The roster of talent involved is impressive with Batman alum Jonathan Nolan as writer/creator, JJ Abrams executive producing and Jim Caviezel taking the lead. The plot is a little preposterous but a small sprinkle of silly seems practically compulsory in the primetime TV we enjoy today. Yet Person of Interest fails entirely to captivate – its title is a misnomer – over two dozen episodes I don’t recall seeing anyone who interested me at all.
John Reese (Jim Caviezel) is a former CIA agent who vanished, presumed dead, after he buckled under the burden of professional and person trauma. The loss of ex-girlfriend Jessica is a burden he carries to this day and his reclusive life the self-imposed punishment. Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) is a billionaire with an extraordinary secret: in the years following 9/11 he built a machine, of superior intelligence, that was capable of filtering through millions of streams of conversation and electronic communication to seek out a terrorist threat. The AI he conceived delivered the threats as requested. But the computer could not detect the difference between a threat to a single soul and a threat to the nation, it only perceived intent. The list of social security numbers it spat out had to be subdivided and the endangered individuals list was routinely cast aside. Until Finch felt compelled to right the terrible wrong and to recruit an invisible man who could help him do so…
Jim Caviezel was well cast as recalcitrant, tormented, Reese – any flicker of potential in this show entirely belongs to him. He takes sloppy, generic dialogue and makes it palatable through talent alone. He has intensity to spare yet scant opportunity to express it dramatically. Wounded silences do not a character make. Michael Emerson does less well as reserved and socially awkward Machine-creator Finch. He is handicapped from the outset by his character, necessarily reticent and controlled, but it is Finch’s pairing with Reese which really hamstrings him.
One enigmatic personality may play well in a partnership – two becomes a game of wounded-silence-chicken. Support is given by Turaji P Henson and Kevin Chapman as detectives hot on Reese’s trail. His slick attire and tendency to wound-not-kill have attracted their attention. With time both grow more tolerant of his extreme methods through individual motivations of duress and empathy. And ultimately Henson’s Joss Carter, with Finch’s machine, becomes a unique asset to preserve the safety of all.
With divergent subplots involving the real story behind Jessica’s death and the rise to power of a member of underworld royalty, Person of Interest is hardly lacking meaty material to play with. And yet the show lacks sparkle, often seeming to take a meandering path to get to a predictable goal and relying upon the mysterious machine frustratingly rarely once it has spewed out a quarry. Where the narrative ought to be buoyed up by a breath of anticipation, of tension, of agitation, of something, instead it is left to languish distended and spent – a balloon devoid of air and ready to be cast aside.
The Elias storyline, though competently scripted, felt contrived and was out of step with the tone of other episodes. And as an entirety the show was curiously old fashioned. In fact I felt my mind wandering often to 1999 CIA ‘secret project’ drama Now and Again, initially because the first episode recalled it and latterly because it was a more interesting place for my brain to park. By the time the big conspiracy payoff had wandered along my attention was long gone. Person of Interest would probably have won viewers in 1999 but this is 2013 and we expect more bang for our buck.
Beaten down by disappointment as one dull episode succeeded the next, all hope for dramatic reprieve leaving my body, my plaintive refrain became: Why isn’t this better?!