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For those surprised that Jonathan Nolan and J.J. Abrams’ new fall show Person of Interest would be a week-to-week procedural, here’s a fistful of continuity for you. The show caught all its viewers off guard this week by upping the stakes in not an unforeseeable but nonetheless surprising manner.
“Witness,” the show’s seventh episode, starts enough like the previous few in quickly introducing the latest person whose number comes up in the machine as being the victim or perpetrator of a murder. In this case, it seems pretty clearly to be the victim as Charlie Burton (Enrico Colantoni formerly of Veronica Mars) witnesses a Brighton Beach murder and it appears Russian mob wants him silenced. As Reese (James Caviezel) risks life and limb to safeguard Burton, things unravel in an unexpected fashion.
Before Reese even and Finch (Michael Emerson) even know why Burton’s SSN came up, the N.Y.P.D and detectives Carter (Taraji P. Henson) and Fusco (Kevin Chapman) are on the case. They soon realize their guy, the infamous Elias introduced through a stolen file in the third episode, has a tie to this case too. Last week we were reassured Elias would play some role in at least the first portion of this first season when Carter worked a revenge case tied to him. She identified him as the bastard son of Marlene Elias and a former honcho in La Cosa Nostra. However, he still remained an enigma — until now.
Throughout the episode, Finch starts to get a beat on Elias by identifying the person who ultimately turns out to be his right-hand man, Scarface (David Valcin). The hunt seemed to get thicker and more intriguing, drawing our attention away from the possibility of a full-blown reveal of Elias. It was a deftly played hand and should help lock in viewers.
Elias turns out to be none other than Burton, a seemingly innocent high school teacher in Brighton Beach “learning” about his enemy by working with them. Colantoni’s fine skill and some superb writing mask the possibility up until the last second and then Colantoni chews up the screen time he’s given. And though we’re a bit shocked, Reese is really the one caught with his pants down. He’s been built as such an unbreakable character, but we really see him at his most powerless. All great heroes need to be humbled every so often. As Finch reminds him (and us as it were) at the end of the episode, just because the machine gives out a number doesn’t mean that person has to be either a victim or a perp — they can be both.
We should technically know that by now; the show’s modus operandi has generally been to mask which where on the moral spectrum our guest star of the week falls, but the writing does a terrific job wrapping us up in the moment. And to be fair, not since the pilot has the twist been that the person whose number came up was completely bad and not good. The lesson here is that the way the show is written, we can never really know and that’s perhaps Person of Interest’s biggest asset.
Things seem to be clicking for the show at this point, even though its identity seems to be constantly in flux in terms of how much carryover there will be week to week. This temporary solution with the Elias subplot will at least give the writers an opportunity to show us what they can do with a multi-episode arch. I think we’ll like the results.
When Elias explains to his cronies that his fight to control the city has only just begun, I couldn’t help but feel some (slight) shiver-inducing “Batman” comparisons. Although we’re likely to see a conclusion of at least a temporary nature to the Elias saga very soon because these episodes were filmed prior to announcement of a full-season order, the promise of a need to tune in each week was just what the show needed at this point in the game.