The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: An Introduction to R A Lafferty’s novels


People (it is traditional to address an audience with the word the great man was wont to use in his fiction when preparing to discuss Raphael Aloysius Lafferty, known professionally as R.A. Lafferty and to his family and intimates as Ray). People: little as I am qualified to do so, given my lack of great erudition, my unfamiliarity with deep Catholic liturgy and beliefs, my similar inexperience with more than a shallow amount of world-wide mythology and the absence in me of familiarity with more than merely my native tongue, but buoyed up by forty plus years of reading the great man’s writings, not to mention the qualification of being one of the few hundred people on this globe who enthuse for his works. People: I intend to re-read, and write upon the various novels of the late R.A. Lafferty. May God have mercy upon you.
The thing about reading Lafferty is not that it qualifies you for a very exclusive, inclusive club of enthusiasts and fanatics, but that you find yourself writing introductions like that.
Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (1914-2002) was born in Neola, Iowa, and moved with his family to Tulsa, Oklahoma, aged 8. Other than during Service in the US Army in the Pacific Theatre during World War 2, he lived there for the remainder of his life, the last eighteen years of which he spent in a nursing home after suffering a debilitating stroke in 1984. For someone with such a sharp, inventive mind, that was a tragic ending.
Lafferty first started to appear, as a writer of short stories, in 1959. For a time there, it was touch and go whether he would become a crime fiction writer, or a science fiction writer. In the end, the SF field claimed him for their own, although the fit was always more one of default than nature. Lafferty was a writer of dense, allusive but also broadly comic prose, a fizzer with ideas. He was a true one-off: expert writers who try to pastiche what at first sight appears to be a slapdash, easy going, campfire style that fits closest with the American Tall Tales tradition, universally agree that it’s incredibly hard work to give even a surface impression.
Lafferty was a regular in the SF magazines in the Sixties and into the Seventies, and produced a number of well-received novels. He was in demand from editors and welcomed passionately by his fellow writers, until sophisticated publishing and circulation software revealed that Laff’s actual market was minuscule: in a conversation with a fellow fan, a bookseller, a few years ago, he reckoned that there are only about three hundred of us in the world.
And if you go by their quotes, something like twenty-five percent of them at least are fellow writers. Neil Gaiman is an avid fan, who corresponded with him whilst still a child: he has said, “(Lafferty) was undoubtedly the finest writer of whatever it was that he did that ever there was.” Theodore Sturgeon commented that, “some day the taxonomists, those tireless obsessives who put labels on everything, will have to characterise literature as Westerns, fantasies, romances, lafferties, science fiction, mysteries…”
My favourite comment comes from Michael Swanwick: “If there were no Lafferty, we would lack the imagination to invent him.” I can think of no more beautiful tribute to a fellow writer.
Most people concur that Lafferty’s strongest writing comes in his short stories. His working methods were very intense, involving two hour writing stints, and having to extend this across the number of pages required for a novel has most people believing that his talents were being diffused.
Some of his short stories are incredible miniatures, that can have you in tears of laughter, or just boggling at what he’s done in so short a space and time. But although I may have read a couple of his early stories when I was first feeling my way into SF/Fantasy, back in 1974, my first serious exposure was a novel.
Lafferty’s novels in publication order bear no discernible relationship to their order of writing. I know from the Continued on Next Rock website that Archipelago was Laff’s first, even though it was not published until 1979, and then in very limited quantities, but I’m going to go by publication order, and you’ll have to keep up.
We all have to keep up, and that includes me. I’m going to write this because I want to write this. If it can persuade any of you to join in increasing our numbers to 301, it will be a welcome bonus. But you’ll need a lot of money to afford to buy the out-of-print books…

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Person of Interest: s02 e14 – One Percent


I was expecting this, or something of this ilk, after the last four weeks’ serial story-telling, a one-off, almost inconsequential episode with a high comedic, almost lightweight aspect. We’re not yet at the point where Person of Interest can ignore the conservative instincts of either its Network, or its uncommitted audience.

