One of the most heinous crimes a writer can commit in relationship stories is the Big Misunderstanding. After spending many chapters/episodes building a strong relationship that the reader/viewer can invest in, instead of looking at the very real, character-driven problems that might test a bond, the crisis descends into a misunderstanding that any solid relationship would defuse with an intelligent question. If you want a strong story, forget the “I saw you kissing that woman” “That was my sister” stuff; give your relationship a real test, something that just talking won’t solve. That kind of test almost always goes to character: In this situation, no matter how much this character believes in this relationship, he or she has to walk away.
There’s an excellent example of this in the first season of Sense8. Lito and Hernando are clearly in love, clearly committed, and clearly meant to be together. When Daniela moves in to become not just a perfect beard for Lito’s not-yet-out actor but also a much-loved sister, they become a family of three. So when Daniela’s abusive boyfriend blackmails her with pictures on her phone of the two lovers, she agrees to marry him to protect them. Lito accepts this reluctantly because it’s the only way to save his career, the thing that defines him. Hernando cannot. In a beautiful scene, he tells Lito that he will always love him, but he can’t stay with somebody who would let Daniela live a life of pain and fear to save a career. And he leaves.
This is not a Big Misunderstanding that would go away if they just talk. Lito clearly believes it is and tries his damnedest to talk Hernando out of going, but this is the line Hernando cannot cross. It’s his character that makes him walk away, not a misunderstanding. He just cannot do it. Lito’s realization that his actions are forcing Hernando, a man he not just loves but respects and admires, to leave him is a major turning point for his character. He goes after Dani not just to get Hernando back, but because he doesn’t want to be the kind of person Hernando can’t respect, and because in the end, he loves Dani too much to let her suffer.
And that’s the real key to the character in a relationship crucible: if it’s truly a crucible, if this is not just a Big Misunderstanding but something so intrinsic to who this character is that he or she cannot remain in the relationship, then that character will have to change to save the relationship. It’s the old “you make me want to be a better man” line: the realization that the bond is more important than strongly held beliefs will shift belief and make the relationship bond stronger because of that crucible. Or it’ll destroy the relationship entirely, but since we’re talking about Reese and the Machine Gang, we’re going to go with stronger. Think of that as the key to writing the crisis in a relationship: the characters do not return to where they were before, they are even more strongly bonded because they’ve survived the crucible.
But there’s also a second problem with the Big Misunderstanding: in romances, everybody knows the lovers will be together at the end. In PoI, everybody knows Reese is going to rejoin the Machine Gang. There is no “Will they or won’t they?” They will. Therefore the only way to build real suspense into breaking a relationship bond is to present the break in such a way that the reader wants to know how the breach is going to be healed. If just talking doesn’t solve it, what going to have to happen to make one or both or all parties in the relationship change?
Which brings us to PoI. Reese isn’t throwing a hissy fit here, he’s never believed that the world is a good place. But he believed they were saving people, and then they couldn’t save the one person they loved best, the person any one of them would have died to save. Trapped by his inherent cynicism amplified a thousand times by overwhelming grief and immense guilt, Reese isn’t going to pretend he can save the world anymore, he’s going to lose himself in it.
So he leaves the gang behind, despite Finch’s entreaties. And Finch lets him go because working with the Machine always has to be a choice. It’s not a misunderstanding, they both know exactly what’s going on, and neither of them can fix what’s broken. This is all established in the two episodes previous to “4C,” a two-part story that reveals that Machine Gang is up against something much more brutal and powerful than HR just as Reese leaves them. So the double-episode has an A plot that’s all about a new Machine that various groups (the government, Vigilance, Decima) are trying to take control of, but the B plot is Reese leaving the Machine Gang, Fusco trying to bring him back, and his ultimate departure at the end of Alethia, his belief in his ability to change things and in the Gang broken.
Previously on Person of Interest:
“Lethe:” Simmons is dead, but the Gang isn’t recovering, especially Reese, whose failure to save Carter eats at him as he quits the gang and heads for Colorado, Fusco on his tail. Meanwhile, Finch, Shaw, and Root are given a new number for Arthur Claypool, a brilliant scientist whose mind is so deteriorating from a brain tumor that he can’t even recognize his own wife and who is being stalked by Vigilance. The episode ends with a huge reversal when Arthur convinces the Gang that his wife is really dead, and they realize that the woman pretending to be his wife is really the government’s Control.
