Person Of Interest: “Critical”
C+

Person Of Interest: “Critical”

Person Of Interest will be taking its Thanksgiving break next week, and this episode makes me wonder if it needs the week off even more than I do. “Critical” is by no means a dreadful episode; the show is now at the point where it can put itself on autopilot for an hour, and what’s pleasurable about its formula still comes through, even it’s only faintly audible over the sound of the snoring. But this episode feels as it exists mainly to get a few things done that will matter more further down the line—mainly, introduce a new, smooth-talking supervillain, and nudge along the subplot about Agent Snow’s enslavement by Reese’s former CIA partner. These things get done, and they don’t take much time away from the story. But the story itself still feels like filler.

The new bad man in town is “Alistair Wesley,” and it’s anyone’s guess whether they came up with that name before or after they hired Julian Sands to play him, though it’s a safe bet that if Sands had told them to get lost, they’d have had to rename the character. Sands oozes superciliousness, as only a onetime British leading man whose hairline isn’t what it used to be can. His performance has an undercurrent of thwarted ambition and bitterness, as if his character felt unappreciated and may have suffered some professional setback, perhaps akin to having been tied up working on Boxing Helena and a sequel to Warlock around the time somebody else was playing the chief villain in Schindler’s List, with the result that now the somebody else is more likely to get the call to play the new M in the James Bond movies. He’s so smugly superior that he informs Reese that their “paths have crossed before, in Istanbul,” but Reese has no memory of having met the man. Of course not, says Sands; when he’s on assignment, as a rule nobody knows they’ve met him, or even seen him—that’s how bad he is. At the end of the episode, Sands is in the wind, but Reese, talking to Finch, predicts that they have not seen the last of the sneaky bastard. He will be back. Can’t wait.

Sands’ master plan involves a surgeon named Maddie Enright (Sharon Leal of Dreamgirls and Boston Public), who is married to an affectionate blonde named Amy (Erica Leerhsen), who has an excellent short haircut. Maddie’s big job of the day is to operate on Oliver Veldt, a businessman played by an actor whose beefy build and thick head of white hair would, in a less enlightened time, have kept him typecast as members of the Soviet Politburo. Sands wants Maddie to kill Veldt while he’s unconscious on the operating table. It sounds a lot like the sort of thing that probably goes on all the time on The Mob Doctor, but then I’m only guessing, since I haven’t ever actually seen a minute of The Mob Doctor. Still, it takes a certain amount of gall to rip off, with no apparent satirical intention, the kind of situation designed to remind viewers about the most widely ridiculed new show of the television season.

There’s also a smidgen of the 1995 Johnny Depp movie Nick Of Time. Sands has warned Maddie that, if she doesn’t do as he commands, he’ll have Amy killed. This is no idle boast, because he has multiple assassins stationed all around and has even set up multiple cameras to better monitor the action. At a certain point, you have to wonder how cost-efficient this plan is, given the expense of just setting up the surveillance operation that surrounds it. Clearly Sands wants a smooth murder that will never inspire thoughts of foul play. But did he give any thought to just setting the hospital on fire?

He’s not the only one guilty of wasting his resources. There’s a clumsily staged sequence early on where Finch goes to the trouble of maneuvering Maddie into putting on a pair of bugged eyeglasses, so she can be spied on from a safe distance. It feels like a desperate way of giving the heroes a vantage point on the action, and it doesn’t come to enough to justify the awkwardness, because as soon as Finch figures out what’s going on with Maddie, he disguises himself as a doctor and spends the rest of the episode practically sitting in her lap. Because of the careless staging of some scenes that needed to be quick and deft to justify their existence, this is not Michael Emerson’s finest hour. The action is still deftly handled, especially in a quick, bone-crushing pas de deux between Reese and one of the bad guy’s henchmen, a scene that builds to the image of Reese drop-kicking his adversary into an oncoming car windshield. But then there’s a cut to the operating room, where Finch and an assistant villain are slackly reenacting least-loved scenes from Abbott and Costello.

The best thing about this episode is the opening, which combines two surefire crowd pleasers: The well-timed “body hurtling through a plate-glass window” gag, and Ken Leung, in a return engagement as Leon, the perpetually endangered tech genius of the season première. He didn’t have enough to do in his previous appearance, so it’s a thrill to see him brought back and established as a recurring member of the support team; he gets to help Reese and Finch out with some computer work back at the office and thoroughly enjoys himself. (At first, he’s miffed about being left behind, and asks, “What am I supposed to do for entertainment?” Finch stares at him: “It’s a library.”) Leung is the only thing in this pre-Thanksgiving episode that doesn’t taste of tryptophan.

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