‘One Percent’ was a straight Number of the Week. In PoI fashion, we were treated to a switch-up: the Number was Logan Pierce, self-made billionare software designer. The parallel to Harold Finch was obvious long before the episode pointed it out, as was the difference between the way the pair behaved, which was not so much difference as gulf.

Pierce may have been brilliant in ever respct, with a quicksilver mind alert to every moment and possibility, based on a family-tragedy background that inculcated his philosophy of embracing change and evolution with both hands because to stand still is to become obsolete and die. As a billionaire, he could afford to be, and was, self-indulgent of his own whims to a degree that only the narcissistic could dream of, and it was a tribute to guest star Jimmi Simpson that he made this utter monster seem likable.

Appropriately to the situation, the threats to Pierce’s life – and you could hardly be surprised that people couldn’t cope with him, only that there were so few – seemed completely trivial. The lawyer whose practice was tied up exclusively in Pierce’s company, friendczar.com (a super souped-up Friends Reunited and doesn’t that sound dinosaur now), whom Pierce intended to ditch and the best friend who feared Pierce as a competitor when his dumping as CEO for his ‘eccentricities’ (Yes Minister did a beautiful ‘irregular verb’ three-liner on that subject) released him from that restriction.

In real life, you’d run a million miles from someone whose attitude was that he could and would do whatever he wanted, when he wanted to, just because he could: well, I would.

But Pierce wasn’t just a superrich brat, he was genuinely smart. In order to protect him, John Reese came out into the open, from which Pierce very rapidly deduced a hell of a lot about the PoI set-up and even conned John sufficiently as to get to meet Harold.

And it was no surprise that Pierce’s parting shot was a  thank you gift to John of a $2,000,000 watch that Finch, in a public park, promptly smashes under his heel – to extract the GPS racker built into it.

That left a hint that Logan Pierce could develop into a longer-term problem, an ongoing strand, but the series chose not to follow up this possible story arc and rightly so. To have done so would have been to develop the hyperactive Pierce into the kind of monster that in real-life he would be, albeit a gadfly of a monster, and there were more serious irons to be added to the fire. Pierce, we would find, a long way from now, was destined for a different future.

Though they took up a very small amount of the episode’s running time, Detectives Carter and Fusco and flashbacks to Harold and Nathan Ingram were more important to the ongoing stories. The first of these saw Carter continuing to investigate the disappearance of Detective Peterson, and connect it to the also-missing Detective Stills and refusing to hear Fusco when he wanted to talk about past ‘mistakes’: she is still first and foremost a cop and he will get no favours there.

But the latter were more important to the series than the season, though the first of these, to 9/11 itself and Nathan bringing the news to Harold, seemed wholly redundant. The second was to 2009: the Machine has just been handed over to the Government, to physically disappear, but Nathan is still concerned over the ‘missed’ opportunity to make a difference over the Numbers, with Harold effectively shutting that off, with an non-cryptic threat about breaking up their partnership.

The third showed Nathan Ingram staking out the home of a woman under threat. As a man starts to follow her, we see him holding a gun.

This is what will be central to what is meant by, ‘more, later’.

Saturday SkandiThriller: Below the Surface 2 – episodes 5 & 6


Our Russian Friend

Well.

The first half of this week’s double bill kept us alert with a revelation, two connections and a twist at the end of episode 5 that, in a UK series, we’d see through in an Oresund heartbeat, and which even here was pretty hard to take completely seriously. With three episodes left, even the most hard-edged, risk-taking thriller series is not going to kill off both of its two leads at once, but just how the trick was going to be worked was something that set a high bar for episode 6.

Like a high-speed 24, we’re now into the daylight hours of the series, dawn creeping up and everyone still working overtime to be ready to resolve the hostage situation on the ferry. But the revelation, which explains just why the Russians are behind Yusuf and the kidnap plot, comes in one of two flashbacks for June. Remember that infamous footage she has of Danish solidiers being killed in Syria? They are being killed by the Russians: hence our cool peroxide blondewith the sleek Nineties hairdo being so eager to recover the mobile phone with the footage.

