“Bury The Lede”—the title is a hint that Reese and Finch will be getting their Tom Paine on and defending the freedom of the press, using fiery rhetoric and the occasional punch to the throat—features Gloria Votsis as the wonderfully named Maxine Angelis, a fearless investigative reporter for the New York Journal, which appears to be a newspaper, the kind that newsstand venders actually charge money for. (As many former longtime employees of the Village Voice, any all onetime employees of the New York Press can testify, it’s getting harder and harder to get the city to support one that’s free to anyone who can lift the lid on a paper box.) Person Of Interest knows that viewers can only take so many science-fiction elements with their procedural drama, and it’s easier to believe that New York is supporting one extra newspaper than that a genuine investigative reporter could make it past security at either Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal or the New York Times that could scarcely contain its pride over having Judith Miller on staff.
Characters like this give Person Of Interest a touch of that old-school charm that CBS traffics in. Not that Maxine operates by the kind of outmoded ethical standards that reined in such previous TV investigative reporters as Lois Lane and Billie Newman. She’s first shown resorting to blackmail to get a potential source to start singing; Finch, who may have a teensy bit of a crush on her (he practically swoons when he hears her quote Orwelll) and who definitely admires her moxie, explains to a nonplussed Reese that this is just the sort of way an investigative journalist has to get creative nowadays, to stay competitive with “social media” and those other goddamn jackals on the Internet. Maxine has her work cut out for her these days, because there’s a wide-open race for Mayor and it’s neck-and-neck between the two leading candidates, city councilman Ed Griffin and ADA Landon Walker. Maxine is digging around in the backgrounds of both men, which on Person Of Interest means that the outcome of the election will ultimately be decided in favor of which candidate isn’t in handcuffs by the end of the episode.
With the election only five days away, you might expect that a knowledgeable, engaged New Yorker like Fusco would call in sick so he can spend the week glued to phone-in shows and public debate coverage on WNYC, but he’s distracted by what’s going down with HR. Agent Donnelly has started making arrests, claiming the scalps of 75 dirty cops. Carter quietly points out to Fusco that no one will ever know that this is his victory, too, but Fusco isn’t thinking of unclaimed glory: He’s worried that, as the investigation burrows ever closer to the uppermost branches of HR’s chain of command, his own past as a corrupt cop will come to light and bring him down. Maxine herself is hot on the trail of the ultimate boss of HR, when she’s not looking for the mysterious “man in a suit” who is reputed to be running around the city, combining the roles of Tom Joad (“Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there…”) and Bruce Banner (“Hulk smash!”)
She has zeroed in on Christopher Zambrano, “the son of a Mafia don and head of an import-export business,” and has written a story identifying him as HR’s Mr. Big. The story falls apart once it hits the presses, which comes as no surprise to anyone watching the show. It’s obvious from the first glimpse of Zambrano that he’s an honest man who would never dream of doing anything illegal, partly because he’s played by John “Artie Bucco” Ventimiglia, but mostly because if anyone who looked that obviously guilty ever turned out to be guilty on this show, the episodes would only run 15 minutes apiece. Zambrano, who was actually helping out the prosecutors behind the scenes, winds up murdered, a victim of her sloppy, hair-trigger journalism. And she’s still a credit to her profession compared to Judith Miller!
Maxine is both causing trouble and is in trouble, but her interest in Reese and Finch’s operation presents a problem. “How am I supposed to save a woman who wants to put me on the front page?” muses Reese. (Is it just me, or does that sound less like dialogue than one of those word balloons, meant to serve as a one-line plot summary, that used to appear next to fuzzy, black-and-white photos of the stars in ads in TV Guide? “Murder, UFOs, and the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown—Sonny, this is going to be the wildest case to EVER hit Miami!”) Finch steps up and arranges for Reese to hook up with the reporter through an online dating site. (“She really likes that you like dogs.”) At one point, Reece, who hasn’t yet made Maxine’s acquaintance, realizes that she thinks she’s communicating with him on her phone—“You’ve been flirting all day,” Finch tells him—and, seeing her smile, asks plaintively, “What did I just say to her?” There is nothing in this episode more gratifying or tantalizing than its suggestion that Michael Emerson might have serious game.
In the bulk of the hour, Reese has to hang out with the beautiful young reporter and keep her safe while picking her brain for clues, while pretending that he’s a harmless fellow whose interest in her is romantic. There are two ways to go with this: play it funny or play it sexy. Actually, the best way to go would be to make it both funny and sexy, which is how it goes when Paige Turco arrives for her cameo as Zoe, sent in by Finch to make Reese seem more intriguing to Maxine by showing that she finds him intriguing herself. (“We spent two long nights together…”) Person Of Interest has been very successful at mining the comic potential in its premise and characters in recent episodes, but it’s never gone so far before in flirting with self-satire; Maxine refers to the rumors she’s heard about Reese as “like something out of a comic book,” adding, “He saves a lot of lives. And shoots a lot of kneecaps.” It’s certainly never been as farcical before: At various points, Reese whales on and shoots at men without the eagle-eyed reporter Maxine noticing, while Finch actually hides in a closet to avoid being caught in Reese’s apartment when he’s about to walk in with Maxine. Disappointingly, no homage to Blue Velvet is forthcoming.
In the end, Fusco manages to destroy some key evidence of his past misdeeds and breathes a sigh of relief, the city councilman is elected Mayor, the identity of a new Big Bad is revealed, and the show, which is based on the idea that the audience will forgive its hero a certain number of pistol-whippings every week so long as it’s understood that he commits them in the name of a good cause, has to finesse the slightly more awkward question of how he is to separate himself from a woman with whose affections he has been trifling. It solves the problem by having her dump him, explaining that she’s married to her work, and besides, she thinks he’s still hung up on Zoe, heh heh. It’s not a great ending, but it could have been so much worse. I was so tensed up from dreading that she was going to tell him that she didn’t want to see him anymore because his life seemed so boring that I almost gave myself a hernia.