Around the Water Cooler: “Person of Interest,” Mid-Season Progress Report (MAJOR SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who: “Person of Interest” currently airs on network TV, specifically on CBS, Tuesdays at 10:00 PM.

What: “Person of Interest,” an action/crime drama featuring Michael Emerson (Lost) as Harold Finch, a technology and computer genius who, in the wake of 9/11, invents a Machine, which he sells to the government.  The Machine is designed to predict disasters and events with a high probability of catastrophic fatalities, except that Finch becomes aware that the Machine also predicts singular deaths, termed “acceptable losses,” that it discards or that are ignored by those associated with the Machine.  Consumed by several personal crises, including knowledge of the Machine’s capabilities, Finch hires former CIA-operative John Reese (Jim Caviezel, Passion of the Christ) as a vigilante responsible for saving the endangered lives predicted by the Machine.  Taraji P. Henson plays a police detective, recently demoted to officer, who first suspects and follows the mysterious operatives and then becomes an integral part of their operation. In addition, as the program progresses, the complicated lives and backgrounds of not only Finch and Reese but everyone connected directly or indirectly to the Machine, in addition to the Machine’s own complex programming, expose the corruption of higher powers, including government agencies and the New York Police Department, and the seedy underbelly and crime syndicates of greater New York City, (for a more detailed Synopsis, read here: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/tv/person_of_interest/summary.html).

When: The Season 3 premiere aired on Tuesday, September 24, 2013, on CBS at 10:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in New York City and follows Reese, now Officer Joss Carter, Detective Fusco, and sometimes Finch throughout the Burroughs as the Machine generates new numbers with associated lives to save. Occasionally, the action leaves New York State if there is a larger story arc or a flashback providing character background.

Why: I initially watched the show for three solid reasons: J.J. Abrams is an executive producer, Jonathan Nolan (i.e. Christopher Nolan’s writer brother) created the concept, and the show features Michael Emerson, best known as morally ambiguous Benjamin Linus on Lost, one of the truly great actors on that show.  I was also intrigued by seeing Jim Caviezel in a non-Jesus role.  I wasn’t sure what the program would ultimately become or how the high-concept premise would offer longevity and/or story possibilities.  I have been pleasantly surprised by just how exciting, intelligent, and thoroughly engaging this show has become, and if this season’s premiere is any indication, the ride is about to become even more of a roller coaster of action, emotion, and intrigue as the episodes progress.

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

It’s taken this viewer a long time to be motivated enough to write this particular Water Cooler entry.  Person of Interest has reached a critical juncture in its overarching story and not without major, unforeseen, gut-punching casualties that have resulted in sincere grief for fictional characters.  This viewer has not yet begun watching the second half of the season (with episodes starting in January) because, in some ways, the events on this show have been the most intense, the most heart wrenching, and the most surprising of any of the shows I’ve watched this season.  The biggest question for now where Person of Interest is concerned: where do they go from here?

Rather than write a mid-season recap, as is generally my fashion at this point in the season, I am using this particular entry to pay homage to the casualties of war – the silent war waged on all fronts by each of our characters.  War can take many forms, and in the fictional world of this program, the war being fought is between the corrupt and the true, the just and the unjust, the above board and the below the radar, the legal and the illegal, the moral and the immoral, the ethical and the unethical, and those who justify ends with means versus those who justify means with ends.  War is messy, though, and the writers and producers of this excellently written and conceived story have spared no shrapnel, no debris, and no ruin from their high-stakes battlefield involving the saving and taking of lives.

Thus – the mid-season remembrances of Person of Interest:

1) RIP HR

The biggest singular plot point of the first half of the third season: Reese, Carter, Fusco, Shaw, and the team exposed the corrupt layer of the NYPD and New York city government known as “HR.” Carter, while investigating the ultimate murder of her former love interest and deceased police detective, Cal, uncovered that HR was run by Cal’s godfather, the deputy mayor.  In addition, key henchmen of the organization, including Fusco’s particular bully, were identified.  Between Carter’s own brand of solitary vigilante justice, and with a little help from manipulative Elias (Enrico Colantoni) and his band of misfit gangsters, HR’s hold over the city crumbled, and several heads of the organization have died or been indicted for capital crimes.  This grand take-down was not without its costs, however.

