Person Of Interest:  "4C" 
A-

Person Of Interest:  "4C" 

Tonight’s episode features Samm Levine as Owen, A.K.A. “the Sphinx,” a web designer who created a bitcoin-fueled site called the Black Market Bazaar, which has somehow made him a magnet for government-trained professional killers of every background and nationality. (The body types don’t vary much. Do the CIA and Mossad have some kind of mold?) The real guest star, though, is the interior of an airplane that’s doing the red eye to Italy with Reese, Owen, and a dizzyingly high number of the international killer elite on board.

From “Nightmare At 20,000 Feetto that Wes Craven movie where Cillian Murphy elbowed Rachel McAdams right in the face, I’ve always been a sucker for thrillers set aboard screaming metal birds, tearing through the air at supersonic speeds, with pitch blackness outside and, if we’re lucky, maybe some lightning. I was a little disappointed that, with so many sinister forces vying for the honor of getting to explain to customs why they were disembarking with Samm Levine's head in their luggage, nobody thought to put any snakes on the plane. But anyone who can tell one Airport movie from another will just be pleased to hear that Reese and company did not dishonor the genre.

At the start of the hour, Reese’s own head is still where it had been at the end of last week’s episode: He feels that he’s been kidding himself that there’s any value to the work he’s been doing with Finch and just wants out of the pointless, violent game. He’s even taken to wandering around looking unshaven and hungover and is almost ostentatiously not wearing a suit; he’s in jeans and a baggy, untucked black shirt that looks as if it might have been a different color when he first made its acquaintance, and would probably be skulking around the bad parts of town dressed as Bo Peep if he thought it would hurt The Machine’s feelings. His face a death mask of bitter regrets and smashed dreams, he’s gone to the airport to book a flight to Istanbul, presumably because there are no available flights to Interzone. There’s a nicely understated sick joke when a clerk asks him how many suitcases he’s taking with him. “No baggage,” says Reese, despite the fact that he looks like a man sinking under the weight of too much baggage.

Reese is having trouble making travel plans that will stick, because the computer keeps throwing up roadblocks and steering him onto the plane it needs him to board to keep an eye on Samm Levine. Surprisingly, Reese thinks that it’s Finch who’s working his technological kung fu to screw with him and keep him in the game. The surprise is that, after all this time, Reese could be so naïve and be so far from understanding Finch, who appears ready to respect Reese’s wishes, and might even wish that he could walk away and find some peace. (Just because it’s obviously impossible is no reason to not wish for it anyway.) It’s The Machine that has no intention of either letting Reese quit or handing over the keys to the car.

“4C” is about Reese’s return to the land of the living, and the renewal of his commitment to the mission that gave him a reason to tighten up and move forward the last time he felt like resigning from the human race. It’s also an example of this show’s action-thriller formula at its purest, because Reese rediscovers his sense of mission not through talking things out or exploring his feelings but through action, by slamming people upside the head and repeatedly pulling Samm Levine out of harm’s way. (It’s thinking and getting in touch with his feelings that gets him in trouble.) “We have free will,” Finch tells Reese at the end, getting in touch with his inner Stan Lee, “and that comes with great responsibility, and sometimes great loss.” The irony is that it’s The Machine that understands that the only way for Reese to make his peace with that loss is to put him in a situation in which he can use his deadly talents to save lives—not abstract numbers of lives, but strangers whose faces he can see and drink in. (The villains are so intent on killing their target that they’re prepared to bring the whole plain down.) After the plane lands, he’s ready to get fitted for a suit again. (Good thing they’re in Italy.) During the climax, there are clips of the in-flight movie, which is North By Northwest. It takes guts to try something like that; the highest compliment I can pay Person Of Interest may be that, while I was watching this, I never thought. “Gee, I wish I was watching North By Northwest instead.”

Stray observations:

  • In an episode that’s mainly about getting Reese back into the center square after a few weeks on the sidelines, there isn’t a glimpse of either Fusco or Root, but Shaw does get her share of the B story. Her big scene comes when she faces off, yet again, with her old mentor Hersh, who I had mistakenly given up for dead last week, after a suicide bomber wired with enough explosives to level a city block blew himself up while he was practically in Hersh’s lap. At the start of the episode. Reese is using the alias “Mr. Wiley,” but of all the bad guys that have come and gone on this series, it’s Hersh who is turning out to be the show’s Coyote.

More TV Club