Written by Jonathan Nolan
Directed by David Semel
Some people speak of J.J. Abrams with as much reverence as some speak of Joss Whedon. Truth be told, I’m not a fan of either. By fan, I mean that I don’t follow them incessantly. Whedon has done things I like (Firefly, Serenity), and so has Abrams. But just because these men have their names attached to a project, it doesn’t guarantee that I will follow. I hadn’t even heard of Person of Interest until a friend asked if I was going to watch it. Honestly, I didn’t even know the premise. I just visited the CBS website the day after airing and checked it out with no knowledge going in.
First, some background information. While J.J. Abrams has his name attached to Person of Interest, he serves as executive producer. Yes, he is helping shape the series, but it was created by Jonathan Nolan, brother of Dark Knight and Memento director Christopher Nolan. Jonathan also co-wrote both of these movies. He isn’t a stranger to the crime-thriller genre, and make no mistake, that is what Person of Interest is. The two leads on this show are Michael Emerson (Benjamin Linus from LOST) and Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ, The Count of Monte Cristo). This has led to many jokes about Ben Linus and Jesus teaming up to fight crime, which is an interesting premise in itself. The actual premise of the show sees John Reese (Caviezel), an ex-CIA agent who is presumed dead, targeted by Mr. Finch (Emerson), a mysterious billionaire. Reese was trained well in his government job and is an efficient investigator and killer. Finch recruits Reese to help him investigate “persons of interest” to prevent crimes before they happen. The only information they have are Social Security numbers of one person involved in the crime, either victim or perpetrator.
At this point you may be asking, “What?” We learn in the pilot that Mr. Finch was hired by the U.S. government in the days after 9/11 to develop software that can sort through all the electronic monitoring in the nation. Mr. Finch succeeded in creating a machine that analyzes phone conversations, internet traffic, security surveillance, etc. and determines dangerous or suspicious activities. The machine compiles this data and any information that doesn’t match certain criteria (in this case, high numbers of victims which would indicate terrorist activity) is deleted. Mr. Finch was tortured by the fact that his machine could recognize non-terrorist criminal activities, but the government didn’t want this information. Finch, as these stories go, built in a backdoor to the software, which gives him the Social Security numbers of people likely to be involved in crimes. Any more information would draw too much attention to the security hole. Finch and Reese must then spend the episode trying to solve a crime before it happens.
Personally, I love the concept. Granted, this show comes from the borderline paranoia that exists in post-9/11 America, a paranoia that is suspicious of any type of government surveillance, but the idea presents the good that can come from a society that is monitored so closely. I love the twist on the traditional “whodunnit”, and the idea of preventing crime, whether violently or by offering people a second chance. We see the investigator in Reese, his tech guy in Finch, and it looks like over the course of the next few episodes we may see a team develop. It’s The A-Team, it’s The Rockford Files. As my wife says, it sounds a bit like Batman, only Reese wears a suit instead of dressing as a bat.
The show has great potential, and I think it has the chance to live up to it with the cast and the creative team behind it. At the moment, the show doesn’t look arc-driven like other shows developed by Abrams (such as Alias, Lost, and Fringe). Sure, there are storylines that we could visit down the line, but storylines are not the same as story-arcs. It looks to be a show that can deliver well-crafted mysteries and I look forward to seeing where they take it.
Now if only it was available on iTunes so I could get a season pass. Person of Interest can be viewed Thursday nights on CBS or via the CBS website here.