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Person of Interest: Should we feel bad for Jeff "Van Gogh" Blackwell?

I realize Person of Interest ended way back in June but I still have a lot of thoughts and feelings on it. Please bear with my addiction.

Does Jeff ‘Van Gogh’ Blackwell deserve our sympathy?

Chris Fisher, an executive producer on Person of Interest, stated the following in an Instagram comment about Jeff Blackwell:

“If anyone was happy when he got killed they missed the whole point of this character and this amazing and incredible performance by Josh Close. Yes, revenge is what Shaw needed, but Jeff never even knew who he was working for. His story is a story about how hard it is for anybody to truly have a fair second chance in life. Thank you @jclosefaction for giving the most perfect and nuanced performance of the entire season.”

I have some issues with that statement…

Let’s begin with how the audience was not supposed to be happy when Shaw killed Blackwell. Fisher admits that Shaw needed revenge for Blackwell killing Root, the lady she loves, but holds us to a different standard? I don’t know a single person in the Person of Interest fandom who doesn’t love Root, I know I do. Yes, she is a fictional character but that doesn’t diminish the emotions we can/do feel toward her. It may not be romantic love but she wormed her way into my heart. She grew from a villain to the woman who ended up saving the world from the exact fate she started out wanting, a world run by an ASI. I may not love Root like Shaw does, but I do love her and her death hurt. Who’s to say that I didn’t need revenge on Blackwell just as much as Shaw did? Fisher doesn’t know how any of us feel, so claiming that it’s wrong for anyone to be happy about his death is complete nonsense.

Second, Fisher paints Blackwell as a sympathetic character because after getting out of prison society wouldn’t give him a fair chance to start over. I will agree with the concept that our society sets people with criminal records up to fail. I do not agree that Blackwell deserves our sympathy. Samaritan took advantage of his desperation to recruit him, but he was never chipped by them. Samaritan left him with his free will intact. Blackwell chose to complete every single job Samaritan sent him on. He chose to infect the people at the hospital. He chose to kill Root. He chose to jump on the subway car and shoot Shaw. As far as I’m aware at no point he was explicitly threatened by any Samaritan operatives to coerce him into completing jobs. There may have been an implied threat to his safety but in reality that changes nothing. Blackwell had a choice every step of the way and he chose self-preservation and personal gains over the lives of all the people he killed/attempted to kill. Self-preservation is an amazing thing, it can drive people do horrible things. Does self-preservation justify those acts? I believe it was Harold who at one point told The Machine you can’t place more value of one life over another, that in the grand scheme of things all our lives are worth exactly the same.

The show ended with The Machine reflecting on her life and what she’d learned.

  • The moment when you show the world who you truly are often is your last.

  • Everyone dies alone. But if you meant something to someone or helped someone or loved someone. If a single person remembers you, then maybe you never really die. (As Root put it “We represent a dynamic. A tiny finger tracing a line through the infinite. A shape. And then we’re gone.”)

Ultimately, we’re the sum of our actions. Good or bad everything we do, every decision we make have consequences and leave a mark on the world. Blackwell died not understanding this. He spent his last moments attempting to justify and pass off responsibility for his actions. He tells Shaw “It was just a job. Nothing personal.” as an explanation for why he doesn’t deserve the repercussions of his actions. He may not have ordered the hits but he exercised his free will and chose to complete the jobs.

So do I feel sympathy for Jeff “Van Gogh” Blackwell, the man who chose to kill one of my all time favorite characters? No, I really don’t. I pity him. I pity him for going through life believing he was a victim, for not understanding that his actions had consequences, and for thinking ignorance is the same as innocence.

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