Person of Interest 1.21 Review: "Many Happy Returns"

By John Keegan and Edmund Boys

person_of_interest_iconDid you ever have a moment in your past when things got out of control, when you went a little too far? Many of us have, and, for most of this episode of “Person of Interest”, it looks like John Reese is careening towards his. Finch certainly makes that assumption, trying to keep Reese away from a case that hits a little too close to home. It makes for the most powerful melding of past and present to date, as the stories start to converge on the season finale.

Early in the season, as the flashbacks for both men started, Finch’s story was much more compelling. The genesis of the Machine, Nathan’s death, Finch’s limp were all intriguing mysteries to puzzle over. Reese’s first flashback was just one, over-extended scene with his ex, Jessica, and his issues appeared tame in comparison. Soldier boy gets girl, soldier fights covert war post-9/11, soldier loses girl. It was sad, but a little predictable.

What we were getting instead was a slow build. We’ve seen Reese clinging to her memory, even as Stanton pulls him back to the reality of what they’ve become. Then, when Jessica finally reaches out, the China mission and its aftermath keeps him from her for months. This episode shows the emotionally devastating consequence of that delay, as he returns to discover her dead in an apparent car accident.

Of course, it was no accident. What cuts Reese to the bone is discovering that the ‘good guy’ he thought she deserved to be with was her abuser and killer. What he does after that discovery is the reason Finch wants to keep him away from the current number, an abused woman on the run from her husband, a rogue U.S. Marshal. Finch tries to use Carter, but she has more pressing concerns. The FBI is back, and they’ve discovered the uncharacteristically messy aftermath of Reese’s revenge.

Person-of-Interest-Many-Happy-Returns-Episode-21-8This was a wonderful evolution of their storytelling style. Earlier, the current action and the flashbacks might have some tangential or thematic overlap. Here, they combine to show the before and after of the incident. As the evidence from both sides mounts, it seems clear that Reese lost his head, his training, his very soul. When Reese catches on to what Finch is doing, the beat-down he delivers to the Marshal only confirms our worst suspicions.

From there, the two stories proceed inexorably towards the same conclusion. This is some of Jim Caviezal’s best, and most affecting, work. You see the last vestiges of his past life fall away as he waits in Jessica’s living room. You now know why he wound up homeless on the subway. You also see the steely resolve borne of that incident and the second chance afforded by Finch, and it is terrifying in its intensity. In a delicious final twist, both men do suffer the same fate, but one that restores our faith in Reese.

The flashbacks aren’t the only things illuminating Reese’s background. Carter gathers enough clues to call in a favor from her military intelligence days and get Reese’s file. It was good to show her detective chops, especially after her less-than-stellar early flashback. She then shreds the file, firmly cementing which side she’s on.

We also discover how close an eye Finch keeps on Reese, both now and in the past. When Finch talked about how many abused women came up as repeat Numbers, Jessica’s inclusion was obvious. Seeing Reese and her husband join her in Finch’s folder was not, and a sign of how long Reese has been on his radar. Certainly long enough to deserve an upgrade from his Spartan hovel, although I would suggest a thorough sweep for bugs.

When “Person of Interest” was renewed in mid-March, CBS commissioned an extra episode. That turned five remaining episodes into six, and, with a four-episode closing arc already planned, I was intrigued to see where they would shoehorn in another episode. I am convinced this was that extra episode. The timing fits in terms of scheduling and pre-production needs for a new script. “Identity Crisis” was too close, airing just after the extra order. Elias' capture in “Flesh and Blood” and Stanton’s reveal in “Matsya Nyaya” were set-up pieces for the finale.

While the back-story here completes elements from the early episodes, it doesn't feel crucial to the closing arc. At least not as crucial as expanding on the back-story of Finch and the Machine, promised for the penultimate episode. It is yet another testament to the strength of this show and its creators that they can stick an episode smack in the middle of their planned arc and make it feel like an expansion, not an interruption. It just makes me anticipate the closing episodes all the more.

John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Edmund Boys is Critical Myth's reviewer for Person of Interest.

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