Person of Interest: s04 e20 – Terra Incognita


Now? Then? When?

We’re now only two episodes from the end of Person of Interest‘s fourth and last full season. Based on the pattern of the past two seasons, I have long been expecting some form of overriding arc but this has not materialised, except in little, background moments. Against such concerns, ‘Terra Incognita’ is an unusual choice of story, coming so late and, except in a little-pursued B story that occupies Finch, Root and Fusco, in keeping them off screen, is detached from any progress. And it’s one of the best, most deeply hypnotic, and saddest episodes ever produced.

The episode digs into your emotions in several ways. It lays John Reese bare for us, and shows us the man, the living, feeling man, beneath the hard-armoured shell that he wears to allow no-one near him. It brings back Taraji P. Henson as a guest star, for what is essentially a two-hander, to remind us of how much we miss her, and to point to a present that never existed, a phantom limb of life never expressed, a could-have-been that never could have been. And it points to a future that never would be, a phantom path through the woods ahead that had to be choked off the minute Person of Interest received a qualified, do-what-you-can-with-this renewal for a half-season to bring it all to an end.

The structure combined undated flashback, a present winter day and hallucination that allowed those so minded in the audience to incorporate the supernatural.

It began in the past, Reese and Finch on stakeout over a number, a bar owner in danger from HR. There’s a third person in the car, Detective Joss Carter. Finch leaves to walk and feed Bear. Reese and Carter talk as they wait. Or rather they don’t talk. Carter wants to know more about the Man in a Suit, who he is, what and why.

In the present, two members of the Brotherhood are shot dead without Numbers coming up. Is the Machine defective? No, it was murder by oportunity, not pre-meditated. A hint, no more. The Machine has been distant this season, in hiding, delivering mainly offscreen. We see everything through Samaritan now, though there’s one brief moment when the Machine’s eyes become ours again.

But there is a number and John Reese makes it his own business, his and his alone, all others excluded. Because Chase Patterson, former junkie, suspected of killing his parents and sisters, is a cold case, removed to the freezer when he fled the country. He was Carter’s case, her first, working with Detective Tierney. Hohn wants this to himself, to close the case in Carter’ honour. And to be close once again to the woman he liked, admired, felt an affinity for and who, in another life without the walls he has built, scared and alone in War, he might well have fallen in love with.

Reese follows Carter’s trail, the episode flipping between then and now, distinguished by a colder, bluer, more washed-out colour scheme for the past. it ends at a remote family cabin, in the snowy Catskills, off grid. No-one, not even the Machine, knows where John has gone. Long ago, Carter disturbed the real killer, who didn’t have the courage to kill a cop. Now, Reese finds Chase and the set-up for murder by drugs overdose. This time, the killer shoots John, badly.

The killer? An out-of-left-field older half-brother, son to a mother abandoned by Chase’ father for the woman who was Chase’s mother. An embittered psycho, of no importance, a nobody, a nothing. is this going to be the man who kills John Reese?

Another flashback to Reese and Carter, on stake-out, in the car. John unbends to start talking about Jessica, the real and unbelievably sad reason why he pushed her away, the woman he loved and who loved him. This cannot be fiction, it cannot come out of even the most sophisticated and deepest of writers, only real life can produce thoughts like this: two dead platoons, one from each side and every man carries a picture, a girlfriend, wife or kid they would never come back to, and the man who would become John Reese thinking that if he had no picture, no future he longed to last to see, it might make him more invulnerable. The heart cries at that thought.

nd we realise that we are no longer in the flashback, that like the Pacific Ocean canoists and the NASA astronauts in Pete Atkin’s ‘Canoe’, we have moved between times. John has killed the killer. He has broken into Chase’s car for refuge. He is bleeding to death, though he’ll die of the cold far sooner. And Joss Carter’s next to him, digging at him, poking and prodding, continuing a conversation they never had in life, despite John’s hazy recollections, opening him up. Keeping him alive long enough for someone to come out and find him.

Is Carter really there? Is John so close to the border with death that she can come back for a time, fighting to keep him from crossing over? Or is John’s mind constructing for him an hallucination, by way of self-preservation, not merely of his body but of his… well, would you call it soul? Forcing him to understand that he cannot remain so detached, so concealed from anyone and everryone that he is literally killing himself, seeking a death that he sees as inevitable, determined from the start?

There’s a mention of his psychologist, of Iris Campbell, a story that would have gone far further in the season 5 that wasn’t to be and which had to be abandoned, as we shall see in the season that was. Phantom relationships, stretching forwards and backwards. Elsewhere, people are looking for John. Headlights approach. he won’t die. Neither will Chase Patterson, who will reach a hospital before the pills his half-brother forced him to take can end him. No music, just a fade to a Person of Interest caption card.

And a long, silent ascent towards our own reality, full of thought.

Person of Interest: s04 e19 – Search and Destroy


Nice Wig

We’re a very long way into Person of Interest‘s fourth season without the usual sense of something building to either a conclusion or a cliffhanger, as we would normally expect. For weeks we’ve been experiencing individual stories without connecting threads. For the first time in a long time, this episode starts to deliver on its arc.

Not at first. New Number Suleiman Khan (Aasif Mandvi) is a man whose life has been destroyed in an instant. His company, Castellum, has grown from a garage operation to the world’s largest purveyors of anti-virus protection, automatically installed in 86% of the world’s computers. And it’s been hacked, in an instant, everything revealed, down to the nude photos of his estranged wife that he swore he’d deleted. Not just everything, but more than everything, including evidence of things he’s not done, like major embezzlement.

Khan’s life collapses like a souffle prematurely removed from the oven. Everything is stripped away, any avenue along which he might be able to fight back is closed off, practically the only thing they don’t remove is his expensive, hand-tailored suit.

What can lie behind this? Finch and Reese know but fantastic and arrogant as it may seem, Khan has worked out that he has been targetted, very specifically, but an Artificial Intelligence: Samaritan.

