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 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.

Person of Interest: s04 e08 – Point of Origin


Hell of a place to leave an episode.

Most of this latest episode of Person of Interest was a primarily procedural thriller, developing the ongoing strand of the Brotherhood, building up the character of its imperturbable and strategic leader, Dominic, and setting up next week’s episode whose Number has been identified for us this week: Dominic has established a hold over all the gangs in New York save one. Next week, he plans to bring down Carl Elias.

But that’s for next week, which is rather more of proximate interest for the episode’s secondary strand. Remember that last week Smaritan constructed a very shadowy, blurred and completely unrecognisable picture of Sameen Shaw? A picture that it’s constantly refining, deblurring, bringing closer to recognisability throughout the episode. Meanwhile, Greer has set Martine Rouseau on the trail (always a pleasure to see Cara Buono).

The problem is, as it always is, as she and Greer cynically observe, relationships. Their underground friends overlook this. Leverage. Contacts. Trace them from one person to another – Katya, the woman replaced in Tomas’s gang, Romeo, who recommended her replacement, an online dating, and therefore contact app, called Angler – gradually closing in on the point of origin…

And there was a tertiary strand, reintroducing Dr Iris Campbell (the delightfully red-headed Wrenn Schmidt, I am being spoiled this week), psychologist to one Detective ‘Riley’, who’s not really playing fair, avoiding appointments. Iris’ commentary on ‘Riley”s supercop persona is a delightful in-joke, but she’s got him a pass to temporary re-assignment as a Training Instructor as the Academy, where he is watching the Number of the Week, trainee Dani Silva (Adria Arjona), who’s behaving very mysteriously towards her training group, especially the smitten Alex Ortiz (Mike Figueroa).

Not to mention that she’s savvy enough to kneecap ‘Riley’ in a training exercise with paintball guns.

It’s another switch episode, with Silva’s actions setting her up to be Perpetrator when she’s actually going to end up being Victim: already a cop, working undercover long-term, identifying a mole sent by the Brotherhood to inflitrate the Police (a callback here to Mike Laskey in season 3). Reese is sympathetic over and above his duty to both her and Team Machine (not to mention his hero-complex): she reminds him of Carter.

Things start to go pear-shaped. Silva’s cover is blown, ‘Riley’ saves her from being gunned down on the street, despite Iris bugging him over his psychology. Silva’s handler is murdered, and she is framed for it. The mole is, and I’m sure you will be surprised by this, Ortiz, whose naivete in thinking he’s doing a one-time job for the Brotherhood is almost laughable. His job was to steal Police files from the computer, years of investigative detail about Elias and his gang, gleaned in a moment. And Shaw and Finch identify the big thug Mini, the quiet boy at the back of the class who everyone thinks is stupid, as Dominic. Enemy sighted, but not yet enemy met.

It all works out. ‘Riley’ and Fusco bring in Ortiz, clearing Silva’s name. She has lost her trusted handler, but gained a friend on the force (she will pop-up again: irrelevant, I know, though perhaps the show’s own terminology justifies this aside, but I hadn’t recognised her as Anathema Device in last year’s Good Omens).

A good thriller, though not a great one, through ultimately becoming nothing but a preliminary to something larger. There’s no space for Root, and only a limited role for Finch, isolated in the underground, speaking to the others only by phone, not even Bear for company because he’s got an action role.

But a hell of a place to end an episode. Rousseau’s traced the Angler app to a department store, cosmetics section. Shaw, in her day job, won’t answer her phone. Samaritan says the target isn’t there. Rousseau requests the latest photo. It’s still unclear but it’s enough to enable Rousseau to recognise one of the assistants. Who’s staring back into her face, with recognition.

Rousseau strides forward, her gun in her hand…

Person of Interest: s04 e07 – Honor Among Thieves


Relevant

This was not an episode that waseasy to summarise, with twin, complex plots. Nor, again, was it one to further the show’s long story for season 4 until its literal last moment. But it was certainly one that held a rare degree of amusement in watching Sameen Shaw restraining herself constantly from jumping the bones of the Number of the Week.

