Warning: for people who haven’t seen seasons three and four, spoilers are ahead! For new viewers, here’s my Person of Interest, spoiler-free “crash course”.
Ever since Person of Interest first aired in 2011, it was easy to mistake it for your typical crime procedural: Jim Caviezel starring as the mysterious ex-military forces agent with a tragic past, and the magnetic Michael Emerson co-starring as a reclusive billionaire. By chance (or, as later revealed, maybe not so!) they work together to form the basic premise of the show. Emerson’s character, Harold Finch, has built a super-computer—an Artificial Intelligence—called “The Machine”. It can predict acts of terror, but also predict acts of human violence such as potential murders. The government have utilized the Machine for detecting future terrorist attacks, but Finch cannot ignore the innocent lives that could be saved, using the Machine’s technology.
From the beginning, it started off as a very case-by-case structure—kind of like your typical CSI season. But as the season progressed, and culminated with the introduction of a terrifying character called Root (scene-stealer Amy Acker) it became clear that this show would evolve into something of a bigger picture.
And boy, it did.
Most of the episodes have consistently ranked in the upper end of IMDB’s TV ranking list. The show’s ever-expanding threat and cleverly interwoven devices that were visited later on were ingenious; the entire cast is made up of kickass characters such as Joss Carter (a gun-toting detective Taraji P. Henson, before her Empire days), Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman) and self-professed ex-doctor, Shaw, who was simply better at taking lives than saving them (a blunt and hilariously deadpan Sarah Shahi).
So back to the big question: what indeed makes Person of Interest so special?
As I have stated before it is easy to mistake Person of Interest as a crime procedural, but as the seasons go on, it is quite clear that the executive producers (Jonah Nolan, Greg Plageman and Denise The) have literally left no stone unturned. The plot is well-executed and thrilling at all times; if you miss a few episodes, don’t worry! It’s ideal for binge-watching—just be sure to make a box of tissues at the ready. That doesn’t mean to say there are a few plot holes (or strands left dangling to explore later on?) such as the mysterious caller in “Last Call”—whose identity has never revealed.
THE IMMEDIACY OF THE PLOT VS. REALITY
It is hard to put Person of Interest in a box, because is it truly sci-fi—or is it simply a cautionary tale that is merely ten minutes ahead into the future? Of course there are certain elements to it that contain truly sci-fi moments, but as Plageman said: the topics of Person of Interest are very relevant. This doesn’t just include the Edward Snowden whistleblowing saga, CIA blacksites, and the eruption of the NSA surveillance scandal, but Person of Interest also covers themes such as racism and propaganda (most notably when Control, played excellently by Camryn Manheim) executes a potential terrorist without knowing the full picture. Moments before his death, he questions whether she truly believes that he is a terrorist at all; yet she remains patriotic and loyal to her country and kills him anyway, leaving us to ponder if he was innocent after all, and if patriotism in the current world means a very different thing to what it might’ve meant years and years ago.
WOMEN KICK ASS
Here are the women on the show: Root, a borderline psychopath who initially refers to human as “bad code”; her first real introduction involves shooting an innocent woman through the head accompanied by a casual, throwaway line of “I thought she’d never shut up”. Has that endeared you to her character yet? Next up we have Joss Carter, who is the epitome of moral good and justice in the Person of Interest world—but their world doesn’t account for heroes like Joss, it doesn’t care. The world is unjust because it is shaped by human nature, and that is why Carter’s storyline is so tragic. Lastly, we have Sameen Shaw, who can single-handedly make her way out of a locked-up multi-storey building facing tens of vigilante, armed people and escape. Her response, upon making it to safety? Taking a swig of Finch’s finest whiskey, telling him he missed all the fun and pouring said whiskey on her open wounds with barely as much as a hiss. Her introduction episode remains one of the most fun and engaging episodes in all of the series. As well as the core three, there are excellent supporting roles for Zoe Morgan (Paige Turco), Kara Stanton (Annie Parisse) and the deliciously evil Martine Rousseau (played gleefully by Cara Buono). From a show that started its premise as two white “dudebros” saving a grim city from crime, it has truly developed into one of the most dynamic, diverse shows I have ever seen, whilst keeping the plot tight and exciting all the time.
What’s refreshing here too is that the main male characters of the show, Reese and Finch, are totally unblinking towards Root, Shaw and Carter, whom they work closely with. They never oversexualise them (apart from that one awkward episode where it was a necessity—and Shaw responded with an exasperated “yoga instructor? Really?”) but Shaw eats her steak from a knife and chomps on her sandwich like she hasn’t seen food in days. She can’t “shoot on an empty stomach” and as tiny a point it is, it’s glorious to watch Shaw devour her food in an almost animalistic manner, instead of slimly, politely picking at it.
