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Person Of Interest: “Proteus”

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After its exuberant recent run of game-changer episodes, Person Of Interest was due to rest on its laurels, and after a promising start, this settled into a pretty restful episode. I wouldn’t call it terrible, at least not until the last 15 minutes or so. But it may have caught me in an indulgent mood. The action is set during a storm, with rain pounding down on New York like machine-gun fire, and there’s a rather charming opening scene of Reese, Finch, and Bear exiting the Cinema Village theater on East 12th Street, having apparently taken in a rainy-day revival screening of Rashomon. Reese grumbles that they should have seen Once Upon A Time In The West, which is a hell of a movie, but which runs almost two-and-a-half hours. I used to frequent Cinema Village, and trust me, that running time and those seats are not a good combination.


It’s fun to see these guys just hanging out together, but the very fact that they have recreational time on their hands is not reassuring. It seems that the Machine hasn’t given up any new numbers in three days. Then, just as Finch is starting to wonder if he might have to find a new hobby, it spits out six numbers, all at once. The numbers belong to people spread out across the country, who aren’t obviously connected to one another. Are they hatching some nefarious plot together, or are they all being targeted by conspiratorial forces? Or—and here, Reese and Finch seem awfully slow to reach an obvious conclusion—could they perhaps all have fallen victim to a roving serial killer? Maybe Reese and Finch just don’t want to say it aloud, because they don’t want to lump themselves in with The Following and Cult and all the others shows that have been conclusively demonstrating that the bones of the “insanely clever serial murderer” genre don't have much meat left on them. I didn’t want that, either, for all the good wanting does us.

While Finch locates the charred remnants of the most recently disappeared of the number bearers, thus confirming that this is one more serial-killer thriller, Reese lights out for a distant speck on the edge of the boroughs called Owen Island. He meets, and joins forces with, an FBI agent named Fahey. Presently, Finch joins them, just as the storm is kicking up to such a degree that nobody can leave this island! And they’re stuck there with a bunch of people, one of whom is the serial killer! Who can it be? Is it Dan Lauria, looking more than ever like a contract player on loan from Hanna-Barbera,  and described by Reese as possessing “a blood alcohol level that could start a lawn mower”? Or the newlywed couple? Or the shifty-as-hell drifter guy who was trying to slip out of town with the fisherman who was mysteriously eager to get in his boat and re-enact the climax of The Perfect Storm? Okay, we can rest easy—we know it’s neither of those guys, because that would be too obvious.

Whoever it is, Finch has his number. “What if the Machine sent us those six numbers to tell us that someone has been all those people? What if a smart killer was interested not only in taking lives, but in taking identities, like a chameleon? Changing into his victims, living their lives, until he gets bored and moves on to the next?” Meanwhile, the hard rains continues to fall. It’s a lot like Key Largo, crossed with the John Carpenter remake of The Thing, and probably also the remake of the John Carpenter remake of The Thing, though to be honest, I never saw that one. There’s also a dash of the X-Files episode where Mulder and Scully got trapped at an apartment complex during a hurricane, and even a strong whiff of the movie Identity, though here, the action isn’t taking place entirely inside Pruitt Taylor Vince’s head. I never would have thought that being trapped inside Pruitt Taylor Vince’s head was something I could miss.

There’s also a vivid enough echo of Jennifer Lynch’s kinky, sun-baked noir Surveillance to tip you off as to the true identity of the killer. That’s not a spoiler, because nobody saw Surveillance, and also because the identity should be pretty easy to guess even if this was the first TV show, movie, or kabuki serial-killer drama you’ve ever seen in your life. When the bad guy has Finch cornered, he runs out the clock on the script by talking a blue streak about how he Finch are a lot alike, as if they were psychic twins, doppelgangers even, almost as if he’d been reading my reviews of previous episode and taking notes. This time, though, the idea that the villain is a mirror image of one of the heroes doesn’t enrich the episode, because the bad guy himself isn’t enough of a character for it to have any resonance; Finch might as well say to him, “You’re not me, you’re just a plot convenience lifted from a dozen other thrillers.”


His goose would be cooked, except that Carter is on her way, accompanied by Cal Beecher, the detective who’s been pitching woo at her since last November, and whom I actually assumed she and the show were done with, since her association with his shady ass got her dis-invited to join the FBI. After spending the whole drive to the island demanding that she give him another shot, he saves her life and Finch’s, violating the basic laws of space and dimension to step up behind the bad guy and put a bullet in his head, just in the nick of time. “I’m glad you were here,” Carter tells him. Under the circumstances, I’ll bet she’s telling the truth, but I don’t think he should take that as a sign to start picking out baby names just yet.

Stray observations:

  • The best reason to sit all the way to the end of this episode is this exchange, between Reese and Finch: “A drug smuggler shot at me with a spear gun last night.” “Is that a first for you?” “I wish I could say yes.”
  • In the course of Reese’s run-in with the drug smuggler—which makes for one of the shoddiest action scenes in the show’s history, and maybe its all-time most-embarrassing last-minute self-rescue—Reese is seen being dragged by his feet to his impending doom, with his arms stretched out far from his sides, in a crucifixion-style pose. After 39 episodes over the course of almost 18 months on the air, Person Of Interest has long since reached the point where we ought to be able to discuss the show without the obligatory jokey reference to the fact that Jim Caviezel starred in The Passion Of The Christ. But that doesn’t mean the show should just push its luck.

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