He was Tomas Koroa (Adrian Bellani), tall, handsome, lean, catnip for women in general and certainly for Shaw. Tomas is a world traveller, a wine dealer and expert. He’s also the leader and planner of ‘The Hole in the Wall Gang’, a team of four highly experienced, very professional, very successful and internationally wanted thieves. Having walked out on her old bunch, after kicking asses and chucking their latest loot in the river because they didn’t stick to the timing, Shaw’s as much appreciative of Tomas’s professionalism as she is his ass.

So, clearly a perp, though where the threat is coming from is as yet unclear. To get close to Tomas (ooh, give over!), Fusco plants drugs on their existing beautiful woman, Katya (Faina Vitebsky), creating a vacancy into which Shaw moves. It’s a robbery taking place in twenty minutes, breaking into a hotel vault, dragging away the safe and opening it in a quiet, undisturbed location (i.e., Donald E Westlake’s Bank Shot without the Dortmunder Gang’s usual haplessness). Tomas opens the sae, extracts the small box within…

But I said two plots. Finch and Root, she playing a nanny in a gorgeous auburn wig in her latest identity, are pointed towards Jared Wilkins (Johnny Sparks), recipient of a $12,000,000 grant from Nicholas Dawson, Samaritan’s hand-picked choice as New York State Governor, for his mysterious charity OTPS. Root goes undercover as nanny to Wilkins; son, Sebastian, to learn that OTPS stands for One Tablet Per Student, an ambitious and wholly philanthropic intent to supply a Tablet computer to every child in New York, pre-loaded with educational software.

Yes, our computer genius pair conclude, software selected by Samaritan, to teach entire generations what Samaritan wants them to know, to brainwash them into thinking only what it wants them to think. Wilkins’ project has to be brought down, and it is, by a fire that destroys the building and its masses of 3D printers.

But as they walk away, Finch tells Root that, whist he was setting this up, he checked the software, and found only one line of suspicious code, a line he’s not even sure was malicious. It’s like Cuba: when Castro took over, the first thing he did was build schools, which was very popular but which was an absolute good. They have destroyed a very similar initiative. What are they becoming?

Meanwhile, there’s a case being opened by an International Jewelley Thief. But it doesn’t contain jewellery. Instead, it contains a dozen vials of a pandemic: Mar-V, with a 90% mortality rate. And instead of being a Perpetrator, Tomas instantly becomes a Victim as his crew try to kill him and Shaw and abscond with the virus.

This leads to a deserate cat-and-mouse chase to recover and destroy the virus, with Tomas as an ally in the pursuit. The perpetrator behind this is Marko Jevdice (David Vadim), a former member of the gang and the obvious culprit givemn that he’s supposed to have died in Police custody six years ago.

Marko’s been hired to spread a pandemic in New York. He’s going to start with Tomas and Shaw…

But there’s a complication. Samaritan was supposedly behind Jared Wilkins’ One Tablet Per Student project, but we had severe doubt cast on that. We automatically assume Samaritan’s behind the pandemic but it’s not. The moment Marko gets the virus in his hands, the Relevant side get involved, a two agent team consisting of Devon Gricce (Nick A Tarabay) and Brooks (Theodora Woolley), wth orders to kill everyone involved and destroy the virus, though that unsurprisingly becomes secure the virus.

This complication creates multiple complications. Grice was traned by Shaw. he’s uncomfortable with his and brooks changed role under ‘Research 2.0’. Originally they got names, to investigate, and decide upon the appropriate course of action, just as Team Machine does. Now they just get names, many more of them, and just kill without knowing why. Brooks is very gung-ho, MsCompany Woman about this: we’re not paid to think.

Finch is seriously worried. Getting too close to the Relevant team might expose their double lives. Shaw knows her side though, anticipating the order to secure the virus: only they can be relied upon to destroy it.

