Person of Interest: s03 e15 – Last Call

Yes, again it’s a procedural, a one-off, but this time with a far better, much more involving story, and another opponent who offers recurring possibilities but who, in the end, will return only once.

We start in media res, with Finch in the field as a Trainee operator in an NYPD 911 call centre, where he’s got his eye on the Number, Sandra Nicholson, an experienced, wise, calm-under-pressure supervisor (Melissa Sagemiller). Reese and Shaw are on standby outside, amused at Finch’s lowly role.

Meanwhile, at the Precinct, Fusco is enjoying popularity after his takedown of Simmonds, in demand from his colleagues, especially rookie Detective Jake Harrison (Gavin Stenhouse) seeking guidance on working the  murder of Tara Cooke, which is not the street mugging it initially seems to be.

The threat to Sandra comes out of left field: she takes a 911 call from Aaron, a ten year old boy kidnapped from out of his apartment by professionals associated with a Mexican Drugs Cartel: off go Reese and Shaw. But Aaron is merely a lever to use against Sandra. unless she does exactly as she is told by a mysterious voice on her mobile phone, Aaron will be killed.

The vooice is clever. He’s  hacked into the system to divert this call to Sandra, he knows who she is, he knows what’s in her sealed Juvenile Court records (whilst babysitting and bathing a three year old boy, she left him to get a toy from downstairs, during which short period he drowned) and what makes her completely vulnerable, he’s even gotten a webcam attached to her headset so he can see everything she sees. All Sandra has to do is wipe 30,000+ 911calls from two days ago, calls that are part of evidence in innumerable cases.

One of these turns out to be the death of Tara Cooke. Fusco and Harrison’s case dovetails with the Number. Cooke was having an affair with her CEO and wanted to go public. He and his wife wanted her out of the way. In  order to save Aaron’s life, she agrees to do it.

The arrest and confessions of the married pair terminates the contract and spares Sandra the final decision, but both she and Aaron are to be killed anyway, to clear up loose ends. Reese and Shaw save Aaron from a bomb, Finch threatens to electrocute the hitman sent after Sandra, and she gets to relieve a certain amount of tension by belting him across the back of the skull with his pistol.

And Finch arranges a final meeting with Sandra, enabling her to see the boy she fought for and helped save before she returns to work. Shaw produces the only lead they have as to the voice, paired burner phones taped together. One rings: the voice speaks to Finch, assures him Sandra and Aaron are no longer under threat. But Finch… that’s a different matter.

The voice does return, a long way from here, whilst the show has much weightier matters on its mind, close to the end. Were it not for such matters, I don’t doubt this invisible mastermind would have proved to be more of a recurring threat. Indeed, as we will see, there’s a moment when this figure could have been introduced for a half-season arc, but the show chose a different threat.

As for now, though ‘Last Call’ effectively repeats the same trigger – a child under threat – as ‘Provenance’, it’s a far better story, in ppart because it’s not clogged up by implausibility. Sandra’s emotional commitment to saving Aaron comes over as deeper and more effective despite his being a complete stranger, and that’s down to Sagemiller’s performance. She stays graceful, and doesn’t let the emotions overplay, and it doesn’t hurt that whilst she’s a very attractive woman, that’s downplayed: short hair, full police uniform, no obvious make-up. There’s no glamourisation and that keeps her and Sandra grounded to great effect.

All told, a very solid episode that shows that Person of Interest can still succeed admirably even when it detaches itself completely from its overall flow. But with only eight episodes left, and a lot of ground to cover, it’s time that tide rolls over us.

23 thoughts on “Person of Interest: s03 e15 – Last Call

    1. I remembered it as soon as it started. I think Melissa Sagemiller is one of the best one-off guests the show evr had. According to her Wikipedia entry, she’s never worked in TV since, and possibly not film, and she’s one of the women in the Harvey Weinstein suit. Good luck to her.

