It’s funny, and almost kind of endearing, that whenever Person Of Interest trucks out an uninspired, subpar episode, it tends to be garlanded with bursts of ear-splitting dialogue reminiscent of such classics of noir fiction as S. J. Perelman’s “Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer” and Woody Allen’s “The Whore Of Mensa.” Tonight’s case involves a Cuban refugee named Firman, who was once a promising major league prospect until he hurt his pitching shoulder. “By all accounts,” says Finch, winding up the guy’s biographical profile, “he had a wicked curveball,” to which Reese, naturally, replies, “Until life threw him one.” While this crap is going on, poor Fusco is being summoned to a meeting with Robert John Burke, the last man standing as part of the corrupt-cops organization, H.R. When Fusco demurs, Burke grunts, “You’ve got one too many skeletons in the closet to be calling the shots here. Not to mention a couple buried in the ground. And they can always be dug up.” I don’t mean to suggest that the show is trying to trick anyone into mistaking a bad episode for deliberate parody. It’s more like a depressed shrug, an admission of creative failure crossed with a desperate cry for help.
Poor Firman—it’s never a good sign when almost every character on the show seems to merit a “poor” in front of his name—came to America in 2005, along with a friend named Rafael who was also gifted at Fidel’s favorite of all America’s gifts to the world, baseball. Tony Plana puts in an appearance as Mendoza—let’s all say it like McBain on The Simpsons, shall we?—the dirty smuggler who helped the two of them make it to the States, in exchange for a cut of their MLB earnings. But now that Firman has been reduced to driving a cab, Mendoza!!!!!! is offering to help bring over Firman’s wife and son (who never even knew his daddy, snuffle, weep) for a thick wad of cash. When Firman shows up at the café where this jackal does his business, he is told that the Black Friday discount sales are history and the $40,000 in his hand is only enough to pay for one transportation plan, either his wife or his son, so which’ll it be, Sophie?
Reese, who is following Firman around on a motorcycle, wearing a helmet that makes him look like the T-Mobile girl’s dad, also gets to witness a pathetic encounter between Firman and Rafael, who, not having hurt his shoulder, is now a big-time baseball star and spends his afternoons promenading around, playing King of New York. Firman stops him and reminds him of what they’ve been through; Rafael gets a sheepish look on his face and crams a few bucks into his old pard’s outstretched hand before moving on. Reese whispers to Finch that Firman has just caught a torturous glimpse of “the life he could have had.” Is that enough stops pulled out for you? Are your heartstrings not plucked? And did I mention that, at one thrilling, cliffhanger moment, the villains who are involved with terrorists and have been murdering people indiscriminately threaten to shoot Bear the dog, just in case anyone watching is on the fence about what bad news they are?
All this might not be so sticky if it had something to do with the story—if Tony Plana were the special guest super villain and Rafael was getting ready to either throw the big game for him or on the verge of missing the big game so he could swing heroically into action and help out his old friend. But it’s just window dressing. Firman isn’t a character; he’s a composite of pitiable traits intended to make him seem like a courageous everyman who loves his family and has had some bad luck, and to make it clear that he has good reason to be involved with the MacGuffin that has put his life in jeopardy. The MacGuffin itself is a mysterious laptop containing information much prized by the Estonian Mafia, which got left in Firman’s taxi. It is also much prized by a federal agent played by Reiko Aylesworth, in a short haircut that makes her eyelids look about five feet tall. Her hairdo is the best thing in the whole episode.
In the end, Reese materializes out of the ether just in time to powerfully impress upon a small army of mobsters how much he would really rather prefer that they not threaten his dog—Crash! Smash! Ow! Ouch! Hey, I need that to procreate!! —Firman recovers his pitching arm just long enough to bop a bad guy with what looks like a dinner roll as hard as a billiard bill, and Carter—who, in the wake of her big date with the smooth operator who was breathing all over her in last week’s episode, has also been to the hair salon—gets Reiko Aylesworth to pull some strings, so that Mrs. Firman and Firman, Jr. are soon stepping off the next crosstown bus. “Don’t know how you pulled that one off,” Reese tells her admiringly, in a line that serves to put the audience on notice that the writers don’t know how she could have pulled it off either, and won’t ask embarrassing questions about it if we won’t.
As for Fusco, he comes crawling back to the station after a failed mission to execute a retired mob boss who looks like Andrew Sarris in a rare good mood and is last seen being threatened by Robert John Burke with exposure for his past crimes, apparently just for the hell of it. Reese badly needs to step up and take some pressure off this valuable solider, or at least buy him a cup of coffee and a Clark bar and express an interest in what’s making him so sweaty and distraught, hopefully next week. I don't want to be worrying about the guy all through Christmas break.