Everything’s closing in. Marko’s about to inject Tomas, Grice and Brooks are almost at the door and up pop Reese and Fusco to start a running gun battle to distract both enemies. Shaw and Tomas get away with the vials, Brooks executes Marko and his men, but Grice intercepts our pair. And as soon as he recognises Shaw, tells them to go.

Just to make things plain, this is another of those give-Jim-Caviezel-a-break episodes. Reese floats around in the background in the background but this is his only action scene.

There’s an aftermath, two of them in fact, one of which is funny. Tomas wants Shaw to join him in Barcelona, on his next job. They work so well together. Shaw declines, and gives herself a bit of fun, sneaking up on Root. The two actually flirt a little. Well, Root flirts a lot but Shaw plays a little too. She needs Root to help her decontainate and destroy the virus. It’ll be a long job, 12 hours or so, overnight…

And Grice and brooks move on, new orders, people to kill in South America. Before they leave, Grice erasesthe surveillance footage of his letting Shawand Tomas go. Immediately, we see Samaritan retrieve it, reset the angle, start cleaning the pixels to identify a face. The face of Sameen Shaw, an enemy.

Person of Interest: s04 e06 – Pretenders


Two ‘Detectives’

In which a seemingly self-contained episode, pitching heavily on the light-hearted button, nevertheless attaches itself to the developing mythos of season 4 at a very late stage.

‘Pretenders’ runs two stories in counterpoint to one another, each adopting a deliberately comic tone before coming to a wholly serious coda. In the main story, Reese and Shaware working on the new Number, mild-mannered Insurance Clerk Walter Dang (Erik Jensen) or, to give him the name of his secret identity, Detective Jack Force.

Yes, that’s right, Walter has a secret life as a supposed NYPD Detective, battling crime (the reference to Thurber’s Walter Mitty is unsubtle, though I kept stumbling over the visual resemblance to Walter White, another person with a secret life).

Detective Force (the name is perfect comic book) is investigating the death of truck driver Abel Mindler, a supposed suicide. Not necessarily out of the pursuit of truth, justice and the American way, but out of sympathy with, and attraction to his co-worker Elena Mindler, sister to the deceased.

Reese is doing the legwork whilst Shaw, at first, does the nerd bit, because ‘Professor Whistler’ is in Hong Kong, sent by his boss to present a paper on an abstruse and multi-faceted topic that I couldn’t even begin to understand. It provoked an approach by an attractive businesswoman, Beth Bridges (Jessice Hecht) who greeted the Professor by saying that she disagreed with every single spect of his argument.

It was hardly meant as an introduction to a flirtation but that was the atmosphere as we kept cutting back to Hong Kong and Harold and Beth’s interactions, which included a street-mugging in which her handbag, with laptop, and his attache case were stolen.

Meanwhile, in New York, Detectives ‘Riley’ and Fusco re trying to keep Walter safe from the people who are after him. What our comic ‘cop’ has stumbled into is something deadly serious. Abel was hired to drive a truck. Unfortunately, he found out what was in it, namely 100 high-power super-rifles-cum-missile launchers. Being an honest man, he dumped the truck somewhere unknown. Walter doesn’t know where, but he has Abel’s phone. With its GPS tracker history of everywhere he’s been…

Enter a second person hunting Walter. This is Elias. He’s been hidden in the scenery for a long time, basically popping up to provide information in his gently avuncular manner that we’ve gotten used to him being on the side of the angels, but he’s still a highly professional criminal. Elias controls the supply of guns in New York. He wants those super-rifles.

Over in Hong Kong, Harold has persuaded Beth not to go to the Police. He can find the mugger, a restaurant delivery boy. They stake out the steakhouse (it’s not a steakhouse but I couldn’t resist the alliteration). Harold knocks the kid off his bike, retrieves the stolen bags and become quite the hero in Beth’s eyes. She’s coming to NY next month and wants to set up a date.

