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Recap / Person Of Interest S 03 E 20

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Season 3, Episode 20

Death Benefit

"...the mission, our purpose, has always been constant: to save lives. If that's changed somehow, if we're in a place now where the Machine is asking us to commit murder? That's a place I can't go. I'm afraid this is where I get off."

The newest Number turns out to be Roger McCourt, a member of the United States House Committee on Rules, well-known for his anti-government surveillance stance. Reese and Finch, suspecting that he may be targeted by Decima, travel to Washington D.C. to watch over him.

Tropes present in this episode include:

  • Arc Words: "I'm a deal maker."
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Reese asks how many lives have to be at stake for the Machine to order someone's death, even if they were an asshole? Finch has never considered the question, and may very well have hoped he would never have to.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • In the Batman Cold Open, Team Machine protects a drug dealer who's being set up to be murdered by his partner. After knocking out both parties, they leave them for Fusco as a lengthy prison sentence will stop them from killing each other.
    • Subverted with McCourt. As Finch points out, he's just a corrupt, shallow politician, which doesn't justify his assassination.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Decima got what they wanted and are now hunting down Team Machine, starting with Harold.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • Greer talks of removing obstacles, making it look like he's referring to Congressman McCourt. Turns out McCourt is in his pocket the whole time, and the supposed Decima hit team is actually there to guard him from Team Machine.
    • It looks like Reese has killed McCourt, until he talks to Garrison on the phone.
  • Better than Sex: Shaw knows a steak joint in St. Louis where the fillet is...well, this trope. Root says it sounds yummy.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: In "4C", Finch said he wanted a human element kept in the Machine's decision process. So the Machine leaves to Finch the question of whether to kill McCourt.
  • Big Brother Is Watching You: Even when you are Big Brother! When Garrison denies playing a major role in Northern Lights, Greer smugly proves otherwise. "Surely you didn't think, in a world where you were surveilling everyone, that no-one was watching you?
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    Shaw: "You guys going my way?"
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Congressman McCourt embraces this trope. At the beginning of the episode, he presents himself as a noble crusader against overreaching surveillance and someone who buys dinners for the homeless, but then Reese catches him having sex with his assistant, Finch finds he's been doing insider trading and then the man himself reveals he's an asset of Decima Technologies and has actively assisted them in setting up a surveillance state.
  • Bound and Gagged: McCourt, for a time.
  • Brick Joke: The opera ticket.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Reese pretending to be a drug dealer.
  • Call-Back: To the pilot:
    "People want to be protected. They just don't want to know how."
  • Cliffhanger: In Season 2, Greer pledged to "find Harold Finch and make him irrelevant". Now he is in a position to do both with the Samaritan beginning to compromise Finch's cover identities.
  • Corrupt Politician: When Finch pressures McCourt with the threat of exposing his insider trading to the SEC, he drops his facade and reveals himself as a Decima asset who's been furthering the company's agenda. Subverted when Harold tries to bribe him. McCourt refuses, as he sees himself as just making money on the side while serving his country.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Unsurprisingly, Finch.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The team unknowingly crosses it by not killing the congressman, as it was the team's single last chance of stopping Samaritan from coming online. Reese has figured this out but Harold is still not convinced that the situation was bleak enough.
    Reese: If we let him walk out of that door, Decima wins, Samaritan will go live.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Finch points out that handing surveillance over to Decima will only ensure the information is available to the highest bidder. McCourt is confident that the US Government will always be the highest bidder. It doesn't occur to him that Decima might have motives other than profit.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The issue of whether to kill one man to avert an apocalypse.
  • Downer Ending: One of the show's biggest, and as Root later says, it's the critical point of no return for keeping Samaritan offline. With Finch's refusal to give permission to execute McCourt, John, Sameen and Harold are on the run with Decima Technologies hit-squads hunting them down. Greer has managed to activate Samaritan and manipulated two high ranking members of the US government in letting him demonstrate the capabilities of Samaritan and make it a contender to replace The Machine. The last shot is of him having entered "Harold Finch" into Samaritan and immediately getting back the names of Nathan Ingram and Finch's two most seen long-term cover identities (Crane and Wren).
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Reese kidnaps McCourt before discovering the Decima squad was sent to protect him, not kill him.
  • Every Man Has His Price:
    • Averted, even with a Corrupt Politician. Finch offers to match Decima's price, but McCourt isn't interested as he thinks the legislation is the best thing for the country. If he's making money off it too, that's just a fringe benefit.
  • Evil Counterpart/The Unfettered: Samaritan to the Machine. It's even discussed by Team Machine: the Machine is a shield, designed to protect people. Samaritan is a sword; its interface literally says "Enter Target".
  • Exact Words: Congressman McCourt is against government-run surveillance. Non-government surveillance is another story.
