Tonight’s episode fleshes out Fusco’s back story, filling in the details of how this good cop fell among bad company and became the dirty cop he was before Mr. Reese and his merry band kicked the crap out of him and set him back on the straight and narrow. It opens with a flashback to 2011, when a weeping Fusco is seen dragging what appears to be the dead body of Michael Stipe out into a field and burying it, which would explain why R.E.M. officially broke up that year. But it’s not Michael Stipe; it’s Fusco’s longtime best friend on the force, a guy named Stills, who was instrumental in the erosion of Fusco’s moral compass. Fusco was going along fine until Stills and his partner Azarello got him involved in helping them cover up their misdeeds. Time passes, and then, in a later flashback, the two creeps invite Fusco to share the spoils of a drug bust gone bloody. Fusco is aghast at the ugly scene, but then a closet door bursts open, and Shaggy from Scooby-Doo runs out with a gun, and Fusco plugs him in what looks like self-defense. The die is cast; he has no choice but to throw in with these scumbags.
Say what? I can’t say that I’ve given that much thought to how Fusco got dirty, but if I had, based on the unrepentant, murderous thug of the show’s early episodes, I wouldn’t have imagined anything like this. Worse, Fusco must have gone to the crapper during his own flashbacks, because he doesn’t seem to know himself that he practically fell backwards, kicking and screaming, into the life of crime that he’s done so much to atone for since Jim Caviezel accepted him as a disciple. Azarello is sitting in prison, singing like, well, Michael Stipe, and Internal Affairs is set to slap the bracelets on Fusco for the murder of Stills—whom, he confides to Carter, he did indeed bury but absolutely did not kill. But he’s so overcome with guilt over all the other “bad things” he did that he’s barely interested in saving himself.
He blubbers something to Carter about how, one day, you think that nobody will miss the drug dealer’s money if you help yourself to it, and that just makes it easier to proceed to the thought that nobody will miss the drug dealer. As the rationalizing psychology of a cop going over to the dark side, it rings true; it just doesn’t match up with what we’re actually shown of how Fusco went dirty. I’ve always liked the fact that Fusco seemed to be an irredeemable piece of shit who, thanks to the good feeling he began to develop about acts that he was made to perform against his will, was redeemed. The show must like that idea too, because it has Fusco behaving as he really had pursued corruption eagerly and enthusiastically, but the flashbacks serve to make it look as if, because of circumstances he was lured into by worse men to whom he felt some loyalty, corruption took hold of him and took him over, like a fever that eventually broke. Carter, meanwhile, is made to wrestle with her conscience and try to decide whether she can come to terms with the fact that some men with shady pasts and dubious methods might deserve forgiveness, which is something you’d think that she’d already come to terms with when she stopped chasing the Manhattan vigilante and started helping him.
As gummed up as this stuff is, it’s more compelling than the main plot, which has several problems, though the big overriding one is that I’ve seen it before. It’s D.O.A., the 1950 noir classic in which Edmund O’Brien discovers that persons unknown have slipped him a drink spiked with a “luminous toxin” for which there is no antidote, thus giving him the opportunity to spend his last few hours trying to solve his own murder. (There was a thin, memorably too-flashy remake in 1988, starring Dennis Quaid, and directed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jenkel, the creators of Max Headroom.) Here, the thirsty bastard is a star surgeon played by Dennis Boutsikaras, whose acting chops compare favorably with those of Edmund O’Brien, but who doesn’t have that “huge sumbitch who’ll walk through a mountain to get revenge” quality, so he’s lucky to have Reese there to help carry him to the goal posts.
There’s a pretty funny introductory scene, with Boutsikaras at an event where he’s named Sexiest Surgeon in New York or something, and everyone in his life—his patient who’s a hedge fund trader, a representative from a Big Pharma company whose promising new drug was shot down by a panel the doc served on, his estranged daughter—shoves various liquids at him, while Finch, speaking into Reese’s earpiece, tells him (and us) who they are and lists all the reasons why they might want him dead. What makes the episode feel more like a barefaced rip-off than it needs to be is that nobody, at any point, ever says, “Shit, somebody’s pulled a D.O.A. on you, dude!” It’s especially jarring, because everyone is so quick to realize what’s going on that they all must have seen the movie. As soon as Boutsikaras detects his symptoms, he staggers down to the street in a panic and is spotted by Reese, who, from the way he’s behaving, not only immediately knows that he’s been poisoned, but can tell that, sadly, there’s no way to save him. He knows all this because he saw Boutsikaras puking blood into a trash can, and now he’s staggering down the street while sweating and ranting. For me, before I got married, those were just the symptoms that it was Sunday morning.
Everything turns out all right, sort of. Boutsikaras dies, but at least he has the satisfaction of looking into the face of the boss of the trading firm and telling him that Reese just slipped something luminous-poisony into his grape juice. This is farther into judge-jury-and-executioner territory than Person Of Interest usually goes, but I guess it was felt that, since the set-up demands Boutsikaras’ death, it would be insufficient consolation for him to get to see Reese beating a confession out of the wicked CEO, and the bad guy is made such a hateful piece of human crap, smirking about how well-insulated he is from the rule of law and practically chortling at Boutsikaras’ description of the physical pain he’s been going through, that it’s impossible to feel that he deserves to live, or is even entitled to a painless execution; it would be like volunteering to serve as a character witness for Jabba the Hutt. As for Fusco, he gets off clean because Carter, having resolved her moral quandary, somehow gets to the burial scene ahead of the cops and moves the body, or feeds it to Bear. As for me, I learned that “black edge” is apparently a term, among Big Pharma gangsters, for “insider information that nobody else has, without a doubt.” I don’t know when I’ll get to use it, but sometimes, no matter how much you want entertainment, you have to settle for education.