Person of Interest: Best Episodes

If you’re anything like me, you miss Person of Interest and you love dogs. Which is why I put together this quick synopsis of the ten best episodes of Person of Interest and an assortment of pictures of Bear. Why? Why not?

Here be spoilers.

If Then Else (season 4, episode 11)
Person of Interest made a swipe at the classic Groundhog Day trope and succeeded beautifully. The Machine, with its team pinned down runs through several scenarios to try to determine what directions will give Reese, Root, Finch, Shaw, and Fusco the best chance at survival. Especially affecting are the first iteration, where the viewer isn’t aware that what they are seeing is just a simulation and Finch isn’t really dead, and the last, after which Shaw and Root share a long awaited kiss before Shaw throws herself to Samaritan goons to save the rest. Despite all the drama, the best and most memorable part of this episode is a brief comedic interlude where the Machine runs a “simplified simulation” where the team members’ usual dialogue is replaced by Machine-speak. Gentle exhortation to further action, indeed.

Relevance (season 2, episode 16)

This is the episode that first tore up the case of the week format and hinted that we were headed toward something darker and more complicated. We drop our usual format and with it our usual players, instead focusing on a (then unknown) woman named Shaw and her partner Cole as they shoot people, blow things up, and are general badasses. We quickly discover that Shaw and Cole work for the Machine just like Reese and Finch, except they deal with the so-called ‘relevant’ side of things. They’re the ones the government sends in to take care of threats to national security, although they soon discover things aren’t exactly what they seem to be. The episode itself is excellent, but earned its place on the list by representing the gradual expansion of the PoI-verse and by radically abandoning the formula and destroying the status quo.

Many Happy Returns (season 1, episode 21)

“Many Happy Returns” was the first truly exceptional episode of the series, in my opinion. The Machine sends out the number of a victim of domestic abuse and Finch does his best to help the woman while hiding it from Reese. The reason why is heartbreaking. It turns out Jessica, Reese’s long lost love, was murdered by her husband while he was with the CIA oversees. After presumably killing her husband (no body was ever found) Reese has developed a thing about domestic abusers, i.e. he is inordinately violent towards them. Of course, Reese eventually finds out what Finch is up to and steps in to protect Sarah Jennings (played by Dagmara Dominczyk, Jim Caviezel’s costar in The Count of Monte Cristo). Rewatch the episode and try to catch Orange is the New Black’s Samira Wiley as a nurse.

Terra Incognita (season 4, episode 20)

After being severely wounded while investigating a case of the week, Reese is visited by a hallucination of the late and lamented Jocelyn Carter. What follows is some of the best character work the show has ever done. If you want to watch two people talk to each other in a car and have a good cry, this is the episode you’re looking for.

Cura Te Ipsum (season 1, episode 4)

A case of the week at its absolute finest. Dr. Megan Tillman (Linda Cardellini) is out to kill a serial rapist, the man responsible for the death of her sister. Reese and Finch are out to stop her, not because Benton is a man worth saving, but to keep a decent woman from turning into a killer. Reese convinces her to hand custody of Benton over to him leading to one of the show’s most iconic scenes. Reese and Benton are sitting across from each other in a blindingly sunny beach house kitchen, the tension palpable, as Benton begs for his life and Reese contemplates whether or not he should let Benton live. Maddeningly (but poetically), the episode ends here, with Benton’s fate entirely unclear. Although it is suggested later that he is being illegally held in a Mexican prison, we never find out for sure the outcome of that conversation.

The Crossing (season 3, episode 9)

I had to include the only episode that features a major character death, didn’t I? Carter, come back! Taraji P. Henson may have moved on to greener pastures and Golden Globes, but the audience and the show still miss her. She was our touchstone of goodness, our beacon of light and hope and other nice things. Root and Shaw are amazing, but neither is anything close to resembling that. Shaw is a sociopath and Root is a…whatever she is. Carter got an appropriate farewell. It was heavily foreshadowed the episode before (“Endgame”) and then hit us like a truck in this episode. She was past all the danger and then, boom, she takes a bullet to save Reese. The best part of the episode is almost definitely Carter and Reese reciting their first lines to each other. And then our hearts were ripped out.

2 Pi R (season 2, episode 11)

Another outstanding case of the week episode that proves that formulaic doesn’t necessarily have to mean bad. With Reese out of commission (aka in jail), Finch has to tackle this week’s number all by himself. Caleb Phipps, genius coder and disturbed teenager is in danger, but only from himself. Guilt ridden over the death of his brother some years previously, he’s decided to commit suicide, poetically throwing himself in front of a train to mimic the way his brother died. Enter Finch, undercover in Caleb’s school as “Mr. Swift” a would-be inspirational math teacher. Finch manages to talk Caleb out of his intricately planned suicide in an absolutely beautiful scene set. Michael Emerson at his best.

