Another season, but not just another season. Everything has been reset, everything is new, there is a darkness to the world and our heroes have been separated and dispersed to the far corners of the world, that is, if you accept New York as the world.
And yet, as all new seasons are required to do, the opening story resets the principle of the procedural. There must always be a Number, there is always a Number, but there is dissension among the team about what to do.
Season 4 starts without an opening monologue from Finch. It starts with surveillance footage from a bar in Budapest, a journalist who’s just been fired, a journalist who’s been pursuing a story about the changed underlying structure of the world. He knows he’s on the right track because his contacts are all dying. He’s telling this paranoid fantasy to a beautiful blonde he met in the bar, but she met him, for a reason. He’s a threat. She’s called Martine Rousseau, though we don’t learn this today (played by Cara Buono). She’s there to execute him. The surveillance footage looks off, but that’s because it comes from Samaritan, with different processes and the use of circles to pick out individuals.
Back in New York, we tour our friends. Sameen Shaw, promoting perfume and makeovers in a Department Store, in a little black dress. Detective John Riley of Narcotics, busting drugs dealers. Professor Harold Whistler, teaching an esoteric class at college to a limited number of students, one of whom, a pretty girl in a short skirt, gets up and walks out when the Professor says that all grades are final and cannot be bargained up (a very economical piece of storytelling, that).
Everyone’s separate, unable to communicate or even to mingle, for fear of drawing Samaritan’s eye down upon them. Shaw’s openly rebellious against her lot, spraying perfume in women’s eyes instead of on their wrists. Reese is at least doing something. Harold wants nothing more to do with their old profession, for fear of exposure to Samaritan – if one is detected, all will be – and because in his mind he has made a break with the Machine – whereabouts still unknown – since it instructed them to kill that Senator. Harold wants nothing to do with it. Besides, they don’t have the Library, they don’t have the resources.
But John Reese has not forgotten his Purpose. And Root, getting a makeover from Shaw, with whom she’s starting to flirt quite openly, is making the point that these roles chosen for Team Machine aren’t just for survival but part of a longer-term plan, the outlines of which are not even visible yet.
But there’s a Number, sent to Reese and Shaw. He’s Ali Hassan (Navid Negahban), owner of an electronics shop, reluctantly working for a new street gang called the Brotherhood, whose representative Link Cordell (Jamie Hector, so effective as Marlo in The Wire and just as good here with his laidback menace) wants a private network for the gang, that can’t be tapped by the Police.
Ali attempts to retaliate by blowing Link up but Detective Riley is on the scene and saves the day. Link responds by kidnapping Ali’s son, Ben: network by midnight or…
Finch is reluctant. Not only are the people they could save a mere drop in the ocean, of no practical difference to the world situation but overall their efforts have caused more deaths than lives saved (yeah, but never mind the width, feel the quality). Root is angry with him: this is a War. Reese visits Carl Elias, discovers that midnight is the biggest heroin shipment in America, a quarterly event, run by the Brotherhood and its unseen leader, Dominic. He wants to hire Elias…
And it all comes together. Finch helps Ali complete a foolproof Network, using an old, unremoved technology. Scarface makes it look like a gang war is brewing over the drugs, giving Detective Riley probable cause to investigate and free Ben. Shaw runs interference for him with a sniper’s rifle, still wearing her little black dress. The Number is saved: the Hassans will move onwards. It’s a subtle marker that the times have changed, alongside all the blatant ones: Finch cannot organise a new identity and funding for them, they will have to do that for themselves.
So, Team Machine can still operate effectively, under their changed circumstances, though the fact they have operated at all puts them at risk: Martine Rousseau is already on the scene…
But there has been a major advance already. Finch has acquired a Network that can enable them to talk freely. Riley’s got a promotion to the Homicide Task Force at the Eighth. He’s going to be partnering Detective Fusco. There’s a delicate moment as he pauses before taking his assigned desk, the one that used to be used by Detective Carter. Shaw gets linked up with a small team of crooks, for whom she becomes their wheelman, keeping her from going stir crazy. And Root points out a message from the Machine to Harold that he didn’t even know had been sent. It leads him to a book about old, underground tunnels, one of which he and Bear locate. What he sees is… reserved for next week.
So, we’re back in business. The world has changed, and so have our heroes’ response to it. Five people against the world. Crazy, melodramatic, comic book pulp stuff. But this season is going to show that Archimedes was right: give them a sufficiently long lever and a reliable place to stand and five people can move the world.
Just don’t expect it to be easy.