When it comes to Person of Interest, all the ingredients are there — especially if you were a LOST fan. The series is produced by J.J. Abrams, with Michael Emerson (known on the island as Ben Linus, a fan favorite) starring. Additionally, much like its predecessor, Person of Interest’s lifeblood is its mysteries. Mysteries about the personal histories of its characters, the motives of those out to get them, and the nature of the beast keeping — forcing — them all together. Sound familiar? In essence, Person of Interest is LOST in New York (not Lost in New York). However, unlike LOST, Person of Interest just doesn’t work.
As stated, all of the elements involved should, logically, make up an interesting series. But week after week, Person of Interest can’t help but come off as predominantly stale. Even some of its best and most flavorful fail to truly invigorate. While the show has worked hard to build up an interesting mythology about its focal entity, The Machine, Person of Interest seems to have forgotten about the important stake of its characters.
The men who don the pseudonyms John Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Harold Finch (Emerson) have what it takes to be gripping characters. They’re both haunted by complicated pasts, both severely damaged, both paranoid and guarded. But none of these traits really translate effectively into unique voices for these characters. Most of the dialogue in Person of Interest is halfhearted throwaway jabs (the routine ones that you’d hear on old CSI episodes) and flavorless exposition. You’d think that characters like Reese and Finch would have a lot to say (overtly or otherwise), but they almost never do. They aren’t characters as much as vehicles to deliver the Big Brother theme in which Person of Interest invests so much of itself. And while the theme is good, it’s hard to care about it if you don’t care about the people involved.
The mysterious island was an interesting theme. Smoke monsters, demanding keyboard sequences, polar bears. All good. But those aren’t enough to build a story. LOST knew that it was not a show about an island: It was a show about Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Jin, Sun, Claire, Charlie, Desmond… even (you could argue especially) Vincent. Shows need character. And characters need to be able to express themselves effectively.
That doesn’t mean that Reese and Finch should be open books. Quite the contrary. Their mutually closed-off, paranoid nature is conducive to some really interesting dialogue and behavior. And the actors, Emerson especially, are definitely capable of delivering bottled-up madmen through rich, albeit never overtly explicit, dialogue.
A show can’t survive on twists and turns alone, or even on the steady buildup of tension. These elements are ones that Person of Interest created and handled craftily, but they shouldn’t be the forefront of the series. Its characters should. Reese and Finch have backstories interesting enough to make them compelling characters; unfortunately, each episode’s construction seems bent on making its viewers ignore the men at the center and focus on the crime of the week, or on the machine controlling the men. The characters deserve better than this. More introspective episodes — not episodes that do away entirely with the hunt for a killer, mind you, but ones that allow for a truer understanding of these men and their makeup — would work in Person of Interest’s favor. It has everything it needs at its disposal: great people behind the camera (Abrams and Jonathan Nolan), and great people in front of it (Abrams, Emerson, Taraji P. Henson and Kevin Chapman). It has an intricate, intelligent backdrop. All it needs to do is balance these elements a little bit better — only then will we have a Season 2 of interest.
[Image Credit: CBS]