Person of Interest – Terra Incognita Review
Terra Incognita is an exceptional episode that is notable not only for its quality but also for the fact that it centers around Reese. It has been a while since Person of Interest last devoted a full episode to exploring John’s often enigmatic and detached character, and that has resulted in him feeling oddly neglected as of late despite also being one of the show’s leads. His interactions with Dr. Campbell have allowed for occasional insights into his state of mind, but those are the exceptions as much of the time he simply seems like an emotional brick wall. This isn’t really a criticism, since it is in keeping with the isolationist persona that the show has established, and the moments where that emotional wall cracks and we see the human underneath can provide for some quality storytelling as Terra Incognita further demonstrates.
Right from the start, Terra Incognita distances itself from the average episode by replacing the standard “You are being watched” opening with a blank screen with the only sound being that of a gunshot, footsteps in snow, and labored breathing. I’ve often found the standard opening to be slightly cheesy with its excessively Orwellian approach (You’d think they were selling Apple computers), but its absence can really throw the viewer for a loop. This leads into a scene of John carrying out surveillance on a number along with Finch. The scene is quickly established as a flashback via Finch’s complaints over Bear destroying first editions in the library. Shortly afterwards, Carter joins John to keep watch as Finch leaves. Now I was skeptical about Taraji P. Henson making a reappearance, since the show already gave her an effective farewell with The Devil’s Share and I was unsure as to whether Person of Interest would be capable of incorporating her without it feeling like a gimmick. As usual, the promos didn’t do anything to assuage those concerns with the tag “You won’t believe who’s coming back for one final farewell.” Fortunately, the flashbacks serve an important function in the episode, and, while Henson’s reappearance may not have been completely necessary, it does ultimately add something to the proceedings. In the current time, further connections to Carter are drawn when Reese takes on the number of a murder suspect that had previously been investigated by the late detective as one of her earliest cases.
The number belongs to Chase Peterson, the son of a wealthy family, who found them all murdered in their apartment as part of what appears to be a robbery homicide. He left the country before the investigation was concluded and as a result it became a cold case. Peterson was a recovering drug addict at the time, which, as the also-late Detective Terney points out, gives him motive in the form of wanting to acquire drug-money. Peterson admits that he was suffering a relapse that night, but that he had returned to his parents apartment to beg forgiveness. Carter disagrees with Terney, and maintains that she believes in Chase’s innocence. In the end, the mystery part of the story is most likely the part that works the least for me. There is nothing inherently wrong with the set up, but the episode doesn’t have the time to truly lay out all the pieces, so it ends in a flurry of information in order to get the whole ordeal out of the way so that it can divert its attention to its true focus, the two individuals investigating the crime. Because this isn’t an episode about Chase Peterson, or even really Joss Carter for that matter, but instead about Reese and how he is still affected by her loss and how he defines himself in relation to it. Carter is dead, and, as a result, any story that focuses on her character now becomes less about developing that character, and more about defining others through how they respond to or reflect on the loss. The fact that Terra Incognita understands that is probably its greatest strength.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- Terra Incognita would seemingly be a reference to death, as the term translates to “unknown lands” or “unexplored lands.” It could also be a reference to John learning to put trust in others but that might be stretching the interpretation.
- The next episode’s promo is much better than usual… which is to say there isn’t one. …Maybe the next episode is the “unexplored lands.” Or maybe they really didn’t want to hint at or spoil any of the events within Asylum.
- I mentioned it earlier, but Al Sapienza reprises his role as Detective Terney. It’s nice seeing him here again… despite the fact that he’s a corrupt cop, I mean.
Terra Incognita is a damn fine episode that only suffers slightly due to some questionable plotting in the second half. I was briefly considering giving it a 5-star rating, but those minor inconsistencies in execution are nagging enough to prevent it from getting that high a recommendation. Still, this is an impressive episode that should not be missed.
In hurrying to get to the pathos of the story, Terra Incognita stumbles slightly over its own plot, but that doesn't change the fact that it is a emotional gem, and a nice opportunity to look back upon a departed character.