Deus Ex Machina (season 3, episode 23)

Collier and Vigilance put the people responsible for creating and implementing the Machine on trial with…unexpected results. It turns out (dun dun dun!) Decima created Vigilance because they needed a scary threat in order to sell the government on Samaritan. Collier is devastated to discover this. Leslie Odom, Jr. is a big part of the reason this episode made the list. Scratch that, he’s the only reason. Collier wasn’t always a thrilling villain, but in this episode Odom’s dramatic talent is given full license to roam and the results are incredible.

Witness (season 1, episode 7)

“Charlie Burton” is under threat from the Russian mob, who Finch and Reese believe to be targeting him because he witnessed (hence the title) their killing of one of Elias’s men. Turns out, “Charlie” is none other than Elias. At the time, this was a hugely shocking twist. The show’s casting of paternal teddy bear Enrico Colantoni as the ruthless Elias has had mixed results, but Colantoni’s natural non-scariness was a boon in this episode. Who would suspect someone so cuddly of doing anything more criminal than jaywalking? The episode also gets points for casting Enver Gjokaj of Dollhouse and Agent Carter fame.

God Mode (season 2, episode 22)

Root and Reese are both gifted with unfettered access to the Machine and in exchange they have to run around shooting people and expositioning everywhere. Rewatching this episode, the word that came to my mind is the same word I used to describe it in my original review: “solid.” Well balanced between Reese and Shaw’s bang bang shoot em up adventures, Root and Finch’s field trip to visit the Machine, and flashbacks that finally complete the story of Ingram and Finch. And the concept that Control would knowingly allow a terrorist attack to take place in order to keep their surveillance from being exposed is incredibly upsetting. It really added fangs to the PoI-verse government. If they’re willing to let that happen, what else are they willing to do?
sunbunny, Person of Interest and Bear the Dog fangirl


Billie Doux said...

You just made me relive a lot of terrific episodes of Person of Interest. And thank you for all of those adorable pictures of Bear, one of the smartest decisions the producers ever made. Is it possible that you're a dog person, sunbunny? :)

Baby M said...

Excellent! I am particularly gratified to see "Cura Te Ipsim" making your list, as the last three minutes of that episode turned me from a casual viewer to a full-blown fan.

POI is so consistently excellent that it's nearly impossible to boil it down to just 10 episodes without leaving out some really good ones. I'd suggest, as an "honorable mention," "Prisoner's Dilemma," for its intense, magnificently written, directed, and acted interrogation scenes.

carol said...

Pretty good list, but missing the exceptional episode "Prisoners Dilemma," which broke the mold by having two major characters actually speak directly and frankly to one another in those remarkable interrogation scenes. "Prisoners Dilemma" set the bar for superior writing, directing, and acting that few other episodes before or after matched. "Get Carter" and "Number Crunch" were exciting, enjoyable, and important in upending the emotionally resonant interactions among the three major characters. I'd add "Contingency" to the list for the Reese/Carter road trip to Texas and for delivering so much crucial back story about the moral education of the machine.

Patrick said...

I can't really find fault with any of these choices, though "Cura Te Ipsum" never did as much for me as it apparently did for others. I would also add:

Critical - pretty standard case-of-the-week, but executed and acted to perfection, a real showcase of what PoI does well. Plus, how can you not love an episode with Julian Sands as the villain?

The Devil's Snare - a wonderfully grief-filled follow-up to The Crossing, the opening sequence set to Johnny Cash's rendition of "Hurt" was such an emotional gut-punch, holy cow. Talk about perfect song choices.

4C - the perfect semi-lighthearted romp after the darkness of the previous few episodes, this one has a solid place on my best-of list for sheer fun value alone. Yet the finale is also quite touching, with Reese & Finch together as Reese declares his intention to rejoin the team.

Anonymous said...

I would definitely choose "Prisoner's Dilemma" over "God Mode" or "Deus ex Machina." The AI/Samaritan storyline has dragged on way too long.

Guest said...

NOTE: At the end of "Cura Te Ipsum" you say we never learn the outcome but that's not true. We actually do in "Many Happy Returns" at the end when carter receives a call from that same Mexican prison for the Marshall. She asks if there were any others and the warden says "a couple" referring back to the 2 previous episodes where it is mentioned