It was Root who, a few episodes back, teased Finch by suggesting that he must have had a helper, or helpers, before Reese; did something bad happen to them, or had they been sent to live on a nice farm in the country, where they could run and play all day? Whether this speculation was a lucky guess or a divinely inspired vision on Root’s part, it turned Finch a whiter shade of pale, indicating that she’d at least touched a nerve. Most of “Ram” is set in 2010, a year before Reese met Finch, and it satisfies the viewer’s curiosity as to what Finch’s operation was like in its early days, before he got all the bugs worked out of it. It also shows that Finch’s predecessor was one of the bugs, in more ways than one.
“Mr. Dillinger” (Neil Jackson) isn’t a lost soul in need of redemption, like Reese in 2011. He’s a mercenary, professional muscle, with a cold, frosted look that reminded me of the line used to describe the chief villain played by Neal McDonough on Justified a couple of seasons back—somebody opined that the fellow looked as if “he’d shit blond.” In an introductory scene, Dillinger casually takes out a bad guy stalking a woman and then even more casually takes out the bad guy’s accomplice. It’s established that he’s at least as professionally efficient and highly skilled as Reese, and it’s then established why he’s not the ideal person for his job when he takes the woman home to bed.
The next morning, Finch calls him in and hands him his latest assignment. The person in danger is Daniel Casey, a freelance tech wizard played, in what may or may not be a deliberate inside joke, by Joseph Mazzello, who played Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskowitz in The Social Network. Casey makes his living testing the security of new computer systems; companies pay him to try to break into their new creations, to see how easily it can be done. He’s just come from a job he was hired to do by the U. S. government. There’s some remarkable new system out there, and his employers set him to work on it, but something about the job never smelled right to him. As Casey eventually explains to Finch, who comes to see the kid as a mirror image of his younger self, he came to believe that he hadn’t really been hired to test the system at all. Instead, he was there to “show the government how to break in.” All this is over Dillinger’s head, but he’s impressed by how badly two or three different parties, the U.S. government included, want to kill this kid just for knowing that the system exists. He’s also impressed by how sweaty and anxious any discussion of it makes Finch. It’s almost as if he knows exactly what it is and what it does, and why it’s so important.
Casey is being pursued by a couple of CIA agents who have been told that Casey is a traitor, and who are under orders to execute him as soon as they have the chance. These are Reese and his old partner, Kara (Annie Parisse, who’s always worth going back in time for). One of the funny things about Person Of Interest is the way that new characters and story developments keep shedding fresh light on older ones, and it’s easier to get a read on the dimensions of Kara’s sadism—the way she uses her power and position as an official defender of America and its sacred borders as an excuse to hurt people as gratuitously and self-righteously as possible—now that she can be contrasted with Shaw, the sociopath who’s never hypocritical about the satisfaction she gets from killing people, but who has some sense that there are people who deserve it and people who don’t.
The episode also serves as an opportunity to see Reese at a stage in his government service when he wasn’t especially tortured about the demands of his job, though it was becoming harder for him to pretend that something didn’t stink. The two of them have some exchanges that are so extreme in their clipped, noir toughness that they’re funny. Informed that their handlers will be expecting to receive Casey’s teeth as “proof of death,” Reese doesn’t object but does point out that a DNA swab is easier to get through airport security. Later, he interrupts a torture session, telling Kara that “If he was gonna spill, he’d have done it by now.” “Oh, he’ll spill,” she says with a smile, “whether he talks or not.”
“Ram,” which also includes glimpses of the Special Counsel figure played by Jay O. Sanders and Camryn Manheim’s Control, doesn’t just fill in some blanks from the show’s past; it rounds itself out with a terrific, climactic appearance by Root, in full, radioactive “I have seen Jesus walking on the surface of the water” mode, in a scene that makes it appear that the main point of this dizzyingly rich episode is to explain who Casey is, before putting him in play as an important character in the show’s mythology. At a point in its life where many network genre shows are running on fumes, Person Of Interest continues to be a show that’s constantly reassembling itself in ways that make it change shape and expand in your head as you’re watching it.