Reviewed by Ken Tucker
SINCE ITS PREMIERE, Person of Interest has steadily become both a hit and something odder than its pilot episode suggested. And that’s worth noting, given that the eccentric premise of this show is that a nerd avenger (Michael Emerson) has wired New York City to predict crimes that he hopes will be foiled by his accomplice, an athletic, mumbling avenger (Jim Caviezel).
Emerson — sporting massive horn-rims, sideburns long and wide enough to provide carpeting for a small apartment, and an ostentatious limp — analyzes data from a vast computer program he designed post-9/11 to prevent terrorist attacks. But now his Mr. Finch is using it to spot people who are either victims or perpetrators of more everyday crimes: assaults, blackmail, etc. He’s enlisted Caviezel’s John Reese — a former CIA agent who never met a bad guy he didn’t enjoy crippling with a Muay Thai elbow to the throat — to figure out whether the targets isolated by what they call the Machine are the prey or the hunters. Thus each week, there’s not just a crime to solve; the heroes must first solve who the criminal is. That extra step adds a layer of confusion, in the protagonists and among viewers, that most CBS procedurals do not create.
As the series has evolved, one other character has become more prominent, and most welcome. Taraji P. Henson is a cop who’s stumbled upon Finch and Reese’s hobby, and wants in on their info. At first, Henson’s Detective Carter was after Reese, who she suspected was a bad guy; now she forms the third part of the team that is being tracked by the CIA, which is having a devil of a time unraveling just what Finch, Reese, and Carter are up to, even as the Agency suspects it’s not good.
They’re wrong, of course. One thing about being on CBS: When you’re a main character in a drama there, you are a good person. CBS doesn’t go in for that moral-gray-area stuff, because that way lies ambiguity and ambivalence, qualities the network has learned can attract good reviews from critics but, at best, mediocre ratings, and CBS wants big, mass-audience hits above all else.
It’s a philosophy that has actually helped the quality of Person of Interest. Carter is now our surrogate — she helps viewers untangle the peculiar codependency between Finch, Reese, and their Machine. The show is teasing out everyone’s backstory, but the action — Finch identifies a dangerous situation, Reese goes in and smashes things up until order is restored — is what makes the series a not-so-simple pleasure. B+