Wow! Person of Interest is so good that when it tops itself you just have to say, wow. "Many Happy Returns", the title, makes you wonder what this episode could possibly be about. The title, as it turns out, is due to the timing of Reese's birthday, but like most artful wordplay it means much more. Like the urgent need for redemption of Reese, who in his state of anger, over the company's failed attempt of eliminating him, got darker as he left behind the love of his life for his work - only to be betrayed. It turned him into a seething machine of hate. The only thing left to do would be implode or try to reconnect with that lost love. When Reese gets the call from Jessica it's the best chance he has to return to a world with hope, but he's too late as her devious controlling husband has accidently killed her and staged a car accident which he survived. The healing will have to wait as Reese has some business with Peter.
Now, as the episode starts we don't know all these things. We first get a flashback where Reese is wounded and haggard on a train, this is an even stranger version of John than we usually get and it begs to be explained...in time that is. We segue forward to the present and it's John;s birthday to which Finch purposely gives him the day off. Finch knows that the present number could undo much of the solid, but slow, process of John's return to humanity. John's good, no great, at what he does, but it is his sense of absolute right and wrong that is both glorious and a huge weight to carry. Finch knows, by the many cases they have worked together that John is carrying that weight better and better. John is making the right decisions when they're tough and he is even finding a bit of happiness once more - here and there. Harold just wants to protect him from a case that could be a real setback plus give him a nice birthday with a surprise.
This is the setup for what may be, IMHO, the best episode yet of "Person of Interest". It allows the three principals to flesh out their characters and they become even more beloved because of the great degree of humanity shown in each of their situations. This episode proves that the casting couldn't be any better as Caviezel, Emerson, and Henson are absolutely perfect in bringing to life what writer Jonathan Nolan has envisioned. And speaking of Nolan, he is an amazing writer who not only revitalized the Batman franchise, but brings high quality writing with depth and freshness to TV that few other writers seem capable of. I hope that his well never runs dry as this is my favorite current TV show and it really does seem to get better as it goes.
Speaking of the healing. The finale is neat. You can almost get choked up as the ties that bind Reese, Finch, and Carter are expertly filmed. I say filmed because there's little dialog, but the end is rich with a spiritual feeling. This is great writing with excellent cinematography (the show is definitely filmed quite well and this deserves mention too) telling more than the spoken word. And as for healing, well, Reese has a surprise for us as to how he dealt with Perter, and gets his special birthday present from Finch. At the end he is shown looking down on his beloved checker matches from his window with a smile on his face. A perfect ending. I almost forgot the music paired with the end; I don't know the song or artist, but you can bet I will because it ramped up the spiritual part powerfully.