2) RIP JOSS CARTER – and goodbye, Taraji P. Henson

Carter’s efforts led to her being caught in the crossfire.  In a vengeful twist of fate propagated by that same HR bully, Carter caught a bullet and is no more.  It was a devastating plot twist that no one saw or expected to happen, including our intrepid band of vigilantes. The demise of this character, including the departure of the incredible actress who played her, is quite the loss for the show, though it was a planned loss that was executed perfectly, with due ceremony, and without leaving plot minefields or the viewer unsatisfied in the end.  Still: au revoir, Taraji.  I hope you find new challenges for your considerable talents, though Carter was a fine addition to this winning ensemble.

3) RIP REESE’S RESOLVE

Carter’s death was particularly devastating to Reese, who shared a tender kiss with Carter before she charged into the fray in her final stand against the corrupt cops who threatened her life and the lives of her family.  While a slow-burning love between them is not surprising, given their common values and drives, the impromptu kiss by the usually stoic Reese was both uplifting and painful, as it foreshadowed–nay, heralded–that something terrible was about to happen, given its unsurprising eventuality mixed with the out-of-the-blue quality of the moment in which the kiss transpired. With Carter’s demise, Reese has gone off the reservation, hiding and drinking away his deep grief.  In the last episode I saw, Fusco tracked him down and tried to knock some sense into him.  Goodness knows how effective he will ultimately be.

4) RIP FINCH’S FIRM HAND ON HIS BAND OF LIFE SAVERS

Reese has lost it, and, therefore, Finch has lost his reliable tin soldier.  Shaw is doing her best to fulfill the mission, but, naturally, she lacks Reese’s earthier charms.  In addition, though Finch holds Root (Amy Acker) in captivity in the library, she is still able to communicate quite effectively with her new-found deity, the nascent consciousness of the Machine, and Finch doesn’t know how she does it. Neither do we, for that matter.  Root calls the Machine “God.”  The scary part of her assertion is that the Machine’s level of computational and statistical predictive ability appears to be approaching omnipotence.  I can’t remember if it predicted Carter’s death, though.  Hm.

Rest in peace, dearly departed.  The afterlife awaits.

Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations

Revisiting previous questions:

1) Now that the Machine is talking and having existential conversations with Root, what is going to happen to the occasional numbers it generates?  Is the Machine’s morality going to become a factor as it becomes more self-aware?

Answer: The numbers are still coming, but the morality of the Machine is still in question.  In fact, not only is the Machine’s morality suspect; its endgame remains the true mystery and may define the scope and direction of the series going forward.

2) How long is Root going to remain in the asylum?  And can Amy Acker be promoted to a series regular already because she is too good an actress, and her character too charismatic and potentially evil, to be used irregularly and/or infrequently.

Answer: Amy Acker is a series regular, and she escaped from the asylum fairly quickly with the help of her mysterious connection with the Machine.  Now, she’s holed up in the library under Finch’s watchful eye.  Will that last, or will the Machine bust her out of her newest prison?

3) The same goes for Elias (Enrico Colantoni) – what will his part in the larger web ultimately be?  He always seems to be ten steps ahead of everyone else, but he doesn’t know about the Machine, which the viewer knows is smarter than him.

Answer: Elias manipulated Carter somewhat but also helped her to take down one of his key adversaries, HR.  Elias is still on the loose but still unaware of the Machine.  Will they ever cross paths?

4) Shaw has added additional levity and snark to the proceedings, particularly vis-a-vis her chemistry with Reese – yet, this also has the potential of becoming tired quickly.  Writers: please use her sparingly. Her shortest one-liners are the funniest.  For example, “I’m hungry.  Buy me a steak.”