Which is currently held by dog-groomer Herdis, who sat next to June on the plane out of Syria, with her do Benji: that’s the connection. And by the halfway pointthis week, the Russians have Herdis’s name and her whereabouts.

But the trail is developing, and of course it’s the reliable SP and Simon who are on it. After his moment of indecision last week, Garnov is out, and the guy who stepped in (whose name and position I can’t at this moment recall or determine) has taken temporary charge. Meanwhile, our two most professional lieutennts have picked up Rafiq Hussain, owner of the apartment where the self-styled Brothers of Islam have their ‘mosque’ and hauled him in. And when the self-righteous Rami, out there on the boat – the biggest kind of religious idiot, sure he is right and everyone else will roll over because Allah is on his side – decides that Yusuf isn’t as smart as Rami thinks and calls Rafiq to get them to Syria (just like that: Allah will provide, remember), that gives SP and Simon what they need to link Rafiq to the Ferry, and turn him.

We learn that Yusuf is a nwcomer, more radical than though. Remember, that’s Ola Rapace under that face-fuzz, so just as Alpha in series one was only playing being a Muslim, I’m anticipating tht Yusuf too is playing a part we don’t yet know about.

Rami, however, is your original radical. Little brother Mahdi will be safe and will achieve paradise because Rami the blind fanatic says so. All he’s got to do is put a bag over June’s head and Philip’s head, shoot them both, film it. Philip, who’s been frozen half to death, sprayed with scalding water and hung several times and who consequently is not at the top of his game, tries to talk him out of it. He has a wife (Rami has already written her off for Mahdi) and he’s going to have a son. Philip’s offering a kind of Witness Protection.

And Mahdi puts a bag over June’s head and Philip’s head, shoots them both, films it. Both bodies go in the water under Raman’s proud-of-my-little-brother eye. How did they get around that?

Actually, it’s easy. There are two dead bodies hanging round, one male, one female, one dead terrorist convert, one dead canteen lady, and all that’s needed is a change of clothes. And now Philip’s got a certain freedom of movement on the boat, with the assistance of a blind eye from Mahdi, who wants back to his wife and son-to-be, but can’t bring himself to let the engineer (who’s been hiding out in the engine room all this time) gas Rami to death.

Rami and Mahdi’s little trick with ‘philip’ and ‘June’ has gone world-wide on the net, even as far as our dangerous Russian blonde (who hasn’t yet got to Herdis in Jutland in episode 6: the roads must be busy). Yusuf is now on his own with no reason to trust his amateur allies, so he starts negotiating with Garnov, who has to be brought back into the fold for this.

Philip’s also able to liaise ship-to-shore, guiding the authorities towards a plan to pretend to offer the terrorists a plane to Syruia whilsat guiding them to an island from which there are multiple attack angles. So the Ferry starts to move. As do SP and Simon, doggedly following June’s trail, discovering her home laptop is bugged by military hardware (Bulow denies it’s Danish), and now they’re off to Jutland. I have a bad feeling about this.

It’s all starting to turn inwards towards the end-game. According to the Observer, we’re heading towards a climax even bigger and better than last season. I don’t exactly see eye to eye with the Observer on a lot of things and their idea of better isn’t necessarily mine. But I’m watching very closely…

Film 2019: Manon des Sources


It’s impossible to speak of Manon des Sources (Manon of the Springs) without speaking of Jean de Florette. The two films are one story and Manon presents itself as the second part of the initial film in its title. Filming took place over seven months, creating both films as a sequence, creating a consistency between the pair that makes any attempt to distinguish between them a fallacious exercise. Only in their titles, and in the character referred to, are the films separated: Manon des Sources is where the chickens come home to roost and the full extent of a tragedy worked out in human emotions over an act of chance becomes clear.

