Person of Interest "2-Pi-R" Review: Subtracting Reese Multiplies Problems

By Tim Surette

Jan 04, 2013

Person of Interest S02E11: "2πR"

Okay fellow Person of Interstites, Machineheads, or FanPOIs (do we have a name?), it's 2013 so it's time to crank up the criticism and be a little harsher on our favorite show about a vigilante odd couple. I say this because while I really enjoy Person of Interest, it tends to be a difficult show to cover. Aside from the occasional serialization-heavy installment, it's procedural backbone doesn't lend itself to much commentary from episode to episode outside of recapping whether the case of the week was fun or not, the funny things Finch said, and what new high-caliber toy Reese has to play with.

Thankfully last night's algebraic "2πR," which was largely procedural, gave us something big to talk about by leaving Reese out of the equation (haha, math pun! Don't worry, there are plenty more coming...) almost entirely. The formula for Person of Interest is "geeky billionare + badass special op + super computer = vigilante ass-kickings for bad guys," but Mr. Badass Special Op spent the entire episode behind bars after being captured by the FBI in the winter finale. *flips through seventh-grade algebra book* Subtracting Mr. Badass Special Op from the first half of the equation means we also have to subtract it from the second half of the equation, but we should probably add "x(Fusco)" and "Carter/FBI "somewhere in there... point is, did Reese's absence leave us with a satisfying answer? I'm going to say no.

I love when series take risks like this, and Person of Interest has always found surprising ways to tinker with its formula. Early in the series' life the norm was shaken up when Finch had to go into the field to save Reese or Reese had to team up with Carter or that great arc when Reese had to team up with the machine to find Finch. In "2πR," Reese was more absent than he's ever been, leaving the number of the week entirely in Finch's hands. But whereas those other episodes helped define characters through different circumstances, "2πR" was really just Person of Interest without one of its main draws.

"2πR" was a missed opportunity to delve deep into Finch's character and show us more of his shady past, but other than confirming Finch's incredible hacking skillz, we didn't learn much about him at all. And I think that's becoming a problem. What made Season 1 (and the early part of Season 2) so excellent were the slow reveals of Reese and Finch's intriguing backstories. Finch may have helped murder Nathan Ingram! Reese was running away from explosions in China! The computer used to call Finch daddy! All these details and questions kicked the show into a higher gear, something smarter and more interesting than NCIS or CSI. We're just not getting that these days, which is turning POI into something fairly standard for CBS. It's almost as if the network told Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman to tone down the complex character backstories and simplify things. We got a taste of the backstory goodness in "Contingency" by witnessing the early days of Finch and the computer, and the same was true in "'Til Death" when we saw Finch put the moves on Grace, but my brain (which I don't always trust, so let me know if I'm wrong) tells me we haven't had many other history lessons. What drew me into Person of Interest initially was getting to know these outstanding characters and continually adding pieces to the puzzle. I want to see more of Reese's heartbreak from "Many Happy Returns." I want to see more of Finch's dealings with Nathan Ingram. As of late, things seem paused on that front.

Anyway, semi-rant over, new rant begins. This week Finch went undercover as a substitute teacher to keep eyes on Caleb, a troubled genius who tanked tests but probably proved difficult math theorems on chalkboards when no one was looking. Finch played Robin Williams to Caleb's Matt Damon and after lots of wheel-spinning he eventually got to the bottom of Caleb's malaise: Caleb was soaked with guilt after being indirectly responsible for his brother's death. So Caleb took care of his drunk mother and was computer-coding up a fancy new compression algorithm that would allow people to store a ripped copy of the Blu-ray version of Friends: The Complete Series (or PDFs of the entire Library of Congress, as the episode chose) on a 100MB flash drive. With help from the school's computer science teacher (whose inclusion in the story was merely to throw us off the scent), Caleb's work would find investors and turn Caleb into a bazillionaire. Only Caleb didn't want the money for himself, he wanted to give it all to his alkie mom and kill himself when he was 17 years, 6 months, and 21 days old, the same age his brother was when he died. How very emo. There was also a drug dealer (played by The Wire's Wee-Bey!) who wanted to extort Caleb, but that storyline fizzled out like a wet match almost as suddenly as it was introduced. To me, there were a lot of unnecessary moving parts in the case—the teacher, the drug dealer, the dealers in the school, the audio flashbacks to the subway accident—that kept it from being substantive, and the "woe is me" teen and his idiotic and convoluted idea to commit suicide in honor of his brother didn't help. Caleb's grief was so surface-level that we never really got to know him or his despair. I liked the general idea of the case, but the execution just wasn't there.

