Every TV show of a semi-procedural nature, from The X-Files to NCIS, has sent a couple of tough crime-solvers to the suburbs, to camp out in a big house and pose as a regular married couple while poking into what’s really going on in the quiet, cozy world that David Lynch, John Waters, and The Stepfather ripped the lid off ages ago. (One of the richest spins on the terrors of suburbia in recent years was on Angel, where a character was exiled to a suburban home that appeared to be the only reality he could remember, and that seemed like a very pleasant prison, except that his wife kept making him go down into the basement, where they kept the torture chamber.) The joke of having an alienated wise guy like Fox Mulder—or a tough guy like Reese—trying to blend into the background in Ward Cleaverland is a pretty obvious one, and the time is long past when it’s possible to pretend that there’s anything jarring or subversive about the idea that any house in the ’burbs might conceal terrorists or murderers or extraterrestrials, or whatever. But it’s a joke that always seems to work, at least a little. Call me a sucker for the classics.
Reese is drawn into Far Rockaway to keep an eye on Graham Wyler, a beefy mensch with a wife and daughter, who’s played by David Denman, Pam’s ex-fiancé on The Office. His wife, Connie, is played by Alicia Witt, who put in small, memorable appearances in Dune and Twin Peaks and played Cybill Shepard’s daughter on her 1990s sitcom, before formally announcing that she’d grown up when she played Chris Noth’s police partner on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. She’s perfectly nice and appealing, which is all her role requires from her, but I find it kind of a waste whenever she plays a character who’s not 50 shades of weird.
The funniest moments come early on, when Reese is still trying to stick to his usual M.O. Sitting in a parked car and trying to conduct surveillance, he learns about the existence of no-parking zones and has to present Finch with a ticket, presented to him by a cop who’s become too accustomed to a quiet, safe life to find his half-smile intimidating. Finch readily agrees that “Your man-in-the-suit routine doesn’t exactly play” in these surroundings, and so finds him a house, having already “procured a new vehicle, appropriate clothing, and a set of golf clubs.”
The golf clubs turn out to be a wasted expenditure. Reese, who brings Paige Turco’s Zoe along to pose as his wife, hits it off fine with Graham, but things pick up steam so quickly that he never really has a chance to check out the setting and enjoy it, despise it, or wonder about what might have been. He also brings Bear along, but once the dog is seen romping around the house, the show just forgets that he’s around. There are a lot of missed opportunities, even if we do get to see Michael Emerson in a tech installer’s uniform, standing on a ladder and addressing Reese as “Boss” in a tone that sends shivers down the spine. And the editors can’t break up the action the way they usually do, with spooky little security-camera, point-of-view inserts, since so much of the action takes place where there are no security cameras. When Reese persuades Graham to let him give him a ride, and there’s a cut to the two of them as seen through a traffic camera, it’s like seeing an old friend.
Graham, it turns out, is really a gifted safecracker, with the gas-station-attendant-in-a-Jim-Thompson-novel name of Lloyd Pruitt. He is being stalked by the members of his old crew—the meanest of them is played by Dominic Fumusa, Mr. Nurse Jackie—who blame him for forging a new identity and starting life over, instead of showing up at the big heist where they all got busted. They want him to participate in a new robbery, or else they’ll rain terror down on his family. Reese, Finch, and Zoe debate whether it would be the best course to simply put Lloyd out of harm’s way by alerting the authorities, even if this, too, would blow up his home life. Naturally, the debate doesn’t get far before Lloyd scampers off to join the crew, and Reese has to act fast and insert himself into the robbery, with Carter riding to the rescue on the outside. Fusco never makes an appearance. After all he went through last week, I hope he called in sick and went to the track.
None of this is bad, but it has a by-the-numbers quality to it that succeeds in tamping down any threat it ever makes to become exciting. The best thing about “The High Road” is Turco. When night falls in the ’burbs, she and Reese break out a bottle of Scotch and a pack of cards and while the hours away in what could be the pre-coital buildup scene from some disreputable old noir classic. While Reese is out being manly and efficient, Zoe spies on Connie sitting on her patio, looking troubled, and goes outside to lend her an ear. The scene serves no narrative purpose, and the story Connie tells about how she and her husband met, is so overfamiliar it’s deadly—it’s set at a Springsteen concert in Jersey, and comes complete with one of those creeps the heroine needs rescuing from—but it’s almost worth it for the image of Finch, who’s watching them both on a laptop, leaning forward and becoming rapt by the unfamiliar spectacle of girl talk. Of all Person Of Interest’s rapidly expanding cast of recurring characters, Zoe is the one who’s most likely to be pulled into a story from out of the blue, and also the one most likely to leave you wanting more. Anyone who has a script with what they think would be a great part for Connie Britton ought to consider calling Turco instead of waiting for Britton's schedule to open up.