Person of Interest s5 ep 9

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Possible spoilers. I’ve done my best.

Person of Interest long ago passed the point at which the casual viewer could drop in and watch an episode. Nonetheless, ‘Sotto Voce’ provides something of a masterclass in weaving together an apparently straightforward Case of the Week and an increasingly complicated backstory. The Number is Terry Easton, a locksmith, who is first seen by Reese breaking into an investment company. Terry’s wife is being held captive, as a result of which he’s doing the bidding of a master criminal known only as The Voice, who we’ve seen – heard? – before. It turns out that The Voice’s plan is to get Terry into Reese and Fusco’s police building, where members of the Templarios gang are being held, so that Terry can use his locksmithing skills to get them out.

In the middle of this, Person of Interest finds yet another way of manipulating its cast in interesting ways: Finch asks Elias for help in tracing The Voice, and Elias – presumably wanting some fresh air – agrees, as long as he can go into the field, which means that we get the two of them working as a partnership. Nor is this merely entertaining: the Case of the Week is resolved by Elias in a way which Finch would undoubtedly not have countenanced, but doesn’t entirely regret.

Meantime, Root has a number of her own: Matthew Stone, a radio engineer. And Shaw is back in NYC, hunting down Samaritan agents one by one. And Fusco has a taxi driver in custody, accused of possessing a firearm which – much to his suspect’s surprise – has been used in an unsolved homicide. The storylines pile up, but it never feels forced or crowded. It’s the sort of episode, in fact, where you kind of know that there’s a twist coming which will connect some of the threads. Even allowing for that, though, I didn’t anticipate the one we got: either the Person of Interest writers and actors are remarkably skilled at misdirection, or I’m unusually gullible, because in all likelihood every other viewer saw this one coming.

By the end, though, Root and Shaw have reconciled, Fusco has been read in to the whole Machine/Samaritan thing, and Team Machine is back together; a haunting final shot (soundtracked by The National’s majestic ‘Fake Empire’) makes a point of highlighting just how vulnerable the five of them are considering the forces arrayed against them. It’s a terrific episode.

Person of Interest s5 ep 8

This week’s Number is James Ko, a businessman whose flight is diverted to New York City, where he starts to feel unwell and goes to hospital. It’s an immutable rule of TV drama that when someone starts coughing it never ends well, and sure enough before long poor old Ko is dead of an unidentified illness, resulting in the hospital being locked down with Finch and Reese both inside.

Ko’s death turns out to be attributable to a synthesised virus created by Samaritan, apparently as part of its reaction to a couple of members of hospital staff who disagreed with its approach to automated healthcare. (Once again, I note in passing that Samaritan has a point: human error kills more people than it should, and in the long run greater automation will save lives.) And Jeff Blackwell, recent Samaritan recruit, is in the hospital as well, with the intent of killing the relevant medics. But the plan is bigger, and has a typically Samaritan-esque twist; the CDC requires mass immunisation, as part of which the DNA of the entire population is being harvested by everyone’s favourite supercomputer, for reasons as yet undisclosed.

In a busy episode, all of the main characters get something to do: the increasingly disaffected Fusco requests a new police partner, and enlists Elias in his investigation of who killed the bodies in the tunnel. Elias, incidentally, gets the best line of the week: “Underneath all of that intellect”, he tells Finch, “you’re the darkest of all of us. It’s always the quiet ones we need to be afraid of. I just hope I’m not around the day that pot finally boils over”. I expect he will be. I hope we will all be.

Meantime, Shaw escapes, and finds herself in a prison in Johannesburg, where she shoots that Samaritan henchman with the English accent. Or it’s another simulation. Given that my primary school teachers would have leathered me for using “…and then I woke up!” in a piece of creative writing at age 10, it’s genuinely astonishing how often proper TV writers think they can get away with it. This time, though, I think it’s for realsies, as she hears details of the virus outbreak on a car radio as she drives away. It’s another very good episode, but it falls short of being exceptional, perhaps because the main plot – virus, hospital, lockdown, CDC – has been done so often before.

Person of Interest s5 ep 7

Person of Interest is still doing its very best to keep its structure intact even as it reaches the end of its run. So there’s a Number, and this week it belongs to mild-mannered talk radio host Max Greene (30 Rock’s Scott Adsit), who has a show called Mysterious Transmissions which covers conspiracy theories, the paranormal, and the like. Max is “more paranoid than we are”, muses Finch. Root turns up as his producer, having already cycled through this week’s helping of fan service: cop, dancer, “colonial re-enactor”. I hope Amy Acker is having as much fun as she seems to be.

