Person of Interest: s05 e03 – Truth be Told

A normal life

Within this episode, Person of Interest came as close as it could to reminding us of the sleek, elegant, tightly-plotted procedural we first discovered. There was a Number of the Week to be investigated, Alex Duncan (Stephen Plunkett), to be tracked and traced at close range by John Reese in a secure cover prepared in advance by Harold Finch. Why was he taking photographs of classified documents? Was he a spy, betraying people who will die? Was he in danger from his actions? Questions we used to relish finding answers to.

But this is season 5. It’s short. What would have been twenty-two, twenty-three episodes have to be got through in thirteen. Phantom branches, stories set in motion, have to be cut off. Nothing is what it seems to be any more. Even Finch’s monologue to introduce the episode is perverted, intercut with the voice of Greer, twisting the words to speak them from Samaritan’s perspective.

The episode started in flashback, to 2010, Reese still a CIA agent. He and Kara Stanton are assigned to investigate a Major in Afghanistan, suspected of involvement with a missing shipment of Stinger Missiles, Major Brent Tomlinson. They’re assigned by Special Agent Terence Beale (Keith David).

In the present, Reese is trying to lead a more normal life. He’s late for a lunch date with Iris Campbell and her parents because he’s punching out a would-be killer in the toilets. Then he’s trailing Alex Duncan, until the Number is picked up off the street. By the CIA. By Beale.

Root is working too. She’s sent by the Machine to become a UPS package deliverer, wearing those dark blue mid-thigh length shorts that could make anyone look ridiculous. Why is she doing that? Because a massive number of packages from electronics companies are being diverted to an incorrect address before being re-routed to their proper destination.

Reese has a problem. The flashback is moving forward inexorably. He and Stanton invade Tomlinson’s quarters. She does the talking. Reese stays still and silent. Tomlinson talks, cynical but straight, the innocent man, until he starts to bluster and Reese shoots him. Only afterwards does Stanton find the money. Reese didn’t know where it was, obvious as the hiding place had become. But he knew that Tomlinson doth protest too much.

And he’s determined to pull out Duncan, despite the fact that if Beale makes him – and we know he will – it will spell disaster. John Reese is dead, and he’d better stay that way. But Reese has a Number to protect. He will not be deflected by considerations of his own safety. He gets Duncan out, temporarily.

But for long enough to find out why Duncan was snooping. It was about his older brother, Paul, dying ‘heroically’ in action yet in circumstances the military won’t reveal. Why? How? Time and again the questions that demand answers. The answer was that Paul Duncan was on assignment under a false name. That of Brent Tomlinson.

It’s an answer Reese can’t give him. But it’s an answer Terence Beale might, capturing Reese, a Ghost, and Duncan, with intent to quiz. Beale taunts both, coming close to spilling beans that Reese is determined to keep in the pot. Duncan knows his brother was under investigation. Reese tells Duncan that his brother was innocent, and did die, heroically, in a late air-strike. Beale, for reasons of his own but, on the face of it, a mixture of surprise and amiration, backs him up. Alex has the answer he wants, the only one that will shut him down, end his quest, allow him to move on. Reese gets him away.

Root enlists Finch to check one of the packages now heading to the right address. They discover malware, serious malware, that steals all a computer’s data and sends it to Samaritan. It does more but what it does is unknown. Finch doesn’t want to touch it, fearful of the risk. But the Machine has sent another Number, a long one, all in binary. It’s an Emily Dickinson poem, about metamorphosis. About Change.

Root runs the malware on an isolated laptop, to see what it will do. They are in a War. They have to change. They have to take the Risk or they’ve already lost. A strand put in place.

Beale pops up at the end, on the street. Duncan is far away and if he’s ever hassled again, the story of ‘Brent Tomlinson’ will come out. As for Reese, Beale’s omitted him from his report. What for? Good question, to which there is no real answer. Respect for Reese. An understanding that what he is doing is not far removed from his old job but directed towards saving, not taking lives? Beale likes the idea of knowing that Reese is out there, a Ghost. Pity Beale never comes back.

One final flashback, to set up the ending of a phantom branch. Kara Stanton tells Reese why he was chosen: because he has had no family since his adoptive mother died. Because he has no-one to go back to. Neither does she. People like them, they don’t get to lead a normal life.

So John Reese puts an end to his attempt to lead a normal life with Iris Campbell. She accepts with rather more equanimity than I might have expected, but then she reads people for a living, and anyway, time is running short, both in this episode and in overall terms. No time for this story, a thread laid in planning for six seasons, to be cut off when all you get is four and a half. Mr Reese, we have a new Number. You don’t get to lead a normal life.

11 thoughts on “Person of Interest: s05 e03 – Truth be Told

  1. “Truth be Told” [5×03]
    Written By: Erik Mountain
    Directed By: Stephen Surjik

    Originally Aired 10 May 2016

    “Truth Be Told” is a return to the style of S1 ‘Person of Interest’. There’s a Root/Finch subplot as well thrown in there. Overall, I can’t say I’m too thrilled with the return of the format. The case at hand isn’t overly engaging (Keith David is as good as ever), nor do we get any especially insightful look into the psyche of John Reese, unlike last season’s masterpiece ‘Terra Incognita’. In addition, Iris is written out unceremoniously, by demands of this season’s shortened order, something I will always lament. There’s clearly so much rich material in this show to explore–they could have easily done 6 full seasons. Regardless, there were some good scenes between the two in therapy, not much would’ve been lost by leaving it there. I do think this breakup is in character for Reese, though. Unlike the post-Carter, pre-‘Terra Incognita’ Reese, he’s not fatalistically stumbling through life hoping to catch a bullet. He ends things with Iris because he has to for the greater good (and because this is a shortened season). He’s still got that same sense of vigor Carter restored in him. The Root/Finch scavenger hunts are as enjoyable as ever, this time ending with the discovery of a laptop with Samaritan on it. Hmmmmm…..It’s nice to see the return of Stanton, but as the third episode of a 13-episode final season, it doesn’t entirely feel essential.

    Grade: B.

    1. There’ll always be disagreements as to what should be preserved for a shortened conclusion, and the answer ‘everything that’s essential’ only has meaning if you know all of the options. Iris had to be written out, not just left on some street corner somewhere, and I’m not averse to a final nostalgic run to the old war horse’s trail, especially when Reese is so vehementy attached to Numbers. I think of it as Reese making an ultimate choice between two versions of a normal life, one he can never have and one that has been his salvation for years, and choosing the only one he knows himself suited to. John has sealed his fate now: from here to the final episode is only time. Sometimes you don’t have to be essential to be necessary.

      1. I’m not opposed to tackling a number either, in concept. But there could have been more memorable ways to accomplish that, I think.

        I agree the Iris situation had to be dealt with. It’s just a shame that after all the buildup and attention devoted to her in S4, this is all that comes of it. But such is life when you’re screwed by your network……….

  2. Maybe so. But in this instance, I go with the decision to bind it in with Reese’s past, after which the shape of the episode was inevitable. Looking outward and inward…

    1. I couldn’t read it in full, I got pissed off at the ‘ain’t-I-so-fucking-funny/clever’ style then I got pissed off at the mistakes and mischaracterisations and the ongoing jerk-iness of it made me want to tell the guy what a shitty writer he was. Sorry.

  3. Thinking more about it, Reese never would have ended up with Iris and a picket fence. It just wouldn’t make sense for his character, what we know about him, and what we will learn about him in the future.

    1. No, but I think we’d all have liked to see him get a longer shot at it.

      Or would the plan have been to make her into a Grace-style target who may not have been rescued…

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