What’s the plan, Stan? It’s very simple, but before we go there, let us just collate the little semi-detached strands that decorate the episode. There’s Paige Turco making her final appearance as Zoe Morgan, fixing Castellum’s problems, twitting John about his relationship with his redhead, acting as his ear in a meeting. There’s John trying to teach Harold how to shoot a gun, since he won’t always be here and he wants to know Finch will be safe. There’s Root, going to great lengths to steal a virtually atom bomb proof suitcase, not for the beautiful Faberge egg it contains and which she chucks away, but for the suitcase: why?

But the plan is simple, and so in one sense, one fatal sense, is Khan. It’s his besetting flaw, his insatiable curiosity. Why him? Why has he been targetted? In the end it gets him killed. Rather than escape he goes back inside, is taken to Greer and Martine Rousseau. He wants to see the face of Samaritan, of God. His wish is granted, shot through the heart by Greer.

Because Samaritan has been using Khan’s code to search. Search the word for the presence of unknown code. For the whereabouts of the Machine. And it will find it. That is inevitable. And Detective Riley and Professor Whistler. How can one withstand a God forever?

Person of Interest: s04 e18 – Skip


Frankie and Johnny

So much contained in one episode, yet again, so impressive overall that it couldn’t be spoiled, well, not that much, by the early reappearance of Harper Rose (Annie Illonzeh) in one half of the story.

We’ve been getting a few of these separated stories in recent weeks, and I can’t decide whether it’s because the show has so many plots it wants to squeeze in at a point when the question of renewal for a fifth season was up in the air, or that the stories lacked the internal complexity to sustain a standalone episode without other entertainment.

On the one hand, we have ‘Detective Riley’ gambling with the Team’s remaining cash resources at a semi-illegal club, his eye (and who wouldn’t?) on new hostess Francesca ‘Frankie’ Wells (Katheryn Winnick). But Frankie is not victim but perpetrator, a bounty hunter tasked with retrieving the club’s manager, Ray Pratt (Ato Essandoh) to answer to his bail in Florida by Wednesday: not many tall, blonde hostesses have martial arts skills like that. Unfortunately, John’s at the wrong end of the stick and his intervention allows Ray to escape. John and Frankie make an uneasy team for the rest of the episode.

Quick interlude: Dr Campbell drops in to tell ‘Riley’ she’s handing him off to another psychologist for future sessions. Is it because of his recent unbending and the violence in his past? Her refusal to say why tells us instantly it’s not that, and what it actually is.

Over to Harold, who has a morning coffee date with an old friends, another returnee, this time Beth Bridges (Jessice Hecht, from episode 6 of this season). This is payback for Finch’s plan in Hong Kong to get certain software installed in her laptop. Now Beth’s algorithm has progressed to the stage where it’s going to be used. In a very few days it will be installed in Samaritan. It will function, once, as a very narrow back door, a trojan horse that will transmit a few megs of data before it is discovered and obliterated, but that data will include Samaritan’s ‘DNA’. It will give Finch a chance in an impossible to win war.

And the moment he sits down with Beth, she becomes a Number.

So ‘Professor Whistler’s association with Beth is to cause her death? Yes,but not for the reasons you might expect.

But back to John. Ray Pratt is going to need a fake ID to get out to Brazil, which takes him to the best in the business, a lady named Athena but who we better know as Harper Rose. Here I have to apologise: I remember three guest shots for our Lady of the Perpetual Scam but actually there are five, so this is not the ‘second appearance’ that prejudices me so irreversibly against her, though it does foreshadow her final appearance when it’s revealed, in passing, that Harper was led to Ray by contact from the Machine itself.

We’re winding deeply into this story, going through several action scenes in the show’s signature mode. Ray’s former boss, Carlton Worthy (Jeff Lamare), from whom he stole both money and a thumb drive with two years of crooked evidence, arrives to complicate matters. Frankie mentions a brother, Deke, now dead. Fusco, investigating Ray, uncovers a Florida killing, ascribed to a mugging, an accountant who got his throat cut, that he connects to Ray. The accountant’s name was Deacon…

And Root has reappeared to shadow Harold, and offer her assistance about Beth. She admires his plan… but we have another reversal. The threat to Beth is not Harold but Root. Harold’s plan to invade Samaritan is ingenious, worthy of his genius. She won’t let it happen, she will kill Beth before Harold can activate his Trojan Horse. Because if it goes through, Samaritan will kill Professor Whistler within minutes. And Root cannot allow that. She’s already lost Shaw, but Harry is the one person she cannot lose. She is not even acting on behalf of the Machine (which gives Harold no little relief): it has told her not to.

Harold is distraught. Some of it is his affection for Beth, who does resemble Grace Hendricks a little, but more than that he will not be responsible for the death of another friend. Root assumes he means Shaw, tries to deflect blame onto herself, it was her who recruited Shaw to get involved, but Ms Groves doesn’t know as much about Harold as we do, and we know to whom he refers.

And he heads her off by swallowing the chmical that will give Beth a heart attack. Only when Root promises not to kill Beth will he allow himself to be treated.

John’s story nose-dives into a three-conered shoot-out with Harper in the middle: John and Frankie, Ray, Worthy and his men. Typically, Harper negotiates a deal. Worthy gets the thumb drive and Riley lets him leave. Ray gets to choose between death or prison and Worthy lets him live. John and Frankie get Ray to imprison and don’t kill him. Naturally, there are multiple double-crosses; Harper hands over the wrong thumb drive, Riley has Worthy arrested before he leaves the city and Ray tries to shoot his way out only to be kneecapped by John. Right beats Might.

A coda and another quick interval. We’ll take the latter first: Frankie’s interested in John but tells him to call her when he’s free. John looks puzzled but here’s Doctor Iris to ‘fess up the real reason she has dropped John: she has developed feelings for him and that’s the complete no-no. John, on the other hand, knows how to keep a secret. Cue snog.

