Person of Interest: In Extremis

“I wanted to report a murder.”
“Who was murdered?”
“Me.”

Oh, Person of Interest. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. Caution: contains a lot of Buffy references (but no spoilers). I’ve got Buffy on the brain. Hey, have you heard about our rewatch?

It doesn’t take a lot to disappoint me when it comes to PoI. The show is so good I hold it up to an unreasonable, almost Whedon-level standard. Still, the show meets my insane expectations nine times out of ten. Unfortunately, this was the tenth.

I often find that the worst episodes of a serialized show hit right about this time of year. It’s too late to do a purely standalone episode, but too early to start in on the final arc of the season. The result is often a bit of a mess. See: “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Spiral,” “Empty Places.” It’s sort of a you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Standalone episodes at this point feel out of place, like we’ve hit the pause button on everything that’s going on for no reason. Arc episodes feel a little premature. We’re not going to get a break in the ongoing drama until the end of the season, so why not let us enjoy a lighthearted episode before the inevitable misery of the last season push?

“In Extremis” attempted to combine arc and standalone in a way we’ve never seen before on the show. Most episodes use the classic A story plus B story layout. One storyline is clearly dominant while the other is thrown in to make use of the secondary characters and add levity or drama as needed. Try as I might, I can’t figure out which story was the A story this week: Reese’s attempt to avenge Dr. Nelson or Fusco’s confrontation with Internal Affairs. The title of the episode wasn’t much help either. Every character on this show is always “In Extremis.”

I think I’m going to surprise you when I say that my favorite part of this week’s episode was Fusco. It’s shocking, right? I haven’t made much of a secret of my distaste for the plotline or the way it was being doled out in drips and drabs. This week actually spent some time on the matter and I really enjoyed it. Fusco’s a tricky character to root for. We know he was inarguably dirty at the beginning of the show, and PoI wants to make us root for his redemption and believe that he will make his second chance count. Still, the show typically doesn’t spend enough time with Fusco to make this happen. When he is used, it it generally for comedic relief (you’ll remember he got shot in the ass last season). It also doesn’t help that Fusco is still mixed up with dirty cops. Sure, he doesn’t want to be and only began to associate with HR again on Reese’s request, but shades of grey and a yearning for redemption make for an odd combination.

Speaking of grey, how about Carter? I assumed Reese or Simmons had moved Stills’ body, but no. It was Carter. I gasped. She began the series as the show’s moral compass, the sole truly good character in a sea of moral relativism. Her time with Reese, Finch, and Fusco has changed her irrevocably. The reveal of hers and Bear’s muddy feet was amazing. It revealed what needed to be revealed while also communicating a kind of metaphoric symmetry. Now Carter’s the one who’s dirty. Like Fusco, she is now stained, apparently with some kind of magic mud that doesn’t dry or wipe off in the time it takes to drive back from a body dump.

One of the big problems this week was that there wasn’t enough connection between our core four. All our main characters remained apart for the vast majority of the episode. Carter and Fusco had a few conversations, but even then, their interactions were characterized by what they weren’t telling each other. Reese and Finch were barely together and one of this show’s highlights is their rapport. That, and their quips, which were also sorely missed this week.

Onto what really bugged me about this episode: the weekly person of interest. I was initially intrigued by the idea of Finch and Reese helping someone they were incapable of saving to find their murderer before they died, but I did not connect with Dr. Nelson. Not a bit. His death didn’t hurt at all. It was truly the weakest person of interest story they’ve ever pursued.

There were a couple problems with the story. First of all, an evil stockbroker? Again? Wall Street types are PoI’s go-to baddies and it’s getting a little tired. Might we lay off this particular archetypal villain for a while? Pretty please?

Next, the drama of the situation was somewhat diminished by the fact that Dr. Nelson knew exactly what was happening to him. As a doctor, he was less scared than a layman would have been to learn he’d been poisoned by polonium. His stoic acceptance of his inevitable death was not affecting.

In addition, Dr. Nelson seemed to have lived a pie in the sky life. He had friends, family, and was at the pinnacle of his career (when we meet him, he’s receiving an award for crying out loud). Wouldn’t the situation have been more more tragic if the character marked for death had been less fulfilled? They attempted to humanize Dr. Nelson by including his rocky relationship with his daughter, but it was just too little too late. The story had promise, but they should have used it with a less perfect specimen of humanity.

