|Episode no. Season 4
Written by Denise Thé
|Directed by Chris Fisher|
Production code 3J5411
|Featured music Ramin Djawadi
"Fortune Days" by The Glitch Mob|
Original air date January 6, 2015 (2015-01-06)
"If-Then-Else" is the eleventh episode of the fourth season of the Person of Interest television series. It originally aired on January 6, 2015, on CBS. It is the seventy-ninth overall episode for the series.
"If-Then-Else" was written by Denise Thé and directed by Chris Fisher. The episode continues the series' long-running Samaritan storyline. It centers on the Machine evaluating a list of possible strategies to allow the team to succeed in a mission to recover New York City's stock market after Samaritan attacks the stock exchange and cripples the city's financial system.
According to Nielsen Media Research, the episode was watched by 10.08 million viewers with a 1.7/5 ratings share in the 18 to 49 age demographic upon airing. The episode was highly acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, with reviewers praising the originality and execution of the premise, the thematic value, and the shocking ending, with many calling it one of the series' best episodes.
Following the events of "The Cold War", Samaritan cripples New York City's financial system after attacking the stock exchange. Amidst the turmoil of the plummeting stocks, Finch (Michael Emerson), "Root" (Amy Acker), Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Fusco (Kevin Chapman) head to the New York stock exchange to revitalize it, where Decima Technologies operatives ambush the team, prompting them to take cover inside an office. Meanwhile, Shaw (Sarah Shahi) is in a subway train spying on a man with access to the stock exchange's security codes. Matters are complicated when a suicidal man unveils a bomb vest he threatens to detonate. Root consults the Machine for help, and the Machine in turn evaluates the possible strategies to help them succeed.
The episode periodically flashes back to 2003, where Finch is in a park playing chess with the Machine, and using the games as analogies to various concepts he teaches it. Several games later, as the Machine is appearing triumphant on many occasions, Finch tells it that he doesn't enjoy chess since it was created during a time of cynicism and societal imbalance. Finch believes people should not be assigned "values" and sacrificed; those who treat life as game of chess deserve to lose.
In the present day, the Machine uses its knowledge of chess as a basis to narrow down its options and run simulations. In the first, Finch and Root go to the security room, while Fusco and Reese take over elevator controls. This results in Decima forces overpowering both teams and killing Finch. The second option swaps the destinations of the two groups, which ends up with a wounded Reese detonating a grenade, killing himself and everyone in the security room. Root professes her love to Shaw before dying. Both of these scenarios also show Shaw shooting the suicidal bomber and being arrested by SWAT teams.
In the third option, the whole group non-violently takes over the security room and stabilize the market while Shaw talks the suicidal man out of bombing the train. Left with little time, the Machine deploys the third option, even though it only has a 2.07% chance of the team's survival in taking over the elevator. These odds increase to 22.48% when Shaw arrives with explosives to fend off the attackers. The elevator, however, stops functioning right as they are about to escape. Shaw is forced to leave it and press an override button on the other side of the hallway, passionately kissing a concerned Root before doing so. As such, Martine (Cara Buono) catches up and shoots Shaw multiple times while Root and the team watch in horror.
"If-Then-Else" was written by longtime Person of Interest writer Denise Thé and directed by Chris Fisher, also a veteran crew member. This is Thé's tenth episode written for the series and Fisher's eleventh directing credit.
The episode's narrative structure is significantly different from other episodes in that the majority of the episode is made of simulations, by the Machine, of various scenarios resulting in different outcomes. The execution of this tactic was praised by several commentators due to its opportunity to include humor and more outlandish elements than what is typically allowed. Series showrunner Greg Plageman also voiced his initial skepticism over the idea until he realized the value of it, and went forth with it.
