Person of Interest: The Fix: The Power of the Supporting Character

Person of Interest Binge LogoPreviously on Person of Interest:

1-2 “Ghosts”: Carter investigates “The Man in the Suit” as Reese and Finch with Fusco’s help save a traumatized teen who survived her family’s massacre. Solid story with flashbacks to Finch’s history with the machine. I hate flashbacks but I love Finch, so I’m torn, but the story-of-the-week is terrific.

1-3 “Mission Creep”: Finch and Reese try to save a returning soldier who’s gotten mixed up with a gang of thieves robbing a police evidence locker of a file labeled “Elias, M.” That’s gonna pay off big later.

1-4 “Cura Te Ipsum”: A revenge plot that twists and twists again. Carter gets closer to Reese and Finch. Reese gets Fusco transferred to Carter’s precinct so he can spy on her and slow down her investigation.

1-5 “Judgment”: A great episode about saving the kidnapped son of an honest judge pressured into throwing a case; lovely layers in this one, plus Reese trying to find out more about Finch, the very private person, which arcs Reese because he is also a very private person. Reese and Finch will eventually bond as brothers, but it takes awhile because they do it carefully (two porcupines mating).

Which bring us to . . .

zoe-john2

1-6 The Fix

I love this episode for many reasons–Reese forces Finch into the field and he goes, bitching and moaning but he goes; Reese has to be subservient as a driver and it’s clearly a strain; Finch spends millions to buy into a corrupt company and then makes millions more when he brings it down–but mostly I love it for Zoe, the beautiful, tough fixer who dazzles the usually dour Reese by playing the game as well as he does.

Up until this episode, the characters outside of the main cast–Reese, Finch, Fusco, and Carter (who’s still outside the inner circle but getting closer)–have been single-episode-only people. Zoe is the first recurring/supporting character, and she’s also the first that you want to be a recurring character because she’s useful in so many ways.

• She makes our hardened hero Reese vulnerable because he’s so attracted to her.
• She’s the female equivalent of Reese–tough, damaged, cynical, and determined–which means their exchanges after she realizes he’s not just a driver are between equals.
• She gives the depressingly isolated Reese the promise of a future social life so she lightens the darkness of the series.
• She’s a strong shot of estrogen in a testosterone heavy atmosphere (even heart-of-the-series Carter is a tough cop).
• She has a very real and very useful skill as a political fixer. She knows everybody’s secrets and she knows where to trade a favor or apply some pressure to make things happen.

That means she’s a great example of the many ways to use a supporting character who’s not going to be part of your main community:

• Use the character to create a relationship with a main character that shows a side of him or her that the rest of your regular cast can’t bring out (see also Felicity in Arrow season one).
• Use the character as a foil to a main character to show off his or her character by contrast (see also Root as foil to Finch in this series’ season one and two)
• Use the character to lighten a story that may be headed into too much Grimdark plot (see also Felicity in Arrow season one).
• Use the character to balance a gender-skewed cast (see also Chris Hemsworth in the new Ghostbusters or Annie Potts in the old one)
• Use the character to supply a skill your main cast doesn’t have but might need from time to time (see also Leon the accountant and Elias the mob boss in this series).

All of this falls in line with Lani’s theory that any character has to work many jobs in a story to earn his or her keep. You can’t trot characters on stage to fulfill a single need; once you get them up there, make them multi-taskers.

It does not hurt at all that Zoe never falls into any of the hot-woman-on-TV traps. She’s ahead of everybody else most of the time, she never panics, she’s always thinking, and when things blow up out of her control, she accepts rescue as just what’s due her. Zoe’s the protagonist in her own story at all times, and Reese and Finch pretty much realize that and accept that once she walks in, they’re just supporting players, not because she’s beautiful but because she’s the smartest and most ruthless person there. Zoe uses her beauty and her sex appeal as weapons; she never, ever takes them as her identity.

