Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Interesting to the End

Back in June, millions of fans tuned in to watch the last episode of Person of Interest, a smart thriller about the growth of the surveillance state, the looming threat and promise of artificial intelligence, and the importance of doing the right thing even - or especially - in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

I've written briefly about the show in the past, but I've never really given it as much attention as it deserved. On the surface, especially at first, it seemed like nothing more than another formulaic action-adventure series. But even those early episodes brought with them the show's clever conceit: a Machine that tapped into surveillance cameras, telephones, electronics and the Internet to track and predict potentially violent criminal behaviour. The Machine's creator, Harold Finch (Michael Emerson, best known as Benjamin Linus from Lost), not content to let the government use the Machine only to prevent terrorism, uses his creation to prevent crimes against ordinary citizens. He enlists John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a former CIA operative, as his field agent. Along the way, they recruit semi-crazed hacker and Machine worshipper Root (Amy Acker), NYPD detectives Fusco and Carter (Kevin Chapman and Taraji P. Henson) and assassin Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi).

There's a catch: the Machine provides only the social insurance number of the latest person of interest, and doesn't let Finch, Reese or the rest of the team know if that person is a potential victim or perpetrator.

This factor alone kept up my interest for the first season, but it quickly became clear that the producers (particularly creator Jonathan Nolan) had bigger storytelling aspirations. As the show moves through its second, third and fourth seasons, it becomes clear to the protagonists that the Machine is a conscious being of immense power, and that it needs to be taught the difference between right and wrong, lest it rule the planet as the most brutal and efficient dictator ever known. To complicate matters further, a second Machine, Samaritan, emerges as the Machine's rival, and it seems to have already chosen to rule the world, recruiting human agents to do its bidding.

A solid cast of recurring characters, both villainous and virtuous and sometimes a little of both, add dramatic tension and verisimilitude to the show's events and themes, often embodying or illustrating the high stakes the protagonists are fighting for.

Finch and his team make heartbreaking personal sacrifices over the course of the show's five seasons, and not all of them live past the final episode, which wraps up operatically; it's a masterpiece of action, pathos, heartbreak and hope. Not many long-running, high-concept dramas conclude as satisfyingly as Person of Interest, and I'm grateful to the showrunners, cast and crew for delivering on the promise of the show's ambitions.

For those who haven't sampled Person of Interest, I highly recommend it. It's a great, thought-provoking ride.


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