Back in New York, it all roll out. ‘The Armourer’s thugs kidnap Walter, find the truck, chec the merchandise and prepare to execute him. ‘Riley’ and Fusco intervene, start shooting. They are massvely outnumbered and John takes a bullet to the shoulder, but in Cavalry-fashion reinforcements arrive, led by Elias’s lieutenant, Scarface.

The men are killed. ‘The Armourer’ is not the boss, nor will he tell who the boss is, but Elias knows who it is.

So we segue into the endgame, in which the two strands of this mostly inconsequential take become unexpectedly very consequential indeed. Elias meets up with the man who wanted the guns, Dominic. They have been destroyed. Elias will not permit the balance of power in this city to be tilted so. Dominic is quietly angry that Elias has twice interfered in his business. Elias contradicts him: he has only ever pursued his business. It would be wise for Dominic to steer clear. In this manner, a war starts.

And in Hong Kong, Harold meets and pays off the mugger who confirms that, as instructed, he installed certain software on Beth Bridge’s laptop. Beth’s on her way to the airport, reporting her progress by phone to an organisation she’s co-operating/collaborating with. The young man who takes the call reports it to his boss: John Greer.

There is no such thing as an unconnected story in the Person of Interest universe.

Person of Interest: s04 e05 – Prophets


Kill me if you can

The early episodes of season 4 have been about accustoming us to the new reality of playing the Numbers game in a world ruled by Samaritan, but this is the point at which our beleaguered cast are drawn back into the higher but more basic conundrum of having to unpick the lock that Samaritan has upon our lives. From every angle, this was a storming episode, tight, taut, thoughtful and full of more developments than the average show could handle in less than three episodes. And fully coherent too.

Funny to go back and see that all this develops from a PoI-style comedy opening. ‘Riley’ and Fusco chase a crook up six flights of stairs to a rooftop where he leaps onto the parapet and threatens to jump. ‘Riley’ talks him into an attempt to grab a gun and shoot him, which leads to the traditional busted kneecap: ‘Hey, I saved his life’ is the detective’s plaint.

Less foreseeable is the two-part aftermath, a mountain of paperwork which keeps him off the job for the next Number, and a mandatory referral to Internal Affairs for counselling and surveillance over his propensity for shooting people.

So Reese is mainly peripheral to the Number, wizard pollster Simon Lee (Jason Ritter), spectacularly successful with ten winning campaigns already, an unbroken record and on the case of New York Governor, James Murray, all his figures pointing to a 52-48 majority ensuring re-election.

The race is won by challenger Michelle Perez (Caris Vucjec). By 52-48.

Simon can’t believe it. The numbers were right, they were locked down, he couldn’t have been wrong. Some of it is ego, but some of it is being right. Simon was correct: they couldn’t lose, but they did. Ergo, the Election was rigged. And it was. Simon’s big problem, which becomes a massive problem for the three people directly involved with trying to keep him alive, is the identity of the rigger. Which is Samaritan.

Samaritan has a plan for humanity’s appropriate governance. It’s not for Michelle Perez, who dies of a ‘medical complication’ in the middle of her victory spech, but for her successor, running mate Nick Dawson (Kevin Kilner), an eager-to-please, lacking-in-principle junior whose gubernatorial reign will benefit from advice from Liaison officer John Greer. Dawson’s one of 58 across the United States. Careful, thoughtful, controlled leadership. Power. Absolute Power. No need to remind us what that leads to.

And we’re given evidence of that in the form of flashbacks, of a kind we’ve not enjoyed for some time. These are all to between October and December 2001: an uncrippled Harold Finch is developing the early versions of the Machine, alongside Nathan Ingram (ah, Brett Cullen one more time). But these early iterations of the Machine are dangerous and uncontrollable except by killing. They write their own code, they try to escape, they are ruthless, they try to kill Harold over and over and over again. We can see the very good reason Finch has to fear Artificial Intelligence, and not merely Samaritan.

