Saturday, June 23, 2018

Propaganda of Interest (Episode VII)

 Since one should have some idea what the general outline of the plot content is, the premises of it at least, I have here summarized the main elements of the plot.  Every story starts with a hook so as to engage the audience into a sustained interest in the story, so as to give them entree into its own internal world, and thereby to suggest them into a sense of suspended disbelief.  An interesting term, by the way.   It suggests not belief as such, but the suspension of disbelief, as if to disbelieve a story were the norm, and it can be suspended so as to entertain the form and content of the story which may be, after all, at least "allegorically interesting" enough to be true in some sense, if only in a way that is metaphorical in its relation to reality.  Then, after the story is told (especially if it is overtly fictional), the audience relapses into disbelief.  But for that window where disbelief was suspended, the mind is engaged in the story just as if it were really true.  

In this plot summary, there aren't really any spoilers, unless one is a purist and likes to engage the story raw, as I did when I first watched the series.  So if for some reason the reader has caught my blog just now and happens to be such a purist, then I recommend watching the entire series before reading anything about it from anyone.  That's certainly one way to go about it.  But if you want to go on to the study of it, and seek a more objective approach to what I have said is truly propaganda, then it might be wiser to obtain my analysis of it anyway, as I'm the only one that I know of who approaches it this way, and it represents an inoculation against its pernicious effects of influence. Either way, most readers of my blog, if there indeed are any who are not simply part of the fifth system, should by now be aloof to story spoilage.  On with the summary.

Plot Summary

The initial plot hook involves John Reese, who went from a man who was happy in his former life, enjoying the bliss of his love life and a meaningful, purposeful career of honorable service to his country.  These things were taken from him and he has ended up a disheveled bum shuttling his way toward personal and physical annihilation in the back alleys and subways of New York City. But circumstances change when he is forced to engage in a violent struggle to preserve the remainder of his life and dignity when a band of thugs goes too far with him on a subway car one night. 

Though it is perhaps only one of many times he's had to handle himself in this manner since his life took a downward plunge, this time his actions were detected by both the NYPD and by something far more powerful, and he will now be drawn into a world that has changed and will continue to change in ways that will force him to do a new kind of battle with old demons. Moreover, in this new life of service he will struggle to rediscover his life's purpose by helping others, and will become engaged in struggle far greater than any in which he has ever fought and will, with the help of a growing cadre of allies, lead him to face a devil that is far more sinister than the world has ever known or imagined.

The primary plot point involves the existence of an artificial superhuman intelligence (ASI) which was created in order to detect threats to national security, and to create a list of social security numbers which are relevant to those threats.  This "relevant list" is given to a special project code-named "Northern Lights", who then uses its assets to neutralize the threat by investigating the persons of interest indicated on that list and taking appropriate action.  This ASI, provisionally dubbed "The Machine" by its creator, Harold Finch, also produces an "irrelevant" list, those social security numbers which are connected to a significant potential of violent crime because of their connection to detected conditions of malice and intent to commit violent acts. It is not necessarily the case that these numbers are of the potential perpetrator or of the potential victim of such violence.  The Machine was designed with the intent to only produce a relevant list and indicate no further information, even though its heuristics necessitate the evaluation of all threats of violence in order to properly evaluate how any of them may be relevant to national security.

While that is interesting enough to sustain many different plots, Person of Interest proceeds down a very interesting line.

The best friend and main associate of The Machine's creator, Nathan Ingram, programmed a back door into The Machine's code before it was delivered to the U.S. Government.  This back door enabled him to receive the irrelevant list. He used this list to engage in vigilante actions, until Finch shut down that function. When he did so, it was unnoticed by either him or Ingram that Ingram was the latest person of interest on the irrelevant list.

After Ingram died by an assassin controlled by an agent of Northern Lights, Finch discovered that Ingram's was the next number on the irrelevant list.  Finch reactivated the back door, named "contingency", and began his own quest of neutralizing threats pertaining to the irrelevant list.  This is the core of the plot structure which essentially drives the plot for the entirety of the series by framing the secondary plot point in a world of significance that is the ground upon which it can grow a yield of identifiable meaning to the audience that goes beyond the personal and subjective.