“Alethia:” Root rescues Finch, Shaw, and Arthur, but is captured by Control and tortured, ending up deaf in one ear. Decima and Vigilance both target the Gang; Reese and Fusco come back in time to save them, but not to thwart Decima who ends up with Arthur’s AI, Samaritan. Reese resigns from the Gang even though the threats from Vigilance and Decima are overwhelming.
Which brings us to “4C,” Reese’s flight from the Gang. The only things standing in his way are a blonde flight attendant, an annoying computer nerd, assassins from three different countries, and the Machine. In other words, Reese is toast. By putting Reese on an eight-hour flight to Rome that cannot be diverted, the Machine forces him to re-evaluate people in general and what he does in particular. The Machine doesn’t want to talk him out of anything, it wants to put him in a crucible where through the actions he’ll have to take, he’ll be forced out of his guilt and misery into looking at what he does and who he helps. Action is character, and Reese has been immobilized by grief for so long that he’s forgotten who he is. The Machine uses muscle memory to remind him of the reason he exists.
So at the end of “4C,” Reese is back in the Gang not from a sense of duty or guilt but because he’s accepted that saving people is part of who he is, and the most efficient and effective way to save people is to go back to those he cares about: Finch, Shaw, Fusco, Bear, and the Machine. But he hasn’t returned to the person he was before, he’s irrevocably changed by Carter’s death but also by the events on the plane. He isn’t just agreeing to help Finch with the numbers as he did in the beginning, he’s accepting that the Gang is where he’s supposed to be, that his purpose is to help the Machine help others. His bond has been tested in the crucible and made stronger.
Lotta on-the-nose dialogue:
Holly: “I could have been a teacher, but no. I wanted to see the world. Meet interesting people . . . You know what this job has taught me? That people are horrible . . . . Whatever happened to people helping other people?”
Reese: “Holly, I hate to tell you this. You’re good at your job.”
Gee, Reese, remind you of anybody you know?
And then there’s this:
Reese: “You computer guys. You build something you can’t control, and when it backfires, you won’t accept responsibility. . . . You barely made anything better. Does it look like you’ve stopped the violence?”
Owen: “Okay, are we still talking about me? Because it seems like you’re mad at somebody else.”
And then at the end:
“I need to get back to work.”
Saying he wanted to buy a suit was all the story needed.
Also, Finch landing the plane. I’ll believe Reese will save everybody but Finch landing a passenger jet by remote control? Uh, no. (Also, did we know before this that Finch flew prop planes?)
Smart Story Moves
• Making this is an action-based story with a comic victim. The show was going to the same dark place Reese was; this approach lifts it (and him) back up to the light.
• The slow build from the usual tension of flying, to the obnoxious guy, to the unconscious air marshall in the bathroom, from the banal to the dangerous in six minutes.
• Tying the screen on the plane showing the flight path to passengers to the Machine PoV showing the flight path with the “Mass Casualty 94.6%,” shorthanding exactly how much trouble Reese and the number (and Holly and everybody else on the plane) are in.
• Giving Reese a number he wants to strangle more than the assassins coming for him. This isn’t a save-the-innocent story, this is a save-the-idiot-who-made-a-fortune-in-bitcoin-by-dealing-with-drug-lords-and-the-CIA terminally clueless yet brilliant victim who has the worst possible personality for Reese to deal with, which is comedy gold. (Cue song from Galavant.)
• Playing the claustrophobic plane setting–Reese and the number are trapped–with Shaw roaming the larger setting of New York beating the crap out of people to get the bigger picture.
• Reese hitting the “Listen, sweetheart” guy, which then turns out to be a clue since the Machine uses the guy’s phone to send the “4C” clue.
• “Mr. Dark and Stormy.”
• Anything with Owen, especially the way he keeps changing his story. I love Owen. This guy is the new Rick Moranis.
• Finch to Shaw: “Would it be too much for you to snap a twig?”
