God, I love this show. No matter how bad you think things are, it’ll always find a way to see your neurotic fears and raise them. To quote Jimmy James, Stephen Root’s character from NewsRadio, it’s got more paranoid fantasies than Stephen King on crack. And it keeps moving, so that its take on the 24-hour-surveillance society never settles into a neat grouping of clear-cut good guys and clear-cut bad guys. Tonight’s episode features the very welcome return of Leslie Odom, Jr. as the leader of the violent terrorist group “trying to send a message about government surveillance and privacy,” preferably a message spelled out with dead bodies. (The group has a name now: Vigilance.) There’s also an appearance by Robert John Burke as the face of the corrupt-cop organization, HR. Burke has a scene with Brian Wiles as Laskey, the rookie cop that HR has planted in Carter’s patrol car to spy on her, in which he has to inform him that a shopkeeper he regarded as a friend has been killed. Burke’s way of breaking the news to him is to hand him a shovel and say, “Six feet, kid. Don’t skimp.”
Most crime-action shows can scarcely even imagine more than one motive for wrongdoing, one flavor of evil. Part of the thrill of watching an episode like this and watching the players shift around from scene to scene is the chance to compare notes on Burke’s bad cop—quiet, instinctive, craggy, rotting from the inside out—versus Odom’s twisted idealist, a smooth-faced automaton whose everyday conversation sounds like a press release meant to put his latest murder in the best possible light. They’re both fascinating on their own, and neither of them is even the main attraction in an episode that begins with Root abducting Shaw and then persuading her to help her do… something. Root, whose is still somehow connected to The Machine, doesn’t know what her mission is: “Most of the time, I’m told what to do a second before I do it. The big picture—that’s her.” Shaw knows that Root is psychotic, but she can’t help but be impressed with her religious fervor. She’s like someone wandering through the streets of New York reporting on the messages she’s receiving from the voices in her head. But in her case, the voice is real, and numbers-based.
Finch sends Reese out to look for Shaw after he’s lost contact with her for eight straight hours; “Miss Shaw may be violent and uncommunicative, but she is never tardy,” he says, in a line that would liven up anyone’s employee evaluation. Finch himself has gotten himself assigned as work partner for this week’s candidate for extinction: Tim Sloan, an “estate investigator” played by Kirk Acevedo with a buzzcut hairstyle and his trademark expression of wary, watchful-eyed concern. Sloan’s job is to dig through the wreckage of people’s lives after they’ve died and determine whether they might have an heir out there someplace. I don’t know which I find more impressive—that this is an actual job, or that someone found out about it and worked it into an episode of this show. It’s the perfect occupation for a guest character on Person Of Interest, if only for the chance it affords to show Finch in a deceased hoarder’s apartment, practically doing the breast stroke through a sea of empty pizza boxes.
Sloan is in danger because he’s trying to find out the truth about his foster brother, a hacker who fell in with Vigilance, became frightened by its extremism, and was killed—except he wasn’t really killed, he went to the government, which faked his death and granted him a new identity. Except they reneged on their deal and instead threw him into a “mobile black site,” where he’s one of a handful of American citizens whose living identities have been erased and who are now being kept in cages in one location or another, so that they’ll always be available for interrogation in case anyone thinks of a fresh question to ask them. (The prize ought to go to the soldier who asks Root the question everyone must want to hear addressed to Amy Acker when she’s in her batshit, sadistic cupcake mode: “Why are you smiling at us?”)
The 3D chess match of a climax involves Reese, who started his morning trying to save Shaw from Root, working to save Kirk Acevedo from Vigilance, while Shaw saves Root from the government agents after Root has saved the hacker from them. It’s a measure of how smoothly executed all this is that it unfolds in a perfectly lucid way, but I just confused myself pretty badly while trying to summarize it. All that really matters is that, at the end, Finch has Root locked in a room in the library, where she may not be able to do any harm. But can she be rewired to use her talents exclusively for good? My definition of good works has long been whatever Amy Acker is doing that seems to be working for her, so I may not be the best person to judge.
- By the end of the episode, Kirk Acevedo practically has the words "New Recurring Character" stenciled across his close-cropped scalp. This, too, is a very good thing.
- Told that Shaw’s apartment is empty and there’s Taser confetti on the floor, Finch asks, “I suppose it’s too much to hope for that she Tased herself?” Another line that would brighten the average employee evaluation.
- Trying to explain where she currently fits on the hero-to-villain spectrum, Root coos, “Things are evolving.” Always a great line, even when it’s not delivered by a mad scientist trying to explain why he blew the grant money on creating a race of 60-foot-tall ants.