Tonight’s episode finds Reese staking out a restaurant, spying on an Irish mobster named George Massey (Kevin Conway) and two of his associates, his son, Eddie, and his favorite hit man, Riley (Jonathan Tucker). Reese is there because the machine has coughed up Riley’s number. Being a faithful viewer of a show like this involves striking a bargain that requires overlooking certain things that, if examined too closely, would undermine its premise and cause the show to collapse. In exchange, the viewer is promised to be entertained in a way that only the skillful working out and execution of this premise can provide. How badly would I be betraying that bargain if I confessed that I do sometimes wonder why Reese and Finch don’t spend their every waking minute keeping tabs on gangsters? The machine hones in on people who, based on loose chatter, are apparently either in danger or plotting to hurt someone else. How many consecutive days does a gangster go without either talking about hurting someone or inspiring other people to talk about hurting him? If we’re talking about made-for-TV gangsters, the answer is “not very many.”
Riley is in danger all right, but Reese and Finch can’t help but be a little more concerned about a candidate for collateral damage: Annie, a hostess at the restaurant, who is played by a strikingly attractive and likeable actress named Liza J. Bennett. Attractiveness and likeability are a necessity for the role, since in gangland circles, Annie has been all but officially voted the prettiest girl at the dance. She is the widow of one of George Massey’s men, Sean, a “degenerate gambler” who was presumably killed by the Russian gangsters to whom he owed money. Massey, who plainly has the hots for her, suffers an expression of her disrespect after leeringly asking if she’s “found somebody to fend off those cold nights,” and tells Riley and Eddie to whack her. They agree to do as they’re told, of course, though they do express their concerns that murdering the widow of a fallen brother-in-arms “might hurt morale.” Then, as they’re on the way to her place with Reese on their tail, he calls Eddie and tells him to be and sure and whack Riley first. Riley, whose professional standing as a paid killer is not based on his dimples, susses what’s going down and whacks Eddie first.
This comes as a surprise to Reese, who, listening in on the conversation in which Massey issues the death order, murmurs, “She just became his next target, and he just became mine.” Jim Caviezel winces a little when he says that line, just as I winced a little when I heard it. It sounds like an attempt at snappy, hard-boiled dialogue by someone who doesn’t know how to use that kind of language to be witty or pointed, and it’s too typical of an episode that basically hits it marks but never lands as hard or as sure as you’d like. The casting doesn’t help much. Riley and Annie are in love, much to Massey’s chagrin, and the big reveal is that Riley actually murdered her husband, at Massey’s command. Reese, who keeps saying that he’s only protecting Riley because it’s necessary if he wants to protect Annie, eventually comes to have a grudging respect for him, seeing him as a soldier redeemed by love who developed the strength to turn his life around. (It’s easier to share his respect as it becomes increasingly obvious that Riley won’t make it out of the episode alive; he’s fated to sacrifice himself to save Annie’s life.)
There ought to be some juicy, sick subterranean emotions roiling underneath this triangle of romantic devotion and sexual jealousy, but Tucker never seems that impassioned, whether he’s running after the woman he loves or seething with self-loathing. It’s a smooth, unruffled, and not very moving performance. And Conway just gives the same gruff, cheesed-off performance he’s been cranking out by the yard since about 1973. And though Bennett makes a strong impression, her character feels a little unfinished, because she’s robbed of what ought to be her big scene: We never find out how she’d feel about the fact that her lover is the man who made her a widow. Massey is interrupted when he’s about to tell her, and if she guesses the truth, she manages to shrug it off. Most of the regulars don’t get to help much, either. Poor Fusco phones in his contribution from a bar where he’s keeping a watch over Massey. He spends the entire episode there, making sure the guy doesn’t leave, and then it turns out the place has a back exit.
What shores this episode up is the first-ever meeting of Finch and Enrico Colantoni’s Elias: A summit meeting of character-actor gods. Finch visits Elias in prison, to ask him to intervene and cancel out the million-dollar bounty that Massey has placed on the lovers’ heads. (Naturally, being locked up has done nothing to diminish Elias’ control over organized crime in the city.) Elias agrees, in exchange for Finch’s visiting him again, so they can square off over a chessboard, a conclusion that's no less satisfying for being obvious to the point of seeming inevitable. Even better, though, is Elias’ reaction when he learns of that seven-figure bounty. “Ah, yes,” he says, his smile curdling at the thought of the older gangster’s hotheaded recklessness. “So flashy.”