A little over a month ago I wrote about Person of Interest. At the time I called the show formulaic, but noted that it held promise. I'm happy to say the creators are beginning to deliver on that promise - Person of Interest is starting to explore subversive themes.
During last week's episode, Reese and Finch tried to help an undercover cop working on a massive drug bust. Most of the episode was fairly boilerplate stuff, until the revelation that the big fish at the top, the primary target of the undercover police sting, was in fact a CIA operative. In the end, Reese, Finch and the cop they tried to help have to accept defeat, resigning themselves to the idea that "they [i.e., the government] lost the war on drugs, so now they're using it to fund the war on terror."
That's a pretty radical idea for a mainstream television show, and I was both surprised and delighted that Person of Interest had the daring to take such a bold step. In the world of the show, this revelation isn't speculation or cynicism, but an established fact of the fictional universe inhabited by the characters!
Of course shadowy governments are nothing new in fiction, but they tend to appear in shows with less grounding in reality. Person of Interest plays as an only slightly more technologically sophisticated cop show; it's a procedural rather than straight science fiction, despite its very subtle hints that "the machine" is a nascent artificial intelligence. Nor is Person of Interest a paranoid thriller such as 24. It's almost as if a safe, mainstream show such as Law & Order or ER suddenly revealed, in-universe, that aliens really landed at Roswell.
This week, Reese and Finch found themselves embroiled in an insider trading scandal orchestrated by the show's recurring villain, and again Person of Interest subverted genre expectations. It's easy these days to paint Wall Street as a monolithic bad guy, but this episode's hero is a trader with ethics who helps Reese and Finch prevent millions of people from losing their life savings. The show seems to be saying that it's not the system that's bad, it's the people abusing it - a fairly controversial notion if you happen to favour the idea that the system is fundamentally flawed. Somehow the writers manage to sympathize with the Occupy movement and brokers alike - no mean feat!
I like that Person of Interest is playing with these issues without obviously favouring one viewpoint over another. Whether your politics lean left or right, this show is presenting, if only via subtext, some pretty interesting moral questions.