Person of Interest: s04 e02 – Nautilus

The Number That Got Away

A few years ago, I blogged a short series Italian crime drama, Inspector DiLuca (I think it was called). It was set in Fascist Italy, under Mussollini and one of its aspects was the problem of solving crime in a criminal country. The second episode of season 4 took a similar turn: how can the helpers of the Machine protect Numbers in a society where honesty cannot exist?

‘Nautilus’ set out to show us a way in which it can be done. It made a first step to draw us back to normality by reinstating Finch’s opening monologue, unchanges, with the twist that the surveillance feeds are drawn now from Samaritan, not ur operating-in-secret Machine. And there is a new meaning to the key word Irrelevant, applying to each of our secret quartet who, each time they are identified as enemies are reclassed as Irrelevant.

Everyone is separate under different covers. At least they can talk on the phone on their private, secure network, and Detective Riley invites Professor Whistler for a late night coffee. Except a Detective’s paperwork is hell so Riley doesn’t turn up. But Clare Mahoney (Quinn Shephard) does. And Clare’s a Number.

She’s a Number vouxchsafed to Reese, not Finch, who wants nothing to do with her. They don’t do that any more. Well, he doesn’t. But Clare’s a brilliant Math student, a chess master, an asset of major proportions and not unlike Finch himself.

She’s also a thin-faced, not unattractive young woman with no concern for anything but a game she’s playing, or rather a competition she’s set on winning. A series of genius level mathematical puzzles laid out as a Treasure Hunt across New York, each clue marked with the sign of a Nautilus Shell, a shell whose chambers are a natural logorithmic progression (thank you, Root)

It’s a competition being played out in different cities at 27 day intervals, first to solve it wins. And Clare is determined on being the winner, for good or ill, and the intensity that Shephard brings to the part convinces us early on that tis is not going to be a good thing to win. It’s going to take a high level of genius not to mention a kind of desperation-fuelled ruthlessness, and people don’t set underground competitions for that kind of person to recruit staff to care for fluffy bunnies.

The episode tries to peg Clare’s fanaticism to the random death of both her parents a year before and her subsequent search for meaning, but that to me seemed entirely too facile, and rational. Shephard was, if anything, too good at embodying Clare’s utter obsession for it to have an external reason; this woman was screwed a long time before from within.

There was an added complication in the form of Silverpool, a private military company whose files Clare had hacked to win an earlier round without ever being bothered by their contents, which could bring the company down. Reese cwas following Clare to keep her safe, Silverpool were following her to kill her and retrieve the file and Finch was trying to reach her on a psychlogical level, because something was bad about all this, something seriously stunk and it was the puzzle’s creator: Samaritan.7

But Clare was lost before we first met her, driven by her obsession to win, intent on constructing a meaning around herself, the structure being her sole concern and the exact meaning… meaningless.

Clare walked away to Samaritan. Silverpool whent down. So too did its big project a surveillance system built to utilise and analyse Government feeds. A potential rival for Samaritan, shot down in flames; how convenient.

But Clare served yet another purpose, this time one not of Samaritan’s design. She brought Harold Finch back into play, the underground space he discovered last week being an abandoned subway service tunnel wired to be undetectable. It’s not the Library, but it’s a new base from which to fight back, and the mayhem twins are no longer working without back-up.

The game is once more afoot, even in an abnormal world.

One SkandiThriller too many…

So I’m just thinking that, you self-isolate one whole Sunday, not even getting a paper and what do they do? They spring an unexpected SkandiThriller on you in the good old BBC4 9.00pm, Saturday slot. It’s called Twin, and on the heels of Wisting it’s another Norwegian one. And it’s full of good awesome mountain scenery.

And what’s it about? It’s about these identical twins, Adam and Erik, both played by Kristofer Hijvu,both tall, burly with long red beards. The twins haven’t seen each other for 15 years because they’re completely different characters.

Erik’s a surfing instructor if he’s anything, which is another way of saying he’s a lazy, shiftless bum, a freeloader who thinks he’s entitled to whatever he wants, completely irresponsible, a thief and a lawbreaker many times over in the first thirty minutes and still he thinks he should get what he wants when he wants it. In short, a total arsehole.