These flashbacks tie us to the extremely important middle of the episode. Root turns up in the Batcave, stripping out of one persona and becoming another. Reese, Finch, Shaw, they all have one life but the Machine has designed obsolescence into Miss Groves’ cover. Every 48 hours she changes, name, identity, occupation, chameleon-like, for purposes of which she knows nothing, but which she sustains from her absolute faith in the Machine.

Harold takes a step into the dark, welcoming her as an ally, as a comrade, but most of all as a friend. She has become a part of the team, in his eyes, and he is as concerned for her welfare as he is for Reese, Shaw and Fusco. And he’s acute enough to know that her contact with the Machine, the voice in her artificial ear is now non-existant, a severed line disguised by static and indirection, to save two lives: Root’s, and the Machine’s.

This is a war that can’t be won but mustn’t be lost. Root is coldly aware that there will be casualties, and that those casualties will encompass their little group. The Machine has changed her, but she remembers her old life: after that, a good death will be a privilege. Things can happen at any time – Root will in fact be wounded in a gloriously funny but brief shootout between her and Martine Rousseau, two hot women directed by two AI’s, firing two guns through floors and ceilings to keep each other busy – and if anything happens to her, Root want something said to Shaw. That teasing, flirtatious approach Root takes to Sameen is built upon something more, a subtext that a high proportion of the PoI audience started obsessing over, to the disgust of the neanderthal element that didn’t want girls playing in their boy’s game to begin with.

Elsewhere, Detective ‘Riley’ sits down with his counsellor, Dr Iris Campbell (Wrenn Schmidt). The Doctor’s too good looking to be taken seriously (ah, that red hair!) but the woman knows her stuff. Reese is under the handicap of having to lie about everything, but Iris is well aware of how ‘Riley’ is handling things, manipulating and concealing, and she has a grip like a steel trap. She even gets our split man to open up to something real, that he doesn’t like shooting people (you could have fooled us), in fact he hates it. It’s extremely odd from the John Reese we’ve loved these 72 episodes we’ve already watched, but Jim Caviezel sells it. He’s good at it, but most importantly, he gives his philosophy, that there are too many bad people in the world and not enough good ones, and if he doesn’t save these, who else will?

In the end, Finch saves Simon, but to do so he has to break him. Simon’s numbers change, showing his analysis to be wrong rather than there be any rigging. He’s destroyed either way but this way he gets to keep on breathing, and whilst in the PoI universe, that is seen as the greatest good, at least one member of the audience wondered if allowing his death might not have been the kinder end.

The episode ended on twin tracks. Samaritan wants to find the Machine. And Harold Finch confronts a camera and tells his creation that it’s time for them to talk. There are now thirty episodes left.

Person of Interest: s04 e04 – Brotherhood


Not standing out

We’re far enough into seasion 4 now for me to note that PoI is concentrating all its efforts on how Team Machine is responding to the changed circumstances of their world now that Samaritan is under operation without putting them into direct opposition with Greer and his pet machine.

As such, we need an arc to keep the series from relapsing into a season 1 progression of Numbers, and this episode is where that arc is defined.

Our Numbers are two kids, Malcolm and Tracie Booker, aged 14 and 8 respectively, separated in foster homes half the city apart whilst their mother is in jail for possessing an illegal firearm. The siblings only see each other because Malcolm walks his little sister to school. Reese is watching Malcolm’s school, Shaw Tracie’s, but neither kid has turned up.

This is because, on the way, the kids have come across a drugs shoot-out, between the new and very effective gang, the Brotherhood, and the Armenians, in which only one gang member, the hulking ‘Mini’ (Winston Duke), a no-account footsoldier, is the only, wounded survivor. And they’ve walked away with a shoulderbag containing $500,000 in cash.

The Brotherhood want their money back. They also want to set an example to all others thinking of taking advantage in such windfall circumstances.

