Tuesday, May 10, 2016

REVIEW: 'Person of Interest' - John Runs Into His CIA Colleagues During the Latest Investigation in 'Truth Be Told'

CBS' Person of Interest - Episode 5.03 "Truth Be Told"

Reese's cover could be blown when he realizes the latest POI has ties to his old colleagues in the CIA.

Person of Interest has more than comprehensively explored the backstories of its main characters. Across the series' run, flashbacks have been strategically placed in order to inform the audience of who these characters were in correlation to the people they were becoming in the present. The machine's mission has changed their lives. They have each found purpose through this work. They've grown as people but their past decisions are still important in understanding who they are at their very core. The flashback structure has been very necessary. It has helped paint a much larger picture of this universe. And yet, it doesn't seem like there is any interesting stories left to tell from the pasts of Finch and John. So that ultimately drags an episode like "Truth Be Told" down. It largely plays as filler in a season where the tension should be escalating in every episode building towards a dynamic but satisfying final ending.

The characters have been the reason why the show developed into something worth watching and enjoying in the first place. The premise at the center of the show is very compelling and topical. But the histories and details of the characters have helped the story have meaning in an ever changing world. The flashbacks have been great in the past. And yet, it's still a struggle to connect with John Reese. So much importance was thrusted onto him during the early days of the show. Over the years, the series has become much more of an ensemble piece. He still has purpose as the trained former assassin who can protect the numbers from whomever is trying to kill them. But his stoic presence hasn't always been that great - even though he's been allowed to have more fun as the years go by. His past has a direct connection to Finch's work with the machine. As a part of the CIA, he carried out a number of missions that had lethal consequences in the name of protecting national security. He was simply a brutal but necessary man who existed in this world in order to keep it safe and functional.

John's life changed when he met Finch and the machine. It gave him purpose. And now, he has found a new path where he can help people without needing to kill anyone. Sure, he has still put a number of people in the hospital with gunshot wounds. But that's simply the cost of during business with him. Plus, it allows the show to showcase some effective and intricate stunt work in every episode. That has always been fun. And yet, the show has struggled with wringing a lot of emotional material and meaning from John's past. It had its function in the past few seasons. But now, there's nothing else that can be revealed about who he was before he started working with the machine. He is much more interesting as the man he is in the present day. But the show is still trying to tell stories with his past. It largely just feels like a way to pad this specific episode. This hour has a nifty concept of the latest person of interest being connected to one of the cases John worked on while at the CIA. The execution is just a little too weird without enough ample stakes to make it feel important to the overall narrative though.

Essentially, John and his former partner Stanton were given a mission in 2010 to investigate a soldier who sold weapons to a local militia in the Middle East. It was part of a coverup of an even bigger conspiracy that involved the CIA having the weapons in the region in the first place. The details of this story really aren't that engaging to watch. So, the personal dynamics between the characters really needed to step it up. Unfortunately, the story is too formulaic and focused on the plot for any of it to be very effective. John recognizes the role he played in the death of the person of interest's brother. But he spends most of his time trying to evade capture from his former CIA boss, Beale. It honestly just feels like a waste of Keith David here. He does easily bring an authoritative presence to the role. But it's limited by the writing. He's just a vague and menacing figure who stands in the way of John's mission. That's basically it. It could be very dangerous if Beale learned that John was still alive and opened a full investigation into tracking him down. That could expose the entire team to Samaritan. And yet, the show really doesn't follow through with that threat. It's a tense situation. But then, it essentially becomes nothing in order to bring closure to the story. The POI gets the answers that he wanted and Beale agrees to let John continue living as a ghost. Why any of it happens beyond plot necessity is beyond explanation though.

The show has a pretty menacing threat right now in Samaritan. And yet, the season is cooling off on that a little bit as the team regroups and tries to get back to normal with their mission. Samaritan has become a mysterious entity who does cryptic things that the team need to understand. That's essentially what happens throughout this episode with Finch and Root. Finch is still making sure that everything is running perfectly with the machine. Meanwhile, Root is back at it with new identities every day. Here, she gets a job as a package delivery worker. Unlike her previous aliases though, this one has purpose. The machine has noticed that something shifty is going on with the packages that this specific vehicle is delivering. She understands that Samaritan is up to something. Root and Finch just need to understand what. The only important piece of information they get is a piece of code on the technology that shouldn't be there. That's it. It's just another mystery and further confirmation that Samaritan is planning something big for the future. But it's also meaningful that Root is willing to take big risks in order to understand what is happening in this war. That could have costly mistakes. But she's doing whatever it takes to protect the machine and find Shaw. This risk could prove to be very informative. It already shows that Samaritan is doing more with this code than they initially thought. But it could also threaten to expose everything the team is trying to do with the machine right now.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Truth Be Told" was written by Erik Mountain and directed by Stephen Surjik.
  • John's relationship with Iris last season had purpose. It gave him a new perspective of the world. It was a way for him to live a normal and happy life. And yet, it is discarded so casually here. John ends it because he needs to focus on what needs to be done to keep the world safe. But that's a really weird resolution to the story. If this is how it ends, what was its importance in the first place?
  • Beale realized that John was the man interfering with his mission because he sees him in a mask and then sees that his car has been disabled. That's a really iffy explanation for something that needed to happen to keep things tense.
  • John and the POI escape Beale's custody because John forces their car to crash. And yet, no one is seriously injured despite it being a major accident. Plus, Beale is slowly crawling out of the wreckage while John and the POI are perfectly fine and already towering over him. It's a weirdly shot sequence.
  • However, it was a lot of fun seeing John beat up a couple of people in the bathroom of a themed restaurant while Iris and her parents were in the next room.
  • Root is able to create a situation where she and Finch can look at the one of Samaritan's technology because her training partner is a misogynistic prick. She took great joy out of being able to knock him out a couple of times.