Okay, so I don’t want Friday to be another review day, but this week I’m going to make an exception. I also apologize to anyone who followed this blog because of my PoI reviews, because I haven’t kept up. The schedule with which CBS decides to release new episodes is hardly stable; an episode here, two or three episodes there, with a week or sometimes three weeks in between. I also don’t want this to be solely a review blog, which I feel it was close to becoming.
This week’s episode of Person of Interest took on a lighter tone than many of the recent episodes, as well as stripped back some of the shows newer elements (no Root, very little Shaw) and focused on the Reese/Finch dynamic that was the core of the show at the beginning. It dealt with Reese’s decision to leave, and gave us yet another interesting take on the Number of the Week.
Tuesday night saw the return of two of my favorite shows…the mid season premiere of Person of Interest, and the season five premiere of FX’s Justified. One premiere was strong, the other was a bit shaky, but both left me interested for things to come.
Person of Interest continues its third season with another “Number of the Week” episode. It was much tighter plot wise than last week’s, giving us a much more complicated moral dilemma concerning data-sharing and information privacy.
The Person of Interest this week was a man named Kruger, the founder of a data-collection site that advertises as a way to help people find long lost friends and relatives, but is really about helping marketers gather data on how users behave online–what they buy, what sites they visit, what they’re searching for, etc. It’s topical stuff that I believe most people are aware of, and probably bothered by, but have come to overlook. It’s a particularly fitting foil for what Finch’s Machine does, and the comparison does come up in the episode.
Even more interesting than the questions raised by the plot, however, is the character of Kruger himself. The show has featured shady PoI’s in the past, but few if any have been flat out unlikable. Kruger is a womanizing hypocrite with plenty to hide, despite proclaiming that he doesn’t.
“Look!” he says (after giving a potential investor a baby rattle whose wife is expecting, information gleaned by Kruger’s data-mining) “I even have my profile up!”
Not soon after his introduction do things start to go awry; first his credit card is rejected, and later, at a party celebrating his anniversary, a video made to celebrate his marriage is replaced with video of him with another woman. Things spiral out of control from there.
It turns out that a class action lawsuit was brought against his company and squashed, and that the person hunting him is the father of a young woman killed by a stalker enabled by the information on Kruger’s site. In a great reversal, we begin to feel for the perpetrator more than the victim. There’s another layer involved, but to write about it would be to spoil the reveal. I will say, however, that it introduces a new player or group of players to the game, one that could have dire consequences for Finch and Co.
The B-plot once again dealt with Carter, who has grown tired of working nights on patrol and has agreed to take on a trainee to get day shifts. The scenes involving Carter and the young recruit are humorous, but never silly. It’s also pretty obvious that there’s more to the rookie than initially meets the eye by the end of the episode. More than likely he’s an HR plant, sent to keep an eye on Carter, who’s actively investigating the death of a fellow detective.
An early scene finds Shaw trailing Finch, an echo of an early episode in which Reese did the same. And, just like before, Finch managers to lose her before making a phone call, basically taunting her efforts. Shaw wasn’t given much to do this week, besides act as Reese’s eyes and ears inside of Kruger’s company. They made a few more jokes about her itchy trigger finger, and she verbalizes the question of whether or not Kruger is worth saving. Based on her presence early in the episode I was hoping she’d take more of an active role, but such wasn’t the case. The preview for next week’s episode, however, promises a Carter, Zoe, and Shaw team up, so maybe we’ll get some much needed development on Shaw’s front then.
Fusco, unfortunately, was pressed farther into the background this week, only getting one scene. As much as I like Shaw, I hope it doesn’t mean that existing characters get phased out. It’s still early in the season, however, and Fusco has surprised in the past.
Root was missing in action this week, as well, but her presence wasn’t missed. The story simply had no place for her, and she would have taken away from the reveal of the new organization lurking on the horizon. I do worry, however, that the introduction of new conspiracies might start to over weigh the show’s already sizable mythology.
All in all, “Nothing to Hide” was a solid episode that continued to play on the topicality of the show’s premise, and did so without getting too in the viewer’s face about it. The action was low key this week, substituted by well executed twists and turns, and an interesting Perpetrator versus Victim dynamic. And, for once, the team wasn’t completely successful.