  • Fanservice: Root and Shaw riding off on a motorbike together.
  • Foreshadowing: Reese points out that in the event of an attack on McCourt, he'd be assigned Secret Service protection and decides to use this to get close to him, and this happens:
    Finch: No one's made an attempt on his life yet. The congressman doesn't even know the danger he's in.
    (Reese opens fire at McCourt from inside the car)
    Reese: He knows now. Drive, Finch.
    • And then there's this:
    Reese: Someone's trying to kill you.
    McCourt: Yeah, you.
  • Good Feels Good: Shaw gives this reason as to why she's hesitant to kill McCourt, although she makes it clear she'll do it if it's necessary.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: Shaw and Root's misadventures in Alaska and Miami.
  • The Heart: Root of course thinks they should do what the Machine wants. The coldly pragmatic Shaw thinks it's entirely justified also. Reese doesn't trust the Machine but does trust Finch, so in the end it's his decision. However Finch refuses to countenance murder under any circumstances.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • Finch, who refuses to have the congressman executed.
    • The Machine, who knows that killing McCourt is the only option they have for stopping Samaritan but takes no action of its own and leaves the final decision to Finch.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: The Machine has Root blindly following every order, yet does not send her to take out McCourt, as one of the core values Finch drilled into the Machine is that every human life is valuable, period. People should be protected, not sacrificed for the greater good, no matter how sleazy they may be. So the Machine chooses to essentially ask Finch for permission to kill McCourt, spelling out the dilemma and all its details before it and leaving Team Machine to decide whether or not killing him to stop Samaritan would be justified.
  • Implacable Man: The Scary Black Man leading the Decima team keeps tracking down Team Machine, even as his men are whittled down around him.
  • Inadvertent Entrance Cue: In the Cold Open, Shaw wonders who's handling the relevant numbers if Northern Lights has shut down. Cue Root riding up on a motorcycle.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Hearing suspicious sounds, Reese barges in on the congressman having sex with his aide.
  • The Kindnapper: Reese.
  • The Needs of the Many: Reese says this when trying to justify killing the congressman.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-Universe for Finch, who acknowledges that their morals have slipped over the years, but Team Machine has always been about saving lives, and he will leave the group if Reese and Shaw go ahead with the assassination.
  • Morality Chain: Reese thinks they should kill McCourt, but will only do so if Finch agrees, because he doesn't trust the Machine.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Regardless of the ethics of killing McCourt, Reese kidnapping him in the first place gives Greer the perfect opportunity to hunt down Team Machine with the covert permission of the US government.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: This trope comes into play big time when Harold refuses to give John permission to execute the POI. As a result, Greer's political manipulations go off without a hitch, Team Machine is on the run and Samaritan is brought online.
  • Pragmatic Hero: The Machine, and it's scheme to derail Decima's plans, though Finch is too idealistic to have the congressman killed.
  • Prophecy Twist: McCourt is the victim...and Team Machine is the perpetrator.
  • Punk in the Trunk: The leader of the Decima squad.
    McCourt: Boy, this just gets worse.
    Reese: Cheer up, Mac. You could be in the trunk with the guy who wants to kill you.
  • Race Against the Clock: Decima, who had Senator Garrison give them access to New York's feeds for 24 hours to find Finch.
  • Refuge in Audacity: In order to get close to McCourt, Reese opens fire on the Congressman, purposely missing. As a result, the man gets assigned a Secret Service detail allowing Reese to use the appropriate cover identity. Oh, and since Finch didn't have time to fabricate a Secret Service identity for Reese, Reese kidnapped an agent and stole his instead.
  • Reveal Shot: In Miami, the camera pans out in the bar Shaw and Root are drinking in revealing that they have knocked out a gathering of arms dealers with drugged drinks.
  • Sadistic Choice: Team Machine is faced with a massive one to execute a politician who's been revealed as a Decima asset and prevent the passing of his proposed legislation which would put Samaritan in a prime position to replace the Machine, or disobey The Machine's agenda and refuse to shoot the man in cold blood. Finch is able to convince the others to pick the latter option.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance / Climactic Music: "Medicine" by Daughter plays as Team Machine flee through the woods in a running gun battle with a pursuing SWAT team.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Finch pulls one of these at the end of the episode because he knows he's top priority for Decima to hunt down and thinks his friends will have a better chance without him. Greer vanishes while Garrison is talking to McCourt.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: And Shaw isn't happy about it, when Reese interrupts their meal because the Number has just turned up.
  • The Unfettered: Samaritan has none of the restrictions that Finch built into the Machine.
  • Violence is the Only Option: Finch tries persuasion and bribery to convince McCourt to change his position. Neither works.
  • Wham Episode: Team Machine is on the run and being hunted by Decima's hit squads, Greer is positioning Samaritan as a replacement to The Machine and at the end of the episode, he activates it, immediately compromising Harold's two most used cover identities, along with Nathan Ingram.
  • Wham Line:
    Reese: I think the Machine wants us to kill McCourt.
  • You Can't Thwart Stage One: Or, rather, you can but you're too ethical to.