For a show with a tricky, complicated premise, Person of Interest certainly moved right along at a zippy pace, didn’t it? This series, which CBS says tested higher than many in recent memory, featured Jim Caviezel as John Reese, a former CIA agent who’s off the grid and down in the dumps, having lost the woman he loves under mysterious circumstances. Reese was shaken out of his despair — given a new purpose in life — by Mr. Finch, and if anyone other than Lost’s Michael Emerson was playing him, the fussy little Finch would be a mere figure of fun. If there’s one thing Lost prepared Emerson to do well, however, it’s bringing gravity to scenes of great potential foolishness.
In this series created by Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight) and co-produced by J.J. Abrams, there exists in the post-9/11 world a vast matrix of security cameras and technology. In the premiere episode, Mr. Finch revealed that he helped set up that all-seeing system, in Manhattan at the very least, and is now using it for his own purposes. Finch told Reese that he can track potential crimes to be committed, although mere lofty observation cannot indicate whether the people caught on camera are future criminals or victims. For that, Mr. Finch needs a man on the ground, and that man is Reese. “You need a purpose,” Finch told Reese, who’d spent his most recent months not shaving and riding the subway all night without changing his clothes for weeks. “You need a job.”
Reese took to the job with a ruthless efficiency, using his CIA training to go after bad guys with martial-arts precision. (The opening scene, with a shaggy Reese fighting bullies in a subway car, had a kinetic energy that I hope remains a prominent element in the series.) When a former bum started neutralizing criminals, it caught the attention of law enforcement, in the person of an NYPD detective named Carter, played by Taraji P. Henson with a credible mixture of curiosity and dubiousness. (Now she just needs more face-time, which I’m sure the producers are planning to give her.
The big question is how Person of Interest proceeds as a weekly series. It could be that the idea is to give Reese and Finch a different case to close each week, with guest stars and self-contained plots that render the show a variation on the old anthology series ranging from The Twilight Zone to Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In Reese’s memories of the woman he loved along with a web of info to track down patterns of crime, there’s an element of the fine, low-rated, missed NBC Damien Lewis series Life. POI also harkens back strongly to an older TV hit: The Millionaire, a 1955-60 series in which a mysterious benefactor entered people’s lives via a Mr. Finch-like messenger.
Person of Interest‘s vision of a city overrun by tech that can be used for humane purposes, with action scenes well-played by the expressively stoic Caviezel, has a multi-faceted appeal for these times. The show can simultaneously unsettle, comfort, excite, and amuse – something for everyone, if, like Mr. Finch, you like to watch. Do you, will you, again?