For an action/sci-fi, Person of Interest is an exceedingly depressing show. The pandemic has me watching more videos than ever before, as well as grinding the filming and production of new episodes to a halt, so I’ve had to forage far beyond my normal viewing proclivities. Which is fine; I enjoy exploring and realize that with that will come the occasional dud of a show. But I ended up binge watching Person of Interest and its dark tone and grim mood were NOT what I needed right now. It’s good, if a bit uneven, for a network show, but, holy shit, I’m looking for escapist fantasy, not an inevitable dystopia that this program presents. This is a rant and there will be spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Okay, for those of you who have never seen the show, it centers around a man and a machine. Not just any machine, mind you, but a near omnipresent artificial intelligence. The man is Harold Finch (played by the amazing Michael Emerson of Lost and Evil to name a few. I’ve praised him before and this show, as depressing as it may be, hasn’t changed my mind about that.), a bookish and altruistic genius who created the Machine, along with his partner, for the U.S. government. An attack on both of them, shortly after creating The Machine, killed the partner, Nathan Ingram (played by Brett Cullen of Narcos and Joker), gives Harold a limp and drives him underground. This inspires him to use The Machine to help others. He programs it to look for potential devastating events and to point him in their direction by spitting out the social security number of a “person of interest”. While Harold is smart, and rich for some reason that is never fully explained, and The Machine is all seeing, they both lacked the ability to get physical. Looking for some muscle, Harold recruits ex-CIA agent, John Reese (Jim Caviezel of The Passion of the Christ and Escape Plan). He in turn coerces a crooked cop, Det. Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman of The Equalizer 2 and Black Dynamite), to assist him in their crusade. Det. Josalyn Carter (Taraji Henson of Hidden Figures and Empire)is the cop tasked with tracking down Reese (referred to the Man in the Suit) who eventually becomes a love interest.
As the show goes on, they build on this little cadre of would be heroes. They inadvertently save the life of, and later imprison, local crime boss, Carl Elias (Enrico Colantoni of Veronica Mars and Galaxy Quest). Their begrudging admiration for each other becomes a full fledged alliance over the course of the show’s 5 seasons. Root (the fabulous Amy Acker of Angel and Alias), a morally dubious hacker who becomes enamored with The Machine, shows up in first season, but doesn’t become a regular until season 3. And lastly, we have Agent Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi of The L Word and Chicago Fire), a CIA agent ordered to track down The Machine, who switches teams to work for it. There’s a handful of other recurring characters, as well, but, for the most part, the show is a monster of the week deal. In the first few seasons anyway.
I’ll admit it, I really enjoyed the first season. The AI was well written, cryptic in its communication and an almost alien presence. The stories were smart and the action fast paced. I mention how much I love the work of Michael Emerson, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked Chapman’s acting. Then, it started going to shit. I’ve watched enough long running television series to recognize the general patterns that they take. Usually, in each season, there is a long running story arc that concludes in the finale. It might be a definitive end or it might be a cliffhanger to carry over into the next season, and either way, the ending usually affects the next season. Sometimes that means that the characters start the next season down and out, one of their group winding up dead or being hunted or losing their powers. But it can go the other way as well, with a new member joining the group or the development of new found powers, becoming better, more powerful than before. The ups and downs that the characters experience can be a great part of the storytelling that keeps viewers guessing (and watching). Unfortunately, the overall arc of the show is a constant downhill slog, each season taking away more and more from the main characters and making their enemies stronger. It was disheartening to be perfectly honest. Out of the six main characters that formed the team, only half of them survive to the end.
There are other things that got to me. Both Reese and Shaw are great when it came to ass-kicking action, but they had the emotional range of a pair of manikins. In Shaw’s case, it worked out, to an extent; she was written as an emotionless sociopath, but as the show wore on, we learn that she went to medical school. While I can believe that maybe there is a sociopath or two that might go into medical school, but then going on to go into the CIA and become a killing machine definitely stretches my ability for sustained disbelief. Even in the case of The Machine itself, it’s portrayed as having superhuman intelligence and sentience. At one point it had itself dismantled and spread in boxes throughout the city to protect itself and in another occasion, it even established a business for itself, displaying a great deal of competence and initiative. With that sort of history, it amazed me that it didn’t do more. Why did it not built itself an army of drones to assist its creator? Why did it not rewrite its own code to improve on itself? I get that the show might be boring if it became an all powerful entity, but the restrictions the writers did put on it were almost nonsensical.
One bright spot was Root in God Mode. When she formed her bond with The Machine, she had microphone implanted in her ear, so The Machine could communicate directly to her. With her blind obedience to The Machine, she would do whatever it transmitted to her without question, which made her the most bad ass thing on the show and it was a thing of beauty. Sure, there were some bright spots. I’m not saying it was all bad. But each season brought them down just a little more and, oof, was that last season tough to sit through. There had to be 20 different ways the writers could have worked a win in for them, but, no, they just kept wracking up the losses. What started as a great show slowly became a steady dose of depression. And, good God, this year doesn’t need any more of that!