Adam, in contrast, is clean-living and upright, a married man with a wife and two children and a business. He’s also so big a stiff you could poke the fire with the poker shoved up his backside.

Erik comes to Adam for help, well, basically, to be taken care of at everybody else’s expense. Adm won’t have anything to do with him and orders him to go. Erik won’t (he only understands the word ‘No’ when he’s the one saying it). The two get into a fight on the boat Erik’s about to steal because he has to have somewhere to crash. Adam’s wife, intervening with a boathook, inadvertently kills Adam.

The plot of the series is that she then asks Erik, who everybody he usually rips off thinks is dead because he’s let them, being an emotional vampire as well as every other kind, to pretend to be Adam.

Why? What for? And with what consequences?

Well, you’ll have to tell me. Because this was the point I switched off. Because I was completely cold about Adam and I loathed Erik. Because I would sooner paddle in squishy shit in my bare feet than watch a programme about that kind of character. Because there isn’t the fantastic Norwegian scenery under the sun that can compensate for putting up with this waste of a human being who, even if ground up in a meat-grinder, would poison the pigs he was fed to.

Jeez, I’d rather watch a hundred new series featuring Maverick Mess…

No recaps, not even to snark. This one I don’t want to know.

I’d even rather watch a third series of Black Lake…

Lou Grant: s03 e23 – Guns

A patriot

Oh boy.

That was my reaction to this episode’s title, knowing America’s relationship with guns and the right to bear arms. But this story wasn’t about gun control, despite the programme showing its hand with on, deliberately comic line.

No, this was about something bigger than that, and about something a lot closer to our home, because it was about the IRA, and the ongoing Troubles.

The episode began with a break-in at a gun shop and the methodical theft of eleven automatic rifles, banned from sale but part of the owner’s private collection. His was the positional statement that got slipped in: challenging Rossi’s lack of interest in his position on gun control, his answer was, ‘Like any sane person, I’m against it!’.

The first real giveaway to the story’s true aim came in McKenna’s at lunch. Owner Maggie McKenna (played by future Golden Girl Rue McLannahan) is over from Ireland for the night’s big St Patrick’s Day party, and she’s shaking the collection tin for starving children back there. The wives and children of the men held in prison in the North.

It’s an old story now, swept thankfully to the pages of history and, we fervently hope, confined forever there, but this was about the support given to the IRA by Americans, support in money, support in guns, support in money-for-guns, bought in Los Angeles and smuggled back to the old country. And the programme trod carefully, allowing the Freedom Fighters their say about what they were doing, justifying their actions, their use of force as unwelcome but necessary, as force was the only thing the Oppressor understood, without condemning them in any but a polite, cautious manner.

In its way, it was a history lesson, a pertinent reminder to those of us who lived through those times. There was a reminder of the death of Earl Mountbatten that brought back in an instant where I was and what I was doing when that news broke, in 1979, on Anglesey, and there were two women, housewives and mothers, one Protestant, one Catholic, to recall the Mother’s Peace Process, wanting nothing but an end to fear and death.

The programme allowed those who represented the cause to make their argument a point of principle whilst allowing the viewer to make up their own mind on the extent to which the death of ordinary people was justifiable by any principle. It allowed the supporters to condemn themaselves out of their own mouths via the passionate but unthinking Maggie, at one point relishing the takeover of the North and showing the protestants what it feels like, and at another refusing to even think about how the British could be removed from Ireland without the very real damage a precipitate withdrawal could cause. Yet Maggie would also be the means by which the episode offered its sole hope of minds changing.

First though, there was Francie Fitzgerald (Redman Gleeson), intrduced by Maggie to Lou as a fellw journalist. Francie was one of those easy-going sons of the blarney and it’s to Gleeson’s credit that, whilst playing him to the hilt as an Irish charmer, he kept him the right side of an Oirish caricature. You liked Francie, you’d have a beer and the craic with him any day, but he was the militant, the gun-runner, stealing Lou’s Driving Licence and Social security card to set up a fake, gun-buying identity.

