Person of Interest

05/11/2011 § Leave a comment

I finally got around to watching the premier of Person of Interest, a new CBS drama that stars Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson.  Caviezel has star power, which should help the show, and Emerson is quite accomplished as well.  The two, from the pilot, seemed to have decent chemistry together, and I expect that will grow in time.

Anyhow, Person of Interest has an intriguing premise.  Caviezel plays John Reese, and ex-Ranger who is now presumed dead.  When we first see Reese, he’s living as a homeless bum, harassed by street punks (who he deftly dispatches).  Emerson plays Harold Finch, a wealthy businessman who helped designed an intel-gathering and -sifting algorithm for the federal government (presumably the branches of the CIA or DHS).  Like Reese, Finch is also presumed dead, which enables him to operate under the radar.  Finch wants to recruit Reese to basically run missions for him, in order to remain untraceable.

A little background is in order.  Finch is/was a wealthy businessman working in New York City during the 9/11 attacks, which served as a wakeup call for him.  He set out to design some software that would sift through the intelligence the federal government gathered for the purpose of preventing future terrorist attacks.  In the course of designing this software, he had to program it to ignore irrelevant threats:  threats that were made by individuals against individuals.  The software he designed was thus only concerned with detecting potential terrorist attacks.  Finch was bothered by basically ignoring the intentional murders of innocent citizens, so he left a backdoor protocol in his software so he can access irrelevant threats, which are erased every night.

Finch, having compiled a list of potential murders/threats against innocent civilians, needed someone who could ensure that those plans did not go through.  That person is Reese, whose ex-military background equips him with all the tools he needs not only to survive but to succeed at this new job.  Reese is targeted for recruitment because he feels guilty about his girlfriend’s death, something he was unable to prevent because he was on a mission at the time.  Incidentally, this same sort of helplessness compels Finch to start up this program, because he, like Reese, was also helpless to prevent the death of a loved one.  Each man, then, feels motivated to prevent the deaths of others because of their own guilt and feelings of helplessness.

The pilot can be split into three main sections:  Finch recruiting Reese, Reese preventing the death of district attorney Diane Hanson (played by the very capable Natalie Zea, who stars in FX’s Justified), and Reese assembling an informal team of informants and suppliers.

The first section is crucial to establishing the premise of the show, and answering some of the questions that naturally arise. However, many of the explanations offered by Finch seem to be lacking.  He asserts that the federal government is not interested in “irrelevant threats,” which may be true.  However, why does the federal government refuse to share this info with local law enforcement agencies?  Also, why does Finch feel compelled to operate outside the law when it seems more plausible to work within it?  (E.g. one need only set up a second agency that only screens for minor or personal threats, using the same software as before, this time with reversed parameters.)  Finally, is Finch is presumed dead, how does he still have access to his money?  These are decent-sized plot holes that should probably be addressed at some point.

Interestingly, this show hints at a lot of corruption in law enforcement.  As noted before, Finch and Reese operate outside the law and government, presumably because the government is to corrupt to be trusted (at least that’s what the pilot hints at).  And the main thing we learn about cops and prosecutors in this episode is that most of them are corrupt.  It’s somewhat refreshing to see private citizens portrayed as less corruptible than government employees, even though Person of Interest is basically a cop drama.

The second major section is also intriguing, though spotty in places.  DA Hanson is set up as the potential victim, leading Reese on a rather long goose chase to identify potential killers.  He comes to the conclusion that there are dirty cops who want to see her killed for seeking the truth about a drug dealer’s death.  It turns that there are cops who interrupt drug busts, steal the product and money, then execute the parties involved, pinning the blame on rival gangbangers.  It’s nice work if you can get it.

Anyway, it appears that Hanson is onto their plot, and suspects them of framing a drug dealer named Lawrence Pope.  Reese then spends the bulk of the episode following Hanson around, investigating the corrupt cops, and trying to pick up Pope’s younger brother, who is also presumably targeted.

There finally comes a point where Hanson appears to be tricked into going to a rough part of town, where she will then presumably be murdered, so Reese follows her, strapped up with guns of course, only to discover that Hanson is the ringleader and the dirty cops are working in league with her.  This plot, though surprising, feels forced, like the writers are trying to fill time by extending the episode.

This then leads to the third major section of the show, where Reese gets one of the corrupt cops to become his “inside man.”  There are also a couple of other scenes showing Reese procuring resources, which help to explain how he is able to act as a one-man surveillance team.

Overall, I thought the premise was interesting, though highly unrealistic.  Of course, a lack of reality in entertainment doesn’t generally bother me because I usually turn to entertainment to escape reality.  However, there are some plot holes that will continue to irk me, though I imagine the writers will attempt to close them as the season progresses.

Caviezel is fun to watch, especially since his role is somewhat dark, and his interactions with Emerson have a certain humor about them.  The dialogue in this pilot did seem a little canned, however, but I think part of it is simply due to establishing background, and part of it is due to the fact that the actors have not yet grown into their roles.

I will continue watching this show for at least a little while longer.  The pilot seemed a little unfocused, but there is plenty of potential and I hope that this show will make the most of it.

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