Not quite a decade has passed sincce the events of Jean de Florette. Ugolin Soubeyrand (Daniel Auteuil) has become successful with carnation farm, but is no nearer perpetrating the Soubeyrand line and restoring he family’s local prominence, which is the dearest wish of his Uncle Cesar (Yves Montand), locally known as Papet, short for Le Papet, an honorary title.

Manon, daughter of Jean the hunchback, remains. Her mother has returned to opera singing, but Manon, who is now nearly eighteen, lives with the Piedmontese widow, and runs wild, herding goats on the hills. This was Emmanuelle Beart’s first starring role, and not only is she astnishingly beautiful, as the role calls for her to be, but her performance won her the Cesar Award (the French Oscar) for Best Supporting Actress, and she is superb in a role that calls for complete naturalness and extreme emotions.

The shape of the tragedy is implicit from the start. Ugolin, out hunting, accidentally spies Manon bathing naked and dancing with her goats, playing her father’s old harmonica. He falls in love with her, an obsessive, overwhelming love, born of her beauty. She is an ideal for him, a dream. He certainly doesn’t know her as a person: almost no-one does, for she avoids the village and its people. She becomes an idee fixe for him, and we know without needing to be shown in any way that she will reject him root and branch. The difference in their ages, the fact that Ugolin is ugly, that the new, young, handsome schoolteacher Bernard (Hyppolite Girardot) has caught her eye. But most of all, Manon hates Ugolin, as she hates Papet, for what they did to her father.

Ugolin is aware of some of this, his looks, the schoolteacher. He makes offerings to her, planting trapped birds, even a hare, in her snares so that she can earn a modest sou selling these in the next village, but the first time he tries to talk to her, decked out in new clothes, she refuses to even reply. Her hatred is clear on her face and she marches away, faster even than he can follow, pouring out his heart in his desperation.

Whilst she is checking her snares, Manon overhears two of the villagers discussing the spring and realises that the entire village knew how her father’s problems could have been resolved, and not one stepped in to help. Chance then steps in to enable her to punish all: following a lost kid into a crevice, Manon discovers the  source of the valley’s water and blocks it. This affects not just the spring that waters Ugolin’s carnations but the fountain in the village: the valley is dry.

In Church, the cure all but indicts Ugolin as the criminal whose crime has called down God’s wrath and the punishment of the spring drying up. Manon, the orphan, is ask to lead a Holy Procession: an Orphan’s Prayers are known to be infallible when asking for divine intercession. She refuses, refusing to help a village that failed too help her father, that knew and stood by. This is Beart’s longest dialogue in the film, in which she has thus shone by body languag and expression, and her fragility even as she defies all of them, is key to the moment at which all the careful construction starts to crumble. The villagers admit knowing, but they do not openly turn upon the Soubeyrands until Manon provides the key that unlocks Papet’s subterfuge. No-one knew Monsieur Jean was the son of Florette. To them, he was an outsider, not of them.

Papet blusters, but the poacher confirms he saw the spring being block. Ugolin, whose obsession has evoked the family madness (implied, early on, to be caused by inbreeding) makes a last impassioned plea, part confession, part despair. It can all be resolved by Manon marrying him. He would give her everything. But none of it is enough, his fate decided long ago. Like his father before him, he hangs himself from a tree, ending the Soubeyrand line.

Papet is broken. Manon marries Bernard and is soon pregnant by him. I find myself wondering about her life with her new husband. That he is young and handsome, and intelligent, and he knows and keeps her secret about the spring which he helps her unblock, these are all the things we know, but I find myself speculating about some of the looks he gives her, and wondering if he is motivated by more than the beauty of Manon.

But there is a final moment before the sheer length and breadth of the tragedy can be revealed. The old, blind woman Delphine returns to the village. She knows Papet of old and, sat on the stone bench outside the church, she accuses him of a crime, for failing to answer a letter. Papet is surprised: he never received the letter, and because of it, all we have seen has followed.

