"Last Call" will not go down as one of Person of Interest's greatest episodes. It will not go down as one of Person of Interest's mediumest episodes. Nope, this tension-free hour of phone-face reactions was a bottom-thirder, which says just as much about Person of Interest's occasional greatness as it does its tendency to deliver standalone duds. I blame the heavy workload of a 22-episode season and the show's chunky scheduling ("Last Call" was a return from yet another break for POI), but "Last Call" had problems beyond not connecting to the larger mythos of the series, it just wasn't that interesting.
Going into each season, we all know we're going to get, I dunno, just off the top of my head I'd say about seven standalone episodes scattered throughout. And because I think it's fair to say that the more serialized episodes of Person of Interest are usually the best entries of any given season, it's conversely fair to say that the standalone episodes are usually the worst. But if you look at those seven or so standalone episodes, about half of them embrace Person of Interest's surprising sense of humor and goofball charm—consider the high-altitude airline high jinks of "4C" or the marital madness of "'Til Death"—which makes them more than just stock procedural hours. The others? Well, they're "Last Call."
It's not that "Last Call" was awful, it's just that it was my least-favorite kind of Person of Interest: a standalone save-the-day plot with no humor. This week, our guys (and gal) rushed to the aid of a distressed 911 operator named Susan Nicholson, played by guest-star Melissa Sagemiller, who I will always fondly remember as my crush from Sleeper Cell. She was tormented by a voice—a rather calm and soothing voice, actually—who strapped a bomb to a boy named Aaron and was threatening to turn him into boy goo if Sandra did not comply with his requests. His evil demands? Erase all the 911 calls from a few days ago! DUN-DUN!!! Wait, that's it? Oh. I understand that public records are the bedrock of our judicial system, but this was a pretty easy call, wasn't it?
Meanwhile, Fusco was feeling the crush of instant celebrity for his role in taking down HR and had everyone at the precinct on his tip, asking him for help on cases and requesting that he sign their breasts and so forth. He ended up mentoring a young rook named Jake Harrison who was working the murder of a young woman named Tara Cooke. The poor guy was so green he couldn't even recognize bruise patterns on a corpse! Learn to detective, kid! But where was Person of Interest going with this seemingly disconnected murder case in an episode about a 911 call operator being psychologically held hostage? Well, the show smashed the two plots together like two rocks.
And here's where things got Advanced Underwater Calculus complicated. The voice on the other end of Susan's line really only wanted one of those recorded 911 calls erased... a call from Tara Cooke as she was getting murdered. Mr. Voice was hired by Tara's wife's boss to get rid of the 911 evidence because Tara's boss and Tara were playing a game of naughty secretary, and when Tara wanted to end it, Tara's boss killed her and made it look like a mugging gone bad. So to "fix" the situation, Mr. Voice hired a group of military-trained goons with connections to a Mexican cartel (?) to kidnap a boy and put a bomb on him, and then Mr. Voice targeted Sandra to get the 911 call erased because when she was young she accidentally let a boy she was babysitting drown and she's never been able to get over that. Reese and Shaw racked up a ton of cab fare tracing the mysterious voice, but he was using a series of phone relays to disguise his real location, so Reese just beat up all the kidnappers instead. None if it seemed particularly efficient for a kidnapping/extortion plot, to be honest, and the money that changed hands must have been a small fortune considering how many people were involved.
It all felt like extra layers of complexity added on to what was a pretty stale premise. And the biggest problem was Mr. Voice himself, our unseen threat to the sanctity of our emergency call system. There was a moment when Mr. Voice had to cash in on his threats when Sandra was defiant, and after telling Sandra that he was going to cut off bits and pieces of the boy if she didn't do what he was told, he menacingly said, "I'm a man of my word." Then he proceeded to NOT keep his word, and instead blew up a bomb in a parking garage. "Call it a warning shot. Aaron is still alive... for the moment." Nothing takes the sizzle out of an extortion scheme like a squeamish and hesitant extortioner. After that, Sandra could've just called BS on all his threats, until he was like, "No wait, I'm serious this time! I promise I will cut off the boy's pinky! Really! I will... oh who am I kidding, I can't do it. I'm not cut out for this. I didn't even want to be a bad guy but my dad pressured me into it. Sorry to waste your time. I'm going to go back to community college and get a degree in horticulture." *click*
But it was Mr. Voice who actually became the episode's big takeaway. After Reese and Shaw showed up just in time to save the boy from the bomb, Mr. Voice got in touch with Finch to tell Finch that he would get his revenge, and thus a new Person of Interest villain was born. But it was kind of a lousy introduction, since he'd already had his ass handed to him by Finch and Reese. On top of that, we never even saw the guy, and we don't have any reason to believe he's actually good at what he does (which I assume is some computer wizardry—a new Bizarro Finch now that Root is sorta one of the "good" guys).
Look, I don't like harshing on Person of Interest, but I also can't pretend to like episodes like this. The series is constantly caught in the crossfire between being a godly serialized near-sci-fi show and a rote CBS procedural, and that's a simple matter of fact. That's a cost of greatness that I'm more than happy to live with, and the way I see it, finishing an episode like this just means there's a better chance that the next one will be amazing.
– Fun fact we all learned: The 911 emergency call system gets 11,000 butt dials a day. That's a lot of butts in trouble!
– Another thing lacking about this episode: character moments for our regulars. We didn't learn much about anyone.
– The one bit of Person of Interest humor came from another one of those outstanding cuts away from John as he was about to kick a bunch of dudes' asses, right to a shot of all those dudes writhing on the floor, in pain.
– No Root. No Bear. OMG those two should start a Root Beer company.
– So is that guy Fusco's new partner now?