Samaritan is using the radio station’s network to broadcast to its operatives using a code which sounds like static to listeners. Root tries to use this network to get a message out to Shaw; meantime, Max is in danger, as he has become aware that there’s a pattern to the static. The conclusion of Max’s story will once again emphasise that the Machine ultimately allows for the possibility of free will, even at the expense of the safety of the individual, in a way that Samaritan does not.

Shaw, meantime, is on another Samaritan-led field trip, during which she’s prompted to kill a scientist working on bringing the thylacine back to life (if, that is, it needs to be…), because Samaritan has seen that the consequences would be catastrophic. Everyone talks so much about this being another simulation that it’s reasonably obvious that it’s not; Shaw decides that she’d sooner be dead, but just as she’s about to commit suicide Root’s message gets through to her.

And poor Fusco, who just about survived last week’s tunnel demolition, is getting pissed off with Finch and Reese keeping things from him; it’s ostensibly for his own protection, but that doesn’t really seem to be working, does it? So he hands back his Team Machine phone and announces that he’s out. It’s a bit like the cop slamming his badge down on the boss’s table. It’s another brilliantly cerebral yet entertaining episode. There’s really nothing quite like this show.

Person of Interest s5 ep 6

This week’s Number is a marriage licence, sending Reese, Finch, and Root to a tony wedding where heiress Phoebe is about to marry public defender Will, to the (presumed) disapproval of Phoebe’s horse-owning and possibly animal rights abusing father. There’s more to it, of course, but it’s hardly the most radical storyline in the show’s history. It’s enlivened, though, in the telling: there’s the usual Person of Interest skill and attention to detail, and a plot which gives us Reese being mistaken for a hen-night stripper; Finch, as exiled Irish uncle Ralph, “singing” Twisted Sister’s ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ at the reception; or Root, on horseback, galloping in and saving the day, is always going to be entertaining.

The episode’s real heft, though, comes from elsewhere. Having so far failed, in simulations, to stop Shaw from killing herself rather than betraying her friends, Greer instead decides to take her for a field trip in the hope of persuading her of the merits of the Samaritan approach. And, not for the first time, you’d have to say that Samaritan kind of has a point: Greer points out some apparently respectable business people whose decisions will, in due course, claim the lives of thousands. The Machine will only pick that up when the future victims are in imminent danger; Samaritan, though, knows about them now, and is capable of making a worryingly seductive rational, utilitarian calculation that their immediate deaths would save countless many more lives. My weak response to that would run along the lines of Sir Thomas More in ‘A Man For All Seasons’ – “And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide…?” – but I don’t know if that’s what people want any more.

Then, just to increase the pressure, Shaw is confronted by Samaritan’s very own human avatar, sinister little Gabriel, who vividly demonstrates what will happen if Samaritan is thwarted. The CGI might not be top-of-the-range, but it’s still eye-popping. So while Samaritan does whatever it needs to do, the voices of moderation – in this case Root and Finch – are still debating whether to trust the Machine, and therefore themselves, with more power. That’s… not unlike real life.

Finally, Fusco has a lead on what starts to look like a third force in the battle for control of New York’s underworld, although it’ll probably be a little Samaritan hobby. His investigation leads him to a tunnel where he finds some of the missing people from recent episodes, including Krupa from last week, and the newly-minted corpse of Elias’s consigliere Bruce. Then the tunnel is demolished. Even though we only have a few episodes to go, I’m still assuming that Fusco is essentially indestructible, and I’ll be disappointed if I’m wrong.

Person of Interest s5 ep 5

The Number of the Week – because, even as the world is falling apart, this is a show which knows the importance of structure; are you paying attention, Scandal? – is Ethan Garvin, a sound analyst who works at the Real Time Crime Center, which appears to be the surveillance branch of NYPD. Ethan’s particular interest is a piece of software named ShotSeeker, which picks up sounds that might be gunfire and decides whether or not shots have been fired. However, it’s not entirely reliable, so Ethan – who has a particular aptitude for this sort of thing – acts as a human filter before police are despatched to the scene, or not.

Ethan, however, is sneaking off after work to investigate the disappearance of Krupa, a young graduate who had been researching a method for the long-term preservation of fresh food, thus allowing its transportation around the world. A Big Agri company had been trying to buy Krupa’s research, but ultimately she’d decided to go with a charity devoted to relieving starvation. Shortly thereafter, ShotSeeker had picked up something that sounded like gunfire at her apartment, but had decided it was actually the sound of firecrackers. This is a conclusion with which Ethan disagrees, particularly given that he has discovered that Krupa is missing. Samaritan, of course, is involved.

