“Person of Interest” recap (5.3): Stealthy Cocoon

Person of Interest has always been a mix between high-concept episodes and numbers of the week. Generally speaking, I’ve never minded those NOTW episodes as much as a lot of people do, but let’s be honest: some of them are better than others, and “Truth Be Told” is Not Good.

There are some decent ideas at the episode’s core. The writers wanted to remind us that—as Harold said last week—John’s heart is the heaviest, and he’s trying the hardest, by revisiting him before Harold and Joss (RIP) reformed him. The episode introduced a new C.I.A. character, Beale (Keith David!). It introduced the idea that Samaritan’s malware isn’t just static spyware but something that grows and changes and has an evolving long-term goal. It had the Machine communicating by channeling Emily Dickinson and Root in yet another totally incongruous but very cute outfit.

poi-truth-be-told-3Via CBS

All of these are worthy purposes! The problem is the execution this time. Every once in a while this show hits its head and wakes up in a bad dream in which it’s exactly the bland, silly procedural everyone expected it to be when it debuted. I was sort of hoping that with the shortened season, the NOTW episodes—which I often find very engaging, even if they don’t move me to poetic heights like the first two episodes of this season—would be better handled than this. Even the title is generic.

I’ll deal with some of the problems in specific, but since I have no weighty ideas for you this week, let’s jump straight to Root and Shaw. Shaw remains Root’s priority: last week her to do list was stated in order of Samaritan, then Shaw, then numbers, but this week it was Shaw, then Samaritan. Root’s a lot more cheerful now that she has the Machine back in her ear and ever-changing assignments to keep her occupied, but the return to normalcy may have made Shaw’s absence feel even more urgent to her. (Judging by the promo and scuttlebutt, next week is going to be all about this and it is going to be A LOT TO HANDLE.  I can’t wait.)

tumblr_o6zt2oADCv1unsbsso1_500 tumblr_o6zt2oADCv1unsbsso2_500Via itberice

Root’s cover this week is fun, not least because it gave rise to the immortal line, “Sadly, all my identities can’t be bears or brides.” It also let her knock out a harasser more than once (I’m assuming “one too many safety violations” kept happening to her trainer). It sets up a charming quickie hacking sequence for her and Harold and puts her in a baseball cap. (I used to work in delivery service, and let me tell you, nobody looks that good in the uniform.) It’s perfectly fine, and Acker sells it as always.

Certainly Root’s plotline is the most intriguing part of the episode. Between the conclusions she’s drawn about Samaritan’s malware and the Machine’s cryptic way of hinting at it, I’m very curious: the Machine is an open system now. It can just say whatever it wants straight out. Why go via poetry?

Cocoon above! Cocoon below!
Stealthy Cocoon, why hide you so
What all the world suspect?
An hour, and gay on every tree
Your secret, perched in ecstasy
Defies imprisonment!

An hour in Chrysalis to pass,
Then gay above receding grass
A Butterfly to go!
A moment to interrogate,
Then wiser than a “Surrogate,”
The Universe to know! 

Emily Dickinson’s “Cocoon above! Cocoon below!” is a very interesting choice. It’s only onscreen briefly—not long enough to read it properly—but I did manage to catch “Stealthy Cocoon, why hide you so/What all the world suspect?” and thought: hoo boy. And sure enough: a secret perched in ecstasy defies imprisonment. A moment to interrogate. Wiser than a surrogate the Universe to know. Part of me thinks this is some kind of foreshadowing for Shaw, but interestingly, my first thought on hearing Root describe how the malware was evolving—before I’d read the whole poem—was that it was like Samaritan had laid parasitic eggs in laptops across the country. (Enjoy that image.) I wonder if Samaritan is building not only spy programs but surrogates for itself in these devices? Backups? Bits of programming that will one day come together to strengthen Samaritan? Is this its Thornhill or its networked backup, akin to what the Machine was doing in Season 4? Does Greer know about it? Are the surrogates poised for some kind of digital “Correction” a la the criminal one that closed out last season? This could go a lot of places, and the more I think about it, the more interested I am.