  1. “Last Call” [3×15]
    Written By: Dan Dietz
    Directed By: Jeff T. Thomas
    Originally Aired 25 February 2014

    Last Call reminds me of a very strange, very bad Halle Berry movie called The Call. Obviously, I like it more, though ultimately don’t have much to say. Lots of PoI fans hate this one, including Tim Surette. Though it would probably land in the bottom third of PoI episodes for me (definitely bottom half), I still think it’s quite good. There’s some actual tension involved in this one! The Voice is a villain I think fits the show quite well. Though he is quite similar to the MI6 guy from Critical, he fits right in to this Batman-like universe. In a way, this is the last episode of PoI where the heroes aren’t constantly on the edge of peril. After all, the next episode…well, you remember. I’m looking forward to this last stretch of the season, I’ll just say that. As for this one, Dan Dietz is a good writer, and it shines through. He manages to add intrigue and tension to a one-off that’s paced pretty well. Provenance always fails to pull me in–it’s hard to get invested in that episode’s number. This one is constantly hammering home what’s going to happen if they fail, the Voice seems almost unstoppable. Good banter as usual between Reese, Shaw, and Fusco, and Fusco has clearly evolved since the start of the series.

    Grade: B+

      1. Cura Te Ipsum packs more of an emotional punch. And that final scene with Reese and the stalker. Oof.

  2. To be honest, I don’t grade episodes in that fashion. I really couldn’t rank 103 episodes in any kind of reliable order, especially not with all the other things I want to write about.

    1. I don’t grade episodes like that either. I just grade them based on how much I enjoyed them. As it stands, I think this one is hated far too much in the PoI fandom as an example of a “bad” one-off, whereas I think last week’s was textbook “bad” one-off (not that I think any PoI episode is bad-even Provenance had a lot of talent and work put into it). It does suffer in the rankings from being in Season 3, which is outstanding.

      1. If you go back and read my Deep Space Nine series, there are multiple examples of my disliking a fan-favourite episode and saying why. I’m here to give my opinion. What the crowd hinks is irrelevant. After all, if all I did just reflected majority opinion, what’s the point of writing anything at all?

      2. I like a lot of the popular DS9 episodes. I’ll have to go back and read some of your critiques. Your Far Beyond the Stars and Visitor write-ups did make me reconsider certain aspects of them.

        As long you leave Duet and In the Pale Moonlight alone…..Those are my two personal favorite episodes in the Star Trek franchise. Maybe Inner Light.

    1. Children of Time would also be in my top ten, which we had a really nice discussion about.

      Last Call is definitely a good one, though. With these one-offs, either I invest in the main character or I don’t. It’s really hard to make an audience invest in a character that appears for 45 minutes only, which is why many procedurals are terrible. PoI had a pretty impressive hit ratio-not many one-offs I was straight up bored by. I even liked Triggerman and Reasonable Doubt a certain amount.

      1. Procedurals are inherently limited. They have to stand or fall on either an extremely robust format or an especially fascinating standard cast. The classic example is CSI and its spin-offs, where the strength was the forensic examination. Hill Street Blues was based in the cast and their interactions. Homicide: Life on the Street combined brilliant writing, brilliant acting and the simple sense to base itself on a tidal wave of real crimes that wiould never have been credible as fiction. Very few PoI one-offs fall short, because the show always maintained character-driven arcs running side-by-side with the numbers. ‘Provenance’ failed that simple requirement. ‘Last Call’ was good enough in its guest/setting to ride that out.

      2. Not to spoil your memory of this season…..but there are very few numbers left in Season 3. These next 8 weeks are going to be so fun.

  3. Wow. Apparently people really hate this episode. Specifically, I came across a comment that went a little something like this…..

    “To be clear, the plot had plenty of potential, but the actual writing was horrendous. Consider…

    * The 911 calls. Harold’s introductory call was fine, but the call Sandra took over was beyond ludicrous in both conception and execution, as were the multitude of calls we “overheard” as she moved around the office. Everyone just happened to be voicing a full description of the highlight of each call in simultaneous succession so us dumb TV viewers can understand what a 911 call center is like…

    * Same thing with Fusco’s first scene. A bunch of detectives all asking him elementary questions as if he’s the only cop in the city that knows what he’s doing. And again, all in rapid succession to paint that picture way too vividly. Bad exposition is one thing, but being beaten over the head with it is way worse.

    * Reese’s fight scene in the bar. Formulaic much? Of course he can beat 6 or 8 elite cartel henchmen in a narrow bar with no room to move without taking a punch. And of course the bad guy he’s there for would just watch him beat 8 guys unconscious and not try to escape out the back. He must enjoy being tortured.

    * Sandra’s melodramatic speech about her horrifying babysitting mistake… Yeah, they would charge a 14-year-old babysitter with negligent homicide. And being found innocent would leave her with a sealed juvenile record… why, exactly? And with 15 minutes to save this kid’s life, NOW is the time to have a 3-minute conversation about the hazards of bathing infants?