On a side note: I was little irked that Kruger was able to get past Bear with only a few pieces of cloth from his pants leg missing. Bad dog!
Season two of “Person of Interest” ended on one hell of a dilemma: the “Machine”, a supercomputer that could take all of the nations surveillance from around the world and predict the possibility of violence before it happened, had become self aware. So much so, that it had taken measures to protect itself by arranging to have its physical components moved to an undisclosed location: not even Harold Finch, the Machine’s creator, knows where it is.
It’s an interesting set up for a show that started out as little more than a high-tech police procedural, and season two expanded the show into one of the better science fiction shows on TV at the moment. How many other shows have explored the idea of a benevolent AI? And in light of recent events concerning government surveillance, the show seems more relevant now than ever.
It’s surprising then, that season three begins with such a low key plotline. “Liberty” was a standard number of the week episode that had Reese, Finch, and Shaw (now a regular cast member), working to protect a navy petty officer on shore leave who has run afoul of a group of diamond smuggling Force Recon Marines.
First, an aside: I served in the Marine Corps, and something I’ve noticed in movies and tv is that when it comes to Navy versus Marines, Marines are always portrayed as the bad guy. It’s getting old, Hollywood. While there is a rivalry between the branches of service, it tends to be amicable, especially when said members of different branches are part of, what I’m assuming, the same detachment. That’s been my experience, anyway.
Military pedantry aside, the episode had some great moments. It begins by catching us up with the team. A man gets kidnapped and thrown into the back of a van. It looks like he’s screwed until one of the kidnappers realizes that one of their own is playing a game on his phone. Surprise! It’s Reese, and before everyone can react, he kneecaps them all and the van crashes. The victim runs away, telling Reese “You’re crazy!” Reese laments the fact that no one ever thanks him as a patrol car rolls up. Out steps Carter, no longer a detective after the events of the season two finale.
Meanwhile, Shaw is on a date with scum bag who tried to put one over on the mob. As he tries to sweet talk her, Shaw informs him that she knows what he did, and the only reason she agreed to go out with him was because he had a price on his head. Cue hit team, Shaw jumps up and kills them all, using Fusco (disguised as a horse cart driver, with a fake chin strap beard for some reason) as a shield.
These scenes were pretty silly, but they re-introduced the new team in an entertaining way while also setting up the friction caused by Shaw, who’s proving to be a bit of loose cannon. Later on in the episode, she gets a hold of new sniper rifle and laments not getting to try it out at first. In the episode’s climactic scene, however, she gets to use her new toy, covering Reese from a nearby rooftop. “I’m hungry,” she says once the smoke has cleared. “You’re gonna buy me a steak.” I’ve always found her to be a fun element of the show, and I look forward to see how her character is developed.
I’ve called PoI the closest thing we have to a Batman tv show, and if Reese is Bruce, and Harold a combination of Oracle and Alfred, then Shaw is kind of like the Jason Todd Robin, a young hot head that doesn’t see eye to eye with Reese’s more non-lethal approach.
I had a few problems with the episode. First, while Fusco has been used as comic fodder in the past, the way he was used in this episode was troubling. Reese pretty much leaves him in a room with an active bomb, and then goes to confront the man holding the detonator, having no way of knowing if Fusco was able to diffuse it. This not only puts Fusco in danger, but the young petty officer the bomb is strapped to as well. Fusco does manage to diffuse it, of course, just as the Big Bad presses the button. It was sloppy story telling for the sake of a cheap thrill.
Another problem, during the same scene…when this week’s Number goes to sell the smuggled diamonds to a Russian broker, the Force Recon team just kind of pops up from behind the counter, resulting in a stand off. Perhaps I need to watch the episode again, but right now I have no idea where they came from. Were they already there? That would be odd, considering the Russians had their own team waiting on the floor above. Not to mention the store where they met was owned by the Russian broker. And why send the Number to make the deal when they were planning to pop up anyway?
Now, the good stuff. Carter was a highlight of the episode, as we learn that she’s keeping the show’s super villain, a crime lord named Elias, in a safe house after saving him last season and using him for information. It’s also revealed that she’s actively investigating the murder of a fellow detective in her own time, still working to bring down the criminal conspiracy that killed him.
