Broadcast Date: 22 September 2011
Director: David Semel
Writer: Jonathan Nolan
Cast: Jim Caviezel, Kevin Chapman, Michael Emerson, and Taraji P. Henson
What’s with all the 9/11 references this year? I expected news shows to make a big deal out of the tragedy’s ten-year anniversary, but we also got gratuitous tie-ins from Revenge and now Person of Interest, which tells of a man who witnessed 9/11 (Jim Caviezel) using a computer system created in response to 9/11 to save lives in New York City. It’s as if every writer in television spent the last decade waiting by a giant clock and suddenly cheered, “We don’t have to be tactful about it anymore: 9/11, 9/11, 9/11!”
Actually, I quite like the concept at the heart of Person of Interest, that of a computer sifting through our e-mail, financial transactions, and security footage (suck it, civil liberties!) to predict who’ll become involved in a violent crime, whether as victim, witness, or perpetrator. The machine couldn’t figure out why Middle Eastern suspects should take priority over abusive spouses or why a senator’s existence is deemed more precious than a homeless youth’s, so a patch was designed to filter the information. Our heroes aim to save the lives that didn’t make the cut, making them a cross between Batman and Big Brother, by which I mean the one from George Orwell’s 1984, not the reality show.
I find genuine poetry in the thought of cold, hard logic proving more compassionate than society and would have loved a series exploring the implications. Unfortunately, the notion gets dumped in a two-minute expository speech, never to be brought up again. Granted, the aforementioned speech is delivered by Michael Emerson, whose intonations convey enough subtext to shame a Facebook argument between two fifteen-year-old girls, but it does feel like the writers are throwing away the steak to gnaw at the bone.
Emerson’s got the meatier role here. His character, Finch, created Big Brother and, through a tragedy yet to be revealed, has come to realise the wisdom of his undiscerning software. Now he faces possible treason charges for hacking into his own system and retrieving the social security numbers of those deemed too trivial for concern. I dig his suicidal resolve: “Sooner or later, both of us will probably wind up dead.” Who wants to bet he found his own number on the list?
Unfortunately, the producers or, I’m guessing, the network executives seem more interested in Caviezel kicking ass, and kick ass he does, endlessly. As John Reese, the man Finch recruits to help clean up the streets, he beats up a half dozen hoodlums while inebriated, escapes a police car while it flips over on the highway, and takes down a room full of gun-toting criminals while I look at my watch and make small circles with my index finger. All that awesomeness gets old fast, especially given there’s little more to the character.
In fairness, effort is made to give the man some background, however cryptically. Through Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson), a cop investigating his multiple counts of ass-kicking, we learn that Reese once served in the military. Flashbacks show him ten years ago with his girlfriend Jessica (Susan Misner), who turns on the television and sees a plane crash into the Twin Towers. We can assume Reese then joined the army and learnt to kick ass, but really all we’re shown is two people having a good time in bed followed by 9/11, 9/11, 9/11.
Given J.J. Abrams’ involvement and creator Jonathan Nolan’s impressive portfolio, I suspect I might have been more excited if Person of Interest didn’t air on CBS, which still uses laugh tracks on its sitcoms. The old-fashioned network doesn’t do serialised mythos. It does CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, NCIS, and NCIS: Los Angeles. Now, I don’t mind watching cops use the same methodology to solve different cases every week, but I don’t think I could get into an action drama that shows me the same foot kicking different asses. Also, 9/11.