Only nerds quote Saturday Night Live characters. That being said, this episode of Person Of Interest had everything; this review could just be a list of bulletpoints detailing why this episode works—ending with the note that “Search and Destroy” could have used more Bear because everything could—but that would make this article less of a review and more of a PowerPoint.
“Search and Destroy” is not the most cerebral episode of Person Of Interest, but that hardly matters when everything from the writing, to the performances, to the technical components are executed at such a high level. This episode is heavy on the action and thrills, not to mention the spare but effective comedy. A bait and switch, the structure is familiar, but effective nonetheless; it’s an episode where a case of the week involving a number turns out to have ties to the serialized, overarching story involving the Machine and Samaritan. What’s particularly impressive about “Search and Destroy” is how it takes one simple, familiar story about a man being targeted by an outside force, and makes it epic in scope before closing in on a tragic conclusion that feels both shocking and inevitable. The audience is presented with red herring after red herring indicating that the target on Kahn’s back is personal in nature, when it’s really Samaritan’s doing the whole time. This isn’t the first time that Person Of Interest has told this kind of story, where a prominent figure is forced to go off the grid, but the show’s interest in white collar crime, information, privacy, technology, paranoia and surveillance means that it’s a plot that works for them.
The number of the week is Kahn, the wealthy CEO of a prominent anti-virus software company. Over the course of this episode, the audience watches helplessly as a person at the top plummets to the bottom, an innocent bystander who happens to get in Samaritan’s way. Samaritan releases Kahn’s personal information to the public, which leads to accusations of embezzlement and termination from his job. He’s arrested and goes to jail, where an attempt is made on his life. Efforts to rescue Kahn are successful but only provide temporary relief; it’s not long before he’s involved in a gunfight, before being kidnapped and ultimately assassinated. The location work also illustrates the scope of this tragedy. Kahn begins the episode in a familiar setting, a bright boardroom at the top of a skyscraper. It’s not long before he’s brought down to earth; his imprisonment takes place on Rikers Island. The truth of Samaritan’s intent is discovered in an underground bunker. Kahn meets his demise at the hands of Greer in a dark, nameless, faceless building.
Once it has ramped up, an episode like this can be especially effective if it maintains tension by keeping up a rapid, relentless pace while staying focused, before ultimately sticking the landing. The inherent tension in this story is due to the number being pursed by Samaritan instead of the typical perp. But that isn’t enough; the episode itself has to convey that urgency. Excellent performers capable of holding an audience’s attention, making viewers care about their predicament, and expressing visceral panic help sell a thriller, and the man hired to play Kahn has these qualities in spades. Not only that, but the women chosen to play his estranged wife and assistant elevate their already well-written scenes, making these sequences surprisingly memorable despite their brevity.
The technical merits of the episode also succeed at maintaining the tension needed to pull off this episode. The camera work is dynamic and fluid, following Kahn’s every move and circling around the characters so that the audience feels a sense of motion even when the characters are standing still. The lighting is well thought out; the shadows on characters’ faces create a sense of dread. The security camera shots depicting artificial intelligence’s point of view are artfully shot. The final shot of Kahn looking up from the floor at Samaritan looming over him commanding his death is particularly eery. The music selected for this episode is also appropriately epic. From the beginning, the action is both artful and serious, increasing the tension. Chekov’s gun in the first act is eventually deployed in a wintry shootout. There are other action-packed moments, like Root’s shootouts and an impressive car flip before Kahn’s violent demise.
Unlike the typical protagonist of an epic tragedy, Kahn’s downfall isn’t due to one tragic flaw. He was certainly flawed but evaluating his badness or goodness is beside the point. He was a man who was at the wrong place at the wrong time who developed the wrong technology. Kahn went down fighting; he even discovered much of the truth about what was attacking him, but this successful businessman could not conquer something insurmountable like artificial intelligence on his own, and Team Machine failed to protect a number targeted by Samaritan. A forthcoming episode that connects the dots of Samaritan’s overall war strategy would be welcome, but it’s clear that the AI has hijacked Castellum’s anti-virus technology in order to find the Machine’s whereabouts. This episode makes a clear, concise case that Samaritan is evil, in case the audience isn’t already convinced after almost four seasons, countless deaths, and two absent team members. Nonetheless, a well-executed reminder ramping up to the finale is appreciated.
· A good episode deserves a good header photo. Jim Caviezel, ladies and gentlemen!
·All of this seriousness is punctuated by moments of levity, elevating this episode from very good to great. The image of the team sitting around noshing on takeout while Kahn is passed out with his head on the table after a car crash is priceless.
· Some of the episode’s best comedy was unintentional, however. The growly, flirty dynamic between Reese and Zoe never fails to crack me up. Only a classy dame like Zoe can make a clunker like “You know how this ends” truly sing.
· Is anyone on television having more fun than Amy Acker? In one episode, she gets to walk out of a building like a badass after having gassed everyone within, then delivers hilarious lines like these, in reference to artificial intelligence, “Want to really blow his mind? Tell him there are two of these things.”
· Speaking of Root, I thought this episode couldn’t get any better until Root and Martine started to duke it out after having run out of bullets.
· There was some interesting commentary on bias towards those with mental illness when it came to Kahn’s bipolar disorder, but then there was a lot more about that character that I would have enjoyed being explored. RIP Kahn.