Recap: Person Of Interest S 01 E 21

Season 1, Episode 21:

Many Happy Returns

"When I was first building the machine, I kept seeing the same numbers come up a week, a month, six months apart... Usually women. At first I thought it was a mistake; how could anyone's life be repeatedly threatened? And then I realized... they were living with the person who would eventually kill them."

It's Reese's birthday, and since there's no new numbers, Finch gives him the day off along with a birthday present: a key, though what it opens isn't clear. He ponders this over a xiangqi game in the park with his friend, Mr Han.

However, there is a new number and Finch is deliberately keeping Reese out of the loop, using Fusco to do the legwork instead. The number is Sarah Atkins, an abused wife on the run from her husband, a US Marshal named Jennings who is using his authority to track her down. Finch and Fusco are almost caught by Jennings before Reese intervenes, angry at being lied to and angrier still once he learns that the number is the victim of domestic abuse. Meanwhile, Agent Donnelly enlists Carter's help investigating what he suspects was Reese's first murder-for-hire in January of 2011. Though Donnelly and Carter don't realize the significance, the victim is Peter Ardnt, husband of Jessica; he was brutally murdered in his home and Reese was sloppy about cleaning up evidence he was there.

Flashbacks reveal the circumstances surrounding the crime. Following the Ordos mission, Reese returned to America to find Jessica, following up on her distraught phone call, and learns that she was killed in a car accident some months previously. Reese, however, knows better: Peter was a spousal abuser and accidentally killed Jessica in a rage, staging the car accident to cover it up. Reese breaks into the Ardnt house to watch videos of Jessica and Peter's wedding. When Peter returns, Reese makes it clear he knows what really happened before making his move.

Jennings catches up with Sarah and tries to get her out of the city, but Reese pursues, helps Sarah escape and packs Jennings into the trunk of his car. Finch calls Carter for help; her investigation, more thorough than Donnelly's, led her to learn that Jessica was abused by her husband and that Reese was her ex-lover. She tries to stop Reese from doing anything rash, offering to arrest Jennings and take him back to New York, but Reese refuses and drives off with him. Days later, Reese returns; Finch tells him the key is for an apartment, and when Reese goes there, he finds that it overlooks the park where he plays xiangqi with Mr Han. Carter gets a call from the warden of a Mexican prison and learns that Jennings was imprisoned there by Reese, who has previously delivered "one or two Americans". And after using her new found knowledge of Reese to obtain a copy of his service record, she shreds it to prevent Donnelly from finding out any more, though she keeps a photo of Reese and Jessica in happier times.

In the coda, the audience revisits Reese visiting the hospital where Jessica worked and learning that she died; this time, it's revealed that Finch was there too, disguised as a patient, with a file on Reese, Jessica and Peter.

Tropes present in this episode include

  • Actor Allusion: Sarah Jennings is played by Dagmara Dominczyk, who starred alongside Jim Caviezel in "The Count of Monte Cristo".
  • Berserk Button / Unstoppable Rage: Abusive husbands apparently take this Up to Eleven for Reese. And you thought he went berserk in "Baby Blue"!
  • Continuity Nod: Like the pilot, this episode begins with Reese and Jessica making love then cutting to Reese sitting in public transportation.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Jennings is on the receiving end of a very brutal, and entirely one-sided, beating from Reese. Twice.
  • Death Glare: Reese gives one to Finch.
    Reese: "Get Out."
    Finch: "Excuse me?"
    Reese: "Leave the laptop, now Harold, and get out."
  • Fictional Document: Stress Fractures in Titanium, the book Reese is reading at the beginning of the episode—which is also a Shout-Out to the 1995 film Heat.
  • Flashback Within a Flashback: The flashback scene of John watching videos of Jessica and Peter flashes back to his encounter with Jessica at the airport in 2006, reminding him and us that Jessica ended up marrying Peter because John didn't ask her to wait for him.
  • Forgotten Birthday: Averted as Finch not only did not forget Reese's birthday, he even got him a present and gave him the day off!
    • Which would have been a lot more touching if it hadn't been a ploy to keep Reese in the dark about the case he was working on...
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Reese could never have afforded the apartment he moves into at the end of the episode before he met Finch.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Whatever Reese did to Peter, it wasn't pretty.
  • Meaningful Echo: Reese's voice-over from the beginning of the pilot returns here, as something Reese says to Peter, foreshadowing the "real monster" unleashed by Jessica's murder.
  • Removing The Earpiece: Reese removes his after Finch suggests that they let the police handle Jennings. It's the first time he's ever done so deliberately, and is yet another indication of just far he may be planning to go to stop Jennings.
  • Shout-Out: Maybe; the episode title is also the title of an episode of The Prisoner.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Reese himself, in the flashback. Maybe. Peter's fate is left somewhat ambiguous (the ending implies that he might have ended up in the Mexican prison), and Word of God has said they don't plan to ever reveal what actually happened to him.
  • Tearjerker: Practically the whole episode qualifies. I dare you not to cry.
  • That Man Is Dead
    Peter: Who the hell are you?
    Reese: That's a good question. I haven't known the answer for a long time.
  • Very Special Episode: Team Machine does not tolerate domestic violence.
  • We Need a Distraction: Reese calls the phone in Jennings' motel room moments before he bursts through the door.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: This episode gives us a vague idea of what happened to Peter and Andrew Benton. Through the phone call with the Mexican Police and Carter she asks if any other Americans besides Peter is down there. He answers there are a few. Though not confirmed it suggests that Reese sent both of them down there.