Person of Interest: s02 e10 – Shadow Box

Oh, wow! This is where things really start to roll.

This far into Person of Interest‘s life, there have always been backround elements telling something of a broader story, and there was the season-crossing three parter concerning Finch’s kidnapping by Root (who gets a mention this week, to remind us of the lady), but there has been no directly continued story, until now. This week we had a cliffhanger ending.

The Number of the Week story was again well-planned, taut, intricate. Jessica Collins played Abby Monroe, outwardly a paragon: well-educated, thoughtful, in a socially worthy job with a charity offering low cost mortgages to returning ex-soldiers. In every respect the archetypal victim, as soon as you can find the enemy.

The enemy turned out to be Philip Chapple, Abby’s ex-boss, who had fired her and framed her for stealing. The loans were a scam, interest rates becoming unpayable within a year, foreclosure, one Bank selling them on and splitting the profit with Chapple. By setting Abby up, Chapple cut off going to the Law. So Abby, sister of a soldier who didn’t make it, teamed up with victim and boyfriend Shayne Coleman (Brian J Smith), ex-Army munitions expert with a prosthetic arm, in a plan to access Chapple’s safe deposit box and steal back the money.

It’s dangerous, and they’re highly suspicious of Messrs Reese and Finch, though they needn’t be: Reese has a thing about veterans being messed with and he ends up assisting in the execution of the robbery. That’s where it all goes wrong.

But this is the Number of the Week story, and that’s far from all we got. There’s Detective Cal Beacher hanging round Joss Carter: he enjoyed dinner (and from her smile I’d guess she did too), and wants to do it again. Carter’s re-opening the Davidson case, after the tip-off last week: she asks Beacher if he knew Davidson. Fusco, on the periphery, is worried about this, starts checking Beacher out. He’s a bit flash, best of everything, hints that he may be on the take. He’s certainly connected, as the Machine makes plain, to Alonzo Quinn, head of the vastly shrunken HR. In fact, he’s Quinn’s godson.

And Quinn and Simmons are plannning to rebuild HR. Now Elias has emphatically shut down that connection, they’re looking for a new revenue stream. An association with the Russian mob?

But the biggest movement in the ‘background’ is the reappearance of Special Agent Donnelly, free, now that HR has been reduced to an irrelevance (has there ever been anything on which Donnelly has been right?) to resume his obsession with the Man in a Suit?

They’ve got a new lead, but in order for Carter to be briefed, she has to accept a temporary assignment to the FBI, for clearance. Donnelly’s sure that will quickly become permanent, to Carter’s advantage. He’s got evidence that a new group, a Private Security organisation, with Chinese backing, has aquired the Man as an asset. And Donnelly is convinced the Man has flipped missing CIA Agent Mark Snow as an asset. This time, they’re going to get him, they have tracking devices put together by their men at Quantico that can locate the Man. Here, at this Bank.

Yes, at this Bank. The one Abby and Shayn, with the aid of Mr Reese, are robbing. They’re going in underground, timing their explosions to coincide with the subway trains. Using the stolen building plans, they get underneath the vault, blow the ceiling, let it come crashing down to them. They’ve got the accounts, Finch can (and will) extract every penny and transfer it to genuine veterans’ organisations. They’ve just got to get out.

Which is the problem. Underground, three of Chapple’s thugs are there with guns (one of them is a new hire for this job: remember that, it will be significant), keeping Reese and co. from getting out. Above ground, the FBI, with temporary Agent Carter, are raiding the Bank. Above ground is Finch, or ‘Harold Wren’, legitimate Bank customer, with passes and IDs for three associates. Reese and co need to climb up the rubble and into the Bank to find him.

That’s not easy with three gunmen shooting at you. Reese sends Abby and Shayn ahead but as for him… John Reese is resigned to what’s coming. It’s been on the cards all along, the inevitable moment when it stops working out. He accepts it. Just in this episode he’s woken up chipper and bright, has found himself… happy. He puts it down to the job Finch gave him. Reese has made peace with himself.

So, Fusco arrives to run interference for Harold and Co. And Agents Donnelly and Carter sweep down into the chamber below the vault where the Man in the Suit has been captured. Except that his men are holding four prisoners. All men. All in suits. One is John Reese. The FBI have got their man. All they have to do is find out which one he is.

