S1E8: Who’d have thought that a high-concept spy procedural about government surveillance would offer some of the most palpable human drama stories I get to see in television these days? Okay, maybe that’s a little bit of a stretch—as a matter of fact, the real meaty and emotional stuff seems to only happen in the last ten minutes of Person of Interest’s episodes. Maybe they’re just pulling easy punches—this week, the plot revolves around a Cold War-era German secret agent who seeks out his estranged wife whom he thought to be over twenty years dead. And yes, I’ve been known to be an easy mark for television tear jerkers. But somehow, when Person of Interest really lays out these characters—the killers, the ones we’re generally supposed to despise—for in a way that makes them seem anything but monstrous (rather, tortured), I can’t help but feel something. And when they actually draw parallels for one of the two leading men (four times out of five it’s Reese), and remind us that somewhere inside, they too are human, that really drives it all home. This is what makes the show work: it reminds us that it’s a show about living, bleeding, suffering people. Not just numbers a machine spits out.
“Nagle hasn’t made a single electronic transaction in his own name since 1987.” – Finch
“Where has he been for twenty-four years?” – Reese
“And why is he back?” – Finch
I may have mentioned once or twice my fondness for Person of Interest’s guest casting habits. I may have also brought up an irrevocable obsession with LOST. Well, today is my lucky day, and that of about 90% of the people who started watching this show based on its producer and leading man: this week’s guest star is Alan Dale, known better to LOST fans as the dastardly Charles Widmore. So…rockin’.
Dale plays a former spy who resurfaces after an extended “presumed death.” He is on a mission to track down and kill three former partners who betrayed him to the American government in favor of fresh starts and new lives in New York. Dale’s character manages to successfully execute two of these three men—not before attracting the attention of a German government agent, who is on a mission to stop Dale’s character from committing these murders. When Dale comes face to face with his final foe, once his closest friend, the man admits that his wife is still alive—Dale learns that she faked her own death with the help of the U.S. in order to escape her husband once she learned of the horrible things he had been doing for his government (all the murders, and whatnot). So, this tears up his psyche something awful. And it doesn’t help much when he finds out that all this time, she and he have had a daughter he never knew about.
The strength of this week’s episode doesn’t lie much in the plot. Its greatest achievement is making us actually feel for Dale’s murderous character. At the end of the episode, Dale confronts his wife and daughter, learning the truth behind his wife’s leaving of him: she admits that she was afraid that he was dangerous, and she wanted to raise their child in a world free of these evils. Dale not only understands, but agrees with her, and raises an unloaded gun toward her in order to get Reese to shoot him, putting him out of his misery.
“She has my mother’s eyes.” – Nagle
A lot of parallels are drawn between Dale’s character and Reese in the episode. The main theme is Dale’s willingness to do “bad” things for his government, and his willingness to justify these things in his own mind. We get a flashback of Reese’s early days with the force, being broken in by a woman who kills two men without so much as a question. Reese is shown to have a moral dilemma with her actions, but she insists that what their agency is doing is “right,” just before giving him the handle “Reese.”
If it weren’t powerful enough to see Dale go through this torrential existential crisis, we also see the same sort of thing applied to Reese. Seeing Reese when he was detached from society, from the world, from his lost love makes us ache for him all the more. The episode is colossal in its humanization of this mysterious character. Although it isn’t as “big” and “promising” as the last Person of Interest episode, “Witness,” “Foe” has some genuine humanity to spare, and does wonders for our attachment to the show and to its characters—both main and guest.