Our Number is Tommy Clay, a family man who works for an armoured car company. Reese takes a job there to prevent what Our Heroes expect will be a robbery. It is – but the thieves have an inside man. Clay shoots Reese and kills another employee, kills his accomplices later, is killed by the mistress with whom he planned to run away, she is killed by an HR officer who wants the stolen goods, and Fusco kills that officer to protect Reese.
As Finch says near the end, “Did we actually accomplish anything here?” The title of the episode refers to a concept in Hindu mythology with which I am unfamiliar, but the Internet tells me it refers to the natural tendency of the strong to prey upon the weak – rather like the law of the jungle. This episode is a chain reaction of selfishness. Our Heroes don’t get to do much more than clean up the aftermath.
I think this episode only works because it’s a reflecting pool for Reese’s massive emotional trauma. We aren’t invested in Tommy and Ashley and their stupid plans, but we are invested in the way Reese is invested.
In this episode we see what actually went down when Reese left the CIA: his partner was ordered to shoot him in the back and the Agency cleaned them both up with a cruise missile. Reese is understandably sensitive to Tommy betraying his workmates and family. But the whole thing is made worse, because Reese isn’t just betrayed by the CIA – he is betrayed by them after choosing them over going to Jessica. He chooses one more run of danger and duty over helping the person that connects him to the world.
Tommy has everything Reese wants: normal life, wife, children. And yet Tommy gets sick of all this, of the danger and risk that come from working an armoured car for other people, and he throws it away. Tommy’s selfishness leads him into criminal waters, where he gets sucked down by the undertow of the law of the jungle. Untrustworthy people tend not to trust people. And so Tommy is betrayed, and Ashley is betrayed, and HR is betrayed (though we don’t care so much about that).
Past-Reese commits himself to serving his country selflessly and is betrayed. Tommy et al commit themselves to selfish gain and are betrayed. What alternative does the show offer us?
Selflessness conditioned by relationship
The alternative the show offers us is to become Fusco. He’s the one that stops the endless cascade of selfishness, and he does it because of how he’s changed this season. Carter stands in the same place but she has never really stood anywhere else. Fusco shows us the journey from a lack of objective morality to possessing a renewed moral code. But this journey isn’t about him learning something or discovered something himself, but about him being almost co-opted into Our Heroes by Reese.
Fusco is what he is not just because he does the same thing as Our Heroes, but because he does it with them. Reese can be brutal and judgemental towards Fusco. But he doesn’t look down on him. Fusco has returned to goodness through relationships, and Finch and Reese have both been driven out of what they thought were good decisions by personal loss or betrayal. They lost their old lives because of the human element – because John trusted people who didn’t trust him, because Finch didn’t share the values of his partner.
The enterprise of saving Numbers is a rejection of abstract objective morality. Our Heroes do not fight for a flag or any principle; they help people. This is, of course, its own kind of objective morality – the idea that everyone matters. What has changed is a move from the abstract to the individual and concrete. At their best, Our Heroes show us a kind of selflessness that is not abstract but deeply connected to how objective goodness is manifest in their relationships with others; the ways that people around them display the best of the universe.
This is the kind of selflessness that we call love. And it’s the only way to live.