And Harold calls on Beth only to be thrown out. She’s been on the end of a reputation-destroying internet attack, claiming she’d falsified data five years before, an attack that came from ‘Professor Whistler’s office. Root only promised not to kill Beth but she has neverheless destroyed her. And she’s destroyed Finch’s activator, and thus destroyed months of planning and the only chance Team Machine had.

She’s done it even at the cost of the friendship that means so much to her. Professor Whistler is still alive. And whilst he doesn’t want to see Root at the moment, they are still friends.

Leaving me only to wonder. Finch’s scheme was set up twelve episodes ago, a great mystery. At this stage it was all in vain. By now I know enough to understand that it wasn’t just implanted then with the hope/intention of deciding what it was later on. But was it always intended to be a false trail, to set up the changed relationship between Finch and Root, or was it a casualty of lost opportunities, when the projected Fifth and Sixth seasons became improbable? We have seen other possible strands implanted by the series that were never followed up upon, for whatever reason that may be. I’d love to know if this episode was the regretful snuffing out of something that might have been prominent in another world’s version of Person of Interest.

Person of Interest: s04 e16 – Blunt


The Stumbling Block

Here, I’m afraid, we hit a block. A stumbling block of rather large proportions. It’s called Harper Rose, and since she’s the Number of the Week and thus looms large in this episode, it is a stumbling block of major proportions.

As usual, we begin in media res, Reese on a snowy campus tracking the new Number, played with energy by Annie Ilonzeh. Harper Rose is already unique in that, instead of her Social Security number, the Machine has provided her College Registration. This is because Harper Rose is not Harper Rose’s real name. What that is goes unrevealed: ‘Harper’ is a chameleon with multiple phones, IDs, names, roles etc. Why is this? Hang on a bit.

The usual question is Victim or Perpetrator. There’s nothing except Harper’s general air of innocuous innocence to tilt the balance, but early indications are that she’s likely the former. Her stoner boyfriend, Trey, works shifts at a Medical Marijuana Dispensary, and he’s feeling under the weather so Harper takes his shift. A legal Dispensary of marijuana nevertheless has issues, especially around how orthodox Banks won’t open accounts for them, and there’s tons of cash lying about, enough to warrant private security from a legal operation of, and it’s about time we got back to them, the Brotherhood.

And something goes wrong tonight. Harper’s handling the takings run. The Cartel attempts to steal the money. Much shooting occurs, including the usual number of kneecappings by ‘Detective Riley’. The bag is recovered. It is full of travel brochures. The bag with the money is disappearing towards the nearest horizon in the possession of Harper Rose, she who is a grifter, a conwoman, a perpetrator of criminal acts.

Which is where I hit my personal wall. It’s not just here but I remember her return appearance (and her third), and between now and next I find myself violently disliking her. Harper is highly intelligent, curious and inventive. She operates on permanent alert, every second devoted to pursuing angles and advantages, and to complete the alliteration, she’s completely amoral.

Every second of dear little Harper’s day and night is devoted to furthering the interests of dear little Harper, using her wits to con, shuffle and trick absolutely everyne around her, to get what she wanrts and do what she wants, without an atosecond’s worth of thought for anybody else. She is the predator and they are her prey and her refusal to get attached to anyone or anything leaves me cold. I cannot feel anything about a character who feels nothing and prefers to see everyone she encounters as sheep to her wolf.

That was a bar against my ability to enter into and enjoy the world of the show this week, or to be engaged in the machinations of the plot. Who cared if Reese and Finch got Harper’s feet out of the fire? She certainly didn’t. All she wanted to do was get out and find another sucker to leech off. Did we care about Trey’s fate, the pathetic stoner put at risk through all this but who, as played easily by Connor Hines, was insignificant to the point of utter dispensability?

The only things of merit to the episode lay in the aforementioned return of The Brotherhood and Dominick to the forefront of the audience’s attention, and the extremely truncated subplot featuring Root. Root has an idea. Finch and Reese have the wrong approach, pushing everybody else out since Shaw’s ‘death’. Instead of excluding, Team Machine should be recruiting. There are others out there who think as they do, who would fight if only they knew how. Root has designed an App (we all know the Machine has been at least a consultant on this).

And Finch, concerned, follows Root to a company, with whom she is set to go into partnership, to market her App, and to work with them on designing another.

What is the App? What does it do? How will it work? This is something to be patient about.

There are now only six episodes to the end of season 4, six episodes in which to deal with the Brotherhood, the War Dominick intends with Carl Elias, and the counter-measures Root and her App will bring into play to start the attack on Samaritan. Such a waste that this episode had to concentrate upon Harper Rose, who I decidedly do not trust, or like.

Person of Interest: s04 e15 – Q&A


Wanna fight?

It would be stating the obvious to say that this was a complex episode. It was composed of two contrasting stories, one each for Reese and Finch, that led to a foreseeable link at the very end and it featured one of the most satisfying and unexpected deus ex machina saves the series has produced. Let me explain.

Reese’s story continued the partial reset aspect of the show’s current phase. Number of the Week was Anna Mueller (Bella Dayne), a transcriber working for Fetch and Retrieve, the latest, hottest, most successful search engine, and its new programme, VAL, which is basically Alexa. The company is headed by Lauren Buchanan (Helene Yorke) and its chief technical officer is Calvin Mazer (Nick Westrate). Anna transcribes verbal queries for the record.

She alo has a very sick sister, Jill, who’s getting home chemo, and she’s a very aggressive and effective MNA fighter in illegal private bouts. She can’t help Jill but she has got something she can kick. Victim or perpetrator?

Victim, definitely. Anna has pursued a case, Paul Zimmerman, who made multiple requests relating to depression and suicide. The last query should link only to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline but in Paul’s case (and thousands of others) it threw up guides on how to do it, and in Paul’s and thousands of other cases, he did.

Someone doesn’t want this known, and is willing to have Anna killed to prevent it. Anna, a slight, dark-haired slip of a girl, is well capable of looking after herself, though ultimately she needs Reese – or rather Detective ‘Riley’ – to make sure it all comes out well. It’s an algorithm designed by Calvin behind the back of Lauren that turns VAL into the greatest manipulator of emotions for vulnerable people and thus the greatest advertising tool the world has ever known. Lauren would never have allowed it, because it’s wrong. Bear that in mind.

