Person of Interest: s01 e22 – No Good Deed


Grace Hendricks

It’s a measure of the confidence – and security – that a strong first season brings that Person of Interest can invest in its own future with a strong episode like this one, that enlarges the show’s mythos in so many ways, doing so by fractions and implications that raise questions, the answering of which will take time, a lot of time. The show knows it has that time.

In addition to stirring the pot in such a fashion, the episode also introduces two new characters, both of whom will recur in future series, having a substantial role to play in the show’s gradual but inevitable transformation from procedural to a complex and thought-provoking extrapolation on our near future.

At the outset, John Reese is tailing Harold Finch, still trying to find where his secretive partner lives. Like Fusco before him, he gets nowhere. He does see Finch appear to take a call at a public telephone, or rather listen to something. Almost immediately, Finch contacts him to say they have a new Number.

This is Henry Peck (Jacob Pitts), a quiet, thirty-something Stocks Analyst who lives alone and has a higher level of personal security than anyone to date. This is because he is not a Stocks Analyst but an Intelligence Analyst working for the National Security Agency: a good one as well. Reese recognises the set-up the moment he tries to get into the building: not many attractive young Receptionists hold 45s under the desk on their unexpected visitors.

Henry Peck’s life is about to change drastically. The Police enter his apartment, find a stash of drugs planted there, the arrest has him placed on administrative leave, he’s wildly trying to contact various figures, among them an Alicia, and when he goes home, there are pills and booze everywhere and a Government assassin waiting to make it look like an accident. Why?

Because Henry Peck has noticed an anomaly, sixnames added without his knowledge to six of his reports, all figures involved in major terrorist activity. 100% accuracy. Peck analyses how this could have come about, and starts asking question. The only way this could happen is as a result of massive – and massively illegal – surveillance. Peck is asking questions about the Machine. Which means that if Reese and Finch are going to save him, they must do so at a distance. The more Peck learns, the more danger he’s in. Not just him but anyone he comes ino contact with. Peck is like a virus.

Here, let us divert to the flashbacks, to 2009, to an uninjured Finch and his friend, partner and ‘Corporate beard’, Nathan Ingram. It’s the eve of handover: tomorrow, the Machine is sent out as six train carloads of decommissioned computer eqipment that, at a given and unknown point, will be diverted by the Government, operating via Alicia Corwin, to the intended and secluded home where it will operate. Alicia meets Nathan for drinks; she’s nervous and jumpy. That transmits itself to Nathan. He talks to Harold about a failsafe, a means of shutting the Machine down if it is being abused. Harold dismisses his concerns: he has built the Machine to be infallible, impervious, immune to alteration. At night, Nathan reactivates the Machine, to add a new programme. Titled ‘Contingency’.

In the present of May 2012, it is of course impossible to save Henry Peck without getting up close. Peck’s running wild though, unwilling to trust anyone, constantly disappearing. He speaks to Alicia, who is as we expected Alicia Corwin, who in paranoid manner, ‘explains’ things by the word ‘Sibilance’ (code for an NSA security sweep) and simply tells him ‘Run’. He also contacts the office of Special Counsel, the Washington office that protects whistle-blowers and the like. A man we will only ever know as Special Counsel (Jay O. Sanders) identifies Peck’s co-ordinates and puts the assassns back on him.

There is only one solution. Peck proposes to go to the Press (Special Counsel orders the reporter be killed as well). To prevent everything, Finch himself goes to the meeting, at a table at an outdoor diner. He confirms Peck’s suspicions, that the Machine exists. He hands him a clean passport, plane tickets and bank details for a well-funded account, and tells him to find his own secrets. And Finch confirms he built the Machine.

Secrets. There’s still a coda, and little hints have been dropped here and there. Finch’s seeming difficulty with humans as opposed to machines. Nathan’s jocular reference to Harold finding someone. Reese finally picking up a trail: multiple copies of the same magazines, coffee cups from the same vendor. He finds a house, a fine house in a nice, central location, Finch’s home.

