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Throwback Thursday - Person of Interest - The Devil's Share

Throwback Thursday is a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from the past.

“The Devil’s Share” is notable for a number of reasons. It bookends the first of two trilogies Person of Interest did. It concludes, once and for all, the H.R. story that had existed within the show ever since the Pilot. It provides a fitting epilogue to the death of Joss Carter, our characters making sure that her demise was not in vain and that those involved in the tragic and stunning murder were brought down. And it is also the dividing point between the two versions of Person of Interest: the procedural, number-of-the-week with a hint of mythology approach ended, making space for the heavily serialised, A.I. war which followed.

There remain those fans wedded to the procedural format, who even at the time disliked the shift in approaches, the promotion of Root to being an integral part of the series, the pivot away from saving ordinary people in one-off instalments. Arguments over which is better could rage on forever. But what is beyond dispute is that “The Devil’s Share” is an hour of total brilliance that remains one of the best things CBS has ever put on air.

Want iconic? Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt”, played over the opening montage as the fractured Team Machine search for Carter-killer Patrick Simmons is stunning, a demonstration of how to perfectly use popular music over a scene. As we start sombre, witnessing Carter’s funeral and Reese in critical condition, the music hits those early sombre beats. As Shaw and Reese go after those helping Simmons, the acoustics raise, the thrill intensifies; everything we’re seeing and hearing gets darker, culminating in Reese’s decision to let three accomplices burn alive. Tall, dark and deranged, indeed.

Yet it’s arguably not even the best use of music in the episode. Digitalism’s “Miami Showdown” is a work of electronic art, and intensifies the joy of Reese’s trip through the motel to find Alonzo Quinn. That sequence is preceded by one of the many flashbacks throughout this hour, with Reese carrying out a covert mission in 2007. It’s 21 minutes into the episode before the leading man first says a word, and even then he’s acting, a convincing performance as the meek, green cadet to fool his mark — the prospective C.O. — who’d been selling operatives’ names to the Chinese.

Flashbacks are a key element in Person of Interest's storytelling, and two of the best and most revealing feature here. Finch’s therapy (with Jessica Hecht as the therapist) following Nathan’s death is insightful, the way he feels guilt for his friend’s death an important part in the series’ portrayal of Finch not only in this episode but moving forwards.

But it’s the scenes with Shaw and Fusco that are the most fascinating. Doctor Shaw’s interview with a more senior doctor, who calls her out for her lack of emotion despite technical brilliance, paints her in a new light while also reinforcing what we had already surmised ourselves. Five episodes prior, in “Razgovor,” the fire rescue officer who saved Shaw from the car accident which killed her father suggested there was something wrong with her for having no emotional response to the news – it’s a naïve, short-sighted and somewhat discriminatory view but the substance of his thought is correct: she has an emotional disorder.

It’s why she has to leave her job in the medical industry and shift to working for the CIA, a job far more suited to her nerveless skillset and her execution of fine precision. If you can perfectly cut into a living human with a scalpel to save their life, you can shoot someone from 800 yards away with a sniper. Or so goes the logic. And, of course, her decision to eat a candy bar while providing bereavement news highlights how she would be totally unfazed murdering people for a living.

And then we come to Fusco’s flashback. In the Pilot, Fusco was initially set as an opponent to Reese and Finch; it was only the intervention of the Man in the Suit, on the journey to his own death by Fusco’s hand, which prevented the detective falling down the same H.R. rabbit hole as Simmons. Kevin Chapman’s character is comedy gold on this show, but for a short time, there’s no laughter. Just emotion, and a stark depiction of the change he has gone through. Eight years before, he murdered a criminal who killed a rookie cop and then lied about the way it went down, before “unburdening” himself to the psychologist. It’s a remarkable scene and, if not for the one that follows, would be Chapman’s best, the disinterest Fusco shows an indication of something bigger, and the glee on his face describing his revenge a glorious insight into how far gone he once was.

Then comes Chapman’s pièce de résistance. His physical fight with Simmons is fun, and provides a surrogate release for viewers itching to see the dirty cop get his comeuppance. But it’s the monologue that follows which is fascinating and so absorbing. So much of the past two and a half seasons focused on the dynamic between Carter and Reese, Carter bringing out his good side as much as possible and Reese teaching her that sometimes going outside the boundaries of the law is necessary — not to mention the romantic angle.

Fusco and Carter had a strong relationship too, and it’s most strikingly referenced here as he justifies not killing Simmons. The 2005 Fusco would’ve done it without a second thought. But, as he outlines in a gloriously emotional scene, that’s not who he is anymore. Chapman’s voice cracks briefly as he describes how Carter reminded him that he could be “a good father, a good friend, a good cop” again too. We feel every word, and if we’ve just witnessed him at his lowest — admitting to cold-blooded murder — this is Fusco at his highest. He’s taken down the lowlife who killed his partner, and he’s done it not only on Carter’s terms but the way she would’ve wanted him to, for his own good.

“I’m not gonna let you undo all the good she did,” he tells Simmons. And quite right too. He’s done terrible things but working with Carter was key in turning his life around. No satisfaction of revenge is worth throwing that away.

That’s not an issue for Elias, though. He is, as he describes to Simmons, an “outlier.” Sure, he has something of a loose moral code — which, admittedly, extends to “don’t murder the man who saved your life” and “fair is fair” — but he’s had no salvation, no second chance, no positive road to stay on. He’s a mob boss who does whatever he wants, and so has no reservations about killing Simmons. And it’s that loose moral code which drives him to do it: Carter saved his life, and apart from that he respected her.

Elias had long been a fan favourite even before this, Enrico Colantoni’s performance a wonderful mix of joyful and intimidating; he’s the criminal mastermind hidden in plain sight whose tone will make you forget he’s killing you, as he orders your death. But committing the murder most Person of Interest fans were rooting for only elevated his status, and the scene works to perfectly, beautifully end what was, at the time, the show’s best episode. By killing Simmons, the final loose end to the H.R. story is tied up, and 53 episodes’ worth of plot is completed.

It’s good, therefore, that “The Devil’s Share” also works to continue the tease of the plot for the next 50 episodes. Finch finally lets Root out of her cage to help stop Reese, and Amy Acker is simply wonderful as ever in saying aloud the Machine’s instructions, asking Shaw for a gun, outlining to Finch how something terrible is coming. She’s critical to everything which is to come in the war between the Machine and Samaritan, and we get a glimpse here of just how much fun that will be.

At the time of airing, in November 2013, I remember being taken aback at Root’s suggestion of a “larger fight” ahead of them. For weeks, we had been teased by her over the fact that something was coming, and it was difficult to fathom that anything could be more significant than the “Endgame” trilogy, and the destruction of H.R. — how wrong that would turn out to be. The war against Samaritan would change the game entirely, completely restructuring the way Person of Interest operated and providing some of the most unmissable network television since LOST.

But no matter what came after, one thing is clear: “The Devil’s Share” is a masterpiece.

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