That’s Reese’s portion. Finch’s is functionally separate, though the pair stay in constant communication by phone throughout, without impinging on each other’s work. Finch’s story starts with discovering another Nautilus puzzle poster, identical to the one in episode 2 of this season. Only it’s not quite identical: a hidden message is embedded in the image, saying ‘You Were Right’ and the puzzle decodes to a place on the shadow map, where Samaritan cannot see.

We realise and look forward to seeing the young, fanatical programmer, Claire Mahoney (Quinn Shephard again). Finch promised her aid and she’s reaching out for it. She’s seen inside now and is horrified/disgusted with Samaritan. She wants out and wants Finch’s help, even though she never knew his name. A Samaritan sniper interrupts the meeting, shooting Claire through the shoulder: Finch takes her to a nearby morgue to fix her wound.

She’s full of remorse and regret, not to mention determination to bring Samaritan down and save the world. It was at that moment that I smelled a rat and wondered if she was playing a double game. Partly this was because I’ve seen this episode twice before and if I don’t consciously remember exactly what happened, my subconscious is far more retentive, but the larger part is that this is Person of Interest, and after 82 episodes prior to this, you learn to anticipate reversals.

Claire’s got a flashdrive, stolen from Decima. It can be used to access Samaritan and destroy it. It can also be used to access Finch’s network and identify all his friends prior to killing them, or so he fears. Is he right to doubt, or is he paranoid? Sweet-faced Claire is convincing, but she can’t help the light of fanaticism, which marked her in episode 2, from shining out of that sweet, desperate face.

Finch decides to take the chance on her, but is wrong to do so, for Claire slips and calls him Harold when he still hasn’t told her his name. He turns to find her holding a gun on him.

She takes his laptop and phone. She’s bringing him in, but Claire is too much the fanatic to just simply complete her mission, which she believes is to get Finch on their side, make him an asset.  She takes him to see Samaritan, but to her Samaritan is a saviour, out to improve everything for everybody. To Claire, Samaritan is a bright, bustling, effective Charter School, promoting a new, more effective manner of education (to Finch it’s education in what?)

It’s an echo of The Last Temptation of Christ. It’s a portrait, true enough in its way, of what an overarching intelligence could do to make what we do with our world healthier, wiser, more efficient, eliminating waste, ignorance, pollution etc. The most deadly eneny is happiness or contentment. But Finch knows what Claire will not, cannot ever see, that Samaritan is also Sauron’s Ring, that it’s first duty is to itself and which, by its very nature, is corrupt and self-serving.

He won’t join them, not even the true believer Claire, so he’s to be taken away. This is where we anticipate the god in the machine, shots to ring out from an unseen source, but how can Reese have tracked him? Reese can’t, but Root can, goddess in the Machine, to rescue him and bring him home before setting off on her next, enigmatic task.

And that link? At Samaritan HQ, where Finch’s laptop has proved to be the bust we all knew he would have ensured, Claire is desperately apologetic for her failure but Greer is avuncularly forgiving, appreciative of her fanaticism. Though Claire has a question: the bullets were supposed to make Finch sympathetic towards her but they were also supposed to miss; what if they’d killed her? Then, my dear, the smiling Greer replies, you would have died in a good cause.

We won’t see Claire again, which is a pity, but Claire is just one of a thousand details and time is limited. A full Fifth season order would, subject to Quinn Shephard’s availability, have brought her back, I’m sure, and shown us whether the chink in her belief healed over, or split wide open.

But the smiling Greer has a meeting to attend, under Mergers and Acquisitions, a promising company with a very special algorithm to identify and manipulate emotions, that’s vulnerable due to a recent fall. Greer’s going to a meeting with a rather subdued Board and a CEO named Lauren Buchanan. Who, very recently, placed right and wrong ahead of profit. Where does that stand in relation to survival?

Power corrupts. What the hell else is it for?

Person of Interest: s04 e13 – M.I.A.


The Mayhem Twins

Very recently, and in the context of Person of Interest itself, I discovered the term ‘schmuck-bait’. It refers to television episodes that threaten the life of a permanent member of the cast. It’s termed schmuck-bait because only a schmuck would feel genuinely threatened by the prospect of a star character being killed: I mean, it’s just not going to happen, is it?

I bring this up in the context of this episode of PoI  because the whole episode is a prime example of what the term means. Two episodes ago, Sameen Shaw sacrificed herself to save the rest of the team. Is she still alive? Is she dead? Don’t be silly, she’s a star of the show, her name’s in the opening credits… Well, actually it’s not.

The episode divides itself into two strands. Reese and Root have trailed a refrigerated truck to the upstate small town of Maple. Maple’s a nice town, a happy town, a lucky town. It’s the epitome of small town America, couldn’t be more apple pie and Mom’s cookies. six months ago, it was broken: it’s only industry collapsed, everyone was going to be out of a job, but a new Company, Carrow, took the plant over and everybody prospered. Maple is also a puppet town, with people shuffled into jobs and roles that most suit them. Everyone loves it. Maple is also an omelette. A few people don’t fit. A few people get broken, like eggs, and like eggs, once broken they don’t get up and walk around.

Reese and Root don’t care. They’re here for one thing only and that’s Shaw. She isn’t dead. But she is Schrodinger’s Cat, in that until Finch and Co get an answer, she is both alive and dead and neither. And we know from last week that Finch believes the worse. Root is ultra-positive: this cat can’t be killed. But Root is positive because she has to be. She can’t let herself entertain the least doubt. Where is Shaw? The truck arrived in Maple but it never left.

But even as the Mayhem Twins rampage upstate, back in New York the Numbers keep coming, in this instance a real sad sack of a guy, Albert Weiss (Mason Pettit). Finch takes the folder to Fusco, at his desk in the precinct, his ears ringing, just stewing. Fusco’s as badly hurt as the rest: he wants a Number to give him something to do, to alleviate his feelings.