But it’s not. The sole occupant is Grace (Carrie Preston, Michael Emerson’s wife), an attractive redhead. She’s an artist, draws magazine covers. She’s outmoded in this digitalage, but every time she thinks she’s run out of jobs, another commision comes through: she has a guardian angel. She also has a photo, of her with Harold. He used to live there with her, but noot any longer. She lost him, an accident, two years ago.

John leaves, feeling a little guilty, at having pried. Harold is sat opposite. Whilst he doesn’tregret building the Machine, he didn’t realise until too late the personal cost. He has built an app that warns him if he gets within 100m of Grace. They think him dead, and so her life is safe. Nakedly, for once, Harold quietly speaks of having four years of love, and how some people get only four days.

As he walks away, we flashback, this time only a matter of hours. Finch sits with Peck in an outside diner. On another table sits a directional microphone, pointing at him as he ttells Peck that he built the Machine. We pan up, slightly. The microphone is being used by Alicia Corwin. The look on her face is shock. And terror.

It’s the last episode of season 1 next week, and there is an immediate response to a part of this episode. But most of it is trails. I know where these lead, but it is less than two years since I first watched Person of Interest, bombing through season 1 in less that seven days. I know where these trails lead. I know what we have yet to learn. I know fates and outcomes and who has yet to become part of the story. We are now beyond the ‘mere’ Number of the Week, though the show’s great gift is that these will come and come and come, without fail, and that they will branch into the overarching story, and amplify it. The procedural is not dead, but it is no longer in isolation.

Next week:the first season finale. And the first cliffhanger.

 

36 thoughts on “Person of Interest: s01 e22 – No Good Deed

  1. Structurally, this episode is similar to Nothing to Hide (3×02) and Search and Destroy (4×19). A seemingly normal guy has their life ruined by a malevolent, seemingly omnipotent outside force (credit to Samuel Pinson over at TVRoundup for noticing this trend). It works really well for the show. No Good Deed is no exception. Not only does this episode predict Snowden (the writers were absolutely gobsmacked when that news leaked in June 2013-over a year after this episode was scripted), it’s also an extremely exciting and engaging hour of television bolstered by a great guest turn from Jacob Pitts. His character could so easily become boring, but he’s a POI that definitely sticks out to me, even having re-watched the series. But seriously, and NSA worker who blows the whistle on a surveillance program (fails in this case), and flees the country. Did David Slack have a crystal ball?

  2. I wonder, sometimes. In the Second World War, American intelligence in early 1944 visited a crossword compiler whose answers in a particular crossword contained key words relating to, I think, the Normandy Invasion. Not a spy, just an unbelievable coincidence. Or do we sometimes tune, unconsciously, into things we don’t know? Life imitates art is a cliche, but cliches exist because things recur.

      1. Oopsies! They thought he was going to blow the landings and elongate the war by years….but nope. Just got lucky/unlucky with those crossword clues.

  3. I still think that sometimes we draw things from a collective unconsciousness, ahead of futuires. Like Matt Santos on The West Wing, based on an obscure senator from Hawaii called Obama.

      1. The collective unconsciousness theory was first (not first, but popularly) formulated by Carl Jung. But it’s also a major theme of Terrence Mallick’s WW2 classic The Thin Red Line. The movie formulates that there is a collective unconscious, and that war and bloodshed is a crime against it. Yes, it’s pretentious as hell, but I still really like the movie.

  4. Yes, the collective unconsciousness came to me from Jung. There is, I believe, something that bridges minds that cannot be explained by individual senses.

  5. Another inspired music choice in this one: David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans” as the government tries to kill Peck. Awesome explosions, Jacob Pitts, Finch and Grace…….probably one of the best episodes of the series, right here.

  6. Speaking of Snowden, I recently watched an interview with the writer of this episode, David Slack, right here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0PHpZe6UM4&feature=youtu.be). The interesting thing was, aside from what I’d expect him to say, like the fact that he’s still friends with the other members of the writer’s room, it was a great working environment that produced work that they’re all deeply proud of, Jonah Nolan had a coherent vision from episode 1), when the Guardian story broke in June 2013, he went into a bit of a depressed funk, wondering if he had contributed to the U.S. public accepting mass surveillance. Personally….I don’t think PoI is pro surveillance state. Curious to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. That’s actually a very difficult question to answer.