Another nice element was Reese seeing of bit of his younger self in this week’s Number. When the petty officer expresses a desire for a normal life outside of the military, despite being a candidate for the S.E.A.L.S. and wanting to do some good, Reese suggests that maybe he’s meant for something more than an ordinary life. He also says that the CIA may one day come calling, but if they do, tell them no. It’s a small, but very telling bit of character developement from Reese that the show does very well.
Also strong was the B story involving the hacker Root. Amy Acker continues to deliver in this role, as we learn that she has begun to deify the Machine and is currently in the middle of a debate with it over how she is going to deal with the criminal psychologist who is treating her. “God is eleven years old,” she tells him at the end of the episode, in a chilling scene that raises some interesting questions. What is the deal with the Machine’s continued interest in Root? If it’s making it’s own decisions now (and those decisions are based in altruism…it’s still choosing to send out numbers to save lives, after all) why does it continue to communicate with a violent psychopath? Does it enjoy being worshipped? Has it developed a split personality? Does it plan to use her as a contingency plan? Or perhaps it sees her as a victim that can be saved? Is the machine truly as benevolent as we believe? I look forward to this season exploring these issues further.
Season two of Person of Interest ends with an action packed and revelatory episode that felt about half as long as it was and left the future of the show in a somewhat nebulous state. Not all was perfect, of course, as the breakneck pace of the episode left some plots feeling undeveloped.
The episode earns its title. In fact, while watching the scene where Reese and Shaw come across a hidden safe and are given the combination by the machine, I thought to myself, ‘it’s like they’re using God Mode’. Imagine my satisfaction when I went online afterwards to research the title and found out that it was indeed ‘God Mode’.
IDDQD 4 EVAH!
Okay, nerdgasm over. Back on track. My favorite points from the episode had to be Reese and Shaw’s continued partnership as they tracked Finch and Root, getting into all kinds of fun side-adventures along the way. One highlights was the opening sequence where the machine gives Reese and Shaw the directions of approaching attackers, allowing them to get the drop on them.
Another great scene has the machine send Reese to help a man about to be executed in a cargo container full of handy dandy weapons and a yellow Ferrari that Shaw takes a liking to. She throws Reese an assault shotgun and he asks, ‘What’s this for?”
Her reply: ‘To make you feel less inadequate while I drive this thing.’
Some of if was a bit silly, like Reese’s little drive by on a jilted man holding up his ex-girlfriend’s wedding party (while still in the bright yellow Ferrari, no less), but it was all fun.
My other favorite plot dealt with Finch in a flashback to 2010, where we learn how he came to be estranged from his fiance and how he injured his back. This 2010 arc also gave us a bit of background into the Northern Lights assassin tracking Root and Finch.
The Root and Finch story was strong as well, and had them infiltrating what is believed to be a nuclear facility, but is actually where the Machine used to be physically located. I say used to be because it moved itself.
How did it do that? Apparently by placing an order to do so and then posing as the director of the government agency that controls the Machine to prevent any red flags from going up. Not even Finch knows where the actual physical component of the Machine is anymore, and apparently no one is controlling it. It’s making its own choices about who to send numbers to, and the episode ends with it finally calling Reese and Finch with another number. One caveat, however…it also calls Root, who appears to end the episode in what I’m guessing is a psychiatric hospital.
The one weak link in all of this is Carter’s story, and I attribute that mainly to the fact that there was so much else going on that needed to be covered. It’s not bad, it’s just rushed. As the last couple of episodes have dealt more with the meta-narrative on the history and nature of the machine and those who seek to control it (another criticism I’ll get to in a minute), the story of our intrepid LAPD detectives and the HR conspiracy have taken a back seat. Hell, Fusco, who was such a central figure in ‘In Extremis’, has been missing completely the past two weeks for no other reason than the writers couldn’t find anything for him to do (which, I suppose, is better than them trying to shoe horn him in).
Carter does make a pretty interesting decision, however. When she learns that’s she’s being set up by the detective she thought she could trust last week, and that he’s planning to do away with Elias, one of the show’s recurring baddies, she takes a page from Reese’s book, disguises herself, and interferes in an unofficial capacity. The story ends with Carter and Elias in a car together, their futures unsure for now. It’s a bit abrupt, but should be an interesting thread to pick up next year.
