Person of Interest: A Crash Course
Upon realizing that my other post was chock-full of spoilers, I decided to write this. For the viewing population who haven’t seen Person of Interest yet, I shan’t lecture you (where have you been?!) but as possibly one of the most critically appraised, mind-bending, genuinely brave shows out there—I plea that you give it a go. The general, non-spoilery premise is this: the government use an artificial intelligence called the Machine, invented by Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), to predict crimes of terrors; however it ignores daily crimes and so it is up to Finch, teaming up with John Reese (Jim Caviezel) to prevent those ignored crimes. I’ve prepared a guide for the new viewer, which should cover all bases…
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
- Enough time to sit and go through 4×22 45 minute episodes—my tip would be to set X number of hours a day and give a one-and-a-half hour leeway in case you can’t resist clicking the next episode (it’ll happen).
- To renegade on my last point, just make a giant TV den a-la Bear Grylls in the living room and sit through the entire four seasons.
- Person of Interest on DVD’s or on Netflix (all four seasons are up!)
- A big multipack of tissues, or failing that, nick a gigantic loo roll from your nearest supermarket
- Enough alcohol to dull the pain, but not enough so you forget key plot points (I think you’ll just have to bear with the pain, to be honest)
- Someone to watch it with. It may be a crime/sci-fi drama that kicks ass but it’ll kick your emotions too.
What I’m hoping I’ll achieve is a guide to the wonderful Person of Interest without spoiling new viewers. Those who are active on the Internet and social media will have already seen certain stuff but if you haven’t already watched the episodes, I’d advise you not to skip a single one. Not even one. Yes, there are four seasons with twenty-two episodes each, but each episode—whilst some deviate into a procedural format—provide flashbacks and hence backstory into the team and also into the Machine. You’ll start to narrow your eyes and ponder why one character has a yellow square over their head from the Machine’s perspective and others, white boxes. Like any show it requires a deal of patience, because whilst the earlier seasons of Person of Interest would be almost blasphemous to claim as boring, they are important set-up points for later episodes that will utterly make sense if you have seen the earlier stuff. But for your advantage I have compiled a list of ten early episodes you simply cannot miss, from seasons one to two (because I am firmly in the camp that you just shouldn’t miss any episodes of seasons three and four—it’s persistently top quality TV).
This may seem like the obvious option, but this tells the story of John Reese, who he is (and eventually, bit-by-bit, it’s revealed later on in the season), how he became a dirty unshaven hobo on a train to a slick, James-Bond like figure with a Batman voice (just throwing Jim Caviezel’s name out there, for any suggestions needed…) and how he meets Harold Finch (Michael Emerson). Reese’s backstory is told with dreamy gentility, and whilst the majority of the first season can be heavy on the male side of things, these are characters that I’ve really grown to adore. It also gives us a set-up for the beginnings of the Machine. It also gives us boss-ass homicide Detective Carter (the equally boss-ass Taraji P. Henson) and a brilliant comic foil in dirty cop Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman). Basically, this episode is the root of all epicness, and should not be missed.
QUOTE OF THE EPISODE: “When you find that one person who connects you to the world, you become someone different, someone better. But when that person is taken from you, what do you become then?”—Reese. I couldn’t have picked any other.
THE FIX (1.6)
If you love Paige Turco (especially if you’re a fan of The 100), I implore you to watch this episode. You will see Dr. Abigail Griffin in a very different light. Turco plays the sultry, ultra-confident ‘fixer’ Zoe Morgan—who is hired by clients to perform favors by using her influence and reputation across New York City. She’s about as morally grey as you can get, all the while exuding a type of sassy, self-assuredness that quite simply should be as illegal as her dresses (blimey, though). This episode is very much a desperate cat-and-mouse game as Morgan becomes the target as she tries to work through the case, with the POI team always watching her and assisting if necessary. But it’s the perfect set-up at the end: Carter discovers the murder of her friend, retired Detective Bernie Sullivan, and a suspect: Carl Elias.
QUOTE OF THE EPISODE: “I know you don’t care who you hurt to get what you want. I know the only thing you do care about is money. So that’s what I’m going to take from you. Your money. All of it.”—Finch is badass sometimes, aye?
