To put it bluntly, this episode is boring.
“But there’s pot involved!,” you exclaim.
“I know,” I respond matter-of-factly, and with a hint of wistfulness. “Pot isn’t always enough.”
Number of the week, Harper, is a college student by day and employee of a marijuana dispensary by night, but her alternative proclivities don’t end there. The innocent schoolgirl persona is an act; she’s actually a con artist who likes to play Robin Hood. Instead of robbing the rich to feed the poor, however, she robs the outlaws to feed herself. Harper is a reminder that the action genre has its own version of the hair down-glasses off makeover for nerds who want to become beauty queens. Once she takes her hair down and dons a leather jacket, Harper is a new woman. If only there was more to this transformation than the reveal of a calculated assemblage of generic, surface-level Badass™ character traits; this lone wolf isn’t intimidated by anyone, can read Reese and Harold like books, manipulates criminal organizations, and picks pockets in her spare time. Harper has one weakness, or might have one weakness—a ring with absolutely no backstory; here, the depth of this character is summed up in one sequence.
The episode tries to draw the audience into Harper’s story several times, but the attempts aren’t successful. She deflects when asked about the ring, but the character and performance don’t have enough complexity to establish a mystery worth solving. Harper is just one among many characters this season who have found themselves at the crossroads between good and evil. Harper’s soul is up for grabs. Recruitment and the process of winning over another person’s loyalty is a substantive theme this season, but without better character development, the audience isn’t invested in whether Harper decides to join Team Machine after they inspire her to rescue her friend, or the Brotherhood, who she impresses with her implementation of criminal tactics. There’s a possibility that she may join the Brotherhood by episode’s end, but there’s no indication of what it would mean for a loner like Harper to relinquish her precious freedom in order to join a team. As evidenced by The Machine’s decision to get into the recruitment business in order to compete with Samaritan, the process of winning over others is an important component of building power, and one of the season’s main interests. Neglecting to develop this idea further in the case of the week is a missed opportunity.
The return of Dominic alone justifies the installment—especially when it involves one of his signature interrogations and a cozy chat with Reese—but the rest of the story falls flat in comparison. The revelation that Harper is more than what she seems is more of an inevitability than a twist, and the crime story developments concerning the battle over the drug money, Tre’s kidnapping, and the confrontation between the various criminal organizations aren’t twisty, unique, or impactful enough to build much tension or leave lasting impressions. Even if Harper isn’t a successful character on her own, she could have served as a way to further the episode’s themes. The episode tries; a conversation between Finch and Harper juxtaposes their relative penchants for control and freedom, but each point is made so succinctly and deliberately that the interaction has more in common with an outline than it does with anything resembling a realistic conversation. Unfortunately, the aforementioned presence of Dominic is a reminder that any themes that Harper may embody have been illustrated before by better characters. On a dense show that operates with more than fifty shades of gray, a character like Harper and a crime plot need to achieve more than ethical complexity to stand out.
• The key to victory is an app because the Machine is apparently a Millenial. I demand a Silicon Valley crossover.
• Between medial marijuana, and slang like “bugging out” and “cheddar,” this episode is too edgy to handle.
• Fusco refers to Harold as Mr. Peabody. Cut to Harold walking Bear stoically, which is quite a feat in and of itself.
• Harper whips out her weapon of choice. Fusco counters by whipping out a taser and saying, “Come on, you” in the kind of exasperated tone that’s typically reserved for children. Between these lines and his crosshairs on Dominic, Fusco is this episode’s MVP.
• Speaking of Dominic, he is really tall. This has been Deep Thoughts with Alexa Planje.