It’s never not a pleasure to watch Person of Interest but there are some Tuesday mornings that can almost have me chortling with glee at what I’ve just seen. ‘RAM’ (random access memory for the computer-illiterate among us) was a 99.9% flashback episode, so designated by it starting with the season 1 credits, as far as the words ‘I needed a partner’, at which point it went into fast reverse, all the way back to 2010. We’re in the past, where they do things differently. But we’re not just here for a compare-and-contrast night out, we’re here to see skeins and trails being laid that underlie everything we will be dealing with for the rest of the show’s existence.
At first, it’s very much compare. A frightened woman runs down empty Manhattan streets at night. Finch is plotting her movements and urging Reese to catch up. Only it’s not Reese, it’s Dillinger (Neil Jackson). Yes, he takes out the two gunmen, but unlike somebody else we know, it’s with gunshots to the upper torso, not the leg. Finch hopes (probably in vain) that it’s a case for an ambulance, not the coroner. And John Reese would never take advantage of a frightened woman’s gratitude towards a rescuer to take her for drinks and what inevitably follows.
It’s all there, the original set-up, the Library, the minimal exchanges of information between Finch and Dillinger. But this is 2010. Finch is still in a wheelchair, the set-up’s a bit more spartan. Dilinger asks Finch why he doesn’t get a dog.
The new number is a man called Daniel Casey (Joe Mazello), who’s gone dark two months ago, no grid presence, whereabouts unknown. Finch is not yet as practised at locating people so Dillinger has to scare up a lead himself, almost literally. Dillinger isn’t as good as Reese, he’s brash, direct, reckless, and we’ve already seen that he’s in this for what he can get.
He’s also not the only one looking for Casey. There’s a man and a woman about an hour ahead of him. It comes as no surprise, especially since we’ve seen Annie Parisse’s name in the credits, to recognise this pair as Kara Stanton and John Reese, under orders to kill a traitor.
But Casey’s not a traitor. He’s a freelance hacker, hired by companies and government to test system security. Two months ago he did a massively hush-hush job for the Government, trying to hack into a system so comprehensive and complex it was almost alien. It is, of course, the Machine, and Harold understands that instantly, as well as all it’s implications. It was only in the previous year that Nathan Ingram was killed.
It’s a deadly and ruthless world for anyone who knows about the Machine. Stanton and Reese have been assigned by Special Counsel (Jay O. Sanders, of course) but he is as nothing in comparison with Control (Camryn Manheim) who has not the least regard for human life. Control wants in to the Machine, she wants to be rid of the limitations Finch built in, she wants the total vision, and with it the control that total knowledge brings. She is a warning for what is going to follow.
It was always intended that Casey should die after his assignment. Brought to the Library, much to Finch’s horror, he explains how lucky he was to get away, and that a friend was preparing a fake identity for him, to disappear, like a ghost. Casey had reported failure to the Government. He was trying to report the matter to a Government Department that oversees complaints about government, but ‘Mr Banks’ is not the real Mr Banks, but rather Mr Lambert, a mercenary working for John Greer (John Nolan).
Everybody wants Casey’s laptop. Because he found a way into the Machine, a ‘back door’. The Machine adapted itself to throw him out but Casey came away with a few strings of code. Besides, we’ve seen that laptop before…
But this is where Dillinger steps in. Finch doesn’t trust him, won’t tell him anything. It’s been fun saving damsels and bankers but CIA operatives? Dillinger wants something for himself, and he’s taking the laptop and selling it to China.
Casey runs, but runs into Reese. Stanton is taking down Casey’s friend Lester and Greer’s associates, all except Lambert. Reese shoots and reports Casey dead. All this under the eyes of Finch, who has managed to stagger to his feet after his drugging by Dillinger and is out of the Library, desperately trying to stop he inevitable disaster.
But Reese’s shot was directed wide. He knows Casey is not a traitor and, for the first time, is stopping being a good soldier. Money, a getaway route to Canada, disappearance.
As for Dillinger, he meets the Chinese but is taken out, along with three of the four, by another black ops operative, a promising agent, who cleans up. She is Sameen Shaw.
But there’s a loophole. One Chinese got away with the laptop. Control wants it found and destroyed. Stanton and Reese will be assigned. The lapptop has been taken to a place in China called… Ordos.
And with that the Machine’s memory clicks into fast forward, very fast forward, a montage of high-speed clips as we roll through the show’s history to the present day and a lonely, snowbound cabin in Canada. Someone knocks on Daniel Casey’s door. She’s a total stranger, a pretty girl, and she’s setting up his cabin to burn down. He has two minutes to gather his getaway stash, a fake passport and $50,000. She is sending him to Columbia. Casey and Root have a mutual frend who needs his help…
What a stunningly brilliant episode! Within one forty five minute spell, the show completes its backstory, in a brilliantly logical construction tha fills in all the little gaps and lays the foundation for both the present situation and the near future to come. It also gives us an insight into the two main players, grounding their respective natures and illuminating the evolving relationship they now enjoy. In short, it was bloody near perfect.
And I chortle with glee for the Tuesday mornings on which I will watch episodes that are even better than this.