I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Spoiler Alert: Person of Interest S01E01

Person of Interest is, well, interesting. In many ways it is like Burn Notice only relevant (and well-written, and well-acted, and with an interesting story). But it has real heart, too. It deals with people whose lives were changed because of the events of September 11, 2001, and the ensuing war in the Middle East, accompanied by the massive breach of privacy that happened because of the Patriot Act. The show critically deals with the problems that the U.S. government created for its people while reverently dealing with the individual losses felt across the nation by the American people.

I wasn't expecting to add Person of Interest to the spoiler alert series, but it has proven itself. Executive J.J. Abrams has given me a couple of my favorite shows of all time and the best mysteries. Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher Nolan) has been involved in some of the better scripted films of the last couple decades (including Memento). And Michael Emerson is absolutely one of the best character actors I've ever seen. My friend Zac said the other night that he doesn't understand why they even make new television programs because they all get canceled anyways. And that's incredibly true. The only shows that seem to make it are the ones that were created five to ten years ago that keep getting renewed because they are part of peoples' habits even when they no longer have anything valuable to offer. Here's to hoping that CBS does not cancel Person of Interest, but also that Person of Interest continues to have something to offer rather than uninteresting episodic drama.

And now, the characters:

1. Person of Interest / Mr. Reese

Jim Caviezel's Mr. Reese is the "person of interest" to which the television's program refers. Of course, Mr. Finch reveals that this is simply one of several identities and we see a driver's license that reads "James J. Manzione," so it appears clear that one of the overarching concerns of this program is going to be to figure out who Mr. Reese really is.

What do we know about Mr. Reese? Instead of getting mugged in the subway by a gang of twenty-somethings, Reese beats up every single mugger and is brought to jail for the crime. The viewer is likely to think, "Where did he learn to fight like that?"

The police officer who interrogates Mr. Reese believes that it is clear that he spent some time in the service, but believes that his skills go beyond Army to Special Forces or Delta. We are lead to raise the question of whether he's a good guy who is poorly adjusted or a man who has done evil things? When his fingerprints are found at several other crime scenes, he is called "the angel of death." Is he good or evil? If this is anything like the other works of J.J. Abrams, the answer is that he is both or neither: he is human.

At first, Mr. Finch describes Mr. Reese as someone who has worked for the government, had doubts about the government, faked his death, tried to drink himself to death, and who has contemplated suicide. It is revealed that Reese was "with the agency," which we might be able to presume means the CIA. (If he was with the FBI, we would say he was "with the bureau," for example.) Of course, in the flashback with Jessica we hear about him going "back to base" and then subsequently quitting, which suggests that he had military connections as well.

2. Jessica

In the beginning we are shown a flashback where Mr. Reese is with a woman named Jessica, a woman he describes as his "one person." We later find out that they had known one another for six months and that they were spending a long weekend in Mexico. Jessica has not told her family about Mr. Reese, so this is a secret affair. During the series of flashbacks, we find out that this trip happened during the same week that the attacks on the Twin Towers happened.

But Jessica was taken from Mr. Reese. By whom? We cannot know. What we do know is that Jessica was killed while Mr. Reese was half-way around the world. Was she kidnapped (taken by someone) or killed (kidnapped from this mortal coil)? We haven't seen a body, and this is a J.J. Abrams show, so there's always that chance Jessica could be alive somewhere.

Another question to ask is whether or not Jessica was the only one killed. Mr. Reese says, "I don't have any friends. I don't have any family either." Were they all taken from him, or is that just something you say when you feel alienated, when you've faked your death and started an "untraceable" life. My guess: he's still got some old friends and family life, and we're going to meet them at some point.

