Posted in Arts, Top Arts

How Person of Interest resisted falling into the post-9/11 TV trap

Even though the show is winding down, its intelligent scripts will be remembered

Person of Interest goes beyond the typical crime drama and engages with current events, without sensationalizing them.
Person of Interest goes beyond the typical crime drama and engages with current events, without sensationalizing them.
Image Credits: CBS

When Person of Interest first aired in September of 2011, I was immediately hooked.

A response to the American War on Terror, Person of Interest follows John Reese (Jim Caviezel), Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), and all-seeing citywide surveillance system The Machine, as they fight crime in New York City. The cast is also rounded out by hacker Root (Amy Acker), government assassin Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi), and NYPD Detectives Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson) and Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman).

As described by the opening narration, Finch programmed The Machine to predict and prevent acts of terror for the American Government. He felt guilty though that they would ignore the premeditated murders, robberies, and domestic abuse that The Machine also foresaw. Operating in secret, Finch serves as mission control to Reese, the former Special Forces agent haunted by years of guilt, who supplies the skills needed to prevent these crimes.

It’s like Minority Report if they replaced those weird psychic twins with that scene at the end of The Dark Knight when Batman hacks into everyone’s cellphones.

What sets Person of Interest apart from other crime dramas is how, at its core, it looks to discuss current issues. Sure, some other shows might write up a quick and vaguely topical episode about the latest murder or assault case that flashed across the headlines the week before. Those shows are shallow and sensationalist in comparison, though. While those shows are about criminals, lawyers, or crime scene investigators, Person of Interest speculates about a society at the turning point where technology can become either our friend or our master.

Person of Interest engages in dialogue on issues of privacy and surveillance, freedom versus security, artificial intelligence, the ubiquity of technology, and corporate and government corruption.

It also deals much less vindictively than other post-9/11 shows — particularly when compared to the bloodthirsty, ‘ends justify the means’ attitude of 24‘s Jack Bauer. Whereas Bauer once threatened to force a towel down someone’s throat “all the way” and pull out his stomach lining during an interrogation, the characters of Person of Interest are far less sadistic; their primary goal is the protection of life.

The first episode of the fifth and final season aired May 3 and had the protagonists still reeling from the debilitating events of the previous season. The already high production values have gotten even higher in the show’s final lap around the track, and the show looks set for a spectacular finish when it takes its final bow.

When the show finally powers down on June 21, I know I will not forget the intelligent scripts and compelling characters that made up that world. Until that day, you can be sure that I, just like The Machine, will be watching.

Person of Interest airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on CTV.