Weiss is a nothing, a sap, a mouse. But he’s also being watched by a former Number, Dani Silva, a welcome repeat for Adriana Arjona.  The pair team-up to check out Weiss, who may look completely innocuous, but who, every time he visits the Big Apple, there’s a Missing Persons report. Someone with gang connections. The sappy exterior is a clever cover for a freelance assassin.

Whilst things are hotting up in Maple, this half of the story looks to be cleverly made but uninvolving. Things don’t go well for this ill-matched pair, Weiss is too smart for them, especially Fusco. And Fusco’s being protective, paternal and patronising in exactly the way Dani is going to hate. Some of it is Fusco’s not overly developed but still present chauvinism, but most of it is his quiet line, ‘I couldn’t stand to lose somebody else today’.

It boils down to a nice little twist. Dani breaks into Weiss’s New Jersey home, discovers a Kill Room, escapes being shot when Fusco intervenes. Fusco discovers that another cop who spotted the pattern between Weiss’s killings went to sleep in his garage with the car engine on. Dani goes home, wanders through a deserted apartment not really turning lights on, goes into her bathroom, strips off her t-shirt revealing her black bra. Only then does she shut the door behind her. Weiss steps out of the shadows, holding a rope by which a cop will commit suicide. But when he opens the bathroom door, Dani’s facing him with her gun in his face. And Fusco’s behind him.

Weiss isn’t done. He slams the bathroom door shut, tackles Fusco, gets his gun, is about to shoot him when Dani emerges from the bedroom, having taken the time to put her t-shirt back on (I get the modesty angle, but is this the best time, girl?) and shoots Weiss twice in the chest.

Apart from Fusco telling her she reminds him of a friend, that’s it for this part of the episode, having climbed to a higher height than at one time I expected.

Manwhile, back upstate, the Mayhem Twins discover that to pursue the trail of Shaw, they need to learn everything they can about Maple, which involves kidnapping and torturing – over Finch’s frantic pleas – the town’s public face, Leslie Thompson (Maddie Corman).

Though they have only one goal, Reese and Root can’t help but learn how thoroughly Samaritan has taken over Maple, and manipulated its people, first to happiness and now to see what happens when you take that happiness away. Maple is Samaritan’s petri dish, though the show uses the metaphor of an ant farm: it’s the microcosm that is embedded in the macrocosm.

Through Leslie, they gain access to the Carrow factory, even though Thompson will be killed for this betrayal. They shoot and blast their way in, they find that the factory is manufacturing transponders, microdots and neural implants, designed to be fitted to the whole population to enable Samaritan to observe and manipulate every human, they find the woman who was carried in the truck from the Stock Exchange. She’s got dark brown hair… but she’s not Shaw. Her name is Delia Jones and she was a secretary at the Stock Exchange. Everything, the only lead they have, was wrong. What’s that about schmuck-bait now?

Because this is the end of the trail. Root goes on a shooting spree, but she and Reese get Delia out. And Carrow pull out of Maple, leaving the town wrecked. Samaritan’s plans have been blocked. But they have no lead, no clue about Shaw. Reese recognises that there is nothing more they can do. Finch talks to the despairing, devastated Root. But she is not convinced, that is, until the Machine sends it’s one and only message, by payphone: Sierra Tango Oscar Pappa. S.T.O.P. Root says ‘Goodbye Harold’ as if it were a final word and walks away.

Shaw is gone. And the audience is treated to a final coda. Greer, in his most sinister-uncle mode, smiles down at a bed. Shaw is cynical: ‘If this is the afterlife, it sucks.’ Greer just smiles more, tells her to rest, she’ll need it.

We know, but they don’t. Schmuck-bait, but of the very highest order.

Person of Interest: s04 e12 – Control – Alt – Delete


You do not use such words to this woman

There is and will be no let-up after the loss of Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi disappearing from the credit as she enters maternity leave), and there will be no deflection from the fight against Samaritan and its ever-growing control of everything. But there can be unexpected angles from which the gathering storm can be seen.

This one was clearly unforeseen. Shaw is gone and Team Machine want her back. No matter that Finch believes she is dead, Reese and Root are convinced she has been taken and are on a violent rampage to determine any lead that will take them there. We don’t see this, all we hear are reports of two ski-masked assailants, one male, one female, blazing a trail whose links we can understand but an uninformed public will only see as random.

So, to fill in the time,and to open things up, we have our dear friend, Control. She’s seen at first in her human aspect, dropping her daughter off at an exclusive Washington private school, before going on to the White House and her Ops Room. There’s a mission, a four-man Muslim terrorist cell in Detroit, identified by Reasearch, i.e., Samaritan. We watch the operation live, three men shot and killed on site, our old friends Grice and Brooks leading the charge. But the fourth man, Yasim Said, isn’t there.

And Yasim Said will turn out to not be a terrorist, but a fall guy, set up as a target on false, deliberately misinterpreted information, not that that will save his life. What Yasim Said is is a pebble.

He’s not there. He’s carrying his laptop. Control wants its data. But Access is Denied, by Samaritan on screen and by Greer’s spy in the cab, Mr Travers (Michael Potts), a round-faced, bespectacled man with far too smug a grin to accompany his manner. The data is irrelevant, he says, and in terms of finding Yasim, he’s correct. But this is Control we’re dealing with, she who delivered a very shortened version of Finch’s opening narrative at the start. She is an arrogant, aggressive, self-satisfied woman whose code-name sums her up: she is in Control, and denial of her wishes is not an option.

So Travers switches Research off, completely, until Control reluctantly relents, having been schooled alongside the President’s Chief of Staff, Mike Richelli, that Samaritan does not belong to them, and they are not allowed to control it. You’re not going to expect Control to take that sitting down, are you?