      The Number of the Week and the morality of surveillance, whilst essential in themselves, were, as we know, a route to the debate about Artificial Intelligences.

      On the one hand, my lifelong liberal instincts and convictions make me opposed to mass surveillance, because it is too open to abuse. I joke about Chaykin’s maxim ‘Power corrupts… what the hell else is it for?’ but I neither seek nor want power and if i don’t trust it in my hands i sure don’t trust it in anyone else’s.

      The catch is that Finch has power that he uses for good. What better use of the power than to save lives, to spare the living the pain of loss? Yet that good power stems from the same source as the abuse of power. Must we live by principle? Can we not make exceptions for those we can trust? We woul all want to permit what we see as a good use, but who are we to decide that a use is good to begin with? Even the power to save lives is hedged about by the lack of certitude, as the series has often alluded, as to whether a specific life ‘deserves’ saving. Who decides ‘deserve’?

      Yes, the only way we can operate out of any kind of consistency is to adopt a principle and stick to it like glue. No fears, no favours. Power over others is inherently dangerous.

      And i would fail my own test instantly because if you offered me the same deal as Finch, I would take it at once. In that sense I’m like Gandalf, when Frodo offers him the Ring: I would take it out of the urge to do good. I could not resist that.

      I don’t think PoI is pro surveillance: how can it be? But it places itself on an indulgent knife-edge in so doing…

      1. Doesn’t the series thrive in that moral gray area? Violence to stop violence, a show about vigilantes that is uncomfortable with the notion of appointing oneself entitled to enforce their version of justice through violence? Almost every character on the show is trying to do that, be it Elias trying to bring his version of order to New York City or Peter Collier and his crusade to end government corruption.

  7. A more succinct way of saying what I said. But you challenged me for my thoughts, not the impression of the programme’s. And how many others can you make that statement of?

    1. A good question. I honestly do not know. I don’t know if I would trust myself with that level of power, even to save others. I suspect I might.

      I also don’t know how many other shows would stand up to this level of scrutiny.

    2. The one convincing argument that I’ve heard is that the series presents terrorism as a daily existential threat to American citizens (this is not the case). That undermines its attempt to truly interrogate the surveillance state and its justifications, even if the show was set up that way for narrative purposes and not because the creators actually think that way.

      I got this from this article by Abigail Nussbaum in Pop Matters. https://www.popmatters.com/this-is-the-next-world-the-stealth-futurism-of-person-of-interest-2495414120.html?rebelltpage=2#rebelltitem2. It’s excellent–definitely recommended.

      1. I’d definitely argue against that. Granted, in the eyes of Control and Special Counsel, they believe that to be the case but theirs is a subjective opinion, underpinned by their natures. The show in its objective existence acknowledges the presence and risk of terrorist activity but not to suych an extent as to endorse the daily existensial aspect: what it does present is everyday human violence for the least philosophical of motives. I’ll read the link when I have more time.

      2. Sure, that is their perspective. But is there any evidence that Control is wrong when she said she’s stopped thousands of terrorist attacks (mass killings of civilians/relevant to national security) since 9/11? Once could argue that the assumption that it is correct contradicts reality. How many mass shootings/mass killings other than terrorism were a part of that, I wonder?

  8. Is there any evidence that she’s right? And if we allow for her words being objectively truthful, even without factoring in the number of occasions her blinkered beliefs lead her to completelymisread a situation, is there anything in the series to show American experience as being a perpetual fear of terrorist attack? I say no.

    1. Good point. I think this critique comes from those who want the show to full on condemn surveillance, which I honestly wouldn’t mind. But it’s always important to evaluate a show on its own terms.

    2. To continue this, here’s a quote from Jonathan Nolan about it: “Some people said the show was sort of an apology for the surveillance, but the show isn’t political. We don’t think it’s our part to be didactic or tell people how they should feel on these issues,”.