The game is not over. There’s an awful lot more of it. But that’s next week…


Lou Grant: s02 e10 – Babies

Very much one of the issues episodes, and I’m sorry to say, despite the important subject, a rather dry forty-five minutes with only one redeeming scene, in which the show simply let the story slide for a couple of minutes and let its two characters talk, to quiet but powerful effect.

The episode was about black market babies, sold at very high prices to couples desperate to adopt but either unwilling to wait for the State procedure, or else unable to pass the conditions that ensure they’re fit to give the baby a home in which it will thrive.

Bilie gets onto the story as a sidebar to her piece on adoption and, with the co-operation of the D.A.’s office, sets up a sting of her own. The major gag is that of course she needs a ‘husband’ and when Donovan falls sick at the wrong moment, she winds up with the inevitable: Rossi.

There are some minor interactions along the way, intended to laven the story with humour, which fail completely. Mostly these consist of jokes about the money required, whichthe Trib is putting up, much to Mrs Pynchon’s consternation, or about how a pretty girl like Billie shouldn’t have any problem finding a husband, which are there partly due to the era’s attitude to pretty girls – or even women (Kelsey was 32 at the time) – and partly as foreshadowing.

And of course there’s the clashes between Billie and Rossi, aka ‘Mr Newman’, which fell into the predictable.

Everything worked out, naturally, and the Police arrested the crooked lawyer once he delivered the baby (the show made that joke, I take no responsibility) and we assume theTrib got its marked bills back.

The main problem with the episode, worthy as it was, was that the subject matter was important, and reprehensible, playing on deep, primitive needs and desires, hope and fears, and we were told this more than once (Mrs Pynchon admittingthat she and her late husband had tried for years for a baby, and how he had been against adoption, but the emotion of the moment was dispelled by a joke), but we were only told. All the roles were being taken by the cast, who didn’t have the intense investment in the issue of even one character desperate, truly desperate. It was all show, and no tell.

The closest we got was this one scene I’ve already referred to. ‘Mr and Mrs Newman’ are sent out of town to a cheap motel in Gorman, way, way up in the top left corner of Los Angeles County, where there’s no air conditioning, no decent food, the motel’s a fleatrap and the only entertainment is TV, and that means softcore porn (‘Swinging in the Rain’, you get the drift). There’s even a waterbed.

It’s hell on Earth, especially for Bilie, especially when the handover’s postponed until tomorrow. She and Joe have to stay overnight, sleeping fully-clothed on the bed. In the middle of the night they start to talk. In quiet, even tones, almost but not quite flat, Billie reveals that she used to be married. She married young, out of college, and it was good, for several years. She tries to deflate things with a joke about ‘then (she) knocked him off’, but the mood has possessed her, and she admits that he met someone else, and they already have three kids.

I admit that I was expecting something along the lines of ‘he must have been a fool’ but I was severely underestimating the writers, because instead Rossi talked about having something similar in his past, of being in love with a woman who was funny and intelligent (no word of whether she was attractive or not but when you love them they become attractive in your eyes, and no other eyes matter, but a beautiful piece of wtiting for omitting that). She had two kids and even that was great. She wanted to marry Joe, but that was where he got cold feet, and walked away. He didn’t say he still loved her: Robert Walden told us with his voice.

Just a brief scene, but such an astonishingly good one. Had the quality of the writing been extended to the whole episodes, I’d be writing paeans to it, but not this week.

Person of Interest: s02 e09 – C.O.D.

Enter the Estonians

We’re now well-established in season 2, and Person of Interest is still adhering to its procedural concept, and only trailing wider concerns in the background. For someone who’s seen the show all the way through, twice, it’s a little bit frustrating. I want to be getting into the meat of things, into the storylines that make PoI an immersive experience, an ongoing drama working towards a specific end. I know they start to draw together in season 2 and I’m waiting for the stars to begin to align and I’m slowly getting frustrated.

Were I watching for the first time, avoiding knowledge of what is to come, I would enjoy an episode like this rather more for the cleverly set-up, carefully plotted story it is. As it so often does, the show started with a cryptic scene, viewed by The Machine: a cab driver paid half (literally) of five hundred bucks to circuit a park, the other half to be paid when he collects his foreign sounding passenger.

