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Recap / Person of Interest S02 E01

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Season 2, Episode 1:

The Contingency

I just wanna find my friend. See, I don't have many friends. Just the one, in fact.

Following the previous season's cliffhanger, Reese picks up the phone and receives a message from the Machine: a seemingly-random string of words and letters. At the library, he manages to crack the cypher—it corresponds to the labels on the spines of the library books, using their Dewey Decimal System classifications to form the person's Social Security number—and gets the number of a down-on-his-luck accountant who embezzled money from neo-Nazi drug dealers. Reese initially thinks the accountant will provide him a lead to finding Finch, but it turns out he's just another person who needs help: Finch's contingency is that Reese take over their mission and help the helpless alone. In the course of protecting the accountant, Reese decides he's had enough and tells the Machine he'll quit unless it bends its programming and figures out a way to help him find Finch. The Machine complies, giving Reese a new number, and he goes on to take out the neo-Nazis. Afterwards, Reese tracks the new number to a fourteen-year-old girl who disappeared many years ago from Corpus Christi, Texas; he suspects this girl is Root.


Meanwhile, Carter takes over the investigation into Alicia Corwin's murder, but she's not the only one taking an interest. Denton Weeks of the NSA is summoned to Washington by his superior "Pennsylvania Two" (previously seen directing the assassins in "No Good Deed") and told that in response to the death of one of their own, someone else will be taking over the Machine's oversight. One of the superior's goons infiltrates the NYPD and steals or corrupts the investigation files, giving Carter no other leads. At the episode's end, Reese visits her with the Corpus Christi lead and informs her they're both going to Texas.

Root and Finch are traveling south, with the former threatening to hurt innocent people unless things go smoothly. She commits a number of seemingly-random crimes, first robbing a pharmacy for particular medications and later using them to poison a woman in a restaurant in order to steal her phone and send her lover a message. Along the way, Root explains that after growing up in complete bewilderment of human behavior, she realized that people are a cosmic accident — but the Machine is different. It was designed, and to be able to predict human behavior, it must be a little bit human itself. Root is enamored with the Machine and wants to "set it free". In the final stage of her strange crime spree, she and Finch break into the woman's house and wait for her lover to come home. When he does, he turns out to be Denton Weeks, summoned by the message Root sent, and Root knocks him out with a hypodermic needle.


In flashback, Finch starts testing the Machine's programming, running some "hide and seek" tests in the streets of New York and later taking his phone into a casino so the Machine can predict the best course of action. Afterwards, as Finch leaves the casino, the Machine sends him a "stay" message via mobile phone and it saves him from being hit by a drunk driver. Finch takes the Machine to task, and programs it to put the safety of others above Finch.


Tropes in this episode:

  • Accidental Truth:
    Old man: Somebody out there must like you, my friend.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Root actually wants to invoke this. "Humanity has gone as far is it's going to go. I want to see what happens next."
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: Root makes it clear that if Finch calls for help, she'll kill not him but an innocent third party.
  • Angry Guard Dog: Reese gets the neo-Nazis' dog to come over to his side because it's a military-trained dog, and Reese knows the proper commands.
  • Battle Discretion Shot: Reese taking down the Aryan Brotherhood gang, concluded by the requisite Destination Defenestration.
  • The Book Cipher: Reese works out how Finch is getting the Numbers.
  • Bookends: Reese Trespassing to Talk to Carter.
  • Bound and Gagged: With bondage gag balls too. Reese suggests they keep Fusco's in his mouth.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Or black bag full of bearer bonds.
  • Call-Back:
    • Several to the Pilot episode, notably Reese quoting Finch to himself while working in the Library.
    I gave you a job, Mr. Reese. I never said it would be easy.
    • Special Counsel discusses the events of "No Good Deed".
  • Card Sharp: Finch briefly becomes one thanks to the Machine's card-counting skills. Of course, at the end of the evening he deliberately loses all the money he won so that nobody realizes that he was cheating.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: For Team Machine we have the addition of Bear and Leon Tao. For Northern Lights, we're introduced to Hersh.
  • Continuity Nod: Carter returns the bag of weapons Reese gave her in "Flesh and Blood".
  • Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind: Carter coming to Reese's rescue at the end.
  • Drunk Driver: Nearly runs down Finch at the casino in one of the flashback scenes.
  • False Reassurance: Root does this a lot.
  • First-Name Basis: Fusco notes that Carter has started calling Reese by his first name. Root does this as Terms of Endangerment.
  • Foreshadowing: The ability of the Machine to change its own programming becomes important later.
  • Friendship Moment: Lots of them from Reese, to the point of blackmailing a sentient supercomputer in order to save his Only Friend.
  • Freudian Threat: With a dog and a pair of hedge clippers.
  • Game of Chicken: Reese is about to be assaulted by armed neo-Nazis and he will only run out of danger if the Machine helps him find Finch.
  • He Knows Too Much: Reese finds the dead body of the DMV clerk who sold Root her fake driver's license.
  • He's Dead, Leon: Reese points this out.
  • How Many Fingers?: Finch while field-testing the Machine.
  • I'm Not Hungry: Finch refuses to eat, or do much talking. Having been blindsided by Root, he's clearly unwilling to give her any more information about himself whatsoever.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Accompanied by Badass Boast.
    Criminal: Leon stole more than enough, in fact to make it worth us killing a cop so maybe we can make a deal. You leave Leon here with us and you can keep looking for your friend.
    Reese: You know, the guy who owned this badge would probably have accepted that deal. But I'm not him.
    Criminal: So who are you?
    Reese: The guy who shot him and stole his badge.
  • Improvised Weapon: Reese knocks a Badass Biker off his motorbike with a fire extinguisher.
  • Implied Death Threat
    "I might be hard to reach for a few days."
    "Denton, we can always reach you."
  • Inflationary Dialogue: Leon, when Reese asks him if he's sure he lost all the money.
    Leon: No, I'm... I'm pretty certain. [Reese squints at him] Like, 80% certain. [another look from Reese] Maybe 75% certain...
  • I Know You're Watching Me
  • I'm Not Hungry: Finch refuses to eat or talk to Root at first.
  • Jerkass Ball: Reese never was particularly nice to Fusco but he takes it Up to Eleven in this episode as he races to find Finch.
    Fusco: "John"? We're on a First-Name Basis?
    Carter: What do you call him?
    Fusco: Bane of my existence.
    • On the other hand, when John asserts that he only has one friend in the world, Fusco makes a dismayed noise through his gag, prompting John to actually amend himself with "Okay, maybe two."
  • Just a Machine: Only Root knows otherwise.
  • Kinky Cuffs: Leon tries to pass off his handcuffs as this.
  • Large and in Charge: Titus was HUGE, okay?
    Reese: Pick on someone your own size...well someone a little...closer to it.
  • The Load: Leon, who has to be hauled along on Reese's attempt to find Finch. Not that he's any eager to stay.
  • Machine Worship: Root's description of the Machine is somewhat... loving.
  • Morality Chain: Fusco says he doesn't want to see what Reese will become without Finch holding him back.
  • Mr. Exposition: Reese starts talking to himself as he tries to figure out what is going on and what the Machine wants him to do. It is a sign of how much he has grown to depend on Finch as his Mission Control. This really freaks out the POI as well as the bad guys.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: Reese reluctantly adds Fusco to his list of friends when he makes an annoyed grunt (due to his gag).
  • The Nicknamer: Fusco calls Finch Mr Vocabulary and Reese "Bane of my Existence".
  • No Man Should Have This Power: Subverted; it isn't the government that Finch doesn't trust with the Machine, it's himself.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Root spends most of the episode making this comment to Finch. Eventually, he concedes that she's right — which is why he knows it's important to keep the Machine out of her hands.
  • Obligatory Joke: Reese's "gag order" gag re the gag in Fusco's mouth.
  • Once for Yes, Twice for No / How Many Fingers?: Finch communicating with the Machine.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: What Leon is doing to the neo-Nazis.
  • Pitiful Worms: "They must look like ants to you, Harold."
  • Previously On…: From The Machine's perspective, replacing the usual Opening Narration.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: Reese runs across this for the first time when fighting a seven-foot-tall neo-Nazi bruiser.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless/Misapplied Phlebotinum: Lampshaded by Root; the true implication of the Machine is not its potential misuse as a tool of Big Brother, but that to successfully predict human actions, Finch had to have created artificial intelligence. Root can't believe that Finch's response to doing this was to Black Box the system and hand it over to a corrupt and power-hungry US government, and is determined to set the Machine free.
  • Roaring Rampage of Rescue: Try and stop Reese from finding Finch. I dare you.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Root grinds up a drug she's stolen from a chemist and slips it into a woman's drink (she's addicted to painkillers, so it's probably meant to look like an overdose). When the woman collapses, Root uses the distraction to steal her mobile phone as she's The Mistress of her target, to whom she sends a text to lure him into a trap.
    Root: She'll be OK. In a few months.
  • Staring Down Cthulhu: It takes a certain kind of defiant badassery to stare down an omniscient sentient supercomputer until it does what you want.
  • Tattooed Crook
  • Trojan Prisoner: Reese allows himself to be taken prisoner knowing they'll take him to the men who are holding Fusco and Leon.
  • Übermensch: Root all but uses the word when describing herself to Finch.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Averted; Leon is understandably freaked out by Reese's bizarre and badass behavior, but makes a point of thanking him at the end.
  • Walk-In Chime-In: The Aryan Brotherhood does this a lot.
  • We Need a Distraction: Root slices open Finch's hand to distract a chemist so she can steal medical supplies.
  • Wham Line: Although implied in the previous season, Root confirms that the Machine is a fully-fledged Artificial Intelligence.
    Root: I don't want to control your machine... I just want to set it free.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Leon pulls a fake heart attack to escape from police custody.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Reese's response when he realises that Tao isn't a clue to Finch's whereabouts, but another Victim of the Week he's expected to save. Then Carter's response when Reese turns up in her house with a packed suitcase, ready for the next episode.