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.