“Till Death” S2 / E8
- B Community Grade
This was the first episode of Person Of Interest directed by Helen Shaver, the talented Canadian actress who shared a bed with Paul Newman in The Color Of Money and re-oriented her sexuality with Patricia Charbonneau in the 1985 indie Desert Hearts. I realized that I hadn’t been seeing her a lot onscreen in the last few years, but didn’t know that she’d been spending a lot of time directing for TV, probably because that section of her IMDB page includes a lot of titles like Judging Amy, SVU, Stargate Universe, and Joan Of Arcadia. I haven't seen enough of Joan Of Arcadia to speak with any authority on the general quality of its hand-to-hand combat scenes, but the climactic battles here aren’t as crisply calibrated as I’ve come to expect from this show, and you really want people to be hitting their chalk marks with precision and flair whenever the hero is settling his disagreements with the help of a nail gun. But Shaver’s very good with the actors and has a fine comedy sense; she’s terrific on those violent moments that shade into slapstick, such as when a testy Reese deals with an unwelcome question from Mark Pellegrino by punching him in the face. In fact, my only other complaint about this episode is that CBS broadcast it two and a half months early. It would have been one of the all-time great Valentine’s Day episodes.
Speaking of reasons to love this episode, did I mention that Mark Pellegrino gets punched in the face? Pellegrino plays a man who’s partnered with his wife in running a small publishing house, and in one of the most remarkable stretches for an actor since Marlon Brando signed on for Guys And Dolls, he doesn’t have supernatural powers and isn’t running a small publishing house against the backdrop of a savage, post-apocalyptic landscape. (Though Shaver, being Canadian, may not think there’s much difference between a savage, post-apocalyptic landscape and Manhattan; when Reese punches Pellegrino out and stuffs him in the trunk of his car for safekeeping, it’s funny, partly because no passers-by seem to take notice.)
He’s just a dude from a working-class background who’s having some problems with his wife (Francie Swift). “I always knew you were defeatist,” she hisses at him in the back of their town car after he’s made the mistake of betraying some interest in an offer to buy their company for half a billion dollars. “I never knew you were spineless!” Without even asking for permission to retort, he calls her “a stubborn, obtuse, over-indulged, pseudo-intellectual.” She spits back, “Which one of us went to Yale?” which, based on what little I know about arguments between married people, is probably some coded remark about the size of his penis. Even in a pre-apocalyptic landscape, Mark Pellegrino isn’t about to take that lying down, so he hires a friend from the old neighborhood to kill his wife, without knowing that she’s hired a hit man to kill him, nyah-nyah.
Finch and Reese are disgusted to find themselves trying to protect two people, both of whom have contracted to have blood on their hands, against their amoral selves. Early on, Finch refers to “my descent into deviant behavior,” by which he means that he’s become so adept at breaking and entering that it’s a wonder he isn’t fielding job offers from Gregory House. Now, he confesses that he’s picked up enough of Reese’s moral relativism to consider leaving the publishers to pick each other off and go find someone worth saving. Reese sees the wisdom in this, but the machine hasn’t spit out any other numbers of potentially endangered people—quiet town, New York—and both Finch and Reese have already seen the Quay Brothers exhibition at MOMA, so what else are they going to do with themselves?
They even reel in Carter, who seems happy to get away from a good-looking cop who’s such a sweet talker that he could probably ask for 50 cents in a way that made it sound like a Luther Vandross record, and Fusco, who has been stepping away from his desk to make mysterious phone calls, in a hushed voice. Reese, of course, immediately deduces that Fusco must be up to some skullduggery, but in keeping with the theme of the episode, the poor guy is just looking for love: The call from Reese interrupts his first date with a friendly woman with a soft spot for sad-sack cops. She’s understanding, too; when the shame-faced Fusco tells her that he has to leave the “foodie” restaurant, where patrons are served subatomic portions on plates that look like an unimaginative child’s crafts project, she asks if she can tag along, and sweetens the pot by offering to treat him to a falafel. Bind that girl to you with hoops of steel, Lionel!
When the wife is informed of her husband’s plans, she sputters, “You hired Nestor, the drug-addicted lunatic, to kill me!?” She sounds as if she just found out that he’d bought her engagement ring using a coupon he clipped out of Parade magazine. For his part, Pellegrino insists that “I tried to call him yesterday and tell him I’d changed my mind, but he’s always hated you, honey.” The show can afford to kid around like this because the emotional core of the episode isn’t with the married couple but with Finch and his lost love, Grace, whose courtship shows up here in flashbacks. Grace is played by Carrie Preston of True Blood, who’s married to Michael Emerson in real life. She’s been on the show before, but this episode puts the two of them together more than ever before. They're incredibly sweet together, and they even share a kiss: You basically get to see them falling in love, and the ghost of everything that Finch has been denying himself hangs over the entire episode. In the end, only the villains get seriously hurt, but that doesn’t mean that something valuable doesn’t die.
- In a show with a shifting time frame like this, the writers have to learn subtle ways to remind the audience when a flashback is in effect. For instance, in a scene between Finch and his old partner, set in 2006, the partner, referring to the break-up of his own marriage, says, “You know the only thing worse than hate? Indifference.” Almost unconsciously, the viewer recognizes that this exchange isn’t taking place today, because if it was, the last line would have to be, “Indifference, and the makeup jobs on Tom Hanks in Cloud Atlas.”