The kids are not difficult to find, buying new smart, professional clothes with which to approach a top-notch Lawyer to get their mother free. Malcolm (Amir Mitchell-Townes) has his head screwed on right, in some ways. His catchphrase is ‘If you wanna be the man, you gotta have a plan’ but Detective ‘Riley’ has to explain that any plan that starts with ripping off half a million dollars from a highly-organised street gang that will kill them as soon as look at them is not a well-founded plan.

The Brotherhood are well-organised. Their leader, Dominic, is an enigma, unknown, unseen. His right-hand man Link Cordell (Jamie Hector) has already been brought down by ‘Riley’, but been sprung thanks to the ‘willingness’ of one of the gang’s cornerboys to take the rap. Shaw kidnaps Mini to coerce information on Dominic out of him (look very closely at that name, people). And ‘Professor Whistler’ sets up a covert meeting with Elias on a subway train, only to come up short. And he has to lie to Elias’s face when the latter talks of something having changed in the world: Harold, whose first instinct is not to tell, denies any knowledge and hurries away: dead giveaway.

To protect the Booker kids, to recover the cash, to bring the Brotherhood down, ‘Riley’ teams up with DEA Agent Erica Lennox (Rosie Benton, playing grey-suited, hair-scraped-back professional). There’s a teasing flirtatiousness between the pair from the outset. Lennox warns ‘Riley’ that the Brotherhood have moles everywhere, including in the DEA. The moment she says that, everyone’s PoI radar immediately switches on to the prospect that it’s her and we are not wrong. When Malcolm reveals the whereabouts of the cash, Lennox goes for it… and doesn’t come back.

The endgame sees Malcolm take the brave decision to offer himself as a recruit to the Brotherhood, in exchange for his sister’s life being guaranteed (the whole thing is his responsibility, from the start: the illegal firearm was his and his mother went to jail covering up for him), and ‘Riley’ buying him out of this again with the fake shoulderbag that contains mostly waste paper.

Meanwhile, Shaw has let Mini escape, with a tracker on him, and follows him to a launderette where she cuffs him again, finds their stash of heroin, and buys ‘Riley’ back by threatening to torch it.

So the kids get away, and ‘Riley’ arranges for a new foster home together, and a lawyer’s appointment. Malcolm wants to be a lawyer himself, or a cop, like ‘Riley’. It’s a nice future. Maybe he’ll get it.

Because Link picks up the hapless, slow-talking Mini, who talks about the Brotherhood using him because he has a good head on him. In the back dseat is Agent Lennox and a shoulderbag. She can explain it all, she just needs to meet their boss.

And Mini turns in his seat and shoots her through the head. “You just met him,” he says. Do-Mini-c. Hide in plain sight. He knew about Shaw’s tracker, he led her to a minor stash, an unimportant sacrifice. Dominic is dangerous. He knows the score, he understands he won’t be on top forever, he’s in the game aware of only one rule: We all die in the end.

And Professor Whistler sits down next to Elias on a subway train again, to apologise for the lie Elias knew about. Things have changed, though  he can’t say more. He gives Elias a copy of The Invisible Man, including an address to start finding out about the Brotherhood. There is a new war afoot. And defeat is not tio be allowed…

Person of Interest: s04 e03 – Wingman


Does the man on the left *really* need help?

Despite the changed circumstances under which our Gang of Four (plus one) are operating, the fourth season is sticking to its traditional early arc: nothing to heavy, nothing too serialised, Number of the Week teritory with little nods here and there as to how things are going to shape up.

‘Wingman’ was a relaxed and funny episode which saw the team split into two to follow separate paths. It began with a superb little scene where Detectives ‘Riley’ and Fusco pursue a drugs suspect at full pelt through New York streets, only for ‘Riley’ to lose patience, climb a sightseers open top bus and down the suspect from one hundred yards: kneecap only, of course.

This gets the boys into hot water with the new Captain Moreno (Monique Gabriela Curnen) who doesn’t like ‘Riley’ kneecapping people indiscriminately, with even Fusco reading John the Riot Act over how he has to behave now he’s Police.