She diverts Grice and Brooks from killing Yasim to retrieving and analysing the laptop, overriding standard orders: she knows Grice let Shaw go, and this is his reprieve. But Yasim gets away, minus laptop, which promptly fried itself. Control herself ends up in Detroit, trying to intercept Yasim herself, and she would have done it too if not for those pesky two ski-masked assailants, one male, one female, the male one of which finally gets to fire Reese’s prized shoulder-mounted rocket launcher.

Our gang are onscreen after half the episode, holding Control prisoner in a mock-up of the setting where, in season 2, she interrogated and partially deafened Root. Camryn Manheim does such a marvellous job of incarnating the woman: you can see that she is a perfect fit for the role but that that perfect fit requires her to be a loathsome woman, not the least for her impervious ignorance. Once she gets an idea into her head, she will not consider any counter-argument, not the least shred of ambivalence as to the accuracy o what she thinks.

Thus she’s completely unable to understand Finch and Co: what they do, why they do it, what they want of her. Of course they want Shaw’s whereabouts, that’s their whole purpose. Control has no idea, and says so, but it’s equally clear that if she did know anything she wouldn’t tell them. It’s who she is, she gathers intelligence, she does not share it, no-one but her is worthy of knowledge, no-one but her can be trusted.

Finch begins to open her eyes, though she refuses to understand him or waver. She knows nothing of the battle under the Stock Exchange and regards it as a fantasy to undermine her. She will never tell. anyway, she has operatives following jher, even if one of them is a Samaritan implant. Finch tries to educate her as to wht Smaritan is, its own agenda, but the woman is too stupid to listen.

A battle ensues. Reese faces Grice and gets the upper hand, at some cost. He’s about to kill him when, in a far more plausible and effective pre-shadow of the ‘Martha’ moment in  Batman vs Superman, Shaw’s name comes out and the pair realise that in this one, tiny but vital respect, they are not enemies.

The team escapes. Finch has uiploaded a worm into Samaritan’s private network, to search for any mention of Shaw. Root is convinced she’s still alive, Reese demands to follow the least possibility and Finch may doubt but, like Bear, he would want nothing more than to find her alive: he misses her. The trail leads to upstate new York.

Another trail leads to Canada, Yasim Said’s bolthole. Control carries out this mission herself. Yasim explains himself and his friends differently: winners of one of those seashell trails, coders working on developing environmental control systems, set-up to be plausible fall guys, none of this is getting through except to the audience. Wearily, he asks her if she’s ever considered the possibility that she’s been lied to. She shoot him through the heart and says No.

Or does she? Samaritan is reaching out to POTUS via its creepy kid avatar and Mike Richelli. And Control is looking at a sub-basement six floors below the Stock Exchange, reached by a mintenance lift. There isn’t a sign of anything, no evidence that anything ever happened here. Except that the paint on the wall is still wet…

Person of Interest: s04 e11 – If – Then – Else


In my life I have seen two extraordinary episodes of television that have broken all definition of the form, and done so with such confidence and conviction that the outcome has been mesmerising. These are the final episode of The Prisoner, ‘Fall out’, and episode 8 of Twin Peaks – The Return.

I have seen nothing else to set alongside these two. This latest episode of Person of Interest comes close, however. It falls short, if you want to look at it like that, only by staying within the medium. But inside the medium it reaches an extraordinary level.

The set-up is the least of it. After last week’s ‘summit conference’, Samaritan is further showing its hand by manipulating the Stock Exchange, sending it towards disaster but neutralising its failsafes by temporary upturns, just before these would kick in. Team Machine goes in with purpose-built software to prevent this: Finch, Reese, Root and Fusco, everyone but Shaw, who’s still keeping her distance since last week , saving Numbers.

But it’s a McGuffin. It’s a trap, to get the ‘acolytes of the Machine’ into one place and eliminate them. Ordered by Greer, executed by Rousseau. The four are herded into a break-out room, hide behind counters as bullets blast through the door, the coffee pot shatters, a pear is blasted to shreds. Help needed. Help slow in coming. Hell of a time for Finch’s Machine to go on the fritz. It’s got a lot on its minnndddddd…

The first time round, I didn’t get what was going on. I watched in shock as the Machine evaluates options, settles on one that sends Finch and Root to the server room whilt Reese and Fusco head for the machine room to secure their escape route. It goes well. Ok, so a priceless original Degas gets shot full of holes out everyone gets to their places.

Essential to this resolution is that Shaw should get a security code for access to the server room. She’s trailing a guy on the subway, except that a desperate guy who’s lost everything creates an unwanted diversion by revealing his bomb vest. He’s been sent to the edge by the Stock Market crashing. Shaw, the sociopath, has to deal with him. No access code, Root shoots the way in, attracts a Samaritan party who enter guns blazing, Finch tries to save Root, is shot and dies. Meanwhile, Shaw prevents Garry detonating his bomb by shooting him between the eyes and is arrested. It’s an utter disaster.

And everything reverses to the break-out room, for this was a simulation, created and run by the Machine, which has already rejected over 330,000 other possibilities as unworkable. The process is reinforced by a flashback to 2003, to the chess tables in Central Park, to Finch teaching his young Machine how to play chess and expounding upon the nature of the game, its infinite possiilities, its tendency to influence people into seeing others as chess-pieces…

We resume. It’s got a lot on its minnndddddd… The new scenario is way into the 600,000s. Reese and Fusco to the server room, Finch and Root to the machinery room. Less preoccupied with killing, Reese gives Shaw advice on talking down a suicide bomber. It fails: she’s arrested. They shoot-out the lock. Samaritan’s agents appear. Reese fights, but is shot. Before he dies, he sets off a Samaritan grenade that kills everyone. In the machinery room, Finch repairs an old generator to restore power to the elevator. Shaw escapes from her handcuffs, receives a call from Root. It’s flirty, it’s uncomfortable for Shaw, who denies that she and Root would make even a workable couple. Thery’re still on the phone when Root severs the cable that controls the lockdown on the elevator, and is shot, multiple times, by Rousseau and co.

