Airtime: Tuesdays at 10PM on CBS
Episode: Season 5, Episode 11 (S05E11)
Tweetable Takeaway: #PersonofInterest combines action, mystery, and old times in this week’s textbook cult TV thriller
PERSON OF INTEREST keeps proving that it knows what it’s doing. In “Synecdoche” it hints at bigger stories, returns to old ones, and stays consistent to characterization. To be honest, after processing it for a few days, last week’s Person of Interest made me completely disinterested. It was muddled, desperate to be profound, and didn’t fit into the narrative very well. It tried too hard, and it showed. The only nice things I had to say about it, even immediately afterwards, were that it had interesting potential for the future. “Synecdoche” managed to get me back into the story.
If you want a textbook example of how to serialize a procedural, this episode is it. It not only dealt with the season’s arc in allowing Harold both his grief and his philosophizing, the case of the week brought back three numbers from previous seasons in a really slick way. Cult television primarily functions by feeding the audience fragments, and this tied together earlier material and the idea that there are similar teams in other cities. These kinds of cameos and references can be ham-handed and groan-worthy, but the two-layered case was so well-woven that seeing those old faces was delightful.
Another thing that can get tedious fast is having a case so huge that the consequences of failure would be catastrophic. For example: the President’s life being in danger. They got his number and my eyebrows were immediately skeptical. But! The President himself was always a distant figure—more like a MacGuffin than a character—which kept the show’s secret sci-fi premise a secret and allowed John, Shaw, and Fusco to work the mystery, torture people, and shoot things. All the things they’re best at. The three of them got to express their affection for each other, show their professional strengths, and work together perfectly to save the frickin’ President. Even the jargon-mouthing terrorist organization for a strawman villain couldn’t take away from how fun the mystery case was. I’m hard to win over when the premise is that absurd, but this was well-done and tightly written. Kudos.
Harold and the Machine were only minimally in this but they used their time wisely. This series is masterful at including long sci-fi soliloquies about the ethics and philosophy of technology. That is not easy to do in an organic and interesting way. The Machine basically stated that her simulacrum of Root was so close to Root that the two are indistinguishable. Yes, good. Thank you, that’s the direction I wanted this to go. I also loved the lengthy discussions of whether the Machine can love, and how that love is actually expressed. My favorite though, even on top of all that sentient AI talk, was Harold discussing the intentions of science versus the consequence. I feel like this episode brought home the ethical points that the previous one was trying to make. If you push Harold over the edge from constantly trying to “do good” to, instead, effecting change by any means it’s much more in character for him to reason his way through it than to just get angry and spout off at Samaritan. I believe it now.
One of the ideas I’ve been stuck on lately is that it doesn’t matter how perilous your plot is or how high-octane your action scenes are if a story never slows down and lets you spend time with the characters. I’ve been known to stick with truly terrible shows for years for one or two characters. That’s the truly unique thing that each story has to work with. If you bulldoze over them, never let them process what’s happening to them, and force them around like puppets to suit the whims of plot points that’s going to be hollow as hell and not any fun to watch. The stakes in the case this week could not have been higher, yet Shaw got to work through her grief in her own way, Harold approached his moral event horizon, and John and Fusco further repaired their relationship. The action and mystery parts of this episode are superb, but they work even better because they are the foundation for the protagonists to work through the things that have happened to them.
On top of that, the title “Synecdoche” is like using a part of something to stand in for the whole. Not gonna lie: I had to look it up and my little brain shot off fireworks when I did. What’s the synecdoche here? Is it the President as figurehead? Samaritan completely okay with the symbolic destruction of the United States? It’s possible they used the word in the episode and I missed it, but the rhetorical turns you can play with it are fun.
This was great. Well put-together, fun, emotionally resonant, brainy. A+, seriously.
Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor