Person Of Interest: “Relevance”
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Person Of Interest: “Relevance”

Okay, I want to watch that again.

“Relevance” marks the directing debut of series creator Jonathan Nolan, who also wrote the script. His work here has the confidence and verve of someone who understand the world he’s created, and the rules of the game his show plays with viewers, well enough that he can mess around with the formula a little. This starts out like a gimmick episode, but gimmicks are what Nolan has always been best at as a thriller writer. This one ends up illuminating and expanding on Person Of Interest’s series mythology, while delivering on all the usual pleasures fans can count on from this show when it’s good. It also passes for a remake of, and improvement on, the Steven Soderbergh movie Haywire.

As in that film, the central character is a grimly efficient professional killer who is betrayed by her employer—the U. S. government—and goes on a revenge spree. The heroine here is Sam Shaw, played by Sarah Shahi, who recently endured the public humiliation of playing Sylvester Stallone’s daughter in Bullet To The Head. Whatever pain she’s still carrying from that ordeal, she must have gotten to work out a lot of it here. Shaw is first seen in Berlin, carrying out a lethal mission with guidance from her partner, Cole, who works from the back of a van well-stocked with monitoring equipment, and a sinking feeling sets in as it becomes clear that they’re basically Reese and Finch, but with a key difference: They use the numbers they’re assigned as a hit list. Cole is the troubled deep thinker of the two, capable of wondering aloud where the numbers come from. Shaw tells him to get real. They both know perfectly well where the numbers come from: “A dark room somewhere, where they hurt people badly.”

Unfortunately, Cole’s inquiring mind has not endeared him to their superiors, so he and Shaw are summoned to New York, for a mission that turns out to be a trap. Cole goes out in a pip of an exchange of the kind that sidekicks and thwarted romantic partners can usually only dream about. (After he throws himself into the line of fire, she accuses him of “always trying to be the hero.” “Nah,” he says with his last breath, “just yours.”) The armies of gunmen who come barreling in to finish the job might almost be trying to see if they can get her any more pissed off, by trying to kill her, than she already is over the loss of her partner, and it soon becomes clear that they’re wasting their time as well as endangering their lives. “I have Axis II personality disorder,” she tells one set of matching targets, “which mean that when I kill you and your friends, I’m not gonna really feel anything.” Not to call her a liar or anything, but when she does kill the people she’s gunning for, she looks as if it feels pretty good.

Since its early days, Person Of Interest has been allowing us to warm up to its characters, with results that have mostly worked out pretty well. So it’s interesting that Nolan takes this opportunity to step back a bit, keeping Reese and Finch and their associates at a distance and letting us see them through the guest heroine’s eyes. The first time Shaw and Reese are in a position to exchange words, she empties a gun at him, and so would you. Eventually, Reese is able to deliver her to an empty loft where Finch is waiting to treat her to a succession of remarks that must seem pretty cryptic to her, though longtime viewers of this show will recognize them as addressing all the secrets of the universe.

“The world looks like it did 10 years ago,” Finch says, skirting the fact that 10 years ago there were Virgin Megastores and Tower Records outlets, “but underneath, it’s become very strange indeed.” As for any career advice for her future, he tells her, “Set out to correct the world’s wrongs, and you’ll certainly end up adding to them.” Partly because of the welcome shift in tempo it provides after three-quarters of an hour of shootings and chases, I could have listened to this stuff for the rest of the night. Meanwhile, Reese is positioning himself in the back of the frame, casting shadows with his bulk and turning himself into a one-man set design for an Expressionist play. It’s good to know that, as far as Person Of Interest has come in opening up its heroes since it debuted, it can still replace their masks and use them to send a chill when it wants to.

Stray observations:

  • Strong candidate for all-time least likely match of line and actor: Michael Emerson modestly insisting, “Honestly, I was never terribly good at games.”
  • Amy Acker, whose character would presumably know whereof she speaks, assures Shaw that “torture almost never produces good information,” while approaching her with a hot iron, just in case. And there, ladies and gentlemen, we have the current state of the national conversation on torture, in six words and an image.
  • When the government killers charge into the hotel room to find Shaw zip-tied to a chair and her handler tied up in the bathroom, did I suffer some mini-stroke, or does the scene play out without it being made clear what happens to the handler? Are we just to assume that, before Reese intervenes, one of the men dispatches her, very quietly? This kind of thing really sticks out when all the other pieces of an episode are so expertly fitted together. Not that I want to sound as if I’m encouraging writers to protect themselves by being a little sloppier, so the audience gets used to it.
  • The conclusion is scored to the Kills’ “Future Starts Slow.” I enjoy hearing the song, and it works in context, except that Political Animals used it as its theme song last year, which leaves it a little tainted by association. I might need to watch it again a few times before I can stop expecting confetti to fall from the sky and Ciaran Hinds to swing out onto a stage in front of a cheering crowd. Which is fine, because I really want to watch that again a few times.

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