• “You seem like an angry guy. Do you want to talk about that? I feel like you want to talk about that.”
• “Department of International Homeland Security.” There’s a reason Reese needs Finch.
• Reese giving Holly the remote for the stun belt and telling her to use it to beep him.
• Holly whacking the assassin with the coffee pot.
• Shaw being a badass ALWAYS.
• The idea that there are three different sets of assassins–Columbian, Israeli, and American–trying to take this nerd out, and Reese handles all of them without getting much but annoyed (and most of that at Owen). He really is really good at this.
• Shaw meeting with Hersh. “I always liked you, Hersh. Even after you killed me.” I know he’s a vicious killer, but it’s so sweet when he asks Shaw if her new employers are treating her okay.
• Owen saying, “NOT THE FACE!” as the American killer comes to finish him off. I love Owen. Owen should be a recurring character like Leon.
• Holly, coping with everything. I love a heroine who copes.
* “So what is it you really do again?” “I help people.” “You want to help me get a drink?” Reese almost smiles.
• Taking Owen off the plane in a suitcase. You can tell that made Reese happy.
• This nice moment in the sun as Reese says goodbye to Holly the next day.
• Finch’s suit.
There isn’t one. How about best moment ever? “I miss her dearly, too,” and “While I’m in Italy, I thought I’d get fitted for a new suit.” The way Finch draws in his breath and then hurries to offer his own tailor is the best non-hug on TV. And then they walk down the street together, and the world is safe again.
Next week’s PoI Posts
April 25: 3-16 RAM ((Nic Van Zeebroeck & Michael Sopczynski): Writing Great Back Story
April 26: 3-23 Deus Ex Machina (Greg Plageman & David Slack): Climax as Turning Point (The Point of No Return)
And of course, this:
[I found the preview on io9 first; there are over 100 comments on the post and every one of them is saying what a great show this is. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an internet post where every single comment was hugely in favor of something. Tells you how damn good this show is.)
Table of Contents with Links to all PoI Posts
38 thoughts on “Person of Interest: 4C, Character in Crucible”
Just watched this the other day. I liked it a lot though I agree that anyone landing a jet other than a jet pilot is a stretch. Should’ve had him manage to hack the autopilot somehow or something. Though he does fly a plane to the Island in the ep with the serial killer and the hurricane so at least they established he knew that much. I liked Holly. I kept thinking she might be one of the assassins but I liked that she wasn’t in the end. And the rest of the passengers on the plane (particularly in first class win the award for most oblivious plane passengers ever ?). Am enjoying catching up. I have Shaw love.
I never did understand if they knew what was going on. The plane starts to go down, but there’s no screaming; Reese busts through the cockpit door and nobody tries to stop him, but then at the end, everybody cheers when the plane lands and Obnoxious Guy shakes Reese’s hand.
Thanks for the reminder of the island flight. I’d forgotten that one.
So Good! You got it all! This is one of my absolute favorite episodes for the blend of the ridiculous and poignant.
Off topic, because I enjoy your writing and reviews of POI, I am now reading your novels- so far, Excellent! Only four read so far. Thanks for these reviews and your novels!
Thank you for reading!
I hope when we’re finished with POI discussions, we can take a little break on show discussions so I can get some writing done. LOL.
Because of Argh, I’ve happily binged on Doctor Who, Leverage, Arrow, Sherlock, POI (Am I missing shows?). I still need to binge watch Life on Mars (UK version), but I really need to get more work done. I’ll have to use it as a reward.
My family never believes me when I tell them watching TV is all for researching story. *sigh* They just don’t get it. 😉
By the way, could you explain on-the-nose dialog and why it is weak? Thanks!
That would be a great quesionable, actually.
On-the-nose dialogue is also often called “As you know” dialogue: “As you know, Susan, our father left us when we were young and now we search ceaselessly for meaning in an uncaring world.”
In this case, because it’s TV, it’s twice as bad because you have actors communicating meaning with their faces, bodies, and inflections.
