Heroes Ex Machina: A Review of Person of Interest
- Alex Wainer TheFish.com Contributing Writer
- 2011 24 Oct
CBS is the network of the procedural, that sturdy genre of investigators on the local, state, and federal level that tends to spawn spinoffs: NCIS, CSI, Criminal Minds, etc., not to mention Blue Bloods, a family of law enforcers, Hawaii Five-O, tropical cops, and The Mentalist, a criminal mind reader.
CBS's viewership skews older than the most desired 18-49 bull's eye desired by advertisers, but everyone would love to have the network's batting average. After you've launched several franchises like these, how do you vary the form without losing your successful formula?
By having your investigators operate outside the law, using knowledge no on else has and illegal methods. Person of Interest is an intriguing new series that allows the network to venture outside the safe lines of cop shows and take a walk on the dark side of crime time.
Michael Emerson (Lost) plays Finch, a computer genius who was commissioned by the government after 9/11 to develop a giant computer system that gathers information pointing toward suspicious activity. This involves among other things, monitoring the phone calls, e-mails and security cameras of New York City in ways that suggest there is no real privacy anymore: the price we pay to be safe.
Anything pointing toward possible terrorist threats is flagged by national security agencies, but Finch realizes that there's much more "irrelevant" information existing below the level of a terrorist threat, pointing to impending lethal threats to an individual.
Deciding he cannot ignore this information, Finch taps into the machine just enough to not reveal his presence, receiving only the Social Security number of an apparent intended victim. He has the information, but needs someone who can use it to track down who is at risk and why.
That's why he recruits John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a government special ops agent who was believed dead until Finch finds him. A man who has killed many in the line of duty, he feels betrayed by the government agency he'd worked and fakes his death.
But he has the skills and anonymity to find and fix whatever danger surrounds the person of interest whose number has come up. Finch invites Reese to use his skills to save lives. "Knowledge is not my problem," Finch tells him, "Doing something with that knowledge—that's where you'd come in."
So, the new series is a procedural, in that it involves investigation of a crime, but one that hasn't happened yet. Finch and Reese must use the technology and techniques that law enforcement cannot employ to save a life, even if it isn't always the person they think it is.
Person of Interest was created by Jonathan Nolan, who co- wrote the screenplay for The Dark Knight with his brother, director Christopher Nolan. The series shares with that superhero blockbuster the theme of electronic surveillance as a two-edged sword. Finch's super surveillance system isn't stored at a government building somewhere.
"The machine is everywhere," he tells Reese, "watching with ten thousand eyes, listening with a million ears." Episodes are interspersed with security camera footage with tagged figures and other data floating across the screen, information available on millions of people and exploited by the two men in their private crusade of crime prevention.
Person of Interest is sort of a superhero movie without the costume. In fact, seeing Reese a man with a secret identity, and connected electronically to Finch's secret high-tech lair, drop in on criminals gatherings and leave them groaning in pain, one can't help thinking that Nolan has created a sort of plainclothes dark knight.
And like that vigilante, he attracts the attention of the police in the person of New York police detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson) who tries to capture the man who keeps intruding violently into criminal affairs.
The series' first episodes indicate that there's more to both Finch and Reese than we first see. Both have flashbacks to earlier, somewhat happier times, and both have personal reasons for going after criminals. Finch walks with a limp and can hardly turn his head, but in flashbacks, he walks normally.
Reese had a relationship with a woman years ago, but something has happened to close him off. Caviezel's lean features and sad eyes make Reese a singularly distinct prime-time crime fighter and he brings movie star mystique to the thriller. Michael Emerson, who intrigued Lost viewers for years as the despicable Benjamin Linus, is a sharp contrast, exuding intelligence and mystery.
This procedural of the paranoiac post 9/11 era has gotten better with every episode. A series this ambitious not only has a backstory to reveal, it's also already unfolding a larger story of forces behind the scenes; it could be that the self-appointed crime fighters are uncovering something bigger than individual victims-to-be.
A lot of things could happen: will Detective Carter start seeing these mystery men as de facto allies, and will this compromise her official duties? Or will she expose them as well-meaning but unaccountable agents and potentially out-of-control wild cards?
So far, the series has balanced individual cases with suspenseful ongoing sub-plots that show how precarious a situation Finch and Reese have created for themselves.
It will be interesting to see how all this plays out the first season, and if done well, beyond. The most compelling thread in the narrative fabric is that of Reese, the haunted government hit man who strives to save others.
Is he beyond saving himself? Is he to remain a man of blood, fated to be forever shut out of a society he makes safe one person of interest at a time?
*This review first published 10/24/2011
**Watch Person of Interest Thursdays on CBS