“The Fix” is a story has PoI‘s usual fast reversals–Zoe’s a hitter; no, Zoe’s a fixer; no, Zoe’s an opportunist; no, Zoe’s a betrayer; no, Zoe’s a hero–and its usual rat bastard antagonist who emerges in another reversal–PoI is right up there with Leverage and Dick Francis in the son-of-a-bitch antagonist department–so the plot is paced beautifully, picking up speed as it becomes more complex. But it’s also something new in the PoI playbook: it’s sexy. Neither Zoe or Reese has any time for fooling around at the moment, and they’re definitely not interested in love, but hey if a window opens up . . . . Call them Colleagues with Benefits or One of the Most Equal Sexual Relationships on TV, they are just fun to watch, and thank the showrunners for bringing her back for later episodes like “The High Road” in which she and Reese pretend to be married in the suburbs (with Bear! and a lot of booze because Zoe isn’t any better fit in the suburbs than Reese is), or “Lady Killer,” the episode in which she and Carter and Shaw go undercover in hot dresses in a nightclub (she carries the pink taser Reese gave her) or “Booked Solid” where she helps them with a hotel job and then at the end . . .

Okay, she shows up a lot and she’s always welcome because she’s so well established in this first appearance.

The one I remember best, though, is a brief appearance at the end of “Root Cause,” an episode in which a man who’s been framed and will be putting his life back together with Finch’s anonymous help is still beset by the media camped outside his house. Zoe doesn’t go in for back story much, but she does tell Reese in this episode about why she became a fixer:

“My dad was a party man. Machine politician. He did what he was told. Right up till the cops showed up, put the cuffs on him. The local press was camped out on our law for weeks. Then this guy showed up. The guy that the party would send to deal with uncomfortable situations. He said two words. And those reporters? They packed up and they left. And they never came back. And I realized, “that’s what I want to be.” The person who knows what to say, and always has something to trade.”

At the end of “Root Cause,” Reese is watching the vindicated number’s house surrounded by reporters as Zoe arrives. She gives John one long look of acknowledgement, and then she crosses the street and does for the number what that political fixer did for her mother so long ago. It’s just a moment in a coda, but it’s a great example of the emotional power of a recurring character. I don’t think I’d want Zoe in every episode, she’s too overwhelming, but like salt, she makes every episode she’s added to better.

Weakest Parts
There are no weak parts, probably because there are no flashbacks.

Smart Story Moves
• Zoe’s Character: She could so easily have been a bimbo-of-the-week, but as written by Nic Zeebroeck and Michael Sopczysnski, and as played by Paige Turco, she has is smart and skilled and coldly efficient.
• Keeping the viewer firmly in Reese’s PoV so that none of the uncertainty is manipulative, it’s an integra; part of the story.
• Using Carter’s subplot to set up the next episode without the story every feeling like set-up.
• Giving Finch a stake in the case by making one of the clues a dead woman who was a number before Finch found Reese. The “I couldn’t save her, but I can stop them” ties into the savior theme, and Finch’s barely disguised rage is wonderful motivation. “Before I found you, the numbers haunted me . . .”
• The pacing: lots of things happen quickly, but it’s always clear what’s going on.
• The police lieutenant reversal. Talk about tight plotting. And the finish of that plot with one line in the last scene.
• “You’re probably one of those guy who can get out of anything with a paperclip.” Sounds like banter, but it’s really foreshadowing.
• “You don’t know anything about me.” “I know almost everything about you.” All of Zoe’s backstory, right there. Genius.
• “Lucky you.” Matt Servitto making the “Now I’m going to kill you speech” an extension of Douglas’s sadistic character.
• Cutting the climax back and forth between the action climax and the business climax, so we get Reese tazing one murderous jerk, and then the real death blow, Finch shorting Keller’s company. So much catharsis, delivered simultaneously. “I know the only thing you do care about is money. So that’s what I’m going to take from you. All of it.” And then capping that with Carter finding Sully. Brilliant structure.

