On the Bubble: Person of Interest

Posted on November 2, 2011


I interpreted the marketing for Person of Interest to promise a paranoid thriller about the Homeland Security machine. I hoped it would be critical of the security theater, and of our willingness to surrender freedoms in pursuit of some elusive, and potentially illusory, sense of security.

Nothing about the marketing interested my wife, so this is a show that I record and watch when she’s not home.

I Watched It

John Reese (Jim Caviezel) beats up some muggers on a subway. He gets arrested. The cops express frustration because they can’t find any record of a John Reese, nor can they identify the man they have in custody. Reese gets sprung from custody, apparently by the agency of Harold Finch (Michael Emerson). Finch is a weird, twitchy, gimp who tells Reese a story.

He says that he knows a lot about Reese’s background – but not everything. Apparently “Reese” (not his real name) did special operations work for the US military, and possibly for the US intelligence community. He’s highly trained, physically fit, and emotionally traumatized (later we learn that it’s partly because on Sept 11, 2001, he played hooky from work for some warm, sunny, sex time with his woman).

Finch, on the other hand, is highly intelligent, physically broken, and emotionally traumatized. He helped create a super-surveillance machine that monitors video footage, cell phone traffic, public microphones, and other sources to determine terrorist threats.

The problem he has is that the machine did too good a job. It determined all sources of violent crimes. Homeland Security only cared about terrorism, so it discarded all the other files. Finch installed a back-door, something very tiny so that no one would notice it. The backdoor spits out the social security numbers of people involved in violent crimes. Sometimes those people are victims, sometimes they’re witnesses, and sometimes they’re criminals.

Finch hires Reese to be the muscle of his operation, so that together they can act to protect people that the system ignores.

On the Bubble

I’m not getting my paranoid thriller.

I’m not getting a show that deals with the legal and Constitutional issues raised by the surveillance state. Finch and Reese never question the morality of using information from intrusive spying on private lives to take violent action, sometimes in reference to crimes that haven’t happened yet.

Granted, vigilante justice is wrong all the time, but I’m willing to forgive that in a bit of television fantasy. That said, I think the writers are treading a very fine line here. So far, the people against whom the stoic duo have acted have all been very bad, and guilty of crimes other than the one that they’re trying to prevent in this week’s episode.

They’re slowly doling out back-story, but at a rate that intrigues rather than frustrates.

They don’t have an overall series, or season, villain yet, but there is an NYPD detective named Carter (Taraji P. Henson) who knows that a guy in a suit (Reese) keeps showing up at her crime scenes, and she’s determined to find out who that person is.


A social media acquaintance pointed out the similarities between this show and The Shadow. The Shadow was Kent Allard, a WWI aviator who took up crime-fighting as a new challenge after the war. He used many identities to conceal himself, including that of wealthy playboy Lamont Cranston. The Shadow had agents all over the city who reported criminal activity to him, and who did small favors for him – small favors that could save lives.

In Person of Interest, there are two men who took up crime-fighting after 9/11/01. They use many identities to conceal themselves. Reese, for example, isn’t sure who Finch really is or how he comes by all his money and information. Clearly, he is, or was, a very successful businessman. We know that he used to have a family, and we think that they died in the same car accident that injured him. We’ve seen Finch masquerade as an investor, and as a minor software writer in a large corporation. Finch doesn’t have agents all over the city, but he does have the machine and the information it reports to him. Reese is developing agents, particularly Detective Lionel Fusco.

I can see the parallels between the two properties.

As a I mentioned, I’m intrigued by the background they slowly reveal as events and people in each week’s episode trigger some memory in one or the other of the two protagonists.

At worst, it’s a guilty pleasure for me.


Is there a new show that you’re watching, but you’re not sure why?

I haven’t had a chance to watch the season opener of Covert Affairs yet, and by next week I’ll have watched that and the season opener of Burn Notice, also. I’ll try to write about one of those next time.

Posted in: television