Amy Acker has the greatest eyes. When the character she’s playing is defeated or despairing, they go totally dead, so that they look as if they’ve stopped taking in light. But when she lets them shine again, she may look as if she’s madly in love, completely psychotic, or having a vision of the Virgin Mary. When Root is looking up at someone and singing the praises of The Machine, she gets all three humming simultaneously. Having fallen into the clutches of Camryn Manhem’s Control—what a surprise, someone who works on this show is a John Le Carre’ fan—she rhapsodizes that The Machine is “my power, my reason for being, my friend.” This is actually a pretty fair summation of how I feel about this show.
Person Of Interest likes to keep lots of balls in the air, so that when it wants to bring things to a full boil, it can start crossing streams and throwing them together. While Root and Control are having it out, Shaw, Finch, and Saul Rubinek as Finch’s old college buddy from M.I.T. have gone to a bank to collect the drives for Rubinek’s Machine-like artificial-intelligence-driven surveillance system, Samaritan. While they’re in the bank, the privacy-rights terrorist group Vigilance storms the building, followed by Control’s sidekick, Hersh. I could be happy as a pig in shit watching any of these people for an hour, but sectioning them off into different levels of the plot and cutting back and forth between them is a guaranteed formula for the viewer’s personal happiness.
Meanwhile, Reese and Lionel are in a jail cell somewhere, debating the validity of what they do, and also which of them should be more grateful that the cops broke up their big fight in the previous episode. I’m not sure how Reese’s crisis of conscience is going to play itself out, but it’s worth pointing out that the show can allow him to indulge in his pouting because it now has enough heroes in play to pick up the slack. Most of the violent action chores tonight are handled by Shaw and Root, which is to say that its action heroes are a clinical psychopath who’s good with a gun and a raving loony who’s even better. Realizing that he’s dependent on Shaw to save his bacon, Finch urges her to try to think like Reese—a careful, precise instrument, like a scalpel—instead of her usual approach, which more closely resembles a hammer. “There’s a time for a scalpel, and a time for a hammer,” reasons Shaw. “It’s hammer time.”
“Alethia” really surpasses itself in the quieter moments with Finch and Rubinek’s character—a man whose present is too heavily weighed down by his grieving over the past, and a man dying from a medical condition that has made it impossible for him to sort out the difference between the past and the present. Rubinek’s performance grows more weirdly beautiful with every line, up to the final image of him laid out in a bed, watching old surveillance footage of himself with his dead wife—a mercy extended to him by The Machine, a chance to sort out his befuddled memories just before his meter runs out. When Rubinek talks about The Machine as if it were Finch’s child, and Finch tries to correct him, Rubinek brushes off the objection as “a false dichotomy. It’s all electricity. Does it make you laugh? Does it make you cry?” Finch has to admit that it does. I’m afraid that I missed whichever episode it was in which Michael Emerson laughed, but watching him and Rubinek cook, I might have teared up a little myself.
- Reese is still in the dumps as the episode is ending. He feels that what he and Finch have been doing is useless, and worse, he feels somewhat betrayed by The Machine, which was unable to keep Carter alive. “We trusted blindly,” he tells Finch, “but I’m not so sure he cares who matters and who doesn’t.” He seems to have become the mirror image of Root, the disillusioned apostate versus the faithful apostle, and it’s telling that he refers to The Machine as “he.” They disagree on The Machine’s gender, but neither of them thinks of The Machine as “it.”
- One way that see keeps those balls in the air while staying fresh is through rapid turnover in its recurring characters, and tonight’s episode appears to bid farewell to Hersh; he gets blown to shit after being treated to a spirited recitation of Timothy McVeigh’s favorite quote from Thomas Jefferson. As played by Boris McGiver, Hersh always wore the expression of a man who was thinking really, really hard about the angry letter he was going to write to his Congressman complaining about the government’s secret role in his constipation problem, and he has perhaps his finest moment earlier in this episode, when Control, who is mulling over the prospect of subjecting Root to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” asks Hersh if he has any ideas. “Mm-hmm,” says Hersh. It’s a simple moment, but it makes you realize that the thought of a man with that expression on his face having any ideas about anything is enough to freeze your marrow.