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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Person Of Interest: “Root Path”

Illustration for article titled Person Of Interest: “Root Path”
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When it started out, Person Of Interest just looked like a show about being unkillable and kicking ass. More and more, it’s become a show about working toward redemption, which a lot of shows pretend to be just so they’ll have an excuse to include lots of scenes in which their unkillable protagonist kicks a lot of ass—for the greater good, of course. It’s a measure of how seriously the show takes its theme that every time it adds another hero, the character seems a less likely bet for redemption than any of the previous add-ons.

Although everyone gets a spotlight turn in “Root Path,” at its center, the episode is about the return of Root, and her reluctant coming to terms with the fact that she needs to transcend what she calls her own “moral depravity.”  It’s a painful discovery that sneaks up on her when she’s having the time of her life, conducting Bizarro World missions such as abducting a convict from a prison transit bus so she can use him to obtain a package being delivered to a man who’s his lookalike, then presenting her new friend with his “lovely parting gift” of a tip that will make his stay in prison go more smoothly just before she disappears and the cops arrive to take him back into custody. The Machine feeds her the details of her assignments as she needs them, with no context or explanation, which is how she likes things; it suits her absurdist-nihilist point of view, which is fiercely at odds with Finch’s humanist, big-philosophy.

The conflict between them becomes more than philosophical when The Machine directs Root back to New York, where she’s to connect with Cyrus Wells (Yul Vasquez), a janitor who, like Root, believes in a higher ordering power, though in his case, this takes the form not of techno-religious fervor but New Age flakiness. When Root first appears and starts telling him what they’re going to do, she’s surprised at how readily he goes with the flow. “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be,” he says. “It took me a long time to see it, but there’s an order to things, a plan. And you’re part of it. But if it makes you feel any better, what the hell’s going on?”

In an exterior scene set during heavy snowfall—even the thick, swirling flakes are a metaphor for something, or the weather in New York sucks and the production was running behind schedule—Root is confronted by Finch and the gang, who are keeping an eye on Cyrus because his number’s come up. When Finch asks Root what she knows about Cyrus, she scoffs at the question. She knows what The Machine tells her she needs to know, and that’s all that matters. What else about this guy could matter? He is, she says with unbecoming condescension, just a janitor. And, she thinks, possibly a Doris Day fan.

She soon learns that he is being targeted by both Vigilance and Decima. While Shaw and the Vigilance leader Collier trade views on the un-Constitutional nature of the surveillance state, and Reese keeps his hand in by pummeling anyone who looks at him sideways, the elegantly turned-out old dude with the British accent directs his forces to grab Cyrus and use him to get ahold of a chip that’s essential to Decima’s plans to complete The Machine’s potentially evil twin, Samaritan. The only way this show could get any more awesome would be if the elegantly turned-out old dude with the British accent turns out to be a Time Lord.

Cyrus, it is revealed, used to be a rich housing-market vulture—a back-story that has nothing to do with his current situation, but everything to do with pushing Root into taking personal inventory, because it was she who tore his old life up by the roots and set him to looking for patterns in the stars when, back in 2009, she accepted a murder contract to wipe out his friends and co-workers. Frightened and bewildered, Root is reduced to asking Finch to help her make sense of it all: Is this a coincidence, or is her goddess trying to tell her something?


Amy Acker is phenomenal when this stone sociopath tries to talk out her confusion, fighting back tears while hurling accusations at Finch, accusations that reveal how painful it is for her to consider the possibility that she’s been wrong all along and the world, and the people in it, matter: “The universe is infinite and chaotic and cold, and there has never been a plan. Not until now,” she says, adding, “How badly did you have to break it to make it care about people so much?” Mind you, she’s just as phenomenal when she’s openly flirting with Shaw. (“You gonna make me look bad?” Root, with a big smile: “I couldn’t make you look bad if I tried.”)

In the end, Root saves Cyrus, the mission that is suddenly most important to her continued spiritual development, but fails to prevent the agents of Decima from making off with the chip, the mission that is most important to the continued unfolding of this storyline. Stay tuned.


Stray observations:

  • Root playfully slips Finch a vital clue embedded in a male-enhancement drug ad that appears on his phone. Finch doesn’t understand what she’s driving at. Reese sneaks a peak at the ad and murmurs, “I think she likes you, Harold.”
  • Speaking of people liking other people, did I mention that the aforementioned flirting between Root and Shaw is distracting, in the best possible way? This is why fan fiction exists. In a better world, it would be why webisodes exist. And for God’s sake, so long as everyone else is doing one, can someone please at least produce an Odd Couple remake for Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi?
  • There’s just enough Lionel this week, and what he’s got to do is pretty choice. It just starts with him addressing Root as “Coco Puffs” and referring to Reese as “my buddy, the urban legend.”