Person of Interest: s04 e01 – Panopticon

Little black dress (and little blue one)

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.


14 thoughts on “Person of Interest: s04 e01 – Panopticon

  1. “Panopticon” [4×01]
    Written By: Erik Mountain and Greg Plageman
    Directed By: Richard J. Lewis
    Originally Aired 23 September 2014

    “Panopticon” doesn’t feel like a fourth season premiere as it does a second pilot of sorts, and the writers nailed it. We’re delicately eased back into this world where there’s a whole new rule-book, and there’s a number to aid us in that transition. The case with Ali and his father was solid, explains how they communicate for the rest of the show, so it works for me. The really interesting part of this episode is how Reese and Finch have swapped roles from the pilot. This time, Reese has to pull Finch out of retirement. Finch isn’t handling the new situation well, and he hasn’t forgotten the events of Death Benefit. He’s taken on an unearned, almost petulant form of cynicism (seriously Harold, you’ve done more good than bad, that’s obvious), and thankfully, Root’s not having it. Root herself has also been changed by the break, dropping more of her mysterioso act. Her work with the Machine last season has paid off–she spent most of it crafting their new identities. Thankfully, they snap Finch out of it, and he enters the fight. More specifically, he enters the Batcave, an awesome abandoned subway from decades before, set to the kickass Jetta song, “I’d Like to Change the World”. An amazing final scene, pulpy as you say, but executed in the best possible way. “Panopticon” is a near-perfect second pilot.

    Grade: A

    1. So far. I forgot that it takes more than one episode to fully break Harold out of his slump. I guess he’s enjoying teaching a class about AI rather than fighting an AI war. I would have changed his name if I were the Machine though. Surprised Decima doesn’t just look up everyone named Harold in NYC. But I guess his last name is more important.

  2. On the one hand, do Decima know his aliases always use his regulary assumed first name? And, same question really, do they know his aliases are always other bird names? Harold as Finch has always been so shadowy, there’s really no reason why Decima/Greer should knw anything about his covers, especially if Harold pulled them all back inside with him after they were done. He’d enough reason for paranoia before we even heard of Samaritan.

    1. They do not. They assumed that he’d pick another name. Which I did as well. They tried digging up stuff on Harold, and all they could up with was Grace.They don’t know the first thing about him, really, other than he is a tech genius and created the Machine. I guess the Machine knew that Decima was in the dark, and created a cover that seems fairly obvious for a man like Harold, but it’s also effective.

      Also, that was totally a Batcave moment at the end. The Nolans love Batman.

      1. I actually forgot that Reese goes out of his way to save Link’s life. Neat how they stick to Finch’s philosophy of *not* letting the trash get taken out.

    1. Despite the fact that Finch, earlier, claimed that their body count was in the red when you take it all as a whole. Kinda felt like the show-runners tweaking the nose of certain viewers.

      I always thought that was an ambiguous part of the show on purpose. Violence to stop violence, surveillance to stop bad things from happening. They’re not perfect, but they’re doing the best they can. Do the ends justify the means? I always prefer it when fiction leaves you with more questions than answers.

    2. I read somewhere that drama that constantly waffles on what acceptable behavior is is not compelling, but defining rigidly where the line is and seeing the characters go right up to it–that’s where the good drama is. So when Reese goes off the reservation in ‘The Devil’s Share’, there’s real power to it. When Root tortures Control in ‘Control-Alt-Delete’, it means something.

      1. That’s a heavy thought to take in all at once. It has the smack of something that is right, certainly in its second part. As to the first element, I’m not sure I’d be so dogmatic, but I would at least agree that that approach opens the door to equivocation, which is rarely a good thing. Re-reading my post, I’m not wholly sure of its applicability to ‘Panopticon’.

      2. I think it was a review of an Arrow episode complaining about how it, like a lot of superhero media, always bogs itself down by turning itself into a superhero ethics seminar with which it can’t even stay consistent on from episode to episode, which makes for a slog of a viewing experience.

        It’s only tangentially related. The thought arose from my earlier comment about how the team generally tries to save the lives of everyone involved. Even the people who they’re aligned against.

  3. Oh, then I can agree with you there. I stopped watching Arrow after season 4. I stopped watching The Flash either at the same stage or at best one seeason later because it had turned into Arrow. I thought I could manage with Legends of Tomorrow, because it was more light-hearted, and it used characters I goggled at the very idea of seeing on TV but it mistook light-hearted for silly so I left that after season 4. I didn’t even get to the end of Batwoman season 1 despite fancying Rachel Skargard in her Alice wig something rotten. I’m waiting for Stargirl season 2 to come out on DVD: I didn’t even try to watch that one, I can’t be arsed diwnloading TV programmes any more…

    1. I stopped watching Arrow after Season 5. I stopped with The Flash after its awful third season, and Legends of Tomorrow got too silly for me as well. In general, superhero media has become tired, stale, and thoroughly uninteresting to me on the whole. I’m looking forward to the sequels to Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse, at least. I’m also interested in James Gunn’s Peacemaker, which apparently actually understood the point of Watchmen. That should be interesting.

      I think the reviewer was in general trying to say that a show should be sure to keep its own morality straight before it tries to mine drama from it. Otherwise it really guts the impact out of such arguments. And I agree with him on that.

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