Reese’s wall of protection must come into play this episode as he endeavors to protect teacher Charlie (Enrico Colantoni). Why is a teacher the target? Well, he witnessed a shootout between two mob big-guns and is currently on-the-run—initially not knowing what for, but Reese steadily and of course tactlessly explains to him just why. One of my favorite scenes in the episode is where they discover a huge bag of cocaine in the dodgy residential block they’re trying to escape from, crammed with mobsters, and Reese dumps a load of it on Charlie’s injured shoulder. It’s an anesthetic, Reese reasons, and, well, he ain’t wrong. You know they used cocaine as the very first epidural during the discovery of anesthetics. Well: science lesson over—this storyline intersects neatly with Carter’s, who’s still trying to figure out how to draw closer to Elias. In the end, for all the criticism that falls neatly onto Person of Interest’s plate in the first series, this will certainly be the episode that’ll make you sit up and stare in unfolding horror at the screen when realization dawns upon you, and Carter and Reese’s storylines converge.
QUOTE OF THE EPISODE: “Hello, fellas. Can I borrow some of your drugs?”—Reese, showing he is an absolute goober.
NUMBER CRUNCH (1.10)
This is the first time we see the Machine really shake things up, by spitting out four numbers instead of its usual one—which means there are either four perpetrators or four victims that need saving. This is also the first time, notably, CIA agent Mark Snow is introduced (Michael Kelly). It gives us and Detective Carter a stark reminder to just how cold-blooded a killer Reese can be, and Snow uses this to get Carter on his side—he wants to lure Reese out into the open, to capture him…but his true intentions are much more deadly. I don’t want to give away much more spoilers about this breath-taking episode, but if you are a fan of the Reese/Carter relationship (dudebroship, whatever you may deem it as) this is definitely a turning point. It’s as gripping a plot as it is with the emotional scenes—especially that Carter scene with her warily traipsing down the stairs as she follows a trail of blood. Taraji P. Henson is spectacular, with the fear palpable and true in her gloriously emotional eyes. This is definitely a must-see.
QUOTE OF THE EPISODE: “I’m sorry but I’m not letting you back on the street looking like this.”–hairdresser Wendy to Reese, upon inspection of his lovely over-gelled hair.
ROOT CAUSE (1.13)
So this episode may be FANTASTIC FOR MANY VARIED AND EXCITING REASONS. First off—this is a truly exciting and table-turning, stomach-lurching episode which involves murder when then becomes framed murder and assassination plots and hackers and—God, have I stopped to take a breath yet? The premise of the episode is this: with the help of the ‘fixer’ Zoe Morgan (a welcome return for Paige Turco) they uncover that someone is being framed to assassinate a congressman. They also discover, through this turn of events, that framing someone in this day and age is quite simply not that easy. Enter the expert hacker causing turmoil behind-the-scenes, who has in the end played the entire Machine gang. Aside from the shifting landscape of danger in this episode, it’s the hacker behind-the-screens who’s troubling Finch, even going as far as to attack Finch’s computer with a DDoS attack. In the episode’s climactic scenes, the hacker reveals their name to be “Root” and another chilling reveal—that Root knows who Finch is, when their encrypted communication chat-line ends simply with Root acknowledging it was a game well-played, “…Harold.”
QUOTE OF THE EPISODE: “There are no bathrooms on a stake out, Finch.”—Reese, when Finch questions why they should take an empty bottle of water on a stake-out.
One of the main storylines we haven’t discussed in this all-too-brief list is the HR storyline. HR is an organisation within the New York Police Department, where Fusco and Carter both work, that are corrupt from the inside and include bad seeds such as Officer Simmons. They liaise with the mob frequently to help the mob distribute items such as illegal drugs by giving them a free pass through the streets of New York City. HR is well and truly getting their fingers stuck in the mud in this episode: their next victim is therapist Caroline Turing (guest star Amy Acker) and so Reese goes undercover to seek therapy from her as his way of getting close to her. After a few close shaves and one honest-to-god kickass scene where HR, the FBI, Turing and Reese converge within the same building, it’s up to Carter to save Reese’s ass and get him out of trouble. Inevitably they do, save for an absolutely shocking, jump-out-of-your-skin revelation at the end.
