Well, this is it: the last episode of Person Of Interest that I’ll be covering for The A.V. Club, at least for now. I’ll keep recording the show on my DVR and check in from time to time in case it suddenly takes off, and if any of you who’ve been following this coverage start seeing marked signs of improvement, feel free to let us know in other comment sections. It’s not impossible that POI might still pull it together and tell some interesting, exciting stories, but after the first seven episodes, the odds don’t look so great. I feel I’ve said as much as I can about the series and its flaws, and since those flaws don’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon, there’s no real reason to keep reiterating them. The show isn’t even bad enough to be fun to mock. It’s just mediocre, with occasionally flashes of wit or awfulness. And, to be completely honest, I wouldn’t mind having Thursday nights off again.
At least I got to go out with a bang. “Witness” pulls off the best (and maybe only really successful) twist the show has managed in its first season, a Keyser Soze move that probably should’ve been obvious, but caught me off guard. Charlie Burton (Enrico Colantoni, better known as Veronica Mars’s dad) was too saintly to be real, a sensitive, compassionate high school teacher who’d devoted the last three years of his life to giving the kids of Brighton Beach a shot at a life outside the Russian mob. Of course, saintly Persons of Interest are a dime a dozen on this show, like the hard-on-crime widowed judge raising his son as a single parent (with a nanny), or the super dedicated doctor who spends her spare time plotting revenge on the man who raped her sister. Maybe that was the key right there, the revenge angle. At one point in “Witness,” Reese and Charlie hide out in the apartment of one of Charlie’s students, and they talk about an assignment revolving around The Count of Monte Cristo. Shows don’t just throw in details like for the hell of it, especially since neither Reese nor Finch have backstories (that we know of) that deal with revenge. The book should’ve made me wonder if there was more to Charlie than met the eye, but I didn’t, and whether that’s due to subtlety, or me getting taken off guard, it did make for a fun reveal moment in the final act.
Reese gets involved with Charlie because Charlie, he thinks, witnessed a mob hit. But it turns out that Charlie’s hands aren’t exactly clean. In fact, his name isn’t even Charlie. We’ve finally met our mysterious Elias, and POI has its Moriarty, a pleasant, seemingly well-meaning man (well played by Colantoni as just slightly off-center) determined to take the Russian mob out of Brighton Beach, before moving on to bigger, better things. (I gotta say, while the portents of doom people kept spouting about Elias throughout the episode were a little off-the-wall, I do dig the idea of a man whose goals for improving the world involve taking it over piece by piece.) Elias pulls the wool over Reese and Finch but good; he’s so convincing, in fact, that Reese doesn’t even realize he’s been had until a captured Russian goon (Enver Gjokaj, brilliant on Dollhouse, apparently doomed to spend the rest of his career playing various kinds of Russian stereotypes. Dammit, somebody give this guy a show) spills the beans. It’s a great scene; the dialogue is still cheesy as hell, sure, but for once, something actually dynamic is happening on screen. “Witness” isn’t as energized or intense as it should’ve been, but at least it ended on a high note.
Another sign the show might be improving on its mistakes: Reese and Finch get in over their heads. First, the Russian mob comes after their newest PoI before Reese can make contact, forcing him to improvise a rescue mission that leads to a broken phone. (This is on the contrived side, but I’ll let it slide; it’s part of the rough-and-tumble nature of the escape.) Our two heroes spend a good chunk of the episode out of contact with each other, and while Reese still comes across like a super-human badass, at least he was working without a safety net for a good 20 minutes there. And then there’s the fact that, through their efforts, Reese and Finch manage to save a man who’s responsible for any number of deaths, and has no intention of stopping the killing any time soon. Of course, the show isn’t content to let this happen and not underline it, so we get a scene between Reese and Finch where Reese is very upset about what they’ve just done, and he explains it over and over again. If this show really wants to hit a pulpy, fun stride, it needs to drop the constant hand-holding. It doesn’t need to be subtle, but it does need to realize that it's telling stories most of us have seen before, and we don’t need a road map to navigate them.
I’m not sure what else there is to say, and considering this is one of the better episodes of the run we’ve seen, that’s telling. Reese does connect “Charlie Burton” to Finch at the midpoint of the episode, after “Burton” talks about wanting to help kids find a better life, which means the show is interested in setting the two characters up as parallels: both determined to work outside the law to achieve their goals, one aiming for sweeping, violent change, the other determined to save one life at a time. I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point later in the season, Elias contacts Reese and offers him a new job with a much more dynamic, powerful organization. There’s definite potential here, and nothing would please me more than to come back to this show in a few months and find it's become something worth talking about. As for right now, apart from jokes about Jim Caviezel and snarky comments about plot-holes, there isn't enough to write about Person of Interest to hold mine.
- “This ain’t no neighborhood you want to be called a snitch.” I’m curious. Are there neighborhoods you want to be called a snitch in?
- I’m fairly sure that one of the detectives was played by a Geico pitchman. (Not the gecko, sadly, or the cavemen; the super-serious announcer who asks, “Can Geico save you money on car insurance? Does a [x] [blank] in the [y]?”) This amused me.
- Kick those drug-dealers, Jesus! Kick ‘em hard.