine and the POI escape due to some big damn heroics, Hersh narrowly avoids being blown up by a Vigilance mook, and Samaritan is thought to be destroyed, but survives and ends up in the hands of a fourth party— Decima.
    • And also in "4C", which involves Colombian and Israeli drug gangs alongside the ISA under instructions from Northern Lights.
  • Gambit Roulette: A lot of what Root does would qualify if she wasn't directed by an almost omniscient machine, with actions that seem utterly random at the time leading to phenomenal results.
  • Gangsta Style:
  • Generic Ethnic Crime Gang: So far we've seen The Mafia, The Mafiya, The Irish Mob, and a Bulgarian mob.
  • Genre Savvy: In "Nautilus", Harold buys a disposable laptop before probing an email address associated with the titular ARG, for safety's sake. A few seconds later, it gets backtraced by Samaritan, and he throws it out the window and hurriedly leaves.
  • Genre Shift: The series began as a twist on the police procedural concept. Over the course of three seasons it has smoothly developed into a post-cyberpunk show with Spy Drama elements about AI and the beginnings of a Singularity.
  • Godzilla Threshold: There's bad, and then there's so bad you get Root to help. The final round with HR isn't, but saving Reese afterward is.
    • After Samaritan sees through Finch's false identity and Elias and Root die protecting him, Finch, despite his fear of the Machine turning out exactly like Samaritan, removed all restrictions on the Machine's actions.
  • Go for the Eye: Reese teaches the eye jab to Finch as a basic self-defense technique; Finch is suitably squicked, but uses it successfully against the villain of the week. Finch's reaction to how well it actually worked despite criticizing it earlier making it all the funnier.
  • Going for the Big Scoop: Deconstructed in "Bury the Lede". The POI is an Intrepid Reporter who chases her story at all costs, and in doing so, gets a bit hasty about collecting sufficient evidence. She gets a man killed and her career nearly ruined for her efforts.
  • Government Conspiracy:
    • "You are being watched."
    • Also the Big Bad in "Blue Code" known only as LOS turns out to be a CIA agent, using drug smuggling to fund the War on Terror.
  • Good Feels Good: Fusco complains that he was just getting used to being a good guy when Reese insists he go undercover with HR.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: The Intelligence Support Activity, which is portrayed in the series as a shadowy black ops wetwork group for the US military and intelligence services. A three-man ISA team (presumably seconded to Northern Lights) make several attempts to kill a POI in "No Good Dead".
    • Northern Lights is the codename for the government program that acts on the Machine's Relevant numbers. "Relevance" indicates that some operators come from the ISA above, and shows that Northern Lights operators are classed as Indigo assets: assets who hunt down Relevant numbers the Machine identifies.
    • Interestingly, this seems well researched. ISA is the support agency of JSOC, which is in charge of all military special operation teams. Kudos to the producers for not taking the easy way out with the CIA, as the CIA can't operate in the US at all, whereas the military can do it with (presumably secret) Congressional authorization. If the US government had such a machine, and was operating a wetworks teams with even a veneer of legality, it would be via the ISA and JSOC. Bonus points for using actual JSOC naming conventions of Task Force Color.
  • Graceful Loser: Elias
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: Fusco's story of protecting the POI model from the Armenian Mob.
  • Guns Akimbo: Root. Shaw calls it lame in "The Devil's Share" — and then Root turns and mows down half a dozen Russian gangsters the moment they drive up.
    Shaw: Okay, that was kinda hot.
    • And then she does it to save Shaw, Finch and the POI two episodes later.
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