So when Reese says, “I need a new suit,” and Finch’s face lights up, the viewer who’s been with this show for three freaking years knows that Reese doesn’t need a new suit and Finch isn’t euphoric over his wardrobe. “I need a new suit” is code from The Man In The Suit that he’s coming back to work. So when Reese says, “I need to get back to work,” it’s a complete anti-climax AND it insults the reader/viewer intelligence because we knew that already.
If you’ve put the information on the page already, then saying it again weakens the story because you’re repeating yourself (and insulting your readers which is bad).
Ah ha! Thanks, Jenny!
Oh, and yes, you’re missing shows. I have a list of shows I watch on a sticky on my computer because it’s renewal season and for some reason, everything I love is in danger of being cancelled. Elementary, Grimm, and iZombie are coming back now–not sure I could live without iZombie–but Limitless, Galavant, and Agent Carter might all get cancelled, although it seems as though Galavant is the only thing that’s sure to be cancelled. I can definitely see doing a binge on iZombie; it’s so down Argh’s alley. And I have a lot I want to say about Limitless, so there’ll be at least a single post on that. Grimm’s just good chaotic fun; they don’t seem to have anybody sane running the show that says, “No, the spirit of Jack the Ripper can’t inhabit the police captain just because his mother brought him back from the dead.” I like that in a show.
I was blindsided by Grace and Frankie; was not expecting to like that and loved it; new season starts next month. I need to watch Crazy Ex Girlfriend and Veep because people I respect assure me they’re fantastic. but like you, I’m swamped right now. And that’s before we get to British detective shows, of which there are a million, many of them excellent: George Gently, Grantchester, and New Tricks are all very good. And there’s one set in New Zealand that I really like: The Brokenwood Mysteries.
TV is amazing right now. And then there are movies . . .
I’m annoyed with myself for falling 2 episodes behind on Grantchester; vacation really messes with my TV schedule, even if it only lasts a few days. I must now research the other British mysteries here, because I don’t think I’ve ever met one I didn’t like. Although I still have to finish Lewis and start Luther, so maybe I need some sort of spreadsheet. I ran across used DVDs of Touching Evil, but didn’t buy them because I wasn’t sure where they fell in the chronology of the show, and I want to check Amazon for that now. I liked what I saw of the American version (with Michael from Burn Notice) and it turns out the original Brit version has Robson Green, so I’m inclined to give it a shot if I can find the time.
You’ve convinced me to try iZombie, but it will have to wait until after the current TV season ends – there’s too much to add another show for a couple months. Grimm is really going everywhere this season – poor Wu. And I’m already a little afraid of Diana.
I was afraid of Diana when she was what? three? and watched her grandfather get murdered in a helicopter and smiled. Of course, grandpa was an evil SOB, but still. Haven’t watched the last episode yet. I’m sure Wu will cope; look at everything else he’s been through and kept his snark. At least he’s not eating carpet. Grimm did get renewed, but I think it’s a short season. I really do love that show. It’s so uneven that I hesitate to recommend it, but the overall vibe of the show is so insane, and then standing in middle of all of it is this vanilla hero who just keeps on trucking because he’s the hero. I think it’s hysterical that he’s the least interesting person in a huge cast, and yet he’s the thing that keeps it all from just imploding under the weight of its own ridiculousness. Just about the time they go over the edge, there’s Nick, the voice of sanity, doing the hero thing without much fanfare. My favorite Nick episode will always be the one where the four Verrat trap him in that deserted lot, and Monroe says something about arresting them, and Nick says, “No,” and just beats them all to death. It’s his “fuck this” moment, and even though he goes back to arresting people after that, it’s good to know he can go there. Oh, and that time he was a zombie, that was great. I do not miss Juliette. Adalind on the other hand is my kind of anti-heroine, sleeping with three of main characters and having babies with two of them while still being a hexenbiest (most of the time). I loved that moment when Nick and Hank and Renard were all in his office, and somebody tells Hank that Adalind is pregnant again, and Hank gives Renard that look like “Really? You went there again?” and Renard shakes his head and points at Nick. And that’s even before you get to the batshit monsters.
Haven’t seen season two of Grantchester yet.
I love Lewis. Is there another season of that or did he finally retire for real?
Luther is really different but really good. Not a comfy show at all. I liked the American Touching Evil but it was cancelled so fast I never got into it. I’ve heard the UK is even better, but I haven’t seen it.
