As we’ve said before on Unpopcult, we’re not mad about double-bills. I’m kind of against binge-watching in principle (I know, I know; I need to get with the times), and even two episodes per week of anything is tricky when there’s so much else to be watched. Person of Interest, though, is worth it.
The first of these episodes, ‘Pantechnicon’, has to do a fair amount of heavy lifting to get us from the end of season 3 and establish season 4’s ground rules. Samaritan is mopping up anyone who knows that it exists, which means that our gang is trying to stay under the radar: Shaw is working in the cosmetics department of a large store; Reese is an undercover cop; Finch is a mildly fussy college professor, a role not a million miles away from that played by Michael Emerson in the final season of Lost, when Ben Linus was a teacher in the flash-sideways. He is, of course, so suited to the part that I assume someone, somewhere is pitching Professor Emerson, the show. And Root’s eyes are still shining with evangelical fervour as she channels The Machine.
The numbers have started to come through again, which means that Finch, Root and “the Mayhem Twins” have to decide whether to help out, even at the risk of blowing their cover. As it happens, with so much backstory to be sorted out the Number of the Week’s plot is a little underfed: he’s Ali Hasan, owner of an electronics business, whose son has been kidnapped by a street gang, which is looking for Hasan to set up an untraceable network for it.
It’s very adroitly done, of course, and by the end of the episode we’ve got where we need to: Team Machine has a new telecommunications system and (fabulous and kickass) new premises; the show has a new villain: a multi-aliased blonde woman eliminating security risks at Samaritan’s request; and, down at the 8th precinct, Fusco has a new partner, that being Reese. (All you need to know about this show’s mastery of tone and understatement is encapsulated in the silent exchange between Reese and Fusco when the former takes over Carter’s desk.) I would totally watch a spinoff show about that partnership, perhaps running after all-new episodes of Professor Emerson.
‘Pantechnicon’ is very good indeed. However, the next episode, ‘Nautilus’, is mind-spinningly brilliant; so much so, in fact, that at one point I started to wonder if it was perhaps overloading us, like a baked cheesecake which adds chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and chunks of brownie as garnishes. The Number is Claire Mahoney, a brilliant math(s) student who seems to have gone off the rails while competing in a sort of city-wide cryptography scavenger hunt. Finch is doing his best to keep his friends safe, by warning that they can’t allow themselves to get too involved in Claire’s case, but he can’t resist the lure of a mathematician in trouble.
As with all the best Person of Interest episodes there’s meticulous plotting, plenty of action, and just enough deadpan humour, with Shaw still getting all the best lines. At the conclusion (which is given the appropriate portent and melancholy by Portishead appearing on the soundtrack) it occurred to me that the show might have been making a point about the selection processes and recruitment methods of organisations – legal and extra-legal – which require devoted obedience from their members. Or it might not. I have no idea. It is, though, yet another astonishing episode of a show which exhausts my supply of superlatives as quickly as I can come up with them.