Hello and welcome to the inaugural WHY I LOVE…In this column I will tell you why I love something. It might be a game, a comic, a movie, a TV show…it could be anything (other than politics, religion or anything that apparently might be found offensive by anyone on Earth).
If you’ve never watched Person of Interest you have missed a fantastic show! It’s one of my favorite shows every season and for good reason. For all five years the show has had a top notch cast, poignant social commentary, and some of the most cerebral writing on television that mixes thought provoking questions with dark and witty humor. This should come as no surprise as it was created by Jonathon Nolan, co-writer of The Prestige, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Returns and Interstellar. He was also responsible for the movie Memento and oh, yeah his brother is acclaimed director Christopher Nolan.
If that wasn’t enough J.J. Abrams is an executive producer. If you don’t know who he is then you should probably just stop reading and move along. While it started as a case of the week (or perhaps number of the week would be more accurate) procedural show it evolved into a very serialized drama intricately woven to craft suspense, suspicion and tension with a very character driven plot. As with Lost the show uses flashbacks to both move the plot forward and connect the characters while providing backstory and character development.
Ex-CIA operative John Reese is presumed dead and living as a vagrant in New York City when he decides to help innocent passengers being terrorized by a gang of young men on the subway. As a result he is arrested by Detective Joss Carter. She recognizes his military training and finds his fingerprints match those of a person of interest at several recent crime scenes, but before she can question him more he is whisked away by a high powered attorney.
This is where he meets Harold Finch for the first time. After 9/11 Finch created a machine to watch everyone for the purpose of uncovering and preventing potential terrorist attacks for the government. It turned out the machine also found those who would be involved in a crime or more importantly kill or be killed. The government treated them as irrelevant, caring more about the bigger picture. The twist is that the machine only gives Finch a Social Security Number, not a date, time, place or whether the number is the victim or perpetrator. Finch hires Reese to become the muscle to his brains and help save/stop these irrelevant numbers. Reese then becomes the Man in the Suit.
Throughout the series they enlist the help of NYPD Detective Carter along with Detective Lionel Fusco, a dirty cop forced to the side of angels only to become a good, moral man. The work he does is the penance for all the wrong he has done in the past.
Along the way Finch and Reese are joined in their quest to save the irrelevant numbers by former government assassin Sameen Shaw and black hat hacker Root, along with an assortment of both good and bad guys who help fight the fight for either philosophical or personal reasons.
As the show moved away from the number of the week format several new threats emerged. There were the corrupt cops known as HR, the tech company Decima who controlled the machine called Northern Lights by the government, Samaritan operatives (an enemy AI bent on shaping and controlling the world) and The Brotherhood (a drug running street gang that rivaled sometimes frenemy Carl Elias and his syndicate).
As the show progressed the stories became more over-arcing, beginning with the second half of season 1 with HR. That’s when the show really picked up steam. As it introduced more characters it found a way to enrich the cast it had and develop the new characters as well. A lot of shows fail to develop what they have, let alone any new ones they introduce. The characters on POI were rich, deep and complex with logical and emotional reasoning and behaviors. You would be hard-pressed to find a more well written show.
I loved the show because of the characters. As I said, the talent assembled was top notch. The dry humor and the yin and yang between Finch and Reese always kept me entertained. The action sequences seemed authentic and no matter how big they got they never seemed CGI in the bad way. The characters were so well written they drew you into their world. You cared 100% if they lived or died. There aren’t a lot of shows you can say that about.
Beyond all of that I love the thought provoking nature of the show. What price is too high for peace? Just because you can do something does it mean you should? Can a machine be God? Just because something knows all and sees all is it God? What lengths will you go to for revenge or to protect those you love?
The best episode, to me, of the entire series is Season 4 Episode 11 “If-Then-Else.” The short version is this: while the team is trying to stop an attack on the New York Stock Exchange and a suicide bomber in the subway the machine must decide the best course of action to successfully stop the attack, the bomb and keep the team alive. The flashbacks show Finch teaching the machine through games of chess that people aren’t disposable assets to be assigned a numerical value and sacrificed based on that value.
As the machine runs through calculations it becomes more and more difficult to envision a scenario where all members of the team make it out alive. The emotional impact of this particular episode cannot be undersold. After numerous swerves the machine decides on a course of action, although you can see below it doesn’t look good.
I won’t spoil the rest of the episode for you because you really should watch the entire series and especially this episode (although I LOVE spoilers!). The episode is incredibly successful in humanizing the machine. You see the painstaking logic it puts into finding an outcome where the team lives and completes their objectives. In the end it is far more human than most humans.
If you want to watch a show that is enjoyable, funny, smart, witty and thought provoking then this is the show for you. Like Marvel said about their cinematic universe, “It’s all connected.” And as the ride at Disney World says, “It’s a Small World.” Person of Interest will probably not have a happy ending, and given the buildup over 5 seasons I wouldn’t expect it to. No matter how it ends you’ll know that world will still continue on, even though we won’t be able to check in on it week after week.