And reverse. It’s got a lot on its minnndddddd… Options are now into the 800,000s. The team sticks together. Fusco advises Shaw. She gets Garry to disarm the bomb, obtains the code. Everyone gets into the server room without alerting Samaritan’s goons. Finch connects the software, the market stabilises. Job 1 is complete. En masse in the machinery room, Finch repairs the generator, Fusco severs the cable, it’s all good to go. Except that Rousseau’s team is guarding the elevator and their firepower pins everyone down. Chance of survival: 2.07%. The Machine tells Root to go for it.

So the scenario plays out. The economy is saved. Everyone reaches the machinery room. But so does Rousseau, early. They’re pinned down. Reese is shot and wounded. Root calls Shaw for that final conversation (has she been privy all along to the Machine’s failed scenarios? Does she know? Each time, when the team sets itself to leave the break-out room, Root’s signal are the loaded words, “Let’s Roll”. She speaks them in a voice with a quaver. Until this last time, when she is firm and confident).

But Shaw is the Joker in the pack. She’s there in the basement, reinforcements crawled 80 feet along an airduct. Her fire enables the team to get into the elevator, but it still won’t rise. There is an override button. Outside. Someone has to sacrifice themselves, despite Finch’s warning to the Machine on that cold afternoon a decade earlier that unlike chess, when you play with human beings, you must not sacrifice.

Shaw is the sacrifice. Root has to be held back from preventing her. And yes, Shaw acknowledges the presence of… something. something powerful. she kisses Root, powerfully. Then leaves the cage. She holds down the override button, despite being shot by Rousseau once. The second time she is shot, she spins around and hits the floor. The lift is rising. Rousseau is approaching. She points her gun at Shaw’s head. As the lift doors close and cut-off the scene, we hear the thunderous rumble of a gunshot. No viable alternatives.

If – Then – Else.

This is an astonishing episode. The plot curls up into itself, like the fractal dimensions of string theory. It plays and replays, details constantly changing. It ends with the team one down, four survivors only. In the midst of this deadly serious game of trying to find a loopole in reality, there’s time for a little playfulness, as the Machine ‘simplifies’ part of the final secnario by reducing dialogue to its component elements, and this interlude is brief enough for us to laugh without disturbng our concern.

I don’t doubt that the majority of this episode was planned in advance, but the ending was an unforeseen factor. Remember that I mentioned, two weeks ago, that Sameen Shaw was wearing a bulky black coat in all her scenes? This was to conceal that Sarah Shahi was pregnant, and with twins. She was going to have to leave the series. So the past four weeks of episodes were all part of an ongoing story, from blown cover to elimination, to remove her from the series.

If you look quickly, when Shaw is hit by the second bullet and soun around, her coat flies open and, in profile, you can see her distended belly.

This episode was originally broadcast in early January 2015, coming out of a three week long Xmas break. That rather surprised me since it would have been perfect to be the mid-season finale most shows build in now.

But then if these are the only quibbles I can make, it’s a demonstration of just how igh the standard is for this episode. In comics, they say ‘Things will never be the same again’, and they always are. On PoI I can say that virtually every other week and they’re not.

Farewell

Person of Interest: s04 e10 – The Cold War


On the horns of a dilemma…

Frankly, it is extraordinary that an episode conceived primarily to build tension towards a climax to be withheld until another day could be, in itself, so brilliant. ‘The Cold War’ is a bridge between last week’s outing of Sameen Shaw and the events of the following episode (another why-does-it-have-to-be-seven-days away).

We behin with comic tones, Finch carefully directing the making of a sandwich by a resentful street vendor, followed by his accessing the subway in a manner that carries the flavours of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the 1966 Batman series and Get Smart. In its way, it was a moment of absurd genius, even though it really belonged in a different series entirely.

The sandwich is in propition for the irate Shaw, tranked and handcuffed. It’s an understated sign of how humanised she has become that she doesn’t just kill them both on the spot, that she understands why they acted as they did, and that she is prepared – up to a point – to co-operate in becoming part of the background team.

Reese is out there taking care of the Numbers. Or rather he isn’t, Samaritan is. The Great Enemy has arrogated the Machine’s task to itself, rendering Reese redundant. It saves an abused wife from killing her husband out of despair, but it does so by killing him in a very personal way, tampering with his diabetes-reminder to suggest he needs another does of insulin, so that he OD’s – icky.

In fact, Samaritan is everywhere, doing everything, giving New York a perfect day: no homicides, oodles of criminals exposed and brought in. Fusco’s overloaded but it’s going well.

The next day is the opposite extreme, a day of nudging the populace into indulging its baser emotions, running riot, deaths and collisions and chaos.

Some of this is set-up to create the space for John Greer to articulate his philosophy, which is, stripped of its pretentions, to be a boot stamping on a human face, forever. People need a strong hand to keep them in line, to eliminate the wars and fights that have endured forever, all in the name of that pathetic notion called Free Will. This is supplemented by a series of Samaritan flashbacks, to damp and dirty, grubby London 1973, where Greer is a young but highly efficient MI6 operator (an excellent job by Emrhys Cooper). He’s also unpleasantly smug, until he is jolted out of his superiority complex by learning that the KGB agent he’s been sent to ‘disappear’ is not only an MI6 double agent but has been recruited by Greer’s chief, who is himself a KGB double agent.

For some reason, young Greer takes this revelation as an earth-shattering discovery, undermining his beliefs and causing him to decide to impose order on chaos in the eventual form of Samaritan.

That Greer is so easily shocked is a weak point in an otherwise convincing reconstruction of that era, though I’d quibble about the Cold War being pinned to 1973 when it was at its coldest and most desperate in the late-Fifties, and the white-on-black numberplate on Greer’s car would have been very much an anachronism by then.

The whole thing, Order and Chaos in equal measures, has one purpose: Samaritan wants to talk to the Machine. Greer’s right-hand man, Lambert (Julian Ovenden, playing a character to deliberately match young Greer) approaches Root, there is much discussion between the human agents and, in the end, the meeting is arranged, over the severe reluctance of Finch, who fears the clash between two Articial Super-Intelligences who do not operate to Human moral codes.