Francie also turned out a target at the last. He had doubts, or so he said, he wanted to resign, or so he said, but you don’t get to resign. Besides, he was too sloppy, known to the FBI and the Police. So a bomb was planted under Francie’s car.

But this was the show’s only serious failing, and that because of what it was and when this was, and what it couldn’t show. Two kids were throwing ball in the garden. One threw it too hard and it rolled under Francie’s car. The other went scrabbling for it. The show underplayed it too much, neither taking you by surprise nor tightening your stomach with tension of the ‘oh no, they’re not going to…’ kind. We didn’t even hear a bang. Just Police sirens, Rossi arriving to see a totalled car, and a far too offhand resigned line from a Detective to tell us the kid was killed. The moment was thrown away.

At least it had its decent aftermath. The epilogue took place in McKenna’s where a drunken buffoon announced Francie’s death in sententious tones of faked regret. Rossi corrected him: Francie got away, to which the buffoon cheered. Lou told him to tell the rest: our barometer buffoon sighed about it always being the innocent suffer in this war, but in the only shaft of light possible, Maggie herself, the unthinking patriot, told him to shut up. And she tok the collecting jars from the tables and put them away in back.

Back in 1980, that was pretty much the only hope anyone ever dared have about the Troubles, that minds be changed, one by one. I thught that the episode suffered from not once giving the viewpoint of the North, coming closest with Art Donovan’s refusal to be co-opted by reason of his Irish roots and making the practical point that the British simply can’t be thrown out bag and baggage on the next boat, much as the simplistic Maggie wanted.

It was a strong and memorable episode, my choice for the best of season 3. It did its best to stay neutral from an editorial perspective, concentrating upon death and misery rather than the politics, and I’ve tried to do the same today. My curse has always been to see the rights and wrongs of both sides in such situations as this, and whilst my instincts always come down against the users of violence, I do know that sometimes it is necesary, in the same way that Hitler and Nazism could, in the long run, only be overcome by blood and destruction. All I can say is that it is complicated and blessed are the peace-makers of every stripe.

I am so glad that this story is, for now at least, out of date.

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 abut 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  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 wwill 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 t risk: Martine Rousseau is already on the scene…

But there has been  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 is 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 eroes 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.

Lou Grant: s03 e22 – Influence

I mentioned only last week that the aproach of the end of a Lou Grant season has me feeling some form of burn-out, especially if I’m watching a didactic episode: shall we take a break befre continuing. And equally regularly, as if it senses my doubts forty years ahead, the series bounces back with a good, strong, personal episode that refreshes the palate and leaves me set on continuing this rewatch uninterrupted.

‘Influence’ was another of those split stories, the two halves essentially unconnected but both a commentary upon the title in differing degrees, and given enough equal measure as to not be an A-and-B story set-up.

The episode featured the series’ most regular guest in a Guest Star role for the first and only time. Allen Williams has been playing the role of Adam Wilson, straight-laced Finance Editor for ages, and appearing in the opeing credits since the start of season 2, but one half of the story is about him.

Adam, clean-cut, Mr suit-and-tie, is an alcoholic. It’s a surprise, at odds with his persona, but isn’t that so often the case? It’s getting to the point where his marriage is breaking down over it, he’s goofing off, he’s letting down his colleagues, messing up his job, and he’s getting other people to cover for him. The story starts when he starts to bring Lou into his personal circle of deceit, helping him avoid consequences that would tip over his carefully constructed system of ling to himself.

Lou plays along for a while. Rossi, who has been through all this with his own Dad, insists on Lou coming round for dinner with his old man, to learn that covering for Adam is the worst he can do. He has to go into tough love, to force Adam to recognise the worst in himself and manouevre him towards rehab.

It’s a neat little story, made all the more effective by happening to a character we know and, generally, like, instead of some invented on the spot guest with whom we have no familiarity, and the effect is doubled by the small degree to which Adam is affected by his condition: he’s a high-functioning drunk, smooth and capable, but still self-deluding.

The only drawback is that this is 1980. How much, if any, of this will feature in future episodes?