The cabbie is Fermin Ordonez (Michael Irby), former Cuban baseball star who defected to America in 2005 but who bust his shoulder and is scraping by behind the wheel, the passenger is Vadim Pushkov, super hacker with something to sell. When next we see Vadim, he is a body riddled by bullets, being nvestigated by the Secret Service as represented by Special Agent Regina Vickers (played by Reiko Aylesworth. formerly of 24 when it was still good) with the aid of Detective Carter. Fermin is being followed by Messrs Reese and Finch: he is their new Number.

A cab driver, meeting dozens of unconnected people every day, is almost impossible to assist as a Number, but the pair’s surveillance uncover three significant things. Firstly, that Fermin has sold something for $800, via a friend. Secondly, that he is desperately trying to raise money to get his wife and son smuggled out of Cuba, only for his smuggler to up the ante mercilessly. Thirdly, that the beautiful blonde who steps into his cab and directs him to an isolated spot, knows that he has taken something left behind by Pushkov, and has set him up to be executed just because he knows about it. This iswhere John steps in, to save Fermin’s ass and start the unravelling of it.

The laptop contains thousands of travellers details that can enable terrorists etc to cross borders undetected. It is useless if the theft is known, so the estonian Mafia, its intended purchasers, not only want it back but want everybody who even knows about it dead. This is the conundrum, and it’s not to slight the episode if I merely say that it is resolved professionally, with the usual displays of effective violence and no twists. There’s a wonderfully sentimental ending to the episode as Carter and Agent Vickers thank Fermin for his part by bending the rules about immigration and discouraging people-smuggling to give Fermin the reunion he has dreamt of, to get his family to America. It’s a sweet moment.

This has been the upfront story, the procedural that sells this show to the network. But it has a b-story, this one involving Detective Fusco, and involving HR. HR has been busted, everyone pulled in for trial but for three. These consist of HR’s top pairing, Mayoral Chief of Staff Alonzo Quinn and second-in-command Officer Simmons.

And Detective Lionel Fusco, who The Machine distinguishes as Undercover butwho is still a member of HR. Quinn and Simmns want to rebuild the organisation, andto do so they need to get into bed once more with Carl Elias. Simmons sends Fusco and the first new guy to a meeting with Scarface, offering a deal in which HR will locate the one Don of the Five Families who escaped Elias and who is now in Witness Protection. The deal is agreed, exceptthat HR must hand him over themselves.

And it’s a double-cross, a set-up by Elias. The new guy is killed and Fusco sent back to carry the message: go to Hell. It’s one he repeats himself to Simmons, causing the latter to execute the threat he’s held over Fusco all along. An anonymous tip comesto Carter about the missing Detective, Davidson, that he was murdered, and by a fellow cop. That cop, as we remember from season 1, was Fusco. Who’s going this one alone, and arousing Reese’s suspicions.

This is the kind of thing I hunger for and can’t wait for season 2 to fully invest in. In the second half of the season, perhaps? Which is only three episodes away…

Lou Grant: s02 e09 – Singles

After a couple of weeks in the doldrums, Lou Grant‘s second season bounced back with an episode based more in characters than issues, giving the show the chance to play to its cast rather than subordinate them.

The spine for the story was the the L.A. Tribune is facing financial difficulties and has turned to a paper doctor… sorry, media consultant, to update itself. Michael Barton (Peter Donat) has ideas that are horrendously familiar: brifht, snappy, sexy stories, lots of photos, more white space, giving the people what they want, not what they need. In short, Barton is the tabloid paper of today and far too long already. In 1978, the show could put him up as a warning, but the Barton’s had their teeth in the victim’s neck already.

Of course Lou Grant opposes him implacably, out of instinct as much as principle, and of course, when it comes to the showdown, Mrs Pynchon backs him, but even in this happy eding the show allows a touch of realism it oft times ignores, as her attitude is one of, if we die, we will die our way.

We see the effects of Barton’s circulation-grabbing ideas throuh his proposed ‘Singles Space’ in Metro, Lou’s beat. Rosssi and Billie try the dating scene, Rossi by video-dating, which attracts Erin (a lovely half-shy, half-independent performance by Karen Landry, attractive but not beautiful), whilst Animal gets half a dozen responses!

