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In the pilot episode of Person Of Interest, we first meet John Reese as a depressed, possibly suicidal, messed up tramp. He has long dirty and unkempt hair and old, ragged clothes.

After the incident on the subway where he beats up some thugs, he is released by the police and then contacted by Harold Finch and offered a job that uses his skill set. After hearing Finch's proposition he says he is not interested and walks away.

The next scene has him in a decent hotel room. He has now shaved, had a hair cut and is wearing respectable clothes. The transition is jarring.

He rejected the offer from Finch. So why did he get cleaned up?

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If you haven't watched all of it, then you are missing some of the back story (though it's not necessary to know, there is enough in the pilot story). He is hiding, to some degree, from the CIA in plain sight as a bum (a rather drunk depressed bum).

He was on a CIA mission and his superiors secretly gave both him and his partner orders to kill the other, and the CIA believes him to be dead. He came back to the US for a past love, only to find out she had been killed.

During the police scene in the pilot episode, as they are running his fingerprints, they identify him as wanted in several countries. The beginning of the hotel scene shows a police sketch of him in the news asking for help finding him.

At this point in time, he is living anonymously, now his cover has been blown. Changing his appearance was likely an attempt to throw off anyone that might be looking for John Reese the bum, including the police, CIA, and Finch.

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  • While this certainly sounds like a good explanation (given his backstory) it doesn't really explain his motivation in this context. He starts depressed and has given up on life (we also find out why in later episodes). He isn't hiding to try and have a life. He is done with it. So wanting to continue to evade the CIA doesn't fit. The big question is why does he want to live at all? – matt_black Jun 5 at 17:24
  • @matt_black For the purposes of the scene, he is shaving as he is watching the news about the police searching for him. IMO by combining those two elements, they are implying he is trying to change his look to evade capture, and your question was why clean up. If the question was why choose life, that could be more debatable. – rtaft Jun 6 at 13:51
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It looks like Reese didn't have the money to afford himself a hotel room, nice suit or a cleanup.

As it is described here and here,

In the initial 'pilot script' written by Jonathan Nolan, Finch gives Reese a few hundred dollars to pay him for the time Finch needed to explain the job he had in mind for Reese. In the script, Reese would eventually use the money to pay for the small hotel room where he shaved and cut his hair. These scenes were cut from the episode...

Now, 'why he bothered to clean himself up' is an open ended problem. what I think is that, he gradually has a change of mind. Now that he has something to start with, he now wants have a job for daily lifeliving. not that he did not know it before, but now he understands what he needs...i.e., a purpose. Though he rejected the job offer that Finch gave him, he could still look for other petty jobs for which he needed a decent look. I believe he was also hiding from his superiors. Now why he should be hiding if any random person like Finch, whom he doesn't even know, knows his whereabouts and how to find him?

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  • Which certainly explains the how Rees was able to get cleaned up. But it still leaves the why he bothered as an open question. The transition from tramp to respectable is very jarring, even with those extra cut scenes. Did they explain some change in Reese's motivation as well? – matt_black Jun 3 at 11:17
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    Well they didn't explain the motivation part. I guess it is open for other interpretations..I am gonna edit my answer to include my take on it.. – Spectra Jun 3 at 11:21
  • @matt_black unless you have some mental issue (addiction, illness, etc) it doesn't shock me at all that someone can change their mind and decide to "cut your hair, and get a job". – RonJohn Jun 4 at 2:44
  • @RonJohn Reese clearly does have a serious mental issue. He has been betrayed by his employer, his ex girlfriend is dead and even Finch notes he is pursuing faster,more efficient ways to kill himself than drinking himself to death. Why he snaps out of this despite having rejected Finch's initial offer is the question. – matt_black Jun 8 at 15:09
  • @matt_black there's a huge gulf between "bad things happening to a normal person, which makes them want to give up", and schizophrenia, bipolar, addiction and clinical depression. – RonJohn Jun 8 at 15:15

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