Before going away in the Army to North Africa, Cesar was in love with Florette, a love he has never admitted to, though it’s been clear she was the love of his life. Three weks after he left, she wrote to him to tell him she was pregnant, and that if he wrote to her father and promised to marry her when he returned, she would wait. He never replied, because he never got the letter. Montand, his voice rduced to a croak, shows us in his eyes that he already knows, and fears, what Delphine will tell him. Florette had a son. The baby was a hunchback.

If there is a single flaw in this pair of film, it is that this is not the ending. Papet’s resignation to his fate, his determination to die by wiling it so, his letter to the granddaughter who will never acknowledge him, who may never reconcil herself to his blood, and the comb that once belonged to Florette in his dead hand are all skillfully presented but otiose. Cesar Soubeyrand is dead from the moment of realisation of everything he’s done, up to and including never once allowing himself to speak to or even see Jean de Florette, and the film ends with that, once we know the whole of the tragedy.

In every respect, and not least the acting, which is wonderful, this pair of films are near perfect. To have so much turn upon a lost letter, that merely sets up a series of conditions upon which human wants, aspirations, feelings, desires and hatreds in turn act, demonstrates just how fragile and contingent our lives are. Within the film, especially when Manon blocks the spring, both the cure and the villagers attribute divine intervention to both problem and resolution, when it’s down to an all-too-human agency that nevertheless uses the exact same tools to punish the crime that supposedly affronts God. And the religious may also see God’s hand in the letter that went missing under circumstances where many things went understandably missing.

I see the shape but I don’t see the motive force. Nevertheless, it’s an arguable point: the cure pinpoints the issue exactly. Does God move Manon’s hand, to punish and to relieve? Marriage and children with Bernard are that outcome: I have already recorded my concern that that may not be the best thing.

But this pair of films are exact in their depiction of the inevitable, which is the essence of tragedy: that who, and what we are and how we respond will define what happens. In less potent form, I have personal expeerience of that, a seemingly minuscule thing over which I had no control that had effects that didn’t make themselves felt for decades. So this pair of films strikes a very deep chord with me. I will not quickly retun from Provence today.

The Infinite Jukebox: Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths’ ‘Young, Gifted and Black’


