S01E02: There’s a lot of inherent potential in a show like Person of Interest: a high concept series about a renegade FBI agent and a mysterious figure with access to a machine that can predict crimes before they happen, with the healthy dose of a Big Brother is Watching overtone.
Unfortunately, and surprisingly, the second episode of the series indicates that it might not be taking full advantage of what it has to work with. Perhaps everyone else saw this coming, but I genuinely did not expect for this show to take the form of a high-stakes/high-action detective procedural. The pilot seemed to suggest that Person of Interest would be more of an overarching narrative first and foremost that involved independent cases along the way—perhaps cases that were in some way connected to the theme of the government’s watchful eye, to terrorism, to September 11, to either of the two main characters or their backstories…but I suppose that would conflict with the point, a little.
The point that the show is trying to convey is that nobody’s life is “irrelevant.” The machine was built initially to predict and prevent crimes against national security, but was unable to differentiate such crimes from other types of crimes—murders of individual civilians. These crimes (and individuals) were deemed “irrelevant” until Mr. Finch (Michael Emerson) grew a conscience—an occurrence that is subtly linked to a major loss he experienced, possibly that of the colleague we meet in a flashback in this episode. Taking this into consideration, it would be ignoring the spirit of the show, the cherishment of every single human life (except for nameless henchmen, of course), to say that they should be focusing on more “relevant” crimes.
And though the message is one of value, it would require a little bit more character in order to really hit home properly. Without flavor and personality, this comes across simply as a hyperactive FBI action show that happens to have a couple of mysteries stuck in the background to make sure we don’t miss too many episodes.
“She was murdered along with the rest of her family. Two years ago.” – Finch
“So we’re looking for a ghost?” – Reese
“Ghost” covers a two year-old unsolved murder. Finch’s machine has selected the social security number of a girl named Teresa who was presumed dead when her father (apparently) killed himself, his wife, and her. The body of the girl, who was fifteen at the time, was never found and it was assumed to be taken away by the current (the other two corpses were located in the water). However, Finch has an unwavering faith in his machine, and has Reese (Jim Caviezel) seek out Teresa before something bad happens to her.
Reese’s first move is to threaten his “buddy on the force,” Detective Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman)—the corrupt (but not entirely unforgivable) cop that Reese blackmailed in the first episode in order to keep a constant stream of favors heading his way—for the case file on Teresa and her family. We can expect to see Reese taking advantage of poor Fusco once a week for inside information. He’s sort of like a reverse Huggy Bear.
With Fusco’s help, Reese manages to track down the hitman who was hired to kill Teresa’s family. The man, in jail for a separate crime, insists that he let Teresa go as he would “never kill a kid.” Gotta love the moral code of murderers.
In the meantime, Finch poses as an insurance agent and speaks with Teresa’s aunt (ex-wife of Teresa’s father’s brother, who divorced her a year ago and hasn’t spoken to her since).
Reese uncovers a possible contact Teresa might have—an old boyfriend, whom he tracks down (far too conveniently). Through him, he finds her, and after a very Law & Order-style chase scene, followed by a near-murder of Teresa in a Laundromat, Reese manages to get Teresa to speak with him and Finch. As to why people are still trying to murder Teresa…that’s the question.
The answer: they found out she was still alive, and they know that she is the rightful heir to some very fortuitous property that her father purchased before he was murdered. In fact, that’s why he was murdered. And murdered him? Directly, some practically faceless business moguls. Indirectly, his own brother. Finch and Reese manage to keep Teresa safe from the persistent goateed man who aims to see her dead, which is enough to restore the poor orphan’s trust in people.
“Don’t call me, Mr. Reese. I’ll call you.” – Finch
The end of the episode sees Reese covertly deliver Teresa to Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson), the woman who has been investigating his dirty work and trying to figure out the mystery behind the man since the beginning of the pilot. We like her. So does Reese. We also get a closing scene that sees Finch pack up his desk and leave the office. His secrecy has been compromised—and a bust of him in the building lobby solidifies the fact that he has been considered dead since 2010.
The good stuff: We also get a glimpse at what Finch was like before he made it his life’s goal to prevent all these murders. He, under the mindset of the government, was only interested in the “big crimes.” His partner, however, is a more moralistic fellow, who takes issue with the blatant disregard of innocent lives. We do not see anything further in terms of Finch’s evolution in this episode, but that’s the pull. We’re also dying to know what exactly happened to screw Reese up so bad.
But are a few quick flashback scenes per episode enough? There is value in the “method to the madness” of the procedural system they’ve got going: people deserve to be considered important. All people. Furthermore, it’s probably the only (or at least easiest) way to fill out hour-long episodes every week. But there should be a lot more of “What’s going on with Reese/Finch/the machine/the government, and how did they get this way?” and a little less “Man, that guy’s good at hand-to-hand combat!” The show has some good stuff going for it, it’s just a little off on its focus.