QUOTE OF THE EPISODE: “I thought she’d never shut up.”—Root, after honest-to-God shooting someone in the head.
From here onwards, there’ll be open spoilers from season one, as I’ll have assumed you’ll have seen it all…!
BAD CODE (2.2)
Root, the fully established baddie so far (oh just you wait) brutally tortures Denton Weeks (Cotter Smith), one of the very few people to know of the Machine’s existence. In order to prove Denton is “bad code”, Root sneakily pretends she’s subdued, allowing Finch and Denton to escape—only for Denton to turn on Finch once he realizes Finch is responsible for the Machine’s creation. Denton is murdered by Root. Meanwhile, Reese, on his quest to find Finch once more after Root’s kidnapping, digs a little into Root’s past and reveals her name to be Sam Groves. This both gives Reese the tools to find Finch as well as give us some much-needed backstory to Root. As a culmination of all these factors, Reese succeeds in finding Finch, with the help of Carter, The Machine, and Fusco. And it was a ride-and-a-half!
QUOTE OF THE EPISODE: “One day, I realized all the dumb, selfish things people do… it’s not our fault. No one designed us. We’re just an accident, Harold. We’re just bad code. But the thing you built… It’s perfect. Rational. Beautiful. By design.”—Root, explaining her lack of faith in humanity. This isn’t technically a quote from this episode—it was a quote from the season two premiere—but I thought it fit in beautifully with this episode’s theme.
PRISONER’S DILEMMA (2.12)
Reese is held captive by the FBI, the investigation headed by Agent Donnelly (Brennan Brown) and the interrogation is headed by Detective Carter, of the four suspects—one of which is Reese. It’s a game of mental warfare and mathematical theory, as Carter tries her best to stall and work evidence in Reese’s favor to save him from having to go to prison. In a constant to-and-fro as Donnelly tries to work out who the Man in the Suit is, Reese refuses Elias’ help because the FBI know of their connection. In another scene, one prisoner blames another, whilst Reese gets into a brawl, showing off his combat skills and pinning him as the main suspect. It’s all an absolute mess until Carter steps in to save the day by provoking, during her interrogation, one of the suspects into attacking her—and thus causing the FBI to believe he is their man after all. But that’s not the final twist. Let’s just say the episode ends with yet another last-minute number, Carter caught out, a phone call too late, and Kara – frickin’ – Stanton.
QUOTE OF THE EPISODE: “It’s my first triple-homicide. Didn’t know I was supposed to prepare jokes.”—Reese, to Kara Stanton, in a flashback.
I hope you’re about as excited to watch this episode as I am excited to recap it for you on the most objective way possible—so I’ll get this out of the way first—SAMEEN SHAW, I LOVE YOU!
Phew. Okay—now that’s out of my system, let’s move onto the plot. Written by Jonah Nolan, this is the first time we see Person of Interest not from John and Finch’s view, but from the government’s view (note the color of the boxes!). Our dream-team here consists of Michael Cole (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), the computer expert, and Sameen Shaw—the outright kickass weapons and field expert (Sarah Shahi). They both work for “Research”—the government’s version of “The Machine”. It is one of the most entertaining hours of television I have ever seen in my life. We are introduced to Cole and Shaw finishing off a mission in Berlin, before being retasked to New York City—but it’s a trap—hence Reese’s appearance on multiple occasions as a plea to help Shaw out (and getting shot multiple times). It turns out, with Cole’s tragic death as a consequence, that Cole and Shaw were set up by the very organization that hired them. It also paves way for the much-awaited first meeting of Root and Shaw, in which Root is still on her search for the Machine’s location and Shaw just wants some answers; Cole had his suspicions about a terrorist case they’d stopped, involving money transfer. On the surface it’d been simple, but Cole had dug a little deeper and found out that funding came from within the USA government itself. It’s a scene loaded with intensity, flirtation (how?! How?) and a sizzling hot iron as Root gleefully prepares to torture a tased Shaw. They’re interrupted (though I doubt Shaw didn’t want Root to carry on…) and when Shaw is free, disillusioned by her agency, she throws her gun in a bin and walks amongst New York City, embracing the city’s chilly freedom—only for her old mentor Hersh (Boris McGiver) to kill her secretively by injecting a fatal dose of poison in the middle of NYC. Luckily, the Machine gang—always watching—save her, and give her a sense of proper freedom, as bittersweet as it is. Sameen Shaw is officially dead, and whilst Finch makes a case yet again for them to work together, Shaw refuses—though she takes Finch’s contact card anyway.
