It’s hard to shoehorn Person of Interest into a category; is it drama or action? A spy thriller or science fiction? Is it a tragedy? To be honest it’s probably all of them, and it’s hugely enjoyable to boot. I’ve just watched the season two finale and I think the best description of how I feel now it’s finished is surprisingly satiated and yet hungry for more.
When it started I thought it was a quirky series and I wasn’t sure where it could go or, indeed, if it would last. It wasn’t until four or five episodes in that I was sold. I mean, the pretence that a machine could predict the imminent future was a bit of a stretch, and one of the hardest sells in fiction is the suspension of disbelief, but once you’ve cracked that you are golden.
Possible spoilers ahead.
Person of Interest managed that in a very unique way, less so during season 1 but it is very evident in season 2. It’s all down to the 5 stars of the show, Jim Caviezel (John Reese), Michael Emerson (Harold Finch), Taraji Henson (Detective Joss Carter), Kevin Chapman (Detective Lionel Fusco) and The Machine itself. Having The Machine portrayed as a character in its own right was a stroke of genius, and by the very nature of what it does allows it to act almost as a Narrator for the episodes and greater season story arcs. The way The Machine is portrayed you find you empathise with it almost as if it’s a child, as innocent as it is still young, with several people trying to master it. Some good, and some bad. The show is so compelling by how character driven it actually is. Sure, every week is a new number and a new story on a show to show basis, but in many ways the stories of an episodes ‘number’ are used to fill in the back-story of the main characters, all interwoven by the CCTV ‘flashbacks’ provided by the machine (as the Narrator). I find that a very interesting, new and unique way of building complex character layers.
The detachment of the Machine from the main cast is another clever plot handle. Having such an omnipotent presence in the series, almost a God-like thing, in as much as The Machine see’s everything, can predict future events, and yet it is powerless to do anything because it is reliant on Reese and Finch for help. In the season 1 Finale you may have noticed Reese is labelled an ‘asset’ by the Machine when he asks for help finding Finch. The Machine sees itself in charge, for the first time you actually see the Machine thinking of itself as ‘I’ or ‘me,’ which is carried through and becomes more prevalent in season 2. At the same time Reese and Finch have no access to The Machine. They have no control or contact with it except by phone calls through which it passes them numbers from the Irrelevant list and this strengthens the suspension of belief, selling the story to the viewer. It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship that has already proven to work in television – Quantum Leap being the most obvious case, Ziggy being the Machine, Al being Finch and Sam being Reese.
Harold and Reese also work very well together as the frontrunners for the series, both having very secretive backgrounds that have crossed paths on many occasions (although not directly except once), and almost all of these are tied to The Machine in some way. We find out that Harold blames himself for the death of Reese’s lover Jessica Arndt (Susan Misner) who was one of the first numbers given out to Nathan Ingram (played by Brett Cullen). Nathan was Finch’s partner in building The Machine and was killed by the government because of his knowledge of the program. Nathan couldn’t save Jessica (I’m assuming because of his untimely death) and Harold feels responsible, which is probably the reason Harold recruited Reese so in some way he can make amends. Reese, however, just blames himself, he made the decision to leave Jessica after 9-11 and was abroad as she subsequently died at the hands of her future husband.
Reese was happy with Jessica but felt obligated to leave after the NY terror attacks to serve his country once more, this resulted in him being dragged into black ops and carrying out missions and kills that questioned his morals, it also means he was powerless to stop Jessica’s death. On his last mission (one very relevant to the season 2 arc so I won’t spoil it) he manages to fake his death and escape the life he now hates. After his escape his life has no meaning once he learns of Jessica’s death. He eventually becomes destitute. It’s some time after this that Harold recruits him in and offers him a chance at redemption by working on the non-relevant list of numbers The Machine gives out, all thanks to a sub-code Nathan wrote into The Machine without Harold’s knowledge .
Harold’s story is just as sad. He and Nathan created The Machine for the Government and Harold believed in it absolutely. As The Machine grows (and there are some quite touching scenes in Season 2 as Harold teaches The Machine what it has to do) Nathan can’t live with the fact that although it can predict all outcomes only terror threats are deemed relevant. In secret he writes into The Machine a program called ‘Contingency’ that will provide him with the Non-Relevant numbers. Also, during the time they create The Machine, Harold (who it not good meeting people) befriends and eventually falls in love with a painter called Grace Hendricks (Carrie Preston). When he and Nathan finish The Machine he proposes to her and she accepts. Harold then inadvertently discovers Nathan working the Non-Relevant list and is terrified it could be used as a back door for someone to gain access and control of the Machine. He shuts the Contingency program down and as it is closing out the Machine gives out one last Non-Relevant, Nathan himself, before it’s deleted.
As a result of Harold’s actions Nathan informs him he is meeting a reporter in the morning to tell all about The Machine and what they’ve done and asks Harold to join him. The meet is set up at a ferry port and as Harold arrives to meet Nathan The Office of Special Council (the Government agency in charge of the Machine) set off a bomb in a fake ‘terror attack’ to kill off and silence Nathan. Recovering from the blast the injured Harold sees the doctors place the bed sheet over Nathan’s head as he dies and witnesses two agents phone in that the job is done, the target is eliminated. In that moment Harold realises Nathan was right and that he is now in danger also. He leaves the triage area just as his fiancée arrives and, hidden from view, he sees her look through the personal belongings from the explosion wreckage and finding one of Harold’s books she assumes he was killed but his body hasn’t been found. Harold then flees to the library that becomes his and Reese’s base of operations and we see him from one of The Machines camera’s asking it, “Did you know?” He then restarts Nathans Contingency program.
