One little trick that Person of Interest's third season has had a lot of fun with lately is making the numbers of the week tie into the show's bigger stories. In "The Perfect Mark," Hayden Price (Mad Men's Aaron Staton), unlicensed hypnotherapist and con man, mind-invaded one of his clients who also happened to be a money launderer for HR. In last week's "Mors Praematura," the number belonged to a man searching for his foster brother, who was a target for the Vigilance hacker collective and also an important piece of the Machine's plan. In "Rozgovor," the damsel in distress was a 10-year-old spy who'd collected some dirt on HR. It raises the question: Are these numbers and their relation to the bigger picture fortuitous coincidences in a city of 50 bajillion people? Or is the Machine's decision-tree hand-picking numbers for a greater good and maximum efficiency? With its probability gumball machine working overtime, why wouldn't the Machine be able to spit out numbers that benefit Reese, Finch, Carter, and itself? This thing is like a Nate Silver-bot, of course it knows what it's doing.
But for all the Machine's foresight in connecting the team's daily jobs to outstanding tasks of greater importance, it sometimes has trouble choosing people who deserve to be saved. Hayden Price was the worst. And remember that "wife" from "Reasonable Doubt"? She was a pain as well. That episode exposed a weakness in the Machine's ability to select deserving numbers, and it required human intervention to correct; Reese basically threw his arms in the air and let the problem sort itself out in one of the more badass endings of a POI case ever. Consequently, I was waiting for Reese to do something similar with Hayden, who proved to be an entirely untrustworthy, selfish, smug prick. C'mon, Machine! Wasn't there an old lady who needed help crossing a street or something? Or maybe a puppy that got its head stuck in a Pringles can? Did we really have to go save this asshole? He deserved everything that was coming to him.
But not everyone can be an ideal victim in need of Reese and Finch's aid, so we were stuck saving Hayden even though he should have been thrown out a 37-story window or covered in pork chops and locked in a cage with Bear. Hayden's con game was pretty great in a super silly way, however. He hypnotized clients looking for an easy way out of a smoking habit or whatnot, and when they were under, he began asking them questions like, "What was your first pet's name?" or "What was your mother's maiden name?" and other common online security questions. Then he'd access their bank accounts and siphon a little off the top to stuff his wallet. Ha! The ludicrous brilliance of this plan should be celebrated as a national holiday. Of course, he probably could've just asked for his clients' passwords or even had them hypno-log-in to sensitive accounts and saved everyone a lot of time, but that wouldn't've been nearly as cool.
Hayden drew the attention of HR because one of his clients was an antiques dealer who laundered money for them by bidding on fake items at auction and funneling the payment straight into HR's coffers. That meant that when Hayden stole from the antiques dealer, he stole from HR. Hayden was also running other con games, including a nifty double-cross that conned his conning con partner, and that should have been a warning sign for what this story would become. You see where this is going? It turned out that everyone was conning everyone else, and Hayden's one honest aspect of his life—his girlfriend—was conning him all along and ran off with an autographed baseball worth 4.4 million dollars. The cons were so abundant that their surprise began to lose effect, and by the last one, my response was unenthusiastic at best.
Emotionally, I was torn between "Good, Hayden deserved it," and "Ehhh, whatever" because Hayden was an unsympathetic jerk who didn't earn my attention. "My ultimate con, my final trick was going to be actually turning into the guy that she fell in love with," Hayden said. PUH-LEASE! Someone get this cheeseball off my television screen! That's a problem with a case-of-the-week, we have to like him or her for some reason, whether it's because they're generally likeable or because they're fun to hate. Hayden was a dud, which made everything that took place around him—the twists, the stakes, the intrigue—much less interesting. And though Reese, Finch, and Shaw all appropriately gave him the stinkeye for what he did, the whole job felt like a chore that everyone (including me) wanted to be done with. Reese and Finch should have a "do over" option when they get a number from the Machine. Finch: "Ummm, Machine? This guy's kind of a douche, can we have another number?" Machine: *beep* *boop* *beep* *beep* [prints out new number of attractive supermodel being attacked by Eastern Europeans] Fusco: "I got this one."
The relevant portion of "The Perfect Mark" was a swift kick in the ass, though. Carter made HUGE strides toward unraveling the HR conspiracy. With the help of Elias, who is still hiding out in some elegant man cave, Carter learned about the antique dealer's deal with HR, and with Fusco's help he faked the antique dealer's death. It got a little complicated, but all you need to know is Hayden continued conning everyone, which resulted in everyone going on the hunt for this missing 1920s autographed baseball. Quinn and Simmons put Terney on the case, and Terney in turn pressed on Laskey to help him out. It all ended with Laskey and Carter getting into a confrontation with Terney, and only Carter made it out alive. Wow! Laskey didn't last long, did he? That's too bad, he was evolving into a fascinating character in the middle of Carter and HR, but now he's just a symbol of how dangerous this stuff actually is. And Terney, for his part, did the noble thing for some reason and ID'd Quinn as the puppet master of HR, leaving Carter to be like:
YESSSSS!!! Person of Interest has used its expanding universe of bad guys very well, establishing plenty of villains so it can wrap up mini-arcs every few episodes and give us plenty of small victories to cheer. But HR is the big, slippery fish that's never been hooked, and Carter learning the identity of its director is one Moby Dick-sized catch. This will have big ramifications moving forward. And if you saw the "next on Person of Interest" promo that ran after the episode (warning: there's a potential spoiler in it, but CBS ran it, so it can't be that bad), you know exactly who takes the brunt of those ramifications over what looks like a whopper of a three-episode arc before we break until the midseason. And let me say one thing about that promo: AHHHHHHHHHHHH!
All told, this episode's lame number-of-the-week was helped out by some world-shattering developments with Carter and her quest to take down HR, resulting in a middle-of-the-pack episode. Person of Interest's people in need don't have to be do-gooders, but they do have to have some charisma, or a reason for us to be invested in their well-being. If not, at least let Reese shoot 'em in the leg or something.
– THIS FISTBUMP!!! Go Team!
– I loved Reese's attitude this whole episode. After Finch told him about Hayden's hypnotherapy practice, Reese deadpanned, "Does he do birthday parties?" The cheese that comes out of this guy's mouth is PERFECT.
– Fusco [while dripping fake blood on a man while faking a crime scene]: "Will you let me work? I'm going for a hollow-point special kind of motif."
– I was rooting for the young kid who bought the baseball for $5 to win. How great would it have been if he ended up with the real baseball and everyone else got screwed?
– Finch still has Root locked up in his library. She raised an interesting point when she brought up the potential for Finch to be jealous that the Machine doesn't talk to him like it talks to her. But there's one thing I want to know: Where does Root pee?