Person Of Interest has offered up more than its fair share of blameless good people who are in desperate need of help. But the show is often at its best and most excitingly prickly when its heroes are repeatedly forced to take a moment to ask themselves and each other, “Remind me why it’s important that we protect this piece of shit?” Tonight’s episode has a real beauty of a loathsome, repellent douchebag in distress: Wayne Kruger (played by David Alan Basche, a veteran of such short-lived series as Lipstick Jungle and The Starter Wife), a “data broker” who owns a company called Lifetrace, which bills itself as a “people search service,” kind of like the Internet-era version of Tony Franciosa in Finder Of Lost Loves.
In fact, as Finch explains, this grinning, poreless, spray-tanned son of a bitch vacuums up people’s personal information and sells it to the highest bidder. In an executive-suite meeting with a prospective buyer, he demonstrates how it works: He presents the man with a gift of a baby rattle, then explains that he’s deduced his wife is pregnant from what he knows of recent changes in their grocery-buying habits. The hero of Elementary would be impressed by the technique, but would hate himself in the morning. Finch, who sees Kruger as the latest in a long line of villains who in some ways resemble The Machine’s evil twin, can scarcely say his name without appearing to throw up in his mouth a little.
Reese might like the idea of kicking a little respect for privacy rights into this slimeball, and Shaw has similar ideas but would hate to get her shoes bloody. (Noticing that Finch shudders faintly at the thought of sending her in to do close surveillance work, Shaw asks if he doubts “my ability be discreet?” “I doubt your ability to keep from shooting someone,” he says.) But Kruger isn’t the villain; he’s a target. Someone is laying siege to his life, making exactly the kind of invasive use of high technology that are his own stock in trade to make Kruger tear his playhouse down. First, his credit cards are maxed out, and then, his bank accounts looted. The wittiest scene comes at a lavish party he’s throwing to celebrate his wedding anniversary. With his wife at his side, he cues up a filmed tribute to his marriage, with images of the happy couple lounging about and making funny faces for the camera intercut with title cards featuring such words as “LOVE” and “FIDELITY.” Just when it looks as if Shaw is certain to get drunk, shoot the screen, or mix a little from column A with a little from column B, footage of Kruger with another woman appears mixed in, with a title card stamped with the word “LIES.” I always figured that when this show got around to delivering its parody-homage to The Parallax View, it would be a doozy, but this I never even saw coming.
The heroes quickly figure out that the cyber attacks on Kruger are connected to a class action lawsuit filed against him, on behalf of scores of people who were victimized as a result of the public release of their personal information. But which of the aggrieved parties is messing with the man? Things get more complicated when it becomes clear that events are being orchestrated by an unseen hand; when Carter finds the woman who engineered the anniversary-video debacle and quizzes her, the woman explains that she was sent the DVD and instructions on what to do with it by a mysterious, unknown mastermind who is pulling all the strings.
For her part, Carter probably enjoys the break in her day. Since being busted to driving a patrol car, she spends her days hanging out at Beecher’s grave, where Clarke Peters’ Mr. Big can find her, and sneering at the rookie cop (Brian Wiles, who makes Mike White look like Vin Diesel) assigned to partner her, who you just know was probably sent in to do Clarke Peters’ bidding. While waiting for the other boot to drop, there’s fun to be had from watching her erect her protective shield of radioactive attitude and the rookie being, or pretending to be, a hopeless dweeb. When they stumble across a crime scene, he looks down at the dead body on the ground and pukes, then staggers back to the car. When she finds him there, he whimpers, “I don’t know what happened.” “No?” says Carter. “Take a look at your shoes.”
In the end, Reese, Finch, and Shaw are unable to prevent the murder of the data broker—a personal failure on their part, to be sure, but I suspect that most viewers were able to contain their grief. Kruger is a sacrificial victim, whose fate is used to set up the new season and establish the formidable nature of the show’s latest doppelganger-supervillain. Right now, there isn’t much to say about this character, or group of characters, except that they’re impressively smart, ruthless, and effective, that they have some kind of violent-retribution philosophy that makes for catchy slogans, and they play one hell of a chess match. The promise of what’s to come helps to make up for the fact that this episode suffers from a serious absence of Amy Acker. Right now, I still get a thrill just from seeing her name in the opening credits, but that will wear off.