Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Person Of Interest: “Zero Day”

Illustration for article titled Person Of Interest: “Zero Day”

Most of the heavy hitters are on hand for the set-up to Person Of Interest’s season finale, coming next week. Fans of willowy young brunette women who could kick your ass through your hat will be pleased to hear that both Sarah Shahi’s Shaw and Amy Acker’s Root are prominently featured. (Among her other duties, Root gets to bind and gag her boss, Jay O. Sanders—“You had to know I’d quit eventually,” she tells him as he looks up from his desk to see her pointing a gun at him—which results in an image that, I suspect, will not set off smoke alarms all over the Internet in the quite the same way as the scene in that previous episode where she zip-tied Shaw to a chair and cooed at her while threatening to massage her cheekbones with a hot iron.)

In a flashback, we get to see Finch propose to his lost love, Grace, in Washington Square Park, a sweet, touching moment rendered ironic and faintly obscene by framing it as security footage: Can’t these kids get through a private romantic moment without being spied upon? (The ugliness matches up with a scene set in the present day, when Root secures Finch’s cooperation by threatening to hurt Grace.) In a scene that’s pure James Bond villain, The Man Who Would Be John Hurt checks in to explain what his organization, Decima Technologies, is up to, just before Reese and Shaw rush out, better-informed, to stop it. (Inexplicably, Reese fails to blow his brains out before taking his leave in a hail of gunfire. I have my fingers crossed that this means that the writers are waiting for the chance to bump him off in some grand, baroque manner that would win the approval of Dr. Phibes.) I was disappointed that Ken Leung’s Leon never showed up, and neither does Fusco. But Fusco was all over last week’s episode like a cheap suit, and it suppose the producers have good reasons for not wanting to spoil him.

Surprisingly, the most important voice from the past turns out to be Finch’s old partner and the official face of The Machine, Nathan. In the episode “One Percent,” it was strongly suggested that Nathan had tried to play vigilante to protect an “irrelevant” potential victim whose number had been spit out by the machine. Here, it’s revealed how far he got—working alone, he’s saved five people, and failed to save seven—and that Finch has just been following his lead, starting with the decision to set up a base of operations in an abandoned library. Finch, sounding more Ben Linus-like than ever, tells Nathan that “People die. They’ve been doing it for a long time.” He urges him to get back on board with the program of dividing threats up between the big ones that matters and the smaller, individual threats to lives that aren’t important, and twisting the knife a little, reminds his friend that he “drank away” whatever special technological skills he ever had. It’s a reveal that buffs Nathan’s stature and adds a special poignancy to his back story, casting him as a superficially well-respected, rich and powerful but dissipated man who needed to do something to regain his self-respect.

Despite a teasing suggestion that Finch, as Shaw puts it, has some explaining to do, the other character who is fleshed out and redefined in this episode is The Machine itself. After going silent for 10 days, it issues the name “Ernest Thornhill,” the CEO of a data entry company. The show doesn’t waste too much time getting to Reese and Finch’s discovery that Ernest Thornhill is a “ghost,” a phony identity set up by The Machine itself as a protective smokescreen. The more the show connects the dots of how much The Machine has learned to do by itself, the more Root’s scary babble about wanting “to set it free” sounds less like tinfoil-hat talk and more like cyberpunk gospel. This episode has a few awkward notes—and the notion that it would take a small army to stake out every working pay telephone left in Manhattan is a punch line waiting to happen. But one hour away from the conclusion of its (mostly awesome) second season, this show continues to remain true to its premise while finding new ways to mess with your head.

Stray observations:

  • The Tobias Funke/Phil Dunphy “You Can Hear Yourself, Right?” Line Of The Week, from Root: “I’m not a sociopath, Harold. I wish I was. The things I’ve had to do would have come so much more easily.”
  • First runner-up, to Reese: “I’ve lost people before. So when I care about someone, I put a tracking device on them.” (Follow-up line of the week, from Shaw: “I can see why you and Harold get along.”)
  • Oh, and HR sets up Carter for a suspicious on-duty shooting. Which is less startling than the moment when Reese addresses her as “Jos.” Is that supposed to be her first name or something? I'm not sure I knew she had one.