With last week’s extremely superb “Booked Solid,” an episode that adeptly balanced the case of the week with some of the season’s more major story lines, I was prepared for a return to normalcy. Back to episodes more like “One Percent” or “Triggerman.” I was expecting to go back to the Person of Interest of old, with more standalone episodes that capitalized on action, cheesy humor, and non lethal shots to the leg by our favorite mumbling super agent man John Reese. But then Jonathan Nolan had to go and say “Forget that” and deliver what is arguably one of the best and unique episodes of Person of Interest. Ever.
The appropriately titled “Relevance” delved into two things I never thought about the show doing, but it was obvious the show would go in this direction at one point or another. First, the episode was seen from the point of view of this week’s POI, making for an inverted sort of experience seeing the episode unfold. Right from the beginning, we knew we were in for something completely different, as the regular intro of the show was interrupted by the machine itself. This brings us to the second fertile territory the show begins to mine, which is the Machine under use of the government.
We’ve heard it from Finch in the pilot episode before, the fact that the government has the machine and is using it to detect and deter acts of terrorism. We as an audience have just been so caught up with the adventures of Reese and Finch and the endless stream of non relevant numbers in the Big Apple that we didn’t even notice that there was another side to the equation. At least I have never wondered what the machine was like when the government used it for their purposes. After this episode however, I want more.
This whole episode serves as an extended introduction to deadly government agent Samantha Shaw (Sarah Shahi) as she goes from expertly stopping a terrorist cell in Germany to getting burned in New York when the agency they work for decides to give them their own rendition of a burn notice. In this little side trip with Shaw, we get a glimpse of how the government works with the machine, a system that’s not too different from how Reese and Finch operate.
The machine names a target, chosen from its complicated algorithm of behavior predictability. The agents on the field are fed the information under the guise that it is obtained by a department called “research.” The agents are teams of two, one a technology expert and the other an efficient killer. Sound familiar? We also get a proper name for the man in Washington DC seemingly in charge of the situation. For not he’s just called “Control” even though he himself implies that he is not the end of the line.
It was very interesting to see things from the perspective of the POI, and we begin to see the show in a whole new light. Reese pops up every now and then, but we never shake the feeling that he’s always around the corner, as previous episodes have established. This is even put into better effect when Shaw is in danger, and all the action Reese participates in occurs off screen, leaving behind a trail of disarmed henchmen clutching their legs in pain. It was a wonderful twist on the old formula that POI has been so keen on delivering on. Admittedly, this would have only worked with Shaw, as she provided enough gunshots and casual danger dialogue to make Reese himself blush.
This episode was also the resurfacing of Root, bridging from last episode’s ending. This sheds light to the “situation” back at Washington that forced Control to call Hersch back. She’s getting very close to the machine, and the questions Shaw’s partner began asking about the whole operation was more than enough to provide Root with a potential entry point. So, in a way, Root created Shaw as she is now in the same manner that Finch allegedly created the Reese that is now, as a few previous episodes have implied.
Finch himself doesn’t even appear until the third act of the episode, but when he does, he makes his presence known. He gives a similar initiation to Shaw as he did with Reese on the truth, a very well written and well acted scene. Just like that, a whole new layer is added to the Person of Interest mythology. Shaw, being her stubborn and headstrong self, declines the offer from help with Finch and Reese and decides to go after Control herself.
Shaw succeeds in doing this, with confronting Control and then killing her handler, the man that sent the kill order on Shaw and her partner. Control lets her go free, but every action has a consequence. Hersch is sent in and manages to “kill” Shaw. However, if there’s anything the past season and a half has taught us, Team Rogue Machine always has a contingency.
Just when you thought the show has forgotten about Carter and Fusco and even Leon Tao, the wonderful ending montage set to the tune of The Kills’ “Future Starts Slow” features our heroes resuscitating Shaw in an elaborate way. She once again declines their offer, but does take Finch’s card as a just-in-case.
With the inversion of episode formula and the sparse presence of the regular characters, some viewers may find this episode jarring and ultimately unsatisfactory. However, for fans that have been invested in the shows mythology and enjoy deviations that expertly craft the story and advance several arcs at once, then this episode is a treat. I belong in the later party, and an episode like this is a game changer, opening the door to several more plot lines that couldn’t have been explored before.
The Root storyline moved forward, and the inner workings of the government with the machine were revealed. This was a fantastic episode of Person of Interest, building on the momentum formed from last week’s episode. It solidified season 2’s superiority to season 1, something that I thought would be very difficult to accomplish. With an entire episode devoted to building the character of Shaw, it is inevitable that she will return. Whether she returns as an enemy or an ally is anybody’s guess, but that’s what makes this show so engrossing and entertaining.
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