You know I am very frustrated with Carter's non-reaction to TM's existence, but I came to think that it is just another symptom of the ideological blind spots of POI wrt the surveillance state. I really love this show, especially because it did not take the simplistic "man vs machine" approach on AI, but I have to say that it was not as critical about the "national security vs privacy" issue. Even in POI's own Snowden episode, Peck was urged to look at the "mysteries of human heart", instead of-
-trying to expose the violation of the individual rights of citizens by this surveillance apparatus. Or the whole Vigilance storyline, while being sympathetic towards Collier’s motives, ended up making him Decima’s puppet. And during the entire run of the show, the only time the relevant operations were really criticized was Ctrl-Alt-Del, which ultimately laid the blame on SAM, not on Control or the ISA operatives. So, I cannot imagine a scenario where there is an ideological battle between-
- Carter and Finch on surveillance, and that is a shame because in my opinion, that sort of clash is the only logical consequence of Carter’s characterization. Root criticized Finch for selling TM to “the most laughably corrupt people imaginable”, but it is not a political criticism, because Root’s characterization does not lend itself to the political questions as easily as it does to the challenging of ethical conventions. That sort of political challenge could be brought about only -
- with someone like Carter, and since the show was not interested in this political challenge on the surveillance state, it ended up being a lost opportunity.
Ah I love this ask so much! I completely agree that the show glosses over the ramifications of the govt owning a machine that spies on people everywhere and collects all sorts of confidential data about them, and hence misses some great opportunities to have debates of a different flavour than what we got. There are two different issues that Harold faced while building TM – the first had to do with the state of TM itself and its identity as a being, and the second is the question of whether such a machine should exist in the first place.
Root takes care of the first aspect of course, but the issue of the right to privacy is only tangentially tackled on the show. We had Nathan kinda handwave in a line about how TM had to be a black box because if no one saw what it saw then technically no one’s fourth amendment rights would be violated (Super, 1x11), Harold briefly mentioned that the public wanted to be protected but didn’t want to know how (Pilot, 1x01), and then the most we delved into the issues of privacy was with Collier in s3, but like you said, Collier was ultimately set up as a patsy for Decima, which muddied their legitimate concerns a little. Vigilance was also a third party that didn’t fully get the time to actually debate this issue with Harold, and they devolved into an extremist group towards the end.
Now Shaw and Reese don’t care much about either the ethics of TM as a being or the whole invasion of privacy thing, Root is firmly attached to the former and has no credibility or motivation whatsoever when it comes to arguing about the latter, but Carter is the personification of how the average American citizen might’ve reacted to TM. She also has a much more personal connection to both us and Harold as compared to Collier, her word holds more weight, and above all it makes sense for her as a character to react this way when she figured out that something like TM existed in the world and what it was doing.
So yes, Carter would’ve been the perfect vehicle through which they could’ve explored TM and the invasion of rights it represents. And of course, it would also have helped lend credibility to Collier’s argument against Control and the ISA during the court scenes in Deus Ex Machina, because I do feel like they weren’t strict/interested enough in casting Control and the ISA’s role in the surveillance state in a negative light. And sure Harold was hauled up to the stand to be questioned about his part in helping create the surveillance state, but by that time it was clear that Vigilance wasn’t going to allow this to be a reasonable debate between the two sides. If they had really wanted to explore this issue, then they needed someone like Carter to seriously express a POV in an extended arc about it.
Also, it would’ve been marvelous to see her personality and beliefs clashing with Harold’s, because Carter is someone who genuinely believes in the law and in the system, whereas Harold has the utmost contempt for all forms of authority. Imagine Carter’s horror when she discovers that her own govt – the govt that she works for and has devoted her life to – has been involved in this massive breach of citizen’s rights. And then we have Carter’s “you can’t just play god” (Get Carter, 1x09) contrasting with Harold’s “I was talking about my rules” (The Day The World Went Away, 5x10). All of this would lend itself beautifully to actually exploring the idea of TM in relation to the surveillance state through debates between Carter and Harold, with Carter being outraged at her rights being violated and Harold essentially being all *shruggie guy*.
I’m just so mad that they had Carter guess (GUESS) about TM and then, to add insult to injury, had her be all *shruggie guy* like NO. That is most definitely not how she would’ve reacted to an omniscient AI watching over her every move. I’d much rather she not have know about TM at all, than had the completely unearned and OOC reaction they gave her in The Crossing.