The episode's most notable development is the supposed death of the character of Shaw - the event sparked rampant discussion and response from the cast and crew. Series executive producer Greg Plageman stated that the reason for Shaw's sacrifice was mainly due to actress Sarah Shahi's pregnancy with twins. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Shahi said about the decision, "When you become a parent, that task takes priority over everything. It would be impossible for me. At the end of the day, nothing is more important than the health and the comfort of my children... ...But I've so enjoyed this character. She’s so dynamic. I get to pretend to be a superhero every week on TV, so that’s definitely the bitter part of the ‘bittersweet.’" Plageman said that the main goal of the ending scene was to convey it "heroic" and a "self-sacrifice". Actress Amy Acker stated in an interview that she felt this episode was the "climax" of the season, and that it embodied the true "war" between the Machines, feeling that the episode finally managed to deviate from a sense of buildup that the rest of the season always seemed to bear. When asked about Root's relationship with Shaw, Acker referenced a quote hinting at a romantic development from the season's fifth episode, and followed by saying, "I feel like even if it's not a romantic relationship -- even though the writers have hinted to us that it is -- that whatever it is they do care about each other. And they have each other."
However, it has been hinted that Shaw may not have been killed off entirely; Shahi stated that her leave is temporary and, pointing out that the episode is the second in a three-part episode series, said about Shaw's death: "That is what the team is going to have to figure out. Is she alive? Did Samaritan capture her? Where is she? The rule in TV is if you don’t see a body, then they’re not dead." Actor Michael Emerson also voiced various theories over Shaw's fate. Nonetheless, the cast still offered praise to Shahi and said their goodbyes to her. Later, the closing scene of episode thirteen confirmed that Shaw is alive.
The music used during the simulation segments is "Fortune Days" by American electronic music group The Glitch Mob.
The episode title is a reference to the computer programming syntax, "if-then-else".
"If-Then-Else" aired on Tuesday, January 6, 2015 and, according to Nielsen Media Research, was watched by 9.97 million viewers with a 1.7/5 ratings share in the 18 to 49 age demographic.
"If-Then-Else" attracted near universal praise from critics, with many regarding it as one of the series' best episodes. Matt Fowler of IGN gave the episode a perfect rating of 10 out 10, indicating it to a "masterpiece", and praised the simulation format, the action scenes, the emotional value, and the ending. He called the episode "next-level inventive" and a "jolting, exciting, heart-wrenching episode". Fowler said the ending scene "crushed" him, and he also offered praise to the significance of the flashbacks to the chess games. Alexa Planje of The A.V. Club gave the episode an A rating, and in her review, said that though the task of executing a story structured like "If-Then-Else" was difficult, the episode did so "elegantly" - she cited the "interesting score, vibrant color work, and humor" as the key elements. Planje said the episode "aces every scenario" during the simulation segments, and appreciated how the episode transformed itself from what appeared to be a "standard mission-focused story" into a "moving ode" to Shaw. She also praised the episode's exploration of the parallels between being a human and being a machine.
Shant Istamboulian of Entertainment Weekly lauded Emerson's performance in the flashbacks and felt the season marked the series' "creative peak". He concluded by saying "Moving like a rocket, this episode is fast, funny, exciting, and, ultimately, sad, ending with what seems like the loss of another team member. We’ll have to wait until next week for the outcome, but as it stands, “If-Then-Else” is an instant classic." Tim Surette of TV.com also had high praise for the episode, calling it "playful, mind-bending, heart-breaking, and flat-out excellent." He praised the episode's incorporation of its "recurring theme of sacrifice", and called the flashbacks "as fascinating and provocative as anything the series has done." Surette cited his favorite part of the episode as the exploration of the Machine's perspective, and additionally praised the humorous segments.
Sean McKenna of TV Fanatic compared the episode's style to that of the 2014 film Edge of Tomorrow, and called the episode's ending an "emotional gut-punch". He praised the episode for not "settling for the typical" and not letting its heroes always win, concluding by saying "There’s drama, action, humor, victory, defeat, surprise and the always guaranteed form of entertainment." He gave the episode a rating of 4.6 out of a possible 5 stars. Courtney Vaudreuil of TV Equals pointed out the effectiveness of the chess flashbacks, and also praised how the episode followed through on the "sense of paranoia" the series created after killing Carter in season 3. Hunter Bishop of TV Overmind gave the episode a full 10 out of 10 stars, called the episode "perfect" and offered extremely high praise for Shaw's death scene and the episode's exploration of its themes of humanity. He also praised the episode's simulation segments and its usage of the flashbacks.