Person of Interest: s02 e17 – Proteus

Behind you…

We’re into the season 2 endgame now, or so we thought from last week’s brilliant episode, introducing Shaw and showing Root in her full-on mania to find the Machine. So Person of Interest hands us an intricate, oddball episode that is ninety percent a solus, with only minimal links to the overall story. In fact, you could say that Proteus was typical in its untypicality.

There’s a storm a-brewing, a monster, heading for New York State, creating the ground conditions for the episode as Reese and Finch end up trapped on an isolated island with a group of people, one of whom, Ten Little Indians style, is the Number, a serial killer.

It begins with rain, and our two buddies coming out of a cinema with Bear. They’re not on a mission: the Machine has not coughed up a number for three days, Reese is worried, there’s a nod to last week when Reese asks if Finch has heard from Shaw, the balls being kept in the air. Then the Machine breaks its silence to spit out six Numbers all at once.

Six people, all male, no link between them except that when you put their pictures up on a US map, there’s a pretty clear direct line across America, someone heading east, who’s now in New York.

Carter’s brought in (there’s no Fusco this week) to assist, and she uses her FBI connection, Agent Moss, to get their Missing Persons files. This introduces the name of Special Agent Alan Fahey (Luke McFarlane) and a reminder from Moss that Carter’s boyfriend, Cal Beecher, is baaaad company.

Reese’s investigations into the New York name, Rollings, leads him to a summer home on Owen Island, way out to nowhere at the far end of Long Island, and in the eye of the storm. Over Finch’s objections, Reese heads out there, despite the fact everyone is being evacuated. Rolling’s house is already being searched when he arrives, by Special Agent Fahey, who’s usually a desk jockey. Reese immediately produces his stolen Marshall’s badge.

The storm’s getting worse. A disparate group of stragglers, some residents, some visitors, are stranded. Everyone takes refuge in the Police Station, echoing Key Largo. Finch flies in, having developed a theory. Rollings is dead, reduced to ashes in a basement furnace. The Numbers are linked by the absence of any photos of them, the minimal or non-existent digital profile. They are victims, of a digitally erased killer, who doesn’t just kill but who assumes the identity of his victim and lives their life for them, until he gets bored and moves on.

In retrospect, the killer is obvious, and should have been obvious to anyone who knows PoI: who would make the biggest twist? I didn’t need advanced analysis, I remembered the episode from before: it’s Agent Fahey.

Finch works this out whilst John is elsewhere, inadvertently disrupting a marijuana shipping. ‘Fahey’ intends to kill Harold Gull and assume his life (boy is he going to have trouble detecting that digital footprint). Before that, ‘Fahey’ treats us to what might charitably be called his philosophy, but which Harold calls his deluded ravings. ‘Fahey’ sees himself as superior to his victims. He watches them closely, absorbs the details of their lives, so that when he’s ready to kill them, and make them physically disappear entirely, he steps into their shoes and lives that life and, do you know what?, he’s better at it than they are. He lives their lives to a fuller extent than they did or could, because he’s just better at being everything. One day, he’ll find the life that is perfect, and he’ll stop.

Which gives Finch the cue to tear down such pretensions by pointing out that ‘Fahey’ could never be him because Finch saves lives and ‘Fahey’ ends them. And ‘Fahey’ will never stop, because people like him don’t, they don’t kill for some pretentious, elevated cause, they kill because they like it, and for no other reason.

That diatribe gets ‘Fahey’ to raise his gun, at which point we expect, and get, the trademark PoI saving shot from offscreen, Carter into ‘Fahey’s back. Only, as Finch realises, too late, ‘Fahey’ is wearing body armour… But don’t worry. It’s a double-bluff, another offscreen shot, this time from Detective Beecher, who’s come to the island with Carter, despite her resistance to seeing him. Their story is not yet done. Not until the middle of next season.

But there’s a coda. Day dawns, the storm clears, the island can be evacuated, all the symbols in place for emergence from the Long Dark Night of the Soul. The Machine fed our heroes the Numbers for the victims because there was no number for the perpetrator. All very clever. But it was silent for three days. Finch fears what’s coming. It’s nearly five months since Reese and Snow, under Kara Stanton’s coercion, fed that virus into the Government network. Is it coming active?

There aree five episodes left in this season to find out. Person of Interest has fed us a fascinating thriller, again, and kept its enlarging background in the background, for a while longer. We wait. We shall see.

6 thoughts on “Person of Interest: s02 e17 – Proteus

  1. Really fun episode. There’s a great atmosphere with the raging storm, and the way it leans into horror tropes is enjoyable. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. Reminds me of Shutter Island.

    1. Ha! It’s creepy, but it’s also got that stormy atmosphere. Owen Island isn’t a real place, unlike Shutter Island, which is a real place in Boston harbor. Obligatory Wire link: The film is based on the 2003 novel by Dennis Lehane, one of the crime fiction writers enlisted to write The Wire.

  2. Fair enough. Speaking of films, something I did at work has won a session in our Cinema Room with a film for the team to watch. As I won it, I get to pick. I’m trying for The Princess Bride…

  3. This episode nearly killed the cast and crew. I guess filming during a grueling storm probably isn’t the best idea… fact one member of the writing staff apologized to the crew for putting them through hell. But hey–I’d rather watch this than Shutter Island.

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