Favorite Moments
• “Which son?” “Andy, the younger one.”
• Finch breaking and entering like a badass.
• “Who wouldn’t?”
• Watching Zoe work the police captain, the journalist, the Big Pharma people by keeping a copy (“I’m discreet, not stupid”).
• Dan Hedaya as Sully; I love when great character actors show up. (Fingers crossed that Mark Shepherd shows up in Season Five.)
• “I hate jazz.”
• “Mark? Why aren’t they dead yet?” Excellent outrage-inducing antagonist.
• “Be reasonable. Every new drug has side effects. That’s why we have disclaimers. And insurance.” Pitch perfect dialogue for a sociopath.
• The paper clip kiss.
• “You got my number,” and Cat Power singing “New York, New York.”

Next PoI Post: “Witness” next Monday; we’re talking about reversals.

Table of Contents with Links to all PoI Posts

20 thoughts on “Person of Interest: The Fix: The Power of the Supporting Character

  1. “I don’t think I’d want Zoe in every episode, she’s too overwhelming.”

    That is often a hallmark of a good supporting character that is not part of the “team/Scooby/company/squad etc.”

    Funnily enough, they’re re-running MacGyver here and the show doesn’t hold up that well. It had Bruce McGill playing Jack Dalton who was often comic in delivery but one that folied the supposed seriousness of the Foundation and the missions. Fyi, Bruce McGill’s the Det Korsak on Rizzoli and Isles.

    In Star Trek: The Next Generation, they had John de Lancie playing Q and he was literally an all-powerful being. He was “too much.” It was always going to be more suspension of disbelief when Q was around.

    And in novels, there was the character of April Joy in the Donovan series by Elizabeth Lowell. Someone once wrote on the message boards hoping she’d have her own novel but back then I could see that she was “too much.” Her book would always be an outlier because she was very hard to empathise with.

    I like how hard you’re making me think with these.

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    1. That was one of the many, many reasons I kept saying no to a Lisa from Bet Me spin-off. The big reason was that her story was finished, but it was also “An entire book of this woman? No.” (And now I can’t remember if she was Lisa or Liza, so definitely finished.)

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  2. “You don’t know anything about me.” “I know almost everything about you.” All of Zoe’s backstory, right there. Genius.

    From the Leverage S01E08 Bank Shot Job commentary:
    “Exposition trick: the cast tells the guest stars’ character what the guest stars’ backstory is. This turns the tedious explanation into a main cast characterization beat by seeing what and how they deduced that information, enhanced by the reaction they get. It turns exposition into competence porn. ”

    Jim and Paige’s chemistry is off the charts. I don’t think the show has ever achieved such a sensual scene as that restaurant meeting, and all they’re doing is looking and talking at each other. I also love that the writers recognized that chemistry, and didn’t mess about with trying to pair Reese off…until Season 4. But Paige was on The 100 by that point, so I understand.

    I don’t think Carter’s subplot quite works, outside of being necessary set-up. Sure, it’s kind of fun with hindsight, but the A-plot is just miles more fun, that I skip it on rewatches. Carter hadn’t quite broken out as a character for me. Thank goodness CBS forced them to bring her character in earlier.

    Best non-Zoe character bit: Reese is so bad at undercover, throughout the show. Either Kara had to do a hell of a lot work to cover for him during the CIA days, or because of the nature of this job, not answering to the government or traditional corporate structure, Reese doesn’t care about doing undercover perfectly. So long as he successfully protects people, he doesn’t need to be professional in all aspects. The job allows Reese to relax a little, to find himself again.

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    1. I’m okay with saying, “Don’t blame the showrunners, Turco had to leave,” but that doesn’t excuse bad story, and Iris is just bad story: I do not believe that Reese would fall for Iris because absolutely nothing in the previous three seasons gives any indication that Reese is looking for a mother/angel figure. They had a problem because Turco had another full time gig, but they solved that problem badly, I think. (Of course, it’s entirely possible that everybody else loves Iris and it’s just me.)