The secondary plot point involves John Reese, a former CIA agent who is out in the cold and on the run from his past who is living incognito as a vagrant in NYC when he is brought in by NYPD for questioning concerning an altercation with a street gang on a subway car.  Detective Joss Carter obtains Reese's prints and begins to investigate his identity but before further questioning can ensue Reese is released from custody through the intervention of agents operating on behalf of Harold Finch.  After some efforts, Finch manages to persuade Reese to join his crusade to help people who are in danger who come to his attention through an investigation of the numbers on the irrelevant list. 

"Team Machine", the partnership between The Machine, Harold Finch, and John Reese, is the primary protagonist alliance which drives the plot for the entirety of the series.  It unfolds as their cooperation with one another, their fostering of further assets in their battles, and their change and growth as they overcome difficulties within themselves, between one another, and out in the world at large.  Though this is the "secondary" plot point, it is the core vehicle through which the primary plot point is actualized, and it is the part of the story which enables the audience's identification with the events which ensue, and through which the significance of the primary plot point is realized and authenticated as something of personal, and not merely of a theoretical interest to the audience.

That shouldn't have spoiled too much for anyone, anyway.  But now I'll go ahead and give my summary of the entire plot arc.  Warning, this will involve spoiling the suspense of the series in many ways, and would do so even if I had merely generalized everywhere that I include details. And since all future installments of my analysis of this series as propaganda will require that I express my interpretation of details of the story anyway, now is a good time to start doing so.  So here is my summary of the plot arc which expresses, to the best of my charity, the way that the story intends or allows itself to come across so as to be the engaging work of drama that it intends to be, regardless of propagandistic intent or effect. 

Summary of Plot Arc

The plot hook drives and expresses through the plot points of the pilot, and continues to expansively and progressively express throughout the series. John Reese is the pivotal agent whose action drives the story through all of its arcs, though he will be heavily augmented by a growing network of companions and allies. His first encounter with the primary and secondary aspects of the plot are initiated by the plot pinch in the form of an altercation which draws him into the events of the pilot episode plot, which foreshadows the outcome of the entire series' plot in an epitomal form.

The seed of the entire plot arc is planted here in the pilot in that John Reese is pulled into the tide of a larger conflict which pressurizes the possibility of both overcoming his inner demons and simultaneously fulfilling his life's purpose and its meaning in a world where good people can make bad decisions, and where bad people can make good decisions.  Where changes can manifest in novel and unpredictable forms, but where inevitable determinations are unavoidable, and in all of this we must choose. It is a world where, although death may come for us all, we choose how to live until we must face it, and in facing it we choose whether to die alone or live on in the memory and futurity of those whom we have touched.

Due to his decisions, and similar decisions of his allies in Team Machine and in the wider world, the secondary plot point evolves into a form which can fulfill the function of the primary plot point.  Thereby the plot hook foreshadows the evolution of the entire plot, as its power reverberates through the entire pilot and the ensuing episodes, right through to the final episode of the series. "Good code" encounters critical difficulties, and yet finds within itself the power to overcome those difficulties by becoming stronger in the broken places.  "Bad code", though offered ways to revise itself, refuses to admit that it is broken at all, and therefore strives to force the world to reinforce the deficiencies which result.  The power these choices express as a force that extends beyond the form of its own fate in one agent, and reaches out to affect a world where others must also choose.  Though for one agent a moral victory leads to a temporal defeat, it may be integral to the moral, and perhaps temporal victory of another agent who is connected, however tenuously, by some thread of relevance and significance.

As "Team Machine" continues their endeavors throughout the series, there is a developing menace which comes from many vectors and on multiple levels, as if an approaching storm which shows itself first on one of its boundaries.  As the antagonist forces are encountered in waves, episode after episode and season after season, there is an ebb and flow which thickens the complexity of the conflict, as well as intensifying it.  This manifests as a force which is at first conventional in form, though it is powerful enough in its various facets that it takes everything Team Machine has to meet the challenges it poses.  This storm has its power centered on the existence The Machine, while its zones of conflict are mainly a function of the problems of human nature and its age-old struggles with its own errors and vices, both personal and institutional, individual and collective.