This is another strength of the series, essentially it’s two tragedies (the stories of Reese and Finch) being played out, and possibly two redemptions also. It’s not a classic Tragedy story, such as Walt’s tale in Breaking Bad, but there is enough of the tragedy archetype in the writing to give both main characters drive and sustenance. It’s a great example of two tragic storylines that explain the purpose and drive Harold and Finch as they try to save as many people as they can in search of purpose and redemption and along the way becoming reliant on, and eventually friends to each other.
It doesn’t stop there though as the other two main stars of the show play their own roles. Detectives Fusco and Carter are originally used by Reese as his own ‘assets.’ Carter was the detective in charge of Reese when he is first arrested in the Pilot and for the most part of Season 1 is actively pursuing him as an ongoing Person of Interest known as “the man in the suit.” Later on when she learns of what Reese does she starts to help him. On the other hand Fusco is a bad cop when we first meet him on the payroll of the HR organisation (a corrupt gang of bad cops in the NYPD) and Reese blackmails him into working as an asset. In fact he gets Fusco transferred to Carter’s division to keep tabs on her as she tries to track him. Neither Fusco or Reese are aware that each other work for Reese (and Finch) and there is some humorous play with the two Detectives on the phone in the same room speaking to Reese and Finch respectively but without any idea what the other is doing.
Fusco fills the lost soul role very well and you find yourself sympathising a lot with him. A single dad all he cares about is his son and he sees working for Reese as a way to climb out of the mire he is in and try to make amends. Unfortunately though Reese wants him as a mole in HR and forces him to play that game. He ends up getting deeper into HR’s pocket when he kills an Internal Affairs investigator at the behest of Patrick Simmons (Robert John Burke playing the right hand man of the HR boss and local enforcer). In season 2 we find out that Fusco never made the decision to join HR and didn’t want any part of it. Yet when he helped out a friend and fellow officer from the academy he ends up shooting a drug dealer to save his friend and they have no choice but to fake the crime scene. Fusco’s friend then put’s some money into Fusco’s shirt pocket and welcomes him to HR.
Carter is a former Army interrogator whose husband was killed in the line of fire so she now works homicide as a single mother. She is very moral (having previously given up practicing law to return to Police work). Initially she wants to apprehend Reese but eventually starts to help him and Finch once she discovers what they do (though neither Carter nor Fusco know of The Machine and how Reese and Finch get the numbers). When Fusco is transferred to be her partner (by Reese’s doing) she is suspicious of him and the possibility he works for HR. It’s only at the end of season 1 that both Carter and Fusco realise they work for Reese when they try and save Finch from the hacker Root (Amy Acker).
Whereas Reese and Finch are driven by paying for their perceived past sins Carter and Fusco’s stories are more on the lines of personal morality. Fusco wants to come good but can’t as Reese wants him as a mole in HR. He subsequently ends up getting in deeper, the one time he asked for help from Finch and Reese both were too busy with a number to listen and he’s never asked again. He’s caught in a bad place and tries to do what he can, but it all comes to a head when he refuses to help HR anymore so they turn on him by feeding Internal Affairs the location of the body of Fusco’s dead partner that Reese killed in the Pilot (but left Fusco to cover up initially giving Reese leverage over Fusco). Fusco gives into the inevitability of the situation and tries to tell Carter about his past transgressions forcing Carter to re-evaluate her relationship with him. Internal Affairs take Fusco to the site where he buried his partner and there is no body found. Bemused Fusco demands his gun and badge back as is reinstated. It turns out Carter called in a favour with Finch to locate the body and moved it before Internal Affairs got to the site. In the finale she also makes another surprising decision when her hand is forced by HR and she saves a known mob boss.
It’s an interesting switch between the two, Fusco the bad cop that wants to be good and is put in such a position that he’ll need to go down for the murder of his partner and maybe there is some karma or catharsis to be had from that, and then the righteous Carter who has walked the line several times in the second season to help Finch and Reese finally crosses that line to help Fusco. It’s a very cool spin on their characters (Fusco has no idea who moved the body) that reminds me of the switch Mulder and Scully had in the X Files swapping roles of believer and sceptic.
I could write pages on this, but I will not for two reasons. The second series is still to be shown in the UK and I don’t want to spoil everything (I’ve tried not to spoil too much here) and I don’t want you to get bored reading this.
Suffice to say what I have written here is just a small part of what goes on in this program, what do you expect from something produced by J.J. Abrams! There are many facets intertwined with Reese, Finch, Carter, Fusco and The Machine. The FBI tracking “the man in the suit,” the elusive, influential and dangerous mobster Elias (brilliantly played by Enrico Colantoni) who is both friend and enemy to Reese and Finch, the criminal organisation embedded in the NYPD called HR, the amoral hacker Root that wants to free The Machine, the Office of Special Counsel that use The Machine and will stop at nothing to ensure nobody ever finds out about it, Reese’s former team in the CIA that he used to carry out Wet Work with, the assassin Samantha Shaw (Sarah Shahi) who worked from Special Counsel on Machine targets but was eventually framed and is now a sometimes ally of Reese and Finch, Zoe Morgan (Paige Turco) and Leon Tao (Ken Leung) former numbers that come back to help Reese and Finch on occasion and finally the mysterious Greer (John Nolan) of Decima Technologies who wants The Machine for himself.
If you haven’t watched this yet I recommend you do, and stick with it if you don’t like the first couple of episodes because it gets so much better. CBS renewed Person of Interest for a third season this March, the second season finished airing on Thursday May 9th in the US. Series one finished on Channel 5 in the UK on April 21st.