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Person Of Interest: "A House Divided"

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Last week on Person Of Interest, Finch surrendered himself to the oleaginous Mr. Greer, after Greer took Finch’s lost love as a hostage. It’s fun to think about the conversation among the creative team that must have led to this plot development. “This Greer character is a cold-blooded murdering piece of shit, but we need to have him do something that’ll make the audience hate him.” “We could have him blow up an animal rescue clinic, or release the Ebola virus in a grade-school auditorium during a spelling bee.” “Yeah, but I was thinking more along the lines of having him terrorize Carrie Preston.” “Oh, you mean really hate him!” The tactic worked like gangbusters; by the time the rancid old bastard was sneering at Preston for letting her tea get cold, I wanted to see him torn apart by an anti-Semitic furry bear. (That’s a Good Wife reference. If you didn’t get it, you need to go to Hulu or CBS On Demand and catch up. You’re welcome.)


Having gone that extra mile in establishing Greer as this season’s man you love to hate, Person Of Interest flips the script, so that the real threat to Finch’s life is shown to be the terrorist group Vigilance and its leader, Peter Collier. In a satisfyingly perverse twist, the show promotes Collier to Big Bad at the same time that it finally fills in enough of his back story to make it clear that his reasons for turning to violence are completely sympathetic, even logical. His brother, a damaged but decent man trying to put the pieces of his life back together, was collateral damage in the War on Terror, destroyed by bureaucrats who feel stupidly entitled to trash anyone who, they’ve been assured, has some vague “connection” to suspected terrorists. When Collier bawls out one of these worms, telling her that a system set up to weed out terrorists has gotten so out of control that it’s more likely to create new ones, even he doesn’t yet realize that he’s talking about himself.

Shaw has accused Greer and his partners in the government of planning to use their variation on Finch’s technology to “go all 1984 on us.” When Vigilance snaps into action, what they have in mind looks more like A Tale Of Two Cities. The episode title, “A House Divided,” might refer to the viewers’ own emotions. Vigilance engineers a power blackout and gathers up a handful of high-level schemers, including Greer and Camryn Manheim’s Control, to put on trial in a kangaroo court, and it would be easier to wish them well and offer to polish up the guillotine for them, if Finch wasn’t one of those in the tumbrel.


When Greer is still in the catbird seat, he pays tribute to Finch as “the father of artificial intelligence.” Never one to simply accept a compliment, Finch insists that The Machine’s capacity to think for itself is nothing but “an unintended side benefit of an altruistic goal.” Greer is happy to deny Finch credit for his own accomplishment but sniffs a bit at the word “altruistic.” It’s not so much that he doesn’t believe that Finch’s heart is really pure. It’s more as if he thinks that anyone as smart as Finch ought to have anticipated that anything as powerful as The Machine would wind up being put to uses he wouldn’t approve of, by people more grubby-souled than himself.

It’s no wonder that even the heroes can barely keep straight who they should be protecting from who, or at least that they’re resigned to doing things they can’t work up much enthusiasm for. When Shaw tells Control that she’s come to rescue her, rather than kill her, Control asks her why. “For the greater good, or something,” Shaw says, sounding like a kid trying to come up with an acceptable answer to an essay question about why it’s important to go to school instead of stealing candy and trying to sneak into the opening matinee of Godzilla. Unintended consequences are breaking out all over. Things have gotten to the point where Root is the de facto team leader, not because she’s better at thriving in chaos, but because her eagerness to do whatever the voice in her ear tells her, with no context or explanation, makes her the one who can best shape chaos into some kind of order.


Tonight, she shows up with a bunch of computer servers and her own Lone Gunmen squad of rogue tech geeks; once they’ve served their purpose, she sets them free, like geese that she’s tagged before returning them to the wild. They offer to come with her to the final shootout, which is perfectly believable; it promises to be something you don’t get to see every day. She politely tells them no, because The Machine has concluded that, if they’re there to get in the way, it’s a certainty they’ll all die, but if she goes in by herself, her odds improve, “slightly.” She looks as if she having to wait a week to find out how this all turns out pisses her off more than it does me.

Stray observations:

  • Big props to LaToya Ferguson for so ably occupying this space last week while I was busy telling the parole board about my grandmother’s better qualities. I believe this was LaToya’s first review for TV Club, and it’s always great to see a writer getting a crack at a show worthy of her time and talents right off the bat. If memory serves, my first TV Club review was of Winter Wipeout, and I’d like to take a moment to apologize to anyone who read it say that, knowing what I’ve learned since then, I like to think I could do a better job at it today.
  • This is the first time I remember hearing the lethally self-righteous, authority-hating “Collier” assigned a first name. Is it an accident that “Peter Collier” is also the name of David Horowitz’s frequent writing partner and former co-editor of the leftist newsmagazine Ramparts, a man who aligned himself with the most hysterical “progressive” forces of the ‘60s counterculture and then, during the ‘80s, made a full shift to stand with the most strident voices on the right, changing his politics but holding onto his self-dramatizing, adversarial tone? Is anything on this show an accident?
  • Amy Acker’s recent appearance as Agent Coulson’s lost love on Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a revelation: For the first time that I can remember, she bored the shit out of me. Having loved Acker on Angel and Alias and Dollhouse and Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing movie and assorted guest shots on shows like Grimm, I’d just sort of assumed that she could never be anything less than interesting, but now I wonder if she only comes fully alive when she’s playing someone crazy. Happily, by now, producers looking to cast a crazy-person role know who to go to first.

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