It’s two analogue interfaces, meeting in a school in La Rochelle, each speaking the words of their avatars, Root for the Machine, a ten year old boy (Oakes Fegley) with a far too adult smug grin.

There’s an unpleasant echo to the conversation, a clash of philosophies, the fascist Samaritan, the humanitarian Machine, the growing sense of concern and fear in Amy Acker’s eyes as she recieves Sanmaritan’s final words. It wanted to talk to the only other of its kind, it refers to itself as a God and, in an echo of Kruschev’s threat to ‘bury’ the West, it intends to destroy the Machine.

Everyone’s worried about Root, alone and exposed. Finch actually calls her Root twice, instead of his usual courteous Miss Groves.

And Shaw isn’t prepared to sit on her hands when one of their very small team is out there, visible. She packs a weapons bag, promises Bear she’ll be back… and that’s where we wait to turn to next week’s episode, which comes exactly halfway through the season. Remember what happened halfway through season 3? Will Person of Interest repeat itself?

Seven bloody days…

Person of Interest: s04 e09 – The Devil You Know


Three amigos

If this isn’t an in media res opening then I don’t know one that is. After a brief, ten second recap from Samaritan to place us, the episode gets straight into Martine Rousseau’s exposure of Sameen Shaw’s day job and her intention to resolve it by killing her. This leads to a shoot-out at the cosmetics counter that’s fast, intense and slightly absurd, given such factors as Shaw apparently keeping a machine gun under the counter, two expert markswomen firing dozens of shots at each other without inflicting so much as a scratch, nor even any stray bullets hitting the milling, hysterically frightened clientele or staff.

Am I being facetious? Well, yes I am.  Exciting as this all is, it’s nevertheless a slightly OTT introduction to a phenomenal episode in which this lead takes us into merely a secondary strand in the episode. Shaw steps out the emegency exit to find Root pulling up outside on a motorcycle, intent on getting Shaw back to the subway using the Shadow Map (i.e., the map of all the camera dead zones where they cannot be seen).

With assistance from Fusco, the ladies are making progress until Shaw learns that Reese is handling the latest Number alone, and that a very significant Number. She insists, to the point of threatening their cover, on going to his assistance, despite appeals from Root not to get herself killed because this will devastate people who care about her.

On the other hand, Root then promptly tricks Shaw into dropping her guard whist she injects the furious ex-assassin by injecting her with elephant tranquiliser or something equally effectie: Shaw is still asleep by episode end with Reese and Finch a little fearful of waking her.

I’ve dealt with all that first because, despite the clear and obvious danger to Shaw both in media res and in long term as she now has no identity to go to, not to mention Rousseau and Greer becoming aware that Samaritan has in some fashion been blindspotted, this is a minor strand. Because, as we are well aware from last week’s story, the Number of the Week is Carl Elias, targeted by the increasingly impressive Dominic: it is the Brotherhood’s time.

That Reese and Finch will protect Elias to the fullest extent of their abilities is a given. He’s a gang boss, a villain, a murderer many times over, not a man that, on any ordinary scale, is worth saving. Nor does the loose friendship between him and Team Machine tip the balance far enough. But Elias is The Devil You Know. In relative terms, he is Order and The Brotherhood is Chaos. The collateral damage of gang operations will rise exponentially if Dominic takes over, or should I say when?

For Dominic has planned well, and his move against Elias works. He has infiltrated Elias’s men, flipped an unspecified number of them, deprived him of options and escape routes. We watch the noose tighten in a building Elias has led Reese and his Lieitenant Scarface, or Anthony as we learn is his real name. It’s Elias’s failsafe, containing a safe he doesn’t have quite time to open before the guns bark and Anthony is wounded, captured and beaten. Dominic wants the code, but Anthony is loyal unto death to Elias. It wasn’t just the foreknowledge of how the story played out: even first time I sensed what was coming, that the only knowledge and power the safe contained was under Elias’s control. He only gave the code at Anthony’s insistence, both of them, boys who made friends in a juenile detention centre that used to occupy this significant building, chosen by Elias, loyal to one another, knowing what the code meant.

Morior Invictus, Anthony said, Death before Defeat, or I Die Undefeated, the last words he spoke before the bomb that was the safe blew out the top two floors of the building and killed everyone there, but not Dominic or his Lieutenant, Linc, who received a warning from Anthony about finding himself in a chair like his.

Reese gets Elias away. He’s still a target but he has his men. And he has another Lieutenant, his accountant, Bruce Moran (James Le Gros).Bruce appeared at the beginning and end, the end revealing that he too came from that same juvenile detention centre, that the two that were Carl and Anthony were a three with Bruce. They were Elias’s friends.

And Elias phones Harold, to thank him for his help. Enrico Colantoni is never less than excellent as Elias, presenting the inevirable weoght of the character in his calmness and collectedness. In this episode, he is magnificent, carrying the emotion of the moment, the commiment to his friends and especially that one he is forced to sacrifice for the confusion of his enemies.

And in the final moment he warns Harold Finch, and by extension Reese and Shaw, that he will settle accounts with Dominic, and, letting roughness into his voice for the first time since he was introduced in season 1, warning them that they had better not stand in his way. He too has a Latin tag to speak, though only to himself. Invictus Maneo: I Remain Unbeaten. Death and Life and victory in both.

In such a superb episode, I hate to mention a flaw, but the writing slipped into melodrama as Finch relates to the audience that things have changed yet again, with Shaw’s exposure and Elias’s removal: their world has gotten more dangerous. Didn’t need that, we know that it’s getting worse as we go, we don’t need so blatant a needle: how many times so far has it gotten more dangerous? Sometimes you don’t need to cry wolf, especially when you can feel its breath on your neck.

One final thing: some of you may have noticed that Shaw spent most of the episode wearing a clunky, chunky, figure obscuring long jacket. There’s a reason for that. In two weeks time, I’ll explain for you newcomers what that meant: you are on your honour not to look it up.