Finally, have Reese and Finch ever killed anyone like that before? It seemed really brutal. Talk about cold blood. Reese just stood there next to Cochran as he sipped his poisoned water. I get the poetic justice in killing the big bad with the same thing he used to kill, but I always heard that poison was the weapon of women, cravens, and eunuchs. Which one of those is Reese? It seems much more Reese’s style to have Cochran arrested and sent to prison. He committed crimes (insider trading, murder) and they didn’t even go to the trouble of making up a reason why prison wasn’t a feasible option.

Bits and Pieces:

Guest stars this week include Dennis Boutsikaris, who has guest starred in many, many shows, and Ned Eisenberg, one of Law and Order’s most frequently recurring defense attorneys.

With this week’s Fusco flashbacks, we’ve had flashbacks to every main character on the show.

Does it matter to anyone that Reese killed Stills? Anyone?

Dr. Nelson died of radiation poisoning. I’m not a doctor, but shouldn’t exposure to radiation turn him into some sort of superhero, not kill him?

Quotes:

“Bad things happen to people around me Carter, so you should get out of here.”

“O’Neill, O’Reilly, whatever the hell your name is, give us a drink.”

“Who would want me dead?”
“You would know better than I.”
This is what passed for wit this week. Needless to say, I was unimpressed.

“You want a tip? Never get hitched without a prenup.”
“Here’s a better one. Never get in a car with strangers.”

“At first, I thought I was helping to clean up the streets. Who’s gonna miss some drug money from a lowlife dealer? Then it became who’s gonna miss the dealer.”

“Listen, Carter, no one’s ever looked to me as the moral benchmark.”

two out of four muddy dogs
---
sunbunny, Person of Interest and Bear the Dog fangirl

6 comments:

celticmarc said...

OMG Sunbunny, very exhaustive review for someone who was disappointed. I was so happy to see Allison Scagliotti. But too little, not enough. Oh heck. (Hey, Warehouse-13 restarts today. Cool.) (The other 2 "cools" left with the magic.) (Well, at least for tonight.)

Plenty of smiles while reading you. (Have I said how much I love this site ?)

I really need this Buffy (re)watch : I'll be finally be able to get your jokes and puns.

Heather said...

Could not be with you more, Sunbunny. Especially on how unsympathetic the POI was. It just felt like they were going through the motions this week, and I really missed the character interactions. The only part that made me pay attention was the last thing with Carter and Bear.

Nick said...

I have to say, Fusco's my favourite character and I'm glad they're finally taking the time to address his side of things. Yes, he's not the most utilised character, but I think it's a testament to how effectively they've written the character that his relatively limited screen time so far has been enough to make some of us sympathise with him. In fact I really thought this might be the end of Fusco - I half-expected him to be killed off, even.

The way I see it (and the way the episode portrayed it), Fusco was just someone who got caught up in the dirty cop business little by little, until it snowballed out of control - and now that he's had his way out (yes he's in with HR, but he's not exactly a big part of it) it's a little sad to see he keeps getting sucked back in.

As for the POI tonight, I agree with you. I think the story's novel (him being a dead man walking) but the character development was a little rushed - the bit with his daughter was obviously just shoehorned in. If I were them, I'd have put a bit more emphasis on the Fusco story. But oh well, we have the next two episodes to look forward to! Looks like a two-parter.

migmit said...

I'm surprised. Not by the fact that you didn't like the episode (while I enjoyed it quite a lot). But you, giving an otherwise very exhaustive review, didn't mention that The Machine is now, well, blind. I don't think it's dead yet, but it seems that it doesn't have access to all this surveillance cameras everywhere. And The Machine is something that we could count on in the past. I'm sure that The Machine is very smart and that it will find a way to contact it's creator, but that doesn't lessen the feeling that some sort of safety net was pulled out.

migmit said...

And no, I don't think Carter is dirty now. Technically she became dirty the moment she helped Finch to get wounded Reese into the car. Now she just did what was right — as she always does. She decided to trust Fiasco, and I don't think she made the wrong call.

ChrisB said...

I saw the Dr. Nelson very differently than you did, sunbunny. His death saddened me for just the reasons you mentioned. Yes, he was at the pinnacle of his career; but, too late, he realized that what was really important, his family, he had let slip away. Must be a truly horrible realization on the eve of one's death.

I found his conversation with his daughter heartbreaking. He's trying to tell her that he loves her and that he's proud of her, but it's all too much for her to process. I hope, with some good therapy, she is able to work through it all now that the man is dead.

Fusco is the most morally gray character of the four. I wasn't surprised to see that he became dirty through peer pressure; he's not the strongest willed person we've ever seen. But, I love the idea that working with the other three gives him a sense of right that he is determined not to blow this time.

I agree that the HR story has run its course, but I do like the effect it has on Fusco.