Person of Interest: s04 e21 – Asylum


It’s all gone pear-shaped

This is how it’s done. This is how to go from a standing start to a cliff-edge climax in which everything is placed at risk in only 43 minutes. This is how to race, headlong, at a brick wall, and still not show the impact. That comes next week, in the season finale.

‘Asylum’ took what felt like half a dozen weeks of story and crammed them into one episode, without short-changing any aspect of what was needed, whilst touching upon a million angles, whilst flirting with the greatest of disasters, and bringing in a host of guests, only one of whom was new to the series. Control, Greer, Rousseau, Elias, Dominic, Link, Harper, without cramping or overload.

Instead of the by-now-common two stories there were three. A middle-aged primary school teacher named Shelley Spencer (Erin Dilly) had her brakes cut and crashed on a deserted parking garage ramp. She’s black-bagged, a dead blonde is placed in her car, it’s blown up. Shelley Spencer is dead, and she’s going to be, unless she admits what she is to Control. Admits she’s an agent-handler for Samaritan, including moles in the ISA. But Shelley is merely a frightened middle-school teacher, a mother of two, the victim of a desperate mistake, doomed to be killed for being unable to give answers she doesn’t have.

Detectives ‘Riley’ and Fusco are called to a murder scene, four dead Brotherhood soldiers, without warning from the Machine: how could that happen? But the Machine has a warning, a Number, two Numbers: Carl Elias and Dominick. The War is coming to a head. It needs to be averted for the sake of the innocents between who will be killed. There’s a canister that explains everything and gives away Elias’s whereabouts, a pneumatic canister, a relic of the pneumatic tube system of communication that underlines Manhttan Island, incapable of electronic interception or surveillance, because it isn’t in any way electronic.

Riley and Fusco visit Elias’s headquarters. They are not welcome, nor are their efforts to intercede. But before they can leave, the Brotherhood attack in force. They take the bank, they take everyone. Dominick is leader but can he lead? He wants ‘Riley’ and Finch working for him now. He wants Elias to acknowledge his leadership. He taunts him over his role in Anthony’s death: what does that feel like? Be careful what you wish for, Elias replies.

Dominick also wants Harold and his network. How does he even know about Harold? Someone told him, someone for whom only money matters, who constantly lies, cheats, twists and who has not an atom of loyalty in her body except to herself. Harper Rose will sell out nyone for the right price.

And this, not either of her first two appearances, is why I loathe Harper. She has no conception of Good or Evil, just of Me and Them, and by her actions she has betrayed half our team to death, destruction and the end of the world.

But that leaves Finch and Root, the cerebral half of the battle. A message rings through on Sameen Shaw’s phone, a half-line, a plea for help. Shaw is alive. It’s a trap, the most obvious of traps, but that doen’t deter Root. Shaw is out there, she has failed her once, she will not do so again. It takes playing chicken on a ledge thirty floors up, placing her own life in the most proximate of danger, but Root forces the Machine to give up Shaw’s location, a government-run Asylum. Just like the one Finch put her in. Now, Root commits him as a means of getting both into the building.

Which is Samaritan’s base of operations. Rousseau confronts Root. They are both captured. Greer will have Root’s cochlear implant cut out to locate the whereabouts of the Machine. Rousseau will torture Harold. Everybody will die, the whole thing is over, Samaritan will win.

And the future will be a boot stamping on a human face, forever.

But we are not done. Control proves Shelley is lying. Shelley’s character turns in an instant. The Correction is coming, on May 6, something that will change the world forever. It’s nothing more than Control has done all her life. Shelley says “Go home to your loved ones. Hold your daughter tight, because a new day is dawning. And those who impede progress – the disruptive, the aberrant – will be systematically purged from our society. There will be no mercy. No stay of execution. For some, this will be the end. But for others, a rebirth. A second chance to live the life they were designed for. Every life given a purpose. Samaritan will build a new world. A better world.” Control says “Too bad you won’t live to see it.” and shoots her through the chest.

Dominick realises Elias has a rat in the Brotherhood. He tortures Elias, he tortures ‘Riley’ and Fusco. He threatens Elias with having all his loyal men killed unless he gives up the rat. Elias painfully accedes, provides a bank account number. It is traced. Dominick asks Link, his right-hand-man, his trusted lieutenant, his oldest friend, what to do about this traitor. Link repeats his already given advice: you don’t just hit back, you put them in the ground. Dominick guns him down. Link was the rat.

But he wasn’t. There was no rat. It was a beautifully executed play by Elias, knowing he was going to lose the War anyway and undermining Dominick first. Dominick can’t trust anyone now, he’s killed the only one he did. His men won’t trust him.