      ETA: Oh, and thanks for the Leverage bit. That show did so many, many, many things right.

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      1. As far as introducing a love interest for Reese goes, I didn’t mind because of Paige’s other acting gigs.
        The execution of said love interest left a lot to be desired. Precinct Captain Moreno, Dani the IA cop, or Frankie the bounty hunter all could have been interesting partners. Or just Go There with the Harold subtext.
        Hell, I can see just the few tweaks they could have made to the Iris story that would have fixed it.

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      2. Iris was bad. I was hoping she would just go away for the last season, but a friend told me she’s credited for one episode on IMDB. Maybe she’ll turn evil and die in a spectacular fashion. But probably not; I expect she’ll just continue to be boring with a side of annoying. I would have been fine with Reese not having a love interest at all with Zoe out of the picture. It’s not like he’s not busy with other problems. She bothers me more on this show than she would on something else, I think, because it’s just so strange for them to stumble on PoI.

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          1. Sarah Shahi was only credited for one episode, as well though, so I’m kind of hoping IMDB is at least wrong about her.

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      3. I can’t speak for everbody else, but I liked Iris. But according to some season5 BTS info, John&Iris doesn’t work out…

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  3. Zoe is one of my favorite characters ever. I hated Iris and never bought into the whole romantic interest because I am definitely team Zoe/John. Yes, I got very annoyed with him after the flight attendant. My favorite scene is the pink taser. It sums up their relationship perfectly.

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    1. I liked the flight attendant so I was good with that. It seemed like part of a recovery arc, and I’m pretty sure Zoe’s not faithful, either; I think they had a very open relationship. If Iris had been smart and colorful and alive instead of so blah, I’d have probably been okay.

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    2. You’re not supposed to date your therapist. I have heard a whole lot of details from others (including my own) as to why that’s a giant no-no. So, ugh.

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        1. I’m not holding my breath, since Iris is already an expy of Root’s Caroline Turing alias. They pretty much regurgitated some of Caroline’s analysis of John already. It would really be a recycle if Iris went bad for AI Plot reasons.
          It would be more interesting if she went bad for Crime Plot reasons. She comes from a long family line of cops! It would be a world-building disappointment if NYPD was suddenly squeaky clean now.

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  4. I’m now partway through season 2 and very attached to Bear.

    I think they do a great job of showing how Finch goes from dog-averse to loving the dog.

    And they make the dog seem real in his behavior, not just cute.

    I just watched the scene where Bear licks the icing on some doughnuts, Finch stops him, and Reese comes in and eats one of the doughnuts, remarking before he bites into it that it’s stingy on the sprinkles. Heh.

    I know people who have eaten things and then had a family member tell them, “Ack! I just put the dog out because he licked that!”

    I’m worried that something bad will happen to the dog.

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    1. Nothing bad happens to the dog. I don’t think anything bad ever will unless Nolan kills everybody in the finale, which nothing in the first four seasons seems to foreshadow. Finch and Reese dying, that’s foreshadowed. But the rest?

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  5. Carter working with Sully was a delight. Henson is so good with her acting choices in how Carter deals with her male co-workers: she often has a strike-first aggressive attitude, no doubt a result of decades of men quick to judge her by her gender and skin color. Here we were able to see her with someone who didn’t have a stake in the game–Sully was retired, so he wasn’t in competition. Plus he was both respectful and a smidge playful/flirtatious in a way that didn’t feel gross. Which let Carter have some smiles and a more relaxed attitude.

    (Basically I ship Carter/screen time with old dudes that she can relax around.)

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    1. I loved their interactions. So much quiet respect between them.
      I ship Carter with everybody; she’s so amazing without ever being The Girl.

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