Sometimes you can be in the right place but at the wrong time for yourself.
As the Sixties was coming to an end, I was beginning my musical education, taught at first by Radio 1. Those first few years was a process of learning what I liked and disliked, and shaping myself for the rest of my life. Those first few months, until I started writing down the Top Thirty every week, are almost like a dream sequence: memories of songs heard at random, without any sense of structure or order.
Great things happened in that period of just under half a year, things that, only a short time after, would be fixed in my memory and given an indelible when and where. When and where did I first hear “Bridge over Troubled Water”? When did I first understand what a magnificent song it was?
That’s the most obvious example from that short but nebulous period. Another one is Bob and Marcia’s version of “Young, Gifted and Black”, a Nina Simone song. In Simone’s hands it was titled “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”, and Simone herself released it as a single, though it only got to no 76 in the American charts.
We didn’t get that version. Instead, we got this version, by Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths, a duo of already successful singers in the home market. And this isn’t even the version recorded for the Jamaican market because Trojan Records sweetened it up with strings, dominant, sweeping strings for the UK market. A betrayal of everything reggae stood for, at a time when less than a year had passed since Desmond Dekker had hit no 1 with “The Israelites”, and reggae in the light, bouncy, jaunty form we had it then was a successor to the ska and bluebeat of the Sixties.
And, do you know what? It was brilliant. And it was more than brilliant, but that’s the part I didn’t understand in early 1970.
What I heard was the song, the voices. Unlike Nina Simone’s original, the arrangement was spare, open and light in touch. Bob and Marcia sang lines almost alternately, joining their voices for the title line and its various follow-throughs. They had one of the best vocal balances I’ve ever heard, the differences in pitch being small and the tones so similar that the alternation blends beautifully. In the Jamaican original, they sounded strong and confident, and the music takes a background role.
The UK version, which went to no 5, something I look back on with pride and no little astonishment, sweetens it up with the orchestra, playing counter melodies to the local musicians, leading the song gently towards the middle of the road. But somehow, and this is not just my memories of 1970 and hearing it on the radio, the song isn’t flattened. The arrangement is sympathetic even as it is intrusive, and whilst it drastically commercialised the single and probably played a big part in getting it the airplay, and from the sales, it adds a layer of melody an, yes, an anglicisation, that makes the song an uplifting sound.
How much that influenced sales, and how much people dug the message the song purveys I’ll never know, and I was too young, naïve and unknowledgable to tell. Because the song, like “A Change is Gonna Come”, is riding the wave of the future to be. Nina Simone made it a slow, rich anthem of hope, Bob and Marcia made it a pop hit, but the song remains the same, and for the same reason that Sam Cooke wrote his song of legend and immortality.
It was the Sixties, however late it was, and change was all around us, the change Sam Cooke sensed. Simone, Andy and Griffiths were all saying the same thing, that to be Black in a White World was not to be ashamed but to be proud. It was a message to believe in yourself, to stand up, to be whatever you were. To be Young, Gifted and Black was where it’s at. More than that, the song told you that your soul’s intact.
It was pride and defiance and determination all wrapped into one, an open expression that people of colour could, should and would be proud in themselves. It lights up the heart, even for those of us White Folk who believe that we are all one people, and that’s human. Bob and Andy lightened the mood, and the UK strings prettied it up even more but you couldn’t mistake, couldn’t ignore what the song said, and in 1970, just two years after Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, at the end of a decade of prejudice, discrimination and hatred, my country took that message and embraced it, open-heartedly.
Except for me, lacking the understanding, the experience, even the musical sense to understand that what I heard was more than just a bouncy, simple tune, but a calling to colours that I had no hope of seeing then, and regret that knowledge only came in retrospect and not in the blinding flash of someone standing up in the face of the world and singing for what they believed.

Lou Grant: s02 e14 – Vet


Despite the fact that, with 2019 eyes, the subject of this week’s Lou Grant has been chewed over innumerable times, this story of two Vietnam vets – three, in a beautifully understated way – remained a powerful one forty years later. I wonder how many people found it so effective in 1978, and how many people just wanted to shut their eyes to it.

1978 was only five years after the end of the Vietnam War, a war that America lost, a war that divided the country, and the episode set out to illuminate the experience of the Vietnam vet in the shape of two people. One was Animal, Dennis, whose behaviour had suddenly becom erratic: taking unnecessary risks to get photos of a hostage situation and refusing to enter a zoo cage to photograph birds in a rainforest setting.

The other was Sutton (Lionel Smith), a black guy with an outwardly cheerful demeanour but no job and no prospect of a job, a Vietnam vet with an Undesirable Discharge. You looked at Sutton, you saw the obvious chip that was equally balanced with his outward bounciness, and you saw someone damaged probably beyond repair: he didn’t see any way out of his situation and whilst his fatalism meant that he was undermining himself, nevertheless it was very clear that he was a casualty of an unwanted War who would never be allowed to break out of his condtion.

Lou wanted to help, Lou sympathised, tried seriously to break out of his own experience. Lou, you see, was ‘Class of 46’, a vet of the Second World War, whose own war experiences were just a little over thirty years before at that time. And those experiences could not be compared, as the episode set out to make plain. Lou fought a ‘good’ war, a necessary war, and came home to praise, acclaim and a country that wanted its returning heroes to thrive and prosper. Sutton fought a nasty war and was spurned: by older folk who saw the colour of his skin, his long hair, his compatriots’ beards and thought them freaks, by his  own generation who called him babyburner and woman-killer, and spat in his face.