Person of Interest hit its stride this year, building up the mythology while also giving us intriguing number of the week cases that informed each other in interesting ways. The mythology is a bit confusing, however, and so many names are thrown around, (Research, Northern Lights, HR, Decima) that it can be a bit hard to keep track of everything. I was also a bit disappointed that the Julian Sands character introduced earlier in the season didn’t make a comeback at some point, but I’m sure he’ll pop up someplace down the line.
The season also gave us plenty of cameos from Zoe Morgan, and who could forget Bear? If you’d have told me last year that Person of Interest would have an animal side kick, I would have rolled my eyes. Instead they waited a year and gave us one in such a spontaneous and entertaining manner that it was easy to accept. Luckily, the show never became about an ex-CIA spy and his K-9 sidekick that only responds to Dutch commands. Bear was just another recurring character on a show full awesome recurring characters.
The best addition of the season though had to be Shaw. Not only did she show us the government side of the machine, she also gave us one of the best episodes of the show thus far. I’ll have to retroactively review it, once the season releases on Blu-Ray.
This week’s episode of Person of Interest, “Zero Day”, begins pretty much where last week left off, with the virus propagating throughout the Machine’s systems and blocking Finch and Co.’s ability to receive numbers. What’s more, it appears that the virus is on some sort of a count down, and they only have a few more hours to figure out what’s going on.
I like where this situation puts Reese. Even without a number, he doesn’t give up on trying to help people. We meet up with him sitting in his car, listening to a police scanner on the off chance that he’ll overhear something he can act on. It’s a far cry from the character we first met, a broken man living on the streets of New York who felt completely powerless to change anything.
A number does eventually get through to Finch, for a high profile CEO named Ernest Thornhill. Except Thornhill is one elusive, and strange, cat. He has an office full of people who have never seen him who spend all day inputting what looks like garbage code off of dot matrix printouts into computers, and he’s been going around buying up every pay phone in the city.
It’s also apparent someone wants Mr. Thornhill dead, as they hijack a friggin’ drone and try to blow up his car. Luckily, Reese is on scene to help pull the driver out of the burning car and…no one else. Thornhill wasn’t there.
I wrote last week about the show’s ability to take a simple premise and deal with it in inventive ways, and this week gave us another great take on it. It turns out that Mr. Thornhill is…wait for it…THE MACHINE ITSELF. Apparently, it has the ability to perceive a threat and take measures to defend itself.
The show has dabbled with the idea of the Machine as potentially self aware before, and with the re-introduction of the delightfully amoral hacker Root, that concept gets taken up a gear here. Especially when Finch explains to Root what the machine was having it’s employees do with all those print outs. It isn’t garbage code, he explains, but the machine’s memories.
While building the system, Finch quickly realized that it was learning stuff irrelevant to its purpose, that it was developing an identity. In order to prevent that from happening, Finch built in a setting that deletes this “junk” data every night, effectively killing this identity. But the machine adapted, creating a ghost and starting a company and hiring employees to type its memories back into the system in a futile attempt to preserve itself. It’s a gripping, emotional scene, and one that presents a brand of science fiction that one doesn’t normally expect to see on television.
While Root is blackmailing Finch to help her in her undying crusade to “Free the Machine”, Reese teams up with Shaw. This is the crowd pleasing element of this week’s episode, as Shaw helps Reese escape from police custody by posing as his lawyer and smuggling in a couple of guns duct taped to her back. Shaw has been a ridiculously fun element on this show since her introduction, and her rivalry with Root is an interesting one. I’m hoping that next season has her becoming a more permanent fixture on the show.
It is revealed that the countdown is another of Finch’s fail safes, designed to reboot the system in the event of a threat. When the reboot is complete, the Machine will dial a payphone. Whoever answers that payphone will be granted unfettered control over the machine for twenty four hours.
Meanwhile, Carter continues to investigate the murder of fellow cop/ failed love interest Detective Beecher. She’s still dealing with the cognitive fall out from last week’s episode involving Fusco, but she has begun to worry about Finch and Reese’s inactivity of late. This hasn’t stopped her from making waves on Beecher, however. Another detective asks her about it, and offers his help.