Answer: While Reese is off the reservation, Shaw is Finch’s main mercenary.  Her rougher edges have smoothed out somewhat, but her general demeanor has become largely one-note and boring. Will she smack some sense into Reese also?  Will she ever get in touch with her inner human?

5) Finch’s personal crises are going to be driven into a tailspin when he finds out how much self-knowledge the Machine has attained. He already knows that the Machine has evolved beyond its original programming that he developed for it, but if the Machine starts thinking for itself, Finch’s guilt related to the “acceptable loss” factor of the individual numbers might grow exponentially and overtake him. Reese, despite their individual reservations and lack of shared information between each other, has become his tether, but Reese might not be able to account for the psychological ramifications of the Machine’s growing consciousness on Finch’s zealous quest to right what he perceives to be the singularly most devastating wrong of his life (other than letting Grace, played by Emerson’s real life wife Carrie Preston, go).

Answer: Finch is, indeed, horrified by the Machine’s evolution and appears to be confronted with some combination of wariness and denial when it comes to Root’s claims that she not only communicates with the Machine, but that the Machine has also attained a higher consciousness. Finch may be as aware as anyone that he is losing control of the situation, and he is still wrestling with the guilt of creating something more intelligent than most human beings.

6) Reese, on the other hand, has found purpose after his break from the CIA, which attempted to assassinate him as a compromised asset, sent him into a nosedive and made him a ghost and ripe for the picking by Finch.  Reese follows Finch’s orders and uses his considerable fighting prowess to fulfill the mission of saving the “acceptable losses,” but his fight might grow if the Machine, Elias’ gang, HR, and other corrupt elements of the city begin to collide more often.

Answer: The fight grew, and HR fell apart – but it’s not over yet.

7) In the meantime, there is Carter, who is now fighting demons of her own, some of which Reese and Finch are aware, others which they know nothing about.  She is already a woman in a man’s world (and a Black woman at that), but the outfit known as HR has its arms and fingers into many parts of the pot. The question of her mere survival and the preservation of her sanity may be more important than her overall role in the big picture.

Answer: Neither survived in the end, and it was devastating.

8) And then there’s Fusco – the resident comic relief, though he sure figured out how to diffuse the igniter of a homemade bomb pretty quickly.  He has been walking the line, pretending to be a dutiful member and stooge for HR while spying for Finch and Reese, but HR is already suspicious of him.  His survival and identity as an accessory to the vigilantes is also at risk, particularly now that he is not able to be assisted by former partner Carter.

Answer: He surviveed.  Will his role in Finch’s merry band of misfits grow?  Will he be able to save Reese from himself and his spiraling self-destruction as he mourns Carter?

All New Questions:

9) Where do they go from here?  Will Reese recover?  What is the Machine (and, therefore, Root’s) endgame?

10) What will Finch do to continue the quest when so much of his operation is in shambles following the cataclysmic confrontation with HR?

11) Will Finch or any of the group have to destroy the Machine in the end?

12) Will the Machine continue to predict deaths, either individual or, in connection to its original purpose, larger/catastrophic disasters?

PARTING SHOTS

In short, Person of Interest continues to boast riveting storytelling, with threads that interweave, overlap, tie together, and unravel in the end.  Each episode is jam packed with so-called “holy shit” moments – culminating in some of the biggest of such moments this season.  In addition, the fully formed chemistry between this ensemble cast of actors is truly engaging.  This is one of the most exciting shows on TV right now.  This viewer continues to recommend this show to anyone who likes fast-paced, serial television with easy questions, no easy answers, and witty and intelligent writing, not to mention solid performances from a stellar cast.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Person of Interest was ordered for a full season by CBS, as it is a show with steady to high ratings, particularly among male audiences (I defy stereotypes of course). Unless something drastic occurs, this show probably has a few seasons to go and will become a mainstay for the network.

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