Billie, in contrast, tries computer dating and is matched with Philip (Philip Charles MacKenzie), a self-styled romantic, who proposes on the first date and bombards her with attention she doesn’t want, in a manner that’s superficially comedic whilst allowing the audienc to see the effects of what we now know is stalking.

Rossi, who in contrast is a hopeless date, ends up falling in love (Erin, who was Karen Landry’s first recorded part in imdb, would never return, which was a shame).

Even though it wasn’t part of the newspaper story, even Lou got caught up in the romance, sharing a couple of traffic jam smiles with a gorgeous blonde in a red dress, then rear-ending Susan (a police officer, played by Frances Lee McCain) when looking for the blonde. At the end, Lou gets to talk with the blonde, who brushes him off quite emphatically, leading him to realise that unattainable wish-fulfilment is one thing and real people you alreadyu kno sre another, and asks Susan out for dinner.

The essence of the episode’s pitch is easily exemplified. Billie sees Philip as a sa, pathetic, damaged individual who she never wants to see again in her life, Barton as a fascinating romantic figure who will make single young women buy the Trib. And he sends Animal to get paparazzi pictures of a famously reclusive and ex-beauty, aged actress, which Lou and Charlie refuse to run because they won’t infringe on her privacy (yes, this is 1978, and doesn’t it seem a dinosaur’s age ago?)

I liked the episode, but then I’m a dinosaur too. In reality, Barton would win, and his overthrowing be only a pyhrric victory. History will roll over Lou Grant’s principles and practice, but it’s good to see someone defending the right ideas from the tide, for however short a time.

Person of Interest: s02 e08 – Til Death

Marriage guidance…

Would you believe that a high-concept, high-tempo, action-thriller procedural could successfully tell a story about love? The evidence is here in the latest episode of this Person of Interest re-watch, one of which is a moment of fate, moving someone’s life off the trajectory it occupies, towards a destiny impossible to suspect from here.

The episode began with a flashback to 2006, picking up on the last flashback two weeks back. Harold has begun to see Grace Hendricks. They talk in a bar, halfway between a confident surface and a nervous interior, sharing thoughts and experiences, far more than we’d ever expect to see from the seclusive Harold. The flashbacks will multiply, show us more of their courtship, ending with thir first kiss. Michael Emerson and Carrie Preston bring to these scenes a depth of emotion that is more than acting, being married in real life.

That first flashback cuts back to 2012, and Harold walking Bear in the Park, the one just outside Grace’s home. He keeps his self-imposed distance as she descends her steps and sets off to where she intends to paint. There’s a moment of simple symbolism as a payphone rings, delivering a new Number: by the time Harold can re-direct his attention to Grace’s progess, she is gone.

The Number is the second love story, though that should be Numbers, two of them, Daniel and Sabrina Drake (Mark Pellegrino and Francie Swift), husband and wife, of differing backgrounds, rich, joint CEOs¬† of a small but successful Publishing Company facing a buy-out offer. The Drake’s are divided on how to respond to this offer: he, take the money and run, she, fight to retain control.

There’s an obvious external threat to the Drakes, but this is the red herring. The twist in the procedural is that Daniel’s hired a killer to off Sabrina and Sabrina’s hired a killer to off Daniel. We should have known: after all, they bicker all the time only it’s not bickering. This is a couple in whom love has turned to hatred (the second flashback involves Nathan Ingram, reading the reason for Harold’s inner glow, but relating an awfully painful account of meeting his ex-wife, at a wedding, for the first time since their settlement, and concluding that there is a thing worse than love turned to hate, and that is love turned to indifference. He’s right, you know).

Lamenting that the Drake’s couldn’t just have gone to marriage counselling, and rejecting Harold’s suggesion that they let them get on with it and go help someone deserving, John needs to devise a solution that not only stops this over-privileged pair from killing each other today but stops them wanting to kill each other tomorrow. The violence part is easy to accomplish, but John procures the other by locking Danny and Sabrina into a larder and leaving them with nothing to do but talk: overdue talk about a miscarriage, about misunderstood motives, about silences in which the wrong words form in mistaken minds and a narrative based on what people resent instead of what they really mean slowly firms into what we’ve seen.