ROOT AND SHAW
I think these two deserve their own subtitle, don’t they? On paper, it seems frankly ridiculous. Their first meetings goes a little like this: Shaw meets up with Root, who is playing under an alias (of course) and ends up with Root tasering Shaw, tying her up to a chair and about to torture her with a sizzling hot iron. It spurs two excellent lines—one from Shaw (“I enjoy this sort of thing”) and Root nonchalantly exclaiming “Just while we were about to connect!” when government officials find their meeting spot. And yet it evolves and evolves. Sarah Shahi and Amy Acker’s chemistry sizzles. It’s a pairing with a chasm between them. It shouldn’t work, but oh boy, it so does. Every time they are on-screen together it is a joy to watch their flirtatious banter, and the way Acker’s Root knows how to press Shaw’s buttons every single time. Yet it is so much more than just flirting. Root really begins to acknowledge her feelings for Shaw in early season four, and the fear is palpable in Root’s eyes when Shaw nearly dies after the psychotic God-Mode Martine nearly kills her in a department store. In the midseason finale, when Shaw sacrifices herself for the team, it is perhaps the most heartbreaking moment of television I have ever seen: from Shaw, who lived in isolation and didn’t care of anyone else, developing into a hero of sorts because she cared about her team. And Root, raw and screaming and desperate in her despair as she watches Shaw go down, as the elevators tragically slam shut. Root spends the back half of season four on an unhinged search for Shaw, not once believing she’s dead despite Reese and Finch’s suspicions. It will be intriguing to see how this develops in season five. Will Shaw come back working for Samaritan? Will she have broken under their torture? Is there any salvation for her? And will Root always stand by her side, no matter what?
This brings us nicely onto the Machine. For Root, who has steadfastly believed in the Machine so much that she saw it almost as a god, and her as her god’s prophet—she is the analogue interface. But this is where it really starts to fracture. All of our characters have had doubts about the Machine; after Carter’s death, Reese wanted nothing to do with it anymore—understandable, because should it not have predicted Carter’s death? Finch is key here—he ‘damages’ the Machine in order for it to respect human morality, but truly, how much can you teach a sentient being the meaning of being human when the Machine is absolutely not? Shaw also her doubts in the episode “The Cold War” in which she praises Samaritan’s efficiency in getting its work done, which sparks an interesting topic of conversation. If you know someone is about to do something bad, is it better as per Harold’s argument to let them have a full jury to decide that or is it better to nip it in the bud before it can come into fruition into something worse? And lastly, there is Root. Root is undoubtedly the character who puts the most trust in the Machine, and yet finds her heart broken—not just by Shaw’s loss, but by the Machine’s refusal to divulge her location. There are so many questions surrounding this complex AI—now trapped in a briefcase!—but one important theme is that humanity never loses its importance, even in a world dominated by two battling Artificial Intelligences. It is humanity who expresses love, kindness, humility, envy, hatred and pain—not an AI—and that is the fundamental difference, because this world cannot exist without humanity—in all its ugly forms—itself.
SEASON FIVE COULD BE THE LAST
Goodness, I never thought I’d see the day—but season five is reported to be condensed to thirteen episodes, with an unclear air-date from CBS. My greatest hopes are that once CBS drops it, it will be picked up by a platform like Netflix that will allow the executive producers to tell the story they truly want, and “mic drop” the way they truly want. It is truly beyond me, how Person of Interest can be shunted aside when it is one of the most original, compelling and diverse shows out there—and I can only keep my fingers crossed for more Person of Interest, post season five. There’s so much set-up (the neural implants, the scale of Samaritan, the rebuild of the Machine—all of those points I hope to touch on in future articles when it comes to season five speculation) that the thought of thirteen episodes potentially closing a truly fascinating and often mind-blowing series seems awfully unjust. Here’s to a TV channel who will treat a piece of art with true respect.
Ultimately, in a series that is invaded by this brutal war between two raging Artificial Intelligences, it is the sheer humanity in the show that is so compelling for us viewers. Who didn’t shed a tear (or a bucketload of them) during “If-Then-Else”? Who didn’t feel a sense of satisfaction when Root snapped Martine’s neck and casually lay back as if nothing had happened? Who didn’t feel for Reese, when he finally gets his chance at normal humanity in the form of Iris, his counselor, for the briefest of moments? Supported by consistently talented guest stars (such as the impressive Enrico Colantoni as Elias) the show takes us through a jagged exploration of murky morality, questionable ethics, and the inevitable tragedy that awaits the characters—yet they fight, and they do their work—because it is human nature to protect others, and that is what makes Person of Interest so special. That amidst a compelling AI vs. AI #2 plot, it is not sucked in by the sci-fi elements, but rather focuses on the painful humanity and individual loss of each character—and that’s what makes this show, amongst its radical time-warping episodes and kickass character introductions—so compelling and so satisfying to watch. If you want something to binge-watch, with kickass female leads, honestly likable male leads, compelling guest stars, a bamboozling yet “ahh, it makes sense” storyline and some really, really good acting—I implore you to watch all four seasons on Netflix (if you haven’t already done so) and wait for CBS’s spring season for season five.