Person of Interest: All In

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This season, Person of Interest has really been up and down as Pete Vonder Haar has been reporting. Filling in for him last night, I had hoped I'd be seeing one of the better ones, making him regret taking the night off, but no such luck.

Which isn't to say it was all bad. It started off well and ended well but the middle (well most of it) dragged even though the team went to Atlantic City and one of its casinos. Should have been guaranteed great, right?

It started promisingly enough with sometimes sidekick and con man Leon Tao (Ken Leung) being handcuffed to a bed by Candy (a hooker with pink highlights in her hair). Sure enough for loser Leon what follows isn't exotic sex but some bad guys getting ready to remove his intestines for stealing their money.

Kapow -- in bursts Bear (the dog) and John Reese (Jim Caviezel). The former licks Leon's face while the latter smacks the bad guys, frees Leon and declines the ever resilient Leon's offer to go out for drinks. Reese is rescued by a call from Mr. Finch; a new number has come in. (It appears Leon was once again a number.)

Reese makes his way to Atlantic City where he meets/surveys Lou Mitchell (Ron McLarty), a retired watch repairman and widower who loses big at the tables playing baccarat. And apparently he does this (loses) a lot. Reese follows him to a drug store and diner where Lou comes off as a (maybe) lovable curmudgeon in his banter with the waitress, who tells him the owner has put the coffee shop up for sale. Lou is hard for Finch to background because he has "almost no digital footprint."

Studying Lou at the diner, Reese notes that all of his fingers have been broken. And he's not wearing a wedding ring. Back at the office, Reese and Finch look at Lou's 1972 wedding announcement and wonder whether he was mobbed up. They call up Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson) for help.

At the police station, Carter is visited by Detective Beecher (Sterling K. Brown) who's sort of back in her good graces after he fired the kill shot last week that saved Reese. Still suspicious of his motives and whether he's a bad cop, she's iffy on whether she'll go out on a date with him Friday night but then asks him to help her on the case.

At the casino, Lou is back to gamble again, handing in $1,500 for chips. A check by Finch reveals Lou has lost more than $320,000 in the last six months. Casino owner Darien Makris, who we know right away is a bad guy, comes over and tries to steer Lou to the slots. How does a retired widower get this kind of money? Is it because of his mob connections? Finch: "I refuse to believe that old man is capable of hurting anyone."

In a totally unbelievable scene, Detective Szymanski is manhandled through the police station. He was about to be the key witness testifying against Russian mobster Peter Yogorov but a confidential informant told someone in the police department that Szymanski was on the take. They find piles of money in his home so, of course, it must be true. Carter protests but gets nowhere. Then she finds out it was Beecher who turned in the information.

The cop from the HR secret bad cop society shows up to inform the Russian that his problems will be taken care of. Alonzo Quinn, HR leader, meets with Yogorov and says for the right amount of money, all his problems will disappear. They shake hands on it. (Although no amount is ever stated.)

Finch, pretending to be an IRS agent looking into operations at the casino, and Lou play baccarat at the diner; Lou winning every hand. So it's not because he's lousy at the game. He's losing on purpose. Finch delivers the "you're in grave danger" speech which Lou disregards, tossing Finch's keys in the lobster tank on the way out.

Reese eventually discovers Makris has been using his casino to launder money coming from his drug operation. A group of old people - like Lou - have been coerced into picking up the money from the neighborhood drug store (enclosed in their pill bottles) and then losing it all at the tables. Lou's in trouble now (hence the number from the machine) because he's been skimming off the top, dropping the occasional chip in his pocket and Makris won't tolerate that.

About this point you might be asking, where's Detective Fusco (Kevin Chapman)? Well disappointingly enough, missing for most of this episode, only issuing the occasional dire warning to Carter to "watch your back" and "If you follow that money they found on Szymanski you might not like what you find."

Lou leaves the casino to be confronted by Makris's bad guys, but before they can beat him up, Reese arrives and bashes them. He identifies himself as working with Harold (Finch) and Lou astutely observes that they aren't really with the IRS right?

Turns out Lou is working for Makris because he was on a list of card sharks that Makris got ahold of and started squeezing him for cheating. Lou had been trying to raise money to pay for his dying wife Marilyn's cancer treatments. Finch gives him money and a ticket and puts him on a bus to Chicago but anyone who thinks Lou is leaving has never seen a television show before in his life.

Reese and Finch decide to help the other elders caught in the trap and bring in Leon to play a playboy millionaire, staking him to $1 million in chips. The idea is he'll create a diversion while they hack into the casino's records. Apparently the casino's security system is so good that even a super hacker like Finch - and the creator of the MACHINE - can't get into it unless Reese puts boots on the ground.

In due course, Lou, who's supposed to be dead is spotted gambling at one of the tables. Finch decides to go "all in" and stakes him for $2 million, which, using his card tricks, he turns into a $20 million win. He and Reese walk out to be confronted with the bad guys who have Finch and Leon. We're treated to a brief game of Russian Roulette in a basement washroom (Lou palms the bullet) and the good guys triumph with the bad guys being led away in squad cars.

Meanwhile Carter has proven that the money stashed in Szymanski's apartment came from a bust at old arch enemy Elias's place so someone in NYPD really did set up the other detective. He's freed and sitting down to dinner with the ADA on the Russian case and the chief of staff/HR leader, who ascertains that they both are certain they'll be able to convict the Russian now.

Whereupon he stands up and shoots them both dead. No more Szymanski and no more unnamed female assistant district attorney.

Lou doesn't get to keep the $20 million in winnings; it's being held as evidence. Finch gives Lou a $2 million watch to repair so maybe he can buy and save the coffee shop.

Next week: Hopefully back to a better story.

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