Amy Acker, Sarah Shahi (CBS)

Person Of Interest took the return of Shaw and all of the expectations that came with it as a personal challenge and decided to just go ahead and knock this episode out of the park. The subtitle of “6,741” should be “…Well That Escalated Quickly.” The M.V.P. of this episode and life itself is Sarah Shahi. The brief return of Taraji P. Henson’s Agent Carter is one of the best episodes of the series, and “6,741” is a worthy entry to stand by its side. This episode is successful because it’s ambitious but focused. It delves into almost every genre that Person Of Interest has tackled, but never devolves into chaos. The storytelling is breathlessly efficient, moving, suspenseful, and twisty; the character of Shaw and Shahi’s performance anchor the entire enterprise, ensuring that it stays grounded and on-target. If that weren’t enough, this is one of the most well-executed episodes of a particularly well-executed show in regards to details. The direction is artful; the lighting is divine; the score is on point; the flashback montages are terrifying. In summary, this one should automatically go on everyone’s highlight reel.

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The opening episode is a scene straight out of a sci-fi film. Greer has been keeping Shaw captive for nine months, implanting a chip in her brain in order to transform her into an asset to Samaritan. He asks her a question that sounds like a line from the Matrix, giving her the choice between seeing the face of a god or wiping her slate clean. Of course, Shaw isn’t really being given a choice and of course Shaw chooses option C—run. Here, the episode takes on the guise of an action thriller with our heroine mounting a daring escape. There are no heels or flattering makeup to be seen, just Shaw in the raw doing what she does best. This episode is not only a love letter to Shaw as a character; it’s a dream for any actress. In a nod to Shaw’s Iranian heritage, Shahi speaks her native language in a conversation with a cab driver. Despite this being such a dramatic and packed episode, Shahi is still given the opportunity to show off her comedic skills in her interactions with a temporary hostage that she uses to flag down Team Machine.

The shift to character drama begins shortly after Shaw is reunited with her team when she accuses them of letting her down, forcing her to escape solo. The confrontation is the first sign that this happy reunion may not end up being so happy after all; it recalls the previous episodes’ preoccupation with the topic of trust, especially in regards to the relationship between the human members and the Machine herself. By treading into romance territory, the writers ensure that they hold the audience in the palm of their hands; that way, they can take viewers to new emotional heights before dropping them on their asses. Tugging on viewers’ heartstrings tenderizes these vital organs so that the audience really feels it when their hearts are eventually broken into a million pieces. The long-term evolution of the relationship between Shaw and Root is consummated at long last. Soap opera isn’t my favorite look for Person Of Interest, but the show may have gone a little bit over the top with the sex scene in order to temporarily distract the audience from the underlying tension surrounding Shaw’s return.

Our heroes never get to experience “the normal life” for long. In a flash, romance turns into psychological thriller bordering on horror. The spell of intimacy is broken when a legitimately terrifying shot of Shaw in a door frame validates any suspicions regarding her current state of mind. All of a sudden, Shaw’s true loyalties really begin to be called into question; it’s not long before the audience, her teammates, and Shaw herself demand answers. It turns out that repeatedly having to dig into her cranium isn’t the most painful experience Shaw has on this little adventure. Reese discovers that the chip that has been implanted in Shaw’s head is only a placebo, and begins to doubt her intentions. The character drama escalates when Shaw confronts him, having bugged her teammates. This obviously isn’t the type of behavior that curtails suspicions so she devises a plan to both prove her loyalty and exact revenge on her kidnappers in one fell swoop. The team baits Samaritan’s henchmen in order to pinpoint Greer’s exact location, captures him, and drags him off to a thematically-appropriate location—the bowels of a church.

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Greer held Shaw hostage for nine months and now the roles have been reversed. She may have been upset that nobody came to her rescue but she sure proves that she can come out on top. She identifies the location of a possible kill switch that can be activated using a chip in Greer’s arm…but it turns out that this victory is really a loss in disguise. This is a trap. Shaw’s strengths are being used against her. Root’s undying trust in her teammates, which springs from her own complicated relationship with her past, ends up being the very thing that could tear them apart. Earlier in the episode, Root gushed about Shaw’s strength, marveling at the idea that Shaw has never broken despite all of the torture that she has endured. This time, that tireless faith is proven false; even the strong can be broken. Even a fairly good-natured AI like The Machine is prone to manipulating people; Samaritan’s true capacity for evil—its ability to use humans’ minds against them—is beginning to reveal itself. Shaw has always been an asset; she’s just working for another team now.

With this reveal, everything goes downhill fairly quickly. Shaw kills Greer, Reese, and herself in orderly fashion. Most importantly, she decides to sacrifice herself in order to save her team and the world. She knows that she’s being used and there’s only one way out of the situation. In a final confrontation with the most important person in her life, Root, Shaw summons her last remaining ounce of willpower and takes herself out of the equation. One remaining twist changes everything, however. This outcome is the 6,741st in a series of simulations directed by Greer in the facility where Shaw was first introduced in the episode.

These kinds of reveals where the entirety of an episode’s plot turns out to be a façade can come across as cheap and manipulative. The writers may share some of Samaritan’s strengths in the field of manipulation, but they aren’t nearly as evil. This is a thought exercise, a way for the writers to fully explore a character—and the lengths she will go to—without having to deal with the consequences. That lack of consequences is what can feel cheap, which is why the expert execution in an episode such as this is so necessary. As long as the characters are respected, the emotions ring true, and new territory is tread, these kinds of experiments are more than acceptable; they are welcome. If this is the kind of episode that Shaw and Sarah Shahi inspire, then their next episode cannot come soon enough.

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Stray observations:

  • “John’s a professional dick, but I can’t believe that you can’t trust me.” Great line. Even better delivery.
  • “You were my safe place.”
  • Not to disrespect the unique style that Person Of Interest has developed, but this episode gave me major Whedon vibes. Amy Acker is a regular so it couldn’t have just been her presence. I can’t pinpoint the reason exactly but I assume that it’s some blend of the shifts in genre, the direction, and the feels. Or maybe I’m just a nerd who needs to move on. It’s your call.

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