I'm still waiting for someone from CBS to jump out and say, "Surprise! Person of Interest, a story about moral ambiguity, loss, and deep, dark places, isn't actually on CBS! We hypnotize your TV into thinking it's CBS but secretly we're actually airing a series about a Navy shipman who kills terrorists with the American flag!" Because Person of Interest IS taking us to deep, dark places that would leave Leroy Jethro Gibbs crying in the corner.
Last night's excellent "Many Happy Returns" brought us to the rotten core of John Reese, television's most mysterious leg-shootin' vigilante, and I'm not sure it's a return trip I'd like to make because I was barely able not to vomit after that roller coaster of emotions. One fantastic choice Person of Interest has made in its first season (and I'm saying this with two episodes left so who knows what's coming) is to put so much into uncovering who Reese is as a person and what got him to where he is today. The series could just as easily have focused on the Machine and Elias or some gigantic conspiracy, and at times it has, but the strongest episodes so far have been the ones that cracked open a can of Reese to reveal what makes him tick. And what's inside is a lot of anger, guilt, and emptiness.
Things didn't start out all sad this week, though (nor did they end that way), as it was Reese's birthday. What do you get a guy like Reese for his birthday? Another suit? A custom engraved gas mask? A mannequin leg to use as target practice? Finch got him a key and told him to take the day off... it was his birthday! Yipee! And there was no number because for the first time in the history of history, New York City was as peaceful as a little lamb.
Except that wasn't totally true. Finch did have a number, but as we would find out through a series of flashbacks and obviousness, it was a case that hit very close to home for Reese. A young (hot) woman named Karen became a fugitive when her husband got violent with her. What's the big deal there? Well, the husband happened to be a U.S. Marshal, and not one of those handsome bourbon-drinkin' complicated types. This guy was just bad news. Simultaneously, via revealing flashbacks, we found out that Reese's ex-flame Jessica was dead (how horribly painful was the scene where Reese found out? My heart is still crying), killed by the man who took over the side of the bed that Reese left when he realized they couldn't be together. He couldn't say "wait for me" to her face, so she didn't.
But Reese couldn't be kept away from helping out with the new case because he had already gone to Ben & Jerry's and gotten his free birthday scoop (I assume), so what else was he going to do for the rest of the day? Reese saw an opportunity to relieve some of the guilt he felt over failing to be there for Jessica, but it couldn't happen without opening some old wounds that were barely taped close.
Fortunately for Reese, he's an enormous badass. We flipped back and forth between a flashback of Reese stalking Jessica's husband after he killed her and covered it up and Reese stalking the U.S. Marshal who'd had taken Karen into custody and driven her up Highway 187 to kill her off. In the flashback, it was insinuated that Reese did kill Jessica's husband, though it was never shown. This is Person of Interest, so what we think we know is usually wrong, and early on we were led to believe that Reese killed the husband. But this time, what we thought we knew was right (I think), and I'm glad Person of Interest went there because Reese needed it so badly. And that's when things got even more interesting. In the present day, Reese shipped the Marshal off to a prison to rot away.
We figured Reese would take out the trash and execute the Marshal, but he didn't. I know sending a guy to a foreign prison isn't exactly a fruit basket, but given how vengeful and pissed off Reese was for the entire episode, I'd say Reese showed a lot of restraint and growth. At the end of the episode, he also found out what the key was for: a brand-new, super swank pad, courtesy of Finch. How adorable is that? This is as close to closure and a new start as Reese has gotten, and one of the best season-long character arcs I've seen all year.
And at the very end of the episode, we learned that Finch first saw Reese immediately after Reese learned of Jessica's death. Finch had seen Jessica's number come up repeatedly, but was unable to do anything about it because it was before the two started working together. Wow. Hauntingly beautiful.
"Many Happy Returns" was one of Person of Interest's best episodes and continued the series' fascinating exploration into the psyche of a vigilante hero while proving that this show is a whole lot more than two weirdos cleaning up the streets of New York. But it's okay when it's that, too.
Notes of Interest
– More great work from Jim Caviezel, who is so gosh-darned perfect as John Reese I can't imagine anyone else in the role. Ditto for Michael Emerson. When you find actors irreplaceable, that's a sign that they're doing something right.
– Carter really stepped up in destroying evidence of Reese's past and allowing Reese to finish off what he had to do, even if it meant Reese taking a man out to the woods to execute him. Fortunately, Reese did her good.
– I loved Finch saying that's why he didn't tell Reese about the case and Reese saying that's exactly why he should have told him about the case.
– I don't know what Reese was thinking going into a U.S. Marshal's office and beating up everyone in sight, but I'm glad he did it!
– What a very Terrence Malick opening! Speaking of TM, if you haven't seen Jim Caviezel in Malick's The Thin Red Line, carve out three hours and do it. Fantastic film, and Caviezel is great in it.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom