Person of Interest takes on several sticky questions from the start. When is vigilante action justified? How do we keep our families safe in a world of ever-growing danger and unknown threat? And how do we decide when to intercede between fate and a stranger’s future?
The show begins with a quick scene of a beautiful couple in bed. Nothing too risque, but we can tell from the dreamy camera work that it’s a flashback. Cut to current day, where the male counterpart of the couple is riding a train, though now disheveled and drunk. He looks like a bum, plain and simple. When a group of young thugs hassle him, he takes them out with lightning precision and speed. Clearly he’s a trained professional, as pointed out by Detective Carter, the female cop assigned to this skirmish. She is kind and offers him help. His fingerprints have been linked to various other crime scenes around the world, but the man (John Reese) offers no explanation. After leaving the station, Reese is introduced to Mr. Finch, an enigmatic and wealthy man who seems to know Reese’s history. Finch offers Reese a purpose and a job. He knows Reece used to work for the government but left when in doubt if the work he was doing really helped anyone.
And the job? Mr. Finch has a list of people who are about to be involved in a crime, identified only by their social security numbers. He asks Reese to keep an eye on a young prosecutor, Diane Hanson. At first Reese refuses, but he relents after Finch points out that this is a way to save people from harm. Finch references Reese’s friend Jessica, whom he was unable to save. He promises Reese that he will never lie to him like the government did and calls himself a “concerned third party.”
In a voice-over, Reese demonstrates how he is able to keep close tabs on people; things like breaking into someone’s home and going through their things and hacking into their cell phone to use the GPS system for tracking. This might very well be the moment I was most uncomfortable during the show. We’re still not sure whether Mr. Finch is a good guy or not – or even Reese, for that matter. So far he’s been a drunk bum who can throw a punch and change his appearance with a shave and a new outfit. Now he’s invading people’s privacy and snooping. Sure, it’s supposed to be for her protection, but what about her rights as a citizen?
This is exactly what this show wants us to question. Finch was already wealthy when the government approached him post- 9/11 to develop a system to identify future terrorists and prevent such a disaster happening again. His machine can also detect other lesser crimes (less than terrorism but still heinous), but these are deemed “irrelevant” by the government, and the people involved are left to their fate. Eventually the guilt of this haunts Finch and he devises a backdoor into the program that will allow him to access the people involved in these irrelevant crimes. He needs Reese to assess each situation and prevent the crime.
MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD! Reese is convinced that a gang is planning to murder Diane because of the man she’s prosecuting, Lawrence Pope. Diane begins to doubt that Lawrence committed the crime and meets with him, but he is later stabbed to death in his cell. Reese finds out that a group of dirty cops are taking drugs and money from dealers they kill and then framing other convicts for the murders. Just as Reese discovers that Diane is not the target but is in fact working with the dishonest cops (Whaaaaaaat?!), they capture him. He escapes and leaves one of the cops alive, Detective Fusco. He tells Fusco he’ll have need for him later.
Reese saves the Assistant DA and his young son from being killed by the dirty cops, telling the most vile cop, Stills, “I went around the world looking for bad guys but there were plenty of you here all along.” Reese had been out of the country during the 9/11 attacks and helplessly watched on television, which only sharpens his desire to protect others from potential danger. He ends up shooting and killing Stills.
Diane plays what she believes to be an evidence audiotape in court but it’s a recording of her admission of involvement in Pope’s death and the ADA’s attempted murder. Reese has Fusco dispose of Stills’ body. Finch alludes to his own mysterious past and is quite content that he, like Reese, is believed to be dead. Reese agrees to help Finch despite his prediction that they’ll both probably end up dead for real. Carter is determined to find her mystery man, the subway bum who fought so well. We get a glimpse of the machine, a room full of processors busily identifying and sorting threats.
This is the first show I’ve seen that refers so unflinchingly to 9/11 and the way it affected our views of terrorism, safety, and the identity of the enemy. I’m trusting the writers to give us more than just another “victim of the week” show and focus more on the way our culture has shifted in the face of terrorism.
‘Person of Interest’ can be seen Thursday nights on CBS.