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Season 1, Episode 21:

Many Happy Returns

It's Reese's birthday, and since there's no new numbers, Finch gives him the day off along with a birthday present: a key, though what it opens isn't clear. He ponders this over a xiangqi game in the park with his friend, Mr Han.

However, there is a new number and Finch is deliberately keeping Reese out of the loop, using Fusco to do the legwork instead. The number is Sarah Atkins, an abused wife on the run from her husband, a US Marshal named Jennings who is using his authority to track her down. Finch and Fusco are almost caught by Jennings before Reese intervenes, angry at being lied to and angrier still once he learns that the number is the victim of domestic abuse. Meanwhile, Agent Donnelly enlists Carter's help investigating what he suspects was Reese's first murder-for-hire in January of 2011. Though Donnelly and Carter don't realise the significance, the victim is Peter Ardnt, husband of Jessica; he was brutally murdered in his home and Reese was sloppy about cleaning up evidence he was there.

Flashbacks reveal the curcimstances surrounding the crime. Following the Ordos mission, Reese returned to America to find Jessica, following up on her distraught phone call, and learns that she was killed in a car accident some months previously. Reese, however, knows better: Peter was a spousal abuser and accidentally killed Jessica in a rage, staging the car accident to cover it up. Reese breaks into the Ardnt house to watch videos of Jessica and Peter's wedding. When Peter returns, Reese makes it clear he knows what really happened before making his move.

Jennings catches up with Sarah and tries to get her out of the city, but Reese pursues, helps Sarah escape and packs Jennings into the trunk of his car. Finch calls Carter for help; her investigation, more thorough than Donnelly's, led her to learn that Jessica was abused by her husband and that Reese was her ex-lover. She tries to stop Reese from doing anything rash, offering to arrest Jennings and take him back to New York, but Reese refuses and drives off with him. Days later, Reese returns; Finch tells him the key is for an apartment, and when Reese goes there, he finds that it overlooks the park where he plays xiangqi with Mr Han. Carter gets a call from the warden of a Mexican prison and learns that Jennings was imprisoned there by Reese, who has previously delivered "one or two Americans". And after using her newfound knowledge of Reese to obtain a copy of his service record, she shreds it to prevent Donnelly from finding out any more, though she keeps a photo of Reese and Jessica in happier times.

In the coda, the audience revisits Reese visiting the hospital where Jessica worked and learning that she died; this time, it's revealed that Finch was there too, disguised as a patient, with a file on Reese, Jessica and Peter.

Tropes present in this episode include

  • Gory Discretion Shot: Whatever Reese did to Peter, it wasn't pretty.
  • Meaningful Echo: Reese's voiceover from the beginning of the pilot returns here, as something Reese says to Peter, foreshadowing the "real monster" unleashed by Jessica's murder.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Reese himself, in the flashback.
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