But the case wasn't the only messy situation that needed solving. The FBI was getting closer to pinning Reese as the mythic Man in the Suit, thanks to DNA evidence against him, and Finch tasked Carter with making sure that didn't happen. Carter, what the F are you doing? Weren't you the moral police in Season 1? Now you're pulling clothes out of your slut drawer (she looked fwiiiiine though, right?), drugging Johns to swab their cheeks, and breaking into FBI labs and tampering with evidence? Puh-leeeeze. And Carter was just like, "Okay sure I'll seduce guys and violate them and take down FBI security cameras why not?" Whatever helps Reese out, I guess. I think Carter worked better when she wasn't fully employed by Reese and Finch.

I know several of you probably enjoyed the episode, and indeed there were some great parts, particularly seeing Finch as Mr. Swift the substitute teacher. But Reese's absence left a huge void that Finch, Carter, and Fusco couldn't fill. Without Reese, the episode became a very standard procedural without the action we've come to expect from the show. Had Person of Interest used the opportunity to make "2πR" a Finch-centric episode, complete with backstory and strong character moments, it would have been a different story. But instead it was just a normal episode of Person of Interest without Reese, and that's a formula that just doesn't add up. (And no I will not apologize for all my stupid math puns.)



NOTES OF INTEREST

– How many actors from The Wire have appeared on this show?

– This week's Finch quote: "May I remind you that of the many things I am equipped to do, pursuit is not a chief one of them."

– No Bear makes me sad.

– So next week, Carter gets to torture/interrogate Reese? That should be interesting!



Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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  • KayClodfelter Jan 18, 2013

    I am female and in the 35 to 45 range and to me this show makes you come back each week to see what danger John is in, or if Finch can figure out what the computer new name comes out next. To me it is fun and keeps me on the edge of my seat. For it to be in 2 season I think as a TV watcher it is in my top 10 drama shows. I use to not like cbs so much about 5 years ago but they have came along way. And this is my independent opinion as a viewer. And my first.POI is getting better amd more interesting to watch!! Thanks for listening Kay

  • danielnovoa52 Jan 11, 2013

    What about the Joey Tribbiani reference in the bar? "how you doing?"

  • ElisaDiaz Jan 11, 2013

    LOL I thought of it myself!

  • JessicaBrnnst Jan 11, 2013

    To me this episode felt like the second part of a trilogy, which it kinda is. And the second part is always a little stale, it's a transport from part A to part B and making it interesting (especially in as little as 44 min) is a big challenge. I think they did well. Reese is my favorite character but Finch has earned the spotlight.
    But to continue what I was saying about the episode being a transport, of course they weren't gonna resolve this situation right away. Reese being arrested is one of the few things in this show that we've always known was gonna happen at some point, and looked forward to seeing unfold. Of course they're gonna drag it out, did anyone seriously expect otherwise? Has this show ever given up anything in as little as two episodes?

  • Suncatcher1 Jan 08, 2013

    Anyone else notice that, once again, POI doesn't make it to the "Most Commented Posts?"
    The 130 comments here should put it in 4th place - well ahead of the bottom 2 by more than 2X. What's with that, Tim?

  • Sunny-B Jan 08, 2013

    One of the things I love about this show is that in almost every episode it reaches the point where I think "Oh, no! How will fix this? It's almost over!" And then I realize it's just passed the half way mark (usually 35min). Awesome! They pack so much into so little.

    Thrilled at the extra screen time for Finch and Fusco and all their scenes together. The twists and turns on the # were interesting enough though mostly I enjoyed Finch's empathy. No flashbacks but I liked the little hints into Finch's rebellious teen past (during the Cold War! teehee, had to be mindboggling to the kid - a hacker from the late 60's). A potential future ally though! The character would need to be developed for that though and for now Leon works better as a back up computer user. Hmmmm .... and I guess it would be a terrible idea to let the kid, Caleb?, within sniffing distance of the Machine or any of Finch's computers).

    TPH must be happy with getting to stretch herself a bit - coquette Carter was entertaining. Loved the giggles. And the banter with the guy about all the weird medical information - I hope the drug she gave him also clears short term memory. Cat burgler Carter was pretty hot - talk about going out on a limb for Team Machine! Glad she finally acknowledged to Finch that she had already broke every rule - breaking into a crime lab was nothing. And that purple dress puts a bit more authenticity into the infamous TV Guide photo shoot.