Yes, I am awake in the middle of the night and wasting time on the internet.
I’m not really sure how many seasons of Lewis there are because I’m only watching the ones available on Prime. They have 7 but Wikipedia says there are like 9. I went through 5 seasons and then I got sidetracked, so I need to go back to it. Luther appeals partly because there are so few episodes, and I want something with a shorter time commitment right now.
The reason I didn’t get really in to Grimm at first was because Nick wasn’t interesting enough to keep me there in the very beginning. It was actually two or three episodes before I could remember his name. But I’m attached now. Killing the Verrat was good, I should watch that one again. One of my favorite moments is when the Reaper opens that box Nick sent and finds the two heads with the note. That was fun. Of course Monroe had a lot to do with that, and he’s always had flair.
I’m a fan of Adalind now, which is something I never expected. Still not sure how I feel about what they’re doing with her and Nick, mostly because I don’t think they know what they want to do with her and Nick, and it’s all kind of confusing. I’m looking forward to her having more to do in the next few episodes now that she has her powers and a lot of potential problems with Renard, et al. I think she’s too smart to get in deep with the crazy uprising, especially with Nick going up against them, but she’s already proven she’ll do anything for her kid, so I want to see what she does next.
There are nine seasons, and the ninth is the one I haven’t seen, so of course, nobody has it streaming. Argh.
If you’re a Lewis/Hobson fan, you’ll like season seven.
Luther is a lot harsher but so good.
Nick really was a blank slate. Plus he had the most boring relationship in the world with Juliette, the most boring vet in the world. He’s got some edges now, but then finding your mother’s head in a box will do that. Plus the whole zombie experience. But I think he needed to be that vanilla because look who he’s got around him: Monroe, Renard, Wu, Adalind, Bud, Trubel, Meisner, not to mention the royals and every batshit monster of the week. I’ve come to appreciate him; if he was nuts, too, there’d be nothing to hang onto on that train.
I’ve always been a fan of Adalind, but her relationship with Nick now is seriously lacking in chemistry, which wasn’t a problem when they were enemies. Maybe it’s because they’re parents? Although that scene a couple of weeks ago of Nick playing with the baby was adorable, and I’m not somebody who thinks babies are adorable. I think maybe it’s because they’re not giving Adalind much to do, so she’s become The Girl, which was what sunk Juliette. (Loved Juliette when she went nuts and started taking people out, especially that scorpion guy; that was a real Buffy moment.)
I am a Lewis/Hobson fan, so that’s what I’ll be doing next weekend. Part of the reason I stalled was because the episodes are 90 minutes, and I was trying to watch TV before going to work – it was just too long. I’ll binge next day off.
Juliette killing the scorpion was excellent. I also liked it when she threw boiling water in the ogre’s face in season 1. But taking out the manticore hitman when he thought he wouldn’t have any trouble killing her, that was a great scene.
Nick and Adalind did have more chemistry as enemies. That scene when he took her powers really stands out in my memory. I think it’s because Adalind hasn’t been acting like Adalind, she’s been acting like Juliette. She’s finally out of the bunker though; I expect her to be interesting again.
The manticore, that’s what I meant. Yes, because he thought he was getting somebody’s girlfriend and got Buffy instead.
I enjoy Grimm, but it is another series that seems to live and die by its secondary characters (Monroe, Adalind, Renard, Rosalee.) Juliette was only fun when she was evil. Nick has grown on me: he was deadly dull to start with but is rather more fun now.
We do have the bonus fun of watching out for a friend of ours, who is a Portland local and works as an extra once in a while. He was most recently in the episode with Tom Cruise’s cousin as the preacher: he was in the audience at the rally at the beginning of the episode (chap with beard and hat in the audience. It’s pretty much a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ appearance though!)
I think the secondary character thing happens because the protagonist has to do so much heavy lifting. I love Monroe, but I don’t want a show about him.
My creative writing professor used to talk about the “stout stake” at the center of your story that everything else revolved around. That’s Nick. He stays in place being good and true (mostly) so Monroe and Rosalie can be darling and Bud can babble and Wu can snark and Hank . . . is really more stout stake. Sane people: they anchor your story.
I suggest you add”Life” to your list – Damien Lewis and Sarah Shahi (!!). Only 2 seasons but very, very good.
Oh, Life is really wonderful.
The actor who played Owen got his start on one of my favorite shows of all time, Freaks and Geeks. I still can’t believe that show was cancelled after only one season.
I enjoyed the Carter leaves story arc, except I remember being very annoyed that the writers seemed to suddenly shoe-horn in romantic feelings from Reese towards Carter. Am I remembering that wrong? I hope I am, as it makes no sense. To be honest, I frequently felt that the show was playing Finch and Reese as the one true pairing of the show, but perhaps they dropped that in season four. So much of their relationship seems to model a romantic suspense love story.
It wasn’t the writers. It was the actor playing Reese. They were playing the scene and he kissed her; that look of surprise is on the actress’s face is real. The actor just got caught up in the moment. They debated using that take and in the end, they felt it was the most honest.
I think the problem is that it’s misinterpreted. Reese is about to leave to distract the HR cops outside who are going to kill him. He knows he’s going to die so Carter can live and get Quinn to the FBI, and he’s good with that, but he’s saying good-bye to her before he dies. It makes sense to me in that context; there’s never been any doubt he loves her. And then he goes outside and Finch saves him, so he’s fine after all.
But since it’s a kiss, people automatically assumed romance. I think. There was a big hoora about it at the time.
I do think Reese/Finch are the bond at the center of the show, but since they’re both in love with women they can’t forget, I don’t think they’re gay. Root and Shaw, however, are canon at this point. Which leaves Fusco and Bear. Fusco’s dated some very nice women during this show; it would be great if he wasn’t alone at the end.
I’ll have to watch the episode again, now that I know it was an acting choice rather than a writer’s choice. I’ve had so many shows disappoint me by taking characters I loved as friends and deciding the fans want to see romance, so here it is. I still haven’t watched the last season of Warehouse 13 because I’m fairly sure that Pete and Myka become a couple in that season, and I just don’t want to see their wonderful sibling/friendship relationship change. Besides, Myka and HG Wells belong together.
I do like Root and Shaw together, so I’m glad to hear that became official. I don’t particularly want Reese/Finch to be more than friends, but I always felt that the writers were throwing some subtext in there. It’s probably just me.
I loved Warehouse 13, but that thing they insisted on doing in putting Myka and Pete together annoyed the hell out of me. It just doesn’t make sense, given who they are (honestly, if they stayed together for any length of time, Myka would stab Pete in his sleep, I’m sure.)
It is also more problematically a real betrayal of Myka and a clear indication of who the showrunners consider to be the main character. It really isn’t about Myka and Pete being happy, it’s about giving Pete explicitly a ‘happy ending’, even though I can’t see any scenario where it won’t make Myka extremely unhappy in the long term (wow, I’m still quite angry about this! I hadn’t realised…)
I’ll admit that part of my reaction is that Pete has never been my favourite character anyway. I’ve always found those ‘man-child’ characters really irritating. Claudia and Artie’s relationship was always the core emotional one for me anyway!
Well, and H.G.Wells who probably would have been great for Myka, but they put her in the suburbs with a husband and child. Dear Warehouse 13, the fifties would like their happy ending back.
I don’t know anybody who wasn’t betrayed by that ending. But yeah, I was in it for Artie, too.
Reese/Finch was mostly non-subtext–as in, it mostly didn’t feel like deliberate hinting or baiting to me–except for specifically one episode, season 3 episode 14 (a couple before this one). That’s the only one where I felt like they were winking about it. It’s definitely very easy to read it romantically but other than that episode I never got the feeling the show was trying to suggest the idea.
I’m with you on the whole ‘fake crisis due to stupid misunderstanding’ stuff. If I never see that again I will be very happy.
Arrow has a problem with that at the moment – I can’t remember whether you’re still keeping up to date, so no real spoilers. But there’s a breakup (in a relationship that I never really believed in anyway, but that’s just me!) and the reason is just so stupid! My wife and I looked at each other at this point both with the same rough thought: of all the things that have happened over the years, that’s the thing you’ve decided to hang your hat on? Really?