And he knows what it feels like to be responsible for the death of a friend.

In the asylum, Rousseau will make Finch’s torture painful. Root warns her not to lay a hand upon him. In response, Rousseau carresses Finch’s face. Then she leans over Root. Who, in a moment of shocking brevity, pins Rousseau’s hand to the bed, grabs her neck and snaps it. Harold is shocked by Greer’s complete indifference to the loss of an ally, threatens him with the prospect that one day Greer will be found dispensible by Samaritan: Greer sneers that Harold is arrogant to think that any of them are indispensible. He’s about to get a lesson.

There’s a deal on the table: Harold and Root’s life for the Machine’s location. Despite Root’s imploring not to do it, that Harold is right to say she and he are interchangeable for the Machine’s purposes, the Machine disagrees. It apologises for failing Shaw. It will not fail Harold and Root. They must be released first. Samaritan accepts the offer. The Machine reveals its location. Samaritan marshalls its forces. It is the end. Everybody lost.

Forty-three minutes.

9 thoughts on “Person of Interest: s04 e21 – Asylum

  1. “Asylum” [4×21]
    Written By: Andy Callahan and Denise Thé
    Directed By: Frederick E. O. Toye

    Your words: this is how you do it. And I couldn’t agree more. What is ‘it’ though? Why, it’s ratcheting up three separate story-lines to unbearably high levels that all interweave and comment on each other. Let’s start with the first two, which are concerned with the old guard clashing with the new. Neither Elias or Dominic are forces for good by any stretch of the imagination. They’re both ruthless, murderous mob bosses. Nonetheless, Elias has been tolerated by the show’s protagonists–and there’s a difference between him and Dominic, one fatal flaw that Dominic has that does him in. He views relationships as disposable and doesn’t really trust anyone. It was established fairly well back in the merely decent ‘Point of Origin’. He’s also paranoid as all hell, so he doesn’t hesitate to dispose of Link when doubt arises. Elias holds those relationships as sacrosanct, and that is why he accepts that Dominic has him beat on many fronts–but he can still take his revenge for his friend’s death. The Machine, too, views it acolytes as valuable. It sacrifices its location to save Root and Finch. Samaritan doesn’t bat an eyelash when Root snaps Martine’s neck like uncooked spaghetti (necks don’t snap that easily, but I’ll let it slide). We’ll see how this plays out next week.

    Last week, Reese and Carter engaged in a heady philosophical debate about whether people can change. Many shows, even acclaimed ones like ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The Sopranos’, agreed with Reese–locations may change and even mobsters have a conscience, but that doesn’t mean they’ll change their ways. ‘Person of Interest”s worldview is more aligned with ‘The Wire”s–an indifferent-at-best attitude towards institutions while still maintaining an idealistic belief in a few honest people to try their best to make a difference. Or, to quote Finch from ‘Relevance’, setting out to correct the world’s wrongs without adding to them. I should have brought that up last week, but I bring it up here because even Control gets to show personal growth–even the villains on ‘PoI’ get that credit. Will it be too late for her, though? We’ll have to wait and see.

    Grade: A. Possibly even stronger than ‘A House Divided’, as far as penultimates go.

      1. If you had to compare this to ‘Zero Day’ and ‘A House Divided’, which would come out on top?

        The pacing of this back half has been a little weird, but the final few episodes go a long way towards remedying that. This one leaves me pretty stunned every time.

  2. I’ve just been re-reading my blogs on those episodes. It’s very hard to distinguish between them, and the distinction is fine at best. I would demote Zero Day, and make Asylum the best, but only by a hair.

    1. With ‘A House Divided’ in the middle?

      Ya know, you’re right–it’s pretty hard to compare when the quality is so consistently high………….It must’ve been a rather long wait until you got to watch the finale this morning.

      1. Oh, indubitably.

        I’ve re-checked. The penultimate episode falls to be watched the day before my birthday. I will not wait seven days to watch the last one. A gift to myself.

  3. It’s quite remarkable how well this episode succeeded despite all of its challenges. The main story had only moved in increments since Shaw’s disappearance, and this episode had to ramp everything back up to 11 without feeling rushed.

    No one’s going to claim that Season 4 was as well executed as 3, but this two-parter did quite the remarkable job in sticking the landing to this season, despite its problems with pacing and cohesion that seasons 2 and 3 didn’t have (not entirely–both took some time to get going, but they are better paced as a whole). I still rank it above 2, in fact. No S2 episode reaches the heights of If-Then-Else.

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