QUOTE OF THE EPISODE: “One of the things I left out of my file. I kind of enjoy this sort of thing.”—Shaw, to Root, as she is tied to the chair and about to be tortured by an iron.
GOD MODE (2.22)
Please, please, please do not miss this episode. This episode is essentially a war for control of The Machine, with Root and Finch paired together and Shaw and Reese making up the other pair. Both have ‘God Mode’ for twenty-four hours, which is pretty much the coolest thing on the show when played out in action. Both pairs’ search for the Machine culminates at the Hanford nuclear facility, where they believe the Machine resides—only it doesn’t. It appears the Machine has moved itself, to prevent the likes of bad guys like Decima fiddling with it. In fury, and despair, Root prepares to shoot Finch but is instead shot in the shoulder by Shaw (who’d clearly been dying to do that). It’s an action-packed couple of moments, but ends most importantly with a flashback to Nathan Ingram and Harold Finch, and the exact circumstances of how Finch acquired his lifelong injuries and how Ingram died and by whose word.
QUOTE OF THE EPISODE: “To help you feel less inadequate while I drive this thing.”—Shaw to Reese, after Shaw tosses him a shotgun at the very sight of a yellow Ferrari.
KEY POINTS TO NOTE:
- Reese and his gas mask and rocket launcher scene in the pilot is the best thing ever, right?
- Though it’s not on my ten episode list (and I struggled a lot with picking just ten), keep an eye open for Caleb Phiipps (Luke Kleintank, now star of Man in the High Castle) in the episode “2πR” because, as I said about Person of Interest’s tight plots, his genius and Finch’s impact on him will come back to help the gang later on.
- Carl Elias (Enrico Colantoni) is one to watch out for in future episodes. Every time Elias pops up on-screen, my heart does a little cheer because he’s just such a good character. So complex, so morally grey (borderline charcoal) yet he speaks of nobility and honourability…I’m not condoning mob bosses, but Elias is so incredibly layered and coolly played by Colantoni it’s hard not to be enthralled and transfixed when he’s on-screen.
- Points of interest: the game a young Root/Sam Groves plays in “Bad Code” is Oregon Trail.
- Can I have another note about how badass Sameen Shaw is? In “Relevance”, she hails up a drug dealer—Louis—in a car and drives them to his place. Louis of course calls for reinforcements as Shaw pulls a bullet out from her abdomen, patching herself up (did I mention previously she was a medic?) and zipties Louis and his friend to a rail. When she nods into unconsciousness and wakes up, she finds that reinforcements have arrived, and this exchange happens:
Grishin: Who you supposed to be, some kinda bad-ass?
Shaw: Not really. I have what’s called an Axis II personality disorder.
Grishin: What’s that supposed to mean?
Shaw: It means when I kill you and your friends, I’m not really gonna feel anything.
And quite simply, she proceeds to kick everyone’s ass. But Louis can stay.
- MUCH LOVE to the soundtrack of this show! Aside from Reese’s theme in the pilot episode, I loved the use of “Future Starts Slow” by The Kills in Shaw’s episode, “Relevance”.
- Again, I’ve covered episodes in seasons 1-2 because I really, really implore you not to miss any of seasons three and four. As all seasons are now up on Netflix, and with Person of Interest’s future still sadly up in the air, it can only be favorable to garner as many new viewers as possible, and I hope this (non spoilery!) guide will attract some!
- Trust me—you won’t regret it.
Hopefully this article provides a concise (I tried!) crash-viewing/binging of Person of Interest (you will feel dirty because you won’t have showered but I promise it’s worth it). Maybe buy some dry-shampoo, actually. But it is worth it!