Every fall, television networks release many promising new shows for public viewing. Few, however, survive longer than a single season. Last fall, I was looking forward to Prime Suspect, an American version of the British series, one of my all-time favorites, starring Helen Mirren. The American version starred Maria Bello as the tough, female police detective competing in a man’s profession. The promos, showing Bello wearing a fedora and acting brazen around blood and corpses outlined in chalk, hooked me, and I stuck around for most of its thirteen episodes, though it didn’t last much past Christmas. The show had promise, but somehow it never quite gelled. Another show that got my interest early on was A Gifted Man, about a snobbish neurosurgeon (Patrick Wilson) who gets unwanted advice from his dead ex-wife (Jennifer Ehle), the former head of a free clinic. The early episodes centered on the supernatural, but then the show quickly became a standard medical drama. The ghost of the ex-wife showed up less and less, and it lost sight of its original premise, which is what hooked me in the first place. That, and the ghost had way too many costume changes. I had never seen a fictional ghost with such a big wardrobe before. She must have found a way to take her clothes with her to the afterlife.
A third show, though, not only hooked me, but also kept my interest throughout the season, and has me already dying for its second season. Person of Interest, created by Jonathan Nolan (co-writer of The Dark Knight), had the highest ratings for a pilot episode in fifteen years. It soon won broad appeal, and was renewed for a second season in March. The premise involves a sort of odd couple who decide to prevent crimes before they happen. Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), creator of a God-like entity known only as “the machine” that can spy on the public through surveillance cameras, cell phones, internet, and other devices, recruits John Reese (Jim Caviezel), an ex-CIA operative believed to be dead, to be the muscle in preventing violent crimes that the machine predicts. Unfortunately, the machine only provides a “person of interest,” an individual who may be the victim, or who may be the perpetrator. Reese must track the person of interest with the help of the brilliant computer hacker Finch, who communicates with Reese through his earpiece. To up the stakes, Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson) tracks Reese throughout much of the series as a possible suspect in a variety of crimes, and as a counter measure, Reese coerces Detective Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman), who had at one time tried to kill Reese, into spying on Det. Carter.
Each episode provides a complex mystery, plenty of fights, car chases, explosions, and suspense. And if that isn’t enough, the relationships between Finch, Reese, Carter and Fusco mature and change over time, with Carter finally getting let in on Reese’s secret missions, only to find that she disapproves of Reese’s methods, and with Fusco slowly leaving his dirty cop past to become a more responsible detective. Finch and Reese both have their secret pasts, which the viewer gets brief glimpses of in many episodes, and their relationship becomes strained at times, each sometimes questioning how much they can trust the other. There is also a growing cast of recurring minor characters and villains: Carl Elias (Enrico Colantoni), the illegitimate son of an elderly Mafia don who makes a series of bold moves across several episodes toward taking over the crime families; Zoe Morgan (Paige Turco), a “fixer” introduced early in the season as a person of interest who later consults on a couple of other cases in later episodes; an organization known as HR, made up of a group of corrupt police officers that Fusco was once part of; Agent Snow (Michael Kelly) of the CIA, who is looking for Reese; Kara Stanton (Annie Parisse), Reese’s former partner who, like Reese, was believed to be deceased; Special Agent Donnelly (Brennan Brown) of the FBI, who is also looking for Reese; and a slippery character known as “Root,” a gifted computer hacker who considers Finch to be a worthy adversary. At the heart of it all is the machine, shrouded in darkness, which may be a power for good or for evil, depending on who might gain control over it.
Michael Emerson, known for his roles in Lost and The Practice, plays Harold Finch as an aloof, scholarly man dressed in a suit and vest, always with a stolid expression on his face. Finch is an intellectual who seeks to help others, but is a little afraid of social interactions. Emerson is the anchor for the entire show, the eccentric genius who may have created a monster. Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, portrays Reese as a tough man of action, and performs most of the stunts and seemingly reckless methods in taking out bad guys. Reese, who failed to save his former girlfriend in the past, is compelled to save others. He has a strong moral compass, having rejected the cold world of the CIA for a better way to save the world. Taraji P. Henson, nominated for an Oscar for her role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, plays Carter as a tough, independent woman, who may be one of the few remaining honest officers left, struggling to survive with her integrity intact. Carter is honest to a fault, proceeding by the book in all situations, and suspicious of everyone.
Kevin Chapman, known for his role in Mystic River, plays Fusco, a dirty cop trying to redeem himself. Fusco risks his life by infiltrating the corrupt world of HR, and by being Reese’s eyes on Carter. Chapman has a gift for playing a bad guy with a conscience, who struggles to find a way to escape from his past.
Person of Interest is a show for a post-9/11 world, where our government spies on its citizens to look for possible terrorists. Nobody is above suspicion. The Machine, like Big Brother, is watching you.