      1. “Plageman: Are you saying that the FISA court is a joke, Jonah?

        Nolan: If it is a joke, it’s a joke on all of us. But again, we don’t want to sound unsympathetic. “Person of Interest” takes for granted the existence of this device and, potentially controversially, the idea that in the right hands, such a device could be a good thing. But I don’t think Greg and I or any of our writers are ever looking at this issue and reducing it to black and white.

        We’ve occasionally read that the show is kind of an apologia for PRISM and the surveillance state, just as I had read, a few years ago, certain commentators looking at The Dark Knight and imagining that it was some kind of apologia for George Bush. All those ideas are ridiculous. We look at this show as a great mechanism for posing questions, not supplying answers. That’s where we hope it’s not didactic, and The Dark Knight was certainly not intended as didactic. I think where we were ahead of the curve when it came to “Person of Interest” was that the thing we were assuming was still a question for everyone else. We kind of started the show in the post-Snowden era, as you put it. The show’s premise is that the surveillance state is a given, and we’re not changing that, and you’re not stuffing the genie back in the bottle. So what do we do with all the other information? That I think will increasingly become the real quandary over the next 10 to 15 years.”

  9. Oh dear…Jim Caviezel was in the news today, and not fofr a good reason! Granted, he did defend Mel Gibson after starring in ‘Passion of the Christ’, but still……I then got sucked down a rabbit hole of bad ‘Person of Interest’ takes (“it’s pro-cop propaganda!”, “it’s apologetic for authoritarianism!”) on the internet. Certain folks these days seem to struggle with shows/books/movies with ambiguous politics. Which is a shame, because I think this show (and Nolan’s other work) are more thoughtful than they are given credit for.

    1. It’s times like this that you have to grit your teeth, hold George Orwell’s Benefit of Clergy essay up to the light and tell yourself that it’s perfectly possible for someone to be a fantastic actor in a show of moral complexity and a complete simple and softheaded religious nutcase in real life. There is not a single one of his opinions that has an atom of credibility to it. Adrenochroming: what nitwit came up with that theory?

      1. About half of Republican voters are now fully off the deep end. I believe it’s a mix of Trump’s particular brand of right-wing populism mixed with anti-semitism (where a lot of conspiracy theories form). It’s beyond alarming. Think of the most outrageous nonsense British tabloids come up with….and multiply it by ten. And there you have it.

    1. It goes without saying though, that the entire rest of the cast are amazing people, as are most of the writers from what I have seen. I already knew Caviezel was a bit of a religious fanatic, and it is sad to see it wholly confirmed like this, but it doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the show that much.

  10. It’s funny that there are so many comments on this one…we got into quite the discussion! This is such a good episode, though. I forgot that Grace was introduced here for the first time. Grace’s theme is one of the best pieces Djawadi ever put together–which is saying a lot considering how good his work generally is.

    1. Some episode introduced more hot button topics than others. Yes, this was Grace’s debut. Harold Finch’s one vulnerability. It was right that his reward for surviving, for saving the world, was to be able to look upon her again, and she him. It made me cry. I hope she forgave him what he did to her.

      1. Let’s just say that, for obvious reasons, the romantic pairing worked. Nolan quipped that “God bless them, but none of our actors [main cast] had any chemistry!”. Their real life connection comes across so well onscreen. It made me cry too. I’d have a hard time deciding what’s more cry-worthy–that final scene, the ‘but you never did, John’ from ‘Terra Incognita’, or the real reason why Finch used bird aliases as his last name(s).

        He’s got one hell of a story to tell her, hasn’t he? He was gone while, in Shaw’s words, “Running a halfway house for retired assassins”.

    1. He’s going to need to take a look at the POI wiki to clear things up. “And that, kids, is how I met Samaritan.” It’s interesting how Samaritan never thought to go after Grace to get to Finch. I suspect he would’ve pulled out the Ice-9 virus even sooner then.

      1. I think we talked about this before, but maybe the answer is that Samaritan didn’t want to piss off Harold too much, lol. That’s why it steered clear of Grace.

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