One of the best science fiction themed shows on television right now is Person of Interest. The show has a fascinating premise based on very real modern day concerns, and it is executed beautifully. In case you’re not familiar with this show, episodes in the first season start with this voiceover:
“You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know, because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people; people like you. Crimes the government considered ‘irrelevant’. They wouldn’t act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You’ll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number’s up… we’ll find you”.
When the show started, it felt like it was going to be yet another CBS crime procedural, but with a bit of a science fiction twist applied. I loved the use of an artificial intelligence as part of the world building for this show, and the concept felt very timely in our post 9/11 world, but I honestly didn’t expect the show to become more than that. Here are a few reasons why I feel that way.
Person of Interest: The Cast
Jim Caviezel, as former CIA operative John Reese, is amazing. As you gradually learn more about Mr. Reese, the decisions he’s made, and the things that he has lost over the years while attempting to serve his country, you can’t help but admire Jim Caviezel. The character is generally played very calm and controlled, almost to the point that you think the character is just flat. Which usually means boring. But then you get a Reese-centric episode where you get a small glimpse at who he used to be, and why he is willing to put his life on the line for a complete stranger every week. And it’s amazing.
Before all of the mainstream attention that Taraji P. Henson began gathering for her role on Empire, she played Detective Joss Carter. Oh how I wish she had received all that critical and media attention for this role instead of her role on Empire, because I loved her on this show. She is absolutely amazing as a straight-laced, by the rules cop that gradually gets pulled into situations that are way beyond her pay-grade. And she never flinches or backs down. Right up until the end.
Amy Acker plays Samantha Groves, but prefers to be called by the alias ‘Root’. Root initially appears on the show as an antagonist to our heroes. and operates essentially as a digital hired gun. Then she discovers The Machine, which Root consistently refers to as a ‘she’ and reveres as something approaching a deity. I’m a long-time Joss Whedon fan, so the first role I ever saw Amy Acker in was in Angel. She took one of the most lovable characters on the show, and broke my heart when she died, and then blew my mind when she convincingly pulled off the transformation from the nerdy-girl Fred to ancient demon queen Illyria. So whenever Amy shows up on TV, I pay attention, because she’s awesome.
Sameen Shaw, played by Sarah Shahi, used to be a government assassin. The Machine was programed to provide ‘relevant’ data, meaning potential terrorist threats to the country, to the government, while our cast of heroes makes use of the ‘irrelevant’ data to try and prevent bad things from happening on a more individual level. Sameen used to be one of the people that would take care of the terrorist threats. But like Reese, she was eventually betrayed and other agents were ordered to kill her for knowing too much.
There’s an additional police detective that works with our heroes, Lionel Fusco, played by Kevin Chapman. I’ve never seen him in other roles before, so don’t have as much to say about him. Lionel is a formerly dirty cop that Reese essentially blackmails into helping him whenever he needs it. He ‘affectionately’ refers to Reese as ‘wonder boy’ and Shaw as “cuckoo’s nest”.
The creator of The Machine, a man known to the rest of the cast as Harold Finch, is portrayed by Michael Emerson. ‘Harold Finch’ is apparently one of many aliases the character has used over the years. Anyone who says they weren’t constantly creeped out by Benjamin Linus on Lost has no soul. Michael Emerson was constantly, amazingly creepy, yet it was somehow always an excellent performance. Having him portray a good guy seemed really strange to me at first, but it only took one episodes for me to stop thinking of him as Ben Linus. He’s just that good.
Person of Interest: The Flashbacks
Speaking of Lost, back in the day it blew my mind with how it used flashbacks to gradually illuminate the motivations behind the various plane crash survivors. At the time, it felt almost revolutionary. So the fact that Person of Interest also uses flashbacks for a very similar purpose isn’t particularly novel anymore. But how they are implemented is fascinating.
With Lost, the flashbacks were just the past (I’m intentionally ignoring the ‘future’ and ‘afterlife’ flashes from the last two seasons). The entire purpose behind them was to show the audience how a particular character became who and what they are in the present. They weren’t really memories, because the flashbacks contained information that the characters were unaware of. They existed in the show strictly for our viewing pleasure.
In Person of Interest, the flashbacks are provided directly by The Machine as it accesses archival footage of the character in question. So not only are we learning more about what has led a character to be where he or she is now, but so is The Machine. We’re watching it learn and make connections about these characters in order to figure out what it means to be human for these particular people.
Person of Interest: The Story (Spoilers!)
The first two seasons of the show feel almost like a standard crime procedural that’s standard for CBS. We gradually get more information about the characters through flashbacks, and slowly learn more about the origin of The Machine and why it operates the way it does. And it executes those tasks really well.
But there’s a pretty big shift in the third season of the show, as we witness the emergence of a second artificial intelligence that competes with The Machine. To quote Root as the situation is developing: “Do you really want to see what it looks like when two gods go to war?”
Season 3 culminates in this new A.I., named Samaritan, going online and taking over the task of provided ‘relevant’ data to the government, but it is run and controlled by a private corporation called Decima Technologies, which has its own agenda. The Machine is still active and providing the ‘irrelevant’ data to our heroes, but Season 4 has a distinctly different tone than the preceding 3 seasons. Before, our heroes were working off the grid and tried to avoid interacting with law enforcement at all unless Detective Carter or Fusco could be involved. Now they’re practically scrambling for their lives every episode because if Samaritan finds even one of them, they could all end up dead.
Person of Interest: The Future
The first three seasons of Person of Interest just recently became available for streaming on Netflix, with the fourth season slated to become available at the end of the month. So now is a great time to catch up on the show if you haven’t seen it before.
The unhappy news is that the commissioned fifth season will only be 13 episodes long, and will debut as a mid-season replacement. The producers of the show have said that they’re approaching the fifth seasons as if it will be the final season of the show.
On the one hand this makes me incredibly sad, because I want this show to keep going for a while longer. It’s fun to watch, touches on difficult but relevant ideas and questions, and the cast is incredible. (Yes, I’m having a hard time not raving about the cast.)
But if the show has to end, I’m glad it will get a deliberate conclusion to the series. Very few things bother me more these days than a TV show, especially a science fiction TV show, canceled before being able to conclude the story it was telling.
So if you’re for any reason looking for something new to watch, you should definitely check out Person of Interest.
Have you seen the series? What are your thoughts? Are you hoping for anything specific in its 5th and possibly final season? Comment below!