Can Michael Emerson Be a ‘Person of Interest’ Other Than Ben Linus?

By Robert Dougherty

CBS’s upcoming “Person of Interest” is holding interest for a lot of potential fans at the moment. But for this fan, the main attraction isn’t producers J.J. Abrams or Jonathan Nolan, or the “Minority Report” type premise, or main star Jim Caviezel. To myself and others who just came from “Lost” the fact is that “Person of Interest” is a milestone just for bringing Michael Emerson back to television.

For the rest of his career, it appears that Emerson will be immortalized for playing super genius villain/unlikely anti-hero Ben Linus on “Lost.” Despite only starting as a guest star, he did nothing less but help but “Lost” back to life when it looked ready to fall apart after Season 1. In fact, without his help in lifting “Lost” back up, there might not have been a gigantic finale for everyone to argue about- and I might never have written three books on the series in the meantime.

For his trouble, Emerson became forever known as a creepy, bug eyed, cold blooded figure on screen, even as Ben transitioned out of super villain mode by the end of the series. However, “Person of Interest” is putting Emerson in a more heroic light- albeit one that is still ultra mysterious and cryptic.

Caviezel’s ex-CIA burnout Reese may be the official main character, yet Emerson’s Mr. Finch stands to be the true mover and shaker of the series, as the billionaire crusader who sets up a system of detecting crimes before they’re committed. But who is Mr. Finch, what are his motives, and can he be trusted?

Us “Lost” fans spent five years asking that about Emerson’s last character and still barely scratched the surface. So playing another character like that doesn’t seem like a stretch- and Emerson himself admitted to the Los Angeles Times that this isn’t as much of a “clean break” from “Lost” as he first thought. As such, although he said he was “at peace” with his sinister on-screen reputation, it may be disappointing if “Person of Interest” doesn’t let him challenge it in some ways.

Despite being typecast as creepy and evil in “Lost” “The Practice” and “Saw” devotees of Emerson know that it doesn’t tell the whole story. He has done much more in theater and television than play villains- and of course, he makes it so even genocidal characters like Ben can find redemption and understanding. At times, Ben was even funnier than the likes of Hurley and Sawyer on a given week, so evil is far from the only mode that he can be in.

“Person of Interest” has a grand opportunity to be elevated by Emerson, but only if it lets him- and if it trusts its audience and writers to see him outside of the shadows of Ben Linus. Of course, there are worse shadows to be in than one forged by one of television’s great villains- and great characters in general. So perhaps if Finch fails to catch on, it won’t be because he’s too similar to Ben, but because even someone like Emerson can’t hit those extreme heights twice in a row.

If anyone could come close, however, he would have a shot- and if that happens, then “Person of Interest” will indeed have more to offer than comparisons to Ben and “Minority Report.” People like myself will be tuning in for those tantalizing possibilities alone- since we know what Emerson can do when he makes possibilities pay off.



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