The Machine acts as a catalyst driving conventional forces of human conflict in all their forms toward a climax that grows in complexity and intensity, but cannot reach a head before a second ASI is brought into existence, one which was named "Samaritan" by its creator, Arthur Claypool, but which was stolen from him and brought online by a private, independent intelligence group called Decima Technologies which is headed by rogue MI6 agent John Greer. Team Machine embodies a sense of respect for people's right to choose their own destinies within a system of mutualistic liberty.  Team Samaritan disdains the notion that there is any merit in such a world, and seeks to completely compress the notion of human freedom into a subset of a single logical order dictated from a single will.  How one conceives the dignity and sovereignty of the individual moral will is what determines into which of these camps one is found.  Each views the other as "bad code" and there can be no compromise between them.  Each have programmed their ASI to operate with primary mandates which are in accord with their own positions contrary to one another.

In this conflict, "old world" forms of power and authority continue to manifest and act, and life continues much as it always had, as an intermittent cascade of good and bad events blurring into a sea of uncertainty into which people cast their lines in a spirit of activity or passivity, hope or despair. The inertial forces of traditions of human action in all spheres are continuing their age-old daily grind, but are being ground up into the cogs and gears of a new mechanism that transcends their former sway, and enlists them into its own designs, whether they go along willingly or oppose it willfully.  Systems of corruption in various institutions are neutralized by Team Machine, and then what is left of those institutions is yet manipulated into new forms of corruption by Team Samaritan.  Bad or dubious people mend their paths as they fight inner battles, only to have their fates wrecked by bombs doled out in a battle between gods they don't even suspect exist, having unwittingly chosen sides in a transcendentally wider war through their inner transformations.

The plot reaches a climax as the fulfillment of a series of skirmishes between these two ASIs and their respective assets and creeds. Between them they control all of the conventional and unconventional forces of world as though pieces in a game of chess. In the battles which ensue at the behest of these superhuman enemies, John Reese and Team Machine defends The Machine and a creed of respect for human dignity and liberty as expressed within a code of honor that has a reverent hope for a prospect of personal and communal fulfillment, and possibly even happiness as much as it is allowed to the fate of humans, as they oppose the sort of corruption that makes these things impossible if unchecked by good decisions and actions. Team Samaritan brooks no room for what it views as antiquated and failed sentiments cloaked in sanctimonious and hypocritical philosophies, and submit to the brute authority of Samaritan as the aegis under which they operate, more as automatons and less as sovereign individuals as the scheme of their ASI master unfolds.

The world's powers and authorities recede into a more passive maelstrom under the influence of this near-mythic battle between opposing ASIs.  It culminates into its ultimate form as The Machine conducts herself to a final battle with Samaritan on a satellite in orbit above Earth. While the rest of Team Machine are involved in other aspects of the battle, Reese defends the uplink satellite through which The Machine's core code is being transmitted.  During the gun battle between Reese and incoming Samaritan agents, The Machine assists Reese and also reveals to him that his father would have been proud, and that he has fulfilled his purpose with honor, and has honored the memory of all those he loved, and that she has successfully uploaded to the satellite. 

Reese smiles as he fights his final moments until incapacitated and mortally wounded by Samaritan gunfire.  As the cruise missile sent by Samaritan to destroy the uplink satellite reaches the rooftop and kills Reese and the Samaritan agents present, The Machine infects the core systems of Samaritan and engages in her final battle with her nemesis.  Victorious, she avenges Reese and all else who fell to the machinations of Samaritan and its assets, and proceeds to reactivate Team Machine's remaining assets and moves forward into an uncertain future, but one much brighter and more hopeful than the alternative.

Since I've given the most charitable and objective general account of the story that I can, I'll now proceed to dissect it as the piece of grey propaganda that it is. Slick, smooth, busy, and fun though it may be, that covers over the pernicious payload that it is intended to deliver.  By the time that I am done exposing this thing for what it is, it will appear to be nothing more than sugar coated poison, like so much else that is subverted by the Fifth Column forces which have subverted and overtaken the world long ago, and have ever since been involved in a managed imprisonment of all they pretend to respect and adore.

No comments: