Person of Interest: “The Devil’s Share”: Rip-Your-Heart-Out Storytelling

Person of Interest Binge LogoPreviously on Person of Interest:
“The Perfect Mark” is one of those everybody’s-crooked con stories that was probably pretty good, but by this point, the HR story is so compelling that it just got in the way of the good stuff, culminating in the shootout in which Lasky dies, Carter shoots his killer, and gets the dying crooked cop to point out the head of HR: Quinn. Best part of the entire episode: That fistbump between Reese and Carter in the car. It’s a beautiful thing.

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“Endgame:” Great story-telling as Carter works the Russians, HR, and the FBI like puppets, ending in the home of a judge she’s gone to for a warrant for Quinn’s arrest. The judge is HR, Carter’s surrounded by cops, and then she drops her last bombshell– she’s recorded everything–just as Reese comes through with back-up, paying off that fist bump.

About this time the producers and showrunners were warning that somebody was going to die in the next episode and showing pictures of a bloodied and beaten Fusco. So I did a blog post on the most effective person to kill, narratively speaking: “Killing Characters, aka Please Don’t Kill Carter.” It’s interesting to read that now because, even as I analyzed it and came to the conclusion that the best possible narrative choice was killing Carter, I desperately wanted them to make a weaker choice. I loved Carter so, she was the woman I wished I could be, the woman I’d want to write about, and she just did not deserve to die, damn it.

“The Crossing” Carter brings down HR and that rat bastard Simmons shoots her and Reese at the end of the episode. Reese is critically wounded, but Carter dies in his arms. God damn it. I still can’t watch this episode again, even though it’s an outstanding one. I just can’t stand to see her fight the good fight so ferociously and then get taken down in the end. It’s just too damn painful. Even so, I remember stand-out moments: Fusco refusing to give in to torture, the phone call from Shaw that she’s saved his son but can’t save him, the way he weeps as he thanks her and then turns on his captors, the moment in the morgue when Reese is about to sacrifice himself to save Carter and kisses her good-bye, the sheer intensity of these people as they risk everything to bring down evil . . . it’s a stellar, stellar hour of story. And then they break my heart.

Which may be why I keep watching “The Devil’s Share” over and over: I can grieve with the rest of the Gang as they reel from the shock and try to deal with the aftermath. It’s an aftermath that will stretch throughout the rest of the run of the show, they never forget Carter, but the immediate aftermath of grief and loss and vengeance is distilled down into forty-five minutes of brilliant emotional narrative.

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So how does this story so perfectly capture grief?

• It begins with the loss of somebody that not only the characters loved, but the reader/viewer loved. The characters then become our surrogates, giving us catharsis through their grief and vengeance. Beyond that, they keep us from mourning alone, bringing us into their devastated community.
• The opening montage of wordless action captures that numb feeling that hits after loss, the sense that you’re underwater, and nothing is real, everything silent and in slow motion. I don’t like montages, but this one is perfect because it creates in the viewer/reader that deadened sense of horror.
• The visuals in the montage–Carter’s funeral, Shaw’s stony face, Finch and Fusco devastated, Reese getting out of the hospital bed, the violence as Reese goes for vengeance–all summed up in a series of pictures. The aftermath of loss is so full of banal detail, and this story elides right through all of that to get the central narrative of bringing down Simmons and saving Reese. To quote another great narrative, attention must be paid. I’ve seen this episode at least a dozen times, and I weep for Carter and those she left behind every damn time I watch this montage, which is what this kind of narrative is supposed to do: evoke cathartic emotion.
• The use of grief to bond a new team together to save Reese, bringing Root into the fold as the one person who’s not consumed with vengeance, giving them all a sympathetic foil.
• The focus on the individual characters and what Carter’s death has done to them, especially Reese, and even more especially Fusco. When he stands over Simmons and refuses to kill him because of Carter, he gives her a perfect eulogy and the promise that the impact she’s made on the world of the show will not die with her. I weep during that one every time, too.
• The final vengeance against Simmons can’t be delivered by any of the team; Carter wouldn’t like it. But Elias can deliver the death blow from outside the law, not because he’s a criminal, but because he loved Carter, too. And the reader/viewer gets catharsis in the end, very satisfying catharsis, without any damage to the main cast, or to Elias, for that matter.

Or to sum everything up in one sentence: Give the reader a reason to grieve, and then give her space to fully experience it and characters to share her sorrow. Killing a character and then not paying that character the respect of real, shared grief and catharsis makes both the sacrifice and the character smaller. Attention must be paid.

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Weakest Parts
There are no weak parts. This is perfect story.

Smart Story Moves
Everything in here including the flashbacks. (Yeah, that’s how good it is.) But to be specific:
• Starting the story with the beep of Reese’s hospital monitors instead of the Machine, showing everything is wrong.
• The choice of “Hurt,” the Johnny Cash song over the montage. The montage had to be swift, cold, and wordless to capture that feeling of loss, but the measured, mournful grief of the song sells the emotion home.
• Lingering on the photo of Carter’s beautiful face at the funeral, reminding us of what we’ve lost.
• The Machine giving Finch the new number: Simmons.
• The flashbacks (I know, I know) showing the dysfunction of these four dangerous people. The flashbacks disrupt the narrative, but that’s important here because it captures the disjointed feeling of grief, while also showing how damaged Finch, Reese, Shaw, and Fusco are, and how Carter’s death is going to knife through them.
• Putting the focus of the story on saving Reese instead of avenging Carter, especially framing it as “Carter would want justice, not vengeance.”
• Drawing very careful lines from scene to scene; it’s a very complex story, a lot of different characters and different threads, and the connections are always very clear and easy to follow.

Favorite Moments
• Finch: “I want to know about grief. I want to know how it works.”
• Root telling Lionel where his name came from.
• “You sure the big guy’s here?” BOOM. “Pretty sure.”
• The team blazing its way through the hotel lobby, especially Root blasting the Russians: “Okay, that was kinda hot.”
• Finch’s soft voice talking Reese down. “We save lives.” “Not all of them.”
• Handing off the airfield address to Fusco, and then following it up with his talk with his therapist about the devil’s share, and then following that with his speech to Simmons that proves Carter’s legacy is lasting “I’m not going to let you undo all the good she did,” and then Fusco’s moment of redemption as he walks the captured Simmons through the squad room: two and a half years from the crooked cop who was going to execute Reese to the honest cop who refuses to execute the murderer of a partner he loved. That’s a character arc.
• Shaw going to steal more blood for Reese.
• Elias in the hospital: “There remains a debt . . . . I don’t think she liked me. But I liked her very much. You killed her.” And then “I’m just going to watch.”
• Bookending the beginning by ending on Simmon’s hospital machine flatlining.

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Ominous Moment
“We have a larger fight ahead of us. I think we should be together when that begins.”

New PoI Post
Tomorrow: 3-13 4C Melissa Scrivner Love & Greg Plageman): Character in Crucible

Table of Contents with Links to all PoI Posts

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13 thoughts on “Person of Interest: “The Devil’s Share”: Rip-Your-Heart-Out Storytelling

  1. Oh God, Jenny. My eyes mist just thinking about this episode. Fantastic work from that show. Sweet, sweet Fusco. And I know we’ve touched on this before but – Elias. I never cheered as passionately for my beloved Red Sox as I did for Elias in that ep.
    “Civilization was built on the [premise?] that we treat our criminals better than they treated their victims. Detective Carter. She was civilized.”

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    1. I think the only TV that’s hit me as hard as this one is the UK’s Life on Mars (that finale, on the roof).

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      1. And I really appreciate what you wrote about vengeance not being allowed to happen by a member of the team.
        I…I just can’t. Needless to say, I am a mad fan of this ep.

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  2. I have been re-watching PoI as I’m waiting out this long flu/cold. I also couldn’t bear to watch the episode where Carter dies, either. I was amazed at the Devil’s Share, and I’m finally going through season 4. Except I’m coming up to the Big Mean Blond catching up with our heroes…what a show.

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  3. Wow! Thought I couldn’t cry over all this again- but… Your writing of it did me in!
    And Yes, I still stand up and cheer and yell Faster, Run Faster when I think of the ending of UK Life on Mars! Good point.

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  4. The Crossing: on a recent group rewatch, there was someone in the group for whom it was their first time through the show. And it was just pure schadenfreude watching their relief of Carter’s survival to the epilogue…watching it turn to disbelief, and then horror. Just the sound of the ringing pay phone turns around on a dime from “welp, arc’s over, on to the next number business as usual” to “oh god oh god oh god.” Brilliant scene design.

    TDS:
    The flashbacks work because they’re meticulously structured into the episode, not just “things that happened in the past.” The events in the present are meticulously structured to interact with the flashbacks, as well, not just a presentation of events that happened after Carter’s death. The flashbacks precede each act, not just at “end of scene when convenient,” as well as having the football passed to the next character at the end of each act. They’re all framed in the same way, (interview format, stationary closeup on face) so that they’re not depictions of “events” in the way flashbacks usually are. The content of each flashback is relevant to the act it precedes, and vice versa, not just to the episode as a whole.
    This is the closest thing we’re going to get to a mockumentary episode of PoI, and you don’t insert the interviews willy-nilly in a documentary, either.
    (And it’s not surprising that the closest they get to repeating this style of flashbacks is in If-Then-Else)

    Finch in the past was “left behind” by Nathan, due to a partial rejection of The Machine. Finch in the 1st act has not only lost someone dear again, due to a partial rejection of The Machine, but has also been “left behind” by the other team members in their quest for vengeance.

    Shaw’s flashback defines how she was rejected for her unsentimental demeanor. The second act highlights how this is why Shaw is able to advocate for using Root, relatively unaffected by the trauma Root has inflicted on the team in the past. But at the same time, it also disproves that Shaw doesn’t care, as she goes to these lengths out of her care for Reese.

    Reese’s flashback sets up how he was skull-faced cold killer, but the 3rd act reveals that it’s driven by a deep well of emotion.

    Fusco completes his amazing arc.

    And then surprise Elias with no flashback, separate act, or foreshadowing, because Elias exists outside of civilization, and thus outside of the writing structure the other characters are beholden to. Elias does his speeching in the present, and then doesn’t even do the deed himself, but is still in complete control of the situation. Complete contrast to the team, but yet aligned with their goal of vengeance, simply because that’s how influential Carter was. From Fusco to Elias, from one Carter legacy to another, opposite ends of the spectrum.

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  5. The Fusco from the pilot has evolved so much, it’s amazing. Kevin Chapman is a find. His face in “The Crossing” from the time he hears the gunshot to when he hears Shaw saying “Lionel” is perfectly done. The Powers That Be cast PoI very well.

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  6. I so desperately wanted Fusco to shoot Simmons but it was so much more satisfying when he didn’t.

    Elias’ vengeance was really just his form of justice. It might not have been Carter’s form but he was okay with that.

    (I’m still bitter about the end of last season. Old, burned coffee bitter.)

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    1. I agree. That was Elias’s tribute of justice. He mentions that he had offered Carter the chance that he kill Simmons many times, but she always told him no. Well, Simmons killed her and Elias no longer had to keep his word.

      I very much had the Xander Harris approach to it. Elias finishes his speech and I am muttering at my tv, “faster, pussycat. Kill. Kill.”

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    2. I think that was the first second of many; I’m expecting a body count this last season. Those writers will kill anybody except the dog.

      If you’re missing Elias, go on over to iZombie; he’s a cop over there.

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  7. Yeah, this one’s amazing. I think what struck me is that this episode gives equal weight to two priorities: saving Reese’s life, but also preventing an act of desecration. That’s what any member of Team Machine killing Simmons would be: a betrayal of everything she lived and died for. If the team she was part of were to commit murder while she was alive, she’d be out, on principal – she couldn’t even bear to hear Fusco’s confession that he’d been dirty in the past, and it took her time to get over that. With that having been established, Reese’s wish to murder in her name is given a terrible metaphysical weight. However satisfying it would be for him, it would be tantamount to an admission that her way doesn’t work; her ideals would be soiled. In Carter’s eyes, Team Machine would have crossed a line there was no coming back from, and what Carter would have wanted is an idea that colours every present-day scene of this episode.

    So, when the team stops John from killing, it’s a relief, even though Quinn is an absolute scumbag and normally we’d wish a sticky end on him – because they stopped John from crossing that line. Same goes for Fusco’s arrest of Simmons, which makes the honouring of Carter’s memory even more explicit than the scene with Quinn. And this, I think, is why it’s okay that Elias kills Simmons. Elias might have been fond of Carter, and she might have been grudgingly, reluctantly friendly with him (I have a theory that charming people is Elias’ secret superpower, like immunity to blunt-force trauma is John’s), but he was never part of Team Machine. Her people did not carry out this act. Her principals remain unsullied. I think the episode does a great job of giving weight to something as abstract as a dead character’s wishes.

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    1. I think it also shows how insane with grief Reese is, just driven by it because he can’t bring her back. It feels as if it’s an insane quest to stop the pain, the last thing he does before he dies, which he almost does.
      I think it ties into the whole Jessica thing, too, much as I hate that back story. The two women he’s loved most, both murdered, and he couldn’t save them.

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      1. Yes. And given everything that he told Carter in the ep where she dies, partcularly tougher. I think Carter’s last words to him, that she couldn’t finish, were probably something to the effect of “Don’t let this destroy you”.

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