After last week’s vigorous shoot-‘em-up, “The Perfect Mark” is a pleasingly lighthearted, low-stakes little caper of an episode. Not that nobody gets shot up. But even the big action set pieces are staged as if in rebuke to the very idea of big action set pieces, or as tributes to the power of simplicity, efficiency, and having your face in the opening credits. In more than one scene, villains have congregated and seem to be congratulating themselves on their superior firepower and knack for making a splashy entrance, when Reese and Shaw simply walk in through a patch of negative space in the corner of the frame and blast everybody who needs blasting. Anyone who had to work up a sweat last week gets to take a breather. At one point, Shaw, who never had a quiet second in last week’s episode, looks as if she’s about to slug somebody, when Carter steps up and does the slugging for her. It’s kind of sweet, in a sisterly sort of way.
Root spends the entire episode sitting in a chair at the library, where Finch is serving as her benevolent jailer. At one point, Carter visits Elias, whom she’s still keeping pinned up somewhere, so that he can give her a little lecture on how money laundering works, which is so unnecessary that it makes me worry a little about just how much help the writers think we, the audience, need to make it through an episode without having our minds blown. But then I realized, for the first time, that this show now has two different “good” characters basically holding two different villainous characters captive-for-their-own-good in two different locations, which did blow my mind a little. With so many of the principals taking it easy, the show is able to make extensive use of Fusco, who has been sorely underutilized so far this season. He gets to gripe to Carter, “Why is it, every time you call me these days, I know to bring a firearm?” He gets to pour something viscous and nasty-looking over the head of a man he’s posing for a faked murder photo. (“I’m going for kind of a hollow-point effect.”) He even gets to authenticate a baseball signed by every member of the 1927 New York Yankees, a valuable collective worth $4.4 million. For a second, I thought Fusco was going to pull a jeweler’s eyepiece out of his pocket, but instead, he just gives the thing a cursory stare and says that the ball looks real to him.
Finch is close to being tonight’s standout action hero, though the action is all mental thumb-wrestling. He stretches out on the couch of Hayden Price, a “certified hypnotherapist to the Upper West Side,” and allows the floppy-haired goof to delude himself that a Michael Emerson character could ever be made to quack like a duck when I snap my fingers onetwothreefourfive go! When Price believes he has his patients under, he casually walks them through their past traumas and solicits such information as the names of their mothers and their first pets. Turns out he’s on a fishing expedition to collect buzzwords that they might be using as passwords for any accounts he might want to tap into.
I love this idea almost as much as last week’s “estate investigator” character, though the plot of this week’s episode, which at first appears almost as elaborate as any the series has ever cooked up, breaks down pretty quickly into a predictable chain of events once you see that it’s a con-game story, reminiscent of any number of con-game movies, to say nothing of five seasons’ worth of Leverage. At one point, Hayden walks into a room with a man who thinks he’s his partner, who has $50,000 on his person. Reese and Shaw are shadowing them, with Finch listening in. Suddenly, a menace appears, he and Hayden shoot each other and appear to fall dead, and the third man abandons the cash and flees for his life. “Why aren’t you intervening!?” Finch asks his associates. I like to think that if Hayden and the other man had taken another second before getting up and brushing at the fake blood on their clothes, Reese would have replied, “Because I saw The Sting, Brainiac!” Hayden has gotten himself in HR’s cross-hairs because he wants to risk one last, big payday before retiring with the woman he’s fallen truly, madly in love with; he tells the heroes that he can’t live without her, because she’s the last honest thing about him. Three guesses how honest she really is, and who the episode title refers to.
- Also getting more screen time than usual: Clarke Peters’ nasty Mr. Big, who says things like “I got two loves, my money and this city. Mess with either of them, and I mess back,” and who is secure enough in his super-villainy that he threatens Robert John Burke’s Simmons, in spite of the fact that Burke is looking more than ever like the Red Skull without makeup, and more like RoboCop than he did when he played RoboCop. In the episode’s final twist, Carter learns that Peters is Mr. Big when she urges a dying, crooked cop to use his last precious seconds of life to “be a cop” again, and he uses his finger to draw a bloody mark across Peters’ image in a photograph. (This is a slight improvement over an already excellent scene in one of Grant Morrison’s Batman comics, where the degraded crimefighter was a porker who used chicken grease on his fingers.) Sometimes on-the-nose just hits the spot.