There's nothing like getting all your friends together for a good old-fashioned home game of "Whodunnit?," a murder mystery where everyone is a suspect. The way I know the game to be played, everyone is under the same roof and a murder is staged, usually with someone flashing the lights on and off for dramatic effect. No one is allowed to leave, someone knows that they're the murderer but pretends they aren't, and everyone else plays a game of cat and mouse, rifling through clues until someone figures out who is simply pretending to be the butler. Then everyone has a laugh and a slice of cheesecake.
Person of Interest played that game last night in "Proteus," locking up a bevy of suspects in a sheriff's office near New York City during a wicked Nor'easter, and Reese and Finch had to find out which of these people were who they said they were, and which one was an identity-stealing serial killer. Except this was no game, this was for real, and there was definitely no cheesecake!
To be honest, you could call this script either a throwback to the classic days of television or just hackneyed filler, and you'd be right in both cases. In one sense, I expected Angela Lansbury to pop out of the woodwork and scream, "You're the murderer!" at someone. In another, I was checking my cable guide to make sure I was actually watching Person of Interest, because this was far from the show's standard operating procedure, and not necessarily in a good way like last week's perspective twisting "Relevance" was.
After three days of silence and a few dog-friendly movie matinees (love Bear as Finch's "handicapable" assistant), The Machine spat out six social security numbers in rapid succession, all but one of which belonged to a person who had gone missing or was digitally invisible. It wasn't long before Reese and Finch connected the dots and realized that they were dealing with a killer who murdered then took the identities of his victims until he got bored, then he killed again and repeated the process instead of doing Sudoku like the rest of us do to cure boredom. Early on in the episode, Reese teamed up with an FBI agent named Fahey who was also on the trail of the killer, and clues led them to a rental property on a sleepy vacation town called Owen Island. But when they got to the island, things were so stormy and wet that no one without gills was allowed to leave. The remaining inhabitants and visitors of Owen Island were forced to convene at the Sheriff's Office (plus Finch flew in on a plane posing as a storm chaser LOLx2 to join the fun), and thus the game of Murder Mystery began.
Immediately we were introduced to a couple handfuls of suspects as everyone on the island went to the same place: the cutesy local shopkeeper, the local bar owner who sampled his own goods plenty, a hotelier who didn't even like the island but was building a hotel there anyway, a grumpy fisherman who acted suspicious as all Hell all the time, a couple of oversharing newlyweds, and a shady drifter. Fists were full of ham to set this whole thing up, and as soon as the premise was well established I prayed to Batman that the show would trick us somehow and not make FBI agent Fahey, the obvious choice, the killer. But he was.
See, Fahey was actually Alex Declan, a former roommate of the first of the six numbers killed. He worked his way across the country assuming identities of his victims, and by the time he got to New York, the actual Fahey tried to catch him so Alex killed him and took his identity. And he was having so much fun with it that he got a little carried away with it. Hmmm... okay. "Proteus" placed a few weak decoys in there in the fisherman and the drifter, but eventually Finch caught him after using some semi-seismic gear to read heartbeats and I don't know guys, this wasn't exactly Person of Interest at its best. Reese didn't even put Alex/Fahey down, he was too busy trying to stop the fisherman from smuggling marijuana and exposing the drifter as an AWOL Marine. If you're going to give us a rather rote story, at least give us the satisfaction of Reese putting a few rounds in the killers' legs.
That wasn't the interesting part of "Proteus," though. What did salvage the episode were details on The Machine, which had been acting up lately. It went quiet for three days, it gave multiple numbers at once, it gave numbers of people out of state, and it gave numbers of dead people. The Machine doesn't do that! Well, a healthy Machine doesn't do that, and Finch suspected that the virus that Kara Stanton uploaded to the Department of Defense could have worked its way into The Machine. Add to that all the glitching the Machine has been doing as of late and it's a big cause for concern. Reese argued that The Machine was smart enough to send them the six numbers of the killer's victims as a new way to keep the world safer, and indeed, we've seen The Machine get a lot smarter since its infant days of calling Finch "Admin." But Finch was more concerned with the three days of silence, and pessimistically dismisses Reese's forecast that the literal storm is just passing because the metaphorical storm is just beginning. Spooky!
NOTES OF INTEREST
– "Proteus" also dealt with Cal Beecher and Carter's relationship some more, moving the needle back towards "innocent" when it comes to Cal as he came in and saved the day by shooting Fahey. It wasn't particularly graceful and consisted mostly of Carter giving Beecher the cold shoulder after being warned of the continuing Internal Affairs investigation against him. The problem with this story is it's not really letting us think for ourselves, it's just telling us to be weary of him without much evidence at all. It's been part of a few episodes now, but all we're really doing is taking wild guesses as to whether he's a good guy or bad guy because we don't know squat.
– Though the episode mostly played it straight, there were some great lines from Reese. "Unbelievable, we're hunting a killer, instead we get amateur drug night in the sticks?" After annoying the local deputy who asks him if he needs anything else: "Yeah, how's your coffee?" After Finch asked Reese if last night was the first time he'd been shot at with a spear gun: "I wish I could say yes."
– Another Harold Finch alias: Harold Gull. Or has he used that one before?
– I thought the weirdest glitch The Machine did was zooming out of Owen Island and then zooming straight back into it late in the episode. Machine, you so crazy!