The Drakes are last seen getting arrested, each defending each other, summoning high-power lawyers: a short sentence and a long renaissance of the love that was always there, re-exposed to the light. A bit simple, a bit optimistic, but the ending we wanted and beautifully performed.

These do not exhaust the stories on hand. Fusco’s getting shifty refusing to answer John’s calls, something’s going on. Indeed it is: Fusco has a date, a blind date with Rhonda (Tricia Paoluccio), an attractive but not spectacular woman who, wenttheir dinnr is disrupted by a summons to work (from Finch), comes along and has a great time. It ends with a goodnight kiss. But it ends: Rhonda never returns.

Detective Cal Beacher (Sterling K Brown) does. Thus begins a momentum none of us can foresee. Ironically, it’s Harold who starts things, who is the pebble, sending Carter to Beacher for information on the cheaper of the would-be assassins. Beacher likes the look of Carter. She owes him one. Normally, he’d ask for a bottle of liquor, but in this case he’d like a date. So too would Carter. Threads, streaming out into the future. Love. The lack of it. Kisses that begin things, kisses that end things. Talk is cheaper than assassins. Grace Hendricks and Harold Finch, on their way to tragedy.

Love is such a small word for something that is so vast/for in it lies the future, the present and the past (c) Alan Hull.

Lou Grant: s02 e08 – Slaughter

At first glance, this episode title is worrying. What kind of story are we sitting down to watch? A bloodbath, in Lou Grant? I think we know that’s not going to happen, not on this show, and whilst the title’s not misleading, the slaughter is the threat and it’s all about the prevention of it. And the subject of this potential slaughter is cattle.

For the first time since he’s joined the Trib, Lou’s going on vacation, upstate to Randolph County, staying with his and Charlie’s old and fearsome editor, Chip Murphy, the guy who trained them both (and who nearly drove both of them out of the profession). Straightway we know what to expect, and guest star Stephen Elliott gives us everything in the crusty (but laid-back) old curmudgeon line.

I was anticipating the old cliche where Lou arrives to find his buddy dead of a seeming accident and takes up his final story that’s upsetting powerful interests, but there are no powerful interests here, only personal ones, a small-town, cattle-ranching county hit by a mysterious epidemic that’s not only killing cows but seems to be crossing over into humans too, with symptoms such as memory loss and, among women, hair-loss.

Lou’s initially kept out of things by Chip, who’s been sitting on the story for weeks, but once he’s started his big city reporter blundering around, reporting back to the Trib, things start to teeter in the balance. No-one wants to admit there’s a problem. The County Commissioners have given the cattle a clean bill of health. Once a story breaks about a mystery disease, everyone will panic, slaughter all their cattle, ship it out, and it’ll get into the food-chain across the nation, not just California.

In the end, the resources of the Trib identify the issue as being contamination of the cattle-feed by anti-freeze. Chip gets a quarantine ordered on the county’s cattle. A lot of people, a lot of farmers will get hurt. It’s a question of the greater good and the lesser evil, and there’s no disputing that the right choice is made, but Chip lives amongst these people and knows them. It’s his hurt as well.

There’s also a silly B-story, presumably added to fill out run-time, about Donovan as Acting-City Editor, falling for a crank and sending Billie and Animal 200 miles to a summit meeting that turns out to be a UFO (or ETI) nut’s fantasy of contact with aliens instead (ETI is Extra Terrestrial Intelligence: we learn something new every day). Billie’s not best pleased and Donovan’s ultra-apologetic, though he disarms her by pointing out that if the landing had been real, she’d have been thanking him for putting her in the right spot…

Overall, the the change of pace was a nice variation, the episode itself wasn’t really that involving. We seem to be going through a lull at present in season 2. I hope things will pick up soon, though from the mini-synopsis of next week…

Person of Interest: s02 e07 – Critical

A non-recurring villain

We’re still very much in Number of the Week mode as season 2 unfolds, with the show’s wider mythos being developed in cryptic fashion that, at this time, still raises more questions than it answers. Even with the advantage of knowing to what such things lead, the process is still intriguing.

As is the new procedure, we begin in media res, John Reese on the street looking for their new Number, a repeat Number. Who would be stupid enough to get involved twice, the Man in the Suit muses, only for a body to come flying through a window: it’s Leon Tao again, Ken Leung, the Forensic Accountant with somewhat elastic ethics.

But Leon’s a misleading distraction, comic relief, and a device to facilitate the main story. He’s installed in the Library for his own protection, under the watchful eye of Bear, to ensure he doesn’t o anything stupid and Leon-like, whilst Reese and Finch head off together to check out their other Number, Dr Madeleine Enright, world-class surgeon (Sharon Leal).

Maddy’s about to perform open-heart surgery on businessman Oliver Veldt, an energy-Tsar. The whole thing is massively secret, thousands of Non-Disclosure Agreements, falsification of Hospital records, so as to preserve Stock Market confidence. Except that someone knows about it. That someone is a Brit (villains again), Alistair Wesley, ex-MI6. Wesley is a consummte professional who has everything prepared. Maddy will inject Veldt with Heparin, an anti-coagulant and then, at a specified time, nick an artery. Veldt will bleed out, the stocks will be hit, Wesley will make a fortune out of short-selling.

Maddy naturally refuses, but Wesley holds a lever on her. Maddy is married to Amy, a charity organiser currently hostinga fund-raiser in the Park. A sniper has her in his sights at all times. Break the rules laid down by Wesley, and Amy is dead. Dr Enrigt is not the victim, but an unwilling perpetrator.

Pause a moment. There’s a dead body in a parking lot, some ordinary guy, cut down execution style. Detective Fusco pulls the case but he’s rather more concerned at pulling a card from under the victim: an NYPD card for Joss Carter,¬† blood-stained. What has Carter to do with this victim? What does 6611TH, scrawled on the back of the card, to do with this?

Back to the main story. Reese and Finch divide their forces, Finch to the hospital, Reese to the Park. Some computer work is needed and Finch’s here not there. Fortunately, Leon’s there, and he can use Finch’s computers to dig out the financial background. That’s why he was introduced at first.

Reese takes out the sniper easily enough but is immediately called by Wesley, inviting him for a drink in the pub on the corner. You see, Wesley has thought things through thoroughly. The sniper wasn’t his sole asset. There are four sleepers in the Park, keeping Amy in sight at every moment.

So Reese goes for a drink. He and Wesley recognise each other as equivalents, though Wesley is for once wrong in thinking Reese is alternate scurity working for Veldt, and he’s definitely wrong in thinking he can hire Reese. The upshot is that Wesley orders John out of the Park. He becomes another rule: break it and Amy is killed.

So there are multiple complications, not least whether Maddy can choose to kill Veldt to save her wife. The answer to that is no. Reese, after using Fusco to create a diversion, and inadvertently expose one of Wesley’s sleepers, disguised as a beat police, gets Amy out. In the surgery, a nurse, another back-up in Wesley’s plan, nicks an artery, leaving Maddy and a most reluctant but press-ganged Finch, to save Veldt’s life.

All’s well that ends well, though the plot leaves a moderate hole in it. All of Leon’s investigations pointto Veldt’s assistant Rains as being the enemy who gave Wesley the secret of the surgery, but that’s true. Rains is dedicated to his boss, just another mini red herring along the way, but who was the mole inside Veldt’s company? The plot races on, forgetting this.

But what of Carter? She’s investigating her card. The victm’s background leads her to identify his workplace, at 66, 11th Street, but when she arrives, the place is in turmoil, the building evacuated, shots fired. Carter spots a familiar face, Agent Snow slipping away. She pursues him. In a phone dead place, he answers some questions. The victim was killed for his ID. He reveals the bomb vest he’s wearing. He tells Carter to tell John that she’s planning something big, a lot of deaths, but before he can givethe name, or anything more, she intervenes with bullets shooting out the lights.

We know who ‘she’ is. Carter doesn’t. John knows who ‘she’ must be but isn’t telling. In the episode’s closer, he asks Carter, who has family looking to her, a son, to think hard about how much she wants to know…

The episode’s real finale is on the street, after sending Leon off. Wesley calls on the burner phone John’s taken, congratulates him on a good game, recalls seeing him in Baghdad when John was still CIA. John doesn’t recall him, but that was Wesley’s training. They’ll no doubt meet again. Wesley ditches his phone, heads for Kennedy Airport. The show intimates that we’ll see him again, and it would have been good to see an opponent of that calibre again, but other priorities presumably arose and Wesley would never return. A pity.