Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Number of Interest

About an hour ago I fired up the PVR to watch last week's episode of Person of Interest, "Relevance." Once again, this show proves itself one of the smartest mainstream hours on network television with a clever inversion that turns the show's regular formula on its head.

As usual, the episode opens with Harold Finch's initial monologue, "You are being watched..." But only a couple of sentences into the title sequence, it's interrupted by the Machine, who dismisses the sequence as "IRRELEVANT" and shuffles through its endless collection of files to uncover a "RELEVANT" story, the assassination of a computer expert. From here we follow the adventures of a pair of covert operatives working for the US government, and we quickly learn that these two are, like Finch and Reese, working for the Machine - only they're working on the officially relevant cases, the ones the Machine was built for, the threats of large-scale terrorism. The operatives kill a group of terrorists in Germany who are building a dirty nuclear bomb, and from here the episode follows their story, with Finch and Reese not appearing until midway through the story. It turns out, of course, that the operatives are Finch and Reese's "numbers" this week, but in this case the audience follows the victims rather than the series protagonists. It's a cool way to subvert the formula.

But perhaps even cooler is a clever bit of marketing during the episode's coda. Near the end, Finch hands his card to the week's guest star, imploring her to call if she ever needs help again. The camera lingers on Finch's phone number for just a second too long, and viewers can clearly see that it's not one of the ubiquitous 555 numbers Hollywood uses to avoid liability - it appears to be a genuine phone number, 915-285-7362, in the New York City exchange.

Aha.

Moments ago, I dialed the number. I was rewarded by a recording: "Hello, you've reached Harold Wren at Universal Heritage Insurance. I'm currently out of the office. I'm sorry I'm not available."

Another voice then indicates that the user's mailbox can't accept any more messages. Harold Wren, of course, is one of Finch's cover identities. Awesome!

Now, wouldn't it be cool and incredibly scary if the Machine phoned me back..?

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