It would be way premature to declare that Person Of Interest is going through a crisis, but the show does seem to be twiddling its thumbs while trying to fully refuel after a couple of Lollapalooza episodes. Maybe that’s as good a way of getting through the post-sweeps slump, when a casual viewer is as likely to tune in and get a rerun as not, as any other strategy. Finch and Reese keep fleeing not just the library but the island of Manhattan, as if they needed a change of scene; this week, they hit Atlantic City and get their Ocean’s Eleven on, which works out a bit better than last week’s trip to Serial Killer Island. The shame of it is that the show’s recent burst of energy actually got it written about (and no, not just here), and there might actually be first-time viewers looking to check the show out on the basis of those favorable reports. If there are, I can’t see them restructuring their DVR schedules on the basis of what they’ve been getting. The sprightliest parts of tonight’s episode work as light catnip for regular viewers, who can best appreciate it when the show kids its own premise and treats Reese’s violent indomitability as a joke.
Reese and Finch hit the boardwalk to protect an ex-mobster, Lou, who is played by Ron McLarty, a character actor who put a lot of time in playing judges on Law & Order, and who has now aged to look like Poopdeck Pappy. Lou’s beloved wife died a while back, and now he spends all his time losing money at a casino owned by a gangster played by Michael Rispoli. (Risploi, who played the dying Jackie Aprile, Sr. on The Sopranos, is an actor whose career seems to boil down to always agreeing to play one more goddamn mobster or checking to see if Best Buy is hiring.) Finch, who is hampered in his usual technique of making the ones and zeroes all but tap-dance for him because of the extra security measures built into the computer systems of casinos (and also because Lou, “like most people his age,” has an extra-light digital footprint), confirms that Lou has lost “nearly $2000 a day for the last six months.” Where is he getting the money? And why aren’t parts of him being served, on a bun with mustard and relish, to people at ballparks?
The plot thickens when our heroes discover that Lou is actually a master cardsharp who has been throwing his games of chance. The sharp-eyed Finch soon figures out that the casino floor is littered with senior citizens doing the same thing. Not content with sucking the blood of degenerate gamblers, the nefarious Michael Rispoli is also a drug dealer and is forcing old folks to squander what little time they may have left by spending their days on the floor of his pleasure pit, gambling and losing his drug profits, thus laundering his money for him. Since he’s essentially taking dirty money from his left hand and switching it to his right, there may be a flaw in his master plan, but nobody ever said that Michael Rispoli was a genius. Reese doesn’t care whether the plan makes sense or not; all he knows is that exploiting our nation’s elderly like this really fries his bacon. As for Finch, he sees a connection between himself and Lou, for both of them have been forcibly separated from the women they love. The big difference is that Lou lost the love of his life to cancer, where Finch stepped into the shadows and freed his up to visit The Good Wife, where she’s probably loading up on pepper spray in case Kyle MacLachlan tries to climb through the transom. Lou takes enough of a shine to Finch to be appalled when he learns this, but in the end, the show seems undecided about whether or not Finch made the right call.
In the big climax, Finch and Reese send Ken Leung’s Leon in, posing as a rich playboy out of Tom Haverford’s wet dreams, as a distraction while Finch makes one last effort to hack into Michael Rispoli’s super-secret cyber-vault of ultimate foulness. Meanwhile, Lou has re-emerged and is using his cheating skills and Finch’s money to break Rispoli’s bank. It’s all very inspiring, seeing the plucky old coot bring down his smug tormentor, and I didn’t even barf when Lou turned away from the tables to give Reese a triumphant thumbs-up. But I don’t love Person Of Interest because it can do this kind of cornball stuff as well as, or better than, other shows that can only do cornball stuff; I love it because, at its best and when it’s most itself, it’s miles beyond this kind of, well, cornball stuff. The best thing about this episode is that it keeps bringing Leon back, after I kept thinking that he’d done his usual two-minute cameo and was done for the night. He ends up doing a full evening of two-minute drop-ins, and most of them are choice, starting with his first appearance, in which, handcuffed to a hotel bed by a pink-haired woman named Candi whom he had been too quick to trust unconditionally, he is confronted by a pair of large men with African accents who want their goddamn money back. ‘Are you the Nigerian scammers?” he asks. “I can’t believe you’re really Nigerian!”
- Reese, in wry self-parody mode: "I was an international spy, Finch. I know how to play baccarat."
- The show seems to be trying to redeem the tainted cop Beecher so that he can still be a deserving love foil for Detective Carter. In the process of trying to give herself a reason to believe, she turns to Fusco, who can’t answer her question about Beecher but does tell her that the trick to solving certain cases is to follow the money. In the end, Carter does clear Detective Syzmanski (Mike McGlone), who has been framed by H. R., and she does it, she says, by heeding Fusco’s advice and following the money. Maybe this isn’t the first time Fusco has been secretly working to bring down corruption. Are we sure he wasn’t Deep Throat?
- While the stuff in the foreground cools, the H. R. subplot is heating up. After the attempt to frame Syzmanski fails, Clarke Peters invites the detective and a crusading prosecutor over for dinner and coldly shoots them both dead, then permits his assistant to plug him in the shoulder to help him sell his story of being attacked by a mystery gunman. Thrilling stuff, though I was mainly just happy that I won’t have to worry about seeing Mike McGlone on this show anymore. He only gave the single most annoying performance ever captured on film in Edward Burns’ 1996 She’s The One, looming over Cameron Diaz and bellowing about erectile dysfunction and adult diapers, and every time I see his face, I experience the moviegoer’s equivalent of a Vietnam flashback.