    Donelly's storyline is getting a bit odd - they didn't do enough background on that. He seems like he's taking Reese personally and I don't think that has enough support. And the way he pings from theory to theory (mob enforcer, mercenary for hire, employee of Chinese Intelligence ...) make it seems like he wants Reese rather than the person that IS a mob enforcer or mercenary or Chinese intel (although what someone who works for Chinese Intel would be doing running around NY knee capping gang bangers and crooked cops is beyond me). In any case, I'm enjoying Reese's capture and the dilemma of his compatriots as they try and get him out but I'm less fond of Donnelly than I used to be. His implicit trust in Carter is also weirdly fierce but I'm willing to accept it's just something about her (can't get much more paranoid and cynical than Reese and he seems to feel it, too). Donnelly's approaching contrived Plot Device pretty quickly =P I'm hoping that improves next week.

  • YvonneBorrome Jan 08, 2013

    I love Machineheads!!hahaha

  • BijoyKb Jan 08, 2013

    This was a very good episode. The writers did a good job by not sticking with the same formula. It was interesting to see how Finch would handle the situation with Reese out of the equation. Overall, 2-PI-R offered something different and was quite engaging.

  • Caviezelized Jan 07, 2013

    Are you kidding?? This was the best episode of the series so far. Emerson was BRILLIANT as the substitute math teacher, unpacking the mysteries of pi for the bored students. I for one enjoyed the break from corny humor and Reese smashing kneecaps (no offense to Reese, who is still awesome). Finch fascinates me to no end as a character, and Emerson turned in a performance packed with fragile pathos. I loved all his scenes with Caleb. The kid who played Caleb was great.

    As for Carter, I admit that disappointed me a bit. She's just bustling around doing whatever for them now. Seems her own personal code has been corrupted a little. What's she doing getting some random dude's DNA? I mean that's totally unjust. He was just some guy and here she is putting it in their data bank (if I understand it right, I admit that whole part of the show lost my slow brain a little).

    Another thing is it did make me feel funny to see them spying on Caleb with his mom. The whole spying thing has always bugged me a little about this show. You're invading a person's privacy and there's no getting around that. I mean (to take a mundane example) what if Caleb's mom decided to wander around the house in a bra because nobody else was there and she felt like it? Whoever was keeping virtual tabs on her at the moment would get to see that. I think in the end freedom may be a more valuable thing than security. That's a question that I don't know if the show has ever really explored. To my satisfaction anyway.

  • Televisioneer Jan 08, 2013

    The DNA collected from the four suspects were for comparison purposes to identify a specific suspect. The samples are discarded if not required as evidence. Carter knew that. And even if the FBI kept it (illegally) who is to say this guy's DNA isn't in some other database - from donating blood for example, or some medical diagnostic test. Or maybe he is ex-military. Other than using the guy Carter did not put him in any legal jeopardy.

  • Caviezelized Jan 09, 2013

    Thanks for clarifying. That part confused me a little.

  • Televisioneer Jan 08, 2013

    In that reply I should have added that Carter did not put the guy in any legal jeopardy unless in running the sample the FBI get a match to some other outstanding case. Who knows, the guy may be a fugitive.

  • LeeCuttler Jan 07, 2013

    Well I would think that once they break John out of prison (why isn't he just in jail? he hasn't been convicted of anything but anyway) they can go back into the system and erase that dude's DNA record.

  • Televisioneer Jan 08, 2013

    John isn't in prison. He's in jail, (although there really isn't a whole hell of a difference). They specifically mentioned Riker's (On Riker's Island) which replaced the tombs in Manhatten for holding suspects until arraignment.

  • LeeCuttler Jan 08, 2013

    The adds have been saying "While Mr Reese sits in Prison..."

  • Televisioneer Jan 08, 2013

    They're probably using the terms interchangably without making the distinction between jail and prison..

  • Suncatcher1 Jan 07, 2013

    Tim, I'm confused. All last year and into this season - until now - you have had nothing but high praise for POI. Then, in the past month, you not only did not vote POI even one of 2012s top dramatic series - you skipped them completely. This does not match your reviews at all. And now you ominously write here (and kind of insultingly), "Okay fellow Person of Interstites, Machineheads, or POIs (do we have a name?), (How about just "fans")? It's 2013 so it's time to crank up the criticism and be a little harsher on our favorite show about a vigilante odd couple."
    Why is that, Tim? Your credibility is shrinking...

  • ohjeans Jan 07, 2013

    Have read a lot of comments here about the drug pushers part of the plot being boring or throw-away or filler. One thing I'd caution: Never assume that we won't be seeing these guys bringing a major twist to the story later on down the line. Likewise Caleb.

    I continue to wonder how many of the PoIs The Machine now classifies as Assets
    in Reserve. Will there be a time when The Machine coughs up a number plus staffing suggestions? How cool would it be for The Machine to dispatch Fusco to help Reese without bothering to run it through Finch first!

    BTW, I thought Carter looked very pretty, not slutty.

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