3. A Concerned Third-Party / Mr. Finch

Mr. Finch is a wealthy man who made a lot of money prior to September 11 in the private sector. When the government began massive surveillance on its people due to the Patriot Act, Finch designed a kind of filter that is capable of dividing possible threats into relevant and irrelevant. The only relevant threats were those that could result in massive loss of life, and those were presumably forwarded to the NSA or the FBI. (This poses the question: Were they really forwarded to the NSA or the FBI? Or is there some other party involved?) But people were still being hurt as a result of the irrelevant threats, and the irrelevant threat list was deleted daily. Finch wishes to help the lives of the individual people that he can now save due to the back door he built into "the machine." He has chosen Mr. Reese as his hero, but why? Finch explains that he's followed Reese for some time and that he believes they have a great deal in common. Finch also explains that he has lost someone. Who has he lost? We're to presume that a member of his family was killed as well, but that seems too easy. I think it's possible that he's referring to the fact that he has lost "the machine" to the government.

A couple of other things ought to be noticed about Finch. First of all, he walks with a limp. Second, while he is climbing the stairs he almost immediately begins to have labored breathing. Something serious has happened to Finch that threatens his health. Perhaps he has chosen Mr. Reese to help him out as something of a deathbed wish. Third, Finch does not like fire arms, which could explain both the fact that he is injured in such a way and the fact that he lost someone close to him.

4. The Machine

Every transition in this program has some sort of surveillance feed in it. It makes one wonder who is watching this surveillance feed. Finch and Reese are often seen through the eyes of a camera or their voices heard through a wire tap. This suggests that someone is paying attention to what they're doing. Is this a particular government agency? Is this the machine? Or is this someone else altogether?

Furthermore, when Mr. Finch talks about "the machine," it seems like it is alive, intelligent, possibly even sentient. This calls upon ideas like those in Lawnmower Man or Eagle Eye. This is why I am considering the machine a character. While its drives are presumably located in a government facility (in the end we see a scene reminiscent of the end of the "Pilot" episode of X-Files where the computer takes up an enormous warehouse), "the machine" is everywhere, suggesting that it is nearly omniscient and its eyes and ears are omnipresent. In a way, this machine is a god in toddler-form. My guess: We're going to see it grow.

5. The Rest

The white kids from the gang who attempted to mug Mr. Reese on the subway appear once again while Mr. Reese is loading up on weaponry later on. This is often a sign that these characters are going to pop up more often. Maybe they're important. Maybe they're not.

Similarly, the lady cop who interrogates Mr. Reese after the mugging appears near the end of the episode. Will she be important?

And finally, the episodic events that happened may have existed solely for the sake of introducing Mr. Reese to a dirty cop named Lionel. Lionel explains that he became a bad guy because Wall Street was robbing everybody in America. But Mr. Reese thinks it has something to do with loyalty, suggesting that he's a good guy after all. Reese wants to keep the bad cop as a contact, and he wants the bad cop to continue what he's doing but not to hurt anyone. I think we can feel pretty sure that Lionel will be a main character, and I would guess that we might have a big Lionel episode coming up next week.

See you next week!


  1. First, this isn't really a J.J. Abrams show. He is an executive producer, but Jonathon Nolan is the creator and producer of the show.

    As an Executive producer, JJ probably doesn't have much to do (or anything really) with the day to day of the show and the episodes. He is more accurately probably better described as a money person on the show.

    Jonathon Nolan is the brother of Christopher Nolan and wrote (with Christopher Nolan) all of the Christopher Nolan films.

    I figure those films are the better lens to view this show through, not the other JJ Abrams shows.

    Second, the woman cop that interrogates him gets second billing on the show, right after Jim Caviezel, so yes, she is an important character.

    I don't know that the dirty cop will be that important, at least at first. He struck me as more of a plot device giving Mr. Reese someone on the inside.

  2. I got the vibe that the dirty cop would serve almost as a backwards Jim Gordon to Jim Caviezel's backwards Batman.

    Of course, he might just signal that the first season is going to have an independent arc revolving around the group that this dirty cop is a part of. The one thing I was hoping for that we didn't get in the premiere was a unified source for the episodic incidents like they had on ALIAS.

    As for the Abrams thing, even if he has no creative control I have this thing where I watch Abrams shows until they go off air. It's just a rule of mine. That's why it's a significant detail.