Is this Oliver and Felicity? Because I gave up.
You saw through my careful phrasing 🙂
Yes, that was who I meant. The thing is, I never bought into the relationship in the first place, but they were making it work this season despite that.
However, the breaking point is when Oliver doesn’t tell Felicity about his son, which he wanted to but the mother made him promise that he wouldn’t tell anyone as a condition of being able to see the boy (because melodrama). When Felicity finds out she ends up breaking up with Oliver, not because he has a son but because he didn’t tell her about it and how can she trust that he isn’t lying about other things (I think that was the logic…)
But this seems to be just stupid storytelling to me, just to create artificial drama in the relationship. It also feels really against character for Felicity and makes her look rather petty to be honest.
To be fair, I’m enjoying the season overall, but this just seems so stupid.
It is stupid storytelling. Anytime you violate character to move a plot point, you destroy that character (see Cordelia Chase on Angel).
Indeed. It can also end up making you dislike characters as well (see Xander in “Hell’s Bells”, probably the episode of Buffy Season 6 I hate most – though there’s quite a lot of competition…)
The parallels to the pilot are just beautiful, too, because in an of themselves, they highlight how Reese has been changed by working with Harold.
Reese has just lost the woman he loves, and enacted revenge upon her killer, and is leaving his life of violence behind, before getting waylaid into saving a number.
The difference is, this is not the suicidal Reese on the subway. He wasn’t knowingly giving his fingerprints to an authority figure in order to call government assassins down on him (just in case that bridge wouldn’t work).
First, it shows how Fusco’s interventions in the previous episodes worked. His bond with Fusco is real, and Fusco is a true part of the team, not just a supporting player. Secondly, Reese didn’t want to bring more troubles to the team’s door. If Reese was still suicidal post-Carter, he wasn’t going to put the rest of his loved ones in danger in order to disappear. And thirdly, it really does look like he wasn’t suicidal. Working with the team gave him at least that much of a lease on life.
I love The Machine being shameless about interfering with its humans’ lives. You could see Reese already resigning himself to shenanigans as his flight choices were railroaded, but still determined to be grumpy about it. Second only to The Machine sticking Harold on jury duty, and then circumventing all of his attempts to get out of it.
In general, Reese clashing with The Machine was a delightful theme in S1-S3. I kind of missed it in S4. (please let the Detective Riley id die early in S5)
I think it’s interesting to think about the Machine’s motives, too. Clearly it’s to save the people on the plane, but after that, is it to bring him back to the team because he’s going to be needed in the big fight against Decima, or because he’s an integral part of the team and it’ll be damaged if he leaves, or because the Machine wants him working for her? Or all of those? In other words, how much of an emotional arc does the Machine have here. It has a huge one at the end of season four, the Machine makes me cry for it at the end of season four as a living entity in pain, so there’s clearly an emotional component there.
And then there’s the ominous question: What happens to you if you want to leave and don’t change your mind? What lengths will the Machine go to keep you?
Well, considering that The Machine matchmade Harold and Grace, and Harold’s continued accounts of TM acting out to take care of him, I think TM knows that Contingency/Primary Asset makes Admin happy.
Another possibility is that an unattached John Reese will become a number, relevant or irrelevant, perpetrator or victim. TM was doing some proactive number-prevention.
It’s like the questions of whether or not TM helped Root’s wooing of Shaw.
Somehow I don’t think The Machine’s recruitment techniques would be that ominous. Sticking John on the flight was pushy, but the circumstances were dire, and it’s not like The Machine said “Fix this or else” at any point. She inherited Harold’s ethics, something that was made clear in her insistence that Root not kill anyone. And Harold is very big on free will. Admittedly, she wanted them to kill that guy to prevent Samaritan, but it was obviously a desperate last resort. And there were no Machine-generated consequences when they refused. The Machine seems inclined to manipulate their circumstances, but unlikely to hurt them or coerce them. She’s too much like Harold to do that.
OK, I was determined to make my way through the comments before commenting (and man, I missed out on some good conversation by being so behind), but this! I couldn’t pass it up–the Machine and its intentions!
I was reading the comments first to see if anyone else had the problem with this episode that I had. Either I missed something, or the Machine created this problem by putting Reese on the plane. Cause, if the “national tragedy” was the plane going down and everyone dying as a result, then that was triggered by Reese continuing to save Owen. Had Owen been killed by the first (or second, or third) assassin, then Carlos would not have had to crash the plane. So Owen became a “relevant” POI (and this an issue on a national scale) when Reese started protecting him as an “irrelevant” POI (just his death). Is this right, or did I miss something?
But, when I mentioned this to my husband, his response was that above–that Reese was put on that plane by the Machine more because the Machine wanted to bring him back into the fold than saving Owen. And that comment derailed us off the episode and onto the Machine and how much intelligence it really has.
Oh, look at that, I was near the end anyway!
I hadn’t thought of either of those.
By the final episode of the series, it’s clear that the Machine is capable of your husband’s theory. Actually, by the Season Four finale, it’s clear the Machine has emotions.
Why the plane had to go down: Carlos had a parachute and a cover story (he’s part of the crew), so nobody knew he was on the plane (not on the passenger list). If Owen died on the plane and the plane landed, there’d be questions and the crew would be detained. I think it’s probable that Carlos always meant to crash the plane outside Rome, escaping by parachute, because otherwise it would have been dumb of him to pack the parachute. (Do commercial passenger planes have parachutes? Would Carlos take the chance that there’s be one?) Because if Owen died and the plane didn’t go down, Carlos would be screwed. If the plane goes down, Owen’s body would be incinerated with everything else on board, and even if they found evidence of tampering, there are so many terrorist organizations in the world at this point that Carlos would still have walked away. Then you’d have an American airliner crashing in Italy with American authorities and an American prisoner on board, dragging the CIA into an international scandal . . .
If one of the other assassins (poor Owen) succeeded? Same problem: Carlos is going to get caught (so are the others, the dummies). I think once the plane is over land, it goes down because it’s the only way Carlos can get away.
That’s a good point about the fallout–I didn’t think it through to the likely consequences. Yes, if the plan landed with a dead body (or three, cause marshals), there WOULD be in inquiry where everyone was detained and questioned and it’s likely Carlos would be among the questioned. But, I would think that he (and the other assassins) would have his papers in order? Isn’t that like Killers 101? The couple were on there as passengers so they definitely had legit (enough) IDs. Carlos’s counterpart was a passenger–so legit ID. I would think Carlos would have his ID/cover as “flight attendant” in place. So he might have been able to go through any kind of questioning, which again leads back to the plane crash as being unnecessary and triggered only by Reese’s presence.
We also have this pet theory that the Machine only sends the numbers that it knows the team can do something about (I’m thinking again of that episode where the princess–heiress?– had her number come up, but her friend’s number wasn’t shared, though her friend was in the exact same conundrum). This is likely why numbers outside of New York don’t arise. So, the Machine was absolutely putting Reese on that plane for the sole purpose of bringing him back into the fold. It had run the scenarios and knew that Reese had a good chance of saving the day so it was a more or less a safe bet to send him in there, even with the fact that his presence put the whole plane in danger instead of just Owen. The Machine is a gambler.
I thought her friend’s number had come up, but it’s been a long, long time since I saw that one, although it’s one of my faves.
Remember Finch found out who everybody on board was as soon as Reese sent the photos. They might have had papers, but Carlos had to know the CIA would be gunning for him. Plus the last thing the people who hired him would want is an inquiry. I think he was always going to crash the plane as a cover-up. That would also give him the cover of having died in the crash.
One of my favorite adventure books is about a self-made rich guy who’s grown dissatisfied with his life and who decides not to get on a small plane in Italy on a whim. The plane goes down, he’s presumed dead, and he travels through Italy, meets people who need help, defies the Mafia, loses people he cares about, and set out across France back to his home in England, enacting vengeance on every son-of-a-bitch who crossed him. And nobody knows it’s him because he died in the crash. I usually do not respond to stories like that, but I love that one. That might be why I feel sure that Carlos would crash the plane. It’s such a clean getaway.
[The book is The Long Journey Home by Michael Gilbert.)
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