The other half of the story was a much higher-level and, in its own way, story of influence, and also corruption. Mrs Pynchon is tremendously flattered to be invited to join ‘The Circle’, a self-appointed group of influential and very rich businessmen engaged on sweeping projects that not only make money but which improve LA’s infrastructure and the wellbeing of its people. Their current project is a second LA airport, to relieve pressure on LAX and create jobs etc.

The Trib’s already covering that project, in the form of new environmental writer Nick Bowyer (James Whitmore Jr). Bowyer, a forerunner of the UK’s George Monbiot, is against the project for its envirmental impact on unspoiled country. He’s pinting out obvious flaws:  the 60 mile distance from LA, the lack of roads, the imposibility of creating satisfactory transport, the surrounding high mountains…

The Circle doesn’t  like the Trib’s coverage. They want Mrs Pynchon in the tent with them, peeing out, and she, who isalready unhappy with Bowyer’s relentless negativism, is only too happy to support her paper rethinking its approach. It’s the same old story of the road to Hell being paved with good intentions: she’s a perfect fit for the Circle, being Patrician as all get out. So much good can be done once she’s inside the tent. She wants Bowyer fired, she wants an ‘objective’ look at all the good this scheme can and will do.

So Billie gets landed with the task of being objectively for this. But Billie is objective: she uncovers the scandal waiting to explode. Yes, the Circle has donated, free, thousands of acres of land to this project, but it’s retained hundreds of thousands of acres that will be invaluable if the airport goes ahead, whilst the free thousands are worthless withut an airport being built in the first place…

And Margaret Pynchon, however Patrician she may be, is to honest and too much the newspaperwoman, wedded to the facts, to go on.

A tale of two influences, one ultimately used to the painful benefit of another, and one withdrawn, for the equivocal benefit of many. After all, LA still needs another airport, and who’s to say that this might not have been what was needed?

So that leaves two more chances before season 3 ends to influence my thinking on a break. Where will we be, three weeks from today? Still in LA, or…

Person of Interest: s03 e23 – Deus Ex Machina

Court in session

It isn’t ever going to be the same again, but how many times have I said that already this season? Joss Carter’s death wasn’t all that long ago, and its aftermath extended, but do we even remember her now, as things have shifted, both violently and inexorably, over the last third of the season. Where would she fit into our rapidly dying little world? What role might she play?

Deus Ex Machina. The God in the Machine. What, might we suppose, will the Machine do as Vigilance and Peter Collier play Trial-and-Execution with her creator?

Be very careful. This is a story of defeat, of almost total defeat, and the destruction of everything Person of Interest has been to date. It is the story of quite complex plotting, stretching back over years, to create the very circumstances that start this episode, when Peter Collier – a fanatic whose fanaticism is brought out brilliantly by Leslie Odom Jr, whose whole body glows with the self-righteousness of those who know – puts the enemies of the world on trial. Presidential aide Manuel Rivera, Senator Ross Garrison, Control, John Greer… and Harld Finch.

Their trial, the debates, the anger in Collier’s inability to see any other point of view and his insistence that his brother’s case is the entirety of the system instead of a potential outlier, these are the stuff of the episode. And the ‘defendants’ responses: Rivera’s furious and shouting challenge to Vigilance’s ‘power’ to do this that gets him summarily executed, proving Mao Zedong’s maxim that power grows from the barrel of a gun, Garrison’s political weaseling and throwing Control under a bus, her calm non-answers in the knowledge she will be killed.

All of this is more asorbing that the outer elements of the plot, the almost mundane strands. Reese and Hersh form an unlikely but oddly effective partnership, going to Finch’s rescue, whilst Shaw takes off to cover Root’s back as she plugs her seven servers into Samaritan.

And Harold, unable to see anyone being killed if there is a way he can save them. Finch gives away the most important secret of them all, that he designed and built the Machine, as a quid pro quo for Vigilance letting the other three live. Of course he’s wasted his breath, of course Collier will still kill everyone. he doesn’t even listen to Finch explain everything. He has erected the straw figure in his mind and no amount of testimony, or honesty or evidence to the contrary will serve to deflect him from that one true image in his mind, that vital truth that only he sees, knows and understands.

hersh and Reese are on the way, but it’s planned out. It has been from before Peter Collier’s brother was picked up for something we cannot be certain he didn’t do. Many things can be made to look what they are not, especially for those who are looking for what they want to see.