    * Those 15 minutes. Funny how Finch’s clock synced perfectly with the bomb timer. This also made it clear that they were going to kill the kid and Sandra regardless of how it all turned out, so what was the point of the bomb if there was a roomful of henchmen right there? Why not just shoot the kid? Why even wait until the time was up? The writers thought none of this through.

    * Oh, Fusco and Rookie Cop also took their time doing their Scooby Doo-esque “Let us explain all the details of how we know you did this instead of getting to the point” reveal while that 15-minute clock ran.

    * And could that confession have been more lazily written? Again, it’s not THAT they trip up and confess, it’s HOW they do it. Anyone in their position would have cried “LAWYER!” the moment the cops showed their first piece of damning evidence. Ridiculously unrealistic.

    * How long is 15 minutes in NYC? Shaw covers three locations in midday NYC traffic in 12 of those 15 minutes. And she and Reese arrive at the last in no hurry, strolling through the parking garage in badass fashion with 3 minutes left to get from the ground floor to a very high floor and through another wave of henchmen with enough time left to disarm a bomb. No rush.

    * Fusco and Finch’s team were working on the same case? That 911 call came while the victim was in the car, literally moving from precinct to precinct, and she just happens to end up ditched in Fusco’s? And he just happens to suss this out while sifting through 150+ 911 calls in less than 5 minutes even though there’s nothing notable to indicate that that call had any connection to what Finch was looking for? If Finch really distilled 30,000 calls down to 300, then you’d think that a large percentage of those calls could have sounded like Finch’s target, since Finch had absolutely no idea what he was looking for. That’s a series of HUGE coincidences and lucky breaks all connected to one another, making it literally less likely than winning any lottery ever.

    * And all this crazy techno-crime to cover up the most boring, predictable murder ever? You’d go through all this trouble — spend that much money to hire a cyber-criminal that gifted — to delete a 911 call that led the police to nothing and NOT delete your own much-more-damning voicemail? This all stemmed from an affair that could have been discovered a thousand different ways and this guy chose this one particular piece of possibly-troublesome maybe-evidence to eliminate in the most elaborate and destructive way imaginable?

    * Why the crazy kidnapping plot? They orchestrate a boy calling 911, wait for him to hide in a hiding place they must have known about (or they DIDN’T know about it and needed the incredibly-convenient LOW POWER beep to find him, making it the worse plan ever), and then coerce the 911 operator into doing their bidding after hacking into call-routing to make sure they got the right operator? Why not just kidnap someone close to ANY 911 operator and call them while they’re working?

    The list goes on… This could have been a much more compelling, gripping, and believable episode, but the lazy, formulaic, and straight-up horrible writing sabotaged it outright. That something this poorly written made it all the way through production and on the air without anyone taking the hour or two it would have taken to fix it is unbelievable to me…”

    I can’t remember if these criticisms are fair, but hm. Now I want to watch it again to see if they’re right…..

  4. There’s a phrase for this that I refuse ti use because of its dismissiveness, but frankly i don’t care what this tosser thinks: I watched the episode a few weeks ago and made up my mind about it then. No need to watch it again.

    1. I call it nitpicking. I apologize for clogging up your comment section with it (I probably shouldn’t have posted it here, but hey we all make mistakes). It’s a very annoying, Cinema Sins type of criticism that’s become very common on the internet these days.

      Also just out of curiosity, how far in advance do you watch them?

      1. Don’t worry, I don’t regard it as clogging up.

        In advance? PoI and Lou Grant I watch and blog on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and schedule to appear seven days later, allowing me time to review my thoughts. Everything else regular is written when I can, and may be written a couple of months in advance, with the exception on the film blogs, which are posted as soon as I finish writing them. The Lafferty series was written in its entirety before the first one was posted. Believe it or not, I can also fit in time to write books…

      2. And a day job, presumably?

        So you watch the episodes a week in advance? Interesting. Gotta admit, it’s nice having your thoughts post once a week. Almost like the show is airing again :(.

  5. And a day job, yes. PoI will complete before Xmas and I have it’s ideal replacement burning holes in my wish to watch it now (this one should take about 11 months), and Lou Grant just over a year from now (its successor will take about eighteen months). Mind you, the film slot will run out sometime about midsummer, give or take anything else I pick up in the meantime so I’ll need something to wake up to on Sunday mornings…

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