Enter the new Number, Andre Cooper (Ryan O’Nan, a name with a peculiarly apt relation to Andre’s job). Andre, a former longshoreman, or docker to us Brits, is a professional relationship consultant or, if we want to be crude and mocking about it, a pick-up artist. Andre prefers the professional aspect. He’s not out to show guys how to con women into one-night-stands but to educate social incompetents into men who women can genuinely be interested in.

So they feed him Fusco.

It’s a riot alright, with the two trading lines like they’re in a weekly sitcom, but there’s a serious side as Andre quit his job not long after there was a murder at the docks, following the disappearance of a container holding an arms shipment. Victim. Or Perpetrator?

Meanwhile, John’s learning how to be a good detective and turn away the wrath of Captain Moreno, who’s nicotine-patching like crazy and cranky with it. Using the info he can get via the underground set-up, he’s pinpointing perps and getting confessions like crazy. The Captain is pleased and favours him with a slightly concerned smile.

Double meanwhile, ‘Professor Whistler’ is approached by Miss Groves, who, on behalf of the Machine he no longer trusts or listens to directly, seeks his assistance on a mission. Wht mission that is, not even Root knows yet, receiving her information on a not so much Need to Know basis as a When You need to Know. Harold describes it as a Wild Goose Chase, Root as a Scavenger Hunt.

And it’s a scary one. It’s all about buying an Anti-Tank Missile, just minutes before the cops bust the dealers, and shopping it, via a series of contacts, to a Latvian Mob. Harold is supposd to be ‘Mr Egret’, a quasi-mythical figure amongst arms dealers, and it’s beautifully hilarious how, when challenged to be Mr Egret at no notice whatsoever Michael Emerson transforms Harold into a dark and intense man of few and ordinary words that are nevertheless shit scary: who would imagine the menace you can get into ‘Yes, I would mind’.

But Harold can’t maintain it. It’s like the Senator, the line he cannot cross. He cannot put this weapon into the Mob’s hands and he says so at the most inconvenient moment. Fortunately, as Root says, the Machine knows Harold well enough to have anticipated this. It’s another variation of the Frodo Principle: she just pulls out her two guns (where does she keep them, given that Amy Acker is tall and slim, wearing pretty tight clothing and doesn’t bulge except where she should?) and kneecaps all four.

Result: access to one storage unit complwete with a) all the munitions you could want and b) two very big canvas bags stuffed with a sizeable proportion of all the money you could want to spend, given that harold is cut off from his fortune. The Machine is trying to make things better for him.

Back at Fusco and his wingman, the ruth is coming out. Andre is Victim, not Perp. He knows about the ‘disappearance’ of the arms shipment (is this the same one?) and of the murder carried out to cover it up. That’s why he quit the docks, but his loyalty to his old comrades has led him to refuse to testify. Unfortunately, his old comrades don’t believe that and, just as Fusco is getting the hang of talking to women, the pair are kidnapped and tied up in a container to die of heat-stroke or drowning.

Shaw, who has been acting as Fusco’s other, and more cynical wingman, is going after him to the rescue. Reese can’t, because Detective Riley has a fiery Captain watching him. He’s got a murder to clear up though, in true PoI fashion, it turns out by be the same one, enabling ‘Riley’ to come out with the absolutely brilliant line that he’s solved three murders today and didn’t want Fusco to die before he could brag about it!

All’s well that ends well. The Captain is pleased with ‘Riley’, though she’d still like to blame him for four knee-capped Latvian mobsters. Fusco is pleased with his partner, who’s on a steep but effective learning curve, and even more pleased to have a date with an attractive woman. Finch is thinking hard, but meanwhile they’re all in funds again…

And for future reference, there’s a passing remark about a gang boss named Dominic.

All in all, not one of your heaviest episodes but a fine distraction nevertheless, and a perfect demonstration of the way the show is adapting itself, and its audience, to the new rules. It’s re-building its world exactly as it had to do three seasons ago, in order to create the platform on which a larger edifice will be constructed. We will see that soon enough.