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Person Of Interest: “The Devil You Know”

Winston Duke (CBS)
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“The Devil You Know” is an episode that has a lot going for it. The hour focuses on one of the series’ best arcs, the escalation of the war between Elias and Dominic. The episode also leans on some of Person Of Interest’s most reliable, signature moves. Reese and Elias remain strange bedfellows, and they find themselves fighting side by side once again as they take part in a classic Person Of Interest chase when Dominic’s goons are ordered to hunt them down. Chases are standard action sequences, but Person Of Interest tends to put its own twist on the formula, staging them in single, claustrophobic locations replete with multiple obstacles, such as stairwells and elevators that lead down hall after hall, until a top floor is reached and there’s nowhere left to run.

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The building that the chase takes place in winds up being more than just the location of a well-staged action setpiece. Elias is chased down in the same boys home in which he was raised as a child, the home where children were disciplined harshly and he met his lieutenant, Anthony. Elias had a rough childhood: His mother was murdered and he lived in a group home until a foster family took him in. He tries to empower himself by rising in the ranks of a criminal organization like his father, but it means that he’s always running. In comparison to Dominic, Elias follows the rules, playing the game in a relatively noble way, inspiring loyalty and winning friends like Reese. But his chosen profession has sentenced him to a lifetime of looking over his shoulder, escaping from enemies by the skin of his teeth, and losing friends when they’re either turned or murdered. The devil we know is at his most likable and vulnerable in this episode: He articulates his admiration of Dominic’s strategy before outsmarting him, saves Reese from danger, mourns Anthony, and opens up about his difficult childhood. In the end, however, revenge trumps common sense and Elias digs his hole even deeper, waging war with The Brotherhood because this time, it’s personal.

It’s a joy to watch Enrico Colantoni sell the complexity of Elias, and his scenes with Winston Duke are enthralling. They say that a narrative is only as good as its villains, and Person Of Interest is practically showing off when these well-acted, compelling characters go head to head. The similarities and differences in the ways that Elias and Dominic conduct business, treat employees, and see the world in general have elevated the season, and the parallels continue in “The Devil You Know.” Great villains not only enrich a story and increase tension, they also introduce more storytelling potential, allowing the writers to rely on secondary characters instead of exhausting every avenue they can go down with each hero.

At the same time, Elias and Dominic can’t replace the principal characters or overshadow the show’s premise. This season has been at its most successful when it’s balanced the rivalry between Elias and Dominic with the overarching rivalry between The Machine and Samaritan. Many shows have their criminals, but only Person Of Interest explores artificial intelligence and national security in depth. These priorities are what makes it unique in the television landscape, and not just well-executed. The showdown between The Machine and Samaritan will be so epic that it will probably be saved for the end of the season—or the series—but scenes involving John Greer and Martine aren’t enough to satiate a hunger for the show’s original emphasis on technology and its ramifications. Considering the ethics and consequences of saving a number who’s actually a criminal himself is a great way to explore and question the show’s very premise, but the bigger picture needs to be just as detailed. Great storytelling often relies on the emotional and the personal, and Anthony’s murder did raise the stakes in this war, but Person Of Interest shouldn’t stray too far from the “sci” element of its sci-fi roots.

They may not have been intentional, but there are some parallels between the rivalries of Dominic and Elias and The Machine and Samaritan. Dominic justifies his attempts to overthrow Elias by insisting that transfers of power are supposed to be messy. Elias himself overthrew his predecessor because that’s the way it is; it’s the natural order of things for one regime to eventually be toppled by a newer, more advanced rival. This way of thinking is similar to the economic philosophy of creative destruction, where progress is said to occur in a capitalist society when old technologies, processes, and businesses are wiped out in favor of more advanced alternatives. This process can lead to advancement, but it’s a cold one, resulting in failed businesses and unemployed citizens. In the information age, artificial intelligence will advance thanks to creative destruction, which will eradicate older methods of data-gathering. Thinking of artificial intelligence in these terms provokes many questions. Will this destruction be worth it? Does “more advanced” really mean better, or do regulations need to be put in place? The fact that Reese is willing to risk his life to save Elias, the older model of criminal, means that even a member of a team that takes orders from a machine can have his doubts.

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Stray observations:

· All I wanted was a mall shootout and Person Of Interest delivered.

· Shaw is sequestered in the subway lair to avoid further compromising herself and the team. That should go well.

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· The dance between Shaw and Root continues, and I wish I knew the steps.

· This season’s Cold War has turned into a Space Race to expose Team Machine. Will The Brotherhood or Team Samaritan get there first? Analogies!

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