Decima find Vigilance’s ‘court’ first because they’s always known where it is. Hersh finds a mega bomb in the basement and tries, bravely, instinctively and unavailingly, to defuse it. The bomb, and the loss of collateral life, is Vigilance’s swansong. It, and everything, has been Greer’s plan: establishing Vigilance as a useful devil, grooming Collier, setting them up as fall guys, all to tip the balance. The bomb goes off, Garrison authorises Samaritan, which will go live within the hour. Collier is shot and killed, Finch would be but for the intervention of Reese.

But the defeat is overwhelming. Everythng is gone. Root’s servers weren’t meant to shut Samaritan down, they couldn’t. Instead, they create seven blind spots – herself, Shaw, Reese, Finch and the three computer nerds. When Samaritan comes looking for them, and that’s the first thing Greer will have it do, it will have seven blind spots.

So Team Machine will live but that’s all they can do.Seven new identities, prepared by Root, seven separated lives. The Library lost, smashed by Decima. Everything lost. Going different ways. No more numbers, no more missions, just  living under the most wide-ranging radar there has ever been.

What will they do? What can they do?

It’s time for season 4.

Lou Grant: s03 e21 – Dogs

A happy ending

It’s noticeable, to me at any rate, that I start to get a bit weary of Lou Grant towards the end of a season and start to wonder about taking a break, cleansing the palate, etc. The first half of this episode which reverted to the show’s occasional and always-dull didacticism, re-awoke that feeling.

The show began with Mrs Pynchon’s ever-present Yorkshire Terrier lapdog, Barney, being taken from her car in a parking lot. As we’d already seen suspicious people, in denims, baseball caps and sleeveless puffer-jackets (it was like a uniform) paying out large sums to carry out an unspecified but clearly dodgy arrangement, the pieces clicked into place rapidly.

Barney, it turned out, had not been stolen to fight but for ‘conditioning’, the process by which a fighting breed of dog – the then little-known Pit Bull Terrier – is trained to kill by ripping apart a smaller dog. Mrs Pynchon’s grief was palpable, and any pet owner would have empathised, but it was mingled with her patrician nature that made her feel embarrassed at mourning a mere animal, and Nancy Marquand was excellent in balancing all her emotions.

The Trib set out to find out more about these dog-fighters, with the aid of the stiff-backed Jim Lawrence (Geoffrey Lewis) of the Humane Society, who was one of several characters who had to deliver dollops of didactic exposition to the audience to explain the scale, tactics and ultra-secretiveness of this frankly disgusting practice. And because it was so disgusting, we were never going to see any actual scenes of what it entailed, for which one member of the audience at least was profoundly grateful.

The episode picked up in the second half when Rossi went underground to infiltrate the circuit, in a manner that was very cleverly written. Nothing was said or done that did not fit into his assumed persona and, given the heavily masculinist atmosphere, in which the fighting dogs themselves were effectively a symbol of the male wish to attack, rend and destroy in person, made us very jumpy.

Ultimately, we see two dogs about to face each other. Rossi, his stomach giving way at last, betrays himself and his wire and is given a good, mainly offscreen kicking, resulting in facial bruising, a broken left arm and, given the way he was moving, at least one cracked rib, but everyone is arrested.

Then came the kicker. The penalty these disgusting subhumans would face is a fine of $50. Rossi set out to write a story that would change people’s attitudes to the subject and, by a for once wonderful irony, Robert Walden credits this episode with being instrumental in changing legislation to make dog-fighting a felony, which is great to hear.

There was a second string to this story, in Mrs Pynchon herself. The gang buy her a Yorkie puppy, a bright-as-a-button scrap of untidy fur, to replace Barney but, still choked up over her loss, she rejects him. Lou wins up with the dog himself, that is, until Mrs Pynchon comes round to ask for it. Despite Lou having started to get attached, he hnds the pup over instantly. Mission accomplished, some kind of happy ending.

And a half-decent episode too. I wonder how I’ll feel after three more?