You liked Sutton, you wanted him to heal, but forty-five minutes of prime time TV 1978 was never going to come anywhere near doing that, and the show had the courage not to pretend otherwise. Sutton fails the job opportunity Lou organises: Lou buys a second chance but Sutton has already moved on. He will always move on because there is nowhere to go.

The other story held in it the possibility, no, certainty of a resolution, because this was in house and it had to end well. This was Animal, a vet himself, a special photographic unit. The photographers worked in pairs. Animal worked with Sam, an older man with a bad back. They were approaching a firefight and Dennis sent Sam back to the jeep for more film. He stepped on a landmine. Sam was still alive, begging to be shot. Animal couldn’t do it. A kid in the unit did, ended Sam’s agony, and threw up. If this was a story that could be told like that on a prime time TV show, think what people saw that couldn’t be put before that audience?

But Animal’s being ppursued by Edith, Sam’s widow. Somehow, wherever he goes, she gets hold of his number (for once, the glossing over of how that was possible was fittting, not lazy), and she rings him, tells him she misses Sam, she thinks about him all the time, and she wants him to remember Sam. As if he could forget.

Everyone around Animal is moved, but everyone is helpless. He’s going to move on again, but Lou, challenging him in as gentle a manner as he could, leads Animal to finally confront his demon, to talk to Edith, to share their pain in a way that might help both of them.

These were the personal stories. They were surrounded by other stuff, some of it didactic. Rossi interviews staffers at Veterans Administration about the difference between the Second World War vets and the Vietnam vets (one gives his private opinion that the latter are crybabies), Billie a younger generation of helpers, more attuned to the Vietnam vets and their experience (one of them played by Joe Spano, later to star in Hill Street Blues), the conversations intercut. Charlie’s doubtful the public are interested iin Vietnam, five years on.

And here was that third story. I’ve not yet had cause to mention Adam Wilson, played by Allen Williams. Adam’s a recuring character, a Financial reporter, editor of the Finance section, conspicuously younger than all the other editors in the budget meeting, well-dressed, immaculately groomed, serious. Adam listens to the other editors debate the story, bringing their experience of WW2 into their discourse. Quietly, he admits to being a vet. Reporter? someone asks. Vet. Surely, another says, his being there belies everything in Lou’s series. Adam admits that he’s here. And says that maye one day he’ll tell them how close he came to being one of those guys. He says he feels like he knows all of hem. Then, without saying anything else, he gets up and walks out of the room, pausing only to tell Lou it’s a good series. And thanks.

It is a scene that, without another word, tells more than anything else in the episode and I can’t believe it comes from research alone. Writer Leon Tokatyan brought that from real life somewhere.

 

Person of Interest: s02 e13 – Dead Reckoning


Look at this man carefully

Here ends, for the moment, Person of Interest‘s first foray into extended storytelling, drawing a line under several story threads that have run through the developing story, and introducing, like a long, deep plunge into cold water, the most important character too the whole of the remaining three and a half series.

To begin with, there’s a flashback to the end of ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’, including Finch’s warning, the crash, the execution of Special Agent Donnelly and Kara Stanton injecting John Reese prior to hauling him away. The episode picks up directly from there, with Joss Carter coming round and, against all her instincts but at Finch’s urgings, fleeing the scene.

From there on in, the episode maintains an acute level of tension throughout. Reese surfaces from his doping to find himself on a bus, with Stanton and Mark Snow. Like the latter, he now wears a bomb vest to keep him under control. He and Snow rendezvous with some highly speecialised criminals who have built a very intriguing hard drive to Stanton’s specifications (and who end up dead when, and we’ll have to refer this one to the Cliche Drawer, they decide to up their price  significantly at the last moment).

Reese and Snow then steal a car beloning to two ATF men (bomb disposal experts) and are directed by Stanton to a 21 story building currently being evacuated for a bomb threat. The 21st story is a very secure Department of Defence cyber warfare facility. It appears Stanton wants something stolen from there, probably military grade malware, ‘Cygnus’, which could be used to shut down an entire country’s computer network. It could even shut down the Machine.