Meantime Fusco and Reese are approached by Bruce Moran, a Elias ally, who wants to know what happened to his boss, and is prepared to use threats to find out. Not that these are going to persuade Reese. (The broom!) And Finch has created versions of the Machine and Samaritan, locked them in a Faraday cage, and set them loose on each other; in what I assume is a deliberate echo of last week’s episode, he has them running battle simulations in the hope of finding a weakness in Samaritan which he can exploit. But several billion wins for Samaritan later, he’s close to admitting defeat.

This would all be more than enough in itself but, as ever, the plotting of Person of Interest is so meticulous that nothing goes to waste. A bit part character from earlier in the season makes a significant reappearance. Krupa remains missing, leaving open the question of what, exactly, Samaritan wants to do with the world’s food supply. And an apparently casual enquiry, early in the episode, about the security of Finch’s safe house turns out to be the springboard for a punch-the-air twist that I didn’t see coming at all. Not an exceptional episode, merely a routinely brilliant one.

Person of Interest s5 ep 4

Unavoidable spoilers

Shaw is back: in the first of many gruesome scenes we see her strapped to an operating table, and Samaritan medics implant a microchip in her brain. But then she escapes, hacks the chip out of her head, and alerts the Machine team. Root, of course, is first there; somewhat curiously, despite acknowledging that Shaw has just had major surgery, she hits on her, but after a few minutes it’s reciprocated. #Shoot time!

All is not well with Shaw, though; her brain appears to be fried, and her behaviour makes Reese wonder whether she is, in fact, working for Samaritan. To disprove this she helps come up with a plan to find out Samaritan’s whereabouts and capture Greer, who – more amateur surgery – has a USB drive removed from under the skin in his arm. This, Finch thinks, might be a kill switch for Samaritan. Shaw, though continues to deteriorate: first she kills Greer, then she shoots Reese, then – after threatening to kill Root – she turns the gun on herself.

Except… no, she doesn’t. At the end of the episode Shaw is revealed still to be in Samaritan hands, and what we’ve just seen is the latest in a very long line of simulations run by Samaritan, taking place in Shaw’s mind, in which Greer tries to come up with a scenario whereby Shaw will reveal the whereabouts of the Machine and its defenders. I wondered whether something was up at the start, when Shaw escaped and someone had helpfully left a boat for her to sail away on, but I’m not going to pretend that I was certain about what was going on.

The thing is, though, as I’ve said many times before, I’m really not a fan of hallucinations, dream sequences, simulations and that sort of thing, no matter how brilliantly done. So while this was probably about as good an example of the genre as you’re going to get, and the episode was in many ways a remarkable one, it didn’t quite work for me.

Person of Interest s5 ep 3

We start with yet another twist on the opening credits, as Finch’s “You are being watched…” monologue is interrupted by John Nolan as the voice of Samaritan. The battle for the future is under way.

In the present, though, the Machine is feeling sufficiently like its old self to supply a couple of Numbers. Reese first of all needs to finish off an old case, by beating someone up in the toilets of a restaurant where he’s meeting Iris and her parents for lunch. One suspects that for Reese, as for most of us, any sort of displacement activity is preferable to the first time you meet your girlfriend’s parents. Anyway, his allocated Number is Alex Duncan, who works for a private consultancy with access to sensitive military information, which he’s illegitimately using to try and find out about the death of his brother, killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

Flashback to 2010, then, in which Reese and his partner Kara (welcome back Annie Parisse) are sent to Afghanistan by Terrance Beale, Reese’s then CIA boss, to investigate the case of a soldier who might have been selling information about weapons shipments to the Taliban, with clear instructions to deal with the soldier as appropriate. The soldier denies everything, but Reese shoots him anyway. It turns out that Reese was correct about his guilt, although whether shooting him was the right thing to do is perhaps more nuanced. The soldier, of course, was Alex’s brother, and in the present day Alex is being pursued by Beale – something of a rough-stuff artist – and the CIA, keen to ensure that details of their off-the-books op remain secret. And Reese in turn is trying to protect Alex; a task which is complicated by the fact that, as far as Beale and the CIA are concerned, Reese is very dead. This storyline comes to an entirely satisfactory ending: Alex is given the thing that Reese realises he really wants, and Reese and Beale come to an arrangement.

The other Number is, at least, part fan service; the mutual love between the Machine and Root seems to extend to obliging Root to dress up every now and again, and this week she’s a courier who comes into possession of malware which the Machine seems to want Root to install on it, which she does over Finch’s objections, because it might help in the search for Shaw. Another episode which is so good that it’s essentially beyond criticism.