Of course, the guy is dirty, and on a routine call it almost looks as though he’s going to put one in Carter’s back. Before he can, an armed perp busts out of the house and Carter has to shoot him. Unfortunately, once her superiors are on scene, the gun has been removed, setting Carter up for an internal affairs investigation.
This developement is a bit odd. Why was Carter’s fellow detective about to shoot her, if they were going to frame her, instead? I think the machine tried to intervene in this case, as it recognized the threat to Carter as she left the precinct, but given the virus in its system, and Finch being busy with Root, was unable to act effectively. It DID save Carter’s life, but now she’s in serious trouble.
Everything comes to a head as Finch leads Root to the payphone the Machine will call. Finch pulls some kind of trickery that hasn’t been explained yet, and somehow sends the call to Reese. Here’s the thing: Root also answers, and seems quite pleased with the result. I’m not sure what Finch did, but he didn’t seem worried about Root’s pleasure at having finally spoken to the machine.
The call Reese receives is delivered by a composite of different men saying “Can you hear me?”, ending the episode. From next week’s preview, it sounds as though Root receives the same message, only spoken in a female voice. Is this a result of whatever Finch did? Has the machine split into two personalities? Is CBS’ marketing department trolling us? Who knows, but I can’t wait for next week’s season finale to find out!
Prime Time television, and network television in particular, relies heavily on formula. Person of Interest has a simply one: every week, John Reese and Harold Finch get a number from a machine and have to figure out who they need to help and how. It’s a formula that could easily grow old, but after the better part of two seasons, Person of Interest still remains fresh.
Part of this comes from the fact that the show has built an intriguing mythology in the time it’s been on. In some ways, it’s the closest thing we have to a Batman T.V. show, complete with its own Rogues Gallery of recurring characters. The other part stems from the creative ways they continue to subvert the basic premise.
This week sees the most interesting variation on the concept so far, with Reese arriving too late to save his mark. By the time he is able to figure out what is wrong, the doctor he’s been sent to help is already doomed from polonium poisoning. He then teams up with the dying doctor to find his killer. The answer is less than earth shattering, but the plot is well told, if a little by the numbers. It resolves well, and in the mean time we get a couple of great scenes, one involving Warehouse 13’s Allison Scagliotti, who plays the doctor’s estranged daughter. It’s a short scene that plays out much like you’d expect it to, but it’s well acted and believable. The writers of the show had the decency to put doctor’s final face to face with his daughter near the beginning of the story, rather than subjecting the audience to a long, drawn out and unnecessarily sentimental good bye. Even the short phone call he makes near the end is played straight, with him never telling her that there’s something wrong. The other great scene involves the climax of the story, which I won’t spoil. I’ll just say that it’s low key and opens up a moral can of worms with viewed against the other half of the episode. Speaking of which…
Paralleling the doctor’s tale of personal comeuppance is the tale of Lionel Fusco, one of the detectives in Finch’s pocket. We’ve known from the beginning that he was, once upon a time, a dirty cop, and his arc on the series has largely been about his search for some kind of self reconciliation. This week, we are given his origin story, a cop who begins by covering up for a fellow detective and quickly spirals out of control as he starts offing drug dealers.
This story is told in flashbacks against the story in the present involving an IAD investigation into Fusco’s past. It comes down to his partner, Carter (the other detective working with Finch and Reese), to help him out, despite her better judgment. This also causes a rift between Carter and the rest of the team, and it was pretty fun to see her extort help from Finch before following up on his lead.
The episode closes with a huge game changer where the meta-plot is concerned. Finch realizes that their being too late to help the people the machine gives them is becoming a too common occurrence, and it is revealed that a virus has infected the machine. What this means and how they deal with it will be an interesting arc to see as this season draws to a close.
Overall, ‘In Extremis’ was a solid, if largely uneventful episode. I should point out that Reese is largely in the periphery of the Doctor’s story, stepping in occasionally to do something badass, and I think it’s a testament to the show’s quality and the writers’ confidence that they don’t feel the need to constantly have the main character of the show doing something. That they regularly pull it off only makes it better.