Only that’s not the plan. Stanton has manipulated Snow and Reese to clear a path to upload something into the Government network. Something scheduled to activate in five months time (so, given that this episode originally aired in April 2012…)

Meanwhile, Finch, Carter and Fusco are trying to find and rescue Reese. The two Detectives are led to the building Reese and Snow hav invaded and, after 21 flights of stairs, arrive in time to try to save him. Stanton has departed, having completed her mission. Snow has departed, trying to reach a nearby CIA safehouse to get his activated vest removed, though he leaves with Reese’s words that he can never go back: the CIA will regard him as ‘compromised’, all that will await him is a black hood. Snow is too good an agent not to know that all that is true.

Reese won’t let Carter even try to disarm his semtex vest. She has too much to lose, a teenage son. He goes up to the roof, to die alone, but Finch is waiting, refusing to let Reese die. From their very tense beginnings, when neither trusted each other, this pair have forged an intense friendship. Over Reese’s intial refusal to let Finch risk it, he allows Harold to disarm the vest and save his life.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t an explosion, but it’s round the corner. Stanton having got what she wants, the name of the person ultimately responsible for the decision to kill her, gets into her car, making the one slip of her life as a BlackOps agent. Predictably, it kills her. Because Mark Snow, knowing he’s dead anyway, is sat in the back seat of her car. And there are literally only a few seconds before his bomb-vest explodes…

And with the obsessive Donnelly dead, and the persons in the car identified as Stanton and Snow, the FBI decides that Mark Snow is… was… the Man in a Suit. Case closed and a lot of underlying menaces swept away in one fell swoop.

Only…

That’s been the spine of the episode. It was beautifully played, without a wasted moment or word, and it drew you in from the first moment, so that you wouldn’t actually notice that there was no Number of the Week, this week. Or at least not formally so: Finch had gathered three books and typed in the Social Security number derived from them. Then he broughtup a picture of Kara Stanton. It was all done unfussily, without distracting from the immediate task of finding Reese. But in retrospect, it’s a subtle nod to the episode’s ending: Kara Stanton was the Number of the Week, and Finch took no steps to divert the fate coming for her.

Only, that’s not all of it. Early on we see the same old familiar flashback to Ordos, to Stanton shooting Reese, his escape and the cruis missile destroying the building. This time, however, it carries on, to Stanton awaking in the rubble, surrounded by Chinese with guns. And then in bed, the only patient in a massive room, with beds down both sides. And a moment of shock for those of us who know what lies ahead.

Stanton is approached by a superficially friendly elderly man, spry, immaculately dressed, wrinkled, with a head of silver hair carefully groomed. He’s played by John Nolan, uncle of Jonathan. He’s not named, but his name is Greer. He’s got the laptop Kara and John were sent to destroy: undamaged. And over her professional training, he brings her onto his side, whatever side that is. Everything she’s done in her Afterlife, has been in fulfillment of a deal struck with Greer, culminating in the introduction of this mystery malware. In return, Greer gives her a name, the person ultimately responsible for the order to kill her, a person who is completely off-grid, 100% untraceable.

Immediately, we think of one person. We don’t get told the name when Greer offers it. We don’t hear it when he tells Stanton, in the last moments of her life. But in the end, after we see John Reese re-united with the delighted Bear, the Machine rolls time back, literally, to the car and the explosion. And to a piece of paper, about to be claimed by flames, with two words on it: Harold Finch.

Greer, and what he represents, is in this moment an enigma. But he’s the Big Bad. HR, Elias, Special Counsel and Hersh, and people we’ve yet to see who have character arcs to drive the story along, and all of them unimportant. It is Greer against which everything will be tested in the episodes to come. We are exactly one-third of the way through Person of Interest, and it is finally revealing its true colours. In its own way, a piece at a time…