In the twentieth episode of the second season of Person of Interest, Fusco’s past comes back to haunt him. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Person of Interest.
Trigger Warning: For extended talk of police brutality/corruption.
There’s always a bit of cognitive dissonance on my end whenever I watch any sort of media about police officers. There has to be, or my mind spills over into panic and terror, and let me just tell you: American media is full of shows inherently about police officers in some way or form. Really, any agents of the state! I grew up watching The X-Files. I was obsessed with Law & Order: SVU for a while. Fringe was a huge show for me.
And a little over a year ago, I had to stop watching Brooklyn Nine Nine. The show entertained me, I loved the characters, but I simply could not accept the fantasy that the writers painted for me: that precincts are full of lovable, quotable people who care about their community and consistently struggle with doing the right thing, that there’s a police force that avoids scandal and corruption and state violence through some good ol’ policing. That is not what policing is like in the United States.
Yet I only recently noticed how infrequent it is for me to experience this same dissonance as I watch Person of Interest. I’ve commented on the subversive nature of the narrative of this show before. Namely: I am not used to American shows relying so heavily on the reality of police corruption and brutality to drive their stories. Practically every cop on this show aside from Carter and Szymanski is dirty. They’re the majority. They’re the villains. And yes, that doesn’t automatically make the politics of Person of Interest radical or progressive, but it has certainly allowed someone like myself to watch the show without constantly worrying about my own mental health.
We must still interrogate the things we consume, though, and “In Extremis” presented me with a conundrum that has puzzled me. I need more, first of all, because this show is so deeply serialized that I may not be able to see the forest for the trees. I admit that openly, and I also admit that Fusco’s past is so much darker than I thought it was. This episode finally flashes back to reveal how he became friends with Detective Stills and how that then transformed into a relationship with HR. It wasn’t surprising to learn that he’d been on the take, that he’d stolen drugs and money from people whom it was easy to pin charges onto. That’s one of the most common forms of police corruption. Take it from me, who grew up amidst the trillion LAPD scandals like Rampart, or who watched the Oakland Police Department crumble under ethical nightmare after ethical nightmare the last ten years.
But he killed people. How many? Do we even know? How many people did he murder, knowing he could pin their deaths on any number of factors like race, poverty, drug use, gentrification? But there’s a bigger question that hangs over this: can he truly redeem himself? The show is asking a lot of us because, unlike Reese, we didn’t find out this part of Fusco’s backstory until the end of season two. We learned very early into the show that Reese was a contracted assassin, and every moment since that reveal has been part of Reese’s journey to become a good person. I don’t think Person of Interest is all that interested in saying a person can fully redeem themselves. Indeed, the show seems to love reminding the audience how fucked up these people are!
That’s why this is such a huge deal for Carter. Like, LOOK WHAT I JUST WROTE ABOUT HER. A great deal of her characterization is her reliance on doing what’s truly good, and this is the first time I feel like she was faced with something that was nebulous. That was so hopelessly complicated that even after she chose to save Fusco’s ass, she still isn’t sure she did the right thing. Now, the audience knows the truth, and that’s one of the many tragic things at the heart of this: HR is still getting away with it. They’re still in power, and while Carter shocked the hell out of Simmons (WHAT A GREAT MOMENT, OH MY GOD), they seem to have an endless supply of means to escape accountability. How? How can they ever take down an organization who can frame anyone at any time? Who works so counter to fairness and justice? And how do you redeem someone like Fusco who worked for them?
The story of Richard Nelson gives us an idea of how that might work. Nelson isn’t redeemed, necessarily, by the time his final scene rolls around, and I appreciated that the show portrayed his journey as immensely complicated. Here’s a man who did undeniable good as a surgeon, but who ignored his wife and daughter, committed adultery, and let his personal slide into failure. Now, his case is yet another example of how the virus that Kara Stanton let out has negatively affected The Machine, which has repeatedly given Finch numbers far later than it should have. I don’t want to ignore that. But it’s also a slow-moving tragedy about a man who knows his death is imminent and how he chooses to live his final moments. He stumbles through an apology with his daughter; he fights the inevitable; and then he decides that Reese can offer him revenge for his own murder.
Nelson’s life was full of mistakes, one of which was contributing to insider trading, but is that deserving of a death sentence? No. That is definitively stated here, and it’s one of the reasons that Fusco’s backstory is so disturbing. Those people Fusco killed didn’t deserve what they got! And so “In Extremis” slides into its unavoidably sad conclusion. Nelson gets a beautiful, beautiful revenge, but then dies the next morning after his last conversation with his daughter, WHO DIDN’T EVEN KNOW HE WAS DYING. And all of this could have been avoided had the Machine given Finch Nelson’s number BEFORE that award ceremony where he was poisoned.
This is getting really dark, isn’t it?
The video for “In Extremis” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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