Person of Interest: s04 e17 – Karma


This episode came as a welcome return to form for Person of Interest after last week’s encounter with Harper Rose. Though it was once again a one-off, with no discernable connection to the overall situation, this was a powerful story whose Number, despite being a Perpetrator was nevertheless a very sympathetic figure.

The show began with a flashback to 2010, to Finch still unable to walk himself, working in conditions very primitive compared to the Library and even the Subway. We were asked to contrast his limited manouevrability with his intended actions, which were not the prevention of death but rather its execution. Finch wants revenge, revenge for Nathan Ingram’s death and he is targetting Alicia Corwin (a welcome return for Elizabeth Marvel).

We know he’s going to end up not killing her, since we know that Root did. The question is why, and what moves him. and, since this segues into Harold telling a version of his story, with variant details, to psychiatrist Shane Edwards (Patrick Kennedy), how this is going to influence the contemporary story.

Edwards is our Number. He’s a careful, smooth, thoughtful man with concerns for his patients, but Kennedy invests him with a submerged tension, and underlying intensity that never reaches the surface in this role. Because Kennedy has a second life. He works for Victim Advocacy, counselling those who have had their lives changed by crimes against them, such as Angela (Megan Tusing), confined to a wheelchair after being hit by a drunk driver. Angela struggles with her lifelong imprisonment, compared to her assailant’s brief passage through Rehab, already out and drinking.

And Reese follows Edwards as he plants all the necessary details that lead to the underpunished Clyde Barton being framed for Armed Robbery. And that’s not Edwards’ first dispersion of Karma.

You’ve got to like the guy. Reese and Fusco certainly do, even if, ultimately there’s something deeply disturbing (albeit viscerally pleasing) about people being punished for things they did not do as a counterweight to the failure of Law to adequately punish them for something they did do. It’s analogous to Lord Vetinari’s principle that for every crime there must be a punishment, and if occasionally you get the right criminal that’s a bonus, which is great for a laugh but no way to conduct a serious Criminal Justice system.

What lies behind this? There is a root cause and here it’s the most basic and painful of all, one instantly acceptable to those who have lost a partner, someone infinitely precious to them. Edwards was married to a woman he loved. One day, eight years ago, he came home to find her bludgeoned to death. The culprit was Wyatt Morris (Daniel Sauli), sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment for manslaughter on circumstantial evidence, pinned to Ewards’ testimony that he saw Morris’s delivery truck drive away as he got home. It’s all very Richard Kimbell, except that Kimbell wasn’t lying about the one-armed man.

Yes, Edwards lied. He wasn’t there, he didn’t get home until later. After his wife’s death, he left his lucrative practice, set up this non-profit programme, counsels those who, like himself, have suffered loss. But as he counsels them about moving on instead of staying focussed on their loss, he’s avoiding his own advice.

Because Morris is out on parole, confronting Edwards at a charity gala to which Reese and Fusco have gained access courtesy of Iris Campell (Wrenn Schmidt, dressed up to the nines in a strapless little black dress). Reese saves Edwards from a car bomb, an ironic counterpoint to the flashback where Finch plants a similar device on Alicia Corwin’s car, refusing angrily the attempt of his mute Machine to move him off his course.

But it’s all part of Edwards’ meticulous planning. He’s setting up to frame Morris, possibly for the second time. This leads to much debate. Fusco’s all in favour of letting Edwards kill Morris: one less murderer is one less murderer and that’s always good. Reese understands revenge and approves. Only Finch objects, frantically drumming in that we don’t know Morris is a killer. When he maintains his innocence, he might be telling the truth. They must know.

Because Finch understands that revenge doesn’t bring closure. He traps Alicia in her car, externally locking her in. He tells her about the bomb. He accuses her of complicity in Nathan’s death. The Machine box around his head turns from yellow to red, a nearby payphone rings incessantly but Finch doesn’t answer it. But Alicia accepts the facts of her death composedly. She didn’t know about Nathan’s death until it happened, but she should have known. Her mere involvement in the web makes her, in her own eyes, as much complicit as anyone else, and her death is a just punishment. Torn between his naked urge to strike back after what happened to his best friend and his expanding realisation that revenge changes nothing, Finch releases the car locks. The payphone stops ringing. The future is set on course.

Which is precisely why, in 2015, Finch can’t let Edwards go ahead and do what he plans, despite his colleagues’ willingness to let the plan proceed. But Edwards doesn’t intend to kill Morris. He’s lured him to a sacred place, the bench where he first met his wife, where he later proposed to her. And he will kill himself, framing Morris for doing it. And it is Harold who stops him, telling him that to do this is to desecrate the place he was most happy, and that if he dies this way, the presence of the wife he loved so much will disappear. It’s a powerful moment that affected me deeply: you do not have to have suffered that kind of loss to understand the loss of someone important to you.

Morris still protests his innocence. Edwards has only known he was guilty because he knows. Unpalatable as it may seem, some questions cannot be answered. We may never know all.

So the coda. Reese is once again in session with Doctor Redhead. He’s even more taciturn than usual. She tells him he owes her. She got him into the gala, she wants something real, something he’s not proud of. Reese slowly tells her a very outline account of himself and Jessica. He knows about loss, just like Shane Edwards. Perceptively, she tells him he needs to allow himself to grieve. Gazing iside himself, Reese whispers that he doesn’t know how to.

Finally, Reese and Finch talk by the river. Edwards may finally be able to take his own counsel, and move on with, or rather towards the friendly Becca, who is definitely interested in him. Was Morris the killer? The only one who knows is the Machine, and you don’t just reach in and extract information. If Morris is indeed a killer, and proposes to kill again, they will be there. And the camera pans out to show Morris down on the shoreline. They are already watching him.

Then we pull away into the Machine. It is accessing records, from 2007, compiling data. It alone knows the truth about this murder. And the bastards cut to black and the credits before we see a single second of those records. Bastards!


3 thoughts on “Person of Interest: s04 e17 – Karma

  1. “Karma” [4×17]
    Written By: Sabir Pirzada and Hillary Benefiel
    Directed By: Chris Fisher
    Originally Aired 10 March 2015

    “Karma” makes for a very nice rebound from last week’s absolute clunker. To the disappointment of many at the time of its release, it doesn’t refocus the season on Samaritan. It’s another case. At least it’s a good one though. Person of Interest was accused of trotting out tired, over-used plots a lot in Season 1, and this certainly doesn’t fit those criteria. I’ve never seen a story about a therapist taking revenge on who wronged his patients. It’s a good hook that the story commits to and follows through on. It is enjoyable to watch as a viewer, but in reality, he’s wasting his life, and he’s not helping his patients. Revenge won’t help them. Not a new theme in literature (hello Moby Dick), but it seems to me when it comes to writing, it’s all in the execution. “Karma” struck me as a thoughtful installment of Person